5 Must-Have Lunar New Year Goodies

Lunar New Year celebrations are in full swing and delicious snacks have started to pile up in the pantry.  Some of my all-time favourites include buttery pineapple tarts, spicy shrimp rolls and sweet nian gao (sticky cake).  In fact, these traditional goodies are not just delicious; the Chinese put a lot of thought into the symbolism that goes into each snack.  From wealth to good fortune, here’s a simple guide on how to eat your way to happiness this year.

Pineapple Tarts

Try pineapple tarts from www.bakerzin.com

Try pineapple tarts from www.bakerzin.com

It’s no wonder these are such a hit during Lunar New Year – these rich golden tarts are a symbol of good fortune.  In the Hokkien dialect, pineapple is ‘ong lai,’ which sounds like ‘prosperity has come.’

The most popular variety is an open-faced tart topped with sweet pineapple jam, however, some pineapple tarts are also made to look like gold nuggets or ingots. Done right, the pastry should light and buttery, and the pineapple jam should have just the right touch of sweetness and tartness that leaves you craving for more.

Love Letters

Image via www.kele.sg

Try love letters from www.kele.sg

These egg rolls have such a poetic name because they were once used to hide secret messages between lovers in ancient China.  Today, they are considered auspicious because they look like gold bars.  Baked with sugar, flour, eggs and coconut milk, they are wafer-thin, crispy and have the perfect crunch.

Shrimp Rolls

Image via http://rasamalaysia.com

Picture from http://rasamalaysia.com

Shrimp are believed to represent happiness while the tiny rolls symbolise wealth, because they look so much like gold bars.  Made with dried shrimp, sambal chilli, shallots, garlic and sugar, these spicy and sweet treats are completely addictive.

Bak Kwa

Image via www.beechenghiang.com.sg

Try bak kwa from www.beechenghiang.com.sg

‘Bak Kwa’ means ‘good fortune ahead’ in Cantonese.  This caramelised dried jerky is barbecued until it turns a deep rich red – an extremely auspicious colour believed to ward off evil in Chinese culture.  Traditional bak kwa is made of pork, although you can get chicken or beef options today as well.  I personally love the bacon bak kwa for its juiciness.

Nian Gao

Image via breadetbutter.wordpress.com

Image via breadetbutter.wordpress.com

‘Nian Gao’ translates to ‘sticky cake.’  However, it also sounds like the Mandarin expression for ‘rising higher each year’ and is thus a promise of better things to come.  This delicious glutinous rice cake is traditionally sold with words of blessing on top.

Want to make your own Nian Gao? Executive Chinese Chef Lee Hui Ngai of Cassia shares his favourite recipe with me!

Chef Lee Hui Ngai

 

Chef Lee’s Secret Nian Gao Recipe

Ingredients

Glutinous Rice Flour – 450g
Coconut Cream – 120g
Flour Starch – 180g
Oil – 55g
Coconut Sugar – 120g
Sugar – 540g
Water – 630g

 

Instructions

  1. Boil the water and dissolve the coconut sugar and sugar. Allow to cool.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the glutinous rice flour, starch and oil. Mix till smooth.
  3. Slowly add the cooled sugar syrup to the flour and oil mixture. Mix till smooth.
  4. Add the coconut cream to the mixture and strain.
  5. Place the mixture in a pan and steam for an hour.

Enjoy Chef Lee’s other Lunar New Year delicacies at Cassia at Capella Singapore.

5 Romantic Activities in Singapore

I love going on dates!  There’s truly no better way for a couple to bond than setting out on adventures and experiencing new things together.  And since February is the month of love, I’ve rounded up five of the most romantic activities in Singapore.  With a little advanced planning, your Valentine’s Day will be nothing short of extraordinary.

#1 Go Stargazing

If counting stars together is your idea of romance, take a ferry to Pulau Ubin island.  Pulau Ubin, is far enough from the gleaming city lights for the sublime beauty of the constellations to come to life.

TIP: Before planning this romantic escapade, do check weather conditions here to see if it’s favourable for stargazing. Avoid cloudy nights or thunderstorms.  And be sure to pack a picnic, as well as some insect repellent.

#2 Dine In Cable Car

diningon9_sentosa

Clink glasses in a garden themed cable car cabin, suspended above the sea.  The four-course Floral Cabin Dining on Cloud 9 gives couples more privacy than most other dining venues.

TIP: If you’re thinking of popping the questions, the Floral Cabin Dining on Cloud 9 is also excellent for proposals.

#3 Watch The Sunset

Picture by Andrew Klepper @kleppera11

Picture by Andrew Klepper @kleppera11

The soft magical colours of dusk have always captured the imagination of lovers.  Watch the warm tropical sun sink into the South China Sea at Bob’s Bar or anywhere else around Capella Singapore, with free roaming peacocks as companions!

TIP: Experience Bob’s Bar’s exclusive single-blended rums.  Navegante means “navigator” in Spanish, and is inspired by the sea and voyages.  Try it as an Old Fashioned, or savour it neat with chocolate and preserved cherries.

#4 Relax At A Rooftop Bar

BF-1-Altitude-Gallery--Bar

Behold one of the most gorgeous city skylines in South East Asia from a swanky rooftop bar.  I’d recommend 1-Altitude for its unforgettable 360 degrees view of Singapore.

TIP: The best time to arrive is just before sunset, so you can enjoy panoramic views of dusk, and watch the city come to life under the soft cloak of night.

#5 Experience a Moonlit Cruise

Discover the ethereal beauty of the ocean in the magical glow of moonlight.  Reserve a private yacht and take your special someone out to sea.  Something Special is a Singapore Charter Boat Service that offers Full Moon Packages, as well as romantic set-ups at gorgeous and secluded beaches.

TIP: The best part about these overnight cruise packages is that all the logistics such as champagne, seafood, chocolate and music are taken care of for you.  All you’ll need to do is arrive with a present for your date.

For more unique ideas, speak to your personal assistants at Capella Singapore.

7 Green Spaces in Singapore

Nature is the best healing balm in the world.  So when city life gets overwhelming, I love to escape to Singapore’s green spaces.  From heritage gardens to beach parks, treetop walks and wetland reserves, these seven sanctuaries will lift the stress and fatigue, and magically restore you.

#1 Singapore Botanic Gardens

Picture via www.sbg.org.sg

Picture via www.sbg.org.sg

The only tropical garden in the world to be named a UNESCO World’s Heritage Site, this 157 year-old garden is home to more than 10,000 species of flora.  I love taking a walk in the Ginger Garden, unwinding at the Swan Lake, joining a workshop at the Botany Centre and enjoying a concert at the Symphony Lake.

Must-Do: Visit the National Orchid Garden, and discover the largest orchid collection in the world with 1,200 species and 2,000 hybrids!  Don’t miss the VIP Orchid Garden, with some 100 orchids named after celebrities, dignitaries and heads of states.  Look out for the Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher orchids.

#2 Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Picture by www.nparks.gov.sg/sbwr

Picture by www.nparks.gov.sg/sbwr

First discovered in 1986 by a group of birdwatchers, this 202-hectare of mangroves, mudflats, ponds and forests are home to diverse wildlife.  I love strolling through the meandering wooden stilts, and spotting crabs, shellfish, herons, kingfishers and sunbirds.  From September to March, you could even catch sight of migratory birds on their way to Australia – some of them have flown all the way from Siberia!

Must-Do: For a deeper appreciation of the wetlands, book a free guided walk in advance to identify flora, as well as birds and other natural inhabitants.  Art enthusiasts may also join an art class and create nature-inspired pieces. 

#3 Jurong Lake

Picture by www.nparks.gov.sg/juronglakegardens

Picture by www.nparks.gov.sg/juronglakegardens

Surrounded by verdant parkland, this freshwater lake and reservoir is an excellent spot for jogging, cycling or water sports.  I personally love coming here for brisk morning or cool evening strolls to decompress and escape the city bustle.

Must-Do: Visit the Chinese Garden. Stroll along the stone bridges, explore the pagodas and rest your feet at the teahouse.  The garden really comes to life during Chinese festivals such as Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival, where children will light up the gardens with whimsical lanterns.

#4 MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 4.16.32 pm

If you love nature, you’ll love this reservoir park.  Its 11km of hiking trail are lined with gorgeous trees, long-tailed monkeys, squirrels and monitor lizards.  Fringed by Singapore’s first reservoir, it’s also a great place for kayaking and canoeing.

Must-do: Take a morning walk with your head above the trees – the Treetop Walk is a 250-metre suspension bridge.  Linking two of the highest points within the nature reserve, it’ll offer you majestic views of the forest.

#5 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 4.15.24 pm

A mere 12 kilometres from the Central Business District, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is one of two tropical rainforests in the world located within city limits.  This ASEAN Heritage Park is home 840 species of flowering plants and 500 species of fauna.

Must-Do: Ascend to the summit of the Bukit Timah Hill.  At the height of 163.63 metres, it’s the highest hill in Singapore!  This summit trail is only open on weekends from 7am to 6pm.

#6 East Coast Park

Picture by www.nparks.gov.sg

Picture by www.nparks.gov.sg

50 years ago, East Coast Park didn’t even exist – all 185 hectares of this beach park is built on reclaimed land.  Today, it has become one of the most iconic hangout spots in Singapore, and my personal favourite.  With a cycling track lining 15km of gorgeous coastline, it’s the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors.

Must-Do: Enjoy seafood and local cuisine at East Coast Food Lagoon.  Try the satay (spicy meat skewers), wanton mee (dumpling noodles), sambal stingray and barbequed wings.  Or, rent a pit and enjoy your own outdoor barbeque by the sea.

#7 Southern Ridges

Picture via www.yoursingapore.com

Picture via www.yoursingapore.com

Connecting some of Singapore’s most iconic green sanctuaries – Hort Park, Mount Faber Park, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserves – this 10km trail offers panoramic views of the city and nature.

Must-Do: I love walking along the Henderson Waves, which connects Mount Faber Park to Telok Blangah Hill Park.  At 36 metres height, this wave-like pedestrian bridge is gorgeous when alit at night.

For more cool ideas, speak to your personal assistant at Capella Singapore.

 

Singapore Festivals in 2016

If you didn’t manage to squeeze Singapore into your recent year-end vacation, you’ll be glad to know that Christmas is not the only time to enjoy the festivities in Singapore.  Thanks to our multi-cultural and multi-racial society, we celebrate many festivals round the year.  So if you’re visiting Singapore in 2016, here are three of my favourite festivals to plan your trip around.

Thaipusam
24 January 2016

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

The first key festival of the year, Thaipusam is celebrated by Tamils to commemorate the day Parvati (the Hindu goddess of love, fertility and devotion) gave Murugan (the god of war) a divine javelin to slay the demon Soorapadman.  During this two-day festival, Hindus fulfil vows, offer thanks and seek blessings for the year ahead.

If you’ve never witnessed Thaipusam, it’ll certainly be an eye-opener.  In Singapore, the celebration begins on the eve, with a colourful chariot procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple.

And at the crack of dawn the next day, devotees will walk from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple.  Women will carry a pot of milk to symbolise fertility and abundance, and men will balance kavadis, chanting hymns and playing music along the way.  Some devotees balance towering kavadis on their shoulders, while others may carry spiked kavadis that pierce the body and tongue and weigh more than 30 kg!  In other words, these processions are nothing short of spectacular.

Lunar New Year
8-9 February 2016

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

Also known as the Spring Festival, this is the first and most important day on the Chinese calendar.  Legend has it that the mythical beast Nian had been eating villagers until a visiting god revealed that the beast was afraid of the colour red and loud noises.  Since then, the Chinese have worn red clothes, hung red lanterns and scrolls, and set off firecrackers on this special occasion to ward off the beast.

In our modern society, Lunar New Year is simply a time to celebrate family, friends, good fortune and great food.  On the eve of Lunar New Year, family members from near and far will gather to share the most important meal of the year – the Reunion Dinner.

The following days will be spent visiting relatives and friends, and the littles ones will receive red packets stuffed with money.  The highlight for me, however, is the delicious snacks such as bak kwa (sweet barbequed meat), pineapple tarts and shrimp rolls served at these gatherings.  If you’re invited to visit a friend during Lunar New Year, take the opportunity to sample everything you’re served!  And don’t forget to bring a pair of mandarin oranges for your hosts – these are symbols of good luck!

Festivities begin a month before Lunar New Year, so visit Chinatown for the street light-up, festive markets and lion dances.  Or, watch the Chingay Parade, the largest multi-cultural street performance and float parade in Asia on 19 and 20 February!

Hari Raya Aidilfitri
6 July 2016

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

For the Muslim community in Singapore, this is one most important festivals.  As you know, during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, and devote their time to worship and charitable deeds.  This special day marks the end of fasting.

Also known as Hari Raya Puasa of Eid, it is a day of joyous celebration.  Families will put on bright new clothes and head to the mosque for special prayers.  They then spend the day visiting their parents, elders and relatives.

If you’re invited to a Hari Raya meal, you’re in for a rare treat.  Nothing beats home-cooked beef rendang and chicken rendang, spicy stews that will whet your appetite.  I’m also addicted to homemade sambal (chilli paste), as well as traditional cakes!

In fact, you don’t have to wait for an invite during Hari Raya Aidilfitri to enjoy these irresistible Malay dishes.  Geylang Serai offers a wide variety of mains and snacks, and they may be enjoyed even before Hari Raya Aidilfitri during the month of Ramandan!  Since I personally love spicy food, these are some of my greatest guilty indulgences.

For more information on festivals celebrated in Singapore, speak to your personal assistant at Capella Singapore.

Talking Rum With A Master Distiller

Navegante

A new cocktail is making its debut at Bob’s Bar, and it’s fast becoming my all-time favourite.  Specially crafted by Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados for Capella Singapore, this single-blended rum is rich, round and mature.  Newly christened Navegante, which means “Navigator” in Spanish, this rum will inspire wanderlust and elicit your thirst for adventure.

Intrigued by this intoxicating spirit, I caught up with the man behind the magic.  Join Richard Seale, Master Distiller of Foursquare Rum Distillery, as he takes me behind the scenes of rum-making and shares some rare tasting tips.

Richard Seale, Master Distiller of Foursquare Rum Distillery

Richard Seale, Master Distiller of Foursquare Rum Distillery

What is the profile of the Navegante rum?

Richard: Beautifully balanced, soft and elegant, it has a velvety texture, complex flavours and a long finish with hints of caramel and honey.

How is the Navegante rum crafted? 

Richard: We begin with the fermentation of molasses for three days to make a molasses wine.  This wine of about 9% alcohol is then distilled both in a traditional ‘coffey’ still and a pot still.

The distilled spirits are blended in a proprietary ratio before being transferred to 200-litre ex-Bourbon American oaks casks.  After three years of tropical ageing, the rum is transferred to 350-litre ex-cognac French oak casks to be aged for another five years.

The rum is then reduced to drinking strength of 40% with pure Barbados water from underground coral stone aquifers.  No flavourings, sugar or colour is added during the entire process.  The gorgeous rum is then bottled with care and shipped to Capella Singapore.

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How is it best enjoyed?

Richard: I’d recommend enjoying it as a Rum Old Fashioned, with aromatic bitters and sugar, or simply over a large ice cube.  If you’re enjoying your rum neat, pre-chill your glass.  This will bring the temperature of the rum just a little lower for the perfect experience.

Any pairing tips to share?

Richard: Serve it with chocolates or preserved cherries.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest trend in the rum world today?

Richard: Authenticity.  Connoisseurs are discovering that the very best rums are worlds apart from the ‘industrial’ mass produced rums, thanks to their artisanal distillation in pot stills, transparent age statements and pure authentic flavour.

Discover the Navegante exclusively at Bob’s Bar at Capella Singapore.

 

5 Top Festive Experiences In Singapore

Christmas always fills me with a sense of child-like wonder.  The nights twinkle with fairy lights and soft jazz drifts through the air.  It’s a magical season.  This year, I’ve picked my five favourite festive experiences that you shouldn’t miss if you happen to be in Singapore.

Enchanted Gardens

GBB2

High on my list this year is Gardens by the Bay, where toys and childhood fantasies come to life.  The gardens have been carpeted with poinsettia, Christmas rose, winter heather and holly; and towering over these yuletide florals is an 11-metre tall pyramid decked with toys.

To add to the sense of festive magic, the Supertree Grove also features a Spiegeltent (a century-old travelling ‘mirror tent’ from the Netherlands); and hosts a European-style festive market with Christmas gifts and delicious food.

Don’t miss the nightly light shows at the Supertrees that are now synced with beautiful festive tunes; as well as the series of ‘live’ performances on the multi-tiered traditional German wooden carousel at the Flower Field.  Look out for classical opera, stand-up comedians, string quartets and Enid Blyton storytelling.  Schedule here.

The Iridescent River

Singapore River

Always alit with soft shimmering lights, The Singapore River is peaceful during weekdays, and a bustling hub of activities on weekends.  It’s one of my favourite places for an evening stroll in Singapore.

This Christmas, it comes to life with a luminous forest of LED-lit tree-like structures from Robertson Quay to Boat Quay.  Christmas carollers and roving festive troopers will also add to the merriment on specific days of the week.  I’m really looking forward to the Artisan Pop Up Christmas Market at Clarke Quay’s Central Fountain Square from 5-7 December, and the fireworks display on 12 and 26 December at 9pm!

Party Under The Stars

Picture by www.yoursingapore.com

Picture by www.yoursingapore.com

December always puts me in a party mood, and Zouk Out is arguably one of the best dance festivals in the region.  Last year alone, this sunrise beach festival welcomed more than 50,000 revellers from Singapore and around the world.

Besides a diverse and electrifying line-up of techno, trance, indie-electronic and hip-hop music, festival-goers can also expect ‘live’ performances, art installations, costumed buskers, food stalls, fireworks and endless fun from dusk to dawn.  Zouk Out will take place from 11-12 December.

Christmas Movie Magic

Picture by www.rwsentosablog.com

Picture by www.rwsentosablog.com

If you love Christmas blockbusters as much as I do, here’s a chance to spend the yuletide season with your favourite characters.  Universal Studios Singapore‘s programme this year is nothing short of amazing.

Catch the Sesame Street Saves Christmas Show, Dancing Christmas Light Show, Fairytale Remix Show, and other festive performances featuring beloved characters such as the Penguins of Madagascar, Marilyn Monroe, toy soldiers and Scrooge.  Plus, it’s one of the few places to experience snow in Singapore, and catch a dazzling display of fireworks on 12, 19 and 29 December.

#5 Cuban Festival in Singapore

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One of the things I love best about travel is experiencing festivals around the world.  And this year, Capella Singapore re-creates a Cuban festival under the stars – El Ritmo de la Noche – for its New Year’s Eve Party.

Watch aerial performers whiz across the night sky, as well as fire dances, stilt walkers and magicians.  In the tradition of the best Latin American parties, a ‘live’ Cuban band Havana Social Club will also serenade you as you welcome 2016 with the finest champagne.  Join me on 31 December from 10pm!

For more exciting festive experiences around Singapore or Sentosa, speak to your personal assistants at Capella Singapore.