Singapore Adventure

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Hey, Mikey!
by venitha

"I really like this, Mei. Especially with the chilli. But you've got to come up with a better way to sell it. It just doesn't sound good."

She nodded in agreement. "It's my comfort food." Scrape off the goo, and I can actually see this, the Asian equivalent of my mashed potatoes or Jim's saltines.

But comfort food or not, it sounds awful, and it doesn't look much better. Mei's original description of shui kueh, delivered with enthusiasm in the taxi on our way to Tiong Bahru market, was "water rice with fermented turnip". Her expat husband Russell, she assured us, hates it.

Jim and I exchanged a glance in the rearview mirror. We'd both really wanted to accompany our neighbor Mei to her favorite wet market, the one where she procures the delicious fruits she's always giving us, unbelievably juicy Chinese pears and sensuously vivid dragonfruit [pictured]. But we hadn't expected a Singaporean breakfast.

"It sounds interesting," I told Mei with a smile. "You'll have to show us what you like." Maybe Russell is a British Mikey: he hates everything. And on a relative scale, how bad can it be? I've eaten fried worms.

And grilled bees, Jim reminded me telepathically. They were chewy, and I would not recommend them.

Shui as in feng shui, means water, and I haven't a prayer at pronouncing it correctly. Kueh means cake and is not kooey rhymes with gooey as I've been mispronouncing it for the last year, but kway, and is of course not to be confused with quay, as in Clarke Quay, which is pronounced kee - got that straight? Here, have some fermented turnip; it'll clear things right up.

Add it all together, and, obviously, shui kueh is steamed rice cakes, soft and warm and smooth, topped with pickled Chinese radish, salty and tangy and, in our case because we added chilli, spicy. Jim and I eyed it curiously - it kind of... jiggles - and took tentative first bites.

And enthusiastic second bites. Hey, Mikey! We like it!