Those of you who know me in real life and are friends with me on facebook know that apart from talking about my girls, I post a lot about cooking. I made a vow to expand my palate this year, and my friends P & K have taken me under their wings with the goal of doing so. When I got an email from Food Playground a few weeks ago offering me a cooking class if I would blog about the experience, I leaped at the chance. Apart from the class, I have not received any compensation, and all opinions expressed in the post are my own.
A Food Playground class starts with everyone sitting around the table with the two instructors (ours were Helen and Lesley). We decorate our hats and introduce ourselves to break the ice. My class had nine students–one expat apart from myself, and seven tourists.
Helen and Lesley talked about how Singapore is a foodie’s paradise, and something all Singaporeans feel strongly about. (Disclaimer–I’d say most. I’m sure there are some Singaporeans who say inflammatory things about food, much as I do when I tell people that while I’m from Boston, I don’t like lobster, clam chowder or any other seafood dish we’re known for.) We talked about the differences between hawker centres and food courts. I couldn’t help but to start dying of laughter when they innocently asked if people had seen tissue packets on seats in hawker centres and what did they do when they saw them before explaining how we chope a table. (Translation….chope–reserve, usually with a packet of tissues, although some people are totally insane and just leave their cell phones on the table. I generally chope my table by leaving Elanor there.)
We were shown three pictures of food and gave us six name tags to identify the foods. I knew two of them (including carrot cake, which leaves all ang mohs baffled because that’s totally NOT carrot cake in our home countries) but I accidentally led all three groups astray on the third. This just goes to show that living here for four years means that while I know more than I did in 2010, I still have so much to learn.
Having broken the ice, we followed Lesley and Helen into the kitchen and washed our hands. On a long counter, all the ingredients for the three dishes we were to cook that day–Chicken Satay, Char Kway Teow, and Kueh Dadar. Food Playground believes in cooking with the instructors and your partner, rather than staring at a recipe throughout the class, so we began with some preparation and the demonstration of cooking the Kueh Dadar and Char Kway Teow. Then we moved to our stations and began cooking in earnest.
We began with the Kueh Dadar, which involves some tricky batter swirling on an extremely hot pan. The goal is then to slide the pancake onto your plate and to roll it with the filling in the style of a spring roll, and to make all your pancakes uniform in size.
My partner, B, and I began to chat with each other as well as the couple across the table. It was so interesting to hear tales of their adventures–B is far more well traveled than I, and the couple was on their 5th trip to Singapore. As a stay at home mom, I spend most of my time doing kid related stuff, household stuff (like grocery shopping), seeing my friends, or at the gym—I don’t talk to many tourists. This is very different from my life in Boston. I spent 1997-2002 working in hotels and tourism, so I interacted with a lot of tourists and was used to thinking about Boston as a tourist destination. Obviously, I know that Singapore is a tourist destination, but I am still something of a tourist here myself, rather than an expert.
Once we finished preparing our Kueh Dadar, we began to make our peanut sauce. Here we are with our mortars and pestles, while B is prepping the ingredients I’m grinding. Obviously, this is a lot of work—our teacher recounted that her grandmother used it as a punishment, and when you asked if you were done yet, the answer was no at least three or four times–and I felt lucky to switch off between pounding and chopping with B. Otherwise our arms would’ve been limp noodles by the end of it.
B and I talked about our careers, and I learned a lot about the process of becoming a doctor in the UK. I talked a bit about my littles, and how my blog came about.
Here I am, taking threading chicken onto my skewers quite seriously as my instructor talked to our table about all the variations you can do on satay (ingredient-wise). She described having satay parties. I immediately thought this would be a most excellent way to celebrate a birthday or other event. Fourth of July satay party anyone?
I had to share this picture because it makes my mouth water. Mmmmmm chicken satay. I think I need an indoor electric grill like this. B and I took turns basting the satay before moving back to the station to finish off our peanut sauce.
How delicious does that look? I can assure you, it tastes even better. B and I were exceedingly proud of ourselves. The peanut sauce was fantastic. The green in the top left corner is Kueh Dadar.
Our final dish was the Char Kway Teow. I was so surprised by how easy and fast it is to make (at least when everything is already pre-measured and ready to go)–maybe 3/4 minutes of active cooking once all the ingredients were ready. In the photo above I’m adding my sauce to the dish to finish it off. B and I took turns cooking and taking photos with each other’s phones.
Here is all of our food. I think B and I did a great job (as did everyone else–there wasn’t a bad looking dish in the whole class). The groups all finished at the same time and we moved to back to the classroom to eat and enjoy. Good food was accompanied by good conversation. B and I even added each other on Facebook.
Throughout the class, our instructors took pictures, and those pictures were made available to us on facebook via a link. The recipes were shared with us in the same email that contained the link. Almost everyone also took photos via our cellphones or cameras (which the instructors were totally fine with). Any photo with the Food Playground logo at the bottom is their photo, and the others are mine (although some were taken by myself and others by B).
Supporting Food Playground doesn’t just help you cook delicious food, it allows you to support the community.
Our social mission behind Food Playground is to create meaningful and dignified employment opportunities for seniors and stay-at-home mothers in Singapore by hiring them as cooking instructors and helpers. People like Lesley and Helen are excellent examples of stay-home mums who have so much to contribute! By doing this, we effectively help them monetize their knowledge and passion in cooking for sustainable income and better social engagement which is becoming increasingly relevant given our rapidly ageing population and challenges in getting stay-at-home-mums and active seniors back into the workforce.
Overall, I was extremely pleased by the opportunity, and I have every intention of going back to take their Chicken Rice class. Maybe even with Elanor–they said that they absolutely have had parents with their children (even as young as Elanor) attend the class–as long as I’m willing to have her as my partner.
My one minor complaint is that while we are emailed the recipes, they don’t come with any of the possible substitutions that our instructors discussed. Things like substitutions if you couldn’t find certain ingredients back in the home countries, shortcuts like using chunky peanut butter in the peanut sauce for the satay, or alternative approaches like cooking chicken satay in an oven if you did x y and z. As we didn’t have physical recipes or pens to take notes about those substitutions, I remember that they did mention that these things were possible, but not the specifics.
However, Helen and Lesley did invite us to email Food Playground with questions (like a request for advice on a substitution) when we were attempting to recreate the dishes. All my communication with them as been prompt, and I expect that answers to questions about substitutions will be as well.
If you like cooking and want to know more about cooking Singaporean Food–whether you’re a tourist, an expat or a local–you should book a class. You will meet some great people, enjoy the leadership of locals who love the kitchen, cook and then eat some delicious food.
More about Food Playground—–Winner of ‘Best Enrichment Experience’ at Singapore Experience Awards 2013.