From the sea

Getting out of bed (and in some cases, not sleeping at all) at 5am to go to a fish market is not exactly your typical student behaviour but that's really how much the thought of food motivates us. Yes, us, who only begin the day at noon any other day. Inspired by some cookout photos put up by some friends, we decided that a trip to Billingsate Market was in order for our very own cookout to celebrate Hanad's birthday. Having been away for the week, I came home to find that the we had purchased enough food to feed the entire neighbourhood - but then again, when it comes to the amount of food we consume, nothing surprises me anymore.

We got right down to business, the kitchen bustling with activity as we pottered about - slicing, dicing, frying, chopping, tasting, tweaking. It's an organised sort of chaos when the whole house attempts to work in tandem in the kitchen and that's perhaps my favourite part of a cookout.

The freshness of the seafood from the market was absolutely worth waking up at the crack of dawn for - a mountain of prawns, crabs that were still moving about on the kitchen floor, oysters that could lick your hand while you cleaned them and huge slabs of fish.

The oysters were exquisite - I don't think any of us had ever had such fresh oysters before. A squeeze of lemon and a drop of Tabasco sauce - nothing has ever come close.

The crab curry was what set the ball rolling when we first decided we wanted a cookout. Sapna's craving for the chilli crab she had once in Singapore propelled her to search rather feverishly for the perfect recipe on the internet. In the end, we went with a recipe emailed to me by mum, tweaked, of course. A generous amount of shallots, chilli powder, garlic and ginger laid the foundation for the dish. With enough crab to fill a whole bathtub (I kid you not), the cooking needed much strategising. From the initial execution of the crabs and the shower that we had to give them to having to separate the crab out into buckets and cooking them in batches, it turned into quite a mission. It's true what they say however, that nothing worth it ever comes easy.

What's crab curry without the fried mantou? First steamed then deep fried (well, as deep a frying as we could do), the buns turned out really well much to our surprise. Dipped into the thick curry gravy, they were delicious.

"This tastes like Malta"
Mediterranean-style squid - this was the dish that provided a little something different to our predominantly Asian spread and it truly reminded us of the fantastic food we had while on holiday in Malta.

We decided to deep fry the squid tentacles in a batter made out of pre-mixed "cucur" flour. Upon seeing how well they turned out, we decided to turn the dish into a snack in the midst of cooking. We munched on the crunchy, golden squid as Sapna went around re-hydrating the kitchen crew with helpings of pineapple juice.

Butter Prawns - deep fried prawns that were tossed into a butter and curry leaf mixture. Digestive crumbs were added to the batter to give the prawns more texture.

Har Lok - another recipe emailed by mum.

Curry Laksa. This took a whole lot of tweaking, stirring and tasting to get just right - and just right, it was. Creamy and reminiscent of home, this was the sinfully indulgent dish that had everyone drinking out of their bowls. My favourite bits were the tofu and fish cake slices that had absorbed the gravy.

The best part about having a cookout at No. 42 is the fact that there's always enough food to last a few more meals after. There's nothing better than knowing you have a seafood feast waiting for you for brunch the next day. We've developed a new-found respect for Chinese restaurants and their busy kitchens and have absolutely no idea how they do it on a daily basis. At the end of the day, I wasn't sure if we had chosen to have a cookout for Hanad's benefit or for our own greedy reasons but whatever the reason was, we sure had a feast to remember.

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