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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

I went to my company’s Chinese New Year dinner on Monday. This involved lots of fish as the Chinese word for this, ‘yu’, sounds the same as the words for wish and abundance. Hence including fish ensures an abundant new year.

The second course is usually shark fin soup. Shark = fish = an abundance of wealth, so it’s an important part of the dinner. It’s also expensive, which I think has a two-fold effect. Firstly, there is the idea that you need to spend money to make money, so pricey ingredients mean more fortune to come. But I don’t think it’s too mean to suggest there’s also a sense of keeping up with the Joneses. No one wants his or her dinner to look cheap.

So, sharks are firmly on the menu. Sadly they’re on some other lists as well, including one made by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). They are also apex predators, which means removing them from the food chain is more disruptive than removing something lower down. And the way they are caught and butchered is more cruel than other hunting and processing methods.

Now, I have a pretty liberal policy about what I’ll put in my mouth, but I draw the line at anything endangered (which is a shame, clouded leopards look hella tasty). When the soup was served on Monday I politely declined, explaining that eating it would go against my principles.

I didn’t lecture anyone else, not even the girl who said, “I hope it isn’t shark, I’m just going to eat it and not ask,” but I still faced an awful lot of arguments. This long preamble is leading to the point where I address those arguments, in ascending order of relevance.

Q. Just try it, you might like it.
A. I’m sure it’s very tasty, that’s not my concern.

Q. It’s probably mock shark, so it’s fine.
A. Given that my stand is a small one that won’t directly save any sharks, I’d rather stick to the principle than debate the minutiae of what’s actually in the bowl.

Q. I wouldn’t kill one myself, but this one’s already dead so it’s fine.
A. Someone actually said this. Hands up who’s eaten anything they caught and killed themselves. No… thought not. And to take the argument to its absurd conclusion, how about “I wouldn’t take babies and put them on spikes myself, but if someone did it for me it would be fine.”

Q. [More sensible version of the previous argument] This one is already dead, so it’s a waste/it died in vain if you don’t eat it.
A. Saying “But this one’s already dead,” is an attempt to move guilt or blame higher up the pathway: it’s the fisherman’s fault; the fishmonger’s fault; the restaurant’s fault. It’s not my fault, oh no. I am a passive actor in my own life, not responsible for the things that I move from a bowl into my mouth.

It might seem like rejecting one bowl of soup in a restaurant is a pointless, hopeless gesture that will go unnoticed, and I acknowledge that my stand is partly to assuage my conscious. But small actions do add up.

Product supply and demand changes constantly and consumers undeniably drive market trends. Maybe not quickly, and in the case of shark fin fishermen will fight while it’s still economically viable to do so, but so will restaurants. They usually have brutal profit margins, if they’re chucking away soup they’ll damned well order less ingredients next time.

So those are a few sensible answers to pro-shark fin arguments, but this is my real answer:

Dead finned scalloped hammerhead. Courtesy of Jeff Rotman/jeffrotman.com

I mentioned cruel hunting methods above. By far the most commercially valuable part of a shark is its fin, so often rather than take the whole bulky animal ashore the shark is ‘finned’. Fishermen cut off and keep the small, viable part and throw the live animal back into the sea to die a slow, suffocating death. And that makes me too sad to eat the things.

Plus how much would it suck to know I played a part in wiping out one of the oldest continuously extant species on the planet?

Gong xi fa cai!

Image from here, can’t find the source I’m afraid. And here is a Guardian photo article about shark’s fin soup [click the images to navigate forwards].

Edited to add:
I’ve just realised, by bothering to look at the file name, that the photograph above was taken by someone called Jeff Rotman. There are some beautiful images up on his site.

My life in Singapore is very lazy and indulgent. I don’t think this is a bad thing – I have been blessed with just enough Protestant work ethic to hold down a job, and I suspect that secretly we all aspire to lazing about.

There are a few tangible side-effects. I think I’m more relaxed, because I’m mentally and physically engaged with fewer things. But I also know I’m more prosperous, as the locals would say. In other words, I’m getting fatter.

This is not intended as a reassurance-seeking feminine wail: “I’m so fat, I’m so ugly, why don’t I look like the girls in the magazine?” It’s just a statement, based on the fact that clothes that used to fit me are becoming a struggle to do up.

I was slightly surprised when I noticed this – my dress-size hasn’t really changed since the end of uni, despite a lifestyle that’s never been ascetic. Pondering this in bed last night – do I buy new clothes or diet, does this happen to everyone at 30 or is it my lifestyle? – it struck me how incredibly inactive I am now.

Or rather, how active I was in London, without even noticing it. The obvious difference was that I biked everywhere. Switching my commute from bike to train dropped 5 hours of exercise every week. Then there is the lack of yoga – no more morning classes is another 4 hours lost.

But I also cycled to all sorts of places besides work, or walked. I would often walk two or three tubes stops, which seems unthinkable in Singapore. The distance would be roughly the same, but I would turn up sweaty and red, having only saved about £2 on taxi fares.

I still do about the same amount of resistance and cardio – interestingly the gym-based stuff that requires most commitment and dedication. It is all the accidental or fun stuff that has slipped, with a deficit in hours per week that is easily in double figures.

Besides barriers like heat or cheap cabs, I think my lifestyles in different places have been internally modeled differently. In London I took a strange pride in being busy – always out of the house, seeing friends, thinking nothing of leaving for work at 0640 every morning.

In Singapore, I expect a life that’s languid. There is no reason I couldn’t go to yoga before work, except that it seems impossible. Instead I lounge around at home for two hours, writing navel-gazing blog posts about how fat I’m becoming.

And indeed, how fat this post is becoming. Who’d have thought I could write so much about being lazy, especially as I only started to test whether I could render hanzi? Incidentally, the title should say hen pang, or very fat.

Right, I’m off to eat pie. Happy Mid-Autumn Moon Festival to you all!

elle xx

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Pilot review – Supperclub

A Dutch concept restaurant whose supper appeal is a fixed five-course menu, served to diners lounging on communal day beds. The club aspect comes in the form of kitsch cabaret, complete with transvestite staff and toilets assigned by homo or hetero. Exactly the kind of restaurant you’d hope to find in Amsterdam.

I’m not sure it’s quite so comfortable in Singapore. One the Saturday I went only a third of the covers were filled – sad given the staff was so lovely – and all the patrons were white. The echoing school hall feel didn’t stop me enjoying myself and the staff kept on smiling, but the saving grace should have been the food.

Read the rest of this entry »

Long time, no write. Have been subsumed by the strangeness of working here: lots of thoughts on that but I want to get a few things sorted before I share with y’all.

In the meantime – food. Our life here is ALL about food (I bet the Singaporean’s reading are nodding in agreement). We eat out for lunch most days, and for dinner almost every other night. By way of comparison, I went out for dinner in London about once a fortnight.

I can’t really fall into step with the hawker centre, carb-heavy lunches though. I tried switching these to my main meal, but I don’t think I ate that many carbs even for dinner in the UK. Even with a mashed-potato addiction.

So I have replaced most of my chicken rice lunches with fruit. My S’porean colleagues don’t get it at all and assume that it is some kind of protest or destructive eating disorder, but I feel tonnes better.

I’m not starving myself by any means; oatmeal for breakfast (can’t say porridge anymore, porridge is congee) and fruit every few hours at work keeps me full and seems good for my sluggish European metabolism.

And being healthy during the day paves the way for some real fun in the evening: exploring the 8 million (give or take) bars and restaurants here. I’m thinking of posting a few restaurant reviews but I don’t want to try and make this a food blog (got to Chubby Hubby for that) or get too listy & dull.

Easiest thing is to try it and see – coming first, Supperclub.

Daily life

Posted on: June 7, 2009

And just like that, a quarter of a year turned into a third.

Month three was the worst so far in terms of being homesick; the fourth has certainly felt easier. I am more settled into daily life now, although my sister has pointed out that she doesn’t have much idea of what that means.

Here are the three questions she thought most pertinent:

1. Do I wear socks?
2. Do I eat chicken?
3. Do I own slippers?

These probably tell you more about her than they ever could about me, but for your delectation and delight:

1. Yes, I wear socks sometimes. When I first arrived I couldn’t imagine ever wearing anything except flip-flops and strappy summer dresses but now I wear jeans and everything, complete with shoes and socks. Only when it’s cloudy though.

(A point about the heat and weather – the air con in our living room cools the room DOWN to 26 C, which feels quite chilly when I first arrive home.)

2. I eat chicken but I hardly ever cook it. Lunch is now my main meal, eaten at one of the food centres near work, so I’m never really hungry when I get home and just eat salads or cheese and biscuits.

Favourite lunchtime chicken dishes include chicken rice and dosa. However, my sluggish European metabolism is struggling with all the carbs and the lack of veg so I’m trying to eat more packed lunches.

3. No I don’t own slippers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given I didn’t in the UK either.

It’s customary here (as with much of Asia) to take your shoes off before going into someone’s house. I’m not sure of the exact reason (internetz has suggested respect or fung shui), but J and I have adopted the habit at our flat. Our reason is that the floors are tiled and quickly get gritty if you stomp around in outdoor shoes.

A positive aspect of this habit is that you can wear beautiful but uncomfortable shoes to house parties, safe in the knowledge that you won’t be crippled by them for too long. The downside is that it’s embarrassing if your feet smell.

So, what else do ya want to know?

Here’s a suggested itinerary. For the best results, get two lovely friends to fly into Singapore on a Tuesday evening, and out again on Wednesday evening. Remember to take the day off work!

First, stay up until 3am on Wednesday morning, drinking pink Champagne, eating wedding cake, looking at wedding photos, watching wedding videos and giggling. (NB, this part of the tour works best if one or more of you recently got married.)

Get up at 8.30am with a hangover.

9am – Pop down to the pool for 10 reviving and invigorating lengths. After four and a half lengths pretend you have finished and get in the jacuzzi. (If you’re an unfortunate soul without a pool or jacuzzi perhaps you and your friends could run around the block and then shower together. Nothing weird about that.)

10am – Head out to Clarke Quay. Catch a riverboat cruise from Sir Stamford Raffles’s landing place.

Messing about on the river

Messing about on the river

12pm – Stroll through the CBD to Lau Pa Sat. Hope to beat the lunchtime rush. Fail. Force your friends to eat carrot cake.

1pm – Become hot, bothered and too hungover to cope with the sun. Decide air-conditioned pursuits are a good idea and take a taxi to the National Museum, to see the History of Singapore exhibit.

3pm – Attempt to catch a cab to Haw Par Villa. After the first empty cab drives past, move to a better spot. Once the second empty cab fails to stop, find an official cab rank. Get in a cab and immediately get ejected by a driver who’s about to change shifts. Reject the next cab because it doesn’t take Nets. Take the next cab to your destination. Remember, don’t accept anything less than the fifth empty taxi!

Haw Par - you have to go there to really understand the craziness

Haw Par - you have to go there to really understand the craziness

4.30pm – After delighting in the absurd kitschery of 70-year-old morality statues, make your way to Raffles Hotel for obligatory cocktails. Realise that the hotel is next to the museum and that maybe the order of your itinerary is flawed. No need to say anything! Stash that map in the bottom of your bag and your guests will be none the wiser.

6.30pm – To bastardise Dorothy Parker, one martini is too many, two is never enough. Hey, you should, like, eat, or something? To the Banana Leaf!

7pm – Singapore is famous for many different dishes. If one of your guests is a recovering pescaphobe, why not pick fish head curry as the dish to showcase.

Fish head curry

Fish head curry

8.30pm – Enjoy a leisurely stroll through Little India, before returning home to pack.

9.30pm – Wave your friends off. It’s common for grit or dust to get in your eyes at this point, don’t worry if you find them watering.

Congratulations! You are now a Singapore tour guide!

Smug

Posted on: May 7, 2009

The old man leaned over while I was eating.

“You hold your chopsticks better than I do,” he confided. “How my mother tried to teach me as a child.”

I wonder how the woman would feel if she knew her standards lived on as crude illustrations on the back of chopstick wrappers.

I think this is a Japanese game that teaches kids to use chopsticks

I think this is a Japanese game that teaches kids to use chopsticks

I was quite surprised when I wrote the one week post, “Really, a week’s gone already?”, and jubilant at one month, “Wow, we’re really doing it!”

But two months passed unnoticed, caught up among making a life. Suddenly we’re more then a quarter of a year in. How did that happen?

I’m not really sure where to start filling you in. There have been a few ups and downs – hence the radio silence.

The big news is that I’m moving to a different department in my company. I was working in healthcare, but it turned out to be more medical education than creative copywriting. Once I discussed this with the firm they were amazingly supportive and I’m moving to their creative team on Monday.

I’ll be covering both health and consumer accounts, which is respectively where I’ve come from and where I want to go. Hooray!

We’ve also had a few guests, visited a few strange tourist attractions and eaten a few strange things.

Long Beach Seafood, folk - yum!

Long Beach Seafood, folk - yum!

Food highlights include black pepper crab, cooked whole in unctuous sauce and pulled apart with our hands, and Indonesian grilled fish. This is barbecued while you wait and served with sweet chilli sauce studded with birdseyes and tiny chewy fish.

Tiny mouthfuls of deliciousness

Tiny mouthfuls of deliciousness

Have also sought out xiao long bao (I believe ‘small basket dumpling’ is the literal translation). They are Shanghainese; soup, pork and crab filled, and probably manna. The Singapore version wasn’t up to the original standard, but pretty damned good.

Over the road we have a nice cheap food centre that sells north Indian food, seafood noodles and chicken rice – it’s impossible for two of us to spend more then $20 here (£9), and that’s if we have a couple of beers.

Further down the street there’s a great Indian restaurant where they’re starting to recognise us, and the next road down boasts a whole string of places selling Singapore’s infamous fish head curry (I ate an eye, I win a prize!).

Over the crossroad there’s a lovely little French place – straight off the streets of Paris, as the snails, fois gras and profiteroles attest.

The range and price of the food out here means we’ve settled into a pattern where we eat out about four times a week.

In other news, I appear to be gaining weight.

Love you all,

Elle xx

Saturday was our first approximation of normal Singapore life. Woke with a hangover, lay by the pool, went shopping, all that jazz.

Our excursion took us to Tanglin Road, to a fancy French café for pastries and iced tea, and then on to the Botanic Gardens for a nice stroll.

A thousand leaves of tastiness

A thousand leaves of tastiness

We persisted with the garden part of the plan, even though the storm clouds were gathering as we got in the cab. Gardens, I’m sure I don’t need to explain, are inherently outdoorsy.

We were only 40 million years round the evolution trail when the heavens opened. Naturally, we didn’t have umbrellas, although I’m not sure they would have helped.

We sheltered among the first ferns, then took advantage of a lull to race for the early rainforest, where the canopy made good cover. We hoped to sit it out around 300 million BC but grew fearful of getting locked in the park.

Thunder rolled and crashed around us – it was definitely the biggest storm I’ve been out in (J says he’s witnessed bigger but was unable to cite examples, which does make his claim somewhat unreliable).

We made a dash for it, tens of millions of years dripping by with each footfall. By the time we got back to the present we were drenched, and decided to forgo our early evening martinis.

Lightning over Singapore

Lightning over Singapore

Instead we went back, dried off, tarted up, and set out. Destination: Home, underground (ish) club near Clarke Quay. Music: D&B; LTJ Bukem, and several good local lads (and one less good – sounded like he was making a mix tape).

It was a great night. The music was awesome, the drinks were cheap (ish), and we met some lovely Singaporeans. Had drinks with them again last night, am building up a good repertoire of Hokkien expletives.

Have also started work, going well so far and yesterday I went out with my new colleagues for an hour and a half lunch in a sushi restaurant – it’s comforting to know that advertising behavioural patterns transcend regional boundaries.

Today is our one month anniversary. We’re in our new flat but not online, so I’ve gone all the way to an internet café to mark the occasion (who knew internet cafés still existed! I thought poor people and backpackers would all have iPhones by now).

We haven’t seen much of the city yet – our time has been taken up with admin and housekeeping. On that front, our little home is making me very happy, even though there are no sockets for shavers and all the cupboards are too high or too low.

My favourite house things:

• The view, and how it changes through the day.

After dark it’s a mess of twinkling lights. Early in the morning there’s just haze, crystallising into city as the sun sharpens.

(Right now it’s raining, and the top of the CBD is lost in the clouds.)

• The big telly!

The TV itself (all 42 inches of it) is neither here nor there. J and I decided we weren’t going to get one, not realising they’re standard in furnished Singapore flats. So we’ve done the only sensible thing, and hooked the PC up to it. And *that*, as the kids say, is made of win.

• The ice tray.

Yup, really. The freezer has a built in ice tray; once the cubes are solid you twist a lever and they drop into a drawer below. Estimated ice cube capacity: 150 – all neatly stored in the pull-out bucket. This kind of organisation is going to take my martini mixing to dizzy new heights.

Food porn

Things I’ve tried:

• Carrot cake (ibid)

Takoyaki – octopus balls. For want of a better explanation, mini seafood toad-in-the-holes. Really good.

Rou gan – dried pork slices, a bit like biltong. Also really good.

Things I’ve not tried:

• Hotdog prata – wtf!

Pig organ soup. Ummm…

Other experiences

Medical exams; mandatory in order to secure gainful employ. I had mine today, and rocked up at the hospital with the tocsin of civil liberty sounding faintly but distinctly.

Neither my employer nor the hospital volunteered any information about what I would be tested for, but I asked a nurse and she said HIV, diabetes and kidney disease. Which doesn’t explain the chest x-ray, and begs the question, “What happens if anything comes up positive?”

The rest of the exam was basic: height, weight, b.p., except that the nurse giggled when she weighed me. And earlier today, the receptionist at my new agency said, “You’ll soon find the hot weather will melt all that fat off you,” while smiling benignly, as if she’d just told me she liked my shoes.

Fortunately I’m reasonably immune to stuff like that, although I had better get used to feeling Amazonian; a lot of SE Asian girls are teeny-tiny and very body-conscious.

Yours, hen pang Elle
xx

(57.2 kg in case you’re wondering. I think that’s bang on 9 st.)