Thursday, September 16, 2010


SINGAPORE-Two months ago, I was in a quandary. Luckily, my best friend based in Manila was in town en route to a holiday in Phuket.  As we ate barbecued stingray and xiao long baos for dinner and extended the conversation chomping on Garrett’s Caramel popcorn outside Universal studios, she left me with a nugget of wisdom to chew on.  Oddly, this wisdom came from my own book, Six Degrees of Expatriation.

“Remember that chapter with the French guy. He just ate enough, not till he was full,” my friend Rissa reminded me.  In the book I captured my French friend Guillaume’s words: “ The French say you have to leave the table still a little hungry.  If you eat too much, it is not good.”

Rissa has been following this Parisian’s wisdom in her eating habits. She feels light and healthier.  But these words were exactly what I needed to do with my life.  I could no longer ignore my restlessness. I sensed it was time to leave Singapore.  It is wise to leave when you still crave to have a tiny bite more. Don’t leave when you are miserable and raring to go. Until this afternoon, I longed to bite a bit more of Tiong Bahru's fascinating hawker center. The uncle told me how the 50 year old tradition of Tiong Bahru Paos were all hand made. But what I loved was the smokey flavor of the chariew (barbecued pork) filling.  So good, I ate a pao every day (often more)  for the past six or seven days.  (Is that an addiction?)

My dear friends, it is time for me to go.  A less than 24-hour trip to interview a lady in Hong Kong surprised me with a job offer to be editor for an Asian food and wine website. On Friday, I will be leaving Singapore.  Judging from the number of boxes I had to sort and pack (don’t even ask how many), it is hard to believe I moved here with only a 20-kg suitcase.

Three years later, I leave richer with so much experience. Everywhere I turn, there are memories.  Strangers are now friends. The Starbucks baristas know me by name, and I know them, too.  I said my goodbyes to my friends, to the choir, and even to my favorite dishes. I got choked up in the bus three nights ago. I realized that soon I won’t be able to run anymore to my dear photographer friend in Ann Siang for advice or just vent freelance woes. I met up with two friends to eat stingray and wash it down with ice-cold beer in a hawker centre. Over the long weekend, I had an extra long coffee at Cedele as we had many times in the past. For hours, we talked about family, friends, and faith.  I sang one last time with the first choir I ever sang with, FX choir. And one last time, we all happily feasted on Crispy Pata, Chicharon Bulaklak, and Sinigang, Filipino dishes transporting us back home.  I returned to my favorite weekend haunt, away from the maddening crowd. I visited my sanctuary once more. In this sacred place, I cried, gave thanks, or just sat quietly.  Tomorrow night, I will stroll one last time by the most magical part of Singapore. It is the Singapore River, the heart of the city. I ran here several times to sort out my thoughts.  Other times, I shared it with a fellow writer, talking about past lives, lost loves, and laughter. Somehow, the river always dazzled me in the evening. 

As I looked at the photos in my laptop, I am in awe. Thank you, Singapore. Look how far we’ve gone on this delicious journey. 

MY FIRST DAY IN SINGAPORE: On the day I arrived, I 'gate crashed' a Hungry Ghost feast
at an HDB deck in Jurong West 

My first visit to a Chinese Wedding Store

My first taste of Kaya Toast and learning the lingo; Kopi-O, Kopi-C... ping

amused at my first encounter with snow skin mooncakes. Pastel colored erasers or edible desserts?

The Singapore River's festive glow 
The famous Tulang from Golden Mile, I sprained my ankle for...
Falling in love with the museums... In this case going Greek in the National Museum

Trips near and far: visiting wats in Bangkok 

Quick getaways to nearby Batam, Indonesia

Homecomings to the Philippines and her gorgeous sunsets (take in Guimaras) 


Eating my way from Bangkok to Singapore, starting with High tea at the Author's lounge in the Oriental Bangkok then the legendary Orient Express

The Katong Laksa Wars: soup so good vendors argue who is the best
Must see :the zoo
Odd finds like a Frog Farm
A bottle tree park
DIVERSE CUISINES: Here I am giving a Talk on Filipino Cuisine at the SINGAPORE National Museum

Kuehs at Hari Raya

My book launch at Borders

Trailblazing: My book the first ever book sold in Starbucks Singapore, and such lovely baristas

Starstruck with famous chef Ferran Adria

Singapore's magical evening ambiance

Singapore, what a delicious spread you have set before me! Thank you...Taking the cue from my wise French friend, it is time to leave the table.  Thanks to the dear friends I have made in Singapore, and every one I met along the way. 

Cheers, Singapore! Thanks for the memories....

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Singapore’s Spin on Mooncakes

September 2- Three years ago, I arrived in Singapore. Everything was fresh and new: the lingering scent of durians, the inescapable humidity and pastel-colored mooncakes. I’ve seen and tasted mooncakes before. They were baked pastry filled with a dense lotus paste filling and a duck’s egg yolk. Often, they were four fist-sized pieces packed in tin cans. Using a mold, each mooncake has the bakery’s logo.

Traditional mooncake photo courtesy of Goodwood Park Hotel

While many Chinese societies exchange mooncakes, trust Singapore to turn it a notch higher into a posh gift. Each year, chefs feverishly try to outdo each other in innovating the mooncake. Capitalizing on the season where business associates, friends, and relatives, exchange this sweet dessert, each bakery strives hard to be the preferred mooncake supplier for this popular corporate gift.

Most of the innovation is done with snowskin mooncakes. Instead of using the baked pastry crust, they use glutinous rice to create a skin similar to Japanese mochi balls. This delicate mooncake needs to be refrigerated, as it will be too soft in this tropical climate. They add pastel colors in pinks, greens, yellows, purples, and pinks. These mooncakes almost look too cute to eat.

The fruity flavors of Goodwood Park Hotel (photo courtesy of Goodwood Park Hotel)

Rounding up the innovative mooncakes this year, I found fantastic sources for Snowskin Mooncakes. Goodwood Park went all out this year offering 12 different mooncakes. To celebrate the hotel’s 110th anniversary, they created a 12-cm Almond Beancurd with Longan giant snowskin mooncake. Packed in a fancy gold silk drawstring pouch, this mooncake makes a great gift for only $11. I love how it mimics the almond jelly dessert. This mooncake is light and refreshing, making it a perfect dessert after a heavy feast. 

Refreshing and Light Almond beancurd with Longan Giant Mooncake from Goodwood Park Hotel

Taking the fruity path to hilt, Goodwood also introduces the Apple Caramel Snowskin mooncake this year. A good gift would be the four-piece box ($42) with all four fruity flavors: Mango with Pomelo in Snowskin, D24 Durian Paste, and Cempedak Paste along with the Apple Caramel variety. As they must be served frozen, Goodwood packs them nicely in a yellow thermal bag to keep it cool. The Mango with Pomelo is the best. Again, it takes inspiration from the Mango Pomelo dessert served in Chinese restaurants. It is like a mango sorbet with bits of pomelo pulp. The mango’s sweetness is perfectly paired with the slightly sour pomelo bits. For the lover of exotic fruit, the Durian and Cempadak will be best.  Its powerful flavors though limit your consumption to one or two bites. 

Cute pastel mooncakes from Goodwood Hotel shot on my iphone

A huge surprise for me was finding great mooncake offerings from an Italian Pasticceria-Confitteria. COVA created a Torta de Luna (Cakes of the Moon) collection for its Singapore clients. This year, they added the Mocha Snowskin and the Sweet Potato Mooncake to its offerings. Sampling a box of four with these two, plus the Rose and Vanila snowskin and Chocolate and Peanut and Chocolate Mooncake. I opened the box of four mooncakes ($38.50) for my friends to sample. One by one we cut slivers of the mooncake. The Peanut and chocolate was the instant favorite. Made with a rich chocolate sponge cake layer, with chocolate feuillentine (chocolate cream mixed with cereal) and peanut butter cream. It was divine! I almost regretted sharing this mooncake with my friends. Ranking second was the Mocha Mooncake. It was made with all things Italians loved: freshly ground coffee bits, mascarpone cheese, Kahlua and Amaretto liqueur. After sampling these two decadent mooncakes, the Sweet Potato and Rose and Vanilla flavors failed to capture our heart the same way.

COVA, Mooncakes go Italian! (photo courtesy of COVA)

So, if you’re participating in Mooncake diplomacy this year, go innovative. Try something fruity or oozing with chocolate. After all, this holiday happens, only once in a blue moon! Hurry, these are available only until the mooncake festival on September 22.

22 Scotts Road

COVA Pasticceria – Confetteria Singapore
290 Orchard Road, #01-20A Paragon, Singapore 238859
(65) 6733 0777