Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, visits Pu Tien Restaurant and Island Creamery at the end of her Singapore adventure.
"Auntie, would you like to try some food?” a voice says to me.
I swing my head around and look at him with a look that says "Are you talking to me?”
This was the first time in my life that I have been called 'auntie' and it was during my Singapore visit. And, even more flooring, it came from not the mouth of babes but a full grown adult male. And as someone that is somewhat in denial about my age and most likely to be voted 'mutton dressed as lamb' in future decades, it’s a little strange but sweet.
And isn’t it funny how even though I don’t see my Singapore-based cousins often (and here everyone is cousin, auntie or uncle) they intrinsically know what I want even without a word spoken. My cousin Tzan and his wife Geok Lee pick me up and take me out to ice cream at Island Creamery as I express a desire for my beloved sweet corn ice cream. Geok Lee tells me "They’ve got very unusual flavours there – like Cendol”, and I’m immediately sold.
Unbeknownst to me, Tzan is an ice cream enthusiast and when he asks the woman behind the counter for "one scoop of everything” I wonder where on earth he was when I was a child as those words are music to a child’s ears. But as I am an adult and know that I have eaten a month’s worth of food in the last few days I suggest that we limit it to trying the more unusual flavours. I know – what on earth possessed me to limit it?
Then we’re off to lunch where there will be a table of 15 of my family members, some of whom I haven’t yet met as it has been so long since my last visit to Singapore. And Tzan tells me that he chose this restaurant because it specialises in a lesser known type of cuisine called Heng Hwa cuisine, said to be a simpler cuisine related to Foo Chow cuisine (my mother’s family background). Originally from the Fujian province of China, you could count on one hand the number of Heng Hwa restaurants here in Singapore. There is an emphasis on seafood as Heng Hwa is a coastal town and the style of food is said to be lighter and more home style.
Early on, we tried the braised pig intestine. I am not usually a huge fan of intestines but this braised pig’s intestine, cut into small pieces, is actually very tasty. With a slightly rubbery and spongy texture but with a distinct savoury star anise flavour, I actually go back for a second and third serving of these.
Another item that I wasn’t expecting to like was the iced bitter gourd. Here, it is very thinly shaved and comes on a plate with the ends curled up like a flower with shaved ice in the centre. It is also accompanied by a watery honey sauce to dip it in. There isn’t any bitterness to this gourd, perhaps offset by the honey, and the shaved bitter gourd has a crunchy, fresh texture like biting into a crisp apple.
One of the mains was chicken cutlet with fermented rice wine. This is a dish that my mother cooks at home and no one else in the family likes it except for me. It is a red wine chicken and, whilst she usually uses wings as I prefer them, here they come as fillet pieces. The sauce is thick and with a light red wine flavour to it. And if you’re curious, it is unlike a red wine sauce that comes with a steak as it is a fermented red rice wine.
So, it’s a sad goodbye to Singapore. After countless meals and drinks I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this food-obsessed country. And all I can think of is how long until my next trip back.
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