Can you describe a typical day in your life for us, Mrs Lee?
Typically nobody calls me Mrs Lee. My friends call me Rosie and at my shop, Aunty Lee’s Delights [www.pinterest.com/ovidiay/aunty-lees-delights], people call me Aunty Lee. You know, like on the bottles of Aunty Lee’s Amazing Achar and Aunty Lee’s Shiok Sambal. My picture is on the bottles, you know!
So Aunty Lee, let’s start with breakfast?
At home or eating out? If you know my Singapore (www.pinterest.com/ovidiay/aunty-lees-singapore) you know how easy it is to eat out. Nina tries to make me eat oatmeal with fruits. But if there are newly ripe mangoes or papayas or bananas it is not so bad. Nowadays we don’t get so many fruits. My late husband, ML, always got so many fruits from our garden. I used to laugh at him for talking to the trees, ‘if you don’t give fruit I will chop you down’. But sure enough the trees always had so much fruit. And now I’m the one people laugh at, for talking to his pictures. But then I always get my answers, like my dear ML always got his mangoes, so who knows?
So are mangoes your favourite fruits?
Oh, I love mangoes. But my favourite fruits, very hard to find nowadays are the wild pulasans. These are like rambutans, only sweeter and juicier and the flesh does not stick to the seeds. And then there is durian, that people love and hate. One of my friends told me, if you have children who want to marry foreigners, ask them as a test to eat durian for you. If they eat, that shows either they have been in Singapore long enough to know what they are doing or they really love your child very much.
I see…so, about your typical breakfast?
Typically I like to go to the kopitiam or local coffee shop for the Kaya Toast Set. I don’t like it so much but it is unofficially Singapore’s national breakfast set meal. Kaya toast is toasted bread with butter and kaya, a jam made from eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan.
Why don’t you like it? Why do you eat it if you dislike it?
Because my homemade kaya is much better! The kopitiam ones are too sweet or not enough pandan—but I have to keep eating theirs to make sure mine is still better. And the set comes with half-boiled eggs that I eat with soy sauce and pepper and hot tea, coffee or Milo.
The best kaya toast is brown and crunchy with lines on it from the charcoal grill, I still remember them from the old-school coffee shops in Katong where I grew up. A few of them are still there, the kind with ceiling fans, marble-top tables and wooden chairs like they were back in the 1950s. Nowadays you can also get it in modern shops. Like now everywhere you can find soy pudding. It is not the same as the old fashioned tau huay but it is better than nothing I suppose.
Tau Huay or soy pudding is also a breakfast dish?
Oh yes, one of the best! But I’m talking about traditional Soya Bean Curd, dou hua in Mandarin and tau huay in Hokkien,which is not easy to make—even for me. Tau huay should be very silky with a warm heavy slipperiness. Most people eat it with added sugar syrup but I prefer it topped with a little soy milk. People say that eating tau huay daily will give you a smooth, white complexion. I must say that even today people compliment me on my complexion so maybe there is something in that! Oh and the best way to eat it is by dunking a you tiao (crispy deep fried dough fritter) in it. The light salty crispiness provides the perfect contrast.
Some of my favourite memories are of eating you tiao with my late husband. ML would order hot Oolong tea and we would dip our dough sticks in bowls of piping hot peppery Bak Kut Teh or ‘meat bone tea’. He liked his hot peppery soup with a bit of sweetness to it and preferred Bak Kut Teh made with easy to eat prime ribs. I like a really spicy broth made with braised pig knuckles, the meat tender and springy with a slightly translucent, gelatinous texture. It is best eaten with white rice and thin sliced red chilli peppers in soy sauce on a lazy Sunday morning. But it is not a dish to be eaten alone. It is a good thing that Commissioner Raja also likes Bak Kut Teh!
You can read more about Aunty Lee in Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials, the second book in the “Singaporean” mystery series, published by HarperCollins. The first book in the series is Aunty Lee’s Delights.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 6 p.m. eastern on October 3 for the chance to win a copy of AUNTY LEE’S DEADLY SPECIALS. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.
About the author
Since dropping out of medical school, Ovidia Yu has been a copywriter and one of Singapore’s most popular playwrights (thirty plays and slightly fewer awards) with short stories, novellas and a children’s fiction published in Singapore, Malaysia and India. Aunty Lee’s Delights, her first mystery featuring busybody widow Rosie ‘Aunty’ Lee, was published to good reviews in America last year and the next book, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials will be available from 30th September 2014.