Discover more from Singapore Noodles
A chat with Brigette Woodworth
Plus a recap of the biryani cookalong! 👅
Last Saturday, we concluded our February member cookalong! Cooking biryani together was a suggestion from Devonne - I never thought of having a biryani cookalong because it is a long and intense process, but it turned out to be 3 hours of fun! We were frying onions, deep-frying chicken, toasting spices, and layering rice and chicken in a pot together. And I was so encouraged that those who joined were so game and enthusiastic, and by the end of it, everyone’s biryani looked gorgeous! Here are some photos:
In Taiwan, Devonne (@devniam) whipped up a full meal, complete with sides!! She was preparing them even before our cookalong, so massive props to her! She also has the prettiest cookware ever, just look at her Dutch oven…
In Norway, Lorayne (@qucooks & @loraynetzq) prepared a biryani feast for her friends to have a taste of food from Singapore. She cooked a double batch, which I am so impressed by, because the amount of effort that goes into a single batch of biryani is already immense!
In Singapore, Kailin and Weiqing were cooking while documenting the entire process (you can check out their Instagram Stories @chaitohkueh; they even did a timelapse of the layering process). I met them when they came to Melbourne for a holiday, and they are seriously such couple goals! They cook together at our cookalongs and share them with family and friends after the sessions. (We were wondering how they were going to transport the steaming pot of biryani 😂)
Thank you also Maria and Dawn for cooking along with us, and to Brigette for being my eyes in the kitchen when I was busy demonstrating (nearly forgot the salt in the pot of water)! Brigette is one of the most active members in our community; she cooks regularly from the platform and is a regular at our cookalongs too (she prefers to watch, but takes notes during the session which I think is really cute).
That brings us to the heart of today’s newsletter, my chat with Brigette Woodworth (second from left in the photo below).
Hi Brigette! Could you tell me a little about your heritage and your relationship with food growing up?
I am a third-generation Eurasian. My paternal family was a mix of English and Portuguese Malaccan, and my maternal side is a mix of Irish and Macanese. Growing up, we had lots of curries like vindaloo, curry debal, s’more, shepherd’s pie, and my favourite birthday noodles. This is a dish which comprises fresh yellow mee with lots of fresh prawns, squid, and pork shoulder. Sambal belacan was a constant at every meal, and sometimes cincalok was served with cut chillies and lime juice.
Growing up, Nan (Grandma) allowed me to help her in the kitchen, but most of the time, I watched (I was also sometimes shooed out of her kitchen!). She made a mean crab curry, and it was an eye-opener of a dish to witness. Everything was made from scratch, from the rempah to the killing and cleaning of the crab. There are a lot of overlaps between Eurasian and Goan cuisines in that lots of spices and coconut are used, and this curry that she made was a Goan-style one. Oh, and Nan also made this awesome fish tamarind curry which was so tasty!
When I was younger, I had no desire to learn from Nan. I was exploring the world and loving every minute of whatever freedom was given! But now, I regret not learning from her.
Did you only have Eurasian food at home?
Yes, because Nan was our chief chef at home and did not like other cuisines. Back then, our idea of Chinese food was char kway teow, beef hor fun, or steamed char siu bao. But later, when I dated my husband of Hokkien/ Hakka heritage, I was introduced for the first time to a whole new world of Chinese cooking.
It was confusing, because I had been accustomed to the heavy, spicy, and heady mix of spices of home-cooked Eurasian food. The Hakka food that my husband’s family ate was influenced by the Cantonese style of cooking, which is light, clean, and simple. This type of Chinese food is milder, and you can actually taste the produce, as opposed to food being masked. My eyes were opened to the food culture of his heritage, and I soon fell in love with kong bak and yong tau foo!
Was your mother-in-law the one who introduced you to Chinese cooking?
My mother-in-law was a real trooper – she had her own hairdressing shop, but would still go to the market every day to buy fresh produce. She would cook a meal from her market purchases, leave it in the oven, and leave for work. Her children would heat it up when home, and having a taste, I recall thinking that it was so special, even though it was reheated. Unlike in my household where sambal belacan was a constant, there was always soup in my husband’s household. I fell in love with drinking my mother-in-law’s soups because it was simple, nourishing, and made me feel good. The textures were light and tasty.
There were a few things that she was famous for – her famous Hakka deep-fried pork, chicken in red glutinous wine, and vegetarian chap chye. The latter was exceptional. In preparation, she would ferment her own rice wine till it was a bit stinky before using it in the chap chye. It had no pork, but fermented tofu and her homemade rice wine provided such a strong boost of flavour.
As I watched her in her kitchen, we often had humorous chicken-and-duck situations as I do not speak Cantonese (she’s Hakka but converses in Cantonese), and she does not speak English! It is a pity we did not manage to get her recipes, as she died after 7 years of me dating my husband.
Do you feel that Eurasian food is well-understood in Singapore?
No. Currently, to the masses, Eurasian food is like Indian food because of the heavy spices and abundance of curries. Singaporeans are still not aware of our Eurasian food culture, but I am sure that with time and more restaurants selling our fare, it will be better understood and celebrated. I am optimistic because we are a country of adventurous eaters. The other night, I had Jewish food and it was very tasty, clean, and easy on the palate. Their focaccia bread was flat as it was prepared without any yeast but, topped with green peppers and onions, it was very good. The restaurant was very crowded, and we were able to snag a 6pm slot with only a 1.5-hour window of eating. So yes, more Singaporeans are curious about other cuisines, especially now that most of us are staying home.
With the growing awareness of heritage food and sustainability being a priority, more of us are encouraged and trying to cook local. A lot of private dining experiences have opened up the possibility of marrying other cuisines into our local flavours and dishes as well.
Why have you been so fervent in learning about and cooking local?
I started learning to cook Eurasian food from cookbooks, especially Ellice Handy’s cookbook. It was not difficult for me – Home Economics in school was easy-peasy to me, and my children call me Speedy Gonzales in the kitchen (probably got my genes from Nan!)
My reason for delving more deeply into cooking local is to be able to pass down food heritage from both my husband and I to my children and grandchildren... so that each of them will know of his or her own unique heritage. I will tweak traditional dishes to suit their tastebuds, and at the dinner table, I try and explain what is in the dish and how it was cooked.
It is a pity that more Singaporeans are ordering in these days, because they do not understand how powerful the act of cooking a meal can be. To me, cooking for the family takes pride and effort. It is also healthier and fresher, since it is less processed and you have more control over the seasonings. But most important of all, a home-cooked meal brings a family together over a shared meal. When you cook a meal, the memories of each dish and the shared talks at the dining table forge much warmth and close bonds within the family! 🌈
In other news:
1. March cookalong - We will be cooking flaky curry puffs together for March’s cookalong (UK-friendly time for our UK members)! These are filled with chicken, potatoes, and hard-boiled eggs. The wrapper is similar to Chinese puff pastry, where the layers become visible when you fry the puffs! Sign up here (exclusive to members).
2. Podcast - On the podcast this week, I chatted with Christopher Ng from the Netherlands about how he learnt to make his perfect kek lapis legit and other kuehs (you can check out his exquisite creations on his blog). I loved this conversation so much, it was like chatting with an old friend!
Thanks as always for reading the newsletter, if you’d like to sign up as a member to attend our cookalongs and cook from our library of recipes, click here. Till the next newsletter! ✨