Saturday, 28 December 2013

Carpenter & Cook Popup– Doing 'that local organic seasonal shit' in Singapore

I love food. It's because I love food that I believe food should be made from stuff you get from people who sing to their plants and name their cows Daisy and Cleopatra, not pre-packed from a factory with an expiry date 5 years later. It's a thing these days isn't it?– local, organic, seasonal blah blah. But beyond comfortably strolling through the supermarket and checking labels for the above keywords, I like to really know where my food comes from. I like to talk to the people behind that amazingly sweet strawberry, see the hens that give me eggs with yolks like orange bubbles, have my pick of fish from the fisherman and grumble about the weather at the same time.

 I've been lucky. The past 4 years as a cash-strapped student in London has seen me juggling, among many random design jobs and cooking gigs, a weekend job as a farmer's market manager. I got to know some wonderful people who really are proud of the food they produce.

I never bought into this whole local, organic, seasonal shit before. A tomato was a tomato was a tomato, right? Then I ate a tomato, British, grown by some of the greatest people I know, in summer. Oh my god it was sweet and it was juicy and I ate them like I would popcorn (they were baby plums, just in case you thought beef tomatoes). Before then, I could never eat raw tomatoes. The ones in Singapore were mostly imported and sour and had a mealy texture from being chucked into cold storage. All the flavour and nutrients that were in that organic (or not) tomato were gone.

Now, back in Singapore for a good few months, I've been trying to get to know the local producers here. It's not an easy task. Even my mum, the most anal quality-driven cook in the world, eagerly reaches for that Japanese sweet potato over a locally grown one because "it's Japanese!!!". Singapore is not known for agriculture. We are known for our airport and bak chor mee and crazy 57 storey-high infinity pools. But there are some great people here doing their thang.

Green Circle is a tiny organic eco-farm in Kranji. The owners aren't growing organic stuff to ride on a lucrative organic trend; they sometimes don't even have enough of something to sell. These are people who really love nature and want to encourage people, especially the young, to learn about their food. When I popped by, Evelyn was casually making a salad from local heritage guavas– little shrunken varieties I don't ever see nowadays because "it's not as juicy as the new ones". I had the most wonderful time nibbling on fruits and tropical herbs I never knew of. "Try this. Ulam raja, means King's salad. It tastes of mango."

There are others, not necessarily growers, but people whom I can rely on for good produce, and makers who really know their stuff.

There's the wonderful fishmongers my Mum's been going to for fresh seafood since forever, and who slip my mum cheeky discounts (see endnotes, an old post here).

And there's Ghee Leong, one of the few traditional bakeries left in Singapore. Here, there are no cakes or trendy matcha loaves; just old-school fluffy Asian bread, using the same method they've been using since they first started. It's a simple no-frills setup, but the place is filled with the heavenly scent of the type of bread I grew up with, and that, to me, is enough. The auntie warns to finish the bread quickly (no problem ma'am) because they don't use preservatives or funny stabilisers.

I have more but this post is long enough as is. I need to get to my announcement.

I'm doing a popup at Carpenter and Cook's, the hippest vintage cafe in town (uh not biased). They're opening a new shop at Jasmine Road, and for one day only, I'll be serving up open-face thick toasts, using some of the best local produce I can gather. There's minimal treatment to each ingredient, no crazy rempahs (or long shopping lists, thank god); just food brought together in a fun yummy way.

The menu is meat-free, simply because I can't find a good source of local meat, but you're not going to miss it. Thanks to some ace mouths PhillipDevon, my two best greedy friends and my Dad, for testing multiple permutations and combinations of crazy homemade mayos, pickles, chilli sauces, local herbs and grilled/fried/roasted vegetables. Thanks also to Bjorn (chef/owner of Artichoke) for sharing his ace tips for local suppliers.

I guess it's sort of a little push for local food producers. But it's nothing pretentious and let's not get all silly and romantic about it. Because yes it is impossible for Singaporeans to be all eating entirely off local producers. But it would be pretty cool if one day my mum reaches for the Singapore-grown sweet potato instead and happily says "it's Singaporean!!!"

It will be a lot of fun even if you don't care about all that bit I just ranted about earlier. 11 Jan, at Carpenter and Cook Jr, from noon till 6pm, or till I run out/ collapse.


More farms and markets
A peek into Chegworth Valley
6am at a wet market in Singapore

More cooking gigs
My first plusixfive supperclub

Awesome people's addresses
Carpenter and Cook Jr.
17 Jasmine Road
Green Circle Ecofarm
41 Neo Tiew Road (Kranji)
Ghee Leong (Sing Hon Loong Bakery)
4 Whampoa Drive
Xin Ye Fish Seller
Blk 156 Bt. Batok Street 11 #01-04

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Ho Ho Homemade Sriracha, fermented hot stuff

Ho ho ho! I have been busy. This is not an excuse for being away from the blog, but.. ok it is an excuse. Here's what's been happening the past couple weeks:

1. I've been spending time in south Thailand, standing on my head and eating yogic vegan food (not at the same time). Then gallivanting around the island on a motorbike with a crazy local who brought me  everywhere from the forests to the beaches to his village in bloody flipflops. I love this country. Everyone is always smiling and eating.

2. I have a shop now! HI LAST MINUTE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING? There are only 4 items there now, but I'll be introducing more designs in a bit, mostly edible-themed (of course). There may be the occasional jar of chilli or pickles, if I feel up to it.

3. My mum's away on holiday, giving me full control of the kitchen. I am in awe of mums out there. I always go on about being spontaneous (unorganised) in the kitchen, but when you have so many mouths to feed and for every single day of the week, there is some massive planning involved.

4. However, not having my mum suck her cheeks in at every spill I make has given me the chance to do some fun stuff, like inviting friends over to be guinea pigs, taste-testing multiple permutations of multiple types of local obscure herbs, crazy mayos, and chilli sauces (for something exciting that's coming up soon, watch this space yo). Which brings me to this post.


Otherwise known as Rooster Sauce, or That Asian Hot Sauce. Frankly, I've been living in Asia my whole life and only first saw it when I moved to London, but I like it anyway so there you go. It's wonderful squirted over a simple fried egg, on top of noodles, into your pork bun (or your cheese toastie), or stirred into sauces for a shortcut bit of tangy fresh heat. 

There's been quite a handful of recipes floating around on the web ever since news of the company being made to halt operations created a sort of tragic panic –funnily more so in the Western world than in Thailand where this sauce comes from. Being a geek, and electrified at the prospects of having the kitchen to myself, I tested about 8 recipes. This is the one that works, with slight tweaks to the ratios. It involves an extra step of fermentation, letting that blended chilli mixture get all funky and amazing with time and (friendly) bacteria. There is a depth and sharpness that doesn't come from just using vinegar alone, or worse, using tomato paste.

makes a little more than 300ml
700g fresh red chillies*
4 cloves garlic
4 tbsp unrefined light cane sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt + extra big pinch
75ml water
125ml white vinegar

Traditionally, red jalapeno chillies are used. I use all serranos, which have a hotter, 'brighter' flavour.

1. Behead chillies and chop up roughly. I leave the seeds in because I am lazy and because I like it hot. Blend chillies with garlic, sugar, salt, and the water, till very smooth. Transfer the puree into a glass jar, and cover.
2.  Leave it in a cool, dark place for 2 days if you live in Singapore, 3 days if you live in London, maybe 4 days if you live in an even colder country. You should see bubbles**.
3. When ready, transfer the fermented chilli mixture into a blender, add the vinegar, and puree again till smooth. Pour through a fine sieve into a saucepan to get all the residue and seeds out.
4. Simmer on medium high heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring once in a while, until the sauce is reduced to a sort-of crepe batter consistency. It will look like it's slightly on the thin side, but it will thicken more when cool.
5. Once cooled, transfer into a bottle, preferably a squeezy bottle for the most authentic Sriracha experience.

** You won't die. The microorganisms at work here are friendly.

I went through that bottle pretty fast. This was perfect sriracha. The wait makes it all the more wonderful, and no it is not a psychological effect.

Is it worth the effort when you can (for now) nip out to buy a bottle? Like making your own jam vs buying one (traditional, artisan, quality yadayada of course), perhaps not, but there is something so sweet and so special knowing that you flippin' made your own sriracha. And if you then gave that sriracha to your friends and family, you may just atone for your whole year's worth of sins. This hot stuff takes a couple more days of (non)work but if you do it now you will get it out in time for Christmas.

And even have time to make a few more chilli sauces because your friends (I) love chilli.
Mint sweet chilli sauce
Sambal tumis belachan (The ultimate labour of love. Only do for someone you want to marry.)

Or pickles.
Sweet asian pickles
My aunt's easy but stunning Nyonya achar
Better homemade kimchi (I lie. There is not enough time for this one now.)

Or stupidly simple things that don't require cooking.
Flavoured sugars– Pandan sugar! (featured in the latest issue of Blogosphere magazine)


Happy christmas everybody! Eat loads, make sure your roast potatoes are crispy, and that you finish every last bit of that bird.