Filipino Food Month is about local cuisine. But exploring dishes from other countries, Singapore for instance, is also welcome
On April 13, 2018, the fourth month of the year was declared Filipino Food Month with the signing of Presidential Proclamation No. 469. The occasion helps us keep in touch with our own food heritage, focused on both traditional and modern local dishes. And yet, with the Filipino’s love for food and travel, we discover and enjoy new and exciting flavors, techniques, and traditions beyond our own, which also gives us a better appreciation of our cuisine.
One of the countries that Pinoys love to visit, especially because of its food culture, is Singapore. Going to the Southeast Asian island is impossible at the moment. This is why the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has reached out to Filipinos with a case of wanderlust through food.
The statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Singapore has recently introduced a unique, albeit lesser-known cooking style, Zi Char. It is being promoted through a fun and quirky video called “Say it First!” which features actor-turned-chef and restaurateur Marvin Agustin, musical husband-and-wife Yael and Karylle Yuson, and comedian Victor Anastacio, all doing their best to pronounce Zi Char correctly. By the way, the proper pronunciation is “Tzu- Chah.”
This popular cooking style in the city-state is influenced by homecooked food. The Hokkien, southern Chinese dialect, is an expression that translates to “cook and fry.” The dishes are mainly Chinese but also have many influences from the various cultures and races in Singapore. Normally cooked to order and customized to one’s liking, Zi Char dishes are hearty, affordable, and meant for sharing. Sharing a meal, as most people know, is a very Filipino thing.
Normally cooked to order and customized to one’s liking, Zi Char dishes are hearty, affordable, and meant for sharing. Sharing a meal, as most people know, is a very Filipino thing.
“Filipino foodies are always game to try new dishes and flavors. We hope to appeal to their sense of adventure by introducing this unique cooking style and creative dishes from Singapore,” says STB area director for Philippines, Ruby Liu. “Let’s reimagine what dining in Singapore can be with Zi Char—the crazy delicious cooking style you’ve never heard of!”
Some examples of Zi Char dishes are Coffee Pork Ribs, Cereal Prawns, as well as Seafood White Bee Hoon, which the actor-entrepreneur Marvin prepares in the “Singapore Reimagined” web series also produced by STB. With Marvin in the online video demonstrations is one of the judges for the first two seasons of MasterChef Singapore, chef Bjorn Shen.
The Seafood White Bee Hon is phenomenal. Light, non-greasy, and with a well-balanced flavor, this dish is considered a national cuisine alongside the famous Hainanese Chicken Rice. Here is the easy-to-prepare recipe by STB:
- 400 grams of soft bee hoon noodles, pre-soaked in cold water
- 12 medium-size deveined and unshelled prawns (reserve heads)
- 250 grams of skinned and sliced squid
- 500 grams of pre-boiled clams (reserve clam stock)
- 6 stalks Chye Sim or pechay, chopped into one-inch pieces
- 4 eggs
- 8 cloves of minced garlic
- oil for sauteing
- a liter or more chicken stock, prepared with reserved prawn heads slightly cooked in oil
- 2 tsps. sesame oil
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- fish sauce to taste
- a handful of chopped or crushed chicharon for garnish
- a handful of chopped cilantro for garnish
- light soy sauce
- Filipino bird’s eye/siling labuyo
- sambal chili
- Philippine lime/calamansi
- Create three portions of bee hoon by forming three balls of handpulled noodles.
- Heat up the wok with oil and add in the pre-soaked noodles. Leave for a few minutes until slightly charred. Turnover. Drizzle some more oil if needed. Remove from the wok and set aside in a bowl or plate.
- Season seafood (prawns, clams, and squid) with salt, sesame oil, and white pepper. Set aside.
- Heat up the wok with some oil. Add in beaten eggs. Stir around the pan and cook until the egg forms golden brown threads.
- Add in the minced garlic and cook for a couple of seconds. Add in stock and bring to a light simmer.
- Add in the pre-soaked noodles with seafood.
- Add in the Chye Sim or pechay.
- As the noodles cook, add in stock as necessary for the dish to be saucy.
- Season with more white pepper and fish sauce to taste.
- Transfer to a plate and top with chopped chicharon and cilantro.
- Serve with Philippine lime/calamansi, Filipino bird’s eye/siling labuyo, light soy sauce, and sambal chili.