“You are from Singapore? I was there just last year! Singapore is so clean, and the food is so good!” said a classmate to me when we introduced ourselves. Being overseas for the past 3 years, I realise the best way to learn about a culture is often through their food. For example, you can learn a lot about Singapore’s diversity through the many options available in our hawker culture.
The first two weeks after I arrived in Germany, I was starting to miss hawker food. I was craving for something savoury, like kuay chap, cai png, salted egg chicken tze char, and so on. Far from the comforts of home, I decided to learn to cook some simple Singaporean meals. However, my attempts to recreate these dishes have not always been smooth sailing.
I remember the very first time I cooked curry for my brothers when they came to visit me. One of my brothers had left me a container filled with curry powder, so I set about boiling water and preparing the ingredients. My mistake that day was, I did not fry the curry powder before adding it into the boiling water. Happily serving it to my brothers, I was hoping for positive feedback. To my dismay, the first comment was, “Why does your curry taste like water? How did you make the curry?” I did not believe my brothers, so I tried it myself, and started choking on clumps of curry powder as they went down my throat. I came to realise that cooking is not as simple as I expected. I took their advice on how to cook curry and made another batch for my German class the following week. My classmates loved it and wanted to learn the recipe from me.
That experience of cooking curry piqued my curiosity about how the other dishes we frequently eat in Singapore were made. I set out to try and recreate different dishes that reminded me of home.
I share a flat with some Malaysians and one day we were talking about where we got our favourite nasi lemak. I recalled how the kopitiam near my home served nasi lemak with a crunchy yet juicy chicken wing, as well as a fried egg that still had a runny yolk. Together with the fragrant coconut rice and fried anchovies, it was a taste I wanted to recreate.
However, it took me several attempts to get it right. My first tries ended up with crunchy rice, and another time, my chicken had a bitter aftertaste. Not my proudest moments. After a few more tries, I finally made nasi lemak that reminded my flatmates of home.
Here’s my take on Nasi Lemak:
20-30 pieces of dried chilli
6-8 pieces of garlic
5 onions (ideally shallots), 3 whole, 2 sliced
2 inches of ginger
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
1kg of chicken wings
2 inches of ginger
3 tablespoons of soya sauce
1 tablespoon of chilli powder
1 tablespoon of white pepper
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
400g of rice flour
1 cup of rice
1,5 cups of water
80 ml of coconut milk
5 pandan leaves
Prepare the sambal
1. Boil the dried chillies for 2 minutes.
2. Blend the chillies, garlic, 3 whole onions and ginger.
3. Using 3 tablespoons of sunflower oil, cook the sliced onions first, then add the spice mixture.
4. Add 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and cook it until the sambal turns maroon. Remove the sambal from the heat and set it aside.
| Prepare the chicken wings
5. Grate the ginger onto the chicken wings.
6. Add the soya sauce, chilli powder, white pepper and sesame oil to the chicken wings and leave it to rest for 30 minutes.
7. Prepare a pot of oil and heat it to 190 degrees Celsius.
8. Coat the chicken wings fully in flour.
9. Fry the chicken wings until they turn golden brown.
| Prepare the rice
10. Wash the rice and drain it. Tie the pandan leaves into a knot and place it into the rice. Add in coconut milk.
11. Cook the rice at a gentle simmer for 10-11 minutes.
(For those using a rice cooker: The cooker might enter “warming” mode ahead of time. Just set it to “cook” again.)
| Prepare other side dishes
12. While waiting for the rice to cook, fry some anchovies.
You can also consider including other side dishes like a fried egg and sliced cucumbers if you’re so inclined.
Combine all the different items on a plate and enjoy!