Kaffeehaus Kulture of Vienna

In Vienna, I was grumpy at being fed cake I didn’t want.

Away, apfelstrudel! Stay your saccharine steps, sachertortes!

But how absolutely fascinating you are, large living-room atmosphere of Viennese coffeehouses.

At Café Prückel (Stubenring 24, 1010 Vienna), a fair number of Austrians were scattered about its mid-century interior,

Café Prückel, Vienna, Austriachatting with friends in the autumn sunlight filtering through the tall windows, or reading the many newspapers clamped on bamboo-holders (that made me think of the common rooms at Walhampton):

Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria
Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria
Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria
Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria

Austrian menu. Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria
coffee and apfelstrudel. Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria
Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria

Over at Café Leopold Hawelka (Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien), the legendary grimy living room had been welcoming blackmarket contraband trading, displaced princes, poor painters for decades. Posters and playbills lined part of a wall. From certain corners of the room, cigarette smoke curled and wafted up to the high wood-panelled ceiling.

Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria
Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria
Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria
Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria
Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria
Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria

Demel Kaffeehaus (Kohlmarkt 14, 1010 Wien) was closing for the day when we arrived. It was an easy tourist visit on the way back from Hofburg Palace. We came away with a slice of sachertorte (dry) and one of gerollte mandletorte (a symphony of crunchy almond and smooth chocolate buttercream).
Demel Kaffeehaus, Kohlmarket, Wien, Vienna, Austria
Demel Kaffeehaus, Kohlmarket, Wien, Vienna, Austria
Demel Kaffeehaus, Kohlmarket, Wien, Vienna, Austria

cakes from Demel Kaffeehaus, Kohlmarkt 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria

Cafe Central (Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien) was also on the tourist radar (Trotsky, Stalin, Hitler, etc had their bums on these chairs), but thankfully, turnover of tables was fast – there being very little chatting after the requisite selfies/wefies/Instagram-worthy photos had been taken.

Cakes were surprisingly reasonably priced! While their famous applestrudel was nothing to write home about, the coffee pastry pictured below was excellent. And though it’s not third wave coffee, I suspect I could get used to the Viennese melange.

Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
rows of pastries and cakes. Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
rows of pastries and cakes. Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria

Cafe Sacher Vienna (Philharmonikerstrasse 4, A-1010 Vienna). The original sacher torte was still the best we had on this vacation – proper balance of tangy raspberry(?) and chocolate cake, and moist.

Café Sacher, Vienna, Austria
Café Sacher, Vienna, Austria
Café Sacher, Vienna, Austria
Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria
Café Sacher, Vienna, Austria
Café Sacher, Vienna, Austria
Café Sacher, Vienna, Austria

Even upon the pain of too much cake, I’d very much like to import a Viennese kaffeehaus to the Little Red Dot.  A spacious, relatively quiet, intellectual clearinghouse where truth can be mined from rigorous debate. There’s hardly been a bible study or serious discussion in a Singapore cafe that hasn’t devolved into shouting above the din of far-too-many-in-too-small-a-place just to be partially heard. This makes for truncated, superficial chatter.

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Useful tips re: Viennese coffeehouses:

  • don’t wait to be seated (unless there’s a sign that says so or if the place is tiny enough for you to wonder if tables have all been reserved). Find your own table, and the waiters will/should find you.
  • the waitstaff expect orders to be given briskly, efficiently.
  • don’t expect sudden-new-best-friend grovelling that’s known as “good service” in America.
  • sometimes service charge is included in the bill. Otherwise, a 10% “tip” is expected. (See advice from The Guardian and Tripadvisor).
  • bring cash; many cafes don’t accept credit cards.

Chalk Farm Kueh Salat

Was waiting for someone to finish yoga class at Paragon Shopping Centre when I came upon The Chalk Farm cakery.

Chalk Farm kueh salat
Kueh salat in cake form? I was a little leery of attempts to contextualise Western concepts of dessert, or alternatively, to modify local Singaporean/Malaysian dessert for Western taste.

But never say never. (This was the last third of the slice that people kindly left for me.) The green firm custard was fragrant with pandan (screwpine) leaf and not as horribly salty as commercially made kueh; the glutinous rice base, tinged with blue bunga telang (peashoot flower) dye, was just the right consistency.

mao shan wang durian kueh salat, Chalk FarmAnd the maoshanwang durian kueh salat too was a success. Here, the glutinous rice base was the perfect foil for the creamy, happily-pungent durian custard (that didn’t bite the tongue like the acidity regulators in usual mass-produced durian pulp).

Contextualisation: works when the original message is kept intact, even though the form has changed.

Coffee and Late Breakfast and Brunch in Melbourne

Brunch and coffee spots, said several Melburnians, were all the attractions we needed to pay attention to in this city. To aid our quest,

Broadsheet – Melbourne

The Urban List – Melbourne

Concrete Playground – Melbourne

City of Melbourne – Winter Guide 2015

Hidden Secrets Tours Melbourne

Smudge Eats

In Love With Brunch

Thus informed, our mornings became a week-long pilgrimage. This isn’t a buzzfeed list of Melbourne’s “top ten cafes you must visit before you die!”, but some favourites that we managed to get to. Of course, any casual review is profoundly subjective, affected by the weather that day, my mood, the interaction with the people I was with etc:

The Kettle Black

Instagram-worthy? Tick.

Design-savvy? Tick. Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: The Kettle Black Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: The Kettle Black (50 Albert Road) Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: The Kettle Black (50 Albert Road) Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: The Kettle Black (50 Albert Road)

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne The Kettle Black (50 Albert Road, facebook)’s classic but fresh interior design was courtesy of Studio You Me (Kestie Lane, Hana Hakim). A real delight to the eyes after all the faux-industrial cafes we get in Singapore. Cafe design is truly a thing in Melbs and the rest of the Antipodes – there’s even the Eat Drink Design Awards to highlight this.

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: The Kettle Black - hotcake, crayfish burger, beef steak burger

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: hotcake with ricotta, blueberries, pure maple, double cream and seeds

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: The Kettle Black - fresh crayfish in an ash roll, with purslane and local leaves, lime and yuzu mayo

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: The Kettle Black - Cape Grim fully-traceable beef with house-made mustard, seasonal fruit relish and leaves on the Kettle black bun And even the plating of the food was excellent. Festooned with edible flowers, a riot of colours, you might be forgiven for expecting that brunch that looks this good must be without substance. But these (especially the hotcake and beef burger), like math-teacher-male-supermodel Pietro Boselli, exceeded expectations.

Above: the hotcake with ricotta, blueberries, pure maple, double cream and seeds; Cape Grim fully-traceable beef with house-made mustard, seasonal fruit relish and leaves on the Kettle black bun; fresh crayfish in an ash roll, with purslane and local leaves, lime and yuzu mayo.

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: The Kettle Black (50 Albert Road)

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: The Kettle Black (50 Albert Road) - flat white, latte, hot chocolateSquare One Coffee Roasters provided the house blend of 50% Ethiopian Wote and 50% Guatemala Santa Isabel. The chocolate-toffee notes were strong in my cup – interesting how un-citrusy it was, especially given the African-Latin American blend.

Manchester Press

On the other side of the Yarra River, down a little alley, there is Manchester Press (facebook, 8 Rankins Lane).

Flat whites and brunch in Melbourne: Rankins Lane, outside Manchester Press

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne It’s housed in one of those spaces off Little Bourke Street that was once an industry useful in the last millenium – a printing press. Some might call this gentrification, but that is perhaps too narrow a view; perhaps this changing use of space indicates the succession of generations, as observed by John Adams:

The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Manchester Press (Rankins Lane)We are of the cafe-hopping generation, with the luxury to indulge in whimsical fancies. But soon, as the circle of history turns, our children might have to study politics and war.

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Manchester Press (Rankins Lane) - chia seed and coconut pudding with passionfruit coulis, topped with toasted oats, dried cranberries, and fresh berriesFor now, we can indulge in chia seed and coconut pudding with passionfruit coulis, topped with toasted oats, dried cranberries, and fresh berries, and edible flowers;

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne - Manchester Press (8 Rankins Lane) - Texas BBQ style pulled pork, slow roasted for 14 hours, soaked in BBQ sauce, and topped with homemade slaw and pickles in a bageland Texas BBQ style pulled pork, slow roasted for 14 hours, soaked in BBQ sauce, and topped with homemade slaw and pickles in a very good chewy bagel;

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Manchester Press (Rankins Lane) - toasted blueberry bagel with whipped raspberry mascarpone, fresh strawberries, and crushed pistachiosand toasted blueberry bagel with whipped raspberry mascarpone, fresh strawberries, and crushed pistachios;

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Machester Press (Rankins Lane)

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne:Manchester Press (Rankins Lane)and talk about how good the flat white is here – 8oz Coffee Co. providing the house blend that tasted so much like rich chocolate milk, I had to check that no one sneaked a cocoa dusting into my cup. Delicious.

Brother Baba Budan

Just out Rankins Lane, on the corner with Little Bourke Street, is Brother Baba Budan (twitter, 359 Little Bourke Street), named for the chappie who smuggled 7 coffee seeds out of the Middle East, thus breaking their hegemonic powers in the caffeine world, liberating the oppressed etc.

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Brother Baba Budan (359 Little Bourke Street)

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Brother Baba Budan (359 Little Bourke Street) Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Brother Baba Budan (359 Little Bourke Street)

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Brother Baba Budan (359 Little Bourke Street) Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Brother Baba Budan (359 Little Bourke Street)

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Brother Baba Budan (359 Little Bourke Street) - latte and flat whiteThis cosy cafe with its distressed walls and chairs hanging precariously overhead is a Seven Seeds Coffee Roasters outpost. I didn’t know if the blend was too light to come through the milk in the flat white or if it was a barista error – a decent cup, not a destination cup. The latte-drinker liked his milk drink much better than the one he got at Manchester Press though.

Captains of Industry

And then, just on the next alley off Little Bourke, Captains of Industry (facebook, Level 1, 2 Somerset Place) – describing themselves ironically (i think) as “The practitioners of Captains of Industry are Practical Men of Wide Experience offering the Good, the True and the Beautiful in traditional men’s outfitting and dining.”

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Captains of Industry (Level 1, 2 Somerset Place)It was a nice experience, sitting in a darkened space with naked bulbs hanging from a high ceiling, sharing the old table with an old sewing machine, or perched on the chairs looking out at fat little balls of sparrows flitting over Elizabeth Street.

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Captains of Industry (Level 1, 2 Somerset Place)

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Captains of Industry (Level 1, 2 Somerset Place) The flat white was what a reasonable gentleman might like on a cold blustery day after having given the morning’s sermon on Luke 10:25-37:

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Axil Coffee Roasters

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in MelbourneFlat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Axil Coffee Roasters Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne

A little further to the east, there was a long line for brunch at Axil Coffee Roasters (facebook, 322 Burwood Road, Hawthorn) on the Queen’s Birthday (8 June). We sat outside braving the cold, warming in the winter sun.

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Axil Coffee Roasters (322 Burwood Road, Hawthorn) Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne: Axil Coffee Roasters (322 Burwood Road, Hawthorn) - Queen's birthday cake

The birthday boy bought me brunch and I bought him the Queen’s birthday cake. It was so lovely to catch up with the old boy over a seemingly-healthy (and paleo) breakky. Was encouraged by his singlemindedness and thankful for the great situation that God has put him in – to be working under a pastor who too loves the Word and trusts VK to do the job without needless overbearing oversight. We reminisced a little about MY and the people we met during our time together in London. Lurve-ly.

Dr. Jekyll Cafe

Near St. Kilda Beach with the scary clown mouth of Luna Park, is Dr. Jekyll Cafe (facebook, 107-113 Grey Road, St. Kilda).

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne - Dr. Jekyll Cafe (107-113 Grey Street, St. Kilda) Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne - Dr. Jekyll Cafe (107-113 Grey Street, St. Kilda) Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne - Dr. Jekyll Cafe (107-113 Grey Street, St. Kilda) Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne - Dr. Jekyll Cafe (107-113 Grey Street, St. Kilda) - avocado and Meredith feta mash, with mint and lemon on rye toast, with a poached egg Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne - Dr. Jekyll Cafe (107-113 Grey Street, St. Kilda) Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne - Dr. Jekyll Cafe (107-113 Grey Street, St. Kilda)

Met an old friend there whom I hadn’t seen in decades (wow, I’ve always wanted to be old enough to say that without exaggeration!). I had the avocado and Meredith feta mash with mint and lemon on rye toast. Not being a great fan of that fatty fruit, I was under instructions to try it out on toast at least once in Melbs. Not bad actually!

HM quickly got to summarising the years that passed since our last meeting. She wanted to know how I became Christian, knowing that I was very much against it in school, and not being of the personality to follow trends. God’s grace, I said, worked out in:

  • how after investigating all the hypotheses found in philosophy, science, literature, politics, psychology etc., the Christian faith proved to have the best historical veracity of claimed facts, and the best internal consistency in the historical texts compiled in the Bible;
  • the Spirit working in my heart and mind so as to understand therefore, the dire state humanity is in because of our rebellion against God (by, fundamentally, not acknowledging him as God) and the gracious salvation offered by God’s son – if only we repented of our rebellion, turned, and acknowledged God as God, and Jesus as his son, who is able and will pay for the sins of the world.

She told me how she herself was getting on – wished I’d more words of assurance to offer, but those words would be empty ultimately. What she needed was God’s assurance – found, not in some whisper in the darkness, but in the comforting words of Scripture. God himself assures us about what reality really looks like, where this world is ultimately headed, and what the purpose in our life is. And so we do not despairingly “eat and drink for tomorrow we die”. Rather, we enjoy God’s gifts of food and drink and laughter in this creation, with thanksgiving to the Creator, fuel for the work to be done on earth, looking forward the new creation to come.

Hatter Street Bakehouse and Cafe, and Bilahari Kausikan’s Guest-of-Honour Speech at Raffles Institution’s 189th Founder’s Day

We were at Hatter Street Bakery and Cafe (facebook, 212 Hougang Street 21) over the weekend.

It had a mostly Alice-in-Wonderland theme going on (with a good lashing of other cute stuff, like Mr. Bean’s bear).

Hatter Street Bakehouse & Café, 212 Hougang Street 21, Kovan
Hatter Street Bakehouse & Café, 212 Hougang Street 21, Kovan
Hatter Street Bakehouse & Café, 212 Hougang Street 21, Kovan

I liked the little references – the circular view of the sky in the underside of the staircase, suggesting that we had already fallen down down down the rabbit hold, and the little door at the counter:
Hatter Street Bakehouse & Café, 212 Hougang Street 21, Kovan

Hatter Street Bakehouse & Café, 212 Hougang Street 21, Kovan

It felt like we were schoolkids at a cafe after being let out for the day.

School had been a real waste of my time. Boring slow-going lessons, and I don’t recall many of the tedious speeches we had to sit through during school assemblies and events – waffle-y stuff supposed to inspire us to make a difference in the world and be the change society needs etc.

waffles with pandan ice-cream. Hatter Street Bakehouse & Café, 212 Hougang Street 21, Kovan
absence of waffles with pandan ice-cream. Hatter Street Bakehouse & Café, 212 Hougang Street 21, Kovanpandan gula melaka whoaffles

But this one by Bilahari Kausikan is a keeper, not just because his tongue is firmly in-cheek. He extols scepticism, and not so much of authorities and received wisdom, but of self. (And then of course, scepticism of one’s scepticism, just to be, err, sure.)

Guest-of-Honour Speech at Raffles Institution’s 189th Founder’s Day
When your Principal, in a reckless act of folly, asked me to be Guest-of-Honour at this 189th Founder’s Day, my first instinct was to do us both a favour and refuse. But I hesitated and in an instant was lost. The temptation to savour the irony was too great. For what I am about to say, I absolve her of all responsibility.

My comrades and I spent our six years in Raffles Institution waging insurgency against all established authority. At a very tender age one of our teachers told us we were all born to be hanged. And if that extreme did not come to pass — perhaps I should say, has not yet come to pass — several of us were at least caned. Our then Principal failed to achieve his dearest ambition of getting us all expelled only due to our dumb luck.

So here I stand before you, living testimony to the role of chance and serendipity in life; a role more often than not insufficiently acknowledged if not ignored, particularly by Singaporeans of a certain ilk…

I do not think that there is any particular meaning, pattern or direction, divine or secular, in the drift of human events. History, as Winston Churchill is reported to have remarked, is just one damned thing after another. The innocent die young and the wicked flourish; and not necessarily in equal measure either because to the wicked the innocent are often prey…

None of us asked to be born. Yet having had life thrust upon us, we must, unless bent on suicide, nevertheless live. Although we can only, if dimly and darkly, know backwards, we have to live forwards.

No one can live in a constant Hamlet-like state of existential doubt. We must profess a certainty that we do not necessarily feel…

I am sure that by now many of you are harbouring a thought that you are too well brought up to speak out loud: this idiot exaggerates…

So let me restate my essential point in a different way…Sincerity is an over-rated virtue, if indeed it is a virtue.

All of you may be suddenly seized with the sincere conviction that that pigs should fly. But pigs will nevertheless never sprout wings no matter how devoutly you hope for them to escape the surly bonds of earth.

And if you, ignoring the possibility of error, sincerely believe that pigs ought to fly; or that God’s Will has been revealed to you; or that you are one of the elect to whom the direction of History’s cunning passages has been vouchsafed, then it is but a tiny step to being convinced that anyone who does not share your conviction is not just ignorant but evil. Then for the greater glory of PIGS or HISTORY or GOD, all spelt in capital letters, it is only a tinier further step to seeing it as your bounden DUTY, again spelt with capitals, to expunge the evil…

Rather than sincerity, if we want to do some trifling and ephemeral good or at least to minimize harm, we should approach life with an ironic and humane scepticism…

I have chosen to dwell on this at what you may consider inordinate length, because Raffles Institution likes to consider itself unique. Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sorry to inform you that RI is no longer unique.

You are now only one of a number of similar elite educational institutions from which will come a disproportionate number of scholarship recipients and a disproportionate number of leaders in the civil service, the professions, business, the Arts and the academy. And all these institutions are united by a certain sense of entitlement, possibly so profound as to be quite unconscious.

I do not blame you for this. All of you are highly intelligent. You will be very well educated. And the odds are that you will be more than averagely successful in your careers.

But understand that you will therefore also be more vulnerable to the curse of the highly intelligent, highly educated and highly successful: this curse is the illusion of certainty; the conviction of the omnipotence of your ideas…

I certainly have no answers. As you, the anointed ones, ready yourselves to assume authority and responsibility under these challenging circumstances. I can do no more than to remind you of what Sir Olivier Cromwell wrote to the Synod of the Church of Scotland in 1650. He was trying to persuade the Scots not to embrace the Royalist cause of King Charles the Second and so avert civil war.

Gentlemen, he wrote, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ” — and I should explain that in the 17th Century the bowels were considered to be the seat of pity or the gentler emotions — Gentlemen, Cromwell wrote, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken”.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen of the 21st Century, I beseech you from whatever portion of anatomy you consider most dear, think it possible that you may be mistaken.

Before I conclude, you may wish to know how it all ended.

Cromwell’s advice was not heeded. Shortly thereafter, the third English Civil War broke out. This set in motion a historical trajectory of political, social and economic changes that led to modern Britain, the industrial revolution, the East India Company, Sir Stamford Raffles, the British Empire, the founding of Singapore and ultimately, you and I.

And all because good advice fell on deaf years.

What better way to appreciate the irony and contingency of events than to ponder what may have happened if Cromwell’s advice was in fact taken and civil war avoided. And as you do so, consider also the possibility that you may be mistaken when you think you are mistaken.

And with that final paradox I will end.

Laksa Cookies and Living Water

In a move inspired by financial repackagings, experimented with more leftover-stuff-in-cookies. Following the popularity of the bak kwa cookies, this installment we have: laksa cookies – lemak spicy savoury shortbread.

Laksa Cookies topped with Laksa LeafBrought them with me to the evening’s Bible study on John 7, where, ugly as they were, the cookies were given the thumbs up.

John 7 stands as testament against anyone who says, “If only God revealed himself to me clearly, I would believe in him.” If anything is clear, it is that when God reveals himself clear, the best and most learned of us reject him even more violently.

It’s significant that John 7 takes place during the Feast of Booths or Feast of the Tabernacles. This festival was instituted even before Israel got into the Promised Land! It was another of those amazing signs that the eventuality of their entry was so certain, because God had promised it, that all that remained was to be instructed what to do in it, and what festivals to celebrate.

At the Festival of Booths, they were to bring in the bountiful produce of the land (another wonderful assumption) and camp out, to remind themselves that they were dependent on God for rescue and salvation (Leviticus 23:42b-43, Deuteronomy 16:13-15). And for any Jew, the words “bread” (or manna) and “water” conjure up memories of how God provided for them in the wilderness after they were rescued from Egypt (see Exodus). This led to a Pharasaic (as opposed to Sadducee) tradition of water libation each morning of the Feast, with water drawn from the Pool of Siloam. One rabbinic authority based this on the promise of Isaiah 12:3:

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3)

A few centuries later, Nehemiah, inspired by God, said that it was the Spirit who had instructed the people in their wanderings and it was the Spirit through the prophets who had warned the people as they stopped acknowledging God after they were settled in his promised land (Nehemiah 9:20,30).

And Zechariah, also inspired by God, prophesised that there would come a day, the eschatological end-time, when all the nations (not just Israel) would keep the Feast of Booths (Zechariah 14). This assumes a second rescue, another exodus, and this time, for all the peoples of the world.

So by the time of Jesus, when the Jews celebrated the Feast of the Booths, it wasn’t just commemorating a past rescue (the Exodus from Egypt), but looking forward to a future salvation, aided by the Spirit.

Laksa Cookies topped with Laksa Leaf

Can you imagine the great claim that Jesus was making then, when, perhaps in the middle of the water-drawing ceremony,

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-38)

Now at the point, the Pharisees and the crowd had three choices: Jesus was either (i) a liar, (ii) a lunatic, or (iii) holy guacamole! Lord!

It would have been a fair fight between the choices if not for all the miracles (signs) he had already performed – turning water to wine, remote healing the official’s son, healing a long-term crippled man, feeding 5000, walking on water in a storm (see John 2-6). So much so that people believed him saying that the Christ would not have done more signs than Jesus (John 7:31).

They marvelled too at his authoritative teaching even though he never studied (John 7:15) and the officers sent to arrest him returned empty-handed because “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:48). This wasn’t the gift of the gab, this was authoritative revelation from the one who sent Jesus – God himself (John 7:16-18)

Well, we don’t really need Dr. Who to give us a ride to the first century to see Jesus in the flesh. The evidence is recorded in the Gospels, and witnessing all Jesus’ works and signs in person did the Pharisees (minus Nicodemus) no good.

The chapter ends with those Jewish leaders plotting to kill the very one the Feast of Booths was looking forward to – the one who would give them living water of salvation and the Spirit…

Laksa Cookie Recipe
70g butter
50g dark brown sugar or caster sugar (or icing sugar if using top flour)

50g coconut oil
2 – 3 tbsp laksa paste

200g all-purpose flour (or top flour)

laksa leaves

Nostalgic for the 1980s? Cakes, Snacks, Titbits, Childhood Games, and the Dangers of Nostalgia

Because I run with the older crowd, there have been quite a few 40++ (“the new 30s”) birthday celebrations since the start of 2015. At that age, it’s not that much of a treat getting stuff since they have the financial means to buy whatever they want. So rather than going with the cake-fad-of-the-month, we’ve had fun searching out retro cakes and snacks for the occasion. You’re never too young to get all nostalgic.

nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore cakes nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore cakesSponge cake slices with buttercream frosting held up amazingly in our hot and humid Singapore weather. They were from Nice Bakery in Ang Mo Kio (S$1 per slice). A few streets away, Pine Garden sells similar cakes for S$1.50.

Biscuit King, 130 Casuarina Road, Singapore. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro Singapore snacksBiscuit King (130 Casuarina Road, Thomson) is almost a one-stop shop for the snacks and toys and games that kids in the 1980s would have counted out pockey-money for at corner mamak shops and the drinks stall in the school canteen:

individually-wrapped hard-boiled sweets like Hacks, Mentos, and that fizzly orange sweet. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro Singapore snacksindividually-wrapped hard-boiled sweets like Hacks, Mentos, Haw Flakes, barley mints, Hudson wild cherry, Sarsi, White Rabbit, and that fizzly orange sweet,

preserved fruits, nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snackspreserved dried fruits (kana?) – grandmothers’ favourite afternoon chew. I only ate these to assuage sore throats,

biscuit tins. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snackstins of biscuits (usually from Khong Guan) – you pointed to what you wanted and the shopkeeper would then weigh your selection. I liked the ice gems (and debating the best way of eating it – icing first? biscuit base first? indulgently, both at one go?), pineapple jam in a flower-shaped biscuit, cashewnut cookies topped with one half of a cashewnut, salty sticks, butterfly crackers, peppery roll crackers.

nostalgic for the 1980s in Singapore? Mamee Monster
nostalgic for the 1980s in Singapore? Mamee MonsterMamee Monster (S$1.50 for a bag containing little packs from discount shops around Singapore) – seasoned instant noodles (in chicken or BBQ flavours) that you crushed in the packet, added even more seasoning to, then shook about to distribute evenly amongst the dried noodle fragments. I’m surprised they haven’t made a molecular gastronomy equivalent of this yet.

Bee-Bee Snack. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacks Bee-Bee Snack. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksBee-Bee Snack (S$3 for a bagful). The sort of fried flour stuff you ate after swimming class or while waiting for the school bus, after you’ve had your deep-fried chicken wings of course.

nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksLigo California Golden Seedless Raisins – supposedly the healthier snack. But with that amount of sugar… Sometimes the raisins were too dry and you needed to work them in your mouth so your saliva plumped up the wrinkles.

Hiro choc cake. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksKinos Hiro choc cake (S$0.40, Biscuit King). Some sort of sponge with a chocolate coating, tasting of nothing in particular. You needed several to fill you up.

Ding Dang. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacks Kinos Tora. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksDing Dang (S$0.60, Biscuit King) and Tora (S$1.00, Biscuit King) also from Kinos used mean wafer balls covered with chocolate. They’ve now been replaced by some cereal bar nonsense and the packaging art has been changed to reflect the lack of chocolate balls. Toys still included.

Apollo Milk Chocolate Wafer Cream. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksApollo Milk Chocolate Wafer Cream (S$0.80, Sheng Siong Supermarket).

Polo peppermint. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksPolo peppermint sweets (S$0.40, Biscuit King) – we offered them to friends, sucked them so that the circle remained intact, then tried to whistle through them.

Chupa Chups. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksChupa Chups. Didn’t know they were a brand of Spanish lollies and that their logo was designed by Salvador Dali! Obscure flavours were the most sought-after. When you were done, you tried to whistle through the empty stick, or chewed on them like you didn’t know about the dangers of BPA, or flicked them onto unsuspecting classmates.

(See also Teck Leong Lee Kee for wholesale prices.)

nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksAh, and what about those childhood games before everyone sat in the canteen and stared at their smartphones? Goli (marbles), national flag erasers, hopscotch, zero point (jump-the-rope with a rope of rubber-bands), snakes-and-ladders, aeroplane chess, pick-up-sticks, Chinese checkers, kuti-kuti (small colourful plastic tokens),

retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s Singapore Bestman Balloons. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s SingaporeBestman Balloon (S$1.20, from the man outside Sheng Shiong Bedok). A whole box just feels like an indulgence. I think we used to get just one or two tubes each, and had to make it last.

Snap card game. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s Singapore Happy Family card game. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s Singapore Donkey card game. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s Singapore Old Maid card game. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s SingaporeSnap, Happy Families, Donkey, Old Maid card games (S$2.50 for 4 packs from the man outside Sheng Shiong Bedok, S$0.60 each from Party Mama Shop) – these cards aren’t as good quality as they used to be.

On the bus today, an old man in front of me was commenting to his wife as we passed the graves opposite MacRitchie Reservoir:

“See, look all the graves. There are all these young people, keep getting angry that the graves are taken away. For what? All these dead already. And they think they live so nicely in their houses, go to their schools, drive on all the roads, don’t need to knock down old things? Always complain traffic jam, complain too expensive, complain everything. Ask them to take care of a family, a big family, they can anot? They can fit into one house meh? Cannot, then complain. Why not throw away all the old things, then can fit. We all did it before, why they cannot? Stupid nonsense, think they’re so smart!”

Nostalgia is nice and neutral, but we never stop there do we? We rose-tint the past, we talk about the “good old days” when things were better and easier, when people were honest and caring, things were just more authentic. And we know about the inauthenticity of authenticity.

Mired in self-deception:

  • we become needlessly negative about our present;
  • we fail to learn from history, and in our blind nostalgia deliberately repeat the mistakes of the past (eg. the nostalgic theme parks of Eastern Europe longing for their fascist past);
  • we reject the good that has been achieved by the progress of the intervening years;
  • we are unable to properly solve present problems guided by a clear view of past mistakes and present successes.

iced gem biscuits with a cup of milky teathe aforementioned iced gem biscuits

Bak Kwa 肉干 Biscuits or Candied Bacon Cookies, and that Man with a Demon

Saddled with several bags of Chinese New Year 肉干 bak kwa, I thought of possibly making bak kwa ice-cream at last, having talked about it repeatedly to patient friends for the last half decade. Then, like a strange re-interpreted re-enactment of the fable of the Stone Soup, there came a bag of flour and a bag of instant oats and half a tray of eggs, so bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies in Americanese) it would be.

Had a look at several bak kwa cookie recipes online. The ones here and here looked delightful, but I was thinking of something not quite so melty-in-the-mouth, something crispy outside and chewy inside, something very Anzac bikkie-ish.

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)So here’s an attempt – the sugar and salt were included to emphasise the sweet-savory-ness of the bak kwa. Not too bad, imho!

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)Every year when bak kwa appears in homes everywhere during the Lunar New Year, I think of a classmate of mine who had been sad not to be able to eat pork. We, of course, were careful not to put temptation in his way either. One day, I asked why pig meat was considered unclean. Because, he said somewhat bitterly, Jesus had driven demons into pigs.

Reading through the Gospel of Mark today accompanied by Andrew Sach & Tim Hiorns’ excellent Dig Deeper into the Gospels, I wished we were still in touch. Mark 5:1-20 records the event my classmate probably had in mind:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marvelled.

I suppose one solution to my friend’s unhappiness would have been for him to realise that since the pigs drowned, they had no opportunity to pass on their demons to future generations of piggies (assuming that demons worked genetically or by vector).

"Dig Deeper into the Gospels" posing with bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies) But the better solution would be to find out why Mark wrote this in the first place. It wasn’t the back story to pigs being stinky things to be avoided at all costs. The focus wasn’t on Porky but on Jesus.

It was, in the context of the whole Gospel of Mark and in light of the preceding and succeeding accounts of Jesus calming the storm and healing the bleedin’ woman and Jairus’ daughter, about Jesus’ incredible frightening power. This passage is thick with fear, not just from the begging demons but also from the begging humans who witnessed his power.

So it’s not “oh, how nice, I’ll put him in my address book just in case I need a good exorcist next time”. Nor is it so much “Jesus is powerful to save, so don’t be afraid but trust him.” It’s “OMG, Jesus is bigger and badder (well, the street-speak meaning of “powerful-scary” at least) than anything you are afraid of. Both trust and fear him instead!”

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)

Recipe

115g unsalted butter
100g dark brown sugar
67g caster sugar

1 medium egg
¼ tsp vanilla extract

146g flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt

45g instant oat flakes
120g bak kwa, lightly toasted then chopped

PS. apparently Plain Vanilla Bakery (34A Lorong Mambong, Singapore, facebook) sells bak kwa cookies, but i’d have to wait till next year to grab some.