Capella Singapore’s Peranakan Experience

Traditional Peranakan beading work.

Last week I had the opportunity to accompany one of the Capella Singapore Personal Assistants on a trip to the Peranakan museum as part of the new Peranakan Experience that we have created for guests who would like to explore the local Singapore culture.

Part of the tour took us to the Peranakan Museum, which showcased decades of age-old Peranakan culture and history.  For those unfamiliar, the Peranakan culture evolved from the early Chinese and Malay settlers in colonial Singapore and Malaysia who intermarried resulting in an exotic blend of cultures.

One thing I found particularly interesting was the strong matriarchal tendencies among the Peranakan.  While the men were the sole breadwinners for the family, the women, known as Nonyas, stayed home and ran the household.  As a result, one of the unique traits of Nonya women is that they are skilled in the culinary arts and crafts that distinguish the culture.  Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to experience both these luxuries.

Following our tour of the Peranakan Museum, we headed to a near by Peranakan restaurant.  The cuisine, while employing many traditional Chinese preparations, is extremely unique in its flavor profile.  We tried everything from a Fish Head Curry (not nearly as mad as the name suggests!) to Kueh Pie Tee, which featured shredded bamboo shoots and shrimp inside mini pie shells.  The flavors were exotic and bold and the dishes beautifully presented.

Traditional Peranakan beading work.

Traditional Peranakan beading work.

From there we headed to a shop run by a Peranakan woman, who still creates the traditional beaded shoes as well as selling beautiful kebayas.  Like the food the clothing was also brightly colored and rich in ornate detail.  We were told that some of the shoes could take several months to make as each bead was sewn on individually.  The same held true for the blouses and sarongs, as even the most “casual” kebaya was intricately decked out in skilled embroidery. Truly an art form!

The Peranakan culture is truly a significant part of the Singapore culture and something you really must experience for your self.  The next time you are at Capella Singapore be sure to ask your Personal Assistant for the Peranakan Experience.  I am sure you will love to learn about the history, culture and food just as much as I did!

Deepavali: A Festival Of Lights

Deepavali

Just recently, Singapore celebrated Deepavali, or Diwali as it is also known, one of the biggest and most important celebrations in the Hindu calendar.  Deepavali literally translated, means a row of lamps and it is observed by families traditionally lighting oil lamps to signify the triumph of good over evil.

Deepavali

For Hindus, Deepavali is typically celebrated over five days, with each day bearing a special significance. The festivities start with Dhanteras which also represents the beginning of the financial year for many Indian business communities. The second day of the festival is known as the Naraka Chaturdasi marking the vanquishing of the demon Naraka, a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

Amavasya, which is the third day of Diwali, symbolizes the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Amavasya also tells the story of the Hindu Lord Vishnu, who vanquished the tyrant Bali, and banished him to hell. Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance, and spread the radiance of love and wisdom. The fourth day of Deepavali is known as Kartika Shudda Padyami is when Bali returns to earth to light the lamps. The fifth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya, and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes for reunion.

In Singapore, Deepavali is a public holiday and the festivities are observed primarily by the Indian community, more specifically, the Tamils. It is typically marked by a vibrant lighting display along the streets of Little India in Serangoon Road which is the heart of the Indian community.

Apart from the light-up, Little India is all abuzz with a kaleidoscope of activities such as bazaars, exhibitions, parades and concerts. Here you can find a vast collection of traditional Indian artifacts, floral garlands and colourful Saris – the traditional Indian costumes which feature intricate brocade patterns and glittering gems. Traditional arts and crafts will also be on sale at the bazaars.

Like many Asian traditions and celebrations, the date for Deepavali is dependent on the phase of the moon. As such it is typically celebrated between the end of October and early November. If you are in Singapore during this period, you must remember to ask your Capella Singapore Personal Assistant for more information on the activities lined up for the Deepavali celebrations.

A Guide To The Best Food In Singapore

best food in Singapore Chili Crab

With Singapore Restaurant Week just around the corner, all the country is buzzing about the top restaurants to visit explore.  Staying true to its reputation as an epicure’s paradise, the Singapore Restaurant Week takes place twice a year.  Restaurants and eateries prepare special menus to showcase their cuisine and locals enjoy a week of hearty feasting.

This got me thinking of how Singaporeans truly love their food and will spare no expense to queue or travel for the best food in town.  Like it is often said, “when in Rome, do as the Roman’s do,” so when in Singapore there are just some dishes you must certainly not miss out.

best food in Singapore Chili Crab

The Best Food In Singapore:

1. Chicken Rice
Touted as the “national dish of Singapore,” Chicken Rice is one of my absolute favorite dishes.  Usually made with boiled or roasted chicken, the highlight of this dish is the aromatic “oily rice” that is made using chicken stock and fragrant Pandan leaves.

2. Chili Crab
Another favorite (for myself- and the rest of the Singaporean population!), Chili Crab features whole crabs stir-fried in a sweet and spicy red sauce.  Chili Crab is best eaten with a plate of Man Tou, a kind of Chinese bread, perfect for dipping into the mouth-watering chili sauce.

3. Laksa
For those who love spices, Laksa is a must-try!  With its Peranakan influences, Laksa is rich and savoury soup made with thick rice vermicelli boiled in a spicy coconut broth with dried shrimp.

4. Bak Kut Teh
Literally translated to “pork ribs and tea,” Bak Kut Teh is large slices of pork ribs boiled for hours in a clear peppery or herbal broth.  Traditionally this dish was served with a thick Chinese black tea meant to cleanse the body of the oil from the dish.

5. Satay
Asia’s version of a kebab, Satay is a barbecued skewer full of meat and is usually eaten with a rich peanut sauce and condiments such as onions and cucumber.  The defining feature of satay is the delectable aroma that it gives off when it is being barbecued.

Many of these local favourites, can be found at The Knolls restaurant here at Capella Singapore, make sure you try them during your next visit.  They truly are some of the best food in Singapore!

The History Of Mooncakes

Mooncakes 1

One of my favourite Chinese festivals, the Mid Autumn Festival happens each year on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Lunar Calendar. This year, the Mid Autumn Festival took place on the 19th of September. The festival is celebrated throughout Asia, wherever there is a large ethnically Chinese population.  And in each of these locations it has adopted additional names, one of the most popular here is Singapore is the Mooncake Festival.

Mooncakes 1

For those unfamiliar, Mooncakes are a small pastry, often round is shape, that contain a variety of filling ranging from lotus seed pastes to nut mixtures to salted egg yolks.  These days you can also find chocolate, ice cream and green tea versions.  During September almost every food outlet sells their own custom version, so the varietals are endless.  The outside of the pastry is then imprinted with different Chinese characters and imagery, each design unique to its purveyor.  It is common for people to give them as business gifts as well as to relatives.

An exciting historical account of how Mooncakes came about dates back to the Yuan Dynasty when the Mongolians ruled China.  The people of China baked Mooncakes and hid messages in them, which contained their battle plans against the Mongolians.  The success of this method led to the successful uprising of the Chinese to overthrow the Mongolian rulers and the Ming Dynasty was born.  It is said that Mooncakes are eaten every year to commemorate this inspired act.

The next time you are in Singapore in September, look out for when the Mid Autumn Festival takes place and you could be in for a cultural treat.  And don’t forget to ask your Capella Singapore Personal Assistant about their favourite Mooncake source- you may be in for a treat!

Perfume Making At Capella Singapore

Perfume Making 2

Last week, Capella Singapore was abuzz with the Old World Spice and Wine event – a series of spice themed affairs (read more about it HERE).

Perfume Making 2The series of events included a special workshop with perfumer Nora Gasparini, which I had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of.  This workshop was particularly interesting because we got to try our hand at creating our own special blend of perfume – something truly one of a kind.

The fundamental idea of perfume making is actually not too difficult – the tricky part comes when mixing the various scents to get the right composition for your ideal fragrance.  What I learned is that perfume is made up of three different “notes” which are the descriptors of the scents that you may identify when you smell a fragrance.

The top notes usually possess the lightest smells, your first impression of the perfume.  Some examples of top note scents would be grapefruit and peppermint.  The middle notes like lavender and pine are the scents that emerge after the top notes evaporate and together with the base notes, which help to give depth to the fragrance, form the main body of the perfume.  Examples of base note scents include frankincense and vanilla.

Perfume MakingThe variation of scents comes from the different amounts of top, middle and base note scents in each perfume.  During the workshop, we were each given three chances to mix our scents.  After we had selected the top, middle and base notes, we could experiment with the different compositions before selecting one for the perfume.

Once the favoured combination was determined, alcohol was added to complete the process.  The perfume must then be allowed to rest for some time to allow the alcohol to fully mix in with the oils before the perfume can be used.

An interesting take away from the workshop was actually the difference between eau de toilette, eau de parfum and cologne.  The answer lies in the composition of different notes – eau de toilette possesses more middle notes while parfum is made up of a higher concentration of base notes.  Cologne, being the lightest, is made mainly with top notes.

Celebrating Singapore National Day With The Merlion

Singapore National Day

Just last week, the whole country was abuzz as we celebrated our 48th National Day on 9 August 2013.  National Day celebrations in Singapore are always an elaborate affair and one that I love to partake in.

Singapore National DayThe highlight of the festivities is the Singapore National Day Parade.  Each year, the National Day Parade presents an exciting display of fanfare, from the traditional parade march by all the uniformed organizations in Singapore to a stunning air acrobatics show by the air force to colorful stories of Singapore told in song and dance.  This all leads up to a spectacular display of fireworks, which beautifully lights up the skyline of our central business district.

This year, the National Day Parade consisted of several different segments, taking participants on a journey through Singapore’s history and the dreams for the future. One of the segments was a fun chapter portraying the traditional folk stories that we were told by our elders.

Many of the stories feature the Merlion, an iconic symbol of Singapore.  The body of the Merlion is of a fish, which represents Singapore’s history as a fishing village and the Merlion has the head of a lion, which represents Singapore’s Malay name “Singapura,” meaning lion city

Singapore National DayOne story of how the Merlion came into being dates back to when Singapore was still a fishing village.  There was once a very bad stormy night that had engulfed the city in dark clouds and the raging winds had woken the villagers.  As the terrified villagers watched the storm unfold, suddenly a bright light emerged from the Southern waters surrounding a mystical creature.  The creature battled the waves and the storm and by morning the wind and the waves began to die down and the creature had retreated into the waters leaving a colorful trail.

Rumor has it that when the creature – the Merlion, had conquered the storm, it claimed its victory by standing on a proud perch on Mount Imbiah which is located on Sentosa Island. Today a large statue of the Merlion is erected at the Imbiah station on Sentosa Island, just a five-minute walk from Capella Singapore, where visitors can uncover the tales of the mythical creatures of the sea and find out their fortune for the year ahead.