Saturday 17 December 2011

My Mom's Nonya Laksa Recipe

Nonya Laksa

My mum, who was born and bred in Katong, is pretty well known for her Nyonya Laksa and even movie stars like Joan Chen crave for it when ever she steps into town.
So here it goes.  If you use cheap ass ingredients or skip a step, it won't be right.  If you live somewhere with no fresh coconut milk, you MUST move out to another town that has it!  Lastly, if you pass this recipe around I will kill you.  Just between you and me, Chef Jean Georges ( who incidentally opened the Restaurant at the Hotel Meriedian in Singapore ) came by before he opened up Spice Market in NYC and got this recipe from me.  So feel good about it, as only you and the 3 star chef has it.  That's about it folks.

My Mom’s Nonya Laksa Recipe

Ingredients for Rempah/ Spice Paste
2 thumb size pieces of fresh turmeric/ kunyit, peeled
10 slices of galangal
25 pieces dried red chilies, soaked in water to soften (or 1/2 to 3/4 packet of the ground chili paste of a large packet)
7 candlenuts (buah keras/ kimiri)
2 tablespoon of belachan/ terasi
400 gm shallots (small onion)
6 stalks of lemongrass/ serai, tender white part only, chopped
1 tbsp of ground coriander
*60 gm of dried prawn, soaked in water for 30 minutes and then ground fine.

Method for cooking Rempah/ Spice Paste
Grind all the ingredients for the Rempah first.
Heat up wok with about 250ml of oil and fry ground Rempah for about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes in low fire. Remove from heat and cool.
*Add the ground-dried prawns at this stage and keep frying. Also add the last bit of water that was used to the prawns. Use about 1 to 2 cups of each. The secret in cooking this lies in having patience.
As you are frying, add a tablespoon at a time, the thick coconut milk until 1/2 of that quantity is used (please reserve the other 1/2). By this time, also add 4 stalks of Daun kesom and keep stirring. Slowly add the thin coconut milk and keep stirring to make sure that no lumps form. Let this soup boil (while continuously stirring) for about 30 minutes and add salt to taste. The final step is to add the remaining thick coconut milk to thicken the soup. Do this on medium heat for a few minutes and then switch off fire. DO NOT COVER POT!

Ingredients for Garnishing:
700 gms bean sprouts (blanched in hot water for exactly 1 minute, then transfer to iced water bowl)
1.5 kg fresh rice vermicelli (Laksa noodles)
1 kg big tiger prawns (cooked and shelled) reserve 1 to 2 cups of water from pot for Laksa soup
1 or 2 cucumber (skinned, remove seeds in center, then julienne)
2 ozs. Daun kesom (polygomun or ram-ram), which needs to be cut into hair-like slivers
2 oz bean thread soak in boiling water
200 gms ground red chili (Separately, grind chili and add salt to taste. Place in a bowl for people to help themselves)
Fish cake (pleeeeze buy the premium one and not the cheap horrid chewy ones)

Coconut milk (Please make FRESH, not blooming packet things!):
1.5kg to 2kg fresh grated coconut (reserve the liquid from inside the coconut)
3 liters of filtered water
First squeeze without water for thick coconut milk, then second squeeze with water.


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Katong Laksa, need I say more.

When I was growing up at Rose Garden in Katong, one of the highlights was eating laksa either at Roxy Theatre or at the corner of Ceylon Road.  The other highlights were staring at cute Katong Convent girls and feeding my face with Nonya Kueh Salat.  So here it goes, these were the 2 original "Katong" laksa places in existance at that time, yes, only 2!

Laksa Lemak or Nyonya Laksa is a type of laksa with bee hoon or rice vermicelli, served with a fish based gravy, with dried  shrimp and rich coconut milk.  How lemak the laksa is depends on the amount of coconut milk used in the gravy.  Katong laksa falls in this category.  The toppings are fresh shrimp and sliced fish cake served with sambal chili and fresh daun kesom or laksa leaf as garnishings.  The Peranankan version does not have cockles or shredded chicken but stalls these days offer the cockles or hum which is  Hokkien thing!

Janggut Laksa

Clockwise from top left : Palace Theatre, 49 East Coast Rd, Roxy Theatre, Palace Theatre.

OK homies, let's start with the main Pimp Daddy of them all, the first laksa stall in Katong.  Mr Ng Juat Swee better known as Janggut was selling his laksa carrying his pole with metal buckets over his shoulders around the Marine Parade beach area in the 40's.  He was born in the Fujian Province , a Hokkien, moved to Singapore in his teens and married a Peranakan and this explained his Nonya laksa.  He would cut the noodles from the beginning so that it would be easier to use a spoon, a unique trait to Katong laksa.

Ng Juat Swee or Janggut standing in the centre during the early 80's with his brother Chwee Seng on the extreme left.

They called him Janggut as he had hair growing out from his mole below his chin.  Janggut means beard in Malay.  The Peranakans give everyone a nickname; one of my Aunts is Hitam because she is dark, another one is Chekgu beacuse she's a teacher, another one is Tempang beacuse she is lame!
Anyways, this was the original name for his laksa and everyone in Katong called it Janggut Laksa!  It was also known in Chinese as Jiadong Laksa which means Katong Laksa.

When his younger brother Chwee Seng was about 23, he helped Janggut sell laksa on a tricycle around the streets where they lived on Marshall Road and in front of the  bungalows by Marine Parade beach.  They also then rented a stall at 49 East Coast Road in the late 50's and opened the stall with his family and called it Marine Parade Laksa.  It was later registered as Marine Parade Laksa in 1963.  His rent was a whopping $30 a month then!!  Customers would also order the rojak in the same kopi tiam and would buy kuehs next door.  It was truly the neighbourhood food hangout.

Heng working at the coffee shop as a kid when Janggut was around.

Heng in 2011 with less hair at his coffee shop in 49 East Coast Rd where he worked when Janggut was around.

I spoke to botak Heng, the coffee shop owner's son, who was only a kid working in the coffee shop and he told me his family allowed Janggut to take literally the corner of the shop facing Ceylon Rd.  He would sell on Sundays and Mondays and his younger brother Ng Chwee Seng sold the rest of the days.  Janggut passed away in 1986 at the age of 85.  His kids never followed his trade.

Nancy moved across the street to 51 East Coast Rd to start 328 Laksa.

When the rent was raised, they closed the shop down for 2 years.  In the meantime, the space was taken over by the present lady owner Nancy of 328 Laksa.  She was only there for about 1 year and moved across the street to 51 East Coast Road to start her own chain.

The present Prata shop at 57 East Coast Road where Chwee Seng's kids worked.

After a 2 year break, the Ng family finally started the stall again in 1998 at 57 East Coast Road up the street under the overhead bridge that connects to Roxy Theatre.  They shared the coffee shop with a popular duck guy.  Rent was about S$1400.  It was run by Chwee Seng's kids Miss Ng Sway Hong and her brother Ng Kok Soon.   Chwee Seng did open another stall in Bedok in 1978 and is run by his 3rd son Kok Wee.  They finally closed the 57 East Coast Road stall as rent sky rocketed (what's new you damn landlords ) and moved it to Roxy Square in 2000 and opened the Queensway Shopping Centre stall in 2005 making it 3 outlets.  We all wished that they stayed in the beautiful shop houses but rents now are crazy and so the most feasible thing for them was to move to the newer food centres or in a small mall.

The new location of Janggut Laksa in Roxy Square in Katong still gets the regulars who live around there.

The Original Katong Laksa

Can you smell the gravy?

The Queensway Shopping Centre outlet has a younger crowd.

Mdm Ng, Janggut's niece, is at the Queensway outlet most of the time.

Janggut Laksa

So in a nutshell, the oldest laksa in Katong was called Marine Parade Laksa or Janggut Laksa and now known as The Orginal Katong Laksa.

Roxy Laksa

Roxy Theatre in Katong.
Roxy Laksa, somebody slap me!

The other original Katong laksa started a couple of years only after Marine Parade laksa.  It was called  Roxy Laksa as it was situated in Roxy Theatre across the street from Marine Parade Laksa.  Mr Lim Kiok Seng opened it in 1952 and had a cart parked outside in the alley way on the left of the Theatre.  He later moved inside after the theatre was renovated to the back at the canteen, and the Shaws who ran the theatre never charged him rent and just made him pay for the water!  Something you money grabbing landlords can learn from and help the little guys.  It was Janggut that taught Mr Lim how to make his version after they opened about the same time.  Talk about helping each other.   I remember slurping down some laksa every time I saw the Sound of Music, which I saw 8 times.  Yes, I was in love with Julie Andrews growing up as there was nothing much to do in Katong in those days and you don't see many white women walking around Katong eating Kueh.

Roxy Square where the old Roxy theatre used to be.

A great new location for the Roxy Laksa with the lagoon in the background.

Daisy and Mike Lim who now run the stall.

Mr Lim Eng Hock, the son of the Kiok Seng expanded the business to army camp canteens in the 1970's and then passed it to his son Lim Swee Hong better known as Mike.  

Roxy Laksa then moved to East Coast Lagoon Food Centre in 1979 to make way for Roxy Square.  Mike uses fresh squeeze coconut and the best sea prawns in line with the original recipe and only makes the rempah or spice paste on the day itself.  No it's not out of a box unlike some 5 star hotels I know who charge $30 a bowl for that instant crap.

Freshly cut  sea prawns all ready to go.

Mike with the magic potion.

Daisy his wife adds the fresh daun kesom to my lunch!

Martha Stewart came in 2010 to the stall to shoot her show.  You will never be able to make this in New York baby! 

I bet you Martha Stewart is trying to figure out how to make this.  Honey, stick to your chicken noodle soup.
They serve the original Peranakan recipe of fish cake and prawns only but do offer cockles for the die hards.  No cutting corners.  I remember turning up at 7am in the morning and he was preparing the gravy for the day from scratch!  I did beg him for a bowl then and got one to start my day!

So now you know the real Katong laksa story.  There are only 2 original Katong laksa stalls and only these 2 are the real deal.  Nothing else;  don't buy pirated laksa!

Mdm Ng Sway Hong, your chef at Janggut's in Queensway.

I was just down having a chat with Ng Sway Hong, Chwee Seng's daughter, at Queensway as she manages the stall there.  It was like talking to family as we are from Katong and she was more than happy to set the record straight in her humble way.  Her customers called her that day and told her I was snooping around her Roxy Sq outlet which I find hilarious because this is what Peranakans do, they always keep a tab on everyone and you thought only the Mafia had a network!  We call it 'kaypoh which means 'busybody'.  Needless to say,  a bowl of laksa was waiting for me and she also managed to let me try her chicken curry with bread which was shiok and buay tahan (for my foreign friends it means  'It kicks ass!).

Gentleman, this is your chef. at Roxy Laksa and grandson of the founder and not some hired help from a town you can't pronounce.

Mike the grandson of Roxy Laksa  still cooks for you as I don't dig a bunch of Chinese nationals cooking my laksa; what do they know, they cant even cook their own sorry ass lard filled Chinese food let alone our OWN sophisticated Peranakan food!  I'm sorry but it's true.  He also uses the good ingredients and doesn't stinge on them.  His gravy is not instant from a box drain water and has a punch.  This is his ONLY stall so support him people as he's one of yours!  He is the last of the dying breed we appreciate so much.

Being from Katong, I take this very personally and want to give credit to the real people who busted their asses for 60 years coming up with this dish and feeding me when I was a kid with ADD (at that time they just called me energetic and gila ("mad" in Malay), ADD sounds more sophisticated and polite).  So slurp it up and stain that shirt you are wearing with some real Katong Laksa gravy and wear it like a badge of honour.

Here are some of the other players in the game that came later.
George Lim's father worked for Janggut and he opened a stall in Chai Chee in 1982 and is the only one that has registered his stall name "Katong Laksa".  He now is in a coffee shop at 1 Telok Kurau Rd with the famous  Golden City  Carrot Cake woman.

328 Laksa is a huge chain owned by Lucy Koh and her husband.  They are on the opposite corner of the old Marine Parade Laksa at 51 East Coast Road!  She has a bunch of outlets scattered around the island and the most visible chain.

49 Laksa at 49 East Coast Road is at the original Marine Parade Laksa stall and owned now by Heng who worked there as a kid when Janggut was around.

The Original Katong Laksa or Janggut Laksa
- 50 East Coast Road, Roxy Square #01-64
- Queensway Shopping Centre #01-59
Miss Ng (Janggut's niece) : 9622-1045

Roxy Laksa
48 East Coast Lagoon Food Village
Mon-Fri : 1030am - 9pm, Public Holidays : 830am - 9pm
Closed on Wednesdays
Mike Lim : 9630-2321

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Sunday 11 December 2011


Cendol has always been one of my favourite desserts here.  It originated from Indonesia and the word ' jendol ' in Javanese means 'bulge' or 'bump' which refers to the green wormy bulgy like jello!
This dessert exists in South East Asia including Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and of course Indonesia.

The Singapore and Malaysian versions have red beans in it.  Don't ever mention that to any Indonesian as it is a sin to put red beans.  The Teochew people did that!  I prefer the original Indonesian version with no red beans.  You can keep your beans.

How to Make Es Cendol Part 1

Cendol Recipe :-
30 pandan leaves, roughly chopped (aka screwpine leaves)
100 gm green bean flour
1/2 tsp alkaline water
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
650 ml water

Put chopped leaves, water and whiz in a blender. Strain to get 625ml to 650ml of pandan juice.

Combine pandan juice and green pea flour in a mixing bowl. Stir well
to mix before passing through a sieve.

Saturday 10 December 2011


The Original Tau Kwa Pau in Katong, home of the Noisy Nyonyas!

The previous locations at the junction of Joo Chiat Rd and East Coast Rd. They are now at Dunman Food Centre, Onan Rd.

The "original" Tao Kua Pau shop was on the left corner and the fake one is in the right corner dirty coffee shop.

The shop front in the kopi tiam of the previous location in Joo Chiat.

Growing up in Katong, you can't help but have the taste of Tau Kwa Pau etched in your brain.  It was originally across the street where Mary's Corner now is which serves the fake ones!  Mr Chew's dad a Teochew, started it in 1959 and says it was a Teochew/Baba invention. 

Mr Chew doing his thing dicing the filing.

It's a deep fried Tofu pocket and the filling is made of diced cucumbers, boiled eggs, deep fried yam cracker and deep fried fish balls.  The fake ones are just made of a whole tofu with a cross shaped cut and filings scattered on top.  That S&*T don't cut it for me, it MUST be a pocket tofu so you can hold it.

They sell about 600 a day.

The sauces served with it is a braised duck sauce (the shop also sells Teochew braised duck)  and the other a red chili sauce with green chilies inside.
Make sure you tell the shop NOT to cut the tofu as it's better in it's whole form uncut so you can eat it like a burger.
You are now ready for heaven. Trust me, it's better than a Big Mac.

They cost only $2.40 for a pair (last I saw) which is half the cost of a latte at Starbucks and I bet it tastes better too.
They have 3 menus: breakfast  2, lunch 4 and dinner 6... I'm just kidding!
So look no further as this is the only Tao Kwa Pau shop in the world!  Welcome to the real Katong.

Nothing like some Kopi Ping with it.

Tuesday 6 December 2011


The Tour de France has always been just a vision to me since I was a kid growing up in Siglap on the east coast of Singapore.  One afternoon whilst I was having my busy day of coffee and watching CNN,  a lady walked in to buy a print and asked me what I was doing that summer of 2005.  I told her I wanted to go see Lance Armstrong win his 7th title.  She smiled and asked if I wanted to work during the Tour; it was a no brainer.  A month later I was shooting Lance Armstrong with his then girlfriend Sheryl Crow in St Etienne!! This is how it all started and has been going on every July.  So don't call me in July as  I'm shooting straight men in colorful spandex going up mountains with shaven legs.

Lance, warming up with Sheryl Crow and his kids in St Etienne, 2005.
Here it goes.  The Tour is 23 days with 2 rest days in between.  It's never the same route every year and always covers the Pyrenees and the Alps.  It can start outside France and weave its way into France and always finishes on a Sunday in Paris.  For example, the Tour starts in Belgium next year and is there for 3 days before it hits France.  The daily stage races start about 11am and end about 430pm.  So your  schedule is usually have breakfast at 8am ,  drive to the start by 10am to have another bite and wait for the start.  When they go off, you drive about 200km to the finish which would be about 3 hours down the road.  You then get stuck in a jam as all the roads are closed by the arrival town.  You look for parking and walk about 2 km to the finish line which is packed already.  After the race you get stuck in another jam going out of the town to your next hotel hopefully not too far.  By the time you get to your next hotel, it's about 8pm-9pm.  You do this about 23 times.  Welcome to Le Tour!!

Your love pad; a typical room during the Tour booked through Logis de France.

You might get lucky and stumble on a great hotel when you're driving around.

Hotels will be the nightmare for you in terms of availability, location and the P Diddy luxe factor!  The route is usually announced in November and it's a mad scramble for rooms.  The Tour would have already booked for the 3000 personnel way before that so it leaves you pretty much with nothing close to the start and arrival towns.  Don't worry people, I will hook your ass up!

I use these 3 sites :  :  this is for the both the normal hotels and some smaller boutique hotels. : for bed and breakfast hotels and even some larger Chateau like properties. : the most luxe P Diddy factor site impress yo lady type pad but it's limited to the more popular areas.  You can book through the property's website directly.

For the mountain stages, I usually book and try the ski resorts directly as they have a listing of the rooms and lodging on their websites.

As for car rentals I use or
Book a GPS but I still find maps (Michelin only) useful as it also helps you look at alternative routes if you want to chase the peloton.  Get an unlimited (I logged 3500km the last time) plan and pick it up from the train station or town you're starting from.  As for the final car drop off, I usually drop it off at the train station the stage before Paris so I don't have to drive it up to Paris.  TGV train tickets can be booked on the  As everyone will be on the train to Paris after the time trial you must make a booking for about the 7-8pm train as the time trial ends about 5pm.

A good way to watch Le Tour if you can't afford to spend 23 days away from your Big Macs and Starbucks,  just do the last mountain stages (about 3 days)  and then the time trial before Paris and of course Paris on Sunday.  Most of the race is decided on the last mountain stages and time trial anyways.  This will only be a 7 day trip for you.

The crowd at the start of each stage.
So now you have an idea of the route and the hotel booking sites.  What's the strategy for booking the hotels?  There are various ways you can do it.

1.  Book the hotel the night before by the starting town so you can roll up and watch the start the next day.  You can then chase the peloton using an alternative route and wait for them to pass and drive off again to another spot to catch them.  You would then need another hotel at the finish that night.  But I usually prefer to get to the next start town so I can cut down on the driving the next day to the start.  As the stage finishes about 5pm, by the time you get out from the jam it would be about 7pm and if you're lucky, you drive an hour to your next hotel in time for dinner.

2. Another way would be to book a hotel in between stage towns so you can use that as a 2 day base and stop your girlfriend from bitching about changing hotels everyday and keep that relationship.

3. For the mountain stages, you don't have a choice but to book the finish towns of the ski resort at the  mountain finish.  This is because the roads are all closed early morning and you have no way up the mountain the next day but to bike or walk your booty up 15km with your wine and cheese and your girlfriend moaning by your side!

The Tourmalet Mountain stage in the Pyrenees.

Luz Ardiden in the Pyrenees.

The mythical Alpe D'Huez Mountain in the Alps with a million people.

A spread at a truck stop in Lourdes.
You will not be disappointed with the food on Le Tour.  Big tip, do not ask them where the MacDonald's are if you want to enjoy your trip and not get thrown out of the country.  Even in the most simple Logis de France 60 Euro room, a great meal will always be waiting for you.  A dinner set would be about 18 Euros.  The more elaborate P Diddy Chateaus would be about 25 Euros - 40Euros.  As for breakfast,  the hotel usually serves very simple coffee and bread/jam  and some cold cuts.  If you want to look for a Starbucks, you got to be the biggest idiot in the world.  Yes, the meals are way cheaper than Marina Bay Sands and you don't have young Russian girls walking around.

My goat cheese salad in the Pyrenees.
Duck and rib Cassoulet a speciality in the Toulouse area.

Entrecote, my favorite steak on L e Tour.
The marches are the way to go when you're waiting for the race to start as you can taste the specific cuisine from the region.

A crepe from La Creperie in Forcalqueur in eastern Provence
My Provencal salad in Forcalquer on the way to the Alps.

The breakfast in my little bed and breakfast near Toulouse.  This was a rarity! It's usually a croissant and coffee.
Don't forget your instant Tom Yam noodles too in the mountains to stay warm!
My Yakun Singapore style half boiled eggs with soy and white pepper; yes, I brought them all the way to France!