Back in Mar, I would not have thought that this lamian noodles I had in Le Shrimp was the start of a 3 months lockdown. This is Part 1 of a two-part farewell-hello.
Three things summarise my food experience in 2020 – deliveries, home cooking and hope.
Before It All Went Away
I was traveling for most part of Jan-Mar as it was usually the busiest period in my professional life – sales kick-off meetings in US, visits to Chinese customers before CNY, and first visits to key markets.
As we arrived in US early Jan, we heard about borders around US stepping up their checks on the so-called “unknown virus from Wuhan with flu-like symptoms”. Nobody was turned away. And then on 21 Jan, two days before Chinese New Year eve as my Chinese colleagues were preparing to return home, we heard news from China that they were shutting the borders of Wuhan to prevent people from going in and out of Ground Zero. The company helped them to find as many medical masks as they could for them to bring back to China, given our experience with SARS 13 years ago. They would need them. The whole situation deteriorated in a month, with the whole of China in lockdown.
For the rest of us, it was life as usual. I went about my travels like nothing has happened and the next stop Australia. Then Singapore reported its first cases and Case 0 was a tourist from Wuhan that came just before the lockdown happened. My Aussie friends were still joking about the situation. It was still referred to as “Wuhan virus”.
My last stop before the Circuit Breaker kicked in was Tokyo. And on all news channels was the news of the cruise ship that was quarantined off Yokohama with number of infected raising inside. The streets of Tokyo were empty. Even in a country where personal hygiene is the model for the world, Japan was not spared. I decided to cut short the trip and came home. If I have returned a day later, I would have the experience of writing my blogs from behind the quarantine centre.
It can only come from an Electrical Engineer of a Minister. Daily cases in Singapore were on the rise and the straw that broke the camel’s back was the spread among the foreign workers staying in dormitories. The Singapore government gave the command to start restricting social activities. When the Health Minister called the Singapore lockdown “Circuit Breaker”, everyone has a laugh in social space. Later in the year (Oct), UK called theirs “Circuit Breaker” and nobody laughed.
For the whole month of Apr, we stayed at home and cooked. Supermarket shelves were empty, storerooms were cleared to stock up essentials. The sudden rush for household goods had the Singapore government came out and reassured everyone that supplied were abundant. As kiasu Singaporean, we were prepared for a long winter. Then the rules were relaxed and the restaurants and hawkers can still do deliveries and takeaways. After the initial panic, food stock in supermarkets returned to normal levels but you still get an occasional sold out of flour when the whole country decided to bake.
Because the restaurants cannot take in dine-in customers, many turned to food delivery. The ones with the means started to work with food delivery platforms like Grab Food, Foodpanda, and my favourite, Oodle.sg.
I ordered No Signboard from Oodle.sg as we craved for chilli crabs. Oodle (we are no paid to say this) has one of the better list of restaurants in Singapore, some of which are really expensive to deliver, like Salted and Hung.
For their anniversary, Salted and Hung offered a create-at-home anniversary meal that one can finish up the preparation at home. All you need are sous vide machine (or hot water bath), a frying pan and nifty fingers. And they came with online Youtube videos on how to do it and music on Spotify to recreate the atmosphere in the home with the curated playlist of the restaurant.
And when the rules started to be more relaxed in May, we started to go and picked up food that we have been missing for quite some time.
Everything imaginable can be delivered. And then there’s the dark side to deliveries. Many “pretenders” start to appear in cyberspace. While some of these are affiliated, all of them are not the original brand or store that you are going after, like this JC Kim Choo pretending to what it wasn’t with a much slicker website than the original.
After a while, food deliveries can be strenuous to the household budget as the delivery platforms put a hefty charge to the hawkers and restaurants, and these charges were then in turn passed on to the consumers. Even those that resisted still have to pay to the delivery/dispatch riders. So people started to cook at home.
I tried one of those sous vide recipe for drunken chicken and nailed it the first time. And all of a sudden there were so many home cooks around us. Many of my friends (some I know never cooked) suddenly became accomplished chefs. Recipes were shared and the process of each recipe was documented in Youtube, Facebook and different channels.
One week, the whole community was making pandan cake, which led to a shortage of pandan essence and the special hole-in-the-middle baking tray was sold out and not restocked for months due to logistically issues in the global supply chain. And then everyone started making laksa, and laksa leaves sold out.
Road at the End of Tunnel
And finally, the rules relaxed further into what we called Phase 2 of the Circuit Breaker, when 5 persons not from the same household can gather to have a meal together. Very quickly, you knew if you are a favourite son. I wasted no time to have a meal with my team at Bistecca.
And just before Christmas, the government announced the commencement of Phase 3 on 28 Dec where the limit is raised to 8 person. Finally my extended family can meet for a meal together, albeit still two or more rounds required. And then on 22 Dec, the first batch of vaccines was shipped to Singapore. Now we are really looking forward to a more normal 2021.
As we count down to the new year, we can only hope that it would all return to normal. But we all knew, it would not be the same anymore. See you in the new year.