Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dining Companions


I believe God created food, for it to be shared.  The experience of dining becomes more pleasurable when shared with loved ones. 

Returning back to Singapore, I was disoriented by the numbing silence in my empty apartment.  Unlike my family home in Manila, there was no hum of activity.  No dogs barking, maids busy at work in the kitchen, family members coming and in out of the house. No laughter, talk, music or even the melodious chant of the taho vendor, “Tahoooooooooo,” he loudly announces, as he peddles the warm soybean beverage with dark caramel syrup and sago.

In my flat, it was silent. Not even the sound of crickets to accompany me… It was a disorienting feeling I came to grips with as I nibbled on black olives, the last edible bit of food in my fridge.  More than three weeks away, I head to the grocery for a much needed food shopping. I send a message to my friend, Francis, living closest to my home.  He offers to come and make some noise in my flat.  After getting drenched in the rain on the way to the grocery and flight, I was too tired. I declined.

The next day, I tackle the enormous task of purging my closet of clothes I had not worn in the past year.  I unpack my suitcases with my loot from Manila. By afternoon, I had a irresistible craving for Cold Mango Sago with Pomelo, an Asian dessert sold at Liang Seah Street.  I invite my two willing noisemaking friends to join me.  But before dessert, we need to eat dinner.

Two streets away from my dessert craving is a cheap and cheerful Thai Restaurant called, First Thai (23 Purvis Road).  Hearing its name, we all break into the romantic Kenny Loggins song, “For the first time, I am looking in your eyes, for the first time I am seeing who you are…” Richard and Francis were both first “thai-mers” in this place.   My first time here feels like a whole lifetime ago. My best friend invited me here for dinner to ease my emotions, hours after a break-up.   The food was so good.  I almost forgot my heartbreak.  No tears rolled down my eyes during the meal. 

First Thai, always packed with non-first timers and Thai diners 

Tonight, my two friends were bubbly and animated.  They both delighted in the retro feel of the place.  The eclectic design is a hodge-podge of white tiles, hot pink fake flowers on the wall, a Garfield clock, and the piercing gaze of Keanu Reeves on a framed poster.  There is always a queue for a table here.  Naturally, the waitresses are always stressed out to quickly serve the food, then to hint to diners to considerately leave their table for the waiting customers.

For $15 each, we have a superb feast of Phad Thai, Green Curry Chicken, Squid with Long beans, and Fried Rice. The fried rice is a delicious meal on its own, with the usual condiments of julienned green mangoes, peanuts, ikan bilis (crisp dried fish), and egg.  An unusual but welcome addition is pork floss.

Fried Rice at First Thai

The green curry is mildly spicy, nicely complementing the other dishes.

 The squid is perfectly tender with the veggies not overcooked.

Squid and Long Beans

My constant order is the Phad Thai, the perfect balance of sweet, savory, and nutty all in one noodle dish.  We would occasionally bite into a few red peppers, calmly washing down the fire in our mouths with the milky Thai Ice Tea.

 My constant order at First Thai, Phad Thai 

Feeling extremely greedy, I wanted to eat two desserts. Aside from the upcoming Mango Sago, I also wanted sticky rice with mango, unfortunately the glutinous rice dessert was not available.  Throughout the meal, we gushed over our food.  My two friends ate with much gusto and the thrill of a new food discovery.  Good food when shared tastes even better.  The enthusiasm of a first timer, the fresh eyes, and the delight upon the first bite made my meal even more delicious. 

Stuffed, I teased them, “So, are you fed up?”  We laughed, rolling our way to eat dessert. From Purvis Street to Liang Seah, we giggled and snickered at anything and everything.  Liang Seah has two popular Asian dessert places.

"Bless You..."

My favorite is Ah Chew(1 Liang Seah, 01-11 Liang Seah Place), not just for its funny name (makes me want to say, “Bless you!”), but also for it Mango Sago.  Again, there is a queue, with teenagers all getting their dose of late night sugar.

While the Cold Mango Sago with Pomelo ($3.50) is the most popular, there are other variations of the Asian dessert available.
Mango Sago with Pomelo, a sweet soup with tears of pomelo adding a tinge of sour citrus flavour

Many come here to eat the Strawberry with Aloe Vera and Lime and the Papaya White Fungus Soup.

Strawberry with aloe vera on an earlier Ah Chew outing with another friend

Despite the long list of health benefits, I’m not a fan of white fungus or the other exotic Chinese ingredients for dessert.

In the past, I’ve tried a gorgeous Almond soup and black sesame soup. Served in one bowl, it gorgeously looks like a yin and yang symbol.  Pretty, but I still prefer the refreshing sweetness of the mango sago interrupted by burst of sour pomelo pulp bits.  My friends opted for added calories with a scoop of ice cream on top.

Mango Sago with Pomelo (plain for me) and with ice cream for my buddies

We walked to the MRT very full from the meal, dessert, and lots of gas from laughing uncontrollably all night.  Richard shrieked in excitement seeing a Chinese bazaar.  It is the usual sale of Tibetan and Chinese knickknacks. I would otherwise bypass these stalls. But not this time, we looked at the jewelry, the customized clay Mini-Me version you can order of yourself, Chinese characters of your name, and other Lunar New Year gifts.  We giggled in the train, continuing our laughfest.  Both thanked me for sharing my food discoveries.  I am immensely grateful not just for the good company and making the meal more delicious.  But I also thanked them for giving me fresh eyes. Every time I see these little bazaars around Singapore, I now smile. Indeed life’s little joys when shared grow in abundance. 

(Special thanks to Francis for sharing his iphone to capture photos of the evening.  Additional photos of Ah Chew were taken from an earlier visit to the dessert place).


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