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.

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.

4 Top Experiences On Sentosa Island

One of the best ways to discover a country is by talking to the people who live there. This month, I speak to four personal assistants at Capella Singapore to uncover their favourite haunts and hideouts on Sentosa Island. Read on for their best Insiders’ tips!

JessicaJessica Bassig

The most romantic spot in Sentosa is… Palawan Beach. I love the fine white sand and golden sun during the day, and enjoy watching the sea come to life with a hundred dazzling lights from the ships in the evening. Stroll along the beach, have a romantic picnic or immerse yourself in a good book.

Don’t miss… the bridge leading to the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia. This is also Asia’s closest point to the equator and an excellent spot for Instagram-worthy photos.

To get there… take the monorail and alight at the Beach Station – you’ll find Palawan Beach on your left. If you are staying at Capella Singapore, simply take the private path that leads directly to Palawan Beach!

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Yoshie Furukawa 

Yoshie

One of my favourite places to unwind is… The Wine Company at the Sentosa Boardwalk. You’ll enjoy unforgettable views of Harbourfront and Resorts World Sentosa, as well as soft sea breezes.

Do try… their vast collection of old and new world wines. Or, if you’re undecided, ask the serving staff for recommendations.

The best time to go is… on weekday nights. I love how quiet and serene it is.

Wine

Nicky Koh 

Nicky

For a uniquely-Singaporean dining experience… the Singapore Seafood Republic offers exceptional local Chinese food, as well as waterfront views and top-notch service.

Don’t miss… the award-winning chilli crab and black pepper crab. I also love the salted egg golden prawns, deep fried scallop wrapped in yam ring and the dragon fruit lobster salad with lumpfish caviar. Since this menu is the result of a collaboration among several popular seafood restaurants in Singapore, most of the items are bestsellers and simply delicious.

Don’t forget to… make a reservation as this restaurant is pretty popular! It operates from 12pm to 3pm and 6pm to 11:30pm.

IMG_3555

 

Sophia Kim Sophie

My favourite outdoor activity is… surfing at the Wave House Sentosa. Since Singapore is known for its calm waters, this is the only place where you can enjoy waves and surfing. Even if you’re new to surfing, you may still enjoy this.

The best time to visit is… during the day, especially if you need to cool off from the hot weather. It’s also an excellent activity in the evening, as they offer a DIY BBQ by the beach with gorgeous views of the sunset.

Don’t forget to… bring your swimsuit!

Picture via www.sentosa.com.sg

Picture via www.sentosa.com.sg

For more interesting ideas, speak to your Personal Assistant at Capella Singapore.

 

24 Hours: Shopping in Singapore

Shopping in Singapore is practically a national pastime, and one of my favourite ways to spend particularly hot weekends.  Thanks to the scorching tropical sun, our little island is dotted with air-conditioned shops and malls for every personality type – whether you’re a fashionista, eco-warrior, hipster or bookworm.  And with the right itinerary, shopping can give you a glimpse of true Singapore as well.  Here are my recommendations if you have 24 hours to spare in Singapore.

#1  Start your morning at PasarBella for artisan produce

IMG_7264

Pasarbella

One of my new Sunday morning rituals is shopping at PasarBella. ‘Pasar’ is derived from the Chinese word for market, and ‘Bella’ is Italian for beautiful.  And, as you can imagine, the chic open-concept market is packed with niche items and artisan produce.

Look out for shops such as The Great Beer Experiment, offering 150 craft beer and cider labels; as well as The Cheese Ark, with 40-50 tantalising cheeses.  Other interesting finds include the ‘Cloud 9′ Pie inspired by Momofuku’s ‘Crack Pie’, Belgium candy in rainbow colours and favours, authentic Russian-style cakes based on secret recipes from Baku and Moscow, and gorgeous handmade macarons fashioned after characters such as the cookie monster.

#2  Swing by Marina Bay Sands for designer wear and celebrity chef restaurants

Bread Street Kitchen

Bread Street Kitchen

If you’ve been to Orchard Road umpteen times, Marina Bay Sands is another great place to escape the afternoon head and stock up on big name labels.  Here, you’ll find spanking new Chanel, Dior, Cartier, Chopard and Van Cleef & Arpel stores.  Looking for a bit more edge?  You’ll also find Alexander McQueen or Maison Martin Margiela here.

In between shopping you can lunch on celebrity chef offerings at the various restaurants located throughout.  There is CUT by Wolfgang Puck, which offers some of the best steaks in town, Waku Ghin is just the place to get your fix of sea urchin and other Japanese delicacies, and Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay offers fuss-free and delectable British-European fare.

#3  Spend the afternoon exploring Tiong Bahru for quirky finds

BooksActually

BooksActually

One of Singapore’s favourite hipster haunts, this heritage estate is a treasure trove of books, art, vinyls, cafes and bars.  Art lovers may visit White Canvas Gallery for its Southeast Asian artwork, Degios Art offers curios for the home, and Grey Projects hosts experimental and avant garde art exhibitions.

Music or book enthusiasts will love Curated Records’ stash of indie records, as well as BooksActually’s well-edited titles, vintage wares and charming laidback vibe.  If you have a couple of hours to spare, you could even sign up for a yoga class at Yoga Movement and stretch out those tensed muscles at their Monster Hot class, before ending your afternoon with a detoxifying tea at a nearby cafe.

#4  Scour Haji Lane for unique fashion items

Maison Ikkoku

Maison Ikkoku

Had enough of mega malls? Haji Lane’s small character-filled shops such Time After Time and Maison Ikkoku offer a charming way to while away the evening.

While you won’t get couture items here, it’s an excellent place for unusual finds, vintage treasures and local design.  So make it a mandatory pit-stop if you love pairing high fashion with high street.

#5  Explore Mustafa for everything and nothing

Picture via http://mustafasingapore.net

Picture via http://mustafasingapore.net

This iconic mall in the middle of Little India is nothing like any of the other malls you will find in Singapore.  For one, Mustafa never sleeps – even at 2am, you’ll find a decent crowd at this 24-hour mall.  It’s also jam-packed with bric-a-brac along narrow alleys of organised chaos.

From jewellery to electronics, and Indian sweets, you’ll find everything conceivable here, and at bargain prices.  Bear in mind that this is not, by any stretch of imagination, a luxurious retail experience.  It will, however, provide the intrepid traveller with a unique shopping experience like no other.

 

If you’ve visited Singapore have you found your favourtie shopping haunt?  I’d love for you to share it with me- either here or on Twitter.  Looking for more recommendations?  Be sure to speak to your Capella Singapore Personal Assistant for more insider tips and recommendations for what to do around Singapore.

24 Hours: What To Eat In Singapore

As Singapore turns 50 this month, our nation is in a grand party mood.  And one of our favourite ways to party is to indulge our palates.  We are in love with our food, and fussy to a fault when it comes to eating.  And you can hardly blame us.  Most of our dishes are born of our multi-racial culture, and the best dishes are Singaporean-ised over the years to perfectly suit our taste buds.

So if you are in Singapore for a short visit, join me on a food trail that is sure to impress.  This is 24 Hours: What To Eat In Singapore:

Prata for Breakfast

Roti Prata picture from Your Singapore (http://www.yoursingapore.com)

Roti Prata picture from Your Singapore (http://www.yoursingapore.com)

When I’m up bright and early, I usually make a beeline for roti pratas.  When done right, this South Indian flat bread is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and the perfect morning nosh.

My personal favourite is what we call prata ‘kosong’.  ‘Kosong’ means ‘zero’ in the Malay language and refers to plain prata, which tastes best when dipped with fish curry.

However, if you are craving something a little more sweet or savoury, many prata stalls also offer modern variants such as cheese, onion, chocolate and bomb pratas – a flakier dough with margarine, sugar and condensed milk.  Enjoy these with strong local coffee for the perfect early morning pick-me-up.

Chicken Rice for Lunch

Chicken Rice picture from Your Singapore (http://www.yoursingapore.com)

Chicken Rice picture from Your Singapore (http://www.yoursingapore.com)

Though chicken rice has its roots in the Hainan province in China, it is widely hailed as our national dish.  In fact, it’s rare to walk more than five kilometres anywhere in Singapore without passing a chicken rice stall with a row of cooked chicken hanging from the stall front.

While this may seem a little shocking to tourists at first, it adds to the distinct flavour of the cuisine.  In fact, Singaporeans tend to like to see our meat in its entirety, and associate this with freshness and wholeness.

Quirks aside, Singaporean-Hainanese Chicken Rice is very different from the original version from China, which tends to feature a bonier fowl with green chilli dip.  In Singapore, we prefer tender spring chicken served with fragrant rice steamed with chicken stock and ginger.  This is accompanied by a tangy red chilli dip, minced ginger paste and thick sweet soy sauce.

Widely available at humble hawker centres and renowned restaurants, this national dish has inspired our nation so much that we have named movies such as Chicken Rice War after it!

Kaya Toast for Tea

Kaya Toast picture from https://yakuntoast.wordpress.com - a national favourite

Kaya Toast picture from Ya Kun (https://yakuntoast.wordpress.com) – a national favourite

As far as Singapore’s tea culture goes, the Kaya Toast probably sums it up.  Kaya is a local jam made from coconut milk, eggs, sugar and pandan leaves, which lends it a unique fragrance and distinctive green hue.  Served with toasted bread and generous slivers of butter, it the perfect mid-day energy booster.

Singaporeans love enjoying a Kaya Toast even when we’re not hungry.  It is most commonly savoured with local milk tea, or what we call ‘teh’ during a casual catch-up with friends, especially on a lazy weekend.

Chilli Crabs for Dinner

IMG_3555

Whenever I host overseas friends for dinner, I love to take them for some authentic Singaporean chilli crabs.  Usually served with the shell intact and drenched with a savoury chilli-tomato gravy, this is a messy eat.  Be ready to get your hands dirty, and expect a lot of splatter.  However, if you ask any Singaporean, this simply adds to the flavour of the crabs, and makes it a unique bonding experience for diners.

My three tips for enjoying the iconic chilli crab: 1) Never wear white or pricey clothes for this unless you are prepared to go home with stains.  2) Request for a female crab if you enjoy roe.  3) Always order mantou (fried buns) to soak up the chilli gravy after you’ve polished off the main!

Satay for Supper

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Think of this as the Southeast Asian version of the ubiquitous kebab, marinated in a piquant bouquet of local spices.  Satays tend to be sweeter than your regular kebabs, and served with a distinct sweet and spicy peanut dip.  Usually available as bite-sized chicken, beef and mutton sticks with a side of raw cucumbers, onions and ketupat (rice cakes), they are my favourite after-dinner snacks!

Since the best satays are freshly grilled over an open charcoal fire, they are usually only available from evening till late night.  Bear in mind that you can’t order one or two sticks of satay – nor should you.  Stall owners offer satay beginning from 8-10 sticks. And believe me, once you’ve tried it, you’ll wish you had ordered more.

 

Capella Singapore serves many of these delightful local cuisines.  Alternatively, if you are spending time around town, ask your Personal Assistant for recommendations.

 

Top 5 Things To Eat At Rheinkirmes

Dusseldorf’s biggest summer event is without question the Rheinkirmes. For the 115th time, the Rhine meadows will be transformed into an unique amusement park. A huge summer festival completed with traditional beer tents, spectacular modern rides, live bands, rustic food, candy stands and about four million visitors of all ages enjoying it. It is amazing!
The 9-day fair ties together traditions, culinary experiences and modern entertainment.  There is so much to do and see, it is easy to feel overwhelmed.  One of my favorite parts is the food!  So I thought it would be fun to share my top 5 things to eat at Rheinkirmes with you.

Tradition / Brauchtum - Kirmes Skyline

Tradition / Brauchtum – Kirmes Skyline

#1 Battered Fried Fish
If you like fried fish you will love the German Backfisch. You have the option between the fish on a roll or with fries as a side dish. Don’t forget the remoulade – it pairs perfectly.  This is a must eat at the fair!

#2 German Sausage
No trip to the Rheinkirmes is complete without some sausage.  Bratwurst is served on a roll along with a traditional side of sauerkraut.  Of course you can’t forget the mustard!  It is available in a wide range from spicy and coarse to sweet or hot, and everything in between.

#3 German Potato Pancakes
There is nothing like eating a freshly made Kartoffelpuffer (aka German potato pancake) with apple sauce.  It’s the perfect mix between sweet and hearty.  Don’t forget to order #4 along with it!

#4 Alt beer
Dusseldorf is the center of one of the most interesting beer regions of Germany. So, you don’t want to miss the Alt beer of Düsseldorf. We have three tradional breweres at the fun fair Füchschen, Uerige and Schuhmacher.  Every local has a favorite, so be sure to try them all and choose your own allegiance!

#5 Roasted almonds
You better buy two, because they just taste that delicious. The perfect mix between crunchy and sweet and you can just snack them while strolling through the attractions.

 

I Look forward to hearing your feedback about my top 5. By the way, food isn’t the only treat to discover!  A Rhine river cruise during the fireworks is my absolute favorite and a definite must-see. Next time you are staying at the Breidenbacher Hof, just ask your Personal Assistants and they will take care of all arrangements.