Thursday, November 17, 2011


My father taught me how to make wontons as a child. I may have learned as young as five or six. We sat at the kitchen table with ground pork (mixed with oyster sauce, salt and corn starch), square wonton wrappers and a bowl of water. He held a wrapper in his left palm with one corner pointing to the wrist. After dolloping pork in the center, he wet the border of two perpendicular sides with his right hand's index finger. He folded the wet borders on to the dry ones to create a triangle, pressing edges together, the pork safely enveloped. Then he tucked the right corner underneath the left one to complete the parcel. The simple yet elegant process infatuated me.

I started making wontons myself in my post-secondary years. In the first summer of my 20s, I made a turkey version for friends because one, as a Hindu, ate no meat except poultry. My buddies devoured the turkey dumplings. In fourth-year university when I lived on my own, a classmate requested I prepare the original recipe with him because, I think, it reminded him of his mother who passed away. More recently, I taught the man I love how to wrap wontons for one of the first dinners we shared at home together. Just two weekends ago, my eldest sister served me her wontons for dinner. About her five-year-old son, she remarked, "You know Raja helped me make some?"

Monday, November 14, 2011


I never realized how much I loved rice till I started dating my boyfriend. We see each other nearly every day and always at meal times. (Or maybe we're just always hungry.) If we see each other for seven straight days, I request sushi six times. Fresh raw fish is delightful, no question. But I most crave the sweet, salty, acidic, vinegar-dressed sticky rice that, pressed together into a soft white pillow, still retains every individual grain's character of slightly chewy texture. The rice sticks together but each grain stands separate and strong on its own like a marching army on the thin red line of seaweed, tuna, avocado, cucumber or whatever your sushi tongue desires.

Sometimes, fish is a mere accompaniment—not the other way around. I'm often satisfied with my sushi combo order, yet I find myself staring longingly at my boyfriend's bowl of rice, dotted with sesame seeds. I'm internally appalled at its abandonment for beef teriyaki instead. Historically regarded as poor person's food, rice is often neglected for its mistaken blandness or feared for its needless carb counts. But great sushi rice is rich man's food. Expert sushi chefs spend five years learning how to cook perfect rice and blend it with their master's tried-and-true balanced vinegar mixture to moisten, sweeten and elevate the individual grains to thousands of tiny edible gems. The gems glisten and beckon me to consume every last morsel—though it's not technically mine to consume.

"Can I have your rice?" I ask, though my plate is cleaned and the boyfriend, twice my petite size, could easily eat more.

"Yeah, sure. Go ahead," he replies sincerely.

I greedily gobble and stab my chopsticks at every last piece. Sometimes this rice isn't the same as what they use for nigiri and maki but I must have it anyway. Because leaving one grain of rice behind is an insult to poor and rich alike that I just can't tolerate.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cheese, donuts and roast beef

The cheese was as ripe as a pregnant woman in labour for 36 hours.

The donut smelled stale, like an abandoned attic filled with moldy blankets and yellowing black-and-white photos of relatives and their friends long forgotten.

The roast beef sandwich tasted as though I successfully sweated through 90 minutes of a body-bending hot yoga class.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Roast Beef Sandwich

The roast beef sandwich tasted as though I just completed 101 consecutive push-ups, beating Kat Tancock and her boyfriend at their own game.

It was that good.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mangoes: Fruit of the Gods

The mango case sat at the top of the stairs, yellow bumps flashing. I picked up one and felt the weight of a baseball. Bringing it to my upper lip, I closed my eyes, inhaled slowly and postcards of Indian beaches shuttered in my mind.

I walked to the kitchen. I got a cutting board and a cleaver. I peeled the skin. The juices smeared my fingertips and the fragrance filled my nostrils. I carefully let the peel fold into one curled strand.

The mango sat in my palm, shining like sunset light streaming through stained glass. Enclosing my fingers around its slippery body, I cut grid marks. The blade easily slid through to the seed. As I sliced against the inner stone, pieces fell on to the wood with a small plop.

I didn’t bother with a plate—or a fork. Taking a small wedge between my fingers, I dropped it on to my tongue. My teeth effortlessly pierced the golden cushion. My taste buds cheered as supple sweetness burst in my mouth. Everything went in slow motion. But after that first morsel, the view sped up like a time-capture video of clouds in the sky—except instead of white pillows moving across blue air, a hand darted in and out to steal the exotic ambrosia till it all disappeared.

After all, I did feel godlike by the end.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Your Last Meal on Death Row

There was a citywide indie arts festival when I was in Singapore. In one hallway leading to the Metro station were rows of American convicted killers' portraits paired with stark images of their last meal request.

Initiated by American photographer Jonathon Kambouris, the project made me feel unsettled and eerie. Kambouris asked the question, "How is society really served by the death penalty?"

Personally, I've always seen capital punishment as an archaic relic of societies past, forgetting that it is still legal in several United States. And after reading The New Yorker's haunting piece on whether Texas executed an innocent man earlier that fall, it's a question that sits in the back of my mind, waiting for a reasonable answer that may never come.

To see all the photos, visit

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bak Kut Teh - A Soup of Home

I never met my cousin Augustus before till I visited Singapore but we bonded instantly over a shared age and love of food. He took me to the hottest club shows and the best late-night eats.

Our first early morning food adventure together was another Zouk club night.

After a Wednesday night of highly choreographed dance moves to popular 80's tracks (Mambo nights), Agus was raring to take me for bak kut teh — pork rib soup. I wasn't one to refuse.

It was also the first time I had a barley drink before (no alcohol). I didn't like but it's supposed to be very good for you.

But the soup. Oh my. The soup (bottom right corner). It's not much to look at but one whiff and I was drowning in a haze of meaty aroma that flickered with the life of a nighttime campfire. I slurped up the broth with abandon. And I wanted more. I was like the greedy little fat kid in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except instead of a river of milk chocolate, I wanted to fall into this river of bak kut teh.

What does this smell like?

I couldn't stop gobbling it up, inhaling it, wondering why it was so familiar yet so different from the original dish. Then it hit me.

It smelled like Montreal Schwartz's smoked meat.

I was home at last.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

May you live in safety. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.
—Philly D, inspirational hip-hop yoga instructor; and co-owner of Moksha Yoga Winnipeg 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Poached egg and noodles

Last week I went vegetarian. It was part of a seven-week yoga challenge to live my moksha off the mat.

I love meat — a lot — so it was a difficult task at times. While my fellow yogis sip on zen tea after class, I'm often found devouring roast beef sandwiches. The hardest part was deciding what to eat. My inner voice (or probably my devilish taste buds) would whine, "This would be easier if I could just have meat." But once I resisted my animal urges, I enjoyed discovering veggie alternatives, including the mix-and-match salad bar at Pumpernickel's featuring such delights as couscous, bean salads, and roasted beets.

My most triumphant moment was at home. I created a three-ingredient dish with my favourite Chinese noodles, baby bok-choy and a poached egg. I love watching gold spill out from the delicate white pocket of this unfertilized chicken spawn. (There was lots of talk among carnivorous friends if eggs are meat.) This sunshine-in-a-bowl atop slippery sweet noodles and some greenery is a fine meal for even my non-vegetarian days.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Thinking About You"

Thom Yorke, your voice oozes every emotion I've ever felt in my life.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Toronto's very own Khao San Road

In Bangkok, Khao San Road is backpacker party central, making it a fitting name for the new Thai restaurant in Toronto’s own alcohol-soaked Entertainment district. But Chef Nuit Regular’s latest venture with her husband Jeff speaks more of wooden, mod urban temple than a 100-baht hostel bunk.

This Khao San Road evokes Thailand’s street food and teleports me back to my own Southeast Asia adventure, even with its contemporary white dish plating. Khao soi is a must: a traditional northern Chiang Mai noodle dish with tender beef cubes bathed in a tangy curry broth. More familiar fare is available too, including deep-fried garlic shrimp, chicken pad thai and daily Thai curries, all extraordinarily tasting of Regular’s land and love.

Halal devotees of the original hole-in-the-wall Sukhothai, beware: she’s playing with fried pork belly here—but to pig eaters’ delight. Opened for lunch and dinner; stand by for the Thai breakfast introduction, which is sure to spice up the city’s typical bacon-and-Benny scene. 326 Adelaide St. W., 647-352-5773 (

 Khao Soi $10: Tender braised beef with egg noodles in a coconut milk-enriched curry and garnished with crisp fried noodles, green onion and a slice of lime

Garlic Shrimp $9: Shrimp breaded in a crispy garlic coating served with a sweet and tangy garlic sauce

Chicken Pad Thai $14: Special pad thai "three flavours-style" topped with homemade roasted peanuts, dried chili and a fresh slice of lime

Gaeng Phed a.k.a. Thai Red Curry, Chicken for $12: The red colour comes from a curry paste made of dried red chilies

Yum Ta Wai $8: A salad of iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, julienned vegetables, coriander, shredded chicken and a sliced hard-boiled egg, tossed in a sweet curry peanut dressing

Pad Kee Mao, Shrimp $15: Stir-fried rice noodle with fresh green chili, fresh garlic, long green pepper, bamboo shoots and Thai basil leaves

Chai Yen a.k.a. Thai Iced Tea $4.50: An infusion of Thai spices and black tea mixed with condensed milk (!) and served over crushed ice

Friday, March 11, 2011

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.
—Christopher Morley

Friday, February 4, 2011

If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape 100 days of sorrow.
-Chinese Proverb

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Portuguese Egg Tart in Singapore

Do I really need to say more?

Singapore's Airport Food (and a little family history)

I spent a lot of time in airports backpacking through Southeast Asia last year. But the first time I visited Singapore Changi International Airport was when my Uncle Edward and I picked up my cousin Sue Ann and her husband from a short trip to Bali, Indonesia. (I arrived in Singapore from Malaysia by train.)

I never met Sue Ann before and knew little about her. You see, my Uncle Edward is my father's first cousin but we didn't know any of them until just under 10 years ago when they found us in Toronto through the Internet—before Facebook or Twitter was ever an idea in any university techgeek's mind.

My grandmother's youngest sister was given away as a child (they grew up in Calcutta, India, which is another story to tell another day because I'm of Chinese descent) and apparently wound up being raised and getting married in Singapore. Her family and ours always knew of each other's existence but just had no idea where in the world we were. When we did discover our families, we had a big reunion in Toronto, considering most of my father's cousins live here. Ever since then, we've been family. Most of my aunts and dad have visited and stayed with my Uncle Edward in Singapore, and vice versa; and Sue Ann travelled to Toronto for the first time in her life this past Christmas.

It may seem unusual to be estranged for so many years then suddenly welcome each other in our homes but that's the power of family sometimes.

I was nervous to meet Sue Ann, as I would be with any new person in any setting. But it's a particularly curious feeling when you're thousands of kilometres away from home and asking near-strangers to give up their time to show you around. Luckily, my aunt from Toronto informed me that Sue Ann and I had two brilliant things in common—an insatiable love for food and a high metabolism to keep us tiny.

My first meal with Sue Ann didn't turn out to be at the airport—that will come later—but the brilliant thing about most, if not all Singaporeans is they love food.

That is why their version of airport food would of course be this:

This is referred to as "dry noodles," though to me the distinction between wet and dry noodles was not obvious at first. In my mind, dry noodles doesn't come with anything "wet," such as a sauce. But in Singapore, wet noodles means soupy noodles and dry noodles are indeed saucy. It's inspiring how simple and elegant noodles can be presented at an airport.

I was also introduced to tea with sweetened condensed milk that day. I've yet to recreate the concoction since returning home (it's almost been a year now!) but as I read on a younger cousin's Facebook profile, "Condensed milk makes everything better. I think it's the secret to world peace."

Undoubtedly it very well may be—and the hospitality of loved ones doesn't hurt either.