I borrowed this book to read before the author’s visit at next book club discussion later this month. This was written by the Spice Queen of Singapore, Devagi Sanmugam with Joycelin Tully. Devagi is also the author of 18 cookbooks and a well-respected culinary consultant and celebrity chef; Joycelin is the editor and co-writer.
The theme – stay close and gather your families often around good food, and stay blessed with love and happiness.
Over five chapters, Devagi recount how in many ways, people were nicer and the food tastier in the ’60s and how through her grandmother she finds the bond of family and love.
Chapter 1 recounts her school days, when she enjoyed free milk, the Milo Days, the Kacang Puteh man, the Punjabi’s chapatis and samosas, the Waterloo Street Rojak, mee siam, mee goreng and mee rebus.
Chapter 2 tells of the way they lived – without a refrigerator, no electrical appliances but stove implements and a wood-fired stove, the Pig Swill man and the Sacrificial Hen, slaughtering a chicken, ngoh hiang and popiah.
Chapter 3 is about family traditions – for eg the coming of age: eating raw eggs and drinking sesame oil for 28 days, which gives the body a little jolt of oestrogen.
Chapter 4 explores the multi-cultural feasts – the making of Nonya Kueh Kapit (a boisterous communal affair), Kueh Bakul aka Tee Kueh aka Nian Gao (a dark brown steamed cake made from glutinous rice flour, very sticky and sweet and offered to the Kitchen God to sweeten his tongue), Ketupats and Hari Raya celebrations.
Chapter 5 remembers the almost forgotten foods – Puttu Mayam vs Putu Bola, biscuits of yesteryears, childhood sweets like Rabbit Milk candy, haw flakes, kok kok tang (a hard candy coated with roasted glutinous rice flour and sold by itinerant peddlers who announced their arrival by hitting their chisels on a metal tray), malt candy, kueh kaya aka Puttu Kachang and agar agar kering.
This is a food memoir, much like the book Feast published by the National Library Board. Maybe I’m biased, as many of the writers in Feast are my friends, but I’m not as impressed by Tricks and Treats and other Childhood Tales. I think I’ll give the book club meet a miss.