Category Archives: Eat

plusixfive. The traditional trio

By the time I entered London’s supper club scene plusixfive founder Goz was leaving the city to create havoc in Hong Kong. I couldn’t turn a street corner without running into a Londoner weeping in sorrow at the loss of one of their favourite supper club chefs. I met him once, for three minutes – to exchange £5 for a jar of outstanding “proper” sambal. He stopped bouncing only long enough for me to grab the bottle out of his hands. This mad, bouncing, love-the-real-stuff spirit is what underlines everything plusixfive stands for.

Goz started plusixfive in May 2011 (read: coerced at gunpoint by foodaholic and Edible Experiences founder WenLin Soh) when he realised that this was the perfect vehicle to showcase real Singaporean food. He said, “I got tired of fish and chips. I came to the UK when all we had was fish and chips; and Costa was amazing coffee; and Flat White was a description for a paint colour in Homebase. I missed Singaporean food so started learning how to cook it myself, taking recipes off the net and more importantly from my mum. It was ridiculous that all people seemed to know about Singapore was either (a) caning for graffiti (b) caning (and death) for drug smuggling (c) caning for littering in our clean city and (d) caning for chewing gum. Ridiculous to me because in Singapore, food is possibly the most important and central thing to Singaporeans.

IMG_1221A curious incident with a blog post in the night time brought ShuHan (a firecracker graphic designer and chef intent on staying seasonal) into his life; and Jason (eager to showcase his own Peranakan heritage cuisine) was one of the diners at Goz’s first supper club. So plusixfive grew from just Goz to Goz, ShuHan and Jason.

A few weeks ago, under the guise of celebrating some kind of an anniversary, plusixfive, assisted by Javier Leal and WenLin Soh took over the bun steamers at Yum Bun in Shoreditch. For the sweet price of £13 they were serving three buns – ox cheek redang, veg popiah and pork belly – and a beer. It was such a clever idea! They got bun-loving London to try 100% Singaporean fillings without compromising on flavour or tradition.

IMG_1238The pork belly is, or I should say used to be, my bun of choice at Yum Bun. I started with that. It was nice and all but I couldn’t wait to dive into the others. I was completely prepared to be uninspired by the veggie bun – what I fool I was! ShuHan expertly created a typical Nyonya Popiah filling (a Singaporean fresh egg pancake spring roll) with braised turnips, mushrooms and a fiery sweet lime chilli sauce. The “I-can’t-believe-it’s-veg Popiah Bun” was aptly named, juicy and so delicious.

The winneIMG_1220r, by a very small margin, was Jason’s “Ox Cheeky Rendang”. Jason is old school – he’s been known to pound 40 bowls of laksa paste by hand. He picked the rendang as it’s something that is traditionally Nyonya and was his Nan’s recipe. My favourite bun of the evening was a result of 16 hours of hard work over a hot stove. Hunks of meat melted into a rich rempah spice paste and coconut milk in true Peranakan tradition. The luscious result was sandwiched between crunchy cucumber, radish and peanuts in Yum Bun’s doughy pillows.

Goz, ShuHan and Jason have very different cooking styles and techniques but are joined in frustration against what London passes off for Singaporean cooking. I get that.

The longer I have lived away from India the less a “curry” takeaway will fulfil me the way 6 hours in the kitchen over butter chicken does. I know I harp on about the importance of tradition – but that is only so that I don’t help create a generation that cannot make themselves a hot meal, that believes chicken tikka masala came from India, and that Singapore noodles are served in Singapore. Innovation is all well and good, but not at the cost of tradition.

-p

Look out for the cookbook later this year: plusixfive: A Singaporean Supper Club Cookbook (Or How to Subvert Singaporean Culinary Misconceptions, Avert Stir-Fry Calamities, Make Your Nyonya Grandmother Weep with Joy and Other Badass Kitchen Skills)


Read more about plusixfive X yum bun on Edible Experiences

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Filed under Bar food, Eat, Foodie Events, London, Shoreditch, Singaporean, Small Plates, Supper Club

Simple. Nice.

Bombay felt different this time. I recognised it less; missed what it used to be. It was more blasé, less grateful and few had the time for a heartfelt smile. Coffee now costs Rs. 200 at a fancy deli and three girls on a night out wear more bling than a jewellery shop can hold. OK, I exaggerate a little, but only a little. I have nothing against change. The need for change made me change homes and I am probably being very selfish expecting a city to stay the same while I travel the world looking for something different. Still – just this once, I longed for a day when meeting for chai took us to Bastani café and dessert was fresh strawberries and cream at Bachelor’s.

I was definitely not going to get this in Bombay. A request for Brittania’s chicken berry pulao was answered with watermelon and feta salad at a home store’s overpriced café; the average cost of a birthday present was in five figures; and everybody I spoke to was ready to get out of the city.

I did too. I went to Delhi – a city where I spent nearly every childhood summer. Delhi is by no means any more “real” than Bombay has not become, but I knew that cocooned in the home of my family here I would have the time to remember everything I loved about growing up in India. Time almost stands still in the Suri household. It immediately feels like the summer of 1988 and I am once again part of some of the most honest and loving relationships I know. We also all still love food above most things.

We start with chaat (of course): Papdi chaat, dahi bhalla, alu tikis, gol gappa, chhola bhatura and paneer tikki at Shah Jahan Road, Bengali Market, Vasant Vihar A Block Market with old Bollywood songs providing the perpetual soundtrack to our chaat expeditions. My grandfather introduced me to Delhi chaat – my comfort food.

And then I went to Amritsar. Indian food cooked outside this city pales in comparison to the unbelievable deliciousness produced by the kitchens of this ancient city of India. Once I saw the real foodies of Amritsar I was ashamed to call myself one. You have honestly not eaten good Indian food until you’ve dined in Amritsar.

Guided by a fantastic Amritsari, my whirlwind trip started with a “light” breakfast of chhola bhhatura (and you can’t eat just one). We break for jutti and bangle shopping and then get back to business. My only request that I eat where normal people eat everyday. Alu tikki (Rs 7) and chaat (Rs 5) at Brijwasi is followed closely by stuffed kulchas (Rs 10) at Chungi Road and gulab jamuns (Rs 2) at Sharma Sweets. I spent sunset at the Indo-Pak border with over a thousand patriots on either side of the border who came there to feel a little extra patriotic that day.

My final day in Amritsar began with a meal like none I have ever, nor will ever experience anywhere else in the world. The langar at Harmandir Sahib (community kitchen at the Golden Temple) is the greatest equaliser I have witnessed. The massive kitchen is open 24/7 and feeds free vegetarian meals to almost 1,00,000 people each day (going up to 7,00,000 over the weekends).  The kitchen is staffed by devotees who ask for nothing in return except the opportunity to serve and the meals are gratefully accepted by people of all religions, castes and gender. This was a revolutionary concept in the 16th century and in my opinion still is a marvel in a world so consumed with materialism that it allows social status to dictate most interactions.

I probably sound slightly ABCD and to be honest I did feel like an outsider who’s idea of India was shamefully restricted. I allowed the new face of a city cloud my memories of an entire country. But as I ate among strangers, I felt relief. This is also India, it is still home. Simple. So nice.

-p

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Filed under Amritsar, Bombay, Dilli, Eat, Food, Golden Temple, India, Indian, Street food