image: Tatyana Kildisheva
“I am not professionally trained and have no experience in a professional kitchen,” explains Singaporean Penelope Foo, who is this month’s featured participant from the International Cooking Club Singapore (ICCS). “Everything I know, I have learnt through observation, tasting, reading widely and experimenting.”
She’s clearly paid attention, as she now teaches cookery through her Hungry Mummies hands-on cooking classes (find them at @hungrymummies on both Facebook and Instagram) to fellow Singaporean mums and professionals “after meeting many who have not cooked a meal since their home economics lessons in school”.
“I am conscious that we lead such hectic lives now, so I take a very pragmatic approach to home-cooking – using ingredients that are easily accessible, can be prepared in advance or are easy to prepare and maximise the household food budget,” shares Penelope, who is mother to two girls, Francine, 9, and Sylvie, 7.
Beyond her own how-to cooking sessions – which include options for private lessons, small groups, domestic helper classes and more – she’s also been in ICCS since it started in 2015. Back then, she was the leader of a cooking group, and has since contributed four recipes to the group’s The Red Dot Melting Pot Cookbook (scroll down to read more).
This time of year, with Chinese New Year on its way, Penelope is extra-busy preparing to host her own annual festive gathering. Held the weekend after CNY, she says, her crowd-pleasing specialty is braised duck.
But, Penelope always spends CNY eve at a reunion dinner at her parents’ house. “Our reunion dinners with my parents are a grand vegetarian feast prepared by my mother – my parents have been vegetarian for more than 20 years,” she explains. “People find it strange, especially when all the auspicious foods we associate with celebrating CNY involve seafood of all shapes and forms and roast meats.”
Then, she adds: “But, I have to say preparing a vegetarian CNY feast is way less laborious! That way, we get to spend more time with the family.”
Keep reading for more of her insider knowledge about some of SG’s favourite foods and then some…
image: Assia Turner
When did you first learn to cook?
“I grew up with great food, as my mother is a wonderful cook and was always busy in the kitchen experimenting. I first learnt by observing, mainly hovering around my mother while she was cooking. I was gradually allowed to participate and then ‘promoted’ to being the official food taster.”
What are some of your favourite Singaporean dishes to cook?
“Chicken rice – it’s good at the hawker stalls, but so much better made at home. I often make this when I have overseas guests.”
How often do you make such dishes?
“As a Singaporean, local dishes are permanently in my repertoire.”
What do you enjoy most about being in ICCS?
“I love being part of a close-knit community that shares the same mad passion I have about food. I really believe that food brings people together, and ICCS has been such a great platform, where lifelong friendships have been formed – especially in a transient city like Singapore.” (Learn more about ICCS here.)
Which of your recipes were featured in ICCC’s The Red Dot Melting Pot Cookbook?
“Sweet & Sour Prawns, Taiwanese Beef Noodles, Singaporean Baked Tapioca Cake and Singaporean Sweet Potato Balls” (shown at top, bottom, above and below, respectively)
image: Tatyana Kildisheva
Where do you buy good-quality, authentic ingredients in SG for when you cook at home?
- Little Farms – “Great fresh produce and dairy products. I like buying fruit individually instead of in bags, to reduce wastage.”
- Ghim Moh Wet Market – “A great market to shop for fresh ingredients for both Western and Asian cooking.” (at 20 Ghim Moh Road; read about other budget-friendly wet markets in SG here.)
- NTUC Finest – “When I just need to shop for both Asian and Western groceries.”
How does living in SG influence your cooking?
“As most of our food is imported from all over the world, we don’t really have to abide by any seasons – which means cooking very convenient.”
image: Tatyana Kildisheva
When you’re not cooking, what are your favourite places in SG to dine out or grab a drink?
“I don’t eat out very often, but when I do, I do try to explore a new restaurants or supper clubs. I like exploring neighbourhoods and areas on foot and being pleasantly surprised. I particularly love Keong Saik Street, and exploring Middle Eastern food places in and around Arab Street. NUDE Grill in MarinaOne has been a dependable favourite for some time now.”
About International Cooking Club Singapore (ICCS)
International Cooking Club Singapore (ICCS) is a non-profit organisation consisting of approximately 300 participants from more than 95 countries divided into 26 cooking and baking groups. They rotate homes and teach one another culinary skills. ICCS created The Red Dot Melting Pot Cookbook, a top-ranked cookbook containing 223 authentic recipes from 97 countries. Follow ICCS on Instagram at @iccs_sg as well as its cookbook page @reddotmeltingpotcookbook for a regular dose of delicious recipes!
By Sara Lyle Bow, January 2019
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