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Jan 27, 2017

Food to Celebrate Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner

Violet Oon hosting her very own television cooking program in the 1980s.

Get to know the Grand Dame of Singaporean Cooking, Violet Oon.

Her influences, inspiration and mission.

Violet is living out her lifelong dream of entertaining and feeding family, friends and neighbours, while sharing her knowledge and expertise, all from the comfort and warmth of her own “kitchen”.

Violet began her career in journalism in 1971 as a reporter for music and the arts and in 1974, she became The New Nation’s food critic. Driven by her passion for sharing good food, Violet started her own culinary magazine called The Food Paper in 1987. That passion would later lead her into diverse adventures; from the launch and operation of her own food outlet in Takashimaya in the 1990s, to the role of food researcher for the National Heritage Board.

Having successfully carved a niche out for herself, Violet has served as an F&B consultant in key national events such as the 2006 IMF World Bank Conference and the 2009 APEC Meeting in Singapore. She is also lauded as a speaker and has presented talks at the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ annual conference in Baltimore, USA. Violet has also been appointed Chef de Mission, leading Singapore’s team of chefs at the World of Flavors Conference and Festival (2004, 2007 & 2009), held by the Culinary Institute of America.

Always generous with her knowledge and experience, Violet has written three cookbooks of her own: Peranakan Cooking, Violet Oon Cooks and A Singapore Family Cookbook, with a fourth book in the works. She has also co-authored the Curry Cookbook from German publishing house, Teubner.

In addition to spreading her passion for Nyonya cuisine in person and on paper, Violet has enthralled radio listeners and charmed television audiences in TV programmes filmed and aired by the BBC, CNN, The Food Network and Singapore’s Channel 5.

A long forgotten newspaper article related to the Chinese New Year reunion dinner devised by Violet Oon a 7-point plan, published in Singapore Monitor on 8 February, 1983 to share on how not cook and still enjoy.

Getting through the Chinese New Year festivities can be rough if you have to cater your own food.

Unlike the other public holidays during which at least half if not more of the restaurants and hawkers are operating, Chinese New Year is one festival
which means closing shop for four days for most eateries, except the pricier hotel restaurants and coffee houses.

No, it does not help if you're a millionaire with hordes of servants.  Unless they are Thai, Filipino or some other nationality, they'll all be off for the holidays

You want to be freed from the household chores, and nothing is more difficult than having to cook every meal for four days when you're supposed to be having fun.

So what do you do?  Read on.  VIOLET OON has devised a code for getting out of cooking for the New Year.


Get yourself invited out for every meal and visit friends all the time.  Go home only to change, bathe and sleep.  Make sure you're not in when people visit as you'll have to take out the cakes, cookies and dringks and wash up afterwards.

By now you should know whose mother makes the best food, so head for thdir houses.  Be a good guest.  Go visiting bearing gifts - four oranges each house and if you feel generous, a bottle of cognac or wine.

Be prepared to pay for your meals in the form Pof "hong bao" for the motoey lot of children that congregate in the homes of famous cooks.  Still, it'll be worth it.  Put only $2 in each packet and make it as anonymous as possible so it won't be traceable.



Make sure you're a younger relative who attends the reunion dinner in your parents or some other older relative's house.  Again go bearing gifts and prepare lots of compliments.

Help out with the washing up but with many people helping the chore becomes enjoyable.  Anyway you get a beautiful dinner slaved over by someone else, preferably your mother.

But if you do not , an older brother or sister and turn out to be the head of the family who is expected to host the reunion dinner, don't panic.

Be modern and innovative.  Tell everyone: "Who wants to go through the name of stuffy dishes?  Let's have a real group effort with a Pot Luck Dinner.  Each one brings a dish and let's rotate houses each year."

If you really get cornered, and can't get out of cooking for the reunion dinner, why not try a barbecue?  You can get all your meats cut, marionated and neatly
arranged in foil trays by way of the leading supermarkets.

Visit one that has a good selection of meats, good selection of meats, buy the foil trays from the shelves and place your order now.  Don't wait till the end of the week.

Yaohan and Cold Storage marinate beef, chicken wings, lamb and pork beautifully.

At the same time, buy all the salad, vegetables and sauces, pick up some French bread, get some cold meats from the delicatessen counter, plurge on some large prawns and you're set for the meal.

Dessert can be ice cream with fruit cocktail or a cake ordered from the supermarket.  Use disposable plastic plates and cups and you'll have a party without too much cleaning up to do.

Of course this lacks the atmosphere of a meal made up of traditional favourites but the aim of the dinner is to get together, after all.


Get it catered by a non-Chinese caterer.  Today there are many Indian and Malay shops and stalls that cater for Chinese parties during the New Year season.

It's still not too late to book a satay man and get him to cook some sotoh, lontong or other dishes.  You can even have a buffet spread if your party is big enough.


Visit a fast food restaurant that's open.  They're among the least pricey of the eating out options.


Scout around for Indian and Malay stalls and restaurants that open for the season.  Make your enquiries and phone calls now or you'll find yourself starving come New Year.


Go to Malaysia.  Even Johor Baru will do as there are more Malay hawker stalls there than in Singapore.


For those who have money to spare and really want to pamper themselves, book late a local hotel and eat at the cofee house, restaurant or order room service.  If you're married this can be a second honeymoon and the children will be so happy having a pool to swim in that it'll be a New Year memorable for the relaxing time rather than one of petty quarrels and flared tempers because you had to do so much work in the kitchen or because the food you ate was best forgotten.

So you've got through the New Year's Eve Dinner and visited all your friends.  Still there are meals to eat at home.  What do you do?

One alternative is to open cans but what is poor plan for a festive season.

Buy more sophisticated emergency rations.  If you do not object to European food buy some crusty French bread, cold sausages and meat, pickles and salad, and have a cold collation at home.  There's no cooking involved and washing up is minimal.

Also stock up on instant noodles, lots of snacks and frozen local food found in many supermarkets such as yam cake, beef balls, marinated chicken wings that only need to be heated up, grilled or boiled.
Over 30 years later, Violet Oon "invented" the "Chinese New Year feast take-away trays" here .

At Violet Oon's National Kitchen in Singapore

Distinguished Guests at National Kitchen

Here's wishing everyone who celebrates a Happy Lunar New Year! May you bask in the comfort of good food, great company, and belly laughs, and may your rice bowl always be full.

The National Kitchen will close early on CNY eve so our team can enjoy reunion dinner with their families and will remain closed on the first day of CNY (28 Jan). We will reopen on Sunday, 29 Jan 2017.  [Source: National Kitchen].

Happy & Prosperous Chinese New Year of the Rooster 2017!

Jan 19, 2017

Games Seniors Play

Singapore's favourite family carnival, PlayLAH! is back again with an event even more exciting line-up of activities this year.  Hours of fun and thrills await you in our Play, Learn, Eat and Bond theme zones.  Another thematic event brought to you by SingEx.

Held on 19 - 22 January 2017 at Singapore EXPO Hall 5 from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Hall No. 5 at Singapore Expo was transformed into a big playground for the family, young and old.

It’s Chinese New Year at Singapore EXPO, and PlayLAH! is back! Organised by SingEx, PlayLAH! Let’s Celebrate Chinese New Year 2017 has an even more exciting line-up of activities, complete with hands-on workshops and game booths for you and your family’s ultimate day out. Let’s get creative, learn a new skill or simply soak up the carnival atmosphere with hours of fun and thrills in our 4 dedicated theme zones!


Get ready to bump your way around our purpose-built car zone and experience the beautifully-coloured LED rides for endless hours of energetic fun!

Student volunteers to run the booths

Mandarin Orange Peeling & Eating

I registered to play with the "Mandarin Orange Peeling & Eating" game.  The pioneer generation players were required to eat the 3 oranges after peeling the skins.   The winner receives a $100 voucher to shop at Robinsons.

However, I lose the game and the winner had eaten faster than me in less than a minute.  Please watch the video clip on YouTube to enjoy here  

It was fun!  My consolation was the 3 large, juicy and large mandarin oranges free of charge :)

PlayLAH Games for Everyone

I played the games according to the rules and regulations and completed with the activity coupons mentioned above.

National Library Board - Learning Zone

S.U.R.E. Talk by Mr Roy Won, Senior Librarian of the National Library of Singapore, at the PlayLAH! 2016 at the Singapore Expo on 22 January 2016.

How information literacy can help you  excel in life.

Source. Understand. Research. Evaluate.

You can find out more about information literacy through S.U.R.E. website at .

Wefie with Teacher Stephanie Jennifer of Zentagle

Zentangle at Bond Zone

Zentangle is an easy-to-learn, fun and relaxing way of creating beautiful images using repeating patterns.  It is yoga for your brain.

Join Teacher Stephanie in learning how to create your own Zentagle patterns with easy to follow step-by-step instructions and you will also get to bring home the artwork you create.  If you can draw a line and a circle, you can do Zentangle!  This activity is suitable for children 7 and above.

It was a learning experience and was rewarded with a Limited Edition PlayLAH! chicken plushie! for my newborn grandson :)

Source: with thanks and acknowledgement.


Dec 26, 2016

Pioneer Food Columnists of Singapore

Long ago in the early days of Singapore, "foodies" who love to eat and share their heritage Singapore food experiences had to pass by their words of mouth.

The roadside stalls in Chinatown, Hock Lam Street, Whampoa Street, Waterloo Street, Geylang Serai or "Little India" where the ethnic foodage in multi-racial Singapore were located.

Travelling hawkers or itinerant hawkers travelled from house-to-house or door-to-door in the kampongs to sell their goods. It was a common sight to see the hawkers carrying their paraphernalia and moving about either on foot or on bicycles.

Photo credit:  National Archives of Singapore

Most of these portable hawkers who travelled to the kampongs in Singapore were not stationed in a fixed location, time or day for their business.  To look for the best travelling "laksa" hawker, it would meet him by coincidence or by luck.  There were no food review of these hawker stalls in the newspapers or other media channels in those days.

Today, the "Heritage Singapore Food" group on Facebook here.

[This group is dedicated to sharing of knowledge about the food of Singapore, especially those that could be on the way to extinction.  Given the awareness, much of these food could still remain in our community.  Much has been lost because they were not shared from generation to generation.

We have to try to share much of what we know before many of these shops in Singapore close down for lack of interests from the customers and anyone who might want to continue with the business.

Heritage food has a place in our society.  Food - taste, smell and sight, even touch - is one of the multi-sensory experience that triggers us to our memories of our past, our childhood, our encournter with our grandma or grandpa, or even old friends.  Think about it.  Come and share!]

A related blog on this topic about food posted here .

Mad  about makan

As Singapore's appetite grew, so did the ST's food fare, Tan Hsueh Yun catches a whiff.

It  could well be the first ode to this thorny fruit in the English language.  Up Durian, a poem published in The Sunday Times in 1931, is just one pungent example of Singapore's obsession with food.

Over the years, The Straits Times and The Sunday Times have made space for durian news and views, reporting such milestones as the opening of the first durian restaurant in 1983.  A year later, the fruit broke the smell barrier - it appeared in supermarkets stripped of its shell and packed in plastic.  The arrival of Thai durian - fleshy, sweet, abundant and available practically year round - freed durian-mad foodies from the twice-a-year Malaysian durian season.

And about seven years ago, designer durians from Malaysia began infiltrating the local market.

Grafts developed by Malaysia's Federal Agriculture Marketing Authority launched a new durian-by-numbers game as fans welcomed the D24, also called the Sultan durian,

XO durian, or Jinlong (Golden Dragon) durian by retailers; the D2, with a twisted, longish body; the gourd-shaped D96; the D13 with its reddish and sweet flesh, and others.  The fruit inspired a Life! cover story last year, titled Everything You Need To Know About Durians In Singapore.

Any lingering doubts about the national passion were laid to rest by these facts cited in the report:  In 1993, Singapore imported 36,748 tonnes of durians in all or almost $50 million worth.

And durian sellers even accept orders by fax now, observed Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, in his National Day Rally Speech last year.  He said "Perhaps you think ordering durians by fax is not really remarkable.  But if you think about it, you will realize that our lifestyle has changed, and everyone is doing better than before."  It was not the first time food had leapt from the lifestyle pages into the news pages.

In the aftermath of the Japanese Occupation, food was often in the news too.  But it was shortage not abundance that made headlines in those difficult days.  Days after liberation, the Sept 10, 1945 edition of the paper announced on Page 2 that the British Military Administration was distributing free rice, sugar and salt to everyone in Singapore.

Singaporeans had been left high and dry with the newly worthless Japanese paper money or banana money as it was dubbed.

Food rationing, price controls on certain food items and black-market activities made headlines in the months that followed.  In June 1946, it was reported that the nutrition level of Malayans had improved, although not yet restored to pre-war levels.

In good times, the authorities have tried to ensure that lessons of the past are not lost.

So there is no shortage of reports and advertisements on Civil Defence emergency food and water exercises, including survival cooking contests whose participants must spice limited ingredients with ingenuity to ship up imaginative meals.

But it is the lifestyle pages that ST  readers most associate with food.  Recipes started appearing in women's pages of the 1930s.  Nestling between reports on the latest fashion were recipes for Spanish Eggs, Toad In The Ring and other savouries for supper.

The space devoted along with the appetites of its readers.  They took on a more local flavor, with the recipes using ikan merah, brinjal and tropical fruit such as soursop, for example.

By the late 1970s, whole pages or even more were being devoted to food.  Two pages in the Saturday edition focused on food in Gourmet column.  The Sunday Times' Weekender section had its own restaurant reviews, recipes and reports of food trends.  It was during this time that two hugely influential food writers, Violet Oon  and Margaret Chan, began writing for The Sunday Times.

Photo courtesy:  The Straits Times

In the hands of these and other writers, the food pages became a travel guide to whole new culinary experiences.  It became a common sight to see patrons arriving at restaurants armed with The Sunday Times, opened to the page where the outlet had received a favourable review.

Even more common: good review cut out, framed and hung prominently at the entrance as a welcome sign by passers-by.

Through the ST, readers devoured news of restaurants serving nouvelle cuisine, Hongkong aphrodisiacs, and Thai, Greek, Japanese and Italian food.  Sushi is now a part of Singapore's food landscape, but in 1983, it was novel enough for the newspaper to run a step-by-step guide to appreciating raw fish.

More recently, long queues at a supermarket for inexpensive, individually-wrapped sushi attracted readers' attention.

Before the sushi salvo landed, Italian food had roared in, with 10 new Italian restaurants opened in 1993 alone, marching to the beat of a $50-million-a-year industry.

Food-watchers informed readers about the arrival of other new tastes, from American delicatessen and Brazilian barbecue to razhnichi and filled paprika from Yugoslavia.

Mediterranean is the latest flavour of the month, with the cuisine of southern Europe doing a star turn in restaurants and tapas bars.

Throughout, hawker food remained a staple in the food pages as columnists ferreted out the best vendors from roadside to coffeeshop to food centre.  It may be down-market but hawker food gets due respect: as a classic of Singapore's cultural heritage.  Dishes originating in Singapore and Malaya inspired feats of investigative journalism.

In a 1984 Sunday Times story, Margaret Chan traced the beginnings of fried Hokkien prawn noodles to a Hokkien immigrant who had started a Rochor Road stall a century earlier.  His assistant later set up his own business and taught four friends who started stall all over the island, selling "Rochor Mee".

Hainanese chicken rice, as it is known and loved today, is also a local creation, according to a story celebrating Singapore Classics in ST's 1993 National Day supplement.

Another Sunday Times story relates that curry chicken noodles was created by Mr Tay Yong Heng, whose father sold fried carrot cake.  Mr Tan dished it up in Synagogue Street almost 30 years ago before moving to Hong Lim Food Centre.

Food writers also tracked the modernisation of traditional fare.  In 1971, hawker food went high class and was featured in the Mandarin Hotel's cofeehouse menu.  From the mid-1980s, it was offered in privately-run, air-conditioned food centres, though in the 1970s, cholesterol phobia was already beginning to temper the island-wide passion for chao guotiao fried with lard, and chicken rice glistening with fat.

The food pages responded by offering healthy recipes, and reviewing vegetarian restaurants and salad bars.  The runaway success of supermarkets selling only vegetarian food also made the news.

And yes, there were also recipes for healthier versions of hawker favourites - chicken rice served with skinless chicken and the rice cooked in stock instead of chicken fat.

The ST's news pages even had a chao guotiao test, asking Singaporeans to try out a healthier version cooked using less lard and with slices of fishcake and squid replacing the cockles and eggs.  These adjustments, said a nutritionist, gave the dish a lower cholesterol and fat level than the original recipe.  The testers gave the healthier version the thumbs up.

With such updates to old recipes, Singaporeans have not lost touch with hawker fare or home cooking.  Said food expert Violet Oon: "What I find charming is that after dabbling in international sophistication, Singaporeans are going back to their roots.  Executives in their 30s will say, 'I like my chao guotiao, I don't have to lke foie gras.'"

She called it coming back to mother's food.  Said Ms Oon: "In the face of a changing world, some things have to be the same in your world.  Maybe it will be the trend of the 1990s."

Source:  The Straits Times 150 Years Collectors Edition on July 15, 1995. (NB: The photos on this blog are not included in the newspapers).