A few months ago, when Emmy and I visited Vernie at Wesleyan, she suggested that we celebrate the Chinese New Year by having a traditional Singaporean steamboat, or hot pot, dinner. Always eager to try new food, we hastily agreed. So, with Vernie and our dear friend Max, who also just graduated from Wesleyan, we went up to an Asian grocery story in West Hartford and bought bags and bags of foods I had never seen before. We cooked them in an improvised pot of near-boiling soup, resulting in a bunch of delicious combinations. Once this trip was planned, Vernie told us she would show us the real deal in her home. It was definitely one of the things I was most excited for about our time in Singapore, and it didn't disappoint.
Before I saw the steamboat in action at Wesleyan, it was a bit hard to understand what exactly it was. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a few million words for you:
Vernie’s family was very generous to have put together such an amazing spread for us, and it turned out to be an even greater adventure than our first hot pot experience. One of the things that was most interesting about the steamboat was that, just like nearly every other food we had in Singapore, it lets its maker reflect their own heritage and preferences. In fact, each participant gets to choose which meats, fish and vegetables they would like to have, and then gets to decide how to flavor each bite.
We enjoyed the steamboat with Vernie and her parents, and it was evident right away what a fun celebration the steamboat tradition could create. We sat around the table, each tossing different fresh foods into a flavorful boiling soup. After a few minutes, the cooked items started floating to the top, and we began picking them out, dipping them in our sauce of choice, and popping them into our mouths. Part of the fun was that there were so many different things in the soup, and we got to try all of them one by one, bite by bite.
After we had been cooking all of the fresh ingredients in the soup for a while, Vernie encouraged us to begin spooning the soup from the boiling pot into our individual bowls. Though the soup was perfectly good, it wasn't nearly as exciting as the solid parts of the meal. In fact, in general, I found it hard in Singapore to get excited about the various soups that accompanied so many of the noodle dishes we had. Vernie said I was missing out, and maybe she's right, but they were always so much more bland than what they were paired with. Maybe my palette just isn't sensitive enough.
Having such a nice meal in someone's home made a very nice change from the many, many meals we've enjoyed in restaurants on our trip. It was even more special because of what an amazing meal it was and what a fun tradition it came from. Thank you to the Chia family!