After moving to Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised to see the rich and vibrant culture that the exotic East had to offer. The realization that Southeast Asia has more to offer than dragons, red lanterns, noodles and chopsticks (not that they aren’t central to the culture) was an eye opening experience for me. I was lucky to experience East Asian culture in the best of environments.
Singapore being a melting pot of cultures and an amalgam of different races and religious beliefs, offers an enriching cultural experience. This diversity translates well in to their food culture as well. This small island state has much to offer in food, in terms of variety and price points. The only constants are the standard of ingredients used and the quality of the food.
For me, the most intriguing bit was the new ingredients I got to sample. One that caught my imagination the most was seaweed. The popularity that this marine plant enjoyed with the masses there was new for me. For me it was like having fish flavored spinach leaves. It comes in various forms. It is consumed fresh in salads, pickled, cooked and even dried especially into wafer-thin strips, which are flavored and sold in packets and eaten as snacks.
Another ingredient which fascinated me and for which I developed a taste, was tofu. The way cheese or paneer is made out of milk; tofu is made in the same way from soya milk- plant milk that is made from dried soybeans. It comes in various forms and textures, from the soft and smooth aptly called silken tofu, to the very firm tofu. It is one of the key ingredients in Southeast Asian cuisines.
On a lazy Sunday, while accompanying my husband to a golf course in Singapore, I came across a salad in a café there, which immediately caught my attention. It was a salad made with tofu and seaweed both in it. Without further ado I ordered it. It was a well curated dish and each ingredient in the salad not only stood out on its own, but also balanced the other ingredients very well, especially the kimchi dressing. The kimchi, not only counteracted the flat taste of the tofu and salad greens but also cut down the strong fishy taste of the seaweed.
The crunchy cucumber and the iceberg lettuce complemented the soft lettuce and cherry tomatoes excellently. If there was any doubt in the mind regarding it being an oriental concoction, then the sprinkle of sesame seed on top of the salad eliminated that.
Overall it was a treat for my palate. It was one of those dishes that will always remain firmly embedded in my memory. I have filed it away safely in my brain, hoping to try it again someday.