1. Cuisine

Channelling Simon Cowell When I Was a Judge at #SgEatWithUs

SGEatWithUs CarnivalI have been volunteering for 15 years at various organizations—Action for AIDS, iMentor (for troubled youths), HOME, and a book club open to public. I volunteer because I don’t want to be one of the nihilists who complain, and complain, and not do anything. If I want to see a change in society, I must work towards it. What is the point of my existence if it isn’t to alleviate the suffering of others in the world? We are all on this boat together.

SGEatWIthUsBut when the organizers of #SgEatWithUs told me they were all volunteers, that #SgEatWithUs was a grassroot event, their behavior befuddled me. I understand volunteerism but why would anyone volunteer to do what the government should do? Part of SG50, #SgEatWithUs wishes to foster camaraderie among Singaporeans through food. They will hold 3 more food carnivals for Singaporeans to bring their homecooked dishes, kinda like a potluck party. I don’t understand the organizers’ brand of volunteerism but I admire their patriotism. 

sgeatwithusIt was an unfortunate day. Will, who is alone in Singapore, was extremely ill, so ill that he had slept 20 hours, and was too enfeebled to go to the doctor’s alone. I arrived at the event, worried for him.

But the buzzing festive atmosphere swept me away. I got excited. There were so many home cooks, all 31 of them. I had to eat all 31 dishes?! My life is hard. Pity me, my friends, pity me.

It was difficult to judge because (1) so much effort was put in the food, and (2) they were all delicious. If you dare to compete, you must have some substance. Standards were high, competition was stiff; everyone brought their A game, and no one had the intention to be second. In the end, my score sheet revealed that the highest and lowest scoring dishes were only a difference of few marks.

Distressing as my work was, I had an amazing time chatting with the participants. I wish I could sit down and have a homecooked meal with each and everyone of them. If you read this and want to invite me to your home and cook for me, I’ll be deeply grateful and honored.

Because of my website’s limited byte space, I can only feature some of the 31 dishes. It pains me to make the choices what to feature:

sgeatwithus noridayu ithnin Mdm Noridayu Ithnin cooked a mean ayam masak merah, full of complex spices, and even the nasi kuning was marvelous. I gave her high marks and she won first prize for best liked dish.

sgeatwithus esther makayuMdm Esther Makayu’s Teochew braised duck was damn shiok. Set up a stall already!

sgeatwithus rashmi patraMrs Rashmi Patra’s sahi potato curry was the bomb. It tasted like the inside of curry puff, so addictive. I could polish the entire plate, and I don’t like potato usually!

sgeatwithus tan mei lanThis was the first time I ate this putian dish, pumpkin cha hoon, by Mdm Tee Mei Lan. I gave a high score for its uniqueness and it turned out to win the second most-liked dish.

sgeatwithus raymond xiaoMr Raymond Xiao, who is proof that home cooks can be men too, conjured a magical pot of mutton rendang, sweet with spices.

sgeatwithus choong choon moyI’m Hakka, and if you tell my grandmother this, I’ll deny everything: Mdm Choong Choon Moy’s abacus seeds were better my grandmother’s.

sgeatwithus toh siew engMdm Toh Siew Eng’s glutinous rice was one of the most flavorful I had in my life.

sgeatwithus margaret limThis curry chap chye, by Mdm Margaret Lim, had a more muted taste than usual, which meant I could eat an entire pot without being jerlat. Gimme some beehoon with it.

sgeatwithus joy cheongA young baker, Mrs Joy Cheong, came up independently a similar idea to the award-winning Preparazzi’s cupcakes: an innovative ondeh ondeh cupcakes. Wah, which means if she were born a little earlier, she would have won the award.

I wished I could stay and chat with the participants after the judging–actually, I was hoping to have a second round, macham like buffet like that–but I had to play a superhero and save my gravely ill friend, Will. Like the exciting carnival, Will is now fine! All’s well that ends well. 

All photos taken from SGEatWithUs facebook, taken by Edmund Wong.

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