Grocery Shopping in Singapore – Wet Markets

Hands down, my favorite way to grocery shop while living in Singapore!

My first experience at I.N.A. in Delhi was definitely memorable and my second post on I.N.A. pointed out to my readers that I don’t know the difference between a pig and a goat.

I have two very diverse opinions on grocery shopping.  One side of me is appalled by the 100s of flavors and brands of everything under the sun (toothpaste often takes up an ENTIRE aisle!) in a traditional grocery store.  I would rather get a limited selection but know it is fresh produce.  The other side of me is thrilled to pieces to be able to one-stop shop for my entire shopping list and I don’t mind the pesticides.

During my “settling in” program offered by Cartus (which was more like an unsettled morning out with someone who didn’t do their research), we visited a wet market, and my interest in farmers’ market type shopping was again piqued.

Wet markets are very popular in Asia and are called that because of the water used to keep the fish alive, wash the floors and keep the produce wet and fresh.  One difference in the Tekka Market and I.N.A. is that Tekka does not have live animals.  There are indeed butcher shops, some who are cleaning and doing the prep work for you (including freshly mincing the meat while you wait!).

Prices are reasonable, you’ll find some favorite vendors (and it can be such a fun experience to create a “regular” shopping day and befriend the shopkeepers!) and it makes for a fun outing and a two-birds-with-one-stone event since you’ll have dinner ingredients at the same time!

 

Olive Fried Rice … the recipe!

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I was introduced to Olive Fried Rice by Ms. Melissa and fell in love with it immediately.

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I spent hours googling “Olive Fried Rice Recipe” and was horribly disappointed to find recipe after recipe of ingredients that didn’t sound ANYTHING like what I had tasted at Uncle Louis’ shop.

The name is somewhat misleading … as it doesn’t taste like your typical fried rice in the slightest.

[If you’ve had Olive Fried Rice in Singapore at ANY hawker stand besides Uncle Louis in the Woodlands, I’d bet you money on the taste superiority of his recipe!]

It is quite fun to go sit in the open courtyard, order our drinks from the guy in all-white (you have to pay for your drinks right on the spot), place our order with one of the gals and then impatiently wait for the goodness to arrive.

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Several weeks later (and several episodes of giving into temptation and ordering meal after meal of Olive Fried Rice), Ms. Pam came to visit us in Singapore. Of course, we had to share our love of the food with her and the girls.

Afterwards, I was trying to get someone’s attention to pack our over-indulgence for take-away. Long story short, we came to learn that the guy in all white, WAS Uncle Louis!

I shared my frustration with not being able to locate a recipe that was worthy of his cooking, and he offered to GIVE ME HIS RECIPE! Holy cow, I was honored!

Later, when I returned to get the recipe (he needed some time to write it down), I was presented with this :

Awesome, Louis! I proclaimed, however that wouldn’t do me very much good, after all I don’t even know what “Olive Vegetable” is.

I returned the next week for a promised “cooking lesson” instead … I met him at the prescribed 3:00pm on a Tuesday. However, his face fell when he saw my camera. “I’m not comfortable with you being hot and sweaty and taking pictures in my small kitchen here at the food stand.”

So we arranged the next best thing. A private cooking lesson in my kitchen with some neighborhood friends!  First up, the shopping!

 

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UNCLE LOUIS’ OLIVE FRIED RICE

1 cucumber, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks

2-3 small limes, cut in half

2-3 small chili peppers, sliced

1 kg minced pork

1 package Chinese sausage (sometimes called red wine sausage), diced

1 package pork floss (best stuff ever!)

1 jar of olive vegetable (NOT olive paste, you should be able to find it in the Chinese section of your grocery store (made from olives, chopped mustard greens, oil & salt)

2 eggs

1 large onion, sliced

4 C cooked white rice

INSTRUCTIONS :

1.  Brown the pork with salt and pepper and set aside.

2.  Plate in separate small bowls the cucumbers, limes, chili peppers, chinese sausage, pork floss, onions.

3.  Using a small lightly oiled skillet, break the eggs and cook into a pancake, flipping to the opposite side when the first side is cooked.  I have no idea how long that is, but you’ll be able to tell, right?  Once cooked, roll the egg pancake and slice.  Set aside.

4.  Take 2 cups of rice and place on a large plate.  Use two healthy dollops of olive vegetable (or more if Louis is standing next to you!), a handful size helping of sausage and double that of the minced pork.

5.  Heat a large wok or skillet with approximately 2 T of olive oil.  Place the contents of the plate into the wok and stir fry until all of the olive vegetable is mixed in thoroughly with the rice.

6.  Remove from the wok and place the cucumbers, pork floss, eggs and chili around the plate, squeezing a half of a lime over the top of the rice.

7. Toss and serve.

Cacciatore & Sons

Somewhere near the corner of N. Nebraska and E. Columbus you can smell Cacciatore & Sons (3614 N. Armenia Avenue, Tampa FL).  You can smell the fine cut meats, the marinated olives and the homemade sausage (OH the sausage!).

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In 1896, the Cacciatore family came to the United States from Italy in search of the American dream. They settled in Ybor City in Tampa, FL and opened a butcher shop named Cacciatore & Sons that provided groceries and other household items. The Cacciatore family catered to the immigrants that lived in the industrial town that consisted mainly of Cubans, Italians and Spaniards.

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The Cacciatore family has been serving the Tampa community for over 100 years. As the fourth generation, their vision is to serve their local customers with quality food at affordable prices.

 

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This past summer, we took a drive around the old haunts of my Husb’s family.  I loved hearing the stories that Mimi (my mother-in-law) tells about their visits to Cacciatore’s, the bulk orders, the olives, the sausage.  Oh my goodness, the sausage.

There are some rich, RICH family history stories living within the four walls of the Cacciatore & Sons Meat Market.

If you’re in Tampa … pay them a visit.  Get some cheese, some olives, some wine and some sausage!

Rosy’s Kitchen

If you know me very well, you know that I used to abhor cooking.  The term “cook” in MY kitchen meant either Green Bean Casserole, my famous chili or the drive thru.  After marrying Todd however, I developed a love for the kitchen.  Experimenting, perfecting, trying new things out.  It pleases me to menu plan and feed my brood.

I loved my hanging pot rack and really loved my spice rack.  I loved that my pots were well-used and worn.  While I didn’t like the clean up portion of cooking, I LOVED the shopping, the planning and the cooking part immensely. I experimented with freezer cooking (whereby one weekend a month, I would shop in bulk and spend the sum of two days cooking, chopping and prepping meals for the next 2-3 weeks, all which would sit nicely in my freezer until it was their turn to be consumed).

We participated in a round robin style cooking process with several friends. One day per week, we all cooked our dinners, but made multiple batches, and then delivered them to each other. It was a brilliant plan, especially when it worked out just so that someone else delivered stuffed red peppers to our home on the nights I was responsible for coaching the soccer team.

When I first heard about the “norm” in India to have a staff, I thought (like all of my American friends), “HOW COOL!”. I mean, how spoiled to have an actual designated cook doing all of the drudgeries of running a household. No more grocery shopping (hooray!), someone else could tackle the food prep, the cooking AND the cleanup. Not to mention passing off the dishes duty.When our belongings arrived and the unboxing begun, I wanted desperately to unpack my kitchen. Put things where they belonged and get that portion of the house set up first. I was itching to locate my favorite coffee cup and arrange the kids’ lunchbox containers just so. Little did I know that it was no longer my job.

Rosy and Sushila (the cook and the maid) both set to that task immediately and actually SHOO’D me out of my own kitchen. See … the reality here in India is that it is no longer MY kitchen.  It is Rosy’s kitchen.

Yes, I know.  I can hear you now.  ‘Naomi … don’t complain.  Be glad that you get someone who does all of that FOR you. Think of what you can do with all of that extra time!’  The takeover didn’t stop with the unpacking of boxes. From the moment I entered my new home, the kitchen – as well as most of my other tasks that I assumed on behalf of my children – became … hers.

Being asked to give up the job of whipping up dinner, the satisfaction of hearing “that was really good, babe!”, and knowing I had successfully taken random ingredients from my pantry and created something delicious and healthy for my family, was extremely difficult.

Mia - upset because we couldn't purchase from ALL of the vendors.

Mia – upset because we couldn’t purchase from ALL of the vendors.

I associate my success as a mother and a wife with the ability to feed them well.  Their full bellies and contented smiles after dinner means I’ve succeeded as a mom.  I know the feeling when dinner is burned, or when presenting filled plates, you receive sour puss looks, followed by “I don’t WANT this”. It feels like small failures. 

I’ve spent a good portion of the last 6 years perfecting the balance of what’s healthy for my family and what they’ll actually eat, and have learned to not only enjoy it immensely, I thrive on the challenge to find where the scale evens out in the middle.

This having a cook gig not only takes away my control and my joy in providing for my family, it also requires some extra steps.  Instead of relying simply on my memory power to remember what is a staple in my pantry, or what leftovers I have to work with, or what meat is in the freezer, it requires a daily conversation with Rosy about that day’s menu plan.

Shopping Indira

Realizing that it doesn’t seem like a big deal to simply have a 10 minute conversation about tonight’s dinner … the reality is that those 10 minutes virtually ends my responsibility for that part of raising a family.  The problem is again with control. After 14 years of being the SOLE decision maker on what my family needs to fill their belly, I … with the simple act of boarding of an airplane … have now relinquished the safety and health of my children to someone I barely know.

We will eventually figure out this cooking business and I will provide Rosy with a week’s worth of menus, with the list of ingredients needed and the recipes.  We will have our morning chats to ensure that she understands what ingredients we need, and so that I understand what ingredients might not be available at the local markets or at the “Sugar and Spice grocery store.”

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I have begun to insist that our meat come from somewhere a bit more “normal” instead of arriving at the house, in a black plastic bag, still warm (you get what I mean, right?) and we will figure out a balance of when I choose to do the grocery shopping vs. Rosy taking that responsibility.

It has been decided that I will be the one in the kitchen every morning to get my children their breakfast. It’s also been agreed that no one will come up from their quarters until 9:00am so that I can enjoy my coffee in peace. Because she loves her dearly and enjoys squeezing her cheeks and plopping her up on the counter to teach her Hindi, Rosy will provide lunch for Mia. And for me, I will work on my struggle to give up control over one of the KEY elements of being a mom/wife to this family and will give Rosy the controls. 

After all, she quietly works in the kitchen all day long to provide great meals for us that are seemingly magically ready at the appointed hour of 6:00  pm … and once we’ve finished our meal, she reappears to do all of the cleanup.  “My kitchen” has NEVER before been this clean 24/7.

[By the way … our first Indian food here in the house was a huge success.  Rosy made Aloo Gobi (cauliflower and potatoes), dal (beans) and chipati.  Mia tasted her serving but deemed it too ‘picy.  Tony ate his entire helping and well, Terran and I licked our plates.  I’m hoping to implement Indian food into our menu plan twice per week, with Western style food being the main option.  Rosy is a great cook and makes the most wicked brownies you’ve tasted … this side of the ocean!  Don’t tell anyone, but we’re going to keep making Mac N Cheese on Indian dinner nights until the littles have developed more of a taste for it.]

 

[Side note: Rosy’s employment didn’t last long. While she was wonderful to our family, in the end her desire for full control of decisions, parenting choices and how our home life played out clashed too strongly with mine and we found a new cook, Shanti. The final straw was one afternoon when I was insisting that the children make their OWN beds in the morning and clean up their OWN toys, Rosy responded “this is my house to run, and I know what’s best.” I slammed my hand on the counter and retorted “it may be your house to run, but they are my children and this is MY family.” I’m not proud of the angry tone I exhibited towards her, but it was an important moment in my new role as a “ma’am”. From that moment on, I realized that while it takes a village to raise a family – and in our case, a staff of NINE – my role as a mother and wife could never be taken away simply because someone else was sharing the responsibility to care for my family.]