Uncle Baba

Is there a person you should’ve thanked, but never had the chance? Is there someone who helped you along the way without even realizing it? Here’s your chance to express your belated gratitude.

Yes, I believe there were many but there was one who was always there for my family since I was perhaps a toddler. He was my dad’s buddy and all of us know him as Uncle Baba. He was rather small in size as he was about 5 feet tall and slim built. It was rumored that he was a jockey. He loved to ride motorbikes that required the rider to bend his body down to hold the handle bar. It looked like his body was hugging the fuel tank. Come to think of it, it could be due to his size.

Singapore’s weather is generally humid and hot but Uncle Baba always wore his black leather jacket to ride his bike. Fortunately, black leather pants was not in fashion or available then. He worked at some kind of warehouse that store frozen foods and supermarket supplies. When he visited us after work, he would have goodies stuffed in his leather jacket like frozen sausages, ham or canned foods. Sometimes I wondered how he even managed to stuff jars of pickles in that jacket and was able to ride the bike the way he does, to our house to share the loot.

When I was in kindergarten, my family went on a road trip to the nearby hills of Malaysia. We traveled in a convoy of cars. Uncle Baba of course couldn’t ride his bike so he had to sit in one of the cars. He sat behind in my dad’s car looking after me and it seems that he had motion sickness and was feeling unwell during the journey. However, he still took the time to chat with me and looked after me through the journey.

He was a chain smoker and always had his Camel cigarette pack tucked in his shirt pocket but during the journey, he was not able to smoke as I was in the car and he persevered on until we reached the destination hours later.

After some years had passed, I gradually saw less of Uncle Baba as he had retired and was suffering from serious gastritis that kept him house bound. He was looked after by his wife and daughter so our family managed to visit him a few times to see how he was. He sat with us to chat although he was visibly in pain. I felt saddened by his state and wished I could do something for him. He had lost almost all his teeth due to his heavy smoking and excessive coffee drinking. I believe his stomach problems were also due to the same addictions. Later on I heard that he passed on and I wondered why his family did not inform us until much later.

Uncle Baba, thank you for being such a wonderful Uncle. You have showered us with your love in your own simple way and always put us before yourself. I know my dad was very fond of your friendship and my family also loved your company. God bless you always.

Never Too Late – DP

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Shaken and Stirred – Chicken Curry

What’s the most elaborate, complicated meal you’ve ever cooked? Was it a triumph for the ages, or a colossal fiasco? Give us the behind-the-scenes story (pictures are welcome, of course).

Unfortunately, it never crossed my mind to take a photo of this dish which was taught to me by my late grandmother whom I lovingly called Mama.

Mama had many peranakan  (straits born chinese) dishes that would cause all our family, relatives and close friends to deliberately visit our home during meal times on festive occasions and birthdays.

So Mama had to singlehandedly plan all the dishes and will engage only a few of her trustworthy and skillful helper which was usually only my grand aunt. So that was why I get roped in to do some menial tasks like grate coconuts and squeeze the milk out, peel potatoes and hard boiled eggs and remove roots of bean sprouts. It was long and laborious hours in the kitchen.

I was never taught how to cook the whole dish until Mama was too old and weak to do the chores or cook for us. She decided to tell me what to do so I became her hands, nose, mouth and eyes. Step by step, each ingredient from peeling, chopping or slicing onions and garlic to how many coconuts to make the amount of milk needed just to make chicken curry.

The basic ingredients required would be coconut, small red onions, garlic, salt, ginger, curry powder for chicken, cooking oil, chicken pieces, potatoes and eggs. Not a long list but the preparation of the ingredients was laborious. Then came the mixing of the curry powder with the coconut milk to make an even and smooth paste. This requires patience and constant slow mixing with a wooden spoon.The small onions and garlic must be peeled and sliced thinly. Potatoes and eggs pre-boiled to cook and peeled.

The cooking part was where Mama would tell me to fry the onions in the big pot with oil till its lightly brown and fragrant, then add the garlic which gets brown much faster. Then add the curry paste in and stir it evenly. The fire should be not too hot or it would burn and spoil the taste. Mama would then ask me to wait till the smell of curry becomes strong then it’s time to add in the chicken pieces and stir fry the paste with it evenly. Add a little water and stir until it simmers for about ten minutes.

I think I must stop here as it feels almost like a recipe book now. It was the process of smelling, seeing, estimating that Mama taught me to make her wonderful chicken curry. Everything was measured by her own estimation and not spoons, cups or weighing scales. The sequence was important as well as how the ingredients were prepared. I believe it was her tender loving care and hard work that made all her dishes so yummilicious beyond measure. We all still yearn for them but no one or restaurant has ever matched hers.

Shaken and Stirred -DP

The Spice of Success

Born and raised in Singapore, the term spice has been common in our foodfare. Spicy is often described in the taste of our local foods be it chinese, malay, indian or eurasian cuisines.There is definitely no lack in spicyness in all our foods. So if the term spicy is used, it depends also on your background to determine the level of spicyness. Usually, the malay and indian cuisines use curry and chillies in most of their dishes so they will be used to having spicy food for all their meals. The eurasians also has spicy dishes but would not have it regularly. The chinese differ according to their dialect group cuisines, for example, the cantonese do not use curries or hot chillies in their recipes so they will have problem eating spicy foods.

I would like to mention about a special chinese group called Peranakans (meaning Straits born chinese). Their cuisine had blended both the malay and chinese foods to form a fusion of sorts which has become a famous kind of cuisine naturally called peranakan food which is mostly spicy. Heres’s a photo of a Peranakan woman dressed in a traditional sarong kebaya and you will see that even the clothes are a blend or fusion of chinese and malay styles:

image

My lovely cousin Tina at a Peranakan Convention in 2012

The term Baba Nonya refers to Peranakan men and women.

So since I am partly peranakan, it is only natural that I would prefer my stories to have the unique taste and spicyness of the food. It has a wide variety of spices and extremely elaborate preparation and even process of cooking. The success would obviously be in the taste and I am now too hungry to continue.

The Spice of Success -DP
If “failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor” (Truman Capote), how spicy do you like your success stories?