And so the soul-searching food begins…
What will your last meal be? The first time I was asked that question, I nearly choked on my fresh Californian sushi in Venice Beach, ironically in California.
It was a bizarre question, I thought. On the other side of the world where I lived, it is almost referred to as a “taboo”. Death is a mortifying notion that it’s presence in a word can really loom a certain cast of overwhelming grief just by mentioning it. Some say that it’s bad luck because it certainly insinuates that the questioner seems eager to invite death.
Luckily for me, I was quietly enjoying my sushi with a group of international backpackers when that question was asked .There I was amongst some of the most open-minded group I have ever travelled with. Everyone is free to express his or her views out loud.
Humbly in my flip-flops, I was deep in thought…”Is this one of those “tricky questions” whereby your answer will automatically reveal a peek into your deep dark personality ?”. Hmm…I procrastinate.
As I listened to the answers given by the others….I heard myriad of food menus and local specialties of their hometowns being mentioned. And often they mentioned food at home, a comfort food cooked by their loved ones.
Still deep in thoughts, I have a good mind to run away to create excuses of wanting to go to the loo. But that thought was stopped by a manly husky voice. Bob, our leader asked “So Putri… What is your answer? And don’t try to run away…”..Bob warned me with a smug smile as if he has read my hidden intention.
Hmm… Truth is… if there is to be my last meal. I would not eat it. How can I? When the hereafter visualisations of paradise dreams started building it’s sandy castles on my mind. But on the other hand, death often simulates images of pain. And if I am dying and if I must have my last meal, Oh boy! I must be in a very big, big trouble because that can be only one cruel thought- I did a crime and got caught in maximum security prison. (yikes!). And if that happens, no amount of soul food can make me happy while the whole body and soul is entrapped in a cage of metal bars.
Anyway, push those thoughts aside. I tried to play it cool. Immediately, my mind, formed images of worldwide cuisines. Being an international foodie has allowed me to change the state of the mind fast, within seconds. Because when we travelled to places, sometimes, we are served with unique gastronomically cuisines that will blow your mind such as eating porcupine in Malaysia, rabbit in the Netherlands … and as much as I wanted to say no, my curiosity is killing the “cat” within me. And so instead of visualising the big pinkish fluffy rabbits playing on the lawn as pets, I stripped them as equivalent images of raw chicken meat found in the markets.
Ok, my answer…
I would love to have the freshest caught seafood sliced delicately into a lavish form of art served by a well known Japanese Chef. A tray of freshly caught sea urchin, octopus or tuna will add dashes of happiness on my face. Either that or the simplicity of lavish expensive French food served in many courses in a famous restaurant in the most romantic city of Paris. Exquisite menu like Boeuf Bourguignon (a la Julia Child), finest Wagyu steak… shall be my “companions” and the presence of a famous male chef/world traveller in my last dining moment; Anthony Bourdain, will definitely be a bonus treat! Woo-hoo! *got carried away in my instant imaginative world.
But then again… Moroccan food and their Tagine cuisines enriched with all the colourful combustions of unique spices and loads of glorious succulent meat roasted to perfection are definitely worth my last meal in fact… it is to die for…or in Singapore “layman” terms- “Die, die must try!
So what shall be my last meal? Hmm…after a brief moments of silence…”A-ha!!!”, I shrieked completely forgetting about the cursed of the “last meal” taboo.
I realised one special SOUL food that will always linger in my mind, my heart and my SOUL irregardless where my feet landed. I asked myself- Whenever I came back from travelling, what is the one thing I crave for? When I am weary after a hard day’s work, what can soothe my tired joints and spirits? When I was unwell, what is the comfort food that snuggle me close and keep me happy and entertained?
It’s none other than my favourite-PORRIDGE! The group show signs of a hint of dismayed vibes in the air. I can sense a moment of silence plaquing us. I guess coming from a tiny red dot from the Far East, really pique these westerners mind… Knowing that Singapore was also known to be one food paradise, they were expecting me to come up with something bizarre- perhaps frog legs or something.
But as I further explained on my favourite Chinese chicken porridge with all the juicy steamed chicken thighs, tender giblets and livers in tow, most of them ended up drooling. The hot and piping cheesy pizzas that they were holding seems almost unattractive and tasteless. I chuckled to myself. It felt like I was conducting a Singapore food guide tour with my answers taking more time than a simple visit to the loo.
My favourite old school Chicken porridge with gizzards and livers at Geylang Serai Market level 2.
Porridge has long been a comfort food for me. It was introduced to us since we were babies but mainly, there is a connection between porridge and happiness to me.
When I was as young as 5 (before this age, it seems memory blank out on me), I was living a carefree life in a kampung (village) at Mandai. Now this place is a bustling animal garden city that Singapore is very proud of..-Singapore Zoological Garden and Night Safari.
On my 5th birthday, I remembered it vividly as if it was yesterday. My grandparents were very busy. In the morning, I had witness the frantic chase of my family going after chickens. They were fleeing for their lives!(I meant the chickens). I also have the chance of seeing them being slaughtered live.( luckily, I wasn’t so scared of the gory blood and all that. I guess the images of fried golden crispy chicken causes disempowerment to those unsightly “gory” mess)
In those days, having chicken meat is an ultimate luxury. It is often eaten once or twice in a year during festive seasons of Aidil Fitri and Aidil Adha but in my unique case, thrice because my birthday is included.(One of the perks I got by being the first grandchild in the family.) Events such as this are wonderful excuse for aunties and uncles to congregate in my grandparents’ house and create a wonderful feast together.
Then admidst those chatter, I saw endless bowls being sent out, hand delivered to the neighbours. And my curiousity piqued. I took a sneak peek It was a red bowl of gooey red stuff with a small whitish dot in the center.
This image is just an illustration.
I asked my grandfather-What are those? *pointing innocently at those China,white bowls. He told me that those are called “Bubur Merah Putih (Red and white porridge). As I probe further, I was delighted to know that the endless streams of bowls are being given out to neighbours as a form of gratitude in conjunction with my birthday celebrations. To encourage blessings and prayers for the birthday girl and at the same time, tighten the community bond and spirit of our neighbourhood.
I was happy that my birthday is being celebrated in a big way with just a basic simple dish of porridge. Bubur merah putih is a segregation of red and white porridge. Both are made with rice boiled in coconut milk till it became into thick mixture consistency. They were then separated into 2 bowls whereby one is added with red sugar for sweetness and the other is savoury with salt. Then scoops of red porridge are placed into 1 big bowl with just a spoonful of white porridge(saltish) per family.The ratio is about 1:10 (the smallest being savoury).
To eat it, you need to mix them together. It was my favourite! My mouth marveled at the sweetness and tinge of saltishness in my mouth. Kinda delighted me It creates a somewhat harmony of taste. It was deliciously YUMMY!
Every household was given a bowl to be shared amongst the many family members (in those days, a household has about 8-12 kids) thus it kinda encourage every members to share mouthfuls from a single spoon. It was said that a family that eat together stay together right? Mmm… I miss those precious moments.
Irregardless of varieties of colours of races and interesting spirituality religions in the village, we are like one big happy family. When it’s someones’ birthday,we have our own way of showing it to the community and sharing our happiness.
In a Malay custom, this is actually sort of sharing blessings and in return gaining birthday wishes such as “Semoga panjang umur dan murah rezeki..” (translated as longevity wishes and bountiful, prosperous life). And this custom still runs in my family today. Not only on birthdays but on special happy events (e.g graduation, weddings, birth of child…)
Its like our own form of celebration. Simple yet it enriches us with loads of blessings and good intentions. Its our SOUL food. It’s as if when eaten, we are all being hugged by the same mummy, cradled to sleep.
Those were the days….
But in our current “super hyperactive” days…we do have all sorts of soul food. But to me, porridge is almost like my soulmate. When one is often engulfed in the myriad happenings of life’s ups and downs, I often take lots of “pit stops” in life to stop and indulge in my soul food. It gives me great comfort, replenish my energy and rejuvenate my senses.
Porridge is one of the easiest food to cook (even a dummie can learnt it within minutes!) It’s a no hassle kind of recipe. Anything that u want (e.g fish, chicken, beef, vegetables..), u can just pop it in together in a pot with your rice (or lentils..) and loads of water (or coconut, milk, cream, stock..). Let it slowly cooked for few hours. I prefer mine thick and gooey-like consistency like rice congee.
But now, conveniently, porridge is sold everywhere. Every culture has its own versions of porridge.
Porridge are often associated with being sick or in the hospital bed. But it’s no longer the case, as the world is getting more concerned about healthy food and time constrains (too much work but less time to relax). Porridge is seen as one of the most popular comfort food that can be eaten at any time of the day. And since rice is one of our staples, rice porridge is very popular in many cultures.
As a foodie, I tracked some popular varieties of halal porridges:
Temple St Teochew Porridge (Halal-certifed) at Banquet in Clifford Centre, basement level. Many accompanyment from sidedishes of braised chicken,braised soya sauce tofu and boiled egg, saltish vegetables, sweet and sour sliced fish(my fav!) and many more…
Sweet Dessert Porridges from a favourite indian muslim stall (Hajjah Fatimah) at Tekka Centre in Little India.The white one is an Indian porridge called “Bubur Suji” which is made of white vermicelli and sago cooked in savoury coconut cream.
Malay dessert porridge -Bubur Pulut Hitam (black glutinuous rice dessert porridge which is often burgundy in colour) Green Beans Dessert Porridge and sago (coconut cream)…all from the same above mentioned stall served during breakfast only from 6am till 11.30am (or earlier,often it gets sold out)Bubur Kampung- Malay version of rice porridge which has has kangkung vegetables (cooked in belacan), salted duck egg, saltish vegetables like white carrots, fried crispy anchovies with peanuts and sambal belacan (pounded bird eye chillies with belacan) as its sides. Can be found at Geylang Serai Market level 2.
Claypot congee (fish/chicken) with fried youtiao (fried chinese doughstick) at Habib’s Restaurant located near Bukit Gombak MRT
All porridges are often slowly cooked for hours to perfection for that “soulful” taste and thus I believe the Cooks/Chefs need to constantly stir and be aware of the whole cooking process-preparing the fresh ingredients and cooking them with so much tender love and care.
Porridge is definitely my soul food, a source of healing and renewal.
Fusion Century egg porridge (chinese+malay) at Ayer Rajah Food Centre with a fiesty birdeye’s chilli dip.
This Ramadan (fasting)month, I am gonna enjoy a whole month of porridge (given out free to the community in all mosques at 4.30pm).The porridge is cooked in many gigantic pots ,cooked with love by many pair of hands from various communities,harmoniously using a single recipe. For sure, I am gonna sit back,relax and enjoy those tasty mouthfuls of “love” porridge from the loving community.I am gonna allow myself be “hugged” by the comfort of my soul food and let it renew and recharge every single,weary cell in my heart,my mind and definitely my soul.
So next time, when u need a break (replace those Kit Kats *chuckles)… go and get some porridge..relax and savour every bit of the porridge in your own treasured moments. Enjoy them till the last drop. Take time for yourself, for your soul. I will definitely take my time..aah…
Oh no! *gasped. Now I missed my late grandma’s Bubur Merah Putih… *sigh…
Thank you to National Heritage Board for creating such funky IMPRINT series and not forgetting the hardworking,fun staff behind it (Especially to Faiz!Thanks!)
p.s: I am honoured to be chosen alongside 2 popular floggers (food bloggers): Camemberu (thanks!)and The Hungry Cow. to participate in an event with the National Heritage board. You can check them out in their hip and trendy website. http://www.yesterday.sg/
And there is a contest that goes along with this imprint series and you can WIN yourself a Special Edition Lomo Diana F+ CYMK Camera ,so read these entries and answer those SIMPLE questions!!
Do check the CONTEST details!
Disclaimer: Food featured are subject to my personal taste. I hold no responsibility for your body’s gastronomical adventure.All food shown are either from Halal-certified or Muslim owned establishments(with no liquour/alcoholic beverages).I will try my utmost best to update and maintain the relevant information shown,insya-Allah…but your body,your responsibility.Do ensure that the Halal-certificates are up-to-date,renewed (not expired) and displayed promptly before ordering/consuming. If in doubt,always ask the staff with a smile.Remember: Use ur senses especially your heart.But mainly, ask your iman (faith). Don’t assume: A headdress/scarf lady is not equal to HALAL. “No pork no lard” signage is not equal to HALAL. A crescent moon and star symbol is not equal to HALAL. Not all Mediterranean (e.g Turkish kebab), Malaysian, Indonesian cuisines (especially Nasi Padang food) is HALAL. Whatever franchise that is HALAL in Malaysia,Indonesia or in any muslim country does not mean it is HALAL in Singapore or anywhere else. Your body,your responsibility, check its HALAL authenticity.More on disclaimer?Thank you for your kind attention.