Tag Archives: Food illustration

A snack and a dessert

Last week while lunching with my sketcher pals at Tiong Bahru Hawker Center, I had two new additions to my ever expanding knowledge of local dishes.

I was ploughing through a plate of noodles topped with roasted pork slices and a bowl of clear soup with light fluffy wantons floating on the surface when Paul landed a plate of Chwee Kweh and a bowl of cooling Cheng Teng on our table and said, “try these”. He seemed rather pleased and glanced over his loot with such undeniable sense of achievement that I wondered if mountains were moved and demons were slain to win these back from the dragon’s den! Pretty close actually, considering the heat, humidity and long lunch time queues he must have endured to score some of this hawker center’s best offerings.

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Chwee Kweh, a white muffin shaped item (top right on my sketchbook) is a kind of steamed rice cake which was served on waxed paper and seemed bland by itself but when eaten with the salty, garlicky preserved radish relish, it hit all the right notes. “It’s a very popular snack in Singapore”, said my friends understandably when they saw me stealing second, third..fifth helpings. I managed a muffled “mmm…hmm” in between mouthfuls. They withdrew their chopsticks gently and let me finish every last bit of it.

Cheng Teng, sketched on the bottom right wasn’t an instant hit, maybe because I’m not big on desserts but what won me over eventually were its mild sweetness (from rock sugar) and cooling nature. The dish looked like brown frozen soup in a glass bowl filled with a slew of goodies known to have health benefits like gingko nuts, dried longan, winter melons, dried persimmon, sago, barley pearls, red dates and such, making it a dessert that you can sip and chew and have fun with, apparently. Paul kept asking me to dig deep with my spoon to scoop up the dried fruits along with the frozen soup and every time I did, we checked what was unearthed. “Look, persimmons.. there, get the water chestnut, quick! Aw.. it slipped. Try again”.

 

 

 

Playing with food

I love books that influence the state of my mind and the state of my being. When I’m reading such a book, I can slowly feel it pitching a temporary tent inside my brain – stretching the canvas, hammering the stakes with a mallet, inflating the air mattresses, checking the flashlights, lighting the firewood and so on. Together we make happy campers, spiritually and emotionally invested, till the last word on the last page has been consumed, and then we pack up and go our separate ways.

It so happens that I’m ‘camping’ with M.F.K Fisher’s, “The Art of Eating’ these days and quite predictably, all I am mulling over is food and how meditative cooking, feeding and consuming can be, especially if it is one of your favourite pursuits. From the precise moment when the potent stomach growls of your guests give way to their appreciative ‘ahhs’ as your luscious creations land the table to the prolonged hush with shoulders hunched over plates, ending with loud placid sighs, you know everything’s gone right. It is a process that’s unnerving for the cook to watch, yet immensely fulfilling at the same time.

Chicken Tikka

Illustrated Recipe of Chicken Tikka

However, what you always end up with, after such unnerving yet fulfilling sessions, is at least one curious soul enquiring about the recipe, which I have trouble giving out, not because it’s some closely guarded secret handed down through generations (though this sounds much more dramatic) but because I don’t follow recipes to the T. This explains why I am a sloppy baker. Anyway the thing is, when I try something new, I have the taste of that dish registered in my mind and I gear my ingredients towards that taste while cooking. Yes I look at the recipe for structure and method, but I am not a slave to it. I use imagination, I tinker around and make it my own.

When I say this to the recipe-enquirer who was expecting a list of carefully measured cups, teaspoons and tablespoons, I can see disappointment creeping across her face like dark approaching clouds. To avoid reciting an insipid list of measurements and yet pacify my guest by conveying the message in a tangible and useful manner, I tried illustrating one of my favourite Indian recipes – Chicken Tikka. Well, I had fun! Playing with food has its merits. Hope it goes down well with others.

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee with kids in tow? Maybe!

Eat Play Love Cafe

I have always been amused by the predicament of folks visiting cafes with small kids. Unless the child is tiny enough to be strapped to a stroller with a pacifier inside its mouth – basically tied and gagged – parents have a problem. Okay, not so much a problem, but a challenge, a herculean task, of engaging a pint sized energy ball with the attention span of a hummingbird such that it is sedentary, at least for a little while so they can sip at their drinks and let their sleep deprived minds wander.

Now, if there are pigeons in the vicinity of the cafe, which is quite common in Singapore, that is good news, not for everybody though. These urban birds are the least flighty and the most purposeful creatures I have come across on this island. They have adapted surprisingly well with the country’s economic boom and change in lifestyle. Instead of gouging out worms from the soil (which is so last century!) they swoop down on molten chocolate cakes or puff pastries lying in front of unsuspecting patrons and parade in between tables, hawk-eyed, puff-chested and taut-bodied, without a tinge of remorse.

And it is this sight of pigeons marching on the tarmac, that holds an universal appeal to kids across the world. They would tear away from protective arms, squeal in ecstacy and scuttle after the birds, who are surprisingly unflustered, till they are about to be stepped on, which is when they spread their wings and fly few meters away only to be chased again. This hobnobbing can continue for hours, giving enough time and space for the guardians to ‘keep calm and enjoy their drink’.

However, if thou cannot spoteth pigeons, do not despair. I have also watched anguished parents slowly relinquish their grip on electronic tablets or smartphones and surrendering them to tiny hands that urgently tap away at them for hours on end. So there is that. Another trade-off for solitude and a cup of coffee.

Some make their kids carry homework or sketchbooks to cafes. But that doesn’t quite cut it. While you sit back, relax and are about to zone out with the steaming cuppa, the last thing you need is to be badgered for help in Math or to be asked what crayon to use to paint the hut. This is also when the spouse flashes the ‘I told you so’ look.

With a thriving cafe culture in the country, new cafes sprouting like mushrooms, and Time Out featuring yet another list of ‘best cafes on the island’, I was surprised some entrepreneurial 20-something-Melbourne returned-grad student hadn’t thought of catering to this niche already. With a book cafe (“a book themed cafe that offers a relaxed ambience and casual dining”) and even a cat cafe (‘we strive to give you the perfect combination of cats, coffee, tea and pastries‘) around, it seemed such an oversight. Untill one day I stepped inside ‘Eat Play Love’ on 28 Aliwal Street.

Eat Play Love

For S$5, kids get 2 hours of unlimited access to Eat Play Love cafe’s collection of crafts

From the taxi’s window, this calm cerulean blue space, fitted with wooden hand painted furniture and vintage signages, barrage of colourful crafts, toys and knick knacks looked especially eye catching. Once inside, prepare to be drowned in the cacophony of gleeful kids huddled at a crafts table – playing, painting, sketching, sticking, cutting, wrapping and what not, all by themselves. Their guardians have the peaceful look of a Zen monk. Life’s sorted.

However, if you’re there minus the bambino, well, a slightly uncomfortable feeling akin to showing up for class without books, may tug at your sleeve. Obviously, you cannot share or borrow these metaphorical books! But thankfully the cafe has enough room for you to slink away from the hubbub, grab a table by the window, sip a latte or aromatic tea infusion, read a book, paint and chit chat with your spouse.