i really would like to apologise to those of you who see weirdly huge fonts because unless you have the correct fonts installed in your PC ie (dearjoeII & lucida handwriting true fonts & calibri) it would look erm like that. i’ll try to rectify the problem by putting pictures of the words up instead of the words themselves. it’ll take a while though so please be patient! and thanks for all the constructive comments! keep them coming! 

in the meantime, if you want to see what my blog REALLY looks like (which really is REALLY nice btw), here’s one-half of my report so just click on the link below, open the doc & then scroll down to the appendix:







a Southeast Asian melting pot 

In Singapore, people do not talk as much about the weather (forecast: hot, humid with torrential showers to break the hot spell) as much as foods. Eating is a kind of an official past time, especially with one of the largest variety of dishes with varying degrees of cultural, ethnic and religious influences in Southeast Asia. Settlers from China, India, Arab and Indonesia during Singapore’s early years, brought along with them their own cultures and food recipes; willing themselves to look beyond the boundaries of their own native tastebuds. This easy adaptability has lent the typical Chinese, Indian and Malay fares a very individual “Singaporean” character. “Hawker centres” are Singapore’s very own invention where all of Singapore’s favourite foods collectively combine under one roof, with cooks delivering a myriad of dishes while bounded by small bathroom-sized cubicles. You don’t have to get very far for a gastronomical adventure in Singapore; just pop down to the local neighbourhood hawker centre and savour the multi-cultural uniqueness of the country.


Hawker Centre

A typical Singaporean day starts with a good cup of teh tarik or kopi-O with slices of freshly toasted locally-made breads, spread generously with margarine and kaya, an immensely satisfying and heady concoction of sweet coconuts, eggs and pandan leaves. There is also Singapore’s beloved indian Roti Prata, which is made from dough, pan fried to reveal the some of the softest tissue-thin breads ever. Dipped in curry- almost nothing comes close.


Kopi O & Kaya


Roti Prata

And speaking of curries, the Fish Head Curry is entirely Singapore’s own- created by an Indian immigrant chief in Singapore’s early days, it is only found in Singapore and no where else; not even in India!


Fish Head Curry

With the large number of Chinese in Singapore, naturally the best of the China’s province would be represented such as the Singapore’s beloved Hainanese Chicken Rice- roasted chicken cutlets with ginger, garlic and broth-infused rice. One also cannot leave Singapore without the savoury Bak Kut Teh, a local favourite among Singaporean Chinese who love meat broths that pack a heady herbal punch.


Chicken Rice


Bak Kut Teh

Also, the fact that there are so many different groups that there may be many variations to a single dish. One such dish is the Rujak. Originated from Indonesia (see the Indonesian entry), it is an Asian salad made with tropical raw fruits and vegetables like pineapples and cucumbers with peanut dippings. In Singapore, there is also the Chinese and Indian versions of the rujak. The Chinese version has the same ingredients but with fried Char Kuay (a long fried pastry) chopped in little pieces and served with a generous dose of black sweet peanut dressing. The Indian version on the other hand has fishcakes, pieces of fried pastry and pre-cooked meats served with a spicy dose of red peanut dipping.


Malay Rujak


Chinese Rojak


Indian Rojak

Peranakans are Straits Chinese who had inter-marriaged with the Malayan Malays- bringing with them a unique blend of Chinese-meets-Malay cuisines. Most of their dishes have Malay names, but it is the ingredients that make the Peranakans different. Malays in Singapore are predominantly practice the Islamic faith and thus it is taboo for them to consume pork; Peranakans have a wide array of pork dishes like the backwan kepiting (Porkball Soup). Another famous peranakan dish is Ayam Masak Buah Keluak, which in Malay literally translates to “Chicken cooked with Keluak fruit”- which by using the buah keluak, the dish is already unique as not many Southeast Asian dish uses the spice as a main ingredient rather than as seasoning.


Bakwan Kepiting

ayam-buah-keluakbmp.jpg A

yam Buah Keluak


the philippines

the philippinesspanish dishes, cheese, tomatoes and coconut

Despite being colonised by various nations including America and China, it was the 400-year period of Spanish rule (1521-1898) that had the most lasting influence on its culture and cuisines. The Spanish not only brought in the Roman Catholic religion to the country but also Spanish cooking techniques like sauteing (the guisado) and stewing and ingredients such as cheese and tomatoes- food items that more frequently used in the Philippines then anywhere else in Southeast Asia. Cheese is in fact unheard of in other tradional dishes within the region. Many of the Filipino dishes have Spanish names because to most Filipinos then, Spain symbolised sophistication and elegance since Spanish food were only served to the upper class elites during the colonial period.

Daily Meals

One of the Filipino dishes that is a product of Spanish cooking techniques is the adobo, which although originated from Mexico, is arguably now the Philippine’s national dish. It refers to a mixture of chicken and pork that is simmered slowly together in vinegar, ginger and black pepper. There’s also the pochero which is a slow-cooking mixture of meats, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Leche flan, a traditional filipino dessert of Spanish origin, is a creamy custard often topped with sweetened coconut or also known as the filipino version of the creme caramel.

adobo.jpg  adobo


leche-flan.jpgleche flan

Foods also reflect culinary influences not only from the Spanish but also the Malays and Chinese. For instance, the typical Chinese egg rolls have developed into lumpia, a thin sheet of noodle dough rolled around a savoury rather than vegetarian filling. Chinese noodle dishes, like the pancit gusaido are found throughout the 7000-island archipelago with sauces made from local ingredients.Halo halo (tagalog for “mix mix”) is reminiscent of the Malay Ice-Kacang where it has the same mixture of agar-agar, red beans and evaporated milk over a pyramid of crushed ice but in the filipino version, fruits and ice cream are added.


pancit-gusaido.jpgpancit gusaido

halo-halobmp.jpghalo halo

Religious Festivities

The only religion that didn’t arrive with the Spainiards was Islam and that only impacted a minority of Filipinos, mostly in the South. The majority of the Philippines embraced the Catholic faith (brought in by Spanish priests). Spanish dishes (with a native twist) such as pochero are often always served at fiestas; in predominantly Muslim Mindanao, tinola, a fish soup seasoned with tomatoes and onions are often found during special occasions.


Fillipino foods makes the most of Spanish influences and local ingredients to make some of the most unique cuisines in the region- a gastronomical journey through the colonial history of the Philippines.

Walang matigas na tinapay sa mainit na kape.

-No bread is too hard for warm coffee, a filipino proverb


indonesia. part two


By request by netizen Mateen (kudos again to the video idea) here are a couple of clips from youtube.com based on some of the many religious rituals in Bali. The first clip is on the Galungan Celebrations- there’re no voice-overs though but you can clearly see the important symbolic roles of foods during the offerings and religious procession.

The next clip explains the Ogoh-Ogoh ceremony which I thought was a pretty cool representation of Balinese life and how Balinese children see some of the rituals.

AND I forgot to mention the tumpeng on the Indonesian blog entry. It’s like the Nasi Rawang equivalent for a festive meal in Indonesia but instead of a simple scoop of white rice in the middle, tumpeng is a yellow rice pyramid surrounded by small dishes- the tip of the pyramid will then be served to the eldest person there.






Despite 350 years of Dutch colonialism of the 13,500+ islands making up what was then known as the Dutch East Indies, it was the Chinese, Indian, Arab and Persian influences that had a lasting impact on the culinary gastronomy of a myriad of Indonesia’s dishes. Heavily influenced by Animism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, Indonesia’s diverse cultures are reflected in their varied dishes.


With about 90% of Indonesians being Muslim, Bali is a fascinatingly unique island in the Indonesian archipelago with most of its inhabitants practicing Hinduism. In the eyes of a Hindu-Balinese, life is a continuous cycle of death & rebirth until one attains moksa. Rituals at various stages of a person’s life on this island are important to ensure that one progresses towards this desired state. Offerings in the form of foodstuff are essential with every ritual occasion, producing colourful, highly symbolic art forms that denote a spirit of thankfulness of the Balinese peoples. 

Some forms of offerings:

At the start of the day, simple offerings like cooked rice are made to honour the household spirits.

Gebogan are towering multi-layered offerings constructed around the base of a banana trunk. They are prepared by the women and are offered to the deities at temples. The first layer usually consist of fruits, followed by a colourful assortment of rice cakes and then a canang sari offering topped by an immense display of flowers. (Gabogan pic thanks to Farl from flikr.com)


Gayah or sate gede is an elaborate offering made of meats, this time made by the men. It is said to represent the animal kingdom, complementing the kingdom of plant life represented in offerings like the gebogan made by the women. (Gayah pic thanks to larry&flo from flikr.com)



Daily foods:

Pork, which is a taboo in Muslim societies, are eaten widely in Bali, especially so In festive dishes like the famous bali guling (spit-roasted pig). Lawar is also another classic festive dish that uses the innards of leftover meat offerings/sacrificed animals (pic thanks to joone! from flikr.com).

lawar-lawar bebek

Regional favourites.

In Indonesia, soups fall into 3 categories: sop (a clear Chinese-inspired broth), soto (meatier, usually served as a meal on its own) & sayur (a hybrid within a soup and a stew, with the implement of a variety of vegetables within the gravy that is usually spooned over rice to moisten & flavor the rice).

(pictures from zoyachubby, deku, kkil- all from flickr.com)

sop ubi-beef soup, sulawesi


soto ayam-chicken broth & fried potatoes

sayur lodeh-java

Rice & NoodlesT

he legacy of Chinese immigrants in Indonesia can be found in the tradition of rice & noodles, from the quintessential Indonesian Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) to Bakmie Goreng (Indonesian stir-fried noodles), rice and noodle dishes in Indonesia are incredibly versatile.

Sweet Treats

A large variety of traditional sweet snacks and desserts are found along street stalls, using tropical ingredients like coconut and rice. Tea & coffee are essential drinks especially in a predominantly Muslim country- an Indonesian specialty with the vast tea & coffee plantations first set up by the Dutch colonialists. (photos thanks to ikaray.com & PopoF from flikr.com)

dadarbmp.jpgdadar-sticky coconut crepes

bubuh injin-sticky black rice pudding

Pikir itu pelita hati.

Thought is the light of the heart – indonesian proverb


ReferencesBasan, Ghillie & Laus, Vilma.The food and cooking of Indonesia and the Philippines. Anness Publishing Ltd: London. 2007.Guthrie, Debbie & Morillot ,Juliette & Toh, Irene (editors). Bali: A Traveller’s Companion. Editions Didlier Millet Pte Ltd: Singapore. 2000.

Mowe, Rosalind (editor).  Southeast Asian Specialties: a culinary journey through Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Konemann: Cologne. 1999







tangy lemongrass & fiery chillies

 I’ve been to Thailand twice so far and I never fail to be struck by how culturally & historically rich the Thais’ are. Their unique brand of identity and style are continually reflected in their refined cuisine- from kaeng (curry), to yam (hot & pungent salads) to khanõm (sweets & desserts).

History Lesson #1:  Thailand was the only SEA country that was never occupied by Western imperialists.

History Lesson #2: 90% of all Thais are Buddhists, practicing Theravada Buddhism.

Kaeng curry

Kaeng is applied to any dish with a lot of liquid, from the bland soups, such as kaeng jèut, to famous chilli-based Thai curries, like kaeng kiaw-waan (green curry; see below).The key to any Thai curries (there are many many varieties) is the khreuang kaeng, or the curry paste, which is thicker than the traditional Indian curry paste and with fish sauce and shrimp paste instead of Indian-style curry powder as essentials to the Thai kaeng.thai-green-curry.jpggreen curry

Yam salad

From experience, I can tell you that yam, even the vegetarian ones, are not to be trifled with. The ingredients are deceptively simple- leafy veggies like lettuce, chillies, lemongrass, lime juice & fish sauce, peanuts and fruit dressing like fresh sweet mangoes. There’s no or very little cooking involved, almost like the Chinese rojak found here in Singapore but without the fried char kuay. The sweet-sour taste of the mangoes and lime juice is paired nicely with the intense spiciness from the chillies

seafood-salad-with-glass-noodles.jpgseafood salad 

Kaeng Jeut & Tom Yam soups

Absolutely no one leaves Thailand without tasting the famous soups. Tom yam or sweet & sour soup (actually ‘tom yam’ literally translates to ‘boiled yam’) is usually made with seafood and has that signature spicy-sweet-sourness from the dried chillies, lemongrass, kaffir lime & tamarind juice. Tom yam isn’t meant to be eaten by itself; rice usually accompanies it- I suppose to provide some relief from the intense heatiness of the dish.

Kaeng jeut on the other hand is bland soup, a broth seasoned minimally with fish sauce & pepper. This is clearly a Chinese influence especially in North Thailand where the stewed meat soups are eaten with noodles, with the thick soup flavoured unusually by soy sauce & Chinese celery & Chinese five-spice mixture.

tom-yam-goong.jpgtom yam goong 

Ráwn!”  “Hot!”

Khanom/ Khawng Waan sweets

Desserts in Thailand are a very welcomed relief with all those spicy foods around. Coconut milk and sugar cane are some of the most essential ingredients in a Thai dessert. The owner of a local thai sweet shop gave me a wrap made of threads of spun sugar (I love it. Like cotton candy but tastier) or what I knew later to be fawy thawng (‘golden threads’). Apparently, there are Portuguese influences in sweets like the fawy thawng which have egg yolks as ingredients in their desserts, almost like deserts like the Portuguese egg tarts. 

thai-golden-threads.jpg golden threads

There’s also the ta-ko which looks like the sweets sold by Malay-Muslim stalls in Singapore during the fasting month of ramadhan, which is essentially tapioca flour and coconut milk over agar-agar, poured & cooled in square-ish cups made from pandan leaves. Another snack popular among the street vendors there is the banana fritters- while it’s fried in the usual batter, there’s a twist- on top of the sweetness of the bananas, there is also a surprise appearance from chillies and an added crunch from the generous sprinkling of toasted lotus/sesame seeds. 


 Food in Religion

In Thailand, animalism (the belief that all things have souls) and buddhism often go hand-in-hand. Daily food offerings are made to the dieties and spirits or phii first and it only once they are appeased that devotees attend to their Buddhist faith. Rice, curry & other dishes make their way to the Buddhist monks, Buddha’s direct advocates. Foods are especially important in events like the bangpaja– a ceremony where a young male is inducted into the monastic community. Here, the bun or religious merit is translated to the food prepared for such an event, where eating are said to be akin to kin bun or eating merit.

Another example is some believe that in the event of an imminent solar eclipse, a green-headed god, Rahu, is threatening to eat the sun in order to throw the whole world into an endless winter, and the only way to fend off this impending doom is to offer the god 8 different black foods such as black eggs, black desserts, black (burnt) chicken and sticky rice. It is said that it is only because the Thais practice this offering, the earth has been “saved” from disaster.

thai-offerings-for-rahu.jpgblack foods for god Rahu

Thus as in Vietnam, many religious festivities and events in Thailand (among which are the Songkran Festival, the Golden Orange Festival and the Vegetarian Festival), foods never fail to not only play an important functioning symbolic roles at events, but also make the celebrations even livelier and more memorable.

Delicious, delicious.


We only appreciate the worth of salt when the soup is tasteless.

Thai proverb

World Food Thailand, 1st Edition, Joe Cummings, 2000, Lonely Planet Publications Pte Ltd: Victoria, Australia.
 At the South-East Asian Table, Alice Yen Ho, 1995, Oxford university Press: Kuala  Lumpur
Cuisines of Southeast Asia: a culinary journey through Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines, Gwenda L. Hyman, 1993, Thomas Woll: Toronto






Chewing, one eats.

Reflecting, one speaks. Vietnamese proverb

I’m starting the food entries with this amazing country first because of a relatively weird reason: my dad brought home steaming hot sup kambing (Indian mutton soup) from that famous hawker place beside Kallang MRT station the other day for dinner and I was suddenly reminded of that essential Vietnamese dish, Pho Bo or Beef Rice Noodle Soup. Of course, sup kambing and Pho Bo are two totally different foods with different influences, but the basic idea is the same- scrumptious, delicious meats in wholesome rich herbs-infused soup.


Pho Bo (Pronounced as fur-bo. Pronunciation is key people!) is mostly synonymous with the Hanoi province in North Vietnam, influenced by a good dose of Chinese, Mongolian & French cooking, finely tuned to define the unique taste of arguably Vietnam’s favourite dish.


History Lesson #1:  Northern Vietnam is closer to China & was Chinese-ruled between 111 BC to AD 939. With the Chinese, came the all-essential rice, noodles & chopsticks. Mongolian herdsmen came later bringing beef.

History Lesson #2: the French colonials ruled Vietnam for almost 100 years since 1858 until WWII. Thus explains the French methods of long slow simmering of bones & meats in most Vietnamese soups & the wide availability of French baguettes in the country.

Back to Pho Bo. Pre-cooked rice noodles is blanched in hot water, strewn in a bowl, before being draped with red raw strips of beef, white onion slices & ginger. Then steaming piping hot, savoury beef broth is ladled generously over the bowl, cooking the lean meat to tenderness. Crispy bean sprouts, fish sauce to taste and fragrant herbs like coriander and basil are sprinkled over the tasty concoction. People eat it just any time of day in the North and, it’s a popular breakfast choice in the South. It’s very filling, cheap (street vendors are everywhere) and practical, providing plenty of fluid to keep cool in the heat. Talk about comfort fastfood in Vietnam. Beat that MacDonald’s. Delicious awesome stuff.


There’s also the Vietnamese Spring Rolls (see above pic). While it looks like the typical Chinese spring rolls, the filling is wrapped in ‘rice paper’, banh trang– thin sheets made of rice flour paste and sun-dried on bamboo mats- instead of the normal egg-based wheat-flour sheets. Also, the filling is really unique, made of cellophane noodles, minced pork, crabmeat, garlic and mushrooms. The dip, nuoc cham (the chili sauce of vietnamese cooking), is fish sauce refreshingly flavoured with garlic, lime juice, sugar and chillies.


I thought this dish (see above pic) was really interesting because it speaks a lot about the French influences in the country. Banh Khoai or loosely translated as Happy Crepes (yes, I laughed when I saw the adorable translation) is found mostly in Central Vietnam. The batter is made from combining rice flour, cornstarch and wheat flour which is then pan fried on top of minced pork, herbs and prawn. The batter layer is added with bean sprouts, onions, mushroom and egg. The end product is a meaty crispy crepe.


Indian influences are more prevalent in the South, bringing in to the inland more variety of spices and tropical fruits and vegetables. Bánh xéo (see below pic) is like an Indian dhosai made of rice flour and coconut milk, filled with meat (pork, chicken), prawn and vegetables. You tear a bit of the pastry and wrap it in lettuce leaves before you eat it. Aromatic curries such as thit kho nuóc dùa (pork simmered in coconut) is another Indian-inspired dish.


Moving on to some bizarre foods. I know it’s very ethnocentric of me but I cannot help but raise my eyebrows a little when heard about hôt vit lôn (see below pic), a fertilised duck egg (see pic below) when before it fully matures, is placed in boiling water to cook so when it’s cracked open, there’s a tidy delicate mess of blood and feathers. I suppose you need an acquired taste to appreciate the delicacy but it says a lot about how people can perceive certain things as normal depending on the culture and society they’re exposed/belong to.


Southeast Asian foods are not without religious influences. Vietnam is no exception.There are many festivities and celebrations or tets in Vietnam and with it many tet foods. I personally liked the symbolism and significance behind these tet foods. For instance, during Tiêt Hàn Thuc, or Cold Food Holiday which is celebrated on the 3rd day of the 3rd Vietnamese lunar month, people only eat cold foods and raw vegetables for 3 days (length of a Vietnamese wake) in honour of Gioi Tu Thoi. The legend goes that Gioi Tu Thoi was a loyal servant of a King who served for 19 years, even sacrificing a piece of his thigh muscle to grill it for the King when he was a still a Prince and starving. However, the King had forgotten this sacrifice and shunned Gioi Tu Thoi, driving him into the forest. When he finally realised his mistake, the King tried to flush Gioi Tu Thoi out of the forest by burning the trees. Tragically, he accidentally burnt his loyal servant to death.



One of the special dishes served on that day is the bánh chay (see above pic)the sun, moon and earth (3 round egg-shaped glutinous rice flour), the earth’s water (surrounding soup, sometimes poured with coconut milk) and the stars (sesame seeds) in a small rice bowl. They are said to represent the yin and yang of life and death.



In food, as in death, we feel the essential oneness of humanity . Vietnamese proverb

ReferencesRichard Sterling, World Food Vietnam, 1st Edition, Lonely Planet Publications Pte Ltd: Victoria, Australia, 2000Alice Yen Ho, At the South-East Asian Table,  Oxford university Press: Kuala  Lumpur, 1995Gwenda L. Hyman, Cuisines of Southeast Asia: a culinary journey through Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines, Thomas Woll: Toronto, 1993Photos thanks to http://www.vietworldkitchen.com, diveinblue & andrewlam & guang-nom & bootsintheoven from flicker.

September 2019
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