“Grocery shopping at the peak of the pandemic was so stressful, I didn’t want to head out unnecessarily. I learnt fast that not having one or two ingredients on hand won’t render a dish incomplete,” says Melly Fong, an artist from Singapore who makes handcrafted goods.
“I used to track down every single ingredient in the recipe to feel like I’m doing right by it. Now I don’t blindly follow recipes anymore, I use them loosely as a guide and I’ve learned to trust my instincts in the kitchen.”
She is taking a break at the moment yet finds herself still doing the same things most days – for her family. Sometimes she would make costumes for her four-year-old son, other days she finds herself taking photos of her opinionated pint-sized critic, their home and her beloved plants.
While the pandemic has wrecked havoc worldwide, thankfully Fong hasn’t been too badly affected by it. Fong and her husband have been working from home for over a decade so they didn’t have to alter their routine much even when Singapore was on lockdown.
Annoyingly, she is feeling the constraints of the new rules and safety measures more now that her son’s birthday is coming up and he is at an age where he wants to invite all of his friends.
Recounting fond memories of pre-pandemic days, Fong says, “My family often eat at Wing Seong Fatty’s, our favourite Cantonese restaurant. My grandfather used to take my pops there when he was a kid and of course the tradition got passed down so my siblings and I all ate there as kids, as adults and now my son as well. Sweet and sour pork is a dish we must order every single time. It’s my brother’s and sister’s favourite, my husband’s and my son’s too. Funnily enough, it’s not a favorite of mine.”
She confesses she would have never attempted this dish if not for the pandemic, which had put an end to social gatherings and group dining in Singapore for most of 2020.
“During the pandemic, I saw a friend post her step-by-step sweet and sour pork recipe on Instagram and the steps looked doable so I tried making the dish. It’s nowhere near Wing Seong Fatty’s standard but I got the thumbs up from my husband and son. Making the dish a couple more times and tweaking it made me realize I must be missing my family dinners at Wing Seong Fatty’s more than I care to admit.”
Fong cooks dinner for her family most weeknights. She grins, “I have bookmarks everywhere – on my computer, on Instagram, in cookbooks. I’ve fallen into a good rhythm of how to approach a weekly menu although there’s no clear process in my head. I either let my cravings guide me and cook familiar dishes or try new recipes and panic a little in the kitchen. I’d say the choice largely depends on how optimistic I feel about diving into the new week.”
Singapore’s extremely gradual relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions has sparked cabin fever among many residents. If anything, this experience has taught Fong that her family is her rock. “Everything will be okay as long as we are together. And music has gotten us through a lot of crappy days at home.”
When asked if she has any advice for anyone who has been forced to start cooking or cook more because of the pandemic, she replies, “Cook what you love to eat, cook what your loved ones love to eat. You can’t go wrong with this.”
As for Fong, at the start of 2021, she made a resolution to cook more Chinese food, acknowledging that Clarence Kwan had a big influence on that decision. She has been cooking for herself and her loved ones since she was 18 or 19 years old but her focus has always been on pasta.
“Even though I had watched a lot of Martin Yan’s ‘Yan Can Cook’ growing up, I think Jamie Oliver’s and Nigella Lawson’s cooking shows made a big impact on me then. I guess I thought being able to cook someone else’s cuisine is cooler than cooking my own. No more of that. I want to get so comfortable with cooking an array of home-style Chinese dishes that I don’t have to look at recipes anymore.”
Sweet and Sour Pork (SERVES 3 GENEROUSLY)
450g pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped into chunks
1 red pepper (or eggplant)
4 slices pineapple rings
oil for frying
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
a dash white pepper
3 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp warm water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp water
- To make marinade, stir together soy sauce, sugar, salt and white pepper.
- Pour marinade over pork and let marinate for at least 30 minutes.
- For the batter, mix corn starch and warm water till it becomes gloopy.
- Break two eggs over marinated pork and mix.
- Pour batter over pork and egg mixture. Add more cornstarch if necessary so that it becomes sticky and well-mixed.
- Fill a pot with about 2.5 inches of oil and set flame on medium heat.
- Once the oil is hot enough, fry pork for about 2 minutes and remove from heat.
- Adjust flame to high heat.
- Fry pork a second time for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.
- To make sauce, stir together sugar, water, soy sauce, rice vinegar and ketchup in a pan.
- Add onion, red pepper and pineapple to sauce and cook till soft.
- To make cornstarch slurry, mix cornflour and water.
- Add cornstarch slurry to sauce and stir.
- Pour sauce over pork, mix well and eat!