The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: culture

On Art and Cultural Appropriation

Someone shared with me this delightful bit from McSweeney’s titled “A Short Description of Cultural Appropriation for Non-Believers” by Rajeev Balasubramanyam.

1. Your new friends Bob and Rita come to lunch and you serve them idlis, like your grandmother used to make.

2. They love your south Indian cooking and ask for the recipe.

3. You never hear from Rita and Bob again.

4. You read in the Style section of the Guardian about Rita and Bob’s new Idli bar in Covent Garden… called ‘Idli.’

5. You visit Idli. The food tastes nothing like your grandmother’s.

6. Your grandmother dies.

7. Rita and Bob’s children inherit the Idli chain, and open several franchises in America.

8. Your children find work as short order chefs… at Idli.

9. Your children visit you in a nursing home and cook you idlis, which taste nothing like the ones you remember from your youth.

10. You compliment their cooking and ask for the recipe.

11. You die.

It’s simple and effective in getting the point across. The line between appreciation and appropriation is thin and blurry, but the concept of profiting seems to suggest when it falls into the latter category, especially when the originator is uncredited. Worse still, is if the appropriation is hailed as the innovator and the originator languishes, and is subjugated in some sense.

I often worry whether I cross into appropriation territory. At one point, I was reading up on bharatanatyam and was very inspired by its history and spirituality. It also reminded me of back when I was in primary school, where to celebrate Indian dance and culture, my school’s Indian dance club would perform it and I was mesmerised by it aesthetically but also how different it was from my own culture. I never really sought to learn more about it growing up, until when I came to be reacquainted with bharatanatyam.

I wondered if I could incorporate elements of it into my own circus performing. I read up on texts and watch videos of the classical dance. I learned about the karanas and what each was suppose to portray, and pondered if I could portray the message of performance the way karanas do. At the end of my study, I tried to record a video of my efforts in integrating circus performing with the concepts of bharatanatyam. When I was done, there came a surge of worry: Oh no, have I simply adopted a different culture to elevate myself and made a mockery of the dance with the video? Despite coming from what I felt to be a genuine case of admiration of Tamil Indian music, dance, spirituality and culture, I still felt a twinge of guilt from appropriation.

Given the intensity of racial discussions here in America back home in recent weeks/months/years, such concerns are necessary: how does one respectfully engage with elements from another culture, especially if that culture is systemically in a minority dynamic and subjugated? We seem to have entered a time where having the ethnic majority merely reproducing the minority’s culture as appreciation is insufficient — more needs to be done. But what?

I don’t think I can be the one to answer that question — I think that has to be a process involving a conversation between the appropriator and the appropriated. That’s an interesting situation for me since I exist as a racial/cultural minority in America, but am a majority in Singapore. This is certainly a unique situation where I get to participate in discussing with people what I feel are appropriations of my culture in one place, but have to listen to the same conversation from the other side.

In the meanwhile, I can only hope that as I go about my life and art, I don’t accidentally take other cultures’ idlis and pass them off for my own.


Interesting related reading: Rich Chigga and the Difficulties of Keeping It Real [New Yorker]

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The Seventh Day

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(This is post is backdated, written on 23rd July, 2016)

It’s been seven days since you left us. You were always asking about Chinese customs, and we believe that on the seventh day, the spirit returns to the home for a visit and a meal.

I went and got you fresh flowers because you like them, even though you don’t put much effort in watering them. I had to replace the water for the bouquet I got for you for Valentine’s Day all the time. Those flowers were yellow, as are these. I know you know I don’t care for fresh flowers, as I think they represent imminent death. Fresh flowers wilt and die, and then we replace them — why should we perpetuate death any more than they should occur naturally? You know I would get them for you anyway simply because you like them. Hopefully these flowers will stay alive until I can bring them to you in Kentucky.

I took the 5 train back home and when I got to our building, I realised I had forgotten my keys and left them at work. I chose to walk towards the Q train because 1) I don’t like retracing my steps and 2) the Q is probably faster to get to my workplace at this time. As I walked towards the Q, I walked past Popeyes. The Popeyes you had always gotten chicken tenders from because they didn’t have any bones and you were picky and ate like a kid. The Popeyes that, back then, when I decided to buy a five-piece-for-$5 chicken (with bones) deal, you were so lazy you always asked my to buy your chicken tenders on your behalf. Maybe it was coincidence, maybe it was divine inspiration, maybe it was subconscious guidance. Maybe your ghost wanted chicken tenders and you made me walk past the Popeyes to buy you chicken tenders for your seventh day ghostly visit meal. I bought chicken tenders when I came back with my keys.

We never got a cat but hopefully Conrad the bear and Peanut the bear suffice to greet you when you return.

I was half hoping I’d open the door and see you with hands on hips, saying “Hiii! What’s up?” as you make that goofy smile. I wouldn’t even have been that spooked, I think. Traditionally, in our culture, we would lay out a tray filled with talcum powder to capture the footprints if the deceased visited on the seventh day. Knowing you, you’d probably have kicked it over and made a big mess. I don’t want to have to clean that up. So no talcum powder.

I set down the chicken tenders, set up the flowers, set Peanut and Conrad around and took a picture. This is the 21st century, I can’t communicate with you via a medium, but I can do so via another medium — I posted on your Facebook.

For some reason, as I ate the chicken tenders, I couldn’t finish them all in one sitting, as you never did. You always ate the tenders and had leftovers and put them in the fridge, as I did that night. It sucks not being able to finish my food, and I blame your ghost for possessing my stomach.

I don’t know why it takes seven days for spirits to return to their home visit — neither more days nor less. But you’ve always had a terrible sense of direction so maybe it would take you that long because you were probably lost trying to find your way back. You got lost whenever we had moved to a new apartment, be it the one in Chinatown or in Brooklyn. I won’t be taking seven days to see you. Just three more days. I heard your body had arrived in the funeral home in Kentucky already.

I’ll see you soon in Kentucky. Until then.

 

<– DAY 6

<– DAY 5

<– DAY 4

<– DAY 3

<– DAY 2

<– DAY 1

<– DAY 0

On copyrights and conlangs

One would imagine that if someone invented a language for use in a creative work, that someone could retain copyrights to the use of the language, would he or she not? According to U.S. case law, that might not be so, in the opinions of the Language Creation Society (LCS), a nonprofit organisation created for the promotion and discussion of constructed languages (conlangs). LCS submitted an amicus curiae — unsolicited advice to the courts for pending cases — to the Paramount v. Axanar case, where Paramount Pictures sued Axanar Productions for infringing various parts of its intellectual property over a fan-produced film Prelude to Axanar. These include: Vulcans, likeness of Vulcans, Romulans, uniforms with gold shirts, triangular medals, etc etc., and The Hollywood Reporter has more information on how Axanar is planning to respond to each claim.

What caught my interest was that Paramount laid claim to the Klingon language, which got me thinking: “Can conlangs created for the purpose of creative works be copyrighted?” Paramount has claimed the copyright to the Klingon language, its vocabulary and its graphemes but LCS believes that its claims will not hold in the court of law — indeed, anyone can claim copyright to anything but it is only when copyrights are challenged in courts that they are found to be valid or otherwise.

Citing an 1879 case Baker v. Selden, LCS said that while reproductions of creative works are protected by copyright laws, no laws exist to prevent individuals from using systems and creating their own derivative works with it. Baker v. Selden was a case where Selden created a system for bookkeeping and wrote books about it, hoping to sell the ideas to counties and the government. However, he was unsuccessful. Later on, Baker produced a book on bookkeeping that had systems very similar to Selden’s. Selden’s estate sued Baker, but the courts ruled that:

“[W]hilst no one has a right to print or publish his book, or any material part thereof, as a book intended to convey instruction in the art, any person may practice and use the art itself which he has described and illustrated therein… The copyright of a book on book-keeping cannot secure the exclusive right to make, sell, and use account books prepared upon the plan set forth in such a book.”

Thus Klingon as a language cannot be copyrighted, especially given its status where not only its creator Marc Okrand but also various scholars have contributed to the development and expansion of Klingon. Upon the establishment of linguistic rules of Klingon — syntax, phonology, morphology, etc — the language takes a life of its own and it would be unthinkable that a copyright holder could lay ownership to all and any subsequent derivative works from using that language. LCS cites the translated works of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Epic of Gilgamesh into Klingon, not to mention the technically somewhat-valid native speaker of Klingon, Alec d’Armond Speers, as proof that Klingon is a robust-enough language and trying to enforce copyrights to it would be unreasonable. It would be akin to enforcing a copyright on Esperanto today.

Moreover, the movie Prelude to Axanar isn’t ripping Klingon dialogue verbatim in their fan film, but devising dialogue based on using the Klingon language system. Indeed, besides Baker v. Selden, LCS is citing many other case laws to their effect that Klingon is a free language that cannot be copyrighted, and if anyone’s interested should check out the amicus brief (linked at the top of this post and also embedded below). The brief is also replete with lots of Klingon phrases written in Klingon script and accompanying footnotes, which I think is hilarious but probably not very amusing to the presiding judge.

So what does this mean? Feel free to write your fan-fiction in Quenya, Sindarin, Klingon, Na’vi or even that Atlantean language that Marc Okrand also created for the Disney movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire. As long as one isn’t merely ripping off dialogue (reproduction) but can prove that the utilised language is a product of using the language systems to derive original work, copyrights to the language are unenforceable. Granted, this is merely my opinion, but other folks have voiced similar sentiments (I liked this and this from LCS member Sai), and they’re worth checking out if you’re interested in copyrights and conlangs. We’ll see May 9th how the courts rule, and hopefully it’ll be in the favour of language hobbyists and enthusiasts.

Notes on how to pronounce Malay words in ‘Semoga Bahagia’

Singaporean musical group The TENG Ensemble did a cover of one of my favourite childhood songs, “Semoga Bahagia,” which translates loosely from Malay into “wishing you happiness” or according to Wikipedia, “May you achieve happiness.” Their use of traditional Chinese instruments for the song makes for a wonderful arrangement, led by local indie singer Inch Chua, who sounds great.

However, and some have noticed and commented on the ensemble’s Facebook post about the video, Chua does not quite get the pronunciations of the words right. Chua’s pronunciation is a highly Anglicised/Americanised vowel/consonant map, informed by her Chinese background. If the TENG Ensemble ever wishes to redo their video — and I think they’ve indicated their interest in doing so — here’s my notes on how to get the Malay words right. An understanding of IPA transcription will help in understanding this post better but even if not, I’ll try to transcribe it in an easily understandable format.

Note 1: The Malay language uses flapped/tapped r’s (/r/), which is similar to the r’s in Spanish, Japanese, and many other languages in the world. It does not use the rhotic r (/ɹ/) English uses.

Note 2: Vowels in spoken Malay tend to be preserved in their lengths and rarely shortened unless spoken very fast. Therefore words like “jiwa” should sound like “jee-wah” (/dʒiwa/) rather than “juh-wah” (/dʒɪwa/). When singing, it’s especially important to preserve the vowels since they become very apparent when shortened.

Note 3: Malay does not usually do aspirated consonants. There is strong aspiration in Chua’s d’s in “pemudi-pemuda,” which is how we usually pronounce d’s in English. Thus the Malay “d” sounds different from the way one would pronounce “dog” in English, which has an audible breathy release in the initial consonant. (Contrast the d consonant in “dog” vs. “dandan 淡淡”)

Note 4: In Malay orthography, “ng” is the velar nasal (/ŋ/), even if it’s between two vowel. Thus “dengan” is “duh-ng-an” and not “deng-gan.” (/dəŋan/) Same with “c” it’s a postalveolar affricate (/tʃ/) as in “ch-urch” and never an “s” sound.

And now for the second-by-second analysis! My comments will be in the form of (observation); followed by suggestion if applicable.

  • Pandai cari [0:35] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • pelajaran [0:39] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • jaga diri [0:46] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • kesihatan [0:49] — Chua said kAH-see-ha-tan; kuh-see-haa-tan, preserve e vowel, don’t aspirate t.
  • Serta sopan santun [0:53] — mispronounced, rolled r; SER-TA sopan santun.
  • dengan [0:58] — good job on de-NG-an!
  • bersih serta suci [1:23] — rolled r; do flapped r instead, preserve all r’s.
  • hormat dan berbudi [1:27] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • jaga tingkah [1:29] — k consonant dropped; preserve the k sound in tingkah, but lightly released.
  • Capailah [1:38] — diphtong aɪ changed to vowel a; don’t drop the i in ca-pAI-lah.
  • pemudi-pemuda [1:42] — aspirated d’s; don’t aspirate d, especially audible in pemuDA.
  • kita ada harga [1:48] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • di mata dunia [1:50] — good job on the d! This is the example of the unaspirated d.
  • kalau kita [2:10] — a vowel changed to e (/a/ to /ə/); preserve A vowel, kAH-lau instead of kUH-lau.
  • lengah [2:12] — added a g consonant; there is no g consonant, it’s pronounced le-ng-ah, not len-gah.
  • serta [2:13] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • hidup [2:15] — Chua said he-daap (/hidap/); it’s pronounced he-doop (/hidup/)
  • sia-sia [2:16] — Chua said saya-saya (/saɪya-saɪya/); it’s see-ah see-ah (/sia-sia/)
  • jiwa [2:19] — Chua said juh-wah (/jəwa/); preserve all vowels, it’s pronounced jee-wah
  • besar sihat serta segar [2:19] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • dengan (2:23) — good example of dengan.
  • perangai pemudi [2:28] — rolled r, aspirated d; do flapped r instead, don’t aspirate d.
  • cergas [2:31] – Chua said sergas, rolled r; it’s pronounced CHeRgas, ch consonant, do flapped r instead
  • suka rela [2:35] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • berbakti [2:37] — rolled r; do flapped r instead. This word is also an example of unreleased ‘k’
  • sikap yang pembela [2:38] — vowel was changed to p-uhm-bUH-la (/pəmbəla/); preserve vowel, it’s p-uhm-bAY-la (/pəmbela/).
  • berjasa [2:41] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • capailah [2:44] — see before
  • pemudi-pemuda [2:47] — see before
  • rajinlah supaya berjasa [2:52] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • semoga bahagia [2:56] — bahagia was pronounced as bUH-ha-g-i-a (/bəhagia/); preserve the A vowel in “ba,” making it bAH-ha-gi-a (//bahagia/). It’s ok to break “gia” into “gi-a” for stylistic purposes but “ba” should remain “ba.” In Malay, “be” (/bə/) and “ba” (/ba/) are contrastive.

Hey, no one ever said Malay was easy, right?

Here’s an example of the song sung by a Malay person (I’m assuming) with all the right consonant sounds, although I think it’s interesting when he overdoes some of his r’s and turns it into a trill [0:33].

It’s a lovely touch that gives it a very folksy flavour, that I’ve heard sometimes older Malay Singaporeans do than younger ones. It’s not quite dissimilar in Japanese, where the flapped r can become a trilled r, called makijita (巻き舌 or rolled tongue), and it is sometimes associated with rural communities, and — interestingly — with the Yakuza and in war cries (“uorrrrrrryaa!”). Pay attention to how he pronounces his d’s, r’s, t’s, and k’s.

Hopefully this will help the TENG Ensemble and Inch Chua make a better second version of the song hitting all the right sounds of the wonderful Bahasa Melayu. After all, nobody wants to hear an ang-mor-cised version of our Chinese songs, do we?

 

(Woe…. da…. zheeeah.. gay woe! Eee shwaang zheeaan ding zhhh paaang….!!!)

Singapore’s obsession with “tsap”

These four have something in common: "tsap".

These four have something in common: “tsap”.

Many of Singapore’s many iconic dishes: bak chor mee (minced meat noodles), chilli crab, Hokkien prawn mee, to name a few, tend to have a commonality — more often than not, they all have “tsap” (汁) or sauce/gravy in them. No matter Malay, Indian, or Chinese, Singapore dishes are sauce-heavy and gravy-generous. Singapore’s love for sauces and gravy doesn’t stop at local dishes, but extends its saucy reach to foreign cuisines localised in the country. It is hardly ever talked about, but even in “tsap” can we tease out what it means for a dish to be “truly Singaporean”.

How does Singapore’s love affair with “tsap” contribute to establishing identity? The answer lies with how we localise foreign food. Cuisine localisation anywhere in the world takes into consideration local preferences, and modifies the dish accordingly. For example, mapo tofu in the United States is generally always saltier and less spicy than its Asian counterparts (true can be said for most Chinese food in the U.S. really).

Now in Singapore, discussion of food localisation usually surrounds taste: food is usually made less salty, less greasy, etc. But modification of texture to imported cuisines goes unnoticed, because something as simple as sauce is so basic to a dish that we forget it exists, just as we don’t think about how we breathe and taste. That does not mean we cannot learn something about our psyche and approach towards food from “tsap”.

Case in point: carbonara pasta and pasta with marinara sauce. Carbonara in Singapore is usually heavy on the cream sauce — Singaporeans want to see their pasta sitting in a pool of it, and one of Singapore’s biggest pasta chain Pastamania serves their pasta carbonara swimming in sauce.

Two examples of how carbonara is served in one of Singapore's largest pasta chains.

Two examples of how carbonara is served in one of Singapore’s largest pasta chains.

However, real carbonara is actually pretty dry. Be it in the United States or in Europe, most of the carbonara I’ve had outside of Singapore tend to not drown the noodles in “tsap”.

car3

Proper carbonara lightly clings to the pasta. Not only just with carbonara, but Pastamania’s marinara dishes are akin to soup.

Pastamania's marinara vs. some other country's marinara

Pastamania’s marinara vs. some other country’s marinara

Of course, one can say that Pastamania, as a chain restaurant, isn’t representative of how the food is supposed to be served and that they serve bad pasta, but that is besides the point. What we’re looking at is how these companies think Singaporeans would like these foreign cuisine best, and their verdict: swimming in a lot of “tsap”. In my experience, not only Pastamania, but many other local pasta establishments, from chain restaurants to slightly fancy “atas” restaurants tend to be heavy-handed on the sauces.

Has anyone ever stopped to think “What makes Singaporean food so Singaporean?” Many will quickly point out that spiciness is an aspect. But just as Singaporeans can be pointed out in a crowd in a foreign country purely by accent alone, “tsap-heavy” food is idiosyncratic to Singapore and is an identifying element when local dishes are compared internationally. An example of “what makes X food so identifiably X?” would be Japanese dishes and their philosophy of preserving the natural flavours of the ingredients, so much so that they serve individual dishes on separate serving dishes so as not to mix flavours.

A reason, I suspect, why Singaporeans love gravy so much could be our mantra of being kiasu, or the fear of losing out. The idea that “more is better” sticks very close to our heart — why would you have less gravy when you can have more? Singaporeans get ecstatic when their dishes come more liao (料), or toppings, and having extra “tsap” comes close. Just think of how people advice when ordering cai png (economic rice) to never forget to ask the server to drizzle/drench the food with sauces, curry, and gravy in hopes of getting extra food morsels. Our desire for value (or fear of losing it) manifests itself in extra “tsap”, so much so that the gravy is sometimes as much the dining experience as the entrée itself.

When ordering cai png, never forget the gravy or curry.

When ordering cai png, never forget the gravy or curry.

Another possible reason could be that Singaporeans are culturally averse to eating anything that is purely dry. Compare eating a baguette with eating a baguette dipped in chilli crab sauce or curry. Compare eating a plain roti prata with roti prata drowned in curry. Think about how even when we eat Khong Guan biscuits, there is a desire to dip it in hot Milo or kopi. I wonder if the heavy usage of steam and moisture in many of our cooking have led us culturally to prefer hot and moist food. Many Americans I know have no qualms about eating cold pizza (gag). In the Chinese language, hot food can be described as re pen pen (热喷喷), literally hot and spewing, and I imagine it is spewing steam; an element of moisture. I guess in English there is “piping hot”, but it conveys less the image of moisture as it does purely heat. I cannot speak for the other major languages in Singapore whether they have similar food adjectives. Gravy and “tsap” do have excellent heat-retaining properties, and are pretty wet too.

What does this say about us as a culture and the way we like our food — which is hot and wet? Well, not much, except that we like our food hot and wet. It is possible to extrapolate and say that philosophically hot food to Singaporeans is a source of comfort, and that gravy on our food not only adds flavour but serves additional soothing properties, but that is a bit of a stretch. However, simply being able to distil what makes Singaporean food so Singaporean is an exercise that can be applied to many other aspects of our lives — what makes Singaporean writing so Singaporean, or Singaporean English so Singaporean, etc etc?

So the next time someone asks “What makes Singaporean food so Singaporean?”, the answer is: If we love it, we lin (淋) a lot of tsap on it.

Adding South-east Asian pizzazz to pizzas

SEAsianpizza2When you think about pizzas, there are really three essential components to every pizza: the crunch (the crust), the goop (the saucy base), and the bite (toppings). If one is able to recreate these three mouthfeels, one would get a decent pizza.

By distilling the essence of pizzas down to these components, I started thinking, “Does pizza always have to have cheese or tomato sauce as a base? What if I have something else that’s also goopy, would that then make for a good pizza?”

And then I started thinking, “Has anyone ever tried to make a south-east Asian pizza that isn’t simply dumping south-east Asian ingredients on top of what is still essentially an Italian pizza, with cheese et al?” I know that people have experimented with all sorts of toppings, but invariably the goopy base always boils down to tomato sauce or cheese.

So perhaps, if I could make goop from south-east Asian cuisine, I could substitute cheese and tomato sauce for the base and make a pizza that is actually truthful to the original taste of the dish!

So on my train commute to work, I sat down and went through all the Singaporean/Malaysian dishes I knew of, and started thinking about their textures. I eventually came up with a first round of dishes a few months ago that I thought could viably be transformed to recreate the three mouthfeels that go into a pizza.

SEAsian Pizzas Round 1

southeast asian pizzasThe first round of pizzas I made for my friends were: (from left to right) Mee Rebus, Char Siew, Baingan Bharta, and Daging Rendang. These pizzas had an additional tweak in that they represented all the major ethnic groups in Singapore, but also covered all the major proteins including a vegetarian option. I’m going to list each pizza and their components.

Mee Rebus Pizza

A dish which in Malay simply means “boiled noodles.” Very unassuming sounding, but is a sweet and spicy curry that’s thickened with mashed potatoes and topped with a hard-boiled egg. I discovered that by increasing the amount of mashed potatoes in the curry gravy, one could achieve the consistency of cheese. I used the gravy as a base. There are, funnily enough, no noodles of course in this pizza, so maybe it should really be called Tak Mee Rebus Pizza, but then that just means “No boiled noodles pizza.”

I don’t really speak Malay.

I topped it with hard-boiled eggs, but also fritters. A recipe I found suggested cucur udang bawang (prawn and chive fritters) but I had a friend at the pizza dinner who is allergic to shellfish so I replaced it with chicken, making it cucur ayam bawang.

Char Siew Pizza

A Chinese barbecued pork dish, glazed with honey, maltose, garlic, and spices. I learnt to make char siew from scratch, and I discovered that the sauce is already kind of thick, perfect for setting as the base for the pizza. This one was a no-brainer, and not much alteration was necessary to make char siew into pizza. Garnished with garlic and cilantro.

Baigan Bharta Pizza

A spicy Punjab dish made from eggplants. Granted, Singapore major Indian ethnic group is Tamil, but I found baingan bharta the easiest to work with. By mashing up the eggplants, they became very goopy, which I used for the base. I then topped it with mushrooms and tomatoes, because why not? This dish is vegetarian.

Rendang Daging Pizza

A Malay dish of spicy caramelised coconut beef, where the beef is original stewed in broth and left to slow cook until the broth evaporates and is absorbed by the beef. The cooking process then turns from stewing to stir-frying.

I took a portion of the stew and thickened it, and used it as the base. I topped it with rendang, and garnished it with chilli and cilantro.

The crust for the pizza, because I’m not really an accomplished Italian chef, was some simple pizza crust recipe I took from the internet using olive oil, flour, and salt.

Since a lot of south-east Asian pizzas are usually eaten with a staple, such as rice or noodles, it made sense to replace the staples with the crust, successfully blending what is traditionally a rice or noodle dish into something completely new, while preserving all of its original flavours (sans the flavours of the rice and noodles themselves).

After the success I had for the first round of pizzas, I proceeded to make more a couple months later (which was a few days ago).

SEAsian Pizzas Round 2

SEAsianpizza2From top left clockwise: Thosai Aloo Masala, Otak-otak, Lor Mee, Singapore Chilli Crab

I decided to go further this time, and represent Singapore’s ethnicities better, while keeping the custom of varying the proteins. I also had the sense to take pictures of the making process this time. Once again, I’ll describe the pizzas.

Thosai Aloo Masala with coconut chutney

In Singapore, the food most people think of when Indian food comes to mind is immediately roti prata or thosai. I decided to go with thosai, because I’m an abysmal prata maker (I’ve tried).

Known in New York as dosa, and thosai in Singapore, it’s a vegetarian Tamil rice-and-lentil crepe dish, topped with any variety of things, from eggs to potatoes to magic. The batter is thinly poured over a flat tawa, just as crepes are. I’m very proud to say I made my own batter, fermenting idli and dal, but there was a necessity to make my own batter.

thosai

Regular thosai/dosa is too thin to turn into pizza, and I had to thicken it somehow. Simply pouring more on the tawa isn’t sufficient, because it’s quite liquidy and wouldn’t stay in place. Thus, I had to alter the proportions of rice to lentils, to achieve the consistency I needed to make a sturdy enough crust to hold the toppings, while still retaining the taste of the thosai.

aloosabzi coconutchutney

I made coconut chutney, and thickened it by reducing the water in it. That formed the base. It’s also one of my favourite chutneys to use for thosai. I topped it with aloo sabzi, a potato filling with curry leaves and turmeric. I had a baking tray that I greased, put it in the oven until it got really hot, and thickly but evenly poured the batter over it, and put it back in the oven for a couple of minutes. I then took it back out when it is lightly cooked, poured the chutney and topped it with the potato masala, and put it back in the oven. It came out as a flatbread sorta pizza, and I was pleasantly surprised how well it turned out.

Otak-otak Pizza

Otak-otak is a Peranakan dish, making it the first time I’m representing this ethnic group in Singapore with pizzas. It’s a spicy fish custard with coconut and eggs. Unfortunately, my otak-otak had the right smell and taste, but wrong consistency, as it failed to custardise properly. I think in my zeal, I put in too much coconut milk, causing there to be too much liquid for the custard to form. I’ll need to try again.

otak sataysauce

But anyway, I still had the fish soaked in the otak custard dip, and at least the flavours stayed. I used a satay peanut sauce as the base, and topped it with the fish

Lor Mee Pizza

A Chinese braised pork noodle dish, usually topped with a braised hard-boiled egg and a variety of other toppings, in a soy-vinegar broth thickened with starch and egg. Once again, lor mee means “braised noodles,” and the lack of noodles in this pizza (replaced instead with a pizza crust) should really name this dish “Lor Ang Mor Peng,” or braised Caucasian pastry, which doesn’t make it sound any more appetising.

lor mee sm

(I forgot to take pictures of the lor bak, lor neng (egg), and lor tsap (sauce), but I did make lor mee the night before so here it is a picture of it)

I lor’d (braised) the lor bak (braised meat) for two days, the egg for one day, and extra thickened the braising sauce with starch, flour, and egg, to form the base. The pizza was then topped with the pork and egg, and garnished with cilantro and fried shallots.

Singapore Chilli Crab

I learnt that whole live crab is cheaper to buy than fish fillets in New York. Maybe it’s because I’m paying for all that shell and whatnot.

Did you know that if you buy live crabs and put them in the fridge, they’re still alive 12 hours later? I put them in the sink to wash them, and they came back to life, like daisies!

So, I guess the Singapore Chilli Crab is a Chinese spicy crab dish, with tomato puree and egg and a bunch of other stuff that unequivocally makes it Singapore’s signature dish. Just google “Singapore signature dish,” and chilli crab usually comes up tops.

And because I wasn’t going put a whole crab onto the pizzas, I had extract all the crab meat manually. I also didn’t have a shell cracker tool. All I had were knives, chopsticks, and a pair of needle-nose pliers.

crabThis small unassuming bowl, containing over a pound of mud crab meat, took TWO HOURS and many an injured finger.

I then prepared the sauce and stirred the crab meat into the sauce, making a thick chilli crab goopy thing which was perfect as a base, no topping needed. I guess ideally I would have preferred the meat to be more in chunks and as shredded as they turned out to be, but hey try removing crab meat manually with chopsticks and needle-nose pliers and we’ll see if you can do it without destroying the meat.

But it turned out well enough and tasted great, so that’s that.

I altered some of the ingredients in the pizzas to account for allergies within my testing group. I took out the belecan (shrimp paste) from the otak, because someone was allergic to shellfish, but kept it in the chilli crab because he wouldn’t have been able to eat it anyway. The good thing about south-east Asian dishes as pizzas is that, not only is it novel, they’re all lactose-free, because we don’t use milk very often in our cooking. So my lact-arded friends get to eat what passes as pizza, I suppose.

Makes me wonder why I’m not pursuing culinary as a profession sometimes.

 

 

 

 

The Rich White Neighbourhoods ride

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A lot of my long-distance rides have been around the city, and I’ve not ventured out of the city in a while. Not on a unicycle, at least. I wanted to ride to a beach on Fire Island, but that was perhaps 60 km and I was not ready for that yet. So I chickened out and chose to cross state lines instead, and head into Connecticut. This is probably the first GPS-recorded ride I’ve done in a year, with the last being my ride into Stony Brook, Long Island, last year around this time.

Here’s a picture of the route I ended up taking; click to see the larger picture. Skip to the end for ride stats.

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As always, for such trips, I went packed with supplies!

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This time round, I had: a GPS, MP3 player, 1 Milky Way bar, a box of 5 granola bars that I bought for $1, a pack of chilli lemon peanuts that also cost a $1, spare battery pack for my phone, some AA batteries, keys, Nintendo 3DS for the pedometer, 3 litres of water, and my phone.

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I started at the Pelham Bay Park station. Although I could probably have ridden from my home, which would have added an additional 20 km, I wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment yet. So the Bronx it is!

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I crossed the Pelham Bridge, which was pretty, and everything proceeded to be pretty for the next 10 km or so. I rode past numerous mansion, golf courses, horse riding trails, basically affluence. I saw houses that looked like this.

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You know what’s funny? Apropos of its name, this property is on PARK LANE, which is one of the pricey dark blue properties on Monopoly! Also, I broke my max speed ever (I think) and hit 31.4 km/h on a steep downhill! In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have done all the crazy downhill sprints I did because I think that burnt my legs out faster over the course of the entire ride.

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I rode into New Rochelle, where I bought some iced coffee and had my first real break. I probably tripled the Asian population by being present there, but it was pretty. Rode past Larchmont, and into Mamaroneck, which was also really pretty. Geez I could probably sum up the ride with “Everything looked rich and really pretty.

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Things were slightly less pretty when I rode too far inland (I was supposed to be hugging the coastline and following the train tracks) and I got slightly lost. Thankfully a dog in a car pointed the right way back to the coast for me and things were pretty again.”

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I made it into Connecticut! By this point my legs had already cramped up once (just prior to the dog-car meeting) and I was set to cramp up a couple times more in CT because it is so damn hilly. I expected Connecticut to be flat. Guess I should have just ridden into Iowa or Kansas or something.

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First Whole Foods sighting, though it seems to be fancier than just regular Whole Foods, and is called Whole Body instead? Whatever Greenwich, CT. I just sat around in the parking lot eating my $1 peanuts and drinking my bottled water.

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Once again we meet again, my nemesis: highways. It seems like every time I go on a long distance ride out of my comfort zones, I run into highways. I sit here wonder, “Should I enter and risk actually ending up on some highway?” or is this actually a local road? Thankfully it was merely a tricky local road that looked very highway-ish.

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Yay I made it into Stamford, CT, which was where I was supposed to be. Surprisingly the only injury was from my backpack strap chafing my shoulders.

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I got to live the true suburban life by hanging out in the mall, drinking Starbucks, and getting chased out of the mall by security. Apparently the Landmark Square Shopping Center is a bit of a grump when it comes to people holding onto a wheel and just sitting in the mall; my friend told me even people holding on to kick scooters and skateboards get kicked out. But push strollers are OK. I don’t know why.

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Stamford, and by extension many of the other towns I rode past, is pretty, but that is all there is to it. It really has no character, to its streets. And given by the treatment I experienced at the mall, which is supposedly the crux of what there is to do in Stamford, this town is soulless, glossed over by a veneer of pretty.

I don’t think I could ever live here, dazzled by pretty architecture, but dismayed by inflexible authorities and a lack of celebration of alternative culture. In some sense, it is really similar to Singapore, filled with impressive futuristic buildings, towers ceaselessly piercing the skies and reaching ever new heights, but so lacking when it comes to building life at the ground level. Life and community does not begin in the air but in the hearts at the ground level. I end this ride with this amusing picture I came across at the MacDonald’s, which redeemed Stamford somewhat for me.

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Final stats for the trip.

Total elapsed time: 3 hours 45 minutes
Total moving time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Total stopped time: 60 minutes
Maximum speed: 31.4 km/h
Total UPD’s: 1 (Early into the ride next to the horse riding track, as I was trying to set my GPS)
Number of crazy downhill sprints: 5
Number of times legs cramped: 3
Numbers of uphills walked up: 5
Steps counted by the 3DS: About 20,000
Breaks taken: 4