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.
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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.
Singapore’s favourite toilet diarist is back! And this time, he’s reporting from much more far-flung locales. First stop: Taipei, Taiwan!
Take part in “The Weird and Wonderful Photo Contest” and stand a chance to win one of ten special hardcover editions of The Travel Diary of Amos Lee: Lost in Taipei and tea with the creators of Amos Lee!
We can’t wait to see your photos!
Do keep a look out on the Epigram Books Facebook page for more details about the first book event!
Zakaria will be on hand to autograph copies of your book.
Time: 7:30pm to 9:00pm
Venue: National Library, Possibility Room, Level 5
Without further ado, we’ll hear from Zakaria about the journey he embarked on to publish his book.
Exactly a year ago, I was based in Nepal doing fieldwork—gathering portraits and anecdotes of the retired Singapore Gurkhas. Little did I know the impact this work would have on the Gurkha community as well as Singaporeans.
What a difference this year has been.
Let me state upfront: The journey in making a book on this invisible community would not have been possible without the support of Epigram Books.
I first met Edmund in November 2011, as we both were speakers for PLATFORM—a gathering of Singapore-based photographers, who use stills, video or multimedia, to tell stories.
I was sharing my work on the Gurkhas while he was sharing more about book publishing, especially photography books. A few meetings later, work on the book started. I believe we were both excited at the thought of making this photography book possible.
It was my first time being involved in such a process but I have enjoyed it at every step—be it the editorial direction, choice and sequencing of portraits and stories as well as marketing this book project.
But it cannot be said enough, the help and support of the Singapore Gurkha community in Nepal for opening their homes and hearts, and allowing me to document their lives to be shared with other Singaporeans.
Enjoy these photographs that documents the process of making the book.
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!
Save the date! On Sunday, January 15, meet Ernest Goh, photographer of The Fish Book, and Adeline Foo, author of the brand-new Amos Lee book The Diary of Amos Lee: Your D.I.Y. Toilet Diary to Fame!
Happy New Year to one and all! In this special Q&A, Epigram Books staff look back on the year nearly over and gaze into the months ahead.
1. What was one of your favourite projects this year?
Sok Wan: I enjoyed working on all of the projects! I worked on a variety of projects this year: a play collection, a food guidebook, a cookbook, a photography book and also a children’s book. But if I had to pick my favourite, it would be The Fish Book. The fish photographs by Ernest are all so whimsical and quirky! I think it is amazing that he managed to capture various moods (happy, sad, grouchy, cheeky, etc.) of the fish. I never knew fishes were so expressive!
Min: The time I spent working on Epigram Books’ website and Facebook community was pretty rewarding. Besides the fun of conceptualising and writing blog entries and Facebook posts, it was interesting to learn how WordPress and Facebook page administration worked behind the scenes.
Ruth: I really enjoyed working on Archibald and the Blue Blood Conspiracy by SherMay Loh. I love SherMay’s writing, and it was fun working with Imaginary Friends Studios to illustrate the book and see the characters come to life through their amazing drawings. Conceptualising the book cover with our designer, Stefany, was also a cool experience––we had a lot of discussion about “imagining” the scene that is now the front cover of the book.
2. What was a high point of your year?
Sok Wan: Selling NOTBOOKS at the MAAD Pajamas market. It was quite tiring to stand at our stall (by the road and no shelter!) for 8 hours straight, but seeing the NOTBOOKS sell like hot cakes was really exhilarating! It was also fun to see groups of people crowding around our NOTBOOK banner laughing as they pointed at different NOTBOOKS to assign the different titles to their friends. I am looking forward to seeing more NOTBOOK-related merchandise come out next year!
Min: I was thrilled to sit in on an exploratory meeting that included several local comic artists. I’ve been reading some of their comics for years and it was fascinating to see these creators in person and hear the personal thoughts and concerns outside of their works.
Ruth: One of the high points was selling Chong Tze Chien’s collection of plays, Four Plays, at the staging of Charged in July 2011. Why was this a high point? For one, the book sold like crazy! We could hear the click-clack of our little cash box opening and closing all night long. Secondly, it was the first time the whole Epigram Books team hauled itself down to execute a book launch. We were like travelling salesmen for the night, carrying posters, books, spare cash, receipts, and we even had to do catering that night! Talk about one multi-talented editorial team, plus it was a bonding experience!
3. Name a person or thing that inspired you. Why did they inspire you?
Sok Wan: Madam Padma Krishnan is a very lovely person who is fiercely passionate about cooking. I am glad we published her cookbook which fulfilled her wish to document her family’s recipes so that future generations can get to taste authentic South Indian cuisine. I can still remember the scrumptious feast she prepared for us when we went to her house for food tasting––the food she cooked was truly inspirational and till today, the colleagues who came along for the food tasting are still asking when we can have a meal at her place again!
Min: The Epigram Books and Epigram team! It’s a pleasure to come in every day knowing at some point someone will make you laugh, teach you something new, or complete whatever request you might make with professionalism and grace.
Ruth: For a while, being the only Editor with a car, I played “delivery man” and helped deliver our NOTBOOKS to several lifestyle shops in Singapore. I am very encouraged by shops like Cat Socrates and Woods in the Books. These are small, quirky, independent locally-owned lifestyle shops, started by people with great passion and vision. I’m glad there’s still the spirit of enterprise and passion out there in our local shops–that really makes me happy!
4. What are you looking forward to next year?
Sok Wan: I am looking forward to working on upcoming photography books under our Wee Editions imprint. Titles that are scheduled to be released in 2012 include The Effigies Book, The Teochew Muay Book, and The Durian Book, to name a few. We hope to expand our photography titles in 2012 and I’d like to take this opportunity to invite all interested local photographers to contact us if you have any works you’d like to publish, or if you have ideas for a photography book!
Min: It looks like we’re adding to our marketing resources in the new year, so I look forward to thinking up publicity and marketing strategies to get Epigram Books’ titles in the hands of people who would enjoy them…even if they may not know it yet.
Ruth: I am looking forward to editing the five Cultural Medallion works we are publishing in English next year. These will be works by Chinese authors You Jin, Xi Ni Er and Dr Wong Meng Voon, Tamil author M. Balakrishnan and Malay author Suratman Markasan. We have been hard at work putting the series together, meeting these luminary Cultural Medallion authors and identifying good translators who will do justice to their works. For me, having read some of You Jin’s works in Chinese before, I especially look forward to editing her works in English! Happy New Year everyone!
Do you need fresh gift ideas? Would you like your dollars to support local industry? Like to read, but don’t have an iPad?
Well, you’ve come to the right blog. Take a look at these hand-picked recommendations for you and everyone on your list.
1. ARTSY FOLK
by Tan Tarn How
Tan won critical acclaim this year with his censorship-themed play Fear of Writing. Theatre buffs and culture watchers will appreciate Six Plays, a collection of his earlier works, which also push boundaries in topics such as sex, life and politics.
by Ernest Goh
The Fish Book is an collection of art photography focusing on the miniature world of ornamental fish. Warning: these charming close-up portraits may trigger a run to your local aquarium shop.
2. YOUNG AT HEART
by SherMay Loh
A thrilling tale about a bumbling son of a duke who gets embroiled in a sinister conspiracy. SherMay Loh keeps pages turning with endless wit and a fast-moving plot. This novel for young adults picked up a Bronze Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and a nomination for Popular Readers’ Choice in 2011.
by Adeline Foo
The latest volume in this bestselling series brings more laughs and tween angst as Amos takes part in his school’s talent contest. Catch up on the Amos Lee saga before the TV series airs on okto next year! This book won third place in the Children category of the Popular Readers’ Choice Awards 2011.
3. ARMCHAIR ADVENTURERS
by Stella Kon
Stella Kon may be most famous for a certain play starring Ivan Heng as a Nonya matriarch, but did you know she brought her dramatic talents to prose too? This historical novel brings you to Singapore of the 1910s, where overseas Chinese fought the revolution to bring down the Qing dynasty. This book is part of the Singapore Classics series, which reprints formerly out of print novels by pioneering local writers.
by Robert Goh
The real-life adventure story of how a Singaporean team climbed a Himalayan mountain without fixed ropes or the aid of sherpas. Written by Robert Goh, the leader of the expedition, this account sheds light on the many uncertainties of unguided expeditions to Himalayan big mountains and how they were overcome. “If you’re sure you can do it,” Goh often says, “where’s the challenge?”
4. FOOD LOVERS
by Dr Leslie Tay
Featuring mouthwatering photos of dishes from rojak to wanton mee, and stuffed with entertaining facts and fictions about hawker food in Singapore, this is a foodie guide like no other. Use this insider’s guide to clue in your friends and family about the best hawker stalls in Singapore.
by Ambrose Krishnan
Indian food fans will be enthralled by this collection of over 120 treasured family recipes from Pondicherry and Kerala. Recipes include those for Chutneys & Thovials, Rice, Seafood, Poultry, Meat, Vegetables, Snacks & Desserts, and Home Remedies.
5. EVERYONE ELSE
If none of your prospective giftees fit into the previous categories, we’re sure you’ll find an suitable design in our new series of NOTBOOKS. Take the NOTBOOK that reads “I AM NOT BOSSY. I AM TAKING CHARGE”, for instance. How many people does that remind you of?
Where to shop: all the books can be found in major bookstores, and NOTBOOKS can be ordered directly from Epigram Books and purchased at selected retailers.
You’re cordially invited to the launch of The Fish Book, the first book by leading photographer Ernest Goh. At the launch, the book will be sold at the special price of $20 (GST inclusive) and light refreshments will be provided.
Date and Time: 17 November 2011, Thursday, 7pm
Venue: Chan Hampe Galleries, 27 Kreta Ayer Road, Singapore 088994
(for directions: www.chanhampegalleries.com)
Evoking the fascination of children fishing for guppies in longkangs, the book is a quirky, close-up look at the world of ornamental fish. It is a characteristic project for Ernest Goh, who has often focused his lens on uncommon beauty hidden amongst everyday life. Ernest’s images also shed light on the passion driving the global aquarium fish trade—it is relatively unknown fact that Singapore is the largest global exporter of ornamental fish.
The Fish Book is also the first title published by Wee Editions, a new imprint of Epigram Books. Wee Editions aims to buck the trend of hefty art books with its new line of high-quality, compact and accessible photo books. We hope to champion many more local photographers, arts, designers and architects by showcasing their works in beautifully designed print editions. Stay tuned for six more photography titles in 2012!