On Saturday afternoon, I finally touched down in Asia, as my Emirates airplane descended down from the clouds.
I had my new Saudi Arabian friend, May from Jeddah, on my left, and the view of the approaching Singapore Changi Airport on my right. My heart thumped with excitement as the plane was about to land, almost bursting with happiness and joy.
After a long journey of close to 30 hours, I’d eventually landed, and it sure feels good to be back home. I walked through customs with a sense of extreme pride – pride to be Asian, pride to be home, and pride to be back where my roots are and will always be.
Asia, with its spicy flavors and rich fragrances – all of which poured from my kitchen on Saturday evening as my mum, my Aunty Catherine and my helper Miriam prepared my homecoming dinner – is inherently home for me.
I’d grown up in the midst of its customs, traditions, as well as its intricate web of Asian beliefs. It was here in Singapore where I’d spent my growing up years, and coming home to my extended family (complete with my cousins’ babies whom I met for the first time) was absolutely wonderful.
The climate, as it has always been, and as it will always be, is humid, sticky and hot. There are mosquitoes and their bites, all part of the tropical equatorial charm, something I’m not too fond of but accept as part of the package. The sun has also been shining bright and harsh since I returned, and the heat is often unbearable, so into the air-conditioned places we escape.
I woke up at 8 am on Sunday morning, the sunlight peeking through the blinds, with the sound of chirping birds coming in from outside my window. It took me a while to remember that I was in Singapore again, and I then I realized that I’d slept through the entire first night home, as fitful as a newborn baby.
It’s amazing being able to hug my mum again, her frame much smaller than I’d remembered, a result of her determined change in lifestyle after the unexpected heart attack last Christmas. It’s great to come down to the first floor for breakfast and see my father with his cup of tea, leafing through the Sunday Times.
It feels good to see my grandfather, with his crown of white hair, and bespectacled face, and be able to give him a quick arm massage when he told me his arm hurt. My grandmother, in her truthful candidness, let me know that she’d missed me, even between jokes about how dark I’d become and how tanned my skin is.
It’s also wonderful to be able to sit through my brother Ronald’s impromptu photography lessons, as he tried to show me how his new lens worked and how to quickly edit in Adobe Lightroom. It’s also great to see my sister Val and be sleeping in the same floor as her again, even though the room which used to be mine, now bears a sign that says “Valerie’s Room”.
There are so many things about being back home in Asia that remind me that I belong, as well as that tell how much has changed.
Some neighborhoods, like Siglap and Katong, are almost exactly as I had left them; then there are others that have drastically changed – many new train stations along with refurbished shopping areas, sprouting real estate developments, and a sea of increasingly foreign faces.
I drink in and observe everything as if I were a foreign tourist, the first time in a land that is legitimately mine, but also constantly evolving.
It’s just like being in a long-distance relationship – where change is inevitable and necessary, and will always be a part of the equation.
This continent, this country, and my family and friends that are all here – make me feel so much – emotions that choke me up with tears at times and that also bring me so much joy. There is simplicity and there is complexity; there is complete openness, and there are shades of transparency and truth.
I have so much to digest and experience in these three weeks – some of which I’d love to share with you, and some of which I’d prefer to keep to myself.
Today, I’d like to share this simple dish with you – pan-fried tofu accompanied with a spicy Siracha soy sauce.
Tofu is an ingredient that is widely-eaten in Asia, and is a food that can almost always be found in most Chinese kitchens (at least in mine).
There are many ways that you can prepare tofu, and this is probably one of the simplest.
You begin with placing a block of tofu on top of paper kitchen towels which will soak up the moisture from the tofu. When most of the moisture has been absorbed, cut the tofu into evenly-sized triangle pieces. When all the tofu has been cut, sprinkle salt and pepper over the pieces of tofu, and then pan-fry the tofu in a non-stick pan with just a little bit of cooking oil over medium heat.
Let the tofu cook for a few minutes until the underside turns golden brown, then flip the pieces of tofu over and let the other side cook until golden as well. (In order for the tofu to cook well, it’s important that you place the tofu in just one layer; if necessary, cook the tofu in two or three batches, depending on how small or large your pan is. Be patient; it’ll pay off.)
When all of the tofu is finally cooked, mix equal parts of Siracha sauce and soy sauce together. Serve pan-fried tofu garnished with sesame seeds and spring onions, together with the delicious, spicy Siracha soy sauce, and cooked rice, if so desired.
I hope you’ll like it!
- 1 block of tofu, cut into small triangle pieces
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon Siracha sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- A handful of white sesame seeds, for garnish
- A handful of chopped spring onions, for garnish
- Cooked rice for accompaniment, optional
- Before cutting the tofu, let it sit on a few pieces of paper towels until the moisture is mostly absorbed, then cut tofu into small triangle pieces.
- Sprinkle salt and pepper over the pieces of tofu
- Pan-fry tofu in a non-stick frying pan with a bit of cooking oil over medium heat
- Let tofu cook for a few minutes until underside is golden brown, then flip over and let the other side cook until golden as well. (Make sure that tofu cooks innn one single layer. If necessary, you may need to cook tofu in two batches)
- Mix Siracha and soy sauce together to get the siracha soy sauce
- Serve pan-fried tofu garnished with sesame seeds and spring onions, alongside the sauce.