I enjoyed my travels to Singapore, the Lion City. They were always filled with unexpected pleasures from an awe filled evening on Chinese New Years at Raffles Hotel to the aromatic street food markets to the lush foliage at every turn. One of my visits, though, provided my most memorable Singapore culinary adventure and serves as inspiration for this Experience all thanks to a young boy named Qiang and a “Family Food Fight” dinner.
A few days into the trip, an associate extended an unexpected invitation to his home for a casual family dinner. I was duly warned, though, that I should be prepared to work for my food. It was “Family Food Fight” night. If the thought of a home cooked meal wasn’t persuasion enough, curiosity definitely motivated me to accept the invitation.
Upon arriving at Liang’s home, the door opened to Liang and a very somber four year old boy, Qiang. With a slight bow, Qiang took my hand and lead me through the house to the back patio area and garden. Surrounded by blooming tropical plants and tall shady trees, the area served as a shield from the din of the city street.
As we moved through the garden, Qiang would pause at each plant, statue and fountain to educate me with in-depth detail and much animation. Of course, I could not understand since I did not speak Chinese and Liang was respectful enough of his son as to not interrupt by interpreting but simply smiled. Qiang’s dark brown eyes shone with importance, as I would nod while making appropriate comments; “how beautiful” “so peaceful” “the scent is heavenly”. He took his role as guide seriously and all my efforts to elicit a smile simply had no effect. I wanted to know this little boy’s story; how he became such a serious child and intent with duty.
The conclusion of the tour led us to a round table with place settings for eight diners. In the middle rested a large circular electric grill with a pot of steaming water in the middle. Laughter and rapid conversation announced the arrival of dinner. Liang’s wife, two daughters and parents joined us carrying trays of various raw meats cut into small strips, seafood, vegetables, rice and a variety of sauces. Qiang took a seat next to his mother and directly across from me.
I soon learned the meaning of “Family Food Fight” night. Sitting around the table, diners placed their choice of meat or seafood or veggies on the revolving grill. The trick was to reclaim your food as it finished grilling and before someone else decided it should be on his or her plate. Organized chaos erupted. Amid much laughter, the family watched as I attempted to claim my food and learned to take someone else’s more appealing grill contribution. Any protocol of allowing the guest to be served first was definitely not present.
Imagine my surprise to find a plate of hotdogs in the middle of all the luscious ingredients. Considered a special treat for Liang’s children and mother, the hotdog competition became quite fierce. Qiang said little but watched me intently during the process.
In the midst of the competitive chaos, Qiang suddenly climbed out of his chair and pushed it around the table until he was next to me. He climbed up and proceeded to move all of the bowls of food and sauces from across the table to directly in front of me. The conversation ceased as we watched his purposeful mission to ensure his guest received her share of dinner. That is until he turned to me, placed one small hand on each side of my face, looked me straight in the eyes and somberly said in very distinct English, “Beautiful, kind Lady. Do not eat my hotdogs please.” He then smiled as big as possible and sat down taking my hand once again in his. The table burst into loud laughter. Apparently, in Qiang’s short four year life, his story consisted of doing whatever was necessary to ensure he received his fair share of hotdogs.
Six years later, I saw Qiang again when he joined his father on a trip to Washington, DC. As I entered the hotel lobby, a young boy smiled and greeted me again with a slight bow and handshake as he said “Beautiful, kind Lady who did not eat my hotdogs, I am pleased to meet you again.”
Qiang and his family taught me that the simplest of meals have the ability of creating the greatest of memories. I have never seen a hotdog since that I do not think of Qiang and I still do not eat them.
Qiang’s Mother’s Dinner of Five Sauces provides a casual dining experience full of flavor but without the chaos experienced at Qiang’s home. While there are a number of dishes to prepare, the majority may be prepared in advance.
The meal begins with the Pasar Malams Spring Rolls, seared with a brush of toasted sesame seed oil, and Pagoda Street Sticky Char Siew (Barbecued Pork) Bites, sweet, and savory with a quick finish under the broiler for char.
Side dishes are deviations of traditional Chinese side dishes with the use of alternate ingredients such as black rice (not wild) in the Martha’s Simple Ginger Black Rice and avocado oil to sauté the glass noodles in the Orchard Road Ginger Glass Noodle Salad.
Finishing the meal, Lucky Nai Nai’s Lunar Cakes are basically Moon Cakes presented in a deliciously sweet two-bite cookie version served along side Marina Square Fruit Salad that gains it astonishing flavor from Chinese 5 Spice Powder.
A unique aspect of the meal is the cooking of the meats and shrimp without use of flavored oils, herbs or spices. The “bare” pork, beef, chicken, duck and shrimp allows diners to experience the various sauces without a taste distraction from another flavor tier.
The dining experience presented here demonstrates the ingredients and cooking method for the meats plus a recipe for one of the sauces, Grant Avenue Hoisin Steak Sauce. The recipes for the remaining four sauces are linked here: Mustard Sauce with “Mìliàn”, Singapore Street Markets’ Orange BBQ Sauce, Boon Tat Lemon Soy Sauce, Singapore’s Chinatown Peanut Sauce.
This playlist is a deviation from my usual playlists, but the meal simply calls for a fresh, upbeat sound. After hearing Adrian Strom’s Somewhere Inside, I began searching for up and coming artists with similar sounds. It became difficult to narrow the list in the end but believe No Alarms’ Right is What’s Left and True North’s Drifting Up as well as the others contribute a fantastic backdrop to dinner. Somewhere Inside begins the set and Shemce’s excellent version of Stand By Me provides the close.
¾ pound pork tenderloin
¾ pound sirloin steak
¾ pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
¾ pound duck breast
¾ pound large shrimp
Hoisin Steak Sauce
¼ c Hoisin Sauce
½ c beef broth
¼ c water
3 T rice wine
1 T chives, minced
2 t cornstarch
Slice the pork, beef, chicken thighs and duck breast into strips about 1/4 inch thick. Set aside.
Devein and remove shells from shrimp leaving the tails intact.
The result will be the sliced 4 meats and the shrimp.
Tear five 12 inch sheets of aluminum foil. Place one type of meat on each sheet, resulting in five meat packets.
Seal each packet tightly by rolling up tightly on all sides. Place on a sided baking sheet and into the preheated oven. Bake 15 minutes.
Place all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk to combine.
Sauce may be served in one bowl or individual bowls.
Evenly divide the meat and shrimp between four plates.
Serve the meat with the accompanying sauces and allow your guest to create their own fantastic flavor tiers!
While the original was created at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore by a mixologist named, Ashley, through the years, I have tweeted the ratio of ingredients, switched out the original pomegranate liqueur for a mango liqueur and added a splash of gin. Rather than orange liqueur, this cocktail uses orange bitters and a squeeze of lime. Whatever the changes from the original, it will always be Ashley’s Bourbon Sling.
Created using gin, benedictine, orange liqueur, a splash of pineapple juice and lime juice, this cocktail has all of the visual presence of a Singapore Sling without the overwhelming sweetness of the original. It creates the perfect cocktail with spicy foods especially those with an Asian influence.
It becomes a bit of a challenge to pair a wine when serving a dinner of complex and sometimes competing flavors. With this in mind, for your white wine guests, stay with a dry Riesling such as Dr Thanisch Bernkasteler Doctor Kabinett. Crisp with citrus aroma and flavors, it is dry but still refreshing.
For your red wine guests, a brightly fruited wine such as a Cote de Beaune red pairs well. Try Jadot Beaune Clos des Ursules, 2012. The palate is ripe and generous with a pervasive finish that lingers long on the mouth.
Just as with wine, the complexity of competing flavors with this dinner provides a challenge in pairing beer selections. Here are two which will manage the spicy, sweet, fresh or sticky flavors. Dupont Saison Dupont Ale is a Farmhouse Ale that is balanced and complex with a refreshing fruitiness.
The second beer to offer is Flensburger Dunkel, a German Lager. With aromas of roasted grains, caramel and bready sweetness, the hop notes keep this from being too sweet. Simply a crisp, pleasant lager
The non-traditional ingredient is the minced jalapeño pepper. It provides just the right amount of heat and by mincing before adding. The rolls are brushed with toasted sesame seed oil then seared over high heat. It crisps the outside quickly without overly warming the filling resulting in a softened wrapper.
All of the fabulous flavor, wonderful aroma and incredible stickiness of Chew Siew is recreated in a bite sized appetizer. The sauce is sweet and sticky with the wonderful combination of ginger and garlic aromas.
hese Lunar Cakes have all the elements of the original Moon Cakes but miniaturized to allow them to be served as a side with Chinese Fruit Cake or simply a small treat with an afternoon cup of tea. The addition of Chinese 5 Spice powder is a Flavor Tier I simply could not resist. The hin
Any desired complimentary fruit combination would provide a perfect base to the flavors of honey, almond extract and Chinese 5 spice powder. Letting the salad sit in the refrigerator for several hours increases the depth of the flavors, but be sure to mix again before serving to distribute the juices.
Easily prepared in one pan with simple ingredients. The black rice provides a firm base for ginger and orange flavor tiers.
Using glass noodles as a foundation, this salad is reminiscent of a dish experience in Singapore. The dressing is light but intense; full of ginger and garlic flavors, bringing out the best of the vegetables!