The Last Meal: Hawker dishes in the future (The Substation, 29-30 March 2019)


The documentation of this project, “The Last Meal”, comes a bit late – although perhaps a little fittingly because a number of food-related ailments seemingly kept me from being able to work at my maximum potential.

Earlier this year, I was fortuitously brought together with Chef Ming (of JAM at Siri House) – by The Substation – and thus began a collaboration to reinterpret local/hawker fare into a kind of anxiety-provoking menu. A disturbingly uncanny trip up and down and around memory lane! A speculative vision of our human weakness fondness for nostalgia meets hard future utilitarian compromises! An experimental work for the palate! It was truly an pleasure and honour to be able to work with Chef Ming who took it on with so much energy and so many ideas to take it further, especially the start of the project coinciding with a period of severe fatigue for me.

I had recently sought treatment (CBT/Exposure Therapy) for what has been a lifelong affliction of emetophobia (a completely debilitating fear of vomiting) and an unreasonable aversion to acidic or vinegary foods (a difficult thing to explain at times, because it can sound absurd to preemptively tell everyone “NO VINEGAR PLZ” in the off-chance that any unknown dish might have vinegar). And I had also seen an endocrinologist to ask if there was anything to explain my ridiculously tiny appetite and aversion to cold temperatures – and was subsequently diagnosed with hypothyroidism (so said all the tests, despite me being an extremely hyper person). And finally, the biggest factor of all that had triggered this intense self-examination was: pregnancy! SHOCK! HORROR! Yes folks, the Ding and South are unexpectedly multiplying (stay tuned for a documentation of this new long-term project), and this meant that for a period of time during the first trimester I developed an strong aversion to my favourite food of all – eggs! This was very hard to live down indeed, compounding all of my food anxieties despite my attempts to deal with them head-on like an adult by following up with all these medical investigations. So all of this was in the background as we began discussions for this food project….

The starting point for our conversation had been one of my past projects from a Healthcare Workshop with the Kyoto Institute of Design x Royal College of Art, whilst I was doing my MA at Design Interactions (RCA). In a way, that workshop’s premise was already a bit like smashing two worlds together: you had that base of a historically practical and functional Japanese approach to researching and designing for elderly care (I remember our Japanese collaborator bringing to us these booklets of amazing innovative mobility aids and novel healthcare aids designed to assist in every aspect of elderly care) – meeting the provocative, parallel realities of a speculative future (as students from our Design Interactions programme used to call it, ahem, a more “DI” approach).

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Kyoto 2014: Kyoto D-lab held a Healthcare Futures Workshop centering on robotics in collaboration with the Design Interactions Course at the Royal College of Art – led by Professor Anthony Dunne and James Auger and D-lab’s Professor Julia Cassim.

Me, Calum Bowden, and Hiroko Narasaki worked on a project imagining a scenario where a robot was to prepare your “last meal”, having collected a lifetime of data of your food preferences, being able to robotically prepare the food you wanted in a texture that you could consume despite all your age-related changes in chewing and swallowing physiology. We discussed the ways in which factors such as end-of-life, food preferences, and necessary food modifications could be determined, and surveyed Japanese people on a list of foods they liked most. (Obvs this was also borne from our common interests in eating lots of good food in japan and spending a long time in supermarkets and food halls looking at all the beautiful plastic foods and gorgeous food packagings…)


At the time we also thought that there might also be the issue where a meal is the sum of many parts and that people develop habits for eating certain foods together with others. But when we collect the data about the meal, the essential connections between unusual connections could also be broken – and odd pairings might be made. For example, in this case someone told us they loved foods such as Annin Tofu, Premium Niigata Rice, and Ashirari Decorations (to liven up the plating of her food). But in reality, no Japanese person would logically make a menu of Annin Tofu (Almond Jelly) together with Rice.

This was the starting point of the conversations we had to develop The Last Meal in Singapore, and to engage with a wider set of concerns facing the food industry in the near future (and specific to Singapore). Rather than to capture nostalgia in a perfectly rendered dish, the idea was to invoke the sense of the uncanny through subtle means. A twist of presentation, an unfamiliar texture, a physical constraint. The amount of alienation had to be right, and it was good that Ming kept us all on track by focusing on elements that would be universally recognisable by all Singaporeans.

One thing that was clear was that when we imagined someone eating these foods in a near-future post-apocalyptic bunker, the person in the bunker was very specifically us. A Singaporean, here in the present. It wasn’t a baby from the future who hadn’t had the chance to gain the lived experience of enjoying hawker food in the form that we eat right now. It wasn’t someone from a foreign country being introduced to Singaporean hawker cuisine for the first time. It wasn’t about exoticising or fetishising our nostalgia for hawker cuisine and ‘heritage foods’. It was instead about transporting a Singaporean living in the present into a distant, uncertain food future where perhaps food security was an issue; where automation and efficiency was top priority to the extent of influencing hawker practices, where alternative proteins had become widely accepted in an era of land scarcity; where steady state foods would be commonplace backups; where a rapidly aging population would seek out enzyme softened versions of favourite foods to recapture the tastes of olde…

DONT BE SAD, HAVE YOUR LAST MEAL WITH US! Tickets selling fast. Join us on 29 & 30 March for an interactive art experience with a four-course dystopian take on local hawker fare, designed specially by chef Ming Tan (@maehng), in collaboration with visual artist and technologist Debbie Ding. SAD: The Last Meal addresses Singapore's obsession with nostalgia, by looking at the alleged death of the Singaporean hawker, and the anxiety around losing a facet of heritage that this country holds so dear—our local food culture. Our 7pm slots are nearly sold out, grab your tickets for the 9pm slot at Tickets are $35 per person. #thevanishing #citieschangepeopledie #subafterdark #hawkerculture #sgfood #singapore #nostalgicsg #heritagesg #nolstagicpanic

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Somehow this also needed to be rooted in reality, so we planned to shoot a series of audiovisual stimulation aids to excite (or confuse) the senses and stimulate (or deflate) the appetite. With the help of Cain and the sub team, we shot Ming in his kitchen at Siri House cooking up the originals of the dishes that were about to be reinterpreted (or as Ming likes to say, that we were about to try to knock off the pedestal…)





Although we had recorded sound on site in the kitchen, the original sound was not usable – it held the sound of a living kitchen with food being prepared and a restaurant during service. If I had used that original sound, it would feel like you were a disembodied spectator looking into some other space when you listened to the video like that. But I wanted the cooking to sound like it was actually happening right front in front of you. LIVE SOUNDS in whatever space you were in. So the sound had to be totally manufactured from scratch….

I suppose sound design for a video to be played back in an open space is always like putting on overly-dramatic stage makeup so that the details can also be seen under harsh stage lights and from a distance. So I did make some of the sounds very extreme and almost comedic. For example, for a bouncing fish cake, I decided to use some exaggerated bouncing balloon sounds that surprisingly seemed to work. And I cut up a lot of juicy leaves (actually they were leftover strawberry tops and stems) and swished about a lot of polymorph beads and mic-ed everything up painfully closely to get the most goosebump inducing foley sound.

I was inspired by the foley sound I had heard on the documentary Fruit Hunters and a show about Chaoshan cuisine that has been on Netflix recently, Flavourful Origins. And I guess you could say I made it all in the spirit of ASMR videos.

These were to be screened in front of the audience as they ate the new reinterpretations of dishes… I am a little shy about showing the final mix in isolation online because it truly was a bit over-the-top (I also have to confess that I did some of the final edits in the controlled access machine room with two operational laser cutters and their giant extractor fans whirring noisily in the background so my working conditions were also less than ideal) but I might make a trailer mix when I have more time over the weekend.


Some pictures behind the scenes…


Chef Ming peeks through the curtain to see what guests we have for the night


Chicken Rice in Kueh Form


Chef Ron doles out the secret sauce (cucumber)



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Retextured Carrot Cake, first lovingly batch-cooked in a wok with two different varieties of chai por, then brutally blended so to allow it to be hygienically and efficiently reheated in retort pouches; all to be squeezed directly (or sucked up) into the mouths of the audiences.


Laksa in a dried form, vacuum packed for longevity and easy long term storage.



A special Laksa rempah coating the puffed rice, ready to be rehydrated at a moment’s notice to produce a seriously authentic tasting laksa soup.

Now that I am writing out this post I realised I forgot to take a picture of dessert – the tau huay!

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All of the production of this food was entirely undertaken by the amazing Chef Ming (and his assistant Chef Ron), who are both extremely knowledgeable and superbly skilled and inventive with the food they prepare. The actual realisation of this project completely wouldn’t have been possible without Ming’s professional and gastronomical expertise and his willingness to do something quite so daring with the food. For most chefs would rather make a pleasing menu, rather than one that draws gasps of shock from an audience; a menu that manages to bring the audience to relook their food with a critical eye. I am not qualified to cook the food and serve it to a public audience for I have not the required basic food hygiene training accreditation to do so, nor do I know the intricacies of how to organise or run a service! My role in collaboration felt much smaller; because ALL the props has to go to Ming’s efforts and hard work to make this experience a reality! I only provided the idea and brain fodder for the project, but all of the amazing food (and food innovation work!) was the Chef’s work! It was really my honour to be able to work with Ming.

Countless thanks must also go to The Substation: Annabelle and Si Min for facilitating the entire process and helping to take care of all of the small details, as well as all of the Substation staff (and interns Ariel and Celine) for all their help. Without the help of so many people this wouldn’t have been possible!

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Some highly observant audience members asked me on the night why there wasn’t ice kachang and nasi lemak on the menu. I was puzzled about the specificity of this question until I realised that they were referring to the image they had seen on the promotional material drawn by the designer, which ended up being printed in an unexpectedly huge size and mounted on the wall on the night of the event. Well, the answer is that at an earlier stage the shortlisted dishes originally included ice kachang and chicken rice so that was drawn into the flyer. However, the chicken rice was in a pyramid shape that could have been easily interpreted as the pyramid of a nasi lemak as well. Well spotted y’all.


In case you were wondering yes to the credit of the designer the portraits did have a rather uncanny likeness…

In the Press…

Plural Mag – The Hunger Games
The Peak Magazine – SAD: The Last Meal art exhibition serves up dystopian versions of beloved hawker dishes
SG Magazine – This is how local chef Ming Tan interprets dystopian hawker cuisine
CNA Lifestyle – Kitchen Stories: Fighting insecurity and emotions to prove himself to older chefs

The Spherification of Edible Liquids for Impatient People


After a few hits and misses doing spherification experiments over the last few years for fun, here is a collation of some personal observations or lessons learnt about spherification that people don’t generally seem to explain properly in all the other recipes or online posts about spherification.

Basic Spherification
1% Calcium Lactate Bath (1g to 100g mixture)
0.5% Sodium Alginate Mixture (0.5g to 100g mixture)

Reverse Spherification
0.5% Sodium Alginate Bath (1g to 100g mixture)
1% Calcium Lactate Mixture (1g to 100g mixture)
[better for milky/alcoholic mixtures]

Why do some people use Calcium Lactate instead of Calcium Chloride?

I noticed a lot of people online have suggested that people can use Calcium Chloride. The problem is that I don’t like Calcium Chloride because it has a salty/bitter taste, where as Calcium Lactate doesn’t really have a taste. You can “wash” off the salty taste in water, but the fact is that I don’t really like Calcium Chloride, after I learnt that Calcium Chloride reacts strongly to humidity. I brought a bag of it from London to Singapore, and my double-plastic-wrapped bag of Calcium Chloride must have gotten a tiny hole in it, which allowed the humid air in, and next thing I knew I had a mysterious chemical spill on my wooden floor which was near impossible to remove. Turns out that if Calcium Chloride is exposed to humid air, it will absorb a few times of its own weight in water. I have never heard of such a ludicrous thing happening with Calcium Lactate. And since I really don’t want to worry that one day my food chemicals will be reduced into a big puddle of water in my toolbox, I’m steering clear of Calcium Chloride from now onwards just to be safe.

Do I really need to use distilled water?

Yes, this is very important because many cities have very hard tap water, even if you use boiled water or water filters. This means that all your alginate mixtures will become very goopy instantly if you don’t use distilled water. London tap water causes the sodium alginate to start its gelling reaction almost immediately. Even the utensils should also be washed in distilled water before and during use, otherwise gelling will occur on them as well when preparing the bath or mixture.

Do I really have to wait 24 hours for the bubbles to leave the Alginate bath/mixture?

The bubbles can be really huge. If you don’t care about the bubbles like me, then don’t bother leaving it overnight. I find it still works the same, just not as pretty and perhaps disrupting the illusion of it being a perfect sphere of liquid. Also if you used tap water (eg London) then you will already have huge bubbles whilst stirring because the gelling will have started by now and you will have stirred bubbles into the goopy alginate bath.

Do I really need an immersion blender?

It would be ideal and it really makes a difference. But it will work even if you don’t use an immersion blender or hand blender to mix it up. You can also use just a spoon, if you’re all DIY or lazy like me. But remember, that for some reason all of these chemicals HATE to be dissolved into water and you will spend what seems like hours grinding a spoon into a big bowl of water and powder and screaming at the bowl of water.

Is it really necessary to pre-freeze the mixture into half-spheres for Reverse Spherification?

You will have seen the half-sphere silicone moulds, seemingly sold on every other molecular gastronomy webstore. The reason why people do this is that it does truly takes skill to make the shapes spherical with the Reverse Spherification process. You can’t just “drip” it into the bath, half-heartedly, (as you might do with Basic Spherification, and get away with it). You have to throw or plop it down bravely, but yet not too much otherwise it will hit the bottom of the bowl and become flat, which I find to be quite difficult to do. Basic Spherification seems to be more forgiving in terms of technique, you’ll probably end up with something roundish even if you have poor hand-eye coordination. So in order to give their spheres a better chance of having a better shape when doing Reverse Spherification, people pre-freeze their mixtures into half sphere shapes.

What if I “guess-timated” the amounts and it doesn’t work? How can I fix this confusing gloopy mess?

After several “guess-timation” failures on my part, I’ve learnt that this is a matter of understanding the ratio/texture that the mixes ought to reach – it mainly means that the concentration for either the alginate or the calcium is inaccurate, and usually it means it was too little. So as a possible way of fixing things, for basic spherification, add slightly more alginate to the mixture, and for reverse spherification add slightly more calcium to the mixture. For the alginate, the goal is to reach 0.5%. For the calcium, the goal is to get to 0.18% calcium, which is usually 0.5% Calcium Chloride, 1% Calcium Lactate, and 2% Calcium Lactate Gluconate.



And finally, yes, if you squeeze your spheres, they can and they will explode.

I’d love to hear from other people who have been playing with their foods like I have. Are there other tips or suggestions for impatient people who want to do some spherification of their edible liquids?

How the Coulibiac disappeared, and discovering Egg Nests


Russian Coulibiac – still a mystery on the inside (Image Source: wikimedia commons)

Recently I was reading an article in the New Yorker – “Notes of a Gastronome: Cooking with Daniel” by Bill Buford, in which he describes his painstaking attempts to recreate various ‘lost’ recipes, such as the dish known as the “coulibiac”. By all accounts, the coulibiac sounds like a very complicated thing to put together well – consisting of a fish pie that has been meticulously assembled with layers of rice, hardboiled eggs, mushroom, and a pastry shell “which prevents you from knowing what is going on underneath”, but which still requires that all must be timed perfectly in order to “catch fish and pastry crossing a finishing line in different degrees of doneness at the same time”. It was brought to France and rose to its fame in the culinary world when it was selected for inclusion in the masterpiece “The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery”, penned by the famed French Chef Auguste Escoffier, where was popular in the 1870s.

The article describes various attempts to recreate the dish from a state in which its description is nothing other than vague and for the highly trained chefs trying to make it from its original description in Escoffier’s book, even they begin to suspect that something must be wrong with the dish’s architecture, because of the seeming difficulty of getting both pastry and fish to agree to work together at the same time. A hilarious passage in the article describes the master chefs becoming increasingly more frustrated with each successive failure, and how the hapless coulibiac is “touched, poked, turn this way, turned back, bumped, and in every possible manner fussed with…”

From the article: “I found, in all this, a resoundingly obvious lesson: if cooking knowledge is not carefully passed from one generation to the next, it doesn’t last. For instance, if you look up coulibiac in the 1938 edition of Larousse Gastronomique, you will find plenty, including an intitial account of the dish’s origins, a warm pastry with fish inside, an acknowledgment of its Russianness, and a grainy photograph of a loaf-like entity, twelve steam slits on top, sitting bluntly on a platter, emanating rustic veracity. From the entry, you may not be able to replicate the dish, but you’ll understand what it is. In the recent Larousse Gastronomique, published sixty-nine years later and edited by Joel Robuchon, a high prince of nouvelle cuisine, the passage has been rewritten. It has no picture, makes no mention of the vesiga, doesn’t specify the pastry, and describes the dish in terms that suggest a sack that can be filled with meat, vegetables, fish, yesterday’s newspapers, whatever (…) I felt like a witness to a disappearing food history. When a dish falls out of the repertoire, the know-how goes with it. In less than seventy years, it was going, it was almost gone: pfiff…”

The rest of the account of the Coulibiac is about how they trace the origins of this lost recipe; its russian roots and the French coulibiac it inspired which might take some cues from the Russian original but yet would not be obliged to follow the recipe to a tee. It appears the Coulibiac’s success was all down to an obscure ingredient, the vesiga or “vyaziga” – the dried spinal marrow of a sturgeon fish in particular which will practically melt in the mouth when cooked properly, and the use of kasha buckwheat of slavic origins rather than rice. And if you look up vesiga on the internet or coulibiac you will only find too much information on an ingredient you can’t find anyway.

The shifting sands of food history! I suppose food history is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately ever since I got more and more excited about cooking (or about food science). I like to think I am interested in wild culinary experimentations, but simultaneously also interested in understanding traditional origins of food and making it the basis from which I experiment or deviate from – or improve on, with the power of SCIENCE! and… a trusty kitchen timer and food thermometer…

Nids d’oeufs / Egg nests

Which brings me to the story of the egg nest. One of the ingredients I have been obsessed about cooking for the last few years would be eggs. Over time, I have developed my own methods for the perfect omelette (high heat, sufficient oil, press gently with spatula in centre so the browning is perfect and even), the perfect sunny side up (break into well-oiled pan at very high heat, place pot lid over immediately, allow steam to cook the top while the bottom is perfectly browned and crisped), the perfect hardboiled egg (place egg in pot of room temperature water, bring to a boil and count four minutes from that point, then remove immediately and run under ice water so that the yolk will remain soft and slightly runny but the white will be firm but very delicately cooked). Had I the money to invest in a waterbath and a sous vide setup I would, because I would be really interested in experimenting with the temperature at which the various components of the egg cooks. And beyond the sous vide, I am a fan of the maillard reaction and the flavour it imparts to foods – and the necessity to brown certain foods in order to bring out a specific flavour. You could say that I’ve obsessed over the methods in which one can cook a simple egg for many years.

So it comes to my surprise that eventually after all this time I have finally encountered a recipe for an “Egg Nest”. The website describes that the recipe comes from a children’s cookbook “La cuisine est un jeu d’enfants” by Michel Oliver, in which egg whites and egg yolks are seperated and the egg whites are beaten into soft peaks, after which grated gruyere cheese and a pinch of salt for each egg is introduced into the whites and folded in.


The fluffy nests of egg whites are arranged on a baking tray and baked for 3 minutes on their own at 230ªC, after which the yolks are introduced back into the centre of the nests and baked for another 3 minutes. After which you can invite it to the party in your mouth…

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The result is an airy, puffy egg with the mildness of the gruyere with gorgeously browned peaks as the proteins in egg whites and the gruyere cheese are wont to do. How can it be that there is no other common term for this method of cooking eggs? I can understand how Chinese-style steamed eggs may not be as popular in the western world, but the egg nest itself seems so fiendishly simple and logical to prepare in a western kitchen, so why hasn’t it become more popular? Why don’t we have a special name for it, like how we do have a name for devilled eggs?

In any case, I think the discovery of the recipe of the Egg Nest fills me with hope that since even the well-explored territory of egg cooking has clearly not reached its limits, surely there must be so many more methods and recipes to be discovered, either through experimentation or the rediscovery of lost recipes….

In the interest of people who may find my food shenanigans out of line with the general theme of this blog, here’s a summarised description of my recent notable bakes/cooks (so you will only have to see it once and all in one post):

Japanese Cheesecake

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I made this for George’s birthday the other day – the main weighing scale was broken so I guesstimated everything using a tablespoon. Surprisingly it did not fall apart. Usually how these things come about is that I read a few recipes from books or online and then make up something logical from the lot of them and what I understand from the purpose of each ingredient. The amounts I had been aiming for were:

5 egg whites – to be whisked into soft peaks
60 g unsalted butter – warmed until melted
5 egg yolks
250 g cream cheese (in the UK this is called SOFT CHEESE) – warm it until soft
60 g plain flour
20 g corn flour
130 g castor sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Combine all without flattening the mixture too much and pour into cake pan lined with many layers of tinfoil on the outside. Find an EVEN BIGGER baking tray and half-submerge your cake pan in a waterbath of boiling water and bake this entire precariously watery cake bath setup in the oven at 160ªC for 1 hour, then reduce to 150ªC and bake for another half hour, then finally take out of the water bath and let it rest for at least fifteen minutes before serving. It may be better served chilled depending on your preferences.

Potemkin Apple Pie


What is an apple pie? Surely the basics of it must be sugar, and apple, and pastry. And besides the pastry, sugar and apples are common things to be found in the average kitchen. So why couldn’t we make an apple pie on the spur of the moment, if we had the pastry also sorted? I noticed recently that there were pre-made pastry rolls available at the Sainsbury’s, since our flatmate Salsa has been making lots of tasty Boreks with filo pastry. I bought a roll of shortbread pastry the other day for food emergencies and sure enough there came a day when the George desired a sweet dessert, and I was sure that I could invent an apple pie out of whatever we had in the house.

You just need:
1 apple
A handful of raisins
Dark muscovado sugar
A dash of cinnamon
Pre-made Pastry

In a small pastry dish, assemble a pastry sculpture which resembles the stereotypical image of a lattice top apple pie. Inside this pie, liberally smear the sugar all over the apple slices and the raisins. With some luck it will look a bit like an apple pie and actually taste similar to a primitive apple pie. With some luck you’ll have everyone fooled that you know what is an apple pie in no time.

Banana Cupcake

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This was the maddest banana cupcake ever. There were two very sad and very soft bananas languishing in the food cabinet. So i decided to bake them into a cupcake. It is unreal that two sad and old bananas make twelve very awesome banana cupcakes. Are cupcakes really so simple?

125 g caster sugar
125 g unsalted butter
125 g plain flour
2 eggs
2 tsp baking powder or sodium bicarbonate
2 or more ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
Some nuts if you fancy

Mix everything together, pour into cupcake trays and bake at 180ªC for about 20-25 min or until golden on top.

Chinese Braised Tau Pok (Tofu Puff)

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This was more of a hit than I expected. I wanted to illustrate to George how people often cook tau pok in Singapore – sliced into triangles and simmered until soft in a soy-based sauce, and this vegetarian adaptation turned out excellently well as I recall it.

Onions, carrots, potatoes, spring onions
1 veggie stock cube in 500ml water
1 tsp five spice powder
1/2 cup light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce (I substituted it with some kicap manis)
1 tsp sesame oil
4 soft-boiled eggs
A bag of tofu puffs
Some vermicelli (I used shirataki noodles because they happened to be at hand)
+ 1 tbsp cornflour dissolved in about 50ml water to thicken

Cut tofu puffs into triangles. Fry all the vegetables until soft and then pour the sauces over and leave to simmer slowly for at least 20 minutes or however long you can humanly stand. Finally, when almost ready to serve, add the cornflour and water to thicken it into a sauce. Stir and cook for about 5-10 minutes more until sauce thickens.

Mie Goreng Jawa (Indonesian Fried Noodle)

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I used to be crazy about Mee Goreng. Sadly I’m not in a place where I can go around the cornershop to get one made for me, but the recent discovery of kecap manis has enabled me to recreate a pretty decent (vegetarian) version of Mie Goreng Jawa. I think this works. (I also find that Oyster mushrooms can be useful for adding some depth of flavour in asian dishes which typically call for meat/seafood, especially when making a vegetarian version…)

400 g yellow egg noodles
Oyster Mushrooms
1 large onion
Handful of spinach, bean sprouts, pak choy, etc
120 ml kecap manis
50 ml light soy sauce
Black or white pepper
2 beaten eggs

Cook the onion until almost caramelized, stirfry the mushrooms and vegetables separately first until they are already cooked to the point where you want them to be later, and scramble the egg in advance separately. Remove them from the fire temporarily and pan fry the egg noodles with the onions and then add all the other ingredients back into the pan. Finally, add the sauces, mix well and stir fry for a few more minutes and that’s it.

Vegetable Lasagna


I don’t even really have a recipe for this. Basically, I think of this as a kind of rich tomato stew that is placed inbetween layers of lasagna, mozzarella cheese, and bechamel sauce. Go and make any sort of inventive random vegetable stew that has a tomato in it. Use some premade italian tomato passata for the vegetable stew if you will, but for the rest, you must not stint on the bechamel sauce or the cheese! YOU MUST NOT STINT ON THE SAUCE.

Basic Bechamel Sauce:
60g butter
500ml milk
3 tbsp of plain flour
6 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
Pinch of salt
If you are very good, you will also add a pinch of nutmeg (muscade!)

The only problem with this recipe is that it will take about 2-3 hours for the average human being to prepare, even though the steps are fiendishly simple. The results however, are delicious and worth repeating…

Aubergine and Portobello Lasagne / Pineapple Tarts

There was a big storm up in Britain recently which resulted in my having to take a detour at Seven Sisters because the overland had stopped running for the entire day. This resulted in me walking past the Tescos at Seven Sisters which then led to my discovery of LASAGNE SHEETS! And I thought that since we have been eating lasagne at Grodzinski’s in Stamford Hill, why shouldn’t we also try to make it ourselves?


Aubergine and Portobello Lasagne

Aubergine Sauce
1 large aubergine or 2 smaller aubergines
half a box of mini portobello mushrooms
some tomatoes
handful of spinach
onions or shallots
3 or more cloves of garlic
extra virgin olive oil

Bechamel style white sauce
50g butter
50g flour
500g milk
4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

You will also need lasagne sheets and a square baking tin.

Aubergine Sauce
Slice the aubergine and steam for about 15-20 min. In the meantime, in a heavy pan with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, fry the garlic and onion until fragrant, then the mushrooms and spinach. when the aubergines have been steamed sufficiently soft, transfer them to the frying pan and pan fry them till they are brown as well. The browning imparts a much desired taste (Maillard reaction) so it is important to brown the ingredients after steaming (which is done to quicken cooking time and improve the tenderness of the aubergine). Finally, add the tomatoes. if you have tinned plum tomatoes use that, otherwise a fistful of fresh tomatoes with a bit of tomato paste and a generous dash of sugar and water will replace that just fine. The sugar helps cut through the inadvertent tartness of fresh tomatoes, a feature which is often not present in tinned tomatoes. Season to taste. And that’ll be the aubergine sauce.

White Sauce
Melt the butter in a pan on low fire and add the flour. It’ll froth and bubble up and you’ll have to keep stirring so that the flour is evenly distributed throughout the roux (a combination of fat and flour, which is traditionally used as the thickening agent for our sauce). Then gradually stir in the milk and cheese. The parmesan cheese is not traditionally added in béchamel sauce and I have omitted a dash of grated nutmeg as I do not have any nutmeg, but I find that the sauce still turns out very agreeable this way.

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Lasagne Assembly
Butter the square tin and put in alternate layers of aubergine sauce, followed by white sauce, followed by sheets of lasagna. You usually don’t have to precook it the noodle. Top with some cheddar and white sauce and bake for about 25-30 min at 200 deg c.

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Lasagne with a salad of mozzarella cheese, basil and tomatoes.

Pineapple Tarts

I also recently made a batch of Pineapple Tarts. This is something that is commonly eaten around Chinese New Year in Singapore. A few years ago I made pineapple tarts from scratch but because I lacked the distinctive tart cutter, the outcome did not look not very professional. I think I’ve gotten to the point of where I would like to make some seriously kickass things but also be quite detailed about it.

Pineapple Jam
2 Pineapples (about 1.2kg after removing the skin)
200g golden caster sugar

Pastry Base
200g butter
pinch of salt
260g all purpose flour
2 tbsp cornflour
30g icing sugar
2 egg yolks

You will also need baking parchment, a food processor, and a pineapple tart cutter.


The pineapple tart cutter is really key to the look of this pineapple tart. This time around I’ve been collecting cookie cutters and moulds and I got a pineapple tart cutter when I was in Malaysia earlier in the year.

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We start with fresh pineapples. Some people also think its hard to make the pineapple jam from scratch (it can be bought pre-made in Singapore, so I guess people are wont to say “why make your own if its already available?”). I personally find that its quite easy and foolproof to make, just takes a bit more time but at least you know what’s in every tart!

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Slice the pineapple in this manner to get MAXIMUM PINEAPPLE. It is quite manual work but this seems to be the best way to cut a pineapple – other methods can be a bit wasteful – so you should cut it out in the round like this. The way a pineapple grows is quite standard – each prickly segment is from a single carpal of the flower and if you count the spirals there will actually be 5 spirals if viewed from a vertical angle, and if you look at it from a slightly more horizontal angle, it will have 8 spirals in one direction and 13 from another direction (Fibonacci Numbers!). The main point is to cut along one of these spiral directions to remove the prickly parts of the pineapple. Either will do, whichever direction is easier for you to cut.

After you do that, blitz all the pineapple in a food processor to make it into a paste. Boil this pineapple paste with the sugar. The jam takes a long while to come together, so let it reduce until it is very viscous and behaves like a kind of thixotropic paste.

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Pastry Base
While the jam cooks, make the dough by rubbing ALL the pastry ingredients together until it forms a dough that is quite soft yet malleable. The purpose of adding in the cornflour is actually to give it a sharper crunch. If you search around for recipes, many don’t mention this cornflour but from my experience of following various Scottish Shortbread recipes, I’ve realized that the addition of cornflour or rice flour to the mix really makes a difference in how the final bake turns out, making it taste significantly lighter.


Roll out the dough and cut out the dough shapes with the cutter.


Top with the jam and you’re ready to bake. I didn’t glaze my tarts with a beaten egg but if you are feeling fancy you can do that to give it a more glazed appearance. Bake at about 165 deg c for about 20-30 min. I think my oven has a tendency to be too hot so you should adjust accordingly – when the dough is golden it is done – a visual check is the best determining factor, as you really don’t have to let it go too brown.


Use a wide-mouthed jar to store the baked tarts when completely cool. Cut out a stack of baking paper circles which are the size of the jar lid and use these paper circles to divide the tarts up into layers. If not, without the baking paper, these open-topped tarts might stick to each other.


Pineapple Tarts!

I must admit that I’ve been enjoying learning the reason for certain cooking methods in terms of how the ingredients react chemically to temperature or the other ingredients. And knowing the precise way in how an ingredient reacts also means I can make more logical variations on recipes….

The Lost White Rabbit of Stamford Hill


We found a rabbit on the road a few weeks ago. It was just walking up and down the road all day long and it was clear from its colourations that it was probably too pretty to be just any wild rabbit. No one expects to look out of the window and see a beautiful white bunny hiding under the car. We eventually took it in with a large printer box in the house, and it actually took about 7 adults to get the rabbit into the box because it was so skittish and nervous about coming out from under the cars on Stamford Hill. It was funny to see all the different neighbours and the jewish children and random passerbys coming out of their houses and working together to put the rabbit in the big box so we could take off from the roads. We were afraid it might get run over or eaten by one of the many foxes that prowl these streets at night. We cut holes in the box and fed it spinach, carrots and celery, because that was what we were going to eat too – its nice to imagine having a pet that will eat more or less the same thing as you (except the hay part of its diet). Apparently, rabbits also like to eat kale. Kale! My newest obsession ever since they fed us CRISPY KALE at the RCA canteen. But I can’t seem to get it anywhere except at the Whole Foods. And its more pricey than other things. We also had got apples because George was going to feed the rabbit with the apples, but then when I thought about it, I actually really wanted to eat those apples; it was a funny thing to feel like you’re competing with a rabbit for food.

Well, the rabbit has since gone to the RSPCA shelter before it is to be rehomed because no one responded to our “LOST YOUR RABBIT?” adverts; so I can only hope that now its safe and warm in a new home…

Which brings me to…




Ordinarily I should be posting my food explorations on my other food blog, but this obsessively-making-endless-arrays-of-blogs situation needs to end. So this is my note on making Crispy Curly Kale. First you obviously need to find some kale. After sampling the unbeatable taste of Crispy Kale I suddenly realise why people sometimes go crazy about Kale. It seems a bundle of Kale might cost about £1.99 at the Whole Foods (I went to the one at High Street Kensington) and that’ll make plenty.

Spray/toss with olive oil and a bit of salt or spice (coriander? paprika?) to taste. Bake in the oven at about 125-150 degrees for about 8-10 minutes depending on the vagaries or eccentricities of your particular oven – or just take it out when the edges start to almost get brown. Don’t let it get too brown and don’t over-salt it.


Yuzu Spherification


The other day I had a little time to try out a spherification experiment. Aided with food grade sodium alginate and calcium chloride, and a packet of Yuzu juice, I tried to spherify some Yuzu juice…


Here is a large packet of Food grade Sodium Alginate. I bought this in the UK because I was a bit nervous about getting Sodium Alginate from China which was likely to happen if I tried to buy it in Singapore. Alginate is a naturally occurring substance that comes from brown algae and it is the substance that apparently forms the (slightly crunchy) skeletal component of their cell walls.


Yuzu juice with green food colouring added for visibility, in measuring spoon about to be introduced to Food grade Calcium Chloride Bath. I made the yuzu mixture according to a book I had which suggested about 6 tablespoons fluid + 1/4 teaspoon sodium alginate. I don’t know what equates to in percentage but I think I erred on the side of putting more sodium alginate which I later realised was truly unnecessary as it jellifies very easily.


It touched the bottom and promptly flattened itself. On hindsight, using a deep bowl with round edges might have helped avoid this as well as taking care to drop it more gently and not from a height.

Slightly self-flattened yolk of yuzu juice.


Smaller spheres (caviar style)


Perfect sphere
The last sphere I made (with clear yuzu mix) had been left too long in calcium salt bath though, so it got harder and hard and bouncier, and I could pick it up and bounce it off the other table. Another thing to note is that jellification continues even after rinsing in cold water so no more liquid remains after a while. But throughout all this – it just tastes like Yuzu juice. Although all the liquid within the sphere will become jellified, sodium alginate actually doesn’t add any appreciable change in flavor besides being a kind of thickener. Also, it doesn’t really get harder than this sort of jelly unless you increase the concentrations, so I don’t think there need to be too much concern when washing up, as a highly diluted form of the chemicals wouldn’t hold up against a stream of water.

See another food experiment: Agarification – Bell Pepper Spaghetto

DIY Wine-making with Lifepatch and Camera Hacking at L’Observatoire

On Saturday, we visited Isabelle’s fantastic little space/studio, “L’Observatoire”, near Turf club road. Set in a somewhat bucolic part of town – lush greenery, horse stables, and wide open spaces – Isabelle’s space was full of plants and specimens and some really awesome microscopes for observation. We marveled at strange little wiggly green blobs inside the cells of plants and stained sample specimens from mice and other creatures – the output from a set of optical microscopes, magnified onto a wall with a projector. It seemed a fitting setting for our friend Andreas Siagian of Lifepatch to conduct a little workshop on the process of DIY wine-making, along with other friends from Indonesia who were also visiting Singapore.


We began with a bunch of bananas. This was because bananas were the only fruit we happened to have there, and the store-bought fruit juices in Singapore almost always have strange additions to them. Naturally one could have tried using any manner of juice product as the base, but it seemed nice to start with the pure fruit. Here, Andreas explains to us the process before he begins…




We were using a packet of inoculated yeast (extracted from Soursop) which had been specially prepared by Lifepatch.



Boiled water was allowed to cool slightly and then added to a blender with all of the cut fruit. Some of the boiled water was used to rinse the containers that were to be used later as well.









The fruit mixture was strained and the larger pulp removed.



The packet of yeast was added to water, and then later added to the fruit.


A hole was drilled into the bottle’s cap, and tubing was inserted so it would be virtually airtight.



At this point, a little sugar can be added as well to make it sweeter.




The yeast eats the sugar, and turns it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is evidenced by the bubbling that will happen in the cup of water below, issuing forth from the tubing. When the bubbling has stopped, it means the yeast has finished its job. If there is excess sugar left, this makes the wine sweeter, which is why the addition of sugar can help result in a sweeter wine at the end, because there is excess sugar left after the yeast has done its course…


After the fruit-wine-mixture was prepared, what could we do? Well next Isabelle suggested we could dissect some pens. And so we did! We dissected the pens. The pens were empty, because the children use a lot of pens. We dissected them pens good, and squeezed the dried ink sponges to see if there was any more ink in them. We squeezed them until there was nothing else to squeeze.


After the pens were dissected, Isabelle took out a box of old cameras which she had been reserving for a “Tinkering Sundays” class she was conducting on 5 May 2013 for kids.



It was discovered there and then that if you give a bunch of artists/diy builders?/hackers?/programmers? some disposable cameras to take apart, they will be occupied for hours. If not days. Perhaps even weeks. They will be gluing bits of the camera lens to their smartphones permanently. I still have mine partially attached to my phone. You might have to pry them out of the work room with an electrified stick. It is truly that engrossing.








Mushroom which Isabelle picked up – with suspected beetle infestation.

[Note: Yuta’s horrifying mushroom beetle story comes to mind, he told us a story about how he had bought a beautiful ornamental hard bracket mushroom which looked a lot like this. One day it suddenly changed colour, so he suspected something was happening inside the mushroom, so he put it in the microwave, a few small beetles fell out of a small hole in the mushroom. I know, I’m obsessed with this story and you’ve probably all heard it from me too many times, but I still can’t get over it. I can’t decide which is more horrifying – the accidental death of the beetles? yuta’s decision to microwave the mushroom?? the idea that there might be lots of beetles secretly living inside these inert-looking mushrooms??? the secret life of beetles inside fungi, of which i know so little about????]


Dead Bee from my kitchen.


Dead spider from my table.


Dead wooly aphid. Yeah I brought all these insects as a present for Isabelle.
Other people bring gifts of fruits and wine when they visit friends, I bring dead insects.



The surface of some seed pods.


Basically I could go on and on and on…
Thanks to Isabelle (and her family) for hosting us at her wonderful wonderful space and spending the afternoon with us, and thanks to Andreas for conducting the little workshop! It was great to have other friends from Indonesia over (Ade, Coki, Monica) and to see Luis and Anne-marie there as well! Good times…

Bell Pepper Soup Spaghetto

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We are taking our food to the next level. We are starting our experiments with agar and alginates (spherification). We received various strange white powders in the post and combined it with a syringe and tubing kit brought from Singapore. The first thing we made was Bell Pepper Soup Agar Spaghetto.


We roughly cut 3 bell peppers, a few cloves of garlic, some onions, and a liberal sprinkle of paprika, and fried them until they caramelised. We fried it hard. Then we added water and one vegetable stock cube and put it into a pot. We continued to simmer this for half an hour.


Then we blended it. Here is the sous chef assisting with the blending process. We blended it in batches because we were blending boiling hot ingredients. A cloth held on top of the lid helped prevent accidents. At this point we already had an awesome soup. We ate a bowl of it and agreed that it was already awesome. We could have called it a day at that point; we could simply eaten all the soup, but we had much bigger ambitions for our soup.


Next, we mixed 300g of soup with 6.4g of plain white Agar Agar powder. This was based on a random unattributable calculation I had found on the internet stating that 150g of liquid should be mixed with 3.2g of Agar to jellify the liquid. Actually I can’t recall where I read it or why I thought it was accurate. Anyway. It sounded like a plan. We loaded up the syringe and tubing with agar soup, doused the tube in a wok of cold water for 2 minutes, and then tried extruding it.

But hold on. Let me explain something here before we go further. When we started cooking, I had envisioned making a beautiful, smooth red pepper soup and a bright red spaghetto. But when I opened the fridge I realised that the sous chef had purchased Assorted Peppers instead of Red Peppers, so half the bell peppers we had were green. No big problem, so we made a slightly brown coloured soup instead then. Yeah, the brown, it would be a completely acceptable colour for a soup, why would anyone say otherwise?

Photo by georgepooney

Okay, but maybe it did remind us of something else in the end. Especially when our first attempts were slightly watery and admittedly extruded with a bit too much flatulence. We did not have a cheesecloth with which to strain the soup of its larger fibrous material, and this material was probably was interfering with its ability to gel uniformly. So I adjusted the amount of agar to 10g and reheated the soup before attempting the extrusion process. For your information, Agar turns solid at around 35°C and returns to a liquid form at 85°C.

Photo by georgepooney

This time the extruded Spaghetto looked acceptable. After we wiped the tears away from crying-laughing at our initial flatulent extrusions, and after we coiled our one single painstakingly-made Spaghetto into a shapely form, we settled down to eat our soup, now in jelly spaghetto format. We would be lying if we said it went down smoothly, because jellied soup does take some getting used, but the point of this entire endeavour was, of course, to make challenging food and that would run contrary to the ordinary notions of how food ought to be prepared and served, and this we had accomplished.