Ingredients that are unfamiliar to me, that is. So far, these have been products that are no longer sold today, or else ingredients referred to by less-commonly used names (usually in a different language from that by which the ingredient is generally known).
I don’t aim to reproduce the excellent work of other internet resources (such as this) and cookbooks that illustrate and explain all the various cooking ingredients, but merely to identify ingredients and link them to the names by which they are generally recognised in Singapore.
A single ingredient can have many different names in the various languages – Asian (national languages as well as dialects) and English – spoken in Singapore and Malaysia. The Knowing Food website has collated the names of many ingredients in Chinese characters, Malay and English (but lacks the pronunciation of the Chinese characters in Mandarin and common dialects such as Hokkien and Cantonese).
These are unfamiliar ingredients/terms I’ve figured out so far:
Quick internet research revealed that Spry was an American brand of vegetable shortening introduced by Lever Brothers around the 1940s (although I have found Spry pictured in ‘The 1930s Scrapbook’) and is no longer produced. Its closest competitor was Crisco, which we can still buy today. Read more at my ‘Custard Sauce’ posting.
2) ‘Robin Starch’
The strange thing is that my internet research indicates it was a household starch mainly used for starching clothes and bedlinen, not cooking! Then again, clothes can be starched with a variety of edible products such as cornflour/cornstarch + water, sugar water, rice water or potato water; but I’m not certain what the ingredients in Robin Starch were. Robin Starch was produced by Reckitt & Colman (Reckitt of ‘Reckitt’s Blue’ and Colman of Colman’s Mustard, which we can still buy today, merged in 1938). By the way, I love this postcard of a little cat looking at box of Robin Starch! [Taken from my posting on ‘Krupok Udang’.]
= tapioca flour
= tai she fun (Cantonese) / tua choo hoon (Hokkien) / 大薯粉
Once I found the recipe with the Cantonese & Hokkien names, it was no problem, I guessed immediately and confirmed the answer by asking a few people.
4) sak luk (Cantonese) – solved: 18.5.07
= candlenut/buah keras
= 石栗果 (Cantonese: sek6 leot6 gwo2/ Mandarin: shi2 li4 guo3)
= also known as 石古仔 [used in Patsie Cheong’s bilingual English/Chinese Malaysian recipe books]
= 月桂豆 [seen in a Singapore-published, Chinese language cookbook of Indonesian recipes, sorry I forgot to note the title]
= also 石鼓仔／馬加拉／油桐子 [info from Knowing Food website]
My Cantonese relatives said the recipes looked very nonya and didn’t know the answer. My Peranakan relatives said it was a Cantonese word and didn’t know the answer. My koo koo had a strong feeling it was candlenut as she had heard the word before, and guessed from the context of the recipes as I did. Then I went to look at the Chinese translation of Shermay Lee’s ‘The New Mrs Lee’s Cookbook’, and found the Chinese characters for buah keras. Coincidentally, a woman also browsing at the shelf was talking on her handphone in Cantonese, so I cornered her and asked her how to pronounce the Chinese characters in Cantonese :). Double-checked the pronunciation at CantoDict.
5) Loa may
= lou5 mei6 [Cantonese] / lu3 wei4 [Mandarin]
My Ee Poh Peggy tells me that this basically refers to a braised dish, and this style of cooking used to be very popular in the past – there were many types of “loa may” dishes.
6) Yin sye mai
= jyun4 seoi1 mai5 [Cantonese] / 2 sui1 mi3[Mandarin]
= coriander seed
= baat3 gok3 [Cantonese] / ba1 jiao3 [Mandarin]
= star anise
8 ) Kwai phay
= gwai3 pei4 [Cantonese] /gui4 pi2 [Mandarin]
This was the hard one, not everyone knew it and the ‘phay’ [skin] part of the phrase made us guess all sorts of other things, such as lemon peel, which didn’t sound right in the context of the recipe.