When Will Supermarkets Stop Providing Plastic Bags?

Supermarket Plastic Bag Charge

Do you have a plastic bag at home that is filled with a lot of other plastic bags? I’m guessing you do, and it’s probably pretty common across households in Singapore. And even though that’s the case, I think many people would be terribly upset if supermarkets and other shops in Singapore decided to stop providing plastic bags altogether (just like at IKEA). I can imagine many ‘aunties’ would be up in arms saying “I need these plastic bags to contain garbage!”

And if you ask individuals (who love their plastic bags) now whether they’d be willing to switch to reusable totes for their grocery shopping so as to be more eco-friendly, you might get the common refrain of “I’m just 1 person. It’s not going to change anything. Everyone else is still using plastic bags!”

Plastic Bags in Singapore

One plastic bag to contain all the other plastic bags

Perhaps we are all missing the point.

We don’t need to get rid of plastic bags like we should be rid of cigarettes or drugs, for instance. Plastic bags do come in useful, such as when we are bagging refuse, or need a bag to throw up in.

What we need to do is to minimize the amount of trash we create, especially plastic one-use trash and also make sure that each plastic bag we use is fully utilized (i.e. don’t throw out a bag that’s only half-full).

And if that bag containing many other plastic bags at home is still rather full, consider bringing a reuseable tote to the supermarket instead. Are you aware that you can get a 10-cent discount if you bring your own bag when you go grocery shopping at NTUC FairPrice outlets (with minimum $10 spend)?

I sure do, and whenever possible, I bring a few shopping totes with me. But what I didn’t know was how much this initiative costs for FairPrice.

I attended a recent forum organized by Young NTUC and ZeroWasteSG regarding plastic disposables, where views and solutions were gathered from the ground to see how we can improve our environmental situation.

At this forum, I found out that while this bag rebate saved some 10 million plastic bags, the initiative also cost FairPrice half a million dollars to implement!

That’s S$500,000 spent in a bid to encourage its shoppers to be more eco-conscious! But I’m afraid that with the self-checkout counters that we see more of these days, shoppers can help themselves to as many plastic bags as they’d like (double-bag, triple-bag, or more?), and FairPrice’s earlier efforts might go down the drain… FAST.

Will any supermarket chain volunteer to stop handing out plastic bags completely? I don’t know, but it looks like they are all waiting for each other to take action first, for fear that this (perhaps) drastic move would send their customers to their competitors instead. So while this waiting game continues, how will Singapore be able to reduce its waste output?

I do think our government needs to take the lead since it organizes a lot of national events that, frankly, end up resulting in a lot of waste (and litter), what with the plastic bottles of water handed out, and all those goodie bags filled with things that we really don’t need more of. I’ve attended a couple of community eco events and received goodies bags with bottled water, pens (why do we need so many pens?!), flyers, notepads, etc. And these are events that want to promote sustainability! Uh-oh.

Souvenir Pen

Plastic pen in a plastic sheath I got after taking a survey about sustainability issues. Hard to miss the irony here.

During the forum on plastic disposables, ZeroWasteSG’s founder, Eugene Tay, shared with us about how plastic waste has become a huge problem for our tiny nation-state. In 2014, the International Coastal Cleanup group in Singapore saw volunteers collecting from along our coastline some 19,000 plastic bottles and over 7,000 takeaway containers, among other pieces of trash which would otherwise have ended up in the ocean, affecting marine life and the food chain. While we as a nation are producing more waste, recycling rates have been stagnant at about 7% to 13%.

Plastic Bags for groceries

Do we really need so many plastic bags?

I think it won’t be long before supermarkets start charging for plastic bags so shoppers will request for fewer bags, or simply bring their own. Perhaps it might have to be mandated by the Government, but it will be a step in the right direction, for sure.

And hopefully, in future editions of the National Day Parade, we won’t need to provide plastic bags in each fun pack – spectators will either head to centralized bins or bring their trash home for disposal. It’s so comical how we still face a problem with littering despite our love for plastic bags and how there’s a proliferation of bins everywhere. If we are to take pride in our country’s state of cleanliness, we’ll have to start taking personal responsibility and stop relying on an army of cleaners.

Also, we need to ensure that future generations get to enjoy what we have now, as climate change is real despite what a certain President will have you believe, and we need to do our part to protect the environment. If it starts by taking and using fewer plastic bags, let’s do it together.

Get $10 Off! UberEATS Singapore Promo Code

ubereats singapore promo code

Food delivery companies foodpanda and deliveroo are definitely feeling the heat with competitior UberEATS on board. I think these companies are burning cash with their marketing efforts. The one with the most cash to burn will be here to stay, while others simply get burned out. Smaller players need not apply. 😀 In this post, I’ll share with you my UberEATS promo codes and whether I’ve preferred ordering food with UberEATS or Deliveroo. Read on…

For $10 off your UberEATS delivery, use this code below. UberEATS will also reward me with $10 when you order, so thank YOU in advance! 😀

ubereats promo code singapore

-> eats-gracet4796ue <-

And here’s the code I used for my second order, ‘cos the first one arrived so late:

Ubereats singapore review

I’m not sure about you, but brand loyalty seems to be in my blood. I take really long to switch from one brand to another. I’ve been ordering food deliveries exclusively with Deliveroo, and it’s not like they’re paying me or giving me free food. I’m just so used to their ordering system that switching to another company’s system is like getting me to abandon Samsung and start using iPhones again. (@_@)

So the reason I decided to give UberEATS a try (and also to blog about them) is not because they’re paying me but because they have this promotion via Groupon in which people pay around $2 and get $20 to spend with UberEATS – an offer that’s too good to resist, obviously. And now I’m able to compare UberEATS and Deliveroo and share with you my verdict on what’s good about each company, and what needs improvement.

UberEATS VS Deliveroo

  1. Menu with PICTURES: UberEATS uses their app almost exclusively (I cannot order via their website, but I can do so on Deliveroo’s website) and the menu comes with pictures for many of the items, though not all. And the pictures really help me save time in deciding what to order. ubereats singapore menu
  2. No Tips Required: When ordering via UberEATS, you’ll see that unlike Deliveroo, it doesn’t ask you to indicate the amount of tips (if any) that you’d like to give the rider. In fact, it is stated “Tips are not included in the cost of your order. Tipping is neither expected nor required”. Of course, if your rider braved heavy rain to get you your meal, offer him a tip or at least a drink when he shows up at your doorstep, lah.
  3. Track Your Rider: I LOVE that UberEATS allows me to see where the rider is and how far he is from me. Of course, it gets a bit worrying when I see that he’s going in the opposite direction with my food (Noooooooo…Come backkkkkk) ubereats promo code
  4. Contact Your Rider: UberEATS doesn’t seem to want to handle customer enquiries regarding orders since they aren’t in the food delivery business only. Instead, you’re encouraged to call the rider directly. I’m not inclined to do this because of safety issues (what if the rider gets into an accident while taking my call?) but if I see that he’s going round and round and seems unable to find the building I’m in, yup, call him I will.
  5. No Minimum Order: Unlike Deliveroo, UberEATS will deliver even if you’re ordering just 1 cup of bubble tea. Deliveroo has a minimum order amount of about S$25 so I don’t usually place an order if I’m dining alone.

What’s not so great about UberEATS is that food delivery takes a REALLY long time. You might be starving when you place your order, and by the time the food is delivered, that feeling of hunger would have long subsided. Good if you’re trying to lose some weight. Give the food to someone else. 😀

ubereats singapore discount code

My first order of the Chirashi Don took 1 hr 1 min to get to me. UberEATS responded with an email that said “We’re sorry your order took so long” and gave me a $10 off promo code to use with my next order. I used it immediately for drinks (bubble tea, in fact) and it took even longer to reach me: 1 hr 20 mins. UberEATS did not send me any emails after that.

With Deliveroo, I get my food faster. And when their riders arrive late, I’m well compensated, e.g. $15 credit for being 15 minutes late, $30 credit for being 30 minutes late, etc. Sometimes my meal becomes entirely “free of charge” because of this. But the bad news is that my food is cold. 😛

Anyway, if you want a Deliveroo discount code, here’s one for $10 off – just order via this link: https://roo.it/gracet3344

How Singapore’s National Culinary Team Is Igniting Talent

This is the third post of a 3-part blogpost series on various F&B masterclasses organised by e2i to connect workers and industry practitioners with industry experts.

Participants benefit from learning best practices, deepening their skillsets and mastering skills in their career to be future-ready.

In October this year, Singapore’s National Culinary Team won two gold awards (and were also crowned overall champion) at the Culinary Olympics held in Germany.

 

About a month after the team returned victorious, e2i (Employment and Employability Institute) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Singapore Chefs Association (SCA), signaling the parties’ commitment to Attract, retain, and develop the workforce for the Retail and Food and Beverages industry so as to build a sustainable pool of qualified and competent local trade professionals; Enhance, broaden and deepen skills for trade professionals to advance their careers and competencies; (and) Equip young culinary talents to hone their skills and be future ready’.

I had the opportunity to witness the MOU signing, which was done very creatively with handprints using food dyes.

MOU signing

The event was graced by Ms. Low Yen Ling, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Trade and Industry.

If you don’t already know, e2i is an initiative of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to support nation-wide manpower and skills upgrading initiatives.

In the year leading up to the competition, e2i worked closely with the National Culinary Team to support their training efforts.

With the MOU, there will be more collaborations to develop and roll out platforms and master classes such as “Competition Training Masterclass for Young Inspiring Chefs” where renowned chef experts will share their knowledge of what to look out for at culinary competitions and how to prepare for them. 🙂

Cold Display Masterclass

A sample of what a “Cold Display” might look like, with every (little) item on the plate coated with gelatin (3 coats in total) – a most tedious process.

On the day of the MOU signing, there was also a Cold Display Master Class conducted by Chef Anderson Ho and a live Cold Display Cooking Demo by Chef Teo Yeow Siang and Chef Alan Wong.

Some 80 young aspiring Junior Chefs Club members, the strategic sub alliances under SCA, as well as students from Shatec and At-Sunrice attended the class.

Chef Anderson Ho

Chef Anderson Ho explaining how the competitions work, and what to expect.

Culinary Student

A (mature) student trying his hand at coating the food in gelatin for a cold display. Age is no barrier when pursuing your passion!

~ What I Learnt From the Olympic Gold-winning chefs ~

  1. Chefs Work Hard. Chef Anderson Ho shared that chefs can work some 12 to 14 hrs a day. When you’re an apprentice, you might even have to brew coffee for the head chef every morning – prepare to be met with a ‘black face’ if you unfortunately forget to brew the coffee one day. During the competition, to prepare the cold display, the chefs worked throughout the night!
  2. Do What Nobody Likes To Do. Volunteer to do things like debone a lamb shoulder or fillet a fish. Chef Ho says he is thankful to colleagues who don’t do these tasks so he got the opportunity to learn how to do them. He also asked us in the audience whether we can catch, kill and debone a chicken or whether we expect it to be packaged nicely (like in supermarkets). *ahem* I’m not so sure about the catching and killing bit but I have experience cutting up a chicken into its various parts: drumstick, breast meat, etc. 😛
  3. Lack ‘Basic’ Skills? Get competition points deducted. If you are supposed to fillet a fish, make sure you don’t end up butchering it!
  4. Do Your Research Constantly. Yes, you can search the Internet for ‘modernist cuisine’. You may not try to recreate anything right now but it gets imprinted in your memory bank. And in future you may just create something based on all the knowledge you have gathered. Remember though that reading without any actual practice in the kitchen is not ‘real’. Get your hands dirty in the kitchen and keep honing your skills.
  5. Always put the team above your own personal interest.
  6. Know the ingredients you work with. For instance, in Europe where the climate is dry, the gelatin you use for your cold display may curl up. If the food stinks, the judge deducts points even though there is no tasting for cold display.
  7. Your food descriptions must always match the display. If the description reads that something is “roasted”, it must not look ‘steamed’ on your display, for instance.
  8. When your Sifu (read: teacher) wants to teach you something, just say “Yes, Chef” to what he tells you. Don’t argue. If he walks away, you end up learning nothing.
  9. Your idea must be refreshing and new. Judges don’t taste the food so it must look good!

What struck me most was how animated Chef Teo Yeow Siang was when he was talking about the competitions and about being a chef:

Chef Teo Yeow Siang

The animated Chef Teo – he REALLY loves culinary competitions!

~ What A Student Had To Say About the Masterclass & His Culinary Passions ~

Shatec student

Jayme Ooi, 23, a Shatec student

When I was in Secondary School, there was an Open House event and I was tasked to cook fried rice. When I saw people of different cultures and races interested in my food and culture, I realized the joy of interacting with people who enjoy the food I cook. Once they tried my fried rice, they became interested in knowing how I cooked it, and the history behind the dish.

After I graduated with a diploma, I realized that what I want to do is to pursue this culinary journey. After I joined Shatec, I found out there’s a lot I don’t know about food. This piqued my interest in pursuing this journey further.

Yes, it was quite tedious to pursue a diploma but I did it on the advice of my parents. But it allowed me to realize this is not what I want. What I really want to do is to prepare delicious meals for other people. At first, my parents rejected this notion, and thought I was wasting my diploma. But I don’t want to live my life doing things I don’t want to do. I want to pursue my goals. I strongly believe that I will make my parents proud eventually.

To my peers, I’d tell them to follow their dreams and passion. Go ahead, don’t be scared. I’m 23, don’t have to take care of a family, wife or child. So this is the best time to pursue what I want to do and I can dedicate all my energy and attention to it.

It’ll help if you take up internships before deciding (or finding out) what you want to study. Get to know the whole economy and how things work. I had short stints at Gong Cha and Ritz Carlton. I never once felt it was a job. I felt each was a place for me to learn a lot of things.

I want to be like these (award-winning) chefs, reach a certain level and inspire the next generation. Now, I’m trying to gain as much experience as possible, absorb as much as I can, like a sponge.

A lot of people think a chef’s pay is low and it is just about working in a hotel every day. If you go in every day to do a job, then you are in a job the rest of your life. If I interact with others, e.g. those in the pastry, butchery sections, I can slowly learn through the years, expand my horizons, and then I can truly take off.

[When asked what he’ll say to folks who are older than he is, but feel they aren’t pursuing their true passions] Age shouldn’t determine what you want to do. If you still have the courage and drive, go for it. If you love cooking, take up a class. Cook for your family. Make your life more meaningful and fulfilling.

In Singapore, everyone wants to be successful. If you are successful in what you are doing, people will take notice. Make some achievements for yourself, get recognized. I think this is the best way to spread the culture.

People are taking more notice of Shatec, At-Sunrice, etc. They take pride in their students and curriculum. It is up to us, the younger generation, to change the stereotypes people have that students here are those who ‘can’t study’. Poly grads also come here because of the energy and the atmosphere.

Now, with this MOU signing and collaborations, we get to meet chefs and witness what’s going on in this industry. 🙂

~

What I took away from this session was the hard work, endurance and continuous ‘skills upgrading’ required for one to be a great chef. As we were told during the masterclass, “Before you slam a chef’s food, recognize the effort that went into it”.

I believe that the students who go for the masterclasses and get infected by the contagious enthusiasm of the chefs in the national team will certainly produce culinary works of art that few would be able to ‘slam’. I certainly look forward to more champion chefs emerging, and for Singapore to retain its World Champion title on the international culinary stage.

~

Read Part 1 of this Series here, and you’ll never look at sashimi the same way again. Then read Part 2 to find out which are the 12 things no one will (ever) tell you about Japanese Green Tea. 😀

12 Things No One Tells You About Green Tea

This is the second post of a 3-part blogpost series on various F&B masterclasses organised by e2i to connect workers and industry practitioners with industry experts.

Participants benefit from learning best practices, deepening their skillsets and mastering skills in their career to be future-ready.

I’ve read and heard so much about the benefits of drinking Japanese green tea that attending the ‘Japanese Green Tea Master Class’ organized by IPPIN, Marumo Mori and e2i seemed like a good way to find out if all the hearsay is true.

After all, the speaker, Mr Nobuki Mori, the President and CEO of (Japanese tea company) Marumo Nori Co. Ltd is of the 6th generation of the Mori clan – the family business has almost 140 years of history since it started in 1877.

As a tea master, Mr Mori is also a 9th level tea examiner (the only one at the 9th level in Shizuoka prefecture, which is famous for green tea production).

During the class, we learnt about everything from how jobless samurai in the past became farmers producing green tea in Shizuoka, to how you may be mistakenly buying Uji matcha that is not actually from Kyoto, to how bottled green tea might not be as nutritious as you expect it to be.

Read on to learn about these insider secrets and lesser-known facts about Japanese green tea shared by Mr Mori…

Japanese Green Tea Masterclass

Japanese Green Tea Masterclass e2i

Tea Master Nobuki Mori

Tea Master Nobuki Mori holding up a teacup which he uses to ‘check’ the color and quality of tea (the teacup has blue circles at its base which helps make the color of the tea more evident)

In this post, I’ve compiled 12 nuggets of information from the class. Besides food pairing with tea, we learnt everything from the history of tea to its proper brewing techniques.

Among my classmates were chefs and even HR personnel from the Paradise Group of restaurants.

Whether you’re in the F&B business or not, if you think green tea has health benefits you’re interested in (weight loss, antioxidants, cancer prevention, etc), such a class might be suitable for you too!

Nobuki Mori

Checking the fragrance of various tea leaves

Japanese Green Tea

~ 12 Things You Might Not Know About Japanese Green Tea ~

#1: Singapore is the 2nd largest importer of Japanese green tea, ahead of Hong Kong and just behind USA! However, we do not consume THAT much green tea – the tea is imported into Singapore and then re-exported to other countries.

#2: If you think green tea originated in Japan, think again. It’s actually from Yunnan province in China. The Japanese word for tea is ‘cha’, which is from the Cantonese word for tea in the Canton province. From the Fujian province, we get ‘teh’, and that’s why we call it ‘tea’ in the English-speaking world.

#3: Interestingly, the ‘original’ way of drinking matcha did not come from Japan. The Japanese learnt it from the Chinese some 1200 years ago. Then the Chinese supposedly abandoned this way of drinking tea. Mr Mori was recently invited by Chinese monks to visit their temple and demonstrate this (lost) way of drinking matcha, in what was apparently an effort to reclaim part of their culture.

Japanese Tea Master

Mori-san weighing out 4g of tea leaves using four 1-yen coins as weights (1 yen weighs 1 gram)

#4: Among its many health benefits, green tea also has anti-bacterial properties. Previously, primary school pupils in Japan washed their hands with green tea, and green tea was also added to tap water as it helps prevent colds.

#5: The process of harvesting and processing tea leaves is a complex one. Harvesting is done by hand or by machine, then the leaves go through processes like steaming, drying, rolling, sorting, cutting, separating, (another) cutting, roasting, blending, packaging together with nitrogen to prevent oxidation, etc. Each tea master will also create a special blend of tea based on his own skill and experience.

#6: ‘Uji matcha’ is world famous but what you think is matcha from Kyoto may not actually be from Kyoto! The Japanese know that it is not uncommon for Nara green tea to be used to make Kyoto matcha. Kyoto is famous for matcha but it has little farmland available so green tea from farms in the surrounding areas also use the “Uji” / “Kyoto” name. As long as the product has even 1% of Kyoto green tea, it can be considered “Kyoto matcha”. It’s hard to get 100% pure Uji matcha as this usually goes directly to the tea ceremony masters.

#7: Gyokuro (the highest grade of green tea) is grown in the shade for 3 to 4 weeks prior to harvest. Good gyokuro tea leaves can be purchased at a wholesale price of 40,000 yen per kilogram. That’s about S$535/kg wholesale. If you want to try good gyokuro, head to Waku Ghin in Marina Bay Sands. Gyokuro tea has a seaweed-like smell, and a delicious umami taste. Unlike Chinese tea which is usually about the fragrance, Japanese tea is more about the taste.

#8: If the matcha powder you wish to buy is ‘cheap’, you should doubt its quality as making matcha is a time-consuming process. The matcha powder should be very fine (about 5 to 10 microns) and that’s hard to achieve with even modern machinery. So what you get in your ‘matcha latte’ here might not be, strictly speaking, “matcha” as the powder used is larger than 10 microns in size.

#9: Green tea is usually harvested 4 times a year, with the first harvest (a.k.a. “first flush”) being the best. In the winter, the tree gathers energy and nutrition and so the first flush green tea leaves are the most nutritious. However, what goes into our bottled green tea usually sold in supermarkets are the 4th flush green tea leaves. Green tea can have up to 5 times more Vitamin C than lemon of the same weight! Unfortunately, bottled green tea contains about 2g of green tea leaves, which are usually “fourth flush”. Those brewed in teapots contain about 4g, and you might get better tea leaves.

Japanese teapot

4g of tea leaves go into a small teapot versus about 2g into your regular bottle of green tea.

#10: Tea is more than just a beverage in Japan, where there is a whole ‘tea culture’. According to Mr Mori, watching your host prepare tea for you is a way of reducing stress while enriching your life. Also, it is a symbol of friendship between people who share that time and space together to enjoy tea. *Even the time spent waiting for water to cool before you pour it over the tea leaves is part of enjoying tea – that time is for conversation with family and friends!

#11: Japanese tea masters place emphasis on cha-do (茶道) which is a way/ method and a philosophy. It is more than just cha-ge (茶艺) which is only about the skills and not the philosophy. For instance, the former requires that you ‘train’ your mind to focus on the tea ceremony, instead of letting it wander.

#12: Marumo Mori’s first retail shop, chagama, was opened in 2014 in central Shizuoka. Within the store, you can try over 60 different types of tea as well as Sencha espresso made using their espresso machine from France!

 Chagama Shizuoka

(bottom right) Sencha espresso at Chagama in Shizuoka, Japan.

~

Interestingly, Mori-san made a comment that if you are in the F&B business, you have to serve food and/or beverage that you don’t like, if your customers like them. It seems that according to the Japanese, the customer experience is very important! And this was most evident during the food + green tea pairing session.

Cold brew Gyokuro tea

Gyokuro tea tastes best when brewed in water that’s about 45 deg Celsius. This retains the umami taste. Here, Mori-san’s translator is holding up a bottled of chilled gyokura tea.

We enjoyed the colorful appetizer below, together with cold-brew gyokuro. The taste became almost secondary, as the presentation had already blown us away.

IPPIN appetizer

Then we had squid on a bed of burdock chips, paired with warm sencha. Squid is usually tricky to eat as it can get rather ‘chewy’. Here, it has been cut into bite-size pieces. I appreciate the thoughtfulness! I’d love to see more F&B businesses being thoughtful as well, e.g. by removing chicken off the bone or de-shelling prawns.

Squid with burdock chips

Squid on a bed of burdock chips

Next, we had fried oysters with yuzu-flavored mayonnaise, and fukamushicha (This tea was ‘invented’ for people in Tokyo, as it allows for a faster brew. Just wait for only 30 seconds) It’s light with a bitter aftertaste. With genmaicha and hojicha, you don’t have to wait for the water to cool too…

IPPIN fried oysters

Then we also had fish and rice, with genmaicha.

Dessert was hojicha pudding with hojicha sauce served in a shotglass, and of course, paired with hojicha. *We were also told that green tea goes well with alcohol! Try it!

Japanese Green Tea Masterclass

~

Becoming a respected tea master certainly takes years (if not decades) of hard work and dedication. Being able to correctly identify tea leaves (type and origin) and brewing a good cup of tea with water of the right temperature is certainly a valued skill if you were to be working in restaurants like Waku Ghin. So far, more attention has been on barista training as Singaporeans do love their coffee, but I think tea (with its many health benefits) is something more people will come to appreciate.

Interestingly, at this particular masterclass, there was a lady at the back of the room taking notes and drawing illustrations and caricatures. Here’s one of the ‘panels’ she created:

Summary by SketchPost.

I’m aware that some companies do hire these ‘graphic recorders’ to transform words into hand-drawn visuals in real-time. This allows participants to snap a picture after the session and get an instant summary of everything that went on! 😀

The talented artist came up with about 6 of these panels for the full-day session and I was told that charges start from S$2,000 for 1 day. Actually, if you’re not into tea, but you’re good at drawing, this might be a lucrative career option, no? 😉

I’ll leave you with some food for thought from Jim Rohn who said that “You must either modify your dreams or magnify your skills”. 

~

Part 1 in this series shares a very unique way of pairing sashimi and green tea. Read it here. Then find out how Singapore won gold awards at the Culinary Olympics this year in the final installment of this Series by clicking right here.

Why You Won’t Look At Sashimi The Same Way Again

This is the first of a 3-part blogpost series on various F&B masterclasses organised by e2i to connect workers and industry practitioners with industry experts.

Participants benefit from learning best practices, deepening their skillsets and mastering skills in their career to be future-ready.

I attended a sashimi masterclass at Food Japan recently, and was served some “green tea”. Chef Kenjiro Hashida told the class to take a sip – we did – and then he asked for a show of hands to indicate who had drank the green tea. I did drink it but I couldn’t raise my hand. (@_@) I had picked up a cup of what looked like green tea, but it tasted as if I had bitten into a juicy, yummy steak. It really confused my senses. Turns out this was done on purpose.

Kenjiro Hashida sashimi.

Sashimi with “green tea” that did not taste like your regular green tea

 Kenjiro Hashida

Chef Hashida conducting the Masterclass

The green tea served was actually gyokuro tea – the highest grade of green tea in Japan. Gyokuro tea is prized for its savory “umami” flavor (hence the resemblance to meat) as the tea leaves are grown in the shade for about 3 weeks prior to harvest. The ‘stress’ to the plant (as it tries to reach upwards for the sunlight) causes its levels of the amino acid theanine to increase. It is during this process that the sweetness and umami flavor is induced. Because of its exquisite taste, gyokuro tea doesn’t come cheap. 😉

~ How to brew tea like a Tea Master ~

If you’ve bought pricey tea, you might want to know how to brew it well to extract the best flavor from the tea leaves. Chef Hashida shared that a common mistake people make when brewing tea at home is by using water that is too hot. If the water is over 60 degrees Celsius, the fragrance of the tea leaves is killed. Sellers know this so they include branches of the plant in “cheap tea”, and the tea tastes sweet even if brewed using (overly) hot water.

What tea masters do is to use water that’s at 45 degrees Celsius. For 10g of tea leaves, use 120cc of water. Then see if you can taste the difference 😉 For the gyokuro tea, interestingly, the chef used 20g of tea leaves, 150cc of water, and 2 ice cubes. The result is a smooth and refreshing brew, that has an amazing umami taste. It’s nothing like the bitter or bland ‘green tea’ you drink in regular sushi places in Singapore.

~

As for the sashimi, we had hirame (or flounder) with sea urchin from Hokkaido.

The real kicker was when we were told to pour the gyokuro tea from our teacup onto the sashimi. What???!!! Don’t we usually consume them separately?

Gyokuro tea and hirame sashimi

As you have probably guessed, the sashimi tasted so good! It was truly a novel experience. The lady seated in front of me couldn’t help raising the little platter to her lips after she had eaten the sashimi so she could drink the tea which remained. 😀

 Chef Kenjiro Hashida

The chef told us that kombu seaweed gives many Japanese dishes their umami flavor, but when you put the sashimi slices onto kombu seaweed (in hopes of getting the umami flavor on the fish), the seaweed will absorb moisture from the sashimi, leaving the latter tasting dry. To get around this, the chef cleverly combines kombu seaweed, salt, sugar and water to get a special extract he contains in a spray bottle, and sprays it onto sashimi instead. An added advantage is that this gives the fish more moisture, on top of that yummy umami taste.

For garnishing, the chef uses the chrysanthemum flower, gyokuro tea leaves, a “vegetable caviar” (which is the tonburi from Akita prefecture), etc. And the result is too pretty:

 Kenjiro Hashida hirame sashimi

~ ‘Tea Flower Oil’ ~

Besides the kombu seaweed extract, the chef also sprays on some ‘tea flower oil’ which he imports directly from Japan.

Chef Hashida shared that for every product he purchases for his restaurant, he visits the factory to find out how it’s made. Regarding the ‘tea flower oil’ (which he also keeps in a spray bottle), he says that during the farming of tea, the flowers from the plant will drop off after some time, and elderly Japanese women will pick them up. From some 300kg of flowers, only about 1 litre of oil can be extracted. Thus, you’ll shell out S$60 for 100cc of the previous liquid if you’d like to buy it in Japan. It is this attention to detail and dedication to his craft that I believe compels diners to have meals at Hashida Sushi (Singapore) – an omakase dinner costs anything between S$350 and S$500.

Chef Hashida’s F&B Business Advice

  1. Think about what your customers want. People crave that ‘umami’ taste in their food. That taste comes from amino acids.
  2. (When possible) follow the seasons and utilize (or create) unique techniques.
  3. Be generous in sharing with and learning from other chefs.

~

As a very sweet finale to an insightful session, we were each given a Merlion Monaka. The ingredients in the filling include kaya, miso and white chocolate. It’s quite extraordinary. I’ve read that it costs about S$5 in Chef Hashida’s other restaurant, Hashida Garo.

 Hashida Garo

 Hashida Garo Merlion MonakaHashida Sushi

I’m definitely in awe of how Japanese chefs keep on innovating and improving, so as to bring the best dining experience to their customers. On top of that, the chef seemed very open to sharing tips and techniques.

Anyone in the F&B business should keep an eye out for the masterclasses organized by e2i as they offer access to these top chefs at a very affordable price. Even if you’re not in the Japanese cuisine business, you will surely be impressed by the quality of the gyokuro tea, and possibly be able to incorporate it into your cafe or restaurant’s menu. Even if you end up charging a premium for the beverage or its inspired dish, discerning diners would still be willing to pay.

Because, honestly speaking, it’s tough going back to regular sashimi and green tea after trying Chef Hashida’s version of hirame sashimi and that special brew of gyokuro tea.

~

Read Part 2 of this series right here now, and find out why bottled green tea is not such a great idea after all, and how some people can earn upwards of S$2,000 A DAY recording events on paper. Then click here to read Part 3 and find out how Singapore actually won gold awards at the Culinary Olympics too! 🙂

How To Save On Foreign Payments

For the big plans in Life, we’ll often have to find out how to save on foreign payments. Here are a few tips for the savvy, modern woman, for every important occasion or milestone in life.

#1: For Your Destination Wedding

If you’re engaged, you may already be planning a destination wedding at an exotic getaway that doubles as a honeymoon spot after?

Couples can easily spend around $20,000 – and often a lot more! – on a destination wedding, so the first rule is to plan ahead. Sounds basic right? But preparation is key and it’s worth familiarizing yourself with local rules and regulations. Research on- and off-peak seasons, so as to score a better deal with hotels and make sure you don’t book a beach wedding during the monsoon season!

Add together the travel, hotel and venue costs and your bill will quickly add up. What’s more, many couples choose to pay for immediate family members’ and the bridal party’s travel, and many consider it customary to pay for guest accommodation as well. If that’s the case, you’ll want to get the best deals where you can – including when making your payments. Engaging an international payments specialist can help you avoid both the hefty transfer fees and poor exchange rates people typically experience with their banks.

#2: For Your Child’s Education Abroad

A common Mother’s dilemma; should you send your children abroad for higher education?

First, take location into account. In the US, studying in a private institution can easily cost over USD40,000 per year, though it is worth remembering that some universities offer free tuition to international students. Do your research.

Also think about duration too. For example, undergraduate courses in the UK typically last three years, instead of the usual four. You’ll also need to factor accommodation and living expenses into your decision too.

What is clear is that if you send a child abroad to study, you’ll also be sending lots of money overseas to support them too. You could save money by getting your currency exchange right. Fix a rate in advance – this is known as a forward contract – so you’ll always know what you’ll pay, even if the exchange rate goes against you.

#3: For Your Overseas Properties

A discerning investor like you might be looking for passive income. Don’t miss the opportunity to invest in overseas properties. Right now, you can save substantially when you buy a second home in other parts of the world. For example, with the pound at its lowest in decades, you can snatch up that charming little house in UK, for hundreds of thousands of dollars less than before the British Referendum.

The average UK home price was around USD 297,250 just before Brexit. Now, with the historically low pound, average UK home prices are down to USD 266,500 – meaning you’d pay a whopping USD 30,750 less for a typical UK home than if you had bought one before Brexit*.

Engage with a currency broker to lock in your exchange rate, so you can ensure you take advantage of the favorable exchange rate vs the pound. That way you’ll know in advance exactly how much you need to pay upon completion, and manage the risk from adverse currency fluctuations.

Currency markets can move fast and can be volatile, especially around big events like elections. To help navigate your way through, it’s worth enlisting the help of a currency expert to help you take control of your finances and make the best decisions on your international purchases and transfers.

To find out more, visit https://www.worldfirst.com/

World First

~

Rebecca Snape

[ This article was contributed by Rebecca Snape, Head of Dealing Singapore, World First ]

World First provides a fast, secure and customer-friendly online international payments platform to private individuals and small and medium sized enterprises around the world. Experts in global currency markets and with a truly customer-focused approach, World First helps clients make international payments quickly, efficiently and safely, helping them to take control of their international payments.

*Nationwide House Price Index

http://www.nationwide.co.uk/~/media/MainSite/documents/about/house-price-index/2016/Jun_Q2_2016.pdf

What To Eat @ Our Tampines Hub’s Hawker Centre

Our Tampines Hub Indian Rojak

If you don’t already know, there’s a new super-awesome complex (not just a mall) called Our Tampines Hub, where the old stadium used to be. The folks who live in Tampines are oh-so-lucky indeed. You have three shopping malls (Tampines Mall, Century Square, Tampines One) and now you have this mega development that has just about everything under one roof. When I last visited, there were kids enjoying indoor rock-climbing at this place called ‘Clip N Climb’ while others enjoyed a spot of art jamming, and there were older folks reclining in really comfy looking beanbag seats in front of a stage (free movies too!), people checking out the various sports facilities, and TONS of people at the hawker centre. The latter is managed by Kopitiam so bring along your Kopitiam card! 🙂

In this post, I’ll share with you what I’ve tried so far at the hawker centre, and I’ll update again later when I head back for more food. There are just too many stalls to cover at once.

In the first picture you see above, that’s actually decent Indian Rojak for $4 (or $3.60 if you have a Kopitiam card). I cannot honestly say that it is the best Indian Rojak in Tampines (‘cos I’ve tried better) but it’s decent. Apparently, the potatoes (before they’re cut up) are really huge.

Then there’s the yong tau fu. Good if you’re nursing a cold, I guess. Skip the condiments and just eat it on its own. 🙂

Our Tampines Hub shops

Forgot the name of this next one. I think it’s a tom yum bee hoon. I like noodles with lots of green chili so this one’s good. 😀

Tampines Hub Directory

There’s this stall which usually has a long queue. Its signboard states something like ‘Jue Shi Lor Mee’ which probably means, in Mandarin, that’s it’s really awesome lor mee. I ordered ‘Cod Fish Lor Mee’ which cost $4.50. I’m not the best at discerning what’s cod fish and what’s not, but $4.50 for cod fish of this size? I don’t think so… Anyway, it needs a ton of chili sauce. I was too lazy to go back and get some. So here’s a tip for you: if you’re ordering the lor mee, DO NOT forget the chili. And you can almost forget about getting a table during peak dining hours during the weekends. It’s C.R.A.Z.Y. Go off-peak.

Our Tampines Hub Jue Shi Lor Mee

What I really like about this hawker centre is that just about every stall has a $2.80 dish. So if you’re on a tight budget, you’ll enjoy eating here. The very first stall I ate at (Thai Boat Noodle) has two S$2.80 dishes: Pork Bee Hoon Soup w Minced Meat & Soft Boiled Egg and Pork Tung Hoon Soup w Minced Meat & Soft Boiled Egg.

Our Tampines Hub Thai Boat Noodle

Tah-dah! 🙂

Our Tampines Hub food

Not bad indeed! 😀

If you’d like to visit Our Tampines Hub, you can get there by bus or MRT. It’s within walking distance from Tampines Central. The address is 51 Tampines Ave 4
Singapore 529684 (at the junction of Tampines Ave 4 and Tampines Ave 5).

What To Eat At ‘Japan Rail Cafe’

Japan Rail Cafe Singapore

Located at Tanjong Pagar Centre is the travel-themed Japan Rail Cafe that has unique decor, (mainly) Japanese staff, a new menu every month, and a ticketing counter where you can get JR Passes and even tickets to Sanrio Puroland! As I’m not traveling to Japan anytime soon, I thought the food here would be worth a try. As they’ve just newly opened, do note that their operating hours are a little confusing – I think they need to get the new staff settled – so do check their website and social media pages before you head over.  For take-out drinks, retail and rail passes, you can head by between 11am and 8pm. The cafe portion is open from 11am to 5pm today and tomorrow, and closes at either 1pm or 2pm during the weekend.

My pal parked his car at Guoco Tower and paid more than S$14 in parking fees. (We were in the cafe for around 2 hours.) Parking at the Tanjong Pagar area is pricey, no doubt, so take the MRT like I did. The station is ‘connected’ to Tanjong Pagar Centre anyway so you won’t be affected by bad weather. Just head upstairs to level 1 and you’ll see the Japan Rail Cafe.

Japanese Cafe Singapore

Two pals and I popped by for lunch this week, and alas, just about everything was sold out when we arrived around 2pm. We ended up ordering the same item: the Ultimate A.B.C burger, with ‘ABC’ representing ‘Avocado, Bacon and Cheddar Cheese’. Thankfully it was a really GOOD burger.

Japan Rail Cafe Ultimate ABC Burger

The buns are from the Asanoya bakery in Singapore, which is famous for its Japanese baked goods. And the salad is from Panasonic’s veggie farm right here in Singapore. As for the wagyu beef patty, I honestly have no idea where it’s from, but I do know it was cooked to perfection. As for the sides, take my advice and skip the fries. Pick the potato wedges instead. You’ll really thank me for it later. Both my pals had the fries while I chose the wedges. Tip: You can ask for some chili sauce too. 🙂

This month’s theme is ‘Tohoku’ so the cafe is promoting the Tohoku region, which covers Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Fukushima, Miyagi, Yamagata & Niigata Prefectures. So expect food from this region, alongside travel tips and related products on sale. You’ll find their travel ‘magazine’ on the table (menu’s at the back). Do take a copy home. I sure did. 🙂

Japan Rail Cafe drinks

As for the drinks, we ordered the lattes and one came with whipped cream on top. We thought it was ice cream cos it just looked so pretty, then as we snapped pictures of our food, I realized the ‘ice cream’ wasn’t melting… and we concluded it was whipped cream. (>_<)

Interestingly enough, when we were done eating our yummy burgers, we were told that the kitchen had replenished their ingredients and we could order the Watashino Curry Rice (which was what I came here for) and the Kaisen Avocado Don (which my pal wanted to try). With our bellies bursting at the seams, we decided to give it a go – YOLO much – and order those two dishes as well, just in case they’re sold out again the next time we come here. And just as well, since the parking fee was hefty already.

Here’s the Watashino Curry Rice with my choice of sides: Crab cream korokke and stir-fry pork in sweet ginger sauce

Japan Rail Cafe Watashino Curry Rice

And that’s one beautiful bowl of Kaisen Avocado Don:

Japan Rail Cafe Kaisen Avocado Don

To enjoy this dish, go ahead and eat the avocado, Aomori scallops, salmon sashimi etc on top, then pour the soup (from the teapot) into the bowl and you’ll get something like a rice porridge that is just amazing. It’s like two dishes for the price of one!

The Japan Rail Cafe also has a gifts segment where you can pick up items like snowflake-shaped pasta, soybean biscuits, clothing and even things like woven baskets. There was a really nice Japanese lady handing out samples of the biscuits for us to try, and we filled out a survey form thereafter regarding our feedback.

Jr rail cafe singapore

As for the pricing, let’s just say that for Japanese quality, you pay Japanese prices too, ya? 😀

jr cafe singapore

A number of events and workshops will be happening at the cafe, so do keep a lookout for them and sign up if you’re keen. I most certainly want to be back again, especially when they’re featuring a new theme – I wonder which region’s next! 😀

~

Japan Rail Cafe is located at 5 Wallich Street, #01-20 Tanjong Pagar Centre S(078883)

*If you have to drive here, do park at the open-air carpark. If you park indoors, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉

[Pic Credit: Bosco from Hearted Moments (Bosco@heartedmoments.com)]

Movie Review: A Street Cat Named Bob

A Street Cat Named Bob

When I first read the book, I thought that James Bowen’s the guy on the cover. But that guy is apparently the actor who stars in the movie. Pretty good-looking, no? (I’m talking about the cat now. Haha) Knowing that I’ve read the book (and reviewed it), my darling actually bought tickets for us to watch the movie on Sunday, instead of getting tickets to ‘Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them’ which is what he has been wanting to watch. It came as quite a surprise, really. *muacks* What’s more surprising is how the movie has adapted certain parts of the book instead of following it *ahem* faithfully.

The first half of the movie was like a long drawn out sigh for me. First of all, I didn’t like the camera trying to film from the perspective of the cat, Bob. And secondly, many scenes seemed out of focus or nausea-inducing shaky. Handheld cam, maybe??? And yes, I know it’s a movie and perhaps a female is required somewhere but deviating from the book by incorporating a love interest in a neighbor? Not cool. I preferred the duo (cat & human) against the cold, brutal world storyline versus the I’m-supposed-to-be-living-hand-to-mouth-but-lets-have-some-tea-together scene in the movie. And the whole rubbing wrists part was kind of lame.

By the end of the movie, I had tears flowing due to the scene in which James gets clean from drugs and finds out his father actually kept a picture of lil James in his wallet all along. The next scene was a little abrupt, and left me crying and laughing at the same time… Fish screensaver, anyone? I guess the producers wanted the movie to end on a happy note.

All in all, I’m super happy that James Bowen had his life turn around so dramatically, thanks to a fantastic feline and an astute publisher. Miracles really do happen. I do hope people don’t decide to purchase ginger cats just because they’ve loved Bob in the movie and the book. (Actually the book’s much better) Thanks to the movie ‘Nemo’, the demand for clownfish soared. Keep your fingers crossed that Bob doesn’t cause the same for ginger cats. If you just cannot resist getting one, please adopt, not shop!

Because of the book, I became more aware of the buskers that I used to turn a blind eye to. You might think they aren’t lonely as they’re playing some musical instrument, aren’t they? But I guess no one really likes being thought of as ‘invisible’, or being treated as such. Show them you appreciate them as human beings, and that they don’t need to have an attractive animal around their shoulders for you to begin paying attention to them. 🙂 And please… if your child is not for sale, don’t ask people like James to sell their companions to you, ok. 😛

O’Parl Cafe At The Arts House: BEST SALMON EVER!!!

When my more Groupon-savvy half buys food-related Groupon vouchers, it can either be a great hit or a really awful miss. This time, we struck culinary jackpot with awesome salmon at O’Parl Cafe Bar & Bistro that is located within ‘The Arts House at The Old Parliament’. The yummy dinner set the tone for an enjoyable Friday date night. 🙂

It was our first visit to O’Parl Cafe so we were keen on sticking to the “Chef’s Recommendations” on the menu. SO… we went with a starter of Spicy Basil Prawns, and he picked the Seafood Laksa Pasta – both Chef Recommendation items.

O'Parl Cafe Arts House Old Parliament

This picture doesn’t do justice to the food – I was hungry, and the lighting wasn’t the best for picture-taking so I didn’t bother with taking too many shots. You should go to O’Parl Cafe yourself and try the food there! 🙂 The prawns were fresh and utterly delicious. #ForgetAboutThePricetag

I wanted to try the Grilled Seabass instead of the recommended Fish & Chips (because, well, F&C is F&C no matter how fancy the setting, ya?) but the Grilled Seabass wasn’t available. So I settled for Pan Seared Salmon instead.

O'Parl Cafe Pan Seared Salmon

And my goodness! Never in my life have I tasted salmon that (to quote MasterChefs and LadyIronChef) was so “well executed”. Crispy skin outside, and tender, almost-buttery salmon within. How does one pan sear salmon so well? Was it done sous vide then seared quickly? I guess I’ll never know. And the mash was served really warm and it hits just the right spot in one’s belly, like a good bowl of steaming hot soup would. I wish I knew what that sauce by the side was – spicy like sambal belachan yet with some nutty texture and fragrance to it. All in all, perfect.

I sure did enjoy the dish. Yum. Yum. Yum. Best salmon ever. I really have to head back there again soon.

If you need a recommendation for a dinner venue that looks atas but isn’t too crowded (such that you don’t need to make a prior reservation), and where the food is superb, O’Parl Cafe is my pick. Here’s the menu ( I hope the print isn’t too small )…

O'Parl Cafe Menu

You can also play a game of darts here. I was simply too full after the meal. Love that they serve (free) water.

O’Parl Cafe is located at 1 Old Parliament Lane. Tel: 6255 6048.