Monday, November 23, 2009

Balls of Old

We planned for breakfast together this morning. Then breakfast became brunch.

Our choices for an in-between meal were wide at Tiong Bahru market. This is our first visit since it was renovated thus it was familiar and strange at the same time.

The old stalls seem to be still around: chicken rice, wanton noodles, roasted pork and duck, zhui kueh... Some others didn't ring a bell but they might have been there before.

HG had zhui kueh, which are rice cakes topped with fried turnips. They were the famous Jian Bo variety.

My food of choice was Teochew fishball noodles. Should I have mee pok (flat yellow noodles) or kway teow mee (flat rice noodles mixed with round yellow noodles)? Decisions, decisions...

This yummy bowl of mee pok ta (dry flat yellow noodles) comes with 3 fishballs and slices of fish cakes, in white and orange. It's been years since I had orange-coloured fish cakes. When I was a child, I used to love a little stall at the Toa Payoh Lor 8 market that sold Teochew noodles. That stall changed hands almost 2 decades ago.

This noodle stall at Tiong Bahru has an unassuming sign. All it says was "Teochew Noodles Dry/Soup". It doesn't have stickers proclaiming endorsements by food programmes or foodie gurus. The ingredients were simple too: no minced pork or liver or dumplings. The noodles were lovely because they were simple.

As I gave my orders to the stall assistant, I noticed that there was a man working at the back. He was making fishballs!

The little fishballs this stall dished out were odd-shaped, unsymmetrical and slightly gray. Not the large, round and white ones that my mother-in-law buys for my children. They had a different sort of bounce as I chewed on them. They were hand-made, that's why. Made by mixing fish meat, flour, salt, sugar and water until they reach the right texture, to be squeezed by hand and scooped up with a Chinese soup spoon. Piece by piece, he made those buckets of fishballs.

When I finished my bowl, I went back to the stall and asked if I could take a picture. They asked where I was from - as if I was a curious tourist. In a way I am, I guess.

Seemed that nobody noticed the man at the back. The man, whose queue I interrupted to take a picture, immediately took out his camera from his pocket when he realised what happened and snapped too.

The man making the fishballs was the boss, I was informed. So he is a "crouching tiger, hidden dragon".

My friend M said how funny it is our emotions are tied to a place. Today, I realised that my memories are tied to the food I eat. Isn't this funny too?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sinful indulgence

Today marks our 4th day in Singapore. We've had 4 breakfasts, 4 lunches, 5 dinners and 3 suppers. I'm not counting snacks and coffee breaks.

On display here is tonight's supper, char kway teow. For S$4 (or a mere €2), we got a medium-sized portion of yummy and greasy fried noodles. This is from an apparently famous stall at Zion Road hawker centre. In between mouthfuls of moist noodles, I picked out a tablespoonful of lard pieces. Lard - yes, cholesterol-laden porky fat - is the secret ingredient to a delicious serving of char kway teow.

You might notice lots of beansprouts and chives in there. They make up the recommended serving of vegetables, you see.

We've been treating ourselves to tasty hawker fare in Singapore. I have yet to cook this week...

HG took a walk to Zion Road just now to buy supper. We are more excited by the possibility of ready-prepared food at odd hours of the night than the actual ingestion. Nevertheless, my "spare tyre" got a little more plumped compared to last week.

He said this as he scooped a mouthful of kway teow: we should have come back earlier.

Wait til we attend the Primary 1 registration this Saturday. Not sure if he will feel the same way about our education system.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Moving out and moving on

Tonight is our last night in Finland. By tomorrow this time, we'll be on a flight to Singapore via Frankfurt.

Yesterday, I watched as the movers pack our belongings into cardboard boxes. Clothes, bed linen, toiletries, kitchenware, books... Our worldly belongings were then loaded into a large Evergreen container, bound for the Helsinki port.

We took pictures of the nice guys who helped us move. I'm too drained to pull out the wire from my luggage to connect the camera to the computer. You'll see them another day.

The house we called home the last one-and-a-half years was cleaned and back to its original condition. There is no longer trace that we were ever present. The refrigerator looks strange without the children's drawings and little magnets. Our bedrooms are bare and devoid of our presence, our smell.

Snow fell softly as the container and the trucks drove off.

Although we have moved several times already, this time is especially poignant. We made many friends during our time here and we feel so welcome. A part of me wants to come back, actually a part of me can't believe we are really leaving. We made some good friends late into our time here but real relationships take time to build.

So heippa Suomi. We will miss you.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Comes and goes

Snow came early this year.

Last Wednesday, we woke up to a scene of white. Temperatures had been near zero for a while now so the kids are already wearing winter gear. On this day, they switched from rubber galoshes to snow boots.

We love the snow. On the way to school, they talked about making snow balls, snow men, snow angels and hopefully some sledding too.

More snow fell that day but temperatures were rather warm. By warm, I meant 2 or 3ÂșC. The snow soon melted and we didn't have much left by Saturday.

It didn't matter anyway because the kids fell ill last weekend. Estelle started with a fever on Friday evening and then Jules on Sunday morning. The daycare centre has 3 confirmed cases of H1N1 by today, I'm told.

We went to the clinic this morning. My request to be tested was declined because apparently there is only one laboratory serving the Greater Capital region (meaning Helsinki and its nearby suburbs). It was expected to be swarmed with samples anyway so it seemed that only more severe cases will be tested.

Do we or do we not have the swine flu? Doesn't matter as long as we recover, the doctor advised.

We have 5 days left in Finland. The meteorological station has forecasted at least 10cm of snow by tomorrow morning. We still have a chance!