I think about food. A lot.

Not just because I love to eat: I also think that food is politics, history, culture, and the best lens through which I can learn about the world.

I've been lucky to have eaten extensively across the world. I've also worked on several cookbooks. Now, I write an occasional food newsletter, obsessively review tacos, and develop recipes that are at once traditional and outright absurd.

    • The One About Scallion Pancakes

      I have a weird story about scallion pancakes. It goes like this.

      Around this time last year, I was walking down my street in San Francisco when a woman waved something at me. I thought she needed help with something, so I went closer. Instead, she clicked something (she was waving a torch, the kind you ignite gas stoves with), and she held the flame in my face.

      I had no idea what she was doing.

      She said, "I'm going to burn you!"

      "Why?" I was really confused.

      "Because you're Chinese."


      That's what was happening. Until that point, I had largely avoided the worst of that stuff. I had no idea what to do. A bus arrived. I got into it.

      As I was leaving, she kept pointing it at me, and she said, I'm also going to burn your dog! She is.. also Chinese!

      I know she wasn't well.

      I know that she needs help.

      But I didn't know what I would do when that happened to me, finally.

      Not much, maybe other than a lot of crying. I got to take time off work. I had therapy. I talked to a lot of people. I thought often of the moment, of what had happened, and I don't remember anything else about her now (I am face blind, that helps). If I saw her again on the streets (this happened around the corner where I live), I would not recognize her. But I remember the flame that she briefly lit, and how it changed everything about my life and my experience of the city that I had, up until that moment, thought of as home.

      I don't think of her very much now. But it comes up when I least expect it. For example, when I took out a package of Trader Joe's Taiwanese Green Onions Pancake.

      Now, it's probably a perfectly fine product for most people, but it's going to be forever remembered in my home now as The Time I Had Trader Joe's Scallion Pancakes and Absolutely Lost My Shit.

      Somehow, the act of eating a frozen scallion pancake had unearthed all kinds of.. feelings. Mainly, why the hell am I here? There's racism, and there's frozen scallion pancakes! I would never accept frozen pancakes for any meal back home! Least of all scallion pancakes with COCONUT OIL made for WHITE PEOPLE, that aren't even flaky or layered.. or good!!!

      I was inconsolable.

      My wife never buys them anymore. She calls it my crying pancakes.

      (We really like this one. It doesn't make me cry.)

      My pancake nervous breakdown, that probably wasn't really about pancakes, but about immigration, identity, immigration, anxiety, concern about the state of the world and my personal safety, led me to book a flight back to Singapore.

      More than anything else, I just needed to know that I was going to have the safety and comforts of home in my family house with my parents and with food I like. Where I was never going to have to eat anything frozen, ever. So I did that, shortly after my pancake breakdown.

      And the first meal that I had when I got there was a scallion pancake. From here. Freshly made. By hand. Not frozen. Available for breakfast. For a buck or something. It was really good, and I did not cry.

      But my parents could not understand why I so desperately wanted to eat a scallion pancake. It was not something I would crave, or ask for. It's not even really... Singaporean at all.

      I could not explain how: between two scallion pancakes, one frozen and one fresh, laid the entire spectrum of my sadness and grief as well as my happiness and joy. I get to be queer, autistic, and to be with the person that I love. But I also get fires in my face, and frozen scallion pancakes that make me cry.

    • Half Boiled Eggs Recipe

      Now that I live so far from home, I have to make my own half-boiled eggs. Half boiled eggs are not the same as soft boiled eggs: they come out of the shell almost in a liquid form, not in the shape of an egg that is starting to firm. So it's less cooked than a typical soft boiled egg.

      Growing up in Singapore and Malaysia, this was a typical breakfast food. Half boiled eggs were really just vessels for soy sauce and white pepper. Eat them with kaya toast, with a large slab of butter (at least 1cm of butter).

      There are lots of recipes for this online but here's what I do.

      • Bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil
      • Turn off the heat
      • Gently lower 2 medium-sized, fridge-cold eggs into the water
      • Cover
      • Leave it in the water for 7 min for medium sized eggs, add 1 min if you like it less runny

      For larger eggs, try 8-9 min with fridge-cold eggs.

      Use a spoon to crack all around the eggs, and then pour into a small cup. Use a spoon to scoop up anything left on the shell. Add as much or as little light soy sauce or white pepper as you like.


    • Indonesian Dinner Parties

      I've been on Mastodon. Quite a bit. Somehow, over there I've started continued doing what I was doing on Twitter: talk about food. But not just talk about food. I've been reminiscing about the food culture that I left, and how much I miss it. I realize now that growing up in Southeast Asia and living in a few parts of it and seeing almost all of it repeatedly (except East Timor, which is not at all), I've experienced a wealth of people, foods, food culture, and general deliciousness that I'm learning now is rather unique.

      Back in that part of the world, it was just food. Not Asian food. Not Southeast Asian food. Just food. So in Othering myself by being an immigrant, I've had a lot of time and opportunity to really think about what this means.

      Today, I said on Mastodon:

      i think about this when i go to dinner parties and people are like 'this dish was delicious' and the host is like 'oh i'll send you the recipe it's super easy it only takes 20 min!' and that's something that is fine


      in indonesia or singapore the conversation would be 'this was delicious' 'yeah it's my great grandmother's recipe it took 50 hours to cook and i'm never going to give you the recipe' and everyone is like 'thank you for sharing it with me i quake in this complexity'

      Like everything on social media, part exaggeration, part truth.

      This was, in particular, a comment on the difference in food culture that I see. Many people prioritize simplicity and convenience where I now live, which is quite different from where I grew up and where I lived.

      A photo of a person hovering over a large banana leaf full of Indonesian food with many colors

      I have more thoughts on this from the resulting discussion. Most of it is about labor, ingredients, and food ways, but also, damn I miss that nasi and I miss those dinner parties.

    • My Singapore List

      Food is extremely subjective, and in Singapore it's a national pastime and passion. The following lists are based on my tastes. Other people may disagree, and you may want to do further research based on your own dietary preferences.

      If you're from Singapore, resist the urge to tell me I missed your faves: I'm prioritizing picks that I think tourists will find more accessible. I don't expect anyone to travel to my corner of the woods to find the best of something.

      (Or, get this list in one single Google Maps list)

      Singapore Dishes you should try

      1. Laksa: Sungei Road Laksa, Janggut Laksa, Wei Yi Laksa (my absolute fave laksa but the lines are.. long. I waited 60-90 min the last few times I went, and they sell out before noon. definitely one of the most 'local' and 'old school' of the bunch. This is the laksa I grew up eating), 928 Yishun Laksa
      2. Chicken rice: 'what's the best chicken rice' is an explosive question in Singapore. Here are my my picks: Tian Tian (Bourdain's recommendation and has a line to show for it), Ah Tai (similar to Tian Tian, with a less long line, in the same building), Sin Kee (my fave Cantonese style chicken), Tong Kee (my fave roasted style chicken rice), Feng Ji
      3. Chwee kueh: a Teochew breakfast delicacy made of steamed rice cakes (different from idlis, they are more.. glutinous and starchy) served with a delightful turnip / chillies relish. I like mine at Bedok Chwee Kueh @ Chinatown Complex, Jian Bo Shui Kueh, Pek Kio Chwee Kueh. This is one of the more unique foods that I can't really get many other places
      4. Congee / porridge. Many, many styles of congee in Singapore. I like Zhen Zhen, Weng Kiang Kee, Ah Chiang, Imperial Treasure
      5. Nasi lemak (sometimes halal, sometimes not, depending on the stall you go to): Nasi Lemak Ayam Taliwang, Uptown (for Malaysian style nasi lemak, which I love), Dickson Nasi Lemak (take-away only), Mama Lemak, Pak Mandor, Owen Road Nasi Lemak
      6. Har jeong gai (fermented shrimp paste coated batter) and other distinct styles of fried chicken wings: Ah Tan Wings, Eng Kee, Ban Leong Wah Hoe, No 5 Emerald Hill (go here if you want booze in a bar in a hidden away spot behind busy Orchard Road, with gorgeous old world architecture. The wings are great. The drinks are middling (just have a bottled beer or something), there are better bars in Singapore but it's a unique spot for chicken wings, bottled beer and beautiful historic architecture
      7. A large 'zichar' meal. If you're familiar with the 'dai pai dong' in Hong Kong, zichar is the Singapore equivalent. I always like Kok Sen, JB Ah Meng (hot take: skip the chilli crabs that tourist blogs / videos tell you to go to, and come here instead. Get the white pepper crab, 'san lou' beehoon. It's cheaper and better), Wok Master, Maddie's Kitchen (where I always eat if I'm in the Orchard area), Zhenyi for vegetarian option. Every residential neighborhood will have its own good zichar but I think this list of spots will give you a good introduction to it
      8. Soy sauce chicken (hot take: skip the 'cheapest Michelin meal in the world' (very middling after their Michelin star expansion) and go to a better stall, Ma Li Ya chicken or Fragrant Soy Sauce chicken
      9. Indian rojak (rojak means 'mixed'. Kind of like a salad, but most things are fried and very tasty): Siraj, Habib's, Haji Johan
      10. Fishball noodles or minced pork noodles (very similar: dry noodles with soup on the side. Fishball noodles come with... fishballs. Minced pork noodles come with.. minced pork. Sometimes the lines are blurred): Soon Wah, Hock Lee, Ah Ter, Ah Huat Minced Meat Noodles, Liang Seng
      11. Char siu and other Chinese rotisserie: Roast Paradise, 88 Hong Kong, Fook Kin), Foong Kee
      12. Curry debal and other Eurasian food: Quentin's
      13. Henghwa food: Ming Chung, Xing Hua Family Restaurant (there's a chain called Pu Tian that you'll see in malls all over, it is pretty decent if you've never had this food, but these spots are better). Heng Hwa / Xing Hua food is food from Fujian, but coastal, and therefore a lot of seafood. I really like it and think it's one of the more unique cuisines you can get here
      14. Lor mee: Keng Heng Whampoa Lor Mee, 86 卤面 Lor Mee, Feng Zhen Lor Mee
      15. Braised duck rice and duck noodles or goose rice and noodles: Jin Ji, Tong Kee, Chuan Kee, Sean Kee
      16. Prawn noodles: River South Hoe Nam,Don Don Prawn Noodles, 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles
      17. Yong tau foo: Xiu Ji, Yong Xiang
      18. Hainanese curry rice: Beo Crescent Curry Rice, Loo's Hainanese Curry Rice
      19. Mee rebus (halal): Afandi Hawa
      20. Mee soto (halal): HJ Waliti HJ Mazuki
      21. Mamak food especially mee goreng: Hajjah Jamillah Rajmohamed Muslim Food, Hassbawa, Kassim Stall
      22. Singapore-style Hokkien mee. Different from KL Hokkien mee. Singapore Hokkien mee is 'white' and not 'black'. also uses copious amounts of pork lard, but it's more 'broth'-based rather than 'dried' (although it isn't a soup). Hard to describe, but I love this stuff: Blue Star, Hong Heng, You Fu, Prince of Hokkien Mee
      23. Wanton Noodles: Ji Ji, Bei-Ing, Wei Min, Eng's, Ah Wing's
      24. Roti prata (halal): Prata Saga Sambal Berlada, Mr & Mrs Moghan, Sin Ming Roti Prata, any of the Springleaf Prata restaurants (various branches)
      25. Nasi Padang / Minang (halal): Putra Minang, Minang House, Pu3
      26. Vegan-friendly Hakka Thunder Tea rice: Hakka Thunder Tea Rice at Margaret Drive, Queen Street Thunder Tea Rice, The Thunder Tea Story, Traditional Hakka Rice
      27. Kaya toast and coffee: Heap Seng Leong (order the butter coffee too!), Tong Ah, Chin Mee Chin, Ah Seng (Hai Nam), YY Kafei Dian. In a pinch, Ya Kun and Killiney (all over the city) are good too but these places are more old school.
      28. Dimsum, like everything else, has 'street' and 'fancy' version and it's here where I truly believe that splurging for dimsum is a better experience than the 'street' version (usually made a factories. Have you seen how much work it takes to make dimsum?! Also we have some really good dimsum spots). My pick for dimsum is Peach Blossoms (call, make a booking for lunch; I believe it's on par with some of the best dimsum in HK) and Ji Xian
      29. Bebek goreng: if you can't make it to East Javan in Indonesia, bring East Java to you. Fried duck with lots of spices is a Surabaya / Madura specialty and one of my favorite dishes anywhere in the world. Thankfully, we have good ones in Singapore too (we also have a large Indonesian population) and my favorite is Pak Ndut.
      30. Really good coffee: even though I live in the land of Sightglass and Four Barrel coffee, Tiong Hoe (and coffee shops in Indonesia) is probably the coffee I miss the most

      Greatest hits hawker centres to go to for generally great food

      If the list is too overwhelming, literally go to any of these hawker centres and eat anything you find interesting. If there's a line, join it. Anything called 'market and food centre' is a hawker centre with an attached wet market (no wildlife. Just good fresh produce, fish, meat. Generally pretty clean).

      1. Old Airport Road Food Centre (breakfast, lunch and dinner, especially good for dinner)
      2. Maxwell Food Centre (breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper)
      3. Pek Kio market (breakfast, early lunch. Many stalls here are Teochew in origin, run by very old folks, closes very early)
      4. Haig Road (breakfast, lunch). Best option for halal food
      5. Tekka Centre (breakfast, lunch and dinner). The main hawker centre in Little India. One of my faves. Lots of halal options and regional Indian, even Sri Lankan, options. Chinese food at the back. Get freshly made prata. idiyappam, appams, good prawn noodles, and lots more. Wet market at the back is spectacular and is a chef's dream. There's a stall that only sells banana leaves. Another that only sells eggs. Follow the sound of smooth jazz music in the wet market and find yourself at Chia's, an excellent vegetable shop that chefs shop at
      6. Chinatown Complex (breakfast, lunch, dinner). I always say that this single building has more great Chinese food than San Francisco has Chinese restaurants. There are different versions of it, and it's massive. Come in the mornings for excellent mostly Chinese breakfasts. Try one of the last remaining handmade 'sachima' shops. Late night, claypot rice, craft beer. If you love seafood, very good, very affordable seafood in this section of this hawker centre in the evenings. Too many to name, but there are dozens like this clustered together around this stall.
      7. Bedok 85 (good for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. One of the most famous eating spots in the east of the city)
      8. Bukit Merah View (breakfast)
      9. East Coast Lagoon (good for supper, and 'on the way to and from the airport' meals as it's very close to the airport). Nice outdoor hawker centre that is probably the hawker centre to go to if you want a jovial, outdoor exotic hawker centre feel, especially if you've never been to one. Most of the stalls are quite good
      10. Tiong Bahru market (good for breakfast and lunch). Very popular foodie-ish hawker centre.

      Best spots for vegetarians and vegans

      1. New Fut Kai for veg versions of things like laksa and other 'Chinese Singaporean' foods
      2. Whole Earth for a delightful veg version of Singaporean / Chinese / Thai / Malaysian food
      3. VeganBurg: Veganburg started right here! I love the vegan chilli crab burger
      4. Herbivore: really good Japanese veg food especially for veg yakitori
      5. Almost all Indian places in Little India will have vegetarian options, but especially Murugan Idli and Mavalli Tiffin Room and Gokul and Kailash Parbat

      There's more I want to post on this topic, especially the great regional Indian, regional Chinese and other foods you can get in Singapore, but this is a good starter list just for food somewhat unique to Singapore (and Malaysia).

    • Waiting for dimsum

      Whenever I can, I make the 45 minute walk to Chinatown in San Francisco to Dim Sum Bistro, my favorite 'cheap dimsum' spot. Sometimes, I take photos too.

      I say this every chance I get: dimsum isn't always 'cheap' food. Dimsum can be fancy, and should be fancy, because to make large amounts of high quality dimsum you need a very large team. 'Nice dimsum' is a treat. It's a birthday meal, it's a treat you give your parents, it's going out to linger over nice tea and good ingredients to snack on dishes you probably won't make at home.

      Cheap dimsum also has a place. But it should still be fresh and of relatively high quality. The menu should be large and the 'skin' of dumplings shouldn't be too thick. On these metrics, many of the other Chinatown dimsum places don't pass muster for me. But Dim Sum Bistro always delivers. So I'm glad it's here, and I'm glad I can have good, cheap dimsum.

      a scan of a black and white photo of a machine in a dimsum shop that takes orders and payment. on the wall, menu pictures and items and a person leaning on the wall

      Dim Sum Bistro
      675 Broadway (Map)

      (Photo taken on Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, Kodak T-Max 400, developed in Xtol stock for 12:15 min @ ISO 1600)