Those of you who know me well will know that there is nothing I love more than cooking. I love trying out new recipes and ingredients, and am undaunted by Ottolenghi-esque ingredient lists and complexity. You can imagine my joy then, to be invited to a cooking masterclass, with KF Seetoh (aka super Singaporean celebrity chef and food critic). I don’t think I could have said ‘yes’ more quickly to my invitation (thanks Laura!).
The cooking masterclass was organised by the folks at notatourist.sg, and was held at Tools of the Trade which a very confused taxi uncle eventually managed to get us to (thank goodness for iPhone maps). This place is full of all the latest kitchen gadgetry, and it was only the thought of all my kitchen gear bobbing somewhere over the sea to me that stopped me investigating further … I have enough kitchen stuff, I don’t need more! Tools of the Trade run a whole host of cooking classes that you can go to (details on their website) so the place is really set up for cooking classes.
On arrival, we were given little booklets that showed us what we’d be making. They were all dishes I’d never tried before, so I knew this was going to be a fun experience. On the menu we had: Rojak salad, Hainanese Pork Chop, and Bubur Cha Cha ice cream. Yum yummy yum! KF Seetoh took us through each dish, before we attempted having a go at it on our own. He was great fun – very clear, charismatic and engaging, giving us a little history on each dish and how it came to be created. It was fascinating learning how much of Singaporean food is born out of a fusion of cultures, cuisines and availability of ingredients. For example, I never knew that the sauce for the Hainanese pork chop contained ketchup and HP sauce, and was born out of many Hainanese working as cooks for Britons, and merging their own ingredients with those favoured by the British.
We kicked off our experiment in Singaporean cooking with the Rojak salad. This was something I’d heard of before coming out here, but really had no idea what went into it. It basically has no set rules about what goes into it – so long as its fresh and crunchy, anything goes! Our version had cucumber, pineapple, a local kind of turnip, apples, beansprouts and peanuts. You slice up the fruit and veg, and then gently toss it in a spicy dressing made from shrimp paste, sugar, sambal, tamarind water and lime juice. it’s finished off with some shavings of torch ginger, which I’d never even heard of before, never mind used! Rojak is actually delicious – spicy, crunchy and refreshing all at the same time. KF Seetoh told us that there are no set rules about when to eat rojak – you just eat it when you feel like it! I’d definitely eat it again, although I learnt that its best to eat it fresh – I took some home in a doggy bag, and it was definitely past its best the day after!
After that, we moved onto the Hainanese pork chop. I was a little bit daunted by it, as it involves deep-frying, which I’ve never done myself. The pork is flattened until its very thin, and then coated in egg and breadcrumbs, before being deep fryed until golden. Unfortunately, I was so preoccupied with getting my oil hot enough, that the oil was actually TOO hot, resulting in a slightly burned pork chop. Not my finest hour! Making the sauce was fun – you mix chopped carrots, peas and sweetcorn, into a mixture of ketchup, HP sauce, lemon juice, sugar and oyster sauce, and then thicken with corn flour. It sounds horrible when you look at the ingredients, but it’s actually nicely sweet and sour, and goes well with the crispy pork. It was served up smothered in sauce, and with fried potatoes on the side. Not the healthiest dish, but surprisingly delicious.
We finished off with the Bubur Cha Cha ice cream (try guessing what’s in that from the name – sounds like a dance to me!) It’s basically coconut ice cream, with yam, sweet potato, banana and tapioca pearls, finished off with a sweet, yet slightly salty sauce. The sauce is made from gula melaka, known as palm sugar in the UK. It’s an ingredient that I’d searched for many times in Asian supermarkets to no avail, so was delighted to get to use the real deal, rather than brown sugar. It makes a treacly sauce, a bit like molasses but sweeter. I enjoyed the ice cream, sauce and fruit elements very much. I found the texture of the yam and sweet potato, in something sweet, slightly odd to what I’m used to, but it was very tasty, and I’d happily eat the whole lot again. It was also fun trying the tapioca pearls, which I’ve seen floating at the bottom of cups of bubble tea, which is popular here, but never tried. They are oddly chewy but oddly moreish!
I had great fun trying out cooking some local dishes. I love South East Asian food, and would cook it all the time in the UK (and will here of course), but I’d never cooked anything that was uniquely ‘Singaporean’. I’m so excited about having a properly equipped kitchen soon, so I can try recreating these, and other dishes. I also enjoyed being directed by someone who was so knowledgeable about the origins of each dish – it made me appreciate it all the more, knowing where it had come from. It was a fantastic evening.