COOK­BOOK CRITIC

Quaint farmer’s mar­kets hawk­ing pun­nets of hand­picked berries and ra­di­ant heirloom toma­toes are of­ten what come to mind when think­ing of farm-to-table con­cepts. Pamelia Chia goes lo­cal and sets her eyes on rose ap­ples and ji­cama at our hum­ble wet mar­kets.

Epicure (Indonesia) - - CONTENTS -

Wet Mar­ket to Table

AT A GLANCE

Sin­ga­pore does not usu­ally come up in con­ver­sa­tions about coun­tries that cham­pion food sus­tain­abil­ity.

It’s not with­out good rea­son; ac­cord­ing to 2018 statis­tics from the Agri-food and Ve­teri­nary Au­thor­ity of Sin­ga­pore, we im­ported 90 per­cent of all our food. As less than one per­cent of our land­mass is arable land, it’s a long road ahead to achieve an is­land­wide farm-to-table move­ment.

That didn’t deter Pamelia Chia. A food sci­en­tist by trade, Chia made her first foray into pro­fes­sional cook­ing when she joined Can­dlenut, the first Miche­lin-starred Per­anakan res­tau­rant in the world, in 2016. Now based in Mel­bourne with Wex Woo, her agri­cul­tural sci­en­tist hus­band, Chia’s pas­sion and knowl­edge for re­gion­ally sourced fruits and veg­eta­bles has cul­mi­nated in her first cook­book.

Wet Mar­ket to Table is a deep dive into the shrink­ing, and of­ten, un­ex­plored world of Sin­ga­pore’s wet mar­kets, with sto­ries of mar­ket ven­dors in­ter­spersed among her recipes. Chia has sep­a­rated her recipes into 25 in­gre­di­ents: un­der-the-radar re­gional fruits and veg­eta­bles that were com­monly fea­tured in the recipes of our fore­fa­thers. Chia breathes new life into these tra­di­tional in­gre­di­ents through in­no­va­tive and mod­ern recipes.

ROAD TEST

For those who es­chew wet mar­kets for the air-con­di­tioned com­fort of Cold Stor­age and the con­ve­nience of Red­mart (my­self in­cluded), Chia’s book of­fers a plethora of prac­ti­cal tips on nav­i­gat­ing wet mar­kets, such as the best tim­ings to visit and how to in­ter­act with ven­dors. Within the colour­ful pages are heart­warm­ing pro­files of ven­dors she knows, in­clud­ing young fish­mon­ger Jef­frey Tan from Beo Cres­cent Mar­ket and vet­eran butcher Ed­ward Tan from Ko­van Mar­ket.

The level of de­tail that Chia goes into shar­ing each in­gre­di­ent’s traits, his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural back­ground is laud­able, in­clud­ing tips on how to se­lect, store, pre­pare and cook them.

Many of her vis­ually cap­ti­vat­ing recipes blend these tra­di­tional in­gre­di­ents with mod­ern, Western cook­ing tech­niques, re­sult­ing in in­no­va­tive dishes like the Up­side-down Lo­tus Root Cake and Salmon Laab Carpac­cio, which made it dif­fi­cult to nar­row down what I wanted to try. Ul­ti­mately I set­tled on her Sai Ua Scotch Eggs and Palak Pa­neer Gnudi. Chia’s scotch eggs uses fin­ger­root in the sausage mix­ture, a gin­ger-like root com­monly used in Thai and Ja­vanese cui­sine that lends a sub­tle spiced, lemony flavour to dishes. It added much needed bal­ance to the heav­ily sea­soned meat, and I thor­oughly en­joyed cut­ting into the runny yolk nes­tled within. (Her par­boiled egg tim­ing is spot-on.)

The next in­gre­di­ent I tack­led was Mal­abar spinach. While not a ‘true’ spinach, the pur­ple stemmed leaves are of­ten used as a sub­sti­tute in In­dia, and are a nat­u­ral thick­ener and sport a cit­rusy flavour. Her Palak Pa­neer Gnudi is a play on North In­dian saag pa­neer, sub­sti­tut­ing the In­dian cot­tage cheese with Ital­ian-style gnudi. While her home­made cheese recipe was a fun ex­per­i­ment, I found the spinach sauce to be slightly lack­ing – my guess would be the omis­sion of cer­tain In­dian spices like garam masala.

I looked to a dessert next and found my­self star­ing down a metic­u­lously crafted Jambu Galette. I had only had crunchy and as­trin­gent raw jambu be­fore, and was sur­prised that cook­ing it re­sults in a smooth ten­der­ness akin to cooked ap­ples.

VER­DICT

I never thought I would see the day that I would be ex­cited to cook with in­gre­di­ents like taro or cel­tuse, but Wet Mar­ket to

Table does an ex­cel­lent job of spark­ing in­ter­est in these oft­for­got­ten in­gre­di­ents. This book will help read­ers to look at these in­gre­di­ents with the same rev­er­ence as a roma tomato and wa­ter­melon radish. It is a must-buy for any­one look­ing to ex­plore the dwin­dling but fas­ci­nat­ing world of wet mar­kets.

Wet Mar­ket to Table re­tails at $44.90 from Epi­gram Books. #01-01, Huggs-epi­gram Cof­fee Book­shop, 45 Maxwell Road On­line: shop.epi­gram­books.sg

Au­thor Pamelia Chia

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