Photo credit: Withlocals.com
Well, “gate-crashing” isn’t the correct word. We are sensationalizing, like one of those “You Must Read This Best Of list. #5 on the list kills me.” We made an appointment with ah mah through Withlocals. It is a website that allows locals to host travelers. Firstly, locals offer their services online: it can be food, or tours, or activities. Then travelers can purchase the service. This allows travelers to interact with a local family, and understand the real local culture. It also allows host families to come in contact with other cultures and make friends. A win-win situation.
After I decided I wanted to eat with ah mah from this Singaporean family, I made a purchase. At this point, Withlocals contacted the host family to confirm whether the date was available. If the host family wasn’t free, the fee would be refunded in full. Within a day, Withlocals confirmed, and sent me an email with the host Jing Wen’s number and email address so that I could contact her directly.
So shy, whatsapping her. Machiam blind date like that.
Host Jing Wen & her ah mah
The day came. At the voiddeck, Huccalily had cold feet. “Are you sure they won’t chop us up and make char siew bao?”
I replied, “I don’t mind being char siew bao. I’m so fat I must be tender and juicy. Treat it as repaying the society with my body.”
Later that night, I asked the host, Jing Wen, what if we turned out to be serial killers?
She replied it was a matter of trust.
A delicious sesame chicken
Actually, she has nothing to worry about. Jing Wen, a driven undergrad, is intelligent and resourceful, and can handle any situation. She does this because it is her ah mah‘s dream to set up a food stall. But at ah mah‘s age, running a stall may be too arduous for her. This is Jing Wen’s way of fulfilling her grandmother’s dream.
I realize that Singaporeans, who offer their services on Withlocals, are different from other Southeast Asian countries: Singaporeans offer services out of fun and hospitality, not as a source of income. So be nice, don’t treat other people’s homes as restaurants. Bring a gift.
As it was Dragon Boat Festival (端午节), I got Ah Mah some Din Tai Fung’s bak zhang for her breakfast. Available till 30 June.
Another difference from Southeast Asian counterparts is Singaporeans are more reserved and don’t like strangers into their inner sanctity of homes. But in other countries, if you get to know a local, the local will invite you home without qualms. Even though my mother cooks awesomely, I don’t think I’d have the bubbly personality to offer my service. Woes of an introvert.
OK. The food. Ah mah, who is a fan of Korean drama, cooked sesame mushroom chicken, steamed cauliflower and broccoli, and bak ku teh. All were delicious. When ah mah scooped a bowl of bak ku teh for me, her action gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. Like home.
This has not only been a wonderful experience for us, it is also a great privilege to know Jing Wen and her grandmother. It is a memory I’ll always treasure.
When I’m old, I’ll tell my grandchildren, “Don’t take candy from strangers, but you can go to a stranger’s home for dinner. I did that once at an ah mah‘s home. Don’t worry, she didn’t have sharp teeth, or pointed ears, or is furry like the Big Bad Wolf.
“I brought Huccalily with me. Unbeknownst to Huccalily, she was my food taster. (Never let your friends know they are your food tasters!) Also bring a friend who runs slower than you so you can escape.
“Kids, the moral of the story is when you are lucky enough to partake in a stranger’s offering, make sure your friend has the first bite. And if your friend isn’t poisoned, you can start eating like a savage so you get to eat more than your friend. Survival of the fastest eater.”
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.
ps: Thank you so much, Jing Wen and grandma, for your generosity.
Although WithLocals provided us money to pay for the meal, the entire process was done undercover. This entry is a fair assessment of what Withlocal has to offer.