Posted on | January 28, 2010 | No Comments
Tiong Bahru Estate is a neighbourhood that I am very fond of. I spent a year living there in a rented 3rd floor walk-up apartment, just after returning from my work stint in Shanghai, China.
Inspired by my stint in Shanghai, I often had friends over for dinner, after spending afternoons and evenings, or sometimes, even days, cooking up various culinary storms featuring the flavours of Shanghai and Sichuan, and these would invariably be washed down with wine pairings of all sorts…
I now live in a different part of town, but do return occasionally, to soak up the old-world charm of the estate with its Art Deco accented pre-war colonial public housing architecture, and of course, the wonderful food that can be found at Tiong Bahru Market.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to do something a little unusual. I had an “Alsatian Wine Brunch” at Tiong Bahru Market.
Now, what is so unusual about having wines with a meal at Tiong Bahru Market? Haven’t people already been doing this for a number of years?
The answer is a simple yes. People in Singapore have been matching their wines with their food at Hawker Centres since the idea was mooted by local wine personalities in the early 1990’s, but, they had invariably matched their wines with all-time favourites like Hainanese Chicken Rice, Dim Sum, BBQ Sambal Stingray, Chilli Crab and other serious dishes usually eaten during lunch or dinner.
This little excursion, would be a little different, as we were going to attempt to match a couple of Alsatian wines with some traditional breakfast dishes, something that was quite unheard of, as most people in Singapore tend not to touch alcohol before the sun sets…
Quite unintentionally, this little brunch also became a sampling of Singapore’s original Chinese immigrant cuisines, covering the Cantonese, Hokkien, and Teochew dialect groups, which make up the majority of Singapore’s Chinese population.
Taking part in this little excursion were, Etienne HUGEL, who runs the venerable house of HUGEL & FILS in Alsace, France, Jenny TAN, who writes the wine column for The Sunday Times, in addition to running THE FOOD CULT, a Food & Beverage Think Tank, and myself, the random academic, who would bring the wine glasses…
Etienne brought the wines, the 2007 Hugel Jubilee Riesling, an intense and racy wine with good ripeness, structure, minerality and palate weight.
This went beautifully with a Raw Fish Salad (which accompanied a serving of Congee, a thick Cantonese style rice porridge), which was made from thin slices of raw Wolf Herring, seasoned with a squeeze of Calamansi Lime, sliced red chillies, finely shredded Spring Onions (Scallions), shreds of ginger, and a lashing of sesame oil, with the freshness of the wine complimenting the citrus of the Calamansi Lime and delicate flavours of the raw fish.
Also well matched with the Jubilee Riesling, was the combination of Fried Fishcakes, especially when dipped in the tangy chilli dip. These included, You Tiao (deepfried dough sticks stuffed with fish forcemeat), Otah (spicy fish cakes), Fishcake and Fishballs. These, however, are technically not a traditional breakfast type food, but all day snacks…
The second wine, the heavenly 2001 Hugel Classic Tokay Pinot Gris Vendange Tardives, was sweet, ripe, slightly voluptuous, yet very elegant, and exquisitely balanced.
This was matched with Chwee Kueh (水粿), a Teochew breakfast snack, which can be described as bowl-shaped steamed rice flour cakes with a topping of finely chopped/diced salted preserved radishes that have been slow cooked in oil. This is usually served with a chilli sauce on the side, and in most cases, when the chilli sauce is combined with the radish topping, the sum becomes greater than the component parts… This paired beautifully with the Tokay Pinot Gris Vendange Tardives, with the sweetness of the wine foiling perfectly with the salty, spicy radish topping.
We also tried the dry version of Hokkien Hae Mee (福建虾面), a dish of yellow egg noodles normally served in a rich prawn and pork broth originating in Fujian Province and brought to Singapore via Penang, Malaysia. The dry version was served with a robust chilli sauce, and topped with boiled pork ribs, a pair of whole medium-sized prawns, a few sprigs of water spinach (Kang Kong), deep-fried shallots, and a few small cubes of deep-fried lard. The robust spicy flavours of the noodle dish were very well handled by the Pinot Gris, which tempered the fire with its sweetness and its vitality.
Finally, we tried the pairing of a few Nyonya Kueh (Straits Chinese or Peranakan Pastries) with the Pinot Gris Vendange Tardives, and happily, the wine managed to compliment Kueh Bingka Ubi Kayu (or just Kueh Bingka), a “cake” made from baked grated Tapioca (Cassava), but was over-powered by the Ondeh Ondeh, glutinous rice balls filled with Gula Melaka (Palm Sugar) and coated with grated coconut.
Etienne HUGEL who enjoyed the whole experience immensely, said: “I am posting this on my blog“, and he blogged about this experience of “Enjoying Singlish & Hawker Centre lifestyle”. Jenny TAN followed close behind, writing in her regular column on The Sunday Times, about our experience at Tiong Bahru with “Alsace meets Asia“, and along the way, recommending the 2004 Hugel Jubilee Riesling as well.
And finally, the circle is now complete, with my perspectives of how the wines matched the food, as my little contribution to this very fun exercise…Copyright © MM - MMXII Daniel CHIA. All rights reserved.