Epigram Books Blog
It’s not easy to beat the food guide that has been dubbed “the best guide for serious street food aficionados” by Cuisine & Wine Asia’s Peter Knipp, but Dr Leslie Tay has done it again with the revised and updated edition of Only The Best! The ieatishootipost Guide to Singapore’s Shiokest Hawker Food.
In Only The Best!, Dr Leslie Tay takes his readers with him to taste the best of Singapore’s hawker food. The guide categorises these mouth-watering hawker dishes into 30 categories, ranging from the ever-popular Hainanese chicken rice to the slowly vanishing, traditional handmade muah chee. In this second edition, Dr Tay continues his quest to introduce the best hawker food, including new additions to the already comprehensive selection. This book is all one needs to discover the very best hawker food that Singapore has to offer.
Our marketing team here at Epigram Books managed to catch up with Dr Leslie Tay despite his numerous commitments. (Did you know that Dr Tay is a doctor, blogger, photographer, public speaker AND an author?)
Hi Leslie, how have you been recently?
Oh, I’m not really doing anything special at the moment, just working the usual routine—seeing patients in the morning and exploring food places in the afternoons.
Wow, just ‘the usual’ huh? I believe all of us here at Epigram Books are really curious about how you juggle your commitments as a doctor, author, food blogger, photographer and speaker, as well as your various media appearances.
(Laughs) When you are doing things that you are passionate about, they don’t feel like commitments. Writing about food and taking pictures of them are just my idea of fun.
Being a doctor is to follow your passion of helping others while writing about local hawker food is to focus on your passion of our local food dishes. Do you think it is possible to combine them and get the best of both worlds?
Actually they do overlap! When I write about a stall, leading to the forming of longer queues, I usually get a nice phone-call from the hawker, thanking me for my help. So in both medicine and food blogging I find that I can help people! However, these two activities do differ in terms of which part of the brain is active. Medicine is more of a left brain activity which relies on the analytical aspect of the mind while food blogging is more of an artistic right brain activity. Being able to do both brings balance to my life.
Singapore hawker food is known for its easy availability, short waiting time and general low pricing. What do you think of the Ultimate Hawker Fest—organised by you last year—which attempts to bridge the gap between cheap, low-pricing hawker food, and more expensive, better quality restaurant food?
The Ultimate Hawker Fest was an event where we invited local hawkers to cook their dishes, but with a twist. On that day itself, we provided them with top quality ingredients to prove that hawker dishes are not inferior to the expensive dishes we pay for in restaurants. After all, ramen is a common hawker food in Japan but when sold at Ramen restaurants, they can easily cost 20 dollars or more. With the rising prices in Singapore, Singaporeans cannot expect hawker food to remain cheap and still be able to deliver quality.
Some of the hawker dishes are doing rather well and have prospects for growth, as they can afford to sell at higher prices. Dishes such as chicken rice, bak kut teh and zi char can sell at more than the average $3 and have higher profitability. However, dishes such as char kway teow, which require individual time, effort, using only very low cost ingredients, will not be able to remain profitable for long. Also, dishes that can be cooked in a centralised manner such as fish ball noodles with the same fish ball distributor will also have a profitable future in Singapore. There are in fact, a lot of young people breaking into the Singapore hawker scene, as the risk is lower. The main concern however, is how to get them to cook local hawker food instead of hopping on to the “Aston’s” bandwagon.
How do you think we can preserve this food culture of Singapore, which is one of the reasons for Singapore’s popularity among travellers?
We can preserve and reinvent the recipes of our forefathers, cooking these existing dishes even better than them and catering them to the changes of society.
Many consider hawker food to be a dying trade, due to the younger generation being unwilling to take up this career, plus, the disapproval of their parents. As a parent yourself to James and Megan, do you see yourself allowing them to pursue a career in hawker food?
I have always told them that in whatever they do, as long as they are number 1, they will be rewarded for their effort. The same is true of hawker food. In society, everybody has a different passion and people should find jobs according to their passions. If my kids have a passion in this area, they can certainly pursue it with all their heart.
Your latest book, Only The Best! (2nd Edition), contains revised locations of certain hawker stores, as well as new recommendations for hawker food. Do you have anything else to say to your readers about this new-and-improved food guide?
There are not many food guides out there that take eight years to write! I made it a point to visit all the stalls myself to make sure that I only recommend the best stalls in order that our readers don’t waste their calories on yucky food. I hope that it achieves its goal.
Since we are on the topic of the Only The Best! food guide, why don’t you tell us three of YOUR favourite local hawker dishes that you featured in your guide?
Fried Hokkien mee from Geylang Lor 29, bak kut teh from Founder at Rangoon Road and char kway teow from Hillstreet Char Kway Teow.
- – – – -
Only The Best! The ieatishootipost Guide to Singapore’s Shiokest Hawker Food (2nd edition) is available in most major bookstores. Or get your hands on it here. To see the many more things Dr Leslie Tay is up to—or to feast your eyes on whatever he’s eating—visit his food blog, ieatishootipost.
Apart from being an established author, doctor, speaker and photographer, Dr Leslie Tay is also involved in doing his best to contribute to the less fortunate. Profits from his events are usually donated to Goducate to help the poor, help themselves.
Book Launch: ‘Mum's Not Cooking, Favourite Singaporean Recipes for the Plain Clueless and Plain Lazy’
Guess what! Awesome chef and talented writer Denise Fletcher is our guest blogger for this week!
Mum’s Not Cooking : The Aftermath
I’d like to say a really big thank you, to all who attended the official Mum’s Not Cooking book launch at Kinokuniya, last week on Saturday 21 July. I was a bundle of nervous energy, full of anticipation, anxious that I might trip up, twist my ankle (damned stilletoes *grrr* damn you and your Amazonian stature Michelle *GRRR*) or kill someone with my fiery curry devil, but in the end, it was all good, save one casualty, my favourite cuff bracelet. One of the glittery panels got knocked out by an enthusiastic handshake (thanks Jos, for babysitting my ‘jewel’ while I took to the mic). Makes me wonder what the guy had for breakfast, that morning…
Speaking of enviably tall women, did you know that Mum’s Not Cooking is now available on Amazon.com??! Yes, yes, I’m doing a little happy dance right now, because wherever in the world you may be, my fellow Singies, you no longer have to miss your chai tow kway, nasi lemak or sup kambing!! Anyway, back to the book launch… I got the chance to channel my oh-so-shy son Joseph, star of my slideshow on how to make Chocolate Chip Mug Cake, talk about why I wrote Mum’s Not Cooking, why it’s such a great little book, and banter with the lovely, vivacious and very tall Michelle (Epigram Books’ uber marketing assistant and sparkling event host).
Iron chefs, NOT! but, from left, the quick thinking Josephine, gallant Fernando and very young and promising Gabrielle.
As hoped, I met friends, readers, relatives, curious strangers and book fans, talked, talked, talked then talked some more, presided over an acar making contest, tasted the efforts of the contestants then made a hard decision on who produced the best rendition of my acar recipe (a nine-year-old budding chef who got the flavour spot on). Thank you Josephine the knife virgin and improv genius who ditched the blunt knife in favour of her nimble fingers, Fernando, present day incarnation of Sir Galahad who thought nothing of helping out a damsel in distress, even at the cost of winning, and Gabrielle, pickle prodigy and upcoming chef, for being such great sports and adding a ton of fun to the contest.
After the excitement of the contest, samples of Mum’s Not Cooking recipes––Cottage Pie, Devilled Sausages and Breakfast Banana Muffins were passed around the appreciative crowd, who made short work of them. The all too short hour ended with a book signing session.
It was such a pleasure chatting with the lovely people who waited patiently to get their copies signed, for spouses, sweethearts, siblings, friends, children, parents or themselves. Thank you each and everyone of you, for attending and spending the hour with me, and for your wonderful support of the event and Mum’s Not Cooking! I hope you enjoy using the book as much as I relished writing it and that if you were before, you will no longer be a stranger to your stove.
Our interns form an integral part of the Epigram Books family. We entrust them with important duties like keeping the marketing and editorial teams sane. We also feed them regularly. However, because they’ve been so pampered by us, often when they leave us for the great big world, they find themselves ill-equipped to handle simple things like feeding themselves properly!
Siau Rui was with Epigram Books for a short four weeks, but we’ve kept in touch with her through Facebook and emails. As such, when our Marketing Manager came up with the idea of trying out some of the recipes in our upcoming cookbook, Mum’s Not Cooking: Favourite Singapore Recipes for the Near Clueless or Plain Lazy by Denise Fletcher, she immediately thought of our dear ex-intern, far far away from her family in Singapore, with very little culinary skills to speak off. A perfect guinea pig.
Siau Rui is actually studying in Vermont, but did her report from Boston where she was visiting her sister during spring break.
Goh Siau Rui, International Student
I was actually pretty psyched when Felicia got in touch about trying out a recipe from Mum’s Not Cooking: Favourite Singapore Recipes for the Near Clueless or Plain Lazy. I mean, I’m not proud of the fact but the sub-title describes me perfectly. I hit my (hopefully) lowest point (food-wise) this summer in the US when I gave up trying to eat like a normal person and just snarfed down mint Oreos for dinner (don’t judge––we all make bad decisions). Anyway, because some Chemistry major told me that our metabolism starts to slow down and our body becomes increasingly intolerant of junk food once we hit 25, I’ve decided to try cooking some…Bak Chor Mee!!
It is probably the food I miss the most here. You just can’t find it in the US––not even in New York City, which is supposed to have everything. I checked out the recipe for Bak Chor Mee in Mum’s Not Cooking and it seems fairly simple––no chopping, no frying––just mixing and boiling. So far so good!
But first––ingredients. A bunch of my friends cook regularly so most of the ingredients are already on hand––I just needed to get chilli garlic oil and the Mee (noodles). It’s a good thing that it’s Spring Break and I was visiting my sister in Boston!
I went by Chinatown’s C-market (the big one), but they only have chilli garlic sauce. Why!?
I got some chilli oil instead––
But how to make chilli garlic oil? There was information in the recipe on how to make it from scratch (i.e. making the chilli oil from scratch too) but I wasn’t sure about the measurements now that I already have chili oil…so I just mixed the chopped garlic into a random amount of chilli oil that looks right. Seemed to work.
The minced pork. Because I was doubling the recipe, I was working with way more meat. Cue bigger bowl. As it turned out, the bigger bowl didn’t fit into the microwave oven. Bummer. So the bowl didn’t rotate and the meat wasn’t evenly cooked. Also, I had forgotten to cover the bowl. I felt pretty ‘lame’. But I transferred the meat into a smaller bowl and covered it this time––it still came out of the microwave oven weird. Too much liquid. Looked a little goopy. I threw the meat into a pan and it ended up looking…okay. I didn’t really know though, I’ve never really cooked meat before so I was just guessing.
Then I made the noodles and put everything in a bowl. It tasted decent! Better than my laksa attempt that ended up looking and tasting like mee rebus. The chili oil has a crazy kick (probably because my proportions are all off) and the pork was a little overpowering (probably because of the weird process I put it through) but it tasted close enough to the real thing. I got a neutral response (not a lambasting!) from my fellow Singaporean and a thumbs-up from my Malaysian friend (apparently they don’t have bak chor mee/meepok in Malaysia?). Also, no one got food poisoning. Good enough I suppose. Maybe I can actually be a real person and start cooking real food someday soon, especially now that I have a copy of Mum’s Not Cooking!
Announcing our latest culinary title: Uncle Lau’s Teochew Recipes. Written by chef and food consultant Tan Lee Leng, this book lets home cooks create the classic light soups, steamed seafood courses, and other delicacies for which the Teochews are renowned, as well as original dishes exclusive to the author’s own family.
Featuring step-by-step instructions for over 80 recipes, Uncle Lau is the latest book in our award-winning Heritage Cookbook series, which includes time-tested recipes for South Indian, Cantonese, Peranakan and Eurasian cuisines.
Please visit this book page to learn more about Uncle Lau. This title will be available in bookstores at the end of April 2012.
Rejoice! It's the latest of instalment of A Day In The Life. Sok Wan talks about her life of Editing and spills the beans on our top-secret upcoming launches.
One of the perks of my job is that I often get to meet and work with some very interesting people, with fascinating stories and backgrounds. Tomorrow I will be meeting Ernest Goh, the photographer behind The Fish Book, to discuss on future marketing plans for the book, and he will also be showing us samples shots from his new project! His photographs have never failed to amuse and amaze me and I very much look forward to seeing what he’s been up to after wrapping up The Fish Book. (Felicia and I couldn’t help bursting out in laughter when Edmund shared with us the subject for this new project. It’s unheard of and Edmund even came up with a hilarious title for the project. I’d love to share, but I have to keep mum for now to protect Ernest’s interest!) Later this week, I’ll be meeting a famous local comic artist to discuss on publishing his comics, and also a local celebrity chef to have a follow-up meeting on publishing his cookbook. Plus many more meetings with poets, artists, photographers and chefs in the following weeks.
Besides these prospective projects, here’re the statuses of the ongoing projects I’ve been working on for the week…
1.Uncle Lau’s Teochew Recipes by Lau Chiap Khai and Lau Lee Leng.
This book was supposed to go to print like…two weeks ago? But that didn’t happen because we had to make some last minute changes to the illustrations. Last week, Lee Leng requested that we use illustrations done by her late husband (renowned local architect Mr Jack Tan). It’s quite problematic as our publication deadline will need to be pushed back for at least a month and our ongoing promotion and publicity plans halted. However, after seeing the illustrations, I believe the delay will be well worth it. Mr Jack Tan’s food illustrations––stunningly intricate and lovely––are perfect accompaniment to the delicate and refreshing Teochew recipes in the book! But don’t take my word for it, grab a copy of the book when we launch it late April and see for yourself!
This landmark poetry series will showcase the best works by Singapore’s Pioneer Poets. To ensure that the poems included in the collection are indeed the ‘best of’ their works, the poets have been working hard, and I have been working closely with them to re-re-re-revise their selection. Mr Robert Yeo dropped by in the afternoon to pass me his revised poetry selection, which was all hand-written. I spend about an hour typing it out, but, I quote my managing editor, “For you, Robert, anything!” (see A Day In the Life Of: Ruth) But, seriously, Mr Yeo is a very nice person to work with and I’m really grateful that he has been dutifully keeping to the timeline of the project. And today, I finally manage to confirm a date for the book launch event! Given the busy schedules of the poets, finding a suitable date for the launch is no easy task—it took about 20 emails back and forth and frantic flipping of the calendar to confirm a date that is three months in advance! Yes, the series will be launched in July!
3. Graphic novel series (or comics series, but calling it graphic novels does make it sound more ‘atas’ and serious, because we are a serious publisher!)––Epigram Books’ new imprint!!
I’m real excited and looking forward to this project. Who knows? This could just be Singapore’s first successful graphic novel series that breaks into the international market! We have big plans to sell rights of the series to the US where the comics industry is burgeoning. Details of the graphic novels or identities of the comic artists that we are working with will be announced via our blog and Facebook. So hurry and ‘Like’ our Facebook page right now! And stay tuned!
It’s time again for another dispatch from the world of Epigram Books! This week, we learn what goes on in Jocelyn's day.
Someone recently asked me how I’ve liked working here as editor since joining the company in December 2011. I think my haiku “Lo Hei”, which I composed after our company lunch during the Chinese New Year and posted on my Facebook wall the same evening, should speak volumes.
Feastful of dishes:
Never more tasty than in
For one, I now have a namecard that says, simply, “Jocelyn Lau, Editor”, printed on a nice hard card. Editor, not Assistant Editor, not Associate Editor, not (oh gosh) Production Editor. Just Editor. (It matters!)
For another, everything I’d imagined life as an editor would be, since the year 2000 when I graduated from the University of Denver Publishing Institute course, has finally taken form. I’d almost given up (boss, you know this), disillusioned, until this job presented itself.
At present, I’m juggling five book projects: Model Citizens by Haresh Sharma of The Necessary Stage (April––it’s a very, very good play! Read it! Or go watch it!); a book of rhyming verses for children (April––this will have sweet hand-drawn illustrations); a cookbook for clueless Singaporeans (May––I will be buying my own copy), Singapore Classics 2’s series of books (October––interesting job, this one); and a to-be-edited manuscript for Singapore expatriates (August?). [All the editing and proofreading at Epigram Books are done in-house.] There’s also a new photographic book project we’re brainstorming, due Christmas. And a couple of other projects in the pipeline we’re keeping an eye on.
Today, I had my face in a complicated author’s contract, which has been negotiated at length. Taking breaks while doing so, I wrote to a literary agent in New Zealand to explain why we want to edit the Singlish used in a book we’re hoping to republish; texted another writer to request personal particulars for an ISBN application; communicated with two photographers about a potential project; and wondered about a potential author’s silence over a draft contract. In between, our studio manager managed to distract my intense gaze from my Mac screen long enough to receive my project updates for the next day’s publishing meeting. And just before dashing off, late, to pick up my kid from his daytime minders, I sent off by email my suggestions for the title of that book of poems, knowing full well that ideas will come in fast and furious from various colleagues – throughout the night.
It’s been a good day at work.
What is it really like to work at Epigram Books? How is a manuscript or an idea scribbled on an NTUC receipt turned into a finished book that you hold in your hands?
Now, with our new series A Day In the Life, you can find out! First off is our managing editor Ruth, who recaps a typical day. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into the wild, weary and wonderful reality of literary publishing.
I fumble for keys as I walk towards the locked doors of the office. First to arrive. Again. Have just dropped my son off at his primary school––school starts way too early, and I’ve nothing to do after bidding him goodbye, so that’s why I’m always the first one in. After staring at my computer for a while, I begin work.
First task of the day: sieve through the 100 emails I have received. Indian company advertising its book cover design services. Hotel in Frankfurt advertising cheap hotel rates. “Book now for the Frankfurt Book Fair in October (or risk disappointment!)”. I also get other emails: a potential author griping the advanced royalties we offered him is way too low (“how to feed family?”), a colleague who sends a funny quote she read on how to write well, and another cold call from a wannabe writer with a tome of a manuscript for me to assess. I make hot tea while contemplating the trajectory of my day. Oooom.
Ding, dong! We receive a surprise visit from Robert Yeo! How I love that man––such an easy person to work with, always a gentleman, so dapper. We republished his book The Adventures of Holden Heng last year. Robert is stopping in to drop off his introduction to a play we’re hoping to publish in April––Mimi Fan by Lim Chor Pee. I look at the introduction––it is handwritten! How cool is that! I spend the next hour typing it out. For you, Robert, anything!
After sending off the introduction to my intrepid designer, Boon, for layout, I buckle down to look at the emails that really matter. Imaginary Friends Studios has just sent in the draft illustrations for the new Archibald book, out in May. Eeks! Why does Archibald look like a Japanese manga character? It’s ok, it’s ok––still early days, and I’m very confident they’ll get it right because Darren Tan of IFS is DA BOMB.
Have a quick discussion with Stefany regarding the draft cover. We also spend time choosing eight portions of the book to illustrate––these will be spot illustrations, more like sketches. Should we illustrate the twist at the end of the book? Hmm. Would it give the story away if someone accidentally flips to that picture at the end? Double hmm. Should we illustrate the evil villain? Hmm. Hmm. Hmm. Or leave it to the readers’ imagination? Got budget? What is best for reader? Decisions, decisions, decisions. And oh yes, Stef and I both agree this Archibald book is even better than the first one. Go SherMay!
Hunger check. Do I want to snag a biscuit from the pantry…or work?
Think I’ll continue working while I figure out the answer.
Receive an email from Lim Chor Pee’s family. They are the ones signing contract with us as Lim Chor Pee has passed away. The daughter, Claudine, explains she is from a family of lawyers. I understand the reason for her explanation as I read her email––she is requesting to include, among other things, the following clause in our contract:
The illegality, invalidity or unenforceability of any provision of this Agreement shall not affect the legality, validity or enforceability of any other provision of this Agreement.
Wha wha what?
I call Claudine and she is extremely friendly and approachable. In essence, the terms and terminology and phrasing and phraseability of the aforementioned contractual agreeity are rectified, clarified and demystified in, but not in exclusivity of, and not limited to but in consideration of the following ways: colloquial banter, jokes, plainspeak and much humour and discreet laughing. In short, we sorted it out!
Contract settled (I think! I hope!). It’s time to…call some celebrities! Yes, celebrities! Wait, let me check my breath. My nail polish. My hair. JUST kidding. First on the list: Woffles Wu. Yes, we are doing a book project with Woffles and he is lovely to talk to over the phone. Next I call Mr Brown. I hope to convince him to do a book project with us. I call, and call, and call. Then email. He replies to email, “Ah, that was you? Sorry, having flu.” I tell him I will call him later. It’s off to lunch then. Lunch is porridge, colleagues, talk of board games, Munchkin, Ticket to Ride, Hwa Chong students, doing wushu as CCA and studying in America.
Start chatting with Felicia, our marketing manager about marketing ideas for our Gurkha Book and our Teochew Recipes Book. Unlike our fiction titles, these non-fiction titles rarely receive sponsorship or grants. =( How do we ensure they make money for us? How do we ensure people buy our beautifully-designed cookbooks and photo books? We think of a few ideas which Feli will follow up on. Suddenly, I get a call from SherMay––she was supposed to drop by to discuss marketing for Archibald. “Sorry, Ruth, I have flu. On the way to doctor’s. Postpone to next week?” Is there a flu epidemic today? Hee. No matter, I start to type out my discussion points with her over email, since our meeting has been postponed. Don’t want to lose a week because of flu!
Off to a meeting with Edmund which will take the whole day. But before that, I note down my key tasks for tomorrow: a) Proofread Mimi Fan in layout b) Call Mr Brown c) Send new short story to Dr Howard Goldblatt who is helping us translate some Cultural Medallion Chinese novels, including You Jin’s, for publication in October this year c) Chase Tan Tarn How for the revised manuscript of Fear of Writing (yes we’re hoping to publish that in Apr!) and d) Send email IFS to discuss our comments for the book cover (make Archibald less manga!) and spot illustrations.
I switch off my computer, grab my bag and speed off behind Edmund while he harrumphs and harranghs about our celebrity book project, his latest culinary find ODP and how we should rename a poetry book we’re putting out soon. That’s all, in the day of a life of an Editor, for you!
It’s almost V-Day! If you believe music is the food of love, play on. If you believe food is the food of love, we have just the thing––four delicious handpicked recipes from Robin’s Eurasian Recipes, a collection of treasured family dishes that is now available in bookstores.
Click on the image below to download the following recipes for free:
Starter: Devil Wings
Entrees: Vegetarian Bee Hoon and Pot Roast Beef
Dessert: Coconut Agar-Agar
Have you got a copy of Amos Lee’s D.I.Y. Toilet Diary to Fame? Yes? Good. Are you ready for The Diary of Amos Lee TV series? Yes too? Great! You are officially ready to take part in our contest!
Here’s what you need to do: Simply colour, doodle and decorate the front cover of the D.I.Y. Diary, and let us know what you love about the TV series.
Ten lucky contestants will stand a chance to join us at a tea party and writing workshop on 10th March with Adeline Foo and Stephanie Wong at AllanBakes Bakery! And yes, you will get to try some of the Famous Amos (Lee) Cookies too!
Email a (1) scanned colour image of your cover and (2) a message describing what you love about the TV series to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to include your name, age and telephone number!
25th January 2012 – 25th February 2012
Results will be announced 1st March 2012. Winners will be notified by email, so keep a look out!
On Saturday, 28th January, meet the cast of the new Amos Lee TV series and hear author Adeline Foo talk about the new Amos Lee D.I.Y. Diary! Behind-the-scenes stories will be shared about the filming. Books will be signed. Plus special guest Allan Teoh, the master baker behind the Famous Amos (Lee) cookies will share tips on how to prepare the recipes in the book.
Join the fun at Popular Compass Point next Saturday. The start time of this event will be announced soon on Epigram Books’ Facebook page. See you then!