KitchenTigress: 2010

Steamed Garlic Prawns

Prawns make me happy. Nope, it's not because I'm a glutton, which I am. Nor is it because I love prawns, which I do.

Prawns make me happy because they're chock-a-block full of vitamin B12, iron, tryptophan, vitamin D, protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which are all essential for keeping depression at bay.

Sesame #$!☠&☠^♠‡!!! Balls

Sesame balls (煎堆) are a Chinese snack food that are crisp, slightly chewy, and very fragrant. Balls of dough, covered with sesame seeds, are deep-fried in hot oil. They may have a sweet filling such as red bean paste. Or they may be empty inside.

I tried making sesame balls last Saturday.

Soya Sauce Chicken with Rose Essence Wine

Shucks, I just realized something.

I should have garnished the chicken with rose petals instead of spring onions since it was made with rose essence wine, 玫瑰露酒.

Well, it's too late now 'cause the chicken is all eaten up.

Dang! Should have thought of it earlier . . . 

OK, please put your imagination cap on and imagine succulent soya sauce chicken with rose essence wine on a bed of rose petals . . . pink, of course!

Authentic Cantonese 豉油鸡 must have 玫瑰露酒. Otherwise, it just doesn't have the floral fragrance that comes from the roses in the wine.

玫瑰露酒 should be used in moderation because it's not some wimpish wine despite its name. It's a spirit – a rose spirit with sugar added – and it's got a whopping 55% alcohol. This is serious, potent stuff that deserves respect and restraint, as I found out the first time I made soya sauce chicken.

"Did you use the right wine?"

"Doesn't taste right."

"Maybe you used too much?"

"You should add oyster sauce."

"You didn't add enough sugar."

"I did. I added a lot."

"Blah blah blah blah blah . . . ."

There were a lot of suggestions around the table.  The critics finished the chicken though, so it couldn't have been that bad!

Second time round, I proceeded cautiously and added the rose essence wine a little at a time. (Don't call on a powerful spirit without controlling it!) The balance was right judging from the lack of advice from the critics. Next time, I'll serve them soya sauce chicken on a bed of rose petals lightly dressed with the chicken marinade.

(Recipe for 4 persons)
3 tbsp + 2 tbsp sugar
1½ cups water
4 tbsp light soya sauce
1 tsp salt
1½ tbsp dark soya suace
2 tbsp rose essence wine (玫瑰露酒)
1 sprig spring onion (20 g) – wash, cut 5 cm long, crush
4 cloves garlic – wash, crush
5 slices ginger (20 g) – crush

2 chicken legs (500 g) – blanch in boiling water, rinse
1 tsp white sesame oil
1 tsp thinly sliced spring onions or Chinese parsley

🐔To see how much marinade you need, place chicken in the pot you're using, then measure the amount of water needed to just cover it. You can do this when you're blanching the chicken. If you need more than 1½ cups, just scale up the recipe.

1. In a pot just big enough for 2 chicken legs, heat 3 tbsp sugar, swirling from time to time. Start with high heat, reducing to low as colour darkens. When melted sugar looks like dark honey, add ¼ cup water. If caramel solidifies, heat till melted again. Turn off heat. Add remaining water and all other ingredients for marinade. Taste and if necessary adjust seasoning. Add chicken, weighed down with a small plate. Marinate for 5 hours, refrigerated when cool.

2. Bring marinade and chicken to a gentle boil. Cover and turn off heat. Steep for 25 minutes. Check if juices run clear. If not, cover and wait another 5 minutes. Remove and brush thoroughly with white sesame oil. Chop into bite size pieces. Drizzle with marinade. Garnish with spring onions or Chinese parsley. Dig in!

Spring Onion Pancakes

葱油饼 are pancakes made with thin layers of dough wrapped around chopped spring onions.

Spring onion pancakes are best enjoyed hot from the pan, when they're crispy, flakey, and fragrant. When you tear the pancake, the soft, fluffy layers inside separate easily. Good 葱油饼 isn't excessively oily although it's fried in hot oil.

Follow these tips to avoid soggy, oily and rubbery spring onion pancakes:

1. Spring onion pancakes are made with plain flour but not plain flours are the same. Two flours may have the same amount of protein, but one stretches much better than the other. For spring onion pancakes, you need to use flour that stretches well.

2. Roll the dough as thinly as possible, but not so thin it tears when wrapped with spring onions. Thinner layers make pancakes more flaky and fluffy.

3. The quality of spring onions is crucial. If you can't get good spring onions, don't bother making 葱油饼. The small, thin ones (leaves about ½ cm wide or less) with purple stems are my favourite.

4. Use high heat for frying, but not so high that the oil smokes. High heat is needed to make the pancakes brown, crisp, and puff up so that the layers of dough are soft, fluffy and distinctly separate.

5. Put enough oil in the pan to reach the entire bottom of the pancake. Why? Because pancakes need high heat (refer to point #4). Oil helps conduct heat from the pan to the pancake.
Spring onion pancakes are made with just 5 ingredients: flour, spring onions, water, salt, and oil. If you get them right, they're delicious. If you get them wrong, try again.

(Recipe for 8 pieces)

350 g plain flour
2 tsp salt
6 tbsp vegetable oil
120 g thinly sliced spring onions (aka scallions and green onions)

1. Dissolve 1 tsp salt in ½ cup (120 ml) freshly boiled water. Drizzle over flour. Stir till well mixed. Add ¼ cup room temperature water. Knead till smooth, 10 minutes or so. Dough should be tacky but not enough to stick to hands. If too dry, wet hands once or twice whilst kneading. If sticky, sprinkle with some flour. When dough is smooth, roll into a ball with edges tucked underneath. Cover and set aside to rest for 30 minutes.

2. Dust work surface with flour, sparingly.

3. Divide dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a ball. Flatten with palm. Roll out as thinly as possible. Brush dough surface with about ½ tsp vegetable oil, leaving ½ cm margin around edges. Sprinkle with fine salt to taste (a large pinch or about 1/8 tsp). Sprinkle with 2 tbsp spring onions, to the edges. Roll up like a Swiss roll, tightly. Pinch edges to seal.

4. Twirl dough so that it looks like a snake coiled up. Flatten top down with palm. Roll out gently into a thin layer, pressing the middle harder and the edges more gently. This allows the edges to puff up more when fried, thus making the inside layers more distinct and flakey. Try not to break the dough. A few small leaks are OK but everything inside spilling out isn't. Repeat with remaining dough, redusting work surface sparingly when necessary.

5. Pan-fry pancakes in hot oil over medium heat till golden brown on both sides. Whilst frying, press middle of pancakes gently to increase contact between dough and pan. Lower heat if oil starts to smoke. There should be a bit of oil floating in the pan at all times. Do not put too much oil in the pan in one go. Drizzle more as you fry, especially after turning pancakes over.

6. Drain pancakes on paper towels after frying. Crush between palms to break up layers before serving. Scrumptious when piping hot.

7. To eat, tear a small piece with your hands or a fork and pop it in your mouth. If you bite into the whole pancake, you'd flatten the layers of dough and destroy the flakiness. The mouthfeel wouldn't be good, and all your hard work would be wasted. 

Minced Pork & Olive Vegetables Stir-Fry

If you're wondering what on earth "olive vegetables" are, it's olives and salted mustard greens cooked in vegetable oil till everything is a dark green mush. And what a marvelous mush it is!

The strong flavours from the olives and mustard greens meld together and mellow during the long hours of cooking. The taste is like olives, but better. It's more complex, more nuanced, rounder, smoother . . .

Olive vegetables are an absolute delight with plain rice porridge, straight out of the bottle. But I would say that, wouldn't I? I'm Teochew and "olive vegetables", aka 乌橄榄菜, is a Teochew specialty. It's one of our many ways of preserving vegetables.

Honestly though, I swear I'm not biased. Why would anyone eat an oily, inky black mush – since the Sung dynasty, apparently – unless it tastes really good?

Making 乌橄榄菜 is a long, tedious process. Want to see how it's done in China? Here's a video – in Teochew (!) with Chinese subtitles – on a school teacher turned farmer turned businessman who's made good producing 乌橄榄菜 (catch him around 3:40 looking mighty pleased with himself as he relates his success story):

The weather's been really hot lately, so hot I can't fathom the thought of eating rice. Give me porridge, please! Porridge is so much lighter, and requires less effort since no chewing is necessary.

I also can't fathom cooking anything elaborate in this heat. The quicker, the easier, the better.

Nothing is quicker and easier than stir-frying minced pork with 乌橄榄菜. I don't have to cut anything except for a few cloves of garlic. Which takes all of five seconds if you whack 'em hard with a cleaver à la Martin Yan. The pork, because it's minced, takes all of two minutes to cook. It's done before I get all hot and bothered. Now that's what I call a cool dish for a hot day . . .

(Recipe for 4 persons)

60 g 乌橄榄菜
3 large cloves garlic, peel and mince coarsely
300 g coarsely minced pork
light soya sauce to taste, 1 tsp or so

1. Drain 乌橄榄菜, reserving oil.

2. Heat wok till very hot. Add 1 tbsp oil drained from 乌橄榄菜. Heat oil till very hot. Add garlic. Stir-fry till translucent over medium heat. Add 乌橄榄菜. Stir-fry till fragrant and garlic is lightly golden. Increase heat to high. Add minced pork. Stir to break up lumps. Keep stirring till pork turns opaque, 2-3 minutes.

3. Taste pork, then season with light soya sauce if necessary. Mix well. Turn off heat. Plate and serve immediately with rice or porridge.

Pear & Snow Fungus Sweet Soup

Cantonese sweet soups (糖水) are usually served as a dessert, but they're not like desserts in any other culture.

Everyone regards desserts as an evil temptation that they should avoid as much as possible, except the Cantonese. To them, desserts aren't indulgent or sinful but a necessary health tonic for the body.
That's right, desserts are a health food! Isn't that an awesome idea?!

Forget the nasty stuff like wheatgrass and flax seeds. Heath food Cantonese style is what you want!

There're many restaurants in Hong Kong that serve only sweet soups. A lot of these specialty eateries are packed with people, even late at night.

Do the customers feel guilty when they're tucking into something sweet and yummy, sometimes just before going to bed?

Not at all!

Why would anyone feel bad about eating health food?

If they're feeling listless and tired, a bowl of red bean soup would give 'em an energy boost.

Having an acne breakout?

Red wouldn't be the right colour. Instead, go for green bean soup which is also good for eczema and lowering cholesterol.

Looking for smooth, milky white complexion? That calls for almond milk or steamed custard.

Been coughing lately?

Sea-coconuts and pears to the rescue.

Does black glutinous rice with coconut milk and mangoes sound good?

I hear it improves digestion.

Worried about hair turning grey?

Forget coconuts. Black sesame soup would do the trick . . . 

I haven't come across a sweet soup that cures cancer but there's something for just about everything else!

I had two bowls of pear and snow fungus sweet Soup (银耳雪梨糖水) after dinner. My throat, which had been quite dry for a few days, feels OK now. Worked like a charm, and it was a light and refreshing dessert to boot.

Who says you should avoid desserts? When it's a Cantonese sweet soup, you should have a second helping!

(Recipe for 4 persons)

1 piece dried snow fungus (雪耳/银耳), about ½ palm size or 10 g
2 big or 3 medium Chinese or Japanese pears (about 550 g)
1½ tbsp Chinese bitter almonds (北杏), rinsed
1½ tbsp Chinese sweet almonds (南杏), rinsed
10 Chinese dried red dates (红枣), rinsed and pits removed
rock sugar to taste, 70 g or so (or light brown sugar if not available)

1. Soak snow fungus in water till soft, about 20 minutes. Trim dirty, tough ends and discard. Rinse thoroughly and tear into bite size pieces.

2. Rinse, peel, core and quarter pears. Cut each quarter into 3-4 chunky pieces.

3. Put all ingredients except rock sugar in a pot with 6 cups water. Bring to a boil. Simmer gently, covered. Check after 45 minutes. There should be enough water for ingredients to just float freely. Top up if necessary. Or increase heat slightly if there's too much. Simmer another 15 minutes if you like snow fungus crunchy, or 30 minutes if you prefer it soft.

4. Season to taste with rock sugar. If you like, discard pears which would be quite tasteless after the long simmer. Serve hot, chilled or at room temperature, as dessert, afternoon tea or supper. It's up to you. May be stored in the fridge for 2 days.

Lemon Tarts

When life gives you lemons, make lemon tarts. They're much better than lemonade.

If you don't have free lemons from life, go buy some. Lemon tarts are worth it.

My lemon tarts are very lemony and tart. There's about half a lemon in each small tart.

If you like lemon tarts that aren't tart, this isn't the recipe for you. My tarts aren't for lemon wimps.

Are you a lemon fiend?

If you are, my sunshine yellow tarts will give you a lemon high. Just one bite will make your eyes spring wide open with a "Ding!"

The best thing about homemade lemon tarts is the homemade lemon curd. Eaten on the day it's made, it has a tartness that's really refreshing.

After resting in the fridge for a night, the tartness mellows. The curd becomes less sharp and more rounded. Mellow homemade curd is still very good and way better than those that are commercially produced.

Good lemon curd needs to go with good pastry. Mine is very buttery and very flakey. It's the perfect partner for the silky smooth filling.

The pastry I use doesn't need a rest before it's rolled and baked. The lemon curd is cooked separately on the stove. The cooked filling is poured into baked pastry shells and that's it, the tarts are done. This method is a lot quicker than prebaking the pastry shells, then baking the lemon curd in the prebaked tart shells.

Lemon tarts are good any day. Don't wait till life gives you lemons.

(Recipe for 4 tarts 10 cm wide)
Pastry (this is also sufficient for one 23-cm tart)
90 g unsalted butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar
⅛ tsp salt
150 g plain flour
Lemon curd (scale up by 50% for one 23-cm tart)
50 g unsalted butter
100 g sugar
105 g lemon juice from 2-3 lemons
2 eggs, remove chalazea
½ tsp corn flour
1 tsp grated lemon zest

1. To make tart shells, preheat oven to 210°C (410°F). Put all ingredients except flour in a pot. Over medium heat, stir till colour darkens around the edges, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Tip flour into pot. Stir till thoroughly mixed.

2. When cool enough to handle, divide dough between tart moulds with removable bottoms, using about 60 g per mould. Reserve a small piece for patching up cracks after baking. Pat and press dough to form a thin, even layer. Bake till golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and patch up cracks if any. Flatten some reserved dough as much as possible between fingers. Press gently over holes for a few seconds once tarts are removed from oven.

3. To make lemon curd, heat butter, sugar and lemon juice in a non-reactive pot till melted. Slowly add mixture to eggs whilst stirring eggs with a spatula. Add cornflour and lemon zest. Stir till evenly mixed. Put mixture in pot. Heat using lowest setting possible, holding pot so that only half is on the stove. Keep scraping sides and bottom whilst stirring. If eggs start curdling, remove pot from stove. Keep stirring/scraping. Heat again after cooling down a bit. Curd is ready when it coats spatula, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust with a bit of sugar or lemon juice if necessary. Remove from stove. Continue stirring to dissipate residual heat, 2-3 minutes.

4. To assemble, divide lemon curd between pastry shells. Level and smooth top. Decorate with lemon zest, lemon slices or gold flakes (if life had given you strawberries instead of lemons). Cover (to prevent skin from forming) till curd is fully set, 10-15 minutes. Unmould and serve. Or keep chilled and covered in the fridge till ready.

5. When unmoulding, bottom of tart must always rest on a flat surface. Do not attempt to hold unmoulded tart in your hands. It would just crumble to bits.

6. To store, keep assembled tarts chilled for up to 2 days. Beyond that, curd may weep and soften pastry. Filling and shells may be kept separately and assembled just before serving. However, curd would have set so there wouldn't be a 'mirror effect' unless it's glazed.

Spinach with Salted and Century Eggs

There're a couple of vegetables I refer to as Chinese spinach. Yin choi (苋菜) is one of them.

I love yin choi because the texture is smooth when I cook it with minimal oil. Other dark green veggies would be gritty when there isn't enough oil.

Yin choi goes well with dried anchovies. I like the veggies stir-fried with dried anchovies that have been fried till crispy. That's quite nice.

Yin choi in dried anchovy stock – with maybe some fishballs or pork meatballs – makes a quick, delicious soup.

When I'm tired of pairing yin choi with dried anchovies, I use a mix of century and salted eggs. The veggies are poached, a nice change from soups and stir fries.

I love the dish because it's fresh tasting and there's hardly any oil. I first had it in Chinese restaurants and after ordering it several times, I decided to hack the recipe.

I thought making the dish at home would be easy, and I was right. It's just poaching a few leaves. How difficult can that be? Sometimes, I use yin choi. Other times, I use kow kei (枸杞, aka boxthorn and matrimony vine) like the restaurant version. Nothing to it at all.

(Recipe for 4 persons)

1 cooked salted egg, peeled and diced
1 cooked century egg, peeled and diced
350 g Chinese spinach (yin choi, 苋菜)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp oil
1 cup robust chicken stock
2½ tsp light soya sauce

1. Remove roots from spinach. Wash thoroughly and drain. Cut into pieces 7-8 cm (3 inches) long. If stems are old and woody, break them by hand instead. Tear off some of the peel on the stems as you do so. This helps make the stems more tender.

2. Blanch spinach briefly in boiling water with salt and oil. Drain and gently simmer in chicken stock, covered, till just soft and still quite green, 3-4 minutes. Add or reduce stock as necessary. There should be enough to cover 30-40% of the spinach. Drizzle with light soya sauce. Stir gently to mix well.

3. Remove spinach to a deep plate, leaving stock in the pot. Add salted and century eggs to the pot. Bring back to a boil. Simmer for 30 seconds, stirring gently.

4. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Pour eggs and stock over spinach removed earlier. Serve immediately.

Buddha's Delight (Chap Chai)

It was my mother's birthday a few days ago. To commemorate her, I made a big pot of Buddha's delight (罗汉斋) or, if you prefer the less elegant name, chap chai (什菜). It was a dish she always made for the first breakfast of the Chinese New Year.

Since Mum passed away, my eldest brother has taken over the duty of feeding some 20 people on CNY morning. And it has to be vegetarian, as it always was when Mum was still around.

Whilst everyone else is still snoozing, Big Brother is up at 7 am making chap chai, vegetarian bee hoon, stir fried kai lan (Chinese broccoli), and cheng tng (清汤).

I wish I could do CNY breakfast but it's a great honour reserved for the first-born male heir of the clan. The girls and younger ones don't have such a privilege – SOB! They have to pay their respects to the first-born son – a slap on the back plus "Happy New Year!" – then sit down to a home cooked breakfast. Oh, sob sob sob!

My brother's chap chai is the low-fat version. Like a lot of people, he thinks fat is evil. But cabbage without enough fat is NASTY.

You don't want to see a layer of oil floating on the surface but if you don't see any oil at all, you might as well just boil the cabbage. What I like to see is a few globules which, to me, represents the perfect balance – not too much, and not too little.

Every year during the breakfast gathering at my brother's place, I feel like crying, "What have you done to Mum's chap chai?!" But of course, I keep my big mouth shut. He might say, "Fine! You're so smart, we'll go to your place for Chinese New Year breakfast!" Oh no, no no no no no.

I can't make breakfast for 20 people! The best I can do is jot down how Mum made chap chai:

🍄 Cabbage – use flat ones from Malaysia, not Indonesia. And not the round ones from China either.

🍄 Oil – not too much, and not too little.

🍄 Dried mushrooms – use lots, the best possible from Japan, stir-fried till fragrant.

🍄 Lily buds – knotted tightly and stir-fried separately so that they absorb some oil and light soya sauce.

🍄 Sweet beancurd skin – burns easily. Use low heat when deep-frying.

🍄 Hair moss (发菜) – a couple of small clumps for good luck.

🍄 Cooking time – braise cabbage till soft but not mushy.

Quite easy, isn't it? Seems like nothing to it at all but somehow, Mom's version was really good. It was everyone's delight.

(Recipe for 8 persons)

35 g Chinese dried mushrooms (10 pieces)
35 g dried lily buds (a small bunch)
50 g glass noodles (冬粉/粉丝), soak till just hydrated
7 pieces sweet beancurd skin
each cut into 4 pieces, deep-fry in warm oil till brown
3 tbsp vegetable oil
80 ml light soya sauce (1/3 cup)
500 g cabbage, washed and cut chunky
2 small clumps hair moss (发菜), optional, soaked till soft

1. Soak mushrooms in water till soft, about 30 minutes. Drain and squeeze dry, reserving liquid. Cut bite size.

2. Soak lily buds till soft, 30-45 minutes. Drain and discard liquid. Rinse thoroughly and squeeze dry. Trim and discard hard ends. Tie each piece into a knot, tightly (or they'll loosen when tossed around). Stir-fry over high heat with ½ tbsp vegetable oil and 2 tsp of the light soya sauce. Set aside.

3. Stir-fry mushrooms till fragrant with remaining oil over high heat. Add cabbage and stir-fry till wilted and wok is hot again. Add remaining light soya sauce. Stir till absorbed. Add lily buds, sweet (or savory) beancurd skin, and liquid drained from mushrooms. Top up with water to almost cover everything. Stir to mix well. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer gently till cabbage is soft but not mushy, about 45 minutes, stirring and topping up with more water mid-way if necessary.

4. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add hair moss, if using, and glass noodles. Add more water if necessary – glass noodles absorb a lot of liquid – so that it's not too dry. Stir through. Taste again and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve piping hot with rice or porridge. Reheated leftovers are really good too.

Five-Spice Beancurd Skin

"Go for it! It's free!" the HR manager said.

The word 'free' reverberated through my head. If I were a cartoon figure, my eyes would have popped out. The HR manager was giving me the ultimatum for the medical check-up under company expense: use it or lose it, by year-end. So I used it, the first ever medical exam in my life.

Chocolate Tart

Do you make shortcrust pastry? Does it melt and tear when you put in the pan? Do you want to bake immediately after lining the pan, without resting the dough? You need to read this post if you do.

Caramel Popcorn

A tub of popcorn costs $6-7.

Richard B. McKenzie, in a book titled "Why Popcorn Costs So at the Movies", estimates there's a 1,300% profit margin on movie popcorn in the US.

In Israel, it was recently proposed to outlaw overpriced popcorn. Will the Israeli parliament pass the law and set a precedent? Well, I'm not holding my breath.

For me, it's not how much I pay for the popcorn but the hordes of people at the cinema. I like movies during weekends but I don't like the weekend crowds. Easy solution: DVDs and DIY popcorn.

Weekend + movie + popcorn – crowds = happiness.

(Recipe for 1 portion)

¼ cup popcorn kernels
75 g sugar
15 g butter
pinch of salt
1 tbsp toasted white sesame seeds or skinless peanuts, finely ground

1. Add popcorn kernels to a very hot wok over medium heat. Stir until the first kernel pops. Cover, leaving a gap for steam to escape. When popping picks up speed, reduce heat to low. When popping slows down, turn off heat. Transfer popcorn to a bowl when popping stops. Remove unpopped kernels if any.

2. Add sugar to the wok over medium heat. As sugar melts, swirl it around till light brown. Add butter, salt and sesame seeds or peanuts. Turn off heat. Mix till even and butter is melted. Add popcorn to caramel. Mix thoroughly with a spatula. Serve.

Garlic Butter Prawns

I make garlic butter with three ingredients: garlic, butter, and parsley. I could leave out the parsley, then the garlic butter would be made with – surprise! – garlic and butter.

Cold Storage sells ready-made garlic butter made with these ingredients:

Black Chicken Soup

My mother, like millions of other Chinese mothers, made chicken soup with ginseng for me when it was exam time. The chicken wasn't regular, ordinary fowl. It was silkie chicken, a breed which has black meat and bones.

Before I post a recipe, I usually read up about the dish and ingredients used. So, I googled "black chicken" . . . and . . .

Teochew Braised Duck

Teochew braised duck (潮州滷鸭) was my mother's pièce de résistance. She always had a dark, glistening duck for the dinner table on Chinese New Year eve. It was a fantastic complement to our steamboat dinner, something that we could eat whilst the raw stuff was cooking. To us, Chinese New Year, Mum and 滷鸭 were all one and the same thing.

One day, Mum wasn't around anymore. She left us just before Christmas, and as Chinese New Year loomed, I thought we were going to have the reunion dinner without 滷鸭. But I was wrong.

Don't Ask OCBC for Cakes!

Many thanks to those who wish me a happy birthday. Thanks as well to those who support the previous post. As for those who say kudos to the staff at OCBC, I agree with you. The staff reacted well enough, I think. Two of the ladies seemed quite amused. The third one just seemed disinterested after performing her banking duties. I think the gentleman also saw the funny side of the incident. Our conversation basically revolved around whether there was a sufficient basis for the ad to be reenacted. As I said, if he had insisted I had a super cute daughter with me to get a cake, he would have won.

I don't know if the OCBC gentleman paid for the cake out of his own pocket but I've asked David Conner and Andrew Lee, respectively OCBC's group CEO and Senior EVP of Global Consumer Financial Services, to make sure he's reimbursed.

I'd like to point out that I didn't insist on getting a cake from OCBC, technically, at any point in time. I asked if I could get a cake. I was told no, I couldn't. Which was fine. I then asked why I couldn't get a cake. I was told it was because the commercial was just a commercial. Which was also fine. I then asked why OCBC had a commercial about giving away birthday cakes when it didn't have any birthday cakes to give away.

If the staff had given me an acceptable explanation, I'd have walked away. Or if they hadn't given me an acceptable explanation (nor a cake), I would then ask OCBC's senior management for one. But I couldn't complain to the CEO without giving the frontline staff a chance to show whether OCBC really gave their customers birthday cakes, right?

Some people say I got a cake from OCBC's employees, not OCBC, and that I shouldn't have tormented the staff when my target was the corporation. I'm sorry, this argument cuts no ice with me. The incident was during OCBC's business hours, the staff were wearing OCBC's uniforms, serving OCBC's customers on OCBC's banking premises. They were representing OCBC whether they like it or not. It's a tough job working in a banking hall but hey, whose job is easy, eh? Other than the President of Singapore?

Sure, the frontline staff aren't responsible for the ad. They don't make as much as David Conner. But they know they're getting paid for being the conduit between customers and the bank, which they're a part of. Should they perform only mechanical tasks because they make only $x per month? Any unexpected incidents not listed in the training manual is none of their business?


If they do that, they're no better than machines. And if they're no better than machines, they should be replaced by machines. And bank tellers have been, to some extent. The next wave of workers to be replaced will be those cashiers who mechanically scan, pack and collect the money. Cold Storage Great World City has a lane for those who prefer to scan, pack and swipe a bank card themselves. Such facilities are already quite common in the US.

I think it's a bit over dramatic to say I 'tormented' or 'maimed' (emotionally, I presume) the staff at OCBC, or spoilt their day or weekend. As for those who use the word 'misery', oh please! Misery is when you have a terminal illness. Misery is when your country's at war. Misery is when there's no rice in the house. Misery is when your dog's run over by a car. Misery is when you're homeless in a -10°C winter.

A crazy customer making a crazy request?

That's a nice distraction from the tedium of being a bank teller. Or a slight irritant at worst. Nevertheless, if I really caused anyone at OCBC any distress, in any minor or major way, I apologise, unreservedly and sincerely. And I suggest they get out of the service industry. If they can't handle crazy customers, they shouldn't handle customers for a living. Or they would have to face many more crazy ones, and cause themselves much 'misery'.

I've enjoyed reading the comments, even those that are are downright rude. I'm perverse, I know. (Hey! No one's used that word on me yet!) There's a diversity of views, which is not a bad thing. But there's one thing we all agree on: the cake's bloody awful!

Ok, over to you, guys. Fire away.

Related links:
Click here for media reports.

A Cake and . . . OCBC

Yesterday, I went to OCBC Bank, the one at Marine Parade, and asked for a birthday cake. According to the bank's advertisement, their customers get a cake on their birthday, complete with burning candles and a birthday song.

Yes, it was my birthday yesterday.

If you haven't already seen the TV ad, here it is:

Sesame Duck

Sesame duck is duck stir-fried with white sesame oil, garlic, ginger, then stewed with galangal. It's seasoned with dark soya sauce, light soya sauce, oyster sauce and caramel, so the colour is quite dark.

Duck, especially the breast, can be quite dry in a stew. To keep it moist, it's chopped into small pieces so that the stewing sauce gets right into the meat.