Uncle S, By The Fire at Alibabar the Hawker Bar (125 East Coast Road)

“Uncle,” they call out by way of greeting as they approach his cubicle, in deference to his advanced age and also to his curmudgeonly exterior. They come for wisdom on a pressing issue, or a blessing to proceed on a particular document. And uncle dispenses all sagely (with a little scolding), staring over his reading glasses, before dismissing them brusquely.

No one on the Circle Line train he takes to and from work, every day from Monday to Friday, would have guessed that Uncle S, in his drab office attire and non-descript laptop bag, boasted a life populated with dead bodies in jungles, hangings, drug mules, child murderers, a bitter divorce, and a united nations cast of girlfriends. Lunchtimes can be quite a treat when he gets out one of his stories.

Because of all that he has seen, Uncle gets quite philosophical at times. Hearing of us chat about upcoming weddings, he would say dismissively,”If there is a buffet, why do you want to eat a la carte? If all you want is milk, why buy the whole cow?” etc.

Last Thursday, as we were about to head home, a gym-going colleague chided the rather rotund Uncle for having his paw in the office Toblerone stash again, to which he replied he had only one life to live so he was going to do as he pleased, which led to a discussion about reincarnation (he being Hindu-ish, and the other two colleagues being Buddhist) and the afterlife, into which I pitched (having finally finished writing an email) the Christian concept of salvation.

By The Fire, Alibabar the Hawker Bar, East Coast Road, Singapore

Dear Uncle S could not conceal that gleam in the eye that litigators get when they are about to launch an offence. It was an oldie from a cheeky ex-mission school boy: why go and tell people about the gospel? Without missionaries’ interference, the cannibals in the Amazon would have been judged by a lower standard than people who had been told about Jesus and then refused to believe.

My reply, as I was telling people over dinner at Alibabar the Hawker Bar (facebook, 125 East Coast Road, Singapore), was this:

  • God’s standard of judgement: we are not judged primarily on our adherence to a religion, but our relationship with a person, God who created the whole world, who revealed himself in the Bible. Do we relate to him rightly as a good God, worshipping him, trusting him, wanting to obey his every world? That’s how you should relate to someone in complete and rightful authority over you.
  • All men know this God: how would people know about God, that he is all powerful and worthy of worship? Why, it should be plain from mere observation of the world, and also their conscience (Romans 2). So everyone everywhere, of every language and race, are without excuse. God is not to be accused of being unfair, all humans are themselves culpable.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

  • Yet, all men deliberately rebel against this God:

21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21-23)

By The Fire, Alibabar Hawker Bar, East Coast Road, Singapore

So what of the purportedly innocent Amazonian cannibals? They are a myth. There isn’t anyone who can be considered innocent. Can they be held accountable for eating the people they killed as a sign of respect? Yes. It is a sign of God’s judgement on them, as are all sorts of other commonplace horrors in our shiny cities:

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practise such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practise them. (Romans 1:24-31)

This is why Christians are so desperate to tell people both the bad news and the good news – on one hand, that we are under God’s wrath, and on the other hand, there is salvation in believing that God’s Son, Jesus, died to pay for those sins, so we can now be back in right relationship with God.

…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:9-15)

By The Fire, Alibabar Hawker Bar, East Coast Road, Singapore

Now about dinner. The corner kopi tiam that is now Alibabar is well-known to be an incubator of food start-ups. Saveur (now the Saveur Group!) began here I recall. One of the more recent occupants is By The Fire (facebook), set up by Immanuel Tee (of Immanuel French Kitchen at Salute Coffeeshop) and Alexander Chong.

The scotch egg with runny yolks were very decently seasoned indeed as was the deeply-flavoured binchōtan-ed grilled pork jowls. Weighing in at S$6.90 (£3.45) and S$15.40 (£7.70) for these tiny non-gastropub portions though, made it all a little hard to swallow too quickly.

Still trying to get a handle on what even non-wage-earning Singapore students deem “reasonably priced” at hipster kopi tiams.

Salute (not Salut) Coffeeshop, 119 Bukit Merah Lane 1, Alexandra Village, Singapore

Salut Coffeeshop, 119 Bukit Merah Lane 1 Immanuel French Kitchen, Salut Coffeeshop, 119 Bukit Merah Lane 1 Immanuel French Kitchen, Salut Coffeeshop, 119 Bukit Merah Lane 1

We were at Salute Coffeeshop in Bukit Merah for Immanuel French Kitchen (facebook), headed by Immanuel Tee.

foie gras, Immanuel French Kitchen, Salut Coffeeshop, 119 Bukit Merah Lane 1The pan-fried foie gras (“coated with black miso and served with dashi broth and daikon noodles”) was a promising concept, but lacked the crisp exterior that should have come from being in a pan, and would have helped with jer lat blandness of the liver.

French duck confit, Immanuel French Kitchen, Salut Coffeeshop, 119 Bukit Merah Lane 1Duck confit is difficult to get just right. Cooking it is easy enough – just fish out from its rendered duck fat bath, pat dry, and put on the pan. But to get the contrast of textures – the crackle of skin and the tender flavourful flesh, takes experience. One of Immanuel’s assistants cooked this dry duck leg – a pity. Also there was a lack of cohesion to the dish – you took a bite of the duck, and one of the mash, but there was nothing to bridge the distance.

pork belly cooked in kakuni style, Immanuel French Kitchen, Salut Coffeeshop, 119 Bukit Merah Lane 1Pork belly cooked in kakuni style (“served with mushrooms, onsen egg, potato foam”). I guess none of this is a reflection on Immanuel’s ability as a chef, but he might want to train his assistants better.

Two Wings (facebook) was another stall within the coffeeshop: Two Wings, Salut Coffeeshop, 119 Bukit Merah Lane 1The wings are allegedly made according to the Carona Chicken recipe from yesteryear. As fried chicken wings went, they were alright, said H, but probably not worth S$12.50 for 6 pieces. I just remember the chilli sauce being the highlight of Carona, not the chicken.

Representing the Germans was Stew Küche (facebook): stew and pretzel, Salut Coffeeshop, 119 Bukit Merah Lane 1The stew in a claypot accompanied by a pretzel, wasn’t anything to write home about, said B. And the pretzel was more hard than chewy.

avocado shake! Salut Coffeeshop, 119 Bukit Merah Lane 1Dismissive of the beer and the exorbitant prices of other drinks, B brought over some avocado shakes from the Alexandra Village hawker centre.

A coffeeshop filled with un-coffeeshop-like food isn’t new but is something fun that we’d like to see more of. While Singaporeans love to flock to the newest eating place, quality and value-for-money are what will continue to draw returning customers once the shine (and instagram-worthiness) was worn off.

Where to find good reasonably-priced French food in Singapore?

Before I left Singapore, there was a good and cheap French stall in a kopitiam at 269 Queen Street called “Le Cuisson”. Sadly for fans of French food in coffeeshops, they are now “La Cuisson” at Prinsep Street – proper French grammar, proper restaurant space, and proper bistro prices.

And there was the reasonably-priced Le Bistro at the Singapore Indoor Stadium – that’s closed shop as well.

Le sigh.