Archive for August, 2007

Syed Alwi Yong Tau Foo

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I LOVE Yong Tau Foo. It doesn’t matter which variety: regular YTF, Ampang YTF, Hakka YTF; I love them all. If my surname was Yong, I’d name my child Tau Foo, just as a tribute.

Yong Tau Foo (which is the Cantonese pronunciation, Mandarin “niang dou fu”—thanks, Van!) literally means “stuffed tofu,” with the stuffing made out of fish paste, although sometimes, it’s mixed with pork. Somewhere along the line, someone must’ve figured out that you can stuff pretty much anything with the mixture; and now, you have stuffed brinjal/eggplant, chillies, bean curd ‘puffs’ (tau pok), lady’s fingers (okra), bittergourd, mushrooms, etc. There are also deep-fried items like wantons and bean curd skin, as well as meatballs, cuttlefish and sausage-like things. Finally, you can also add vegetables, together with noodles of your choice.

Syed Alwi YTF

One of my favourite stalls in Singapore is at the corner of Syed Alwi Road and Jalan Besar. I’ve been eating here for about 12 years now. I don’t remember exactly how I came across this place, but I’m guessing it was on my first visit to Deskar Road to do research on red light districts. (I think there’s an idea here. “Eating Your Way through Singapore’s Red Light Districts” sounds like something a lot of tourists will enjoy. I’ll pitch it to the Singapore Tourism Board if the opportunity arises.)

Syed Alwi YTF

Order pegs with table numbers on them. Clipped to your bowl after you choose your items.

Although this is supposed to be Hakka YTF, it neither comes with yellow noodles, nor does it come as a fixed selection of items. Here, you can pick any number of items, and you can have it dry, in a clear broth, or with laksa soup.

Syed Alwi YTF

Take a bowl, fill ‘er up, and enjoy!

My order will almost always have two pieces of brinjal (Best brinjal you’ll ever taste in YTF. Deep fried and delicious.), two lady’s fingers, and two slices of bittergourd. The other four pieces depends on my mood. But the soup choice is pretty much a given: clear broth, with watercress. The flavour of the watercress permeates the soup, making it richer and more complex. Full-bodied. With hints of arugula. It’s good, trust me.

My seven-year-old niece, who’s a finicky eater, had some tonight and proclaimed, “it’s tasty!” Praise doesn’t come any higher than that.

Syed Alwi YTF
If you get ten pieces or more, it’ll come to the table in a bowl the size of a small basin.

Oh, just one last thing. If you go late at night, and happen to be at a table next to the old man with one full, and 11 empty bottles of Tiger Beer, and he’s calling out to you really loudly in goodness-only-knows what dialect, don’t worry. He’s a harmless fixture there. Just wave and smile. And tell him I sent you.

Syed Alwi YTF

Hakka Yong Tou Foo
Fu San He Coffeeshop
Corner of Syed Alwi Road and Jalan Besar
Open 3:30p.m. to 3:30a.m. daily, closed on Sundays

The satay here is also worth trying, in particular the pork satay. They give you the old-style Chinese peanut sauce that’s pretty rare these days, with minced pineapple in it.


George Nelson Bubble Lamps

Sunday, 12 August 2007

George Nelson (1908-1986) was, together with Charles and Ray Eames, one of the founders of American modernism. His best-known furniture designs have all become icons of mid-century modernism, and include the marshmallow sofa, coconut chair, and platform bench. He also created these boldly graphic wall clocks for Howard Miller:

George Nelson Ball Clock

George Nelson Sunflower Clock

Although he was trained as an architect at Yale, he became extremely well known as a graphic designer, an industrial designer, an interior designer and exhibition designer. He was the design director at Herman Miller from 1945–1972, where he also pioneered the practice of corporate image management, graphic programs and signage.

George Nelson Herman Miller Poster

In 1947, George also created the “Bubble Lamp” line. Inspired by a self webbing material used to mothball ships in New York, he was convinced it would be perfect for lighting. He made a metal frame, tracked down the source of the webbing material and by the next day he created a big glowing sphere and the Bubble Lamp was born.

Bubble Lamp Group
George Nelson Bubble Lamps made by Modernica. Available at Pomelo Home in Singapore.

Here’s a description from a 1968 Howard Miller sales brochure, that reads like it could’ve been written yesterday:

“Airy, lighthearted “Bubbles” designed by George Nelson, make lamps and lighting fixtures that are so effective and functional in today’s contemporary settings. Their pleasing shapes are fashioned in sturdy, light-weight steel and a special translucent white plastic. The “Bubbles” will always cast a soft, even light.”

Howard Miller manufactured the lamps from the early 1950s until the line was discontinued in 1979. But Modernica has faithfully re-issued the Bubble Lamps to the exact specifications using the original Howard Miller factory tooling.

The Nelson Bubble Lamps are now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA).

George Nelson Bubble Lamps

The George Nelson Bubble Lamp collection comes in Saucer, Ball, Cigar, Apple, Pear, Criss Cross, Lantern and Propeller shapes, and includes table lamps, pendant lamps, sconce lamps and floor lamps. Materials: Steel skeleton, self-webbing soft plastic polymer. Made in USA.

(George never actually named the different lamp designs and they were simply given numbers by Howard Miller. A large Saucer lamp was simply sold under “Bubble Lamp H-727,” a large Ball lamp was sold under “Bubble Lamp H-725”.)

Sources: Wikipedia,, DWR, AIGA. Photo links to Flickr users Sweet Juniper, Hot Funk, Nailmaker.

Sand Worm Soup

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

I’ve already been a bit tardy at adding new posts to the blog. It’s been a crazy week. And some nights I come back from work, and I crave for a warm, comforting bowl of soup.

One of our meals in Guangzhou was at a place that served Panyu cuisine. Actually, I never really found out what characterizes Panyu cuisine, other than they sterilize your utensils in a wok right at the table:

Sterilizing Tableware in Guangzhou

The restaurants that don’t do this, serve table settings shrinkwrapped in plastic. As we all know, nothing says “hygiene” more than shrink wrap.

At the place in my previous post, they had these sand worms. And I thought they looked, well, interesting. (If there are any marine biologists reading, please help me identify these critters in the comments section.)

Sand Worms

Curiousity got the better of me, and I was sure these things aren’t endangered by a long shot, so I ordered up a bunch. Our waitress called over a girl to clean them, a task which the girl did quite deftly.

She’d pick up a worm, and hold it underwater in a basin. Then, using a long, thin stick (the Malay word ‘lidi’ describes this best), she’d shove it through one end of the worm, and the entire contents of the worm would exit the other end in a little black cloud.

I’m taking a wild guess here, but I think these worms swallow large amounts of sand, and filter out anything nutritious, because the primary component of sand worm innards is, surprise, surprise: sand.

Cleaning Sand worms

We then asked what the best way to prepare them was. “In soup, with white radish,” the waitress replied with great conviction. So, all righty then, Sand Worm Soup it is!

Sand Worm Soup

As you can see, the body of the sand worm is essentially a long, ribbed prophylactic (visible by clicking for larger photo).

And now, the million-dollar question. “What does sand worm soup taste like?”

Uncannily like white radish soup. As with bird’s nests, sea cucumber, frog’s glands and the countless other things that Chinese folk enjoy eating, the worms themselves were disappointingly bland as well, and slightly crunchy to the bite—somewhat akin to the texture of bamboo pith. Why can’t any of these things taste like foie gras or truffles, or wagyu beef?!

The waitress came over to inquire how the soup was, and we told her it was sorely lacking any flavour. “It is?” she said, genuinely surprised. It was then that she confessed to never having eaten the damn things before. Lovely. We instructed her never to recommend that dish to anyone ever again.

She must’ve felt bad about it, because she later brought over a plate of watermelon slices on the house. Not to sound ungrateful, but I think they were Panyu sand melons, the red parts tasted exactly the same as the rind.


I’ve found out that these worms are Sipuncula, Sipunculoidea, Sipunculida, or sipunculid worms. Commonly known as peanut worms, or in China and Vietnam, as “Bibi” worms. They are also found in Singapore waters and there’s a lovely picture of them here.