It is always a pleasure to find like-minded people who appreciate the same food one likes or favors. I happened to ring up a friend in Singapore and made sure we had some time to break bread and catch up after our usual breakfasts in Hanoi just early this year. Mal Das is a lawyer in Singapore and now heads the Singapore Council of Women’s Organizations (SCWO) as president. As spontaneous dates go, we found ourselves with our other friend Laura Hwang and met up at SCWO offices on Waterloo Road.
These two women are busy, very busy. Yet they found time to have dinner at this obscure place called Torte, also at the SCWO lot, a government property in the center of town with a garden and tall trees. Perfect summer weather, cool and clean air, dining al fresco.
We started with a ginger cinnamon iced tea, and sinful buffalo wings with a creamy blue cheese sauce. Then we started to talk about food safety. I just came from a meeting where food safety was being discussed and the fact that even far or poor areas in Africa are conscious about it. People demand to know where their food comes from. After finishing the chicken, we all asked ourselves—where could it have come from?
Jason the chef replied: Brazil! Chicken from Brazil? That’s almost 30 hours away by plane. Why Brazil? Jason makes sure of his sources. Organic vegetables are from Australia, milk is from New Zealand, chicken is from Brazil.
Then Mal and I had the scallops with Arborio rice, while Laura had a mushroom omelet. Yes, no shitake mushrooms from up north. They also make sure their mushrooms are from safer sources. What is happening with the world? Truly, food safety is a primary concern.
Though I was looking for local food that evening, Mal assured me that we would at least have local desserts. And out came the PulutHitam (which means black rice in Malay), cold and topped with vanilla ice cream. PulutHitam is like a black rice pudding but Jason puts longans and palm syrup in it too. As is that was not enough, he also brought out Crème Caramel (leche flan for locals) but topped in a glass with Gula Melaka (panocha syrup). Naturally sweet, and indulgent but healthy.
The third dessert course would have been the Chocolate Torte, after which the place was named. It is Jason’s secret dark chocolate recipe of a block of dark chocolate that is firm enough to spoon, yet creamy to the bite (I should know by now as I took it home to have at breakfast the next day). Jason recommends topping it again with ice cream. I had the privilege of taking home two portions which I am watching right now at room temperature to check how long before it melts into oblivion.
And after these courses, Jason surprised us with 14-year old plum wine that he makes only from Japanese green plums. Yes, he has been making them and storing them in jars, and served only for special guests. What a privilege. It’s like having French Armagnac, except this is Asian and also homemade—my first time to try aged fruit wine. It is a good digestive, he claims. Definitely friendlier than a grappa or an Averna.
We had fun catching up with these two ladies who I first met at the Asean Women Entrepreneurs Network meeting in Hanoi a few months ago. But breaking bread in their homeland was a different experience. Further, I found out Laura had her grandma’s recipe for Mee Siam, another favorite of mine. And the preparation of which takes two whole days. For executives like Laura, cooking such a specialty is a big event, not to mention expensive if you were to compute her working hours. But we promised to meet up again for Mee Siam soon.
I told them about my friend Doreen who only cooks her Xiamen lumpia during the season when scallions are freshly harvested. And it also takes her two days to prepare the vegetables, the tofu and the wrappers. I never miss the invitation to these lumpia dinners. A lot of work (two days) that we all consume in just about an hour. These are the dinners we live for.
These are the meals, which are priceless. And these are the friends who matter. They can make time to cook a really good meal, and share them with like-minded friends.
But for Mal and myself, we can leave the cooking to these like-minded friends and just be at the receiving end with much appreciation.
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra, Podium, Centris QC mall and Davao City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates and NGOs on sustainability, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org