Thursday, 7 July 2011

What’s a Chicken doing in the Basket?

Growing up in the late 60s and 70s, the neighborhood around Bras Basah Road, Stamford Road, and the National Library was my playground. Things looked very different then: the buildings that stood then are today gone or replaced; and land that was empty then, is today choc-a-bloc with tall buildings.

I spent a lot of the time in the National Library (now demolished), the now-defunct MPH Bookstore, and the row of second-hand bookshops that lined Bras Basah Road. Like nearly every kid of the time, I devoured my fair share of Enid Blytons, Mills & Boons, Barbara Cartlands, and -- perhaps peculiar to me -- Chinese pugilistic novels (at the Shanghai Book Store on Victoria Street).

The little bookshops along Bras Basah Road were especially memorable, in a run-down, cobwebby, “magical emporium” kind of way. They were owned and run mostly by Indians and famous for their huge collections of second-hand books and textbooks. There was no air-condition and the shop frontage was wide open to the five-foot-way. Yellow bulbs lit the dingy interiors; there were wooden tables and sagging wooden shelves along the walls; and all was dust, smell of old paper, and sticky humidity. But oh, was it fun; I spent endless afternoons lost in those bowels! There was a sprinkle of sports shops too, but they didn’t interest me at that young age.

But food was never far from my mind – whatever the age. Who could forget the famous row of Indian Rojak stalls on Waterloo Street with their noisy, infuriating touts? They kept me well and happily fed on many an afternoon. Another favorite pastime of mine was lunch or afternoon tea at the coffee houses along Orchard Road, Bras Basah Road, and Victoria Street.

I remember the set lunches they served of soup, bun, main, and dessert at the then-princely sum of $2.50. Choice of main course usually came down to pork chop, chicken chop, fish and chips, or sirloin steak. Dessert was a choice of jello, cake with cream, or cocktail fruits. That was pretty fancy dining back then.

One of the more “stylo” coffee houses of that era was Red House at the junction of Victoria Street and Bras Basah Road, so-named for its gaudy all-red façade. Others were Skillets at Supreme House (today Park Mall), which was in the mid 70s renamed Silver Spoon. Further along on Orchard Road were the Tivoli, The Ship, and Copper Kettle, popular with both locals and tourists. And, if I felt really rich, I would head for Fosters Steakhouse at Amber Mansion (present Dhoby Ghaut MRT station) for dinner….

Apart from set lunches, I would always look forward to Chicken in the Basket: a common snack in those days which was, basically, fried chicken chunks served with potato chips or sliced cucumber. Its closest equivalent these days is the chicken nugget, a much less spunky dish, but still a favorite especially with the kids.

Chicken in the Basket

Chicken                      200 g, cubed
Salt                            ½ tsp
Pepper                       ¼ tsp
Water                         ½ tsp
Corn flour                    3 tbsp
Oil                              2 cups

Tomato ketchup

  1. Season chicken with salt, pepper, water and corn flour for 30 mins.
  2. Deep fry chicken until half cooked.
  3. Remove from oil and drain.
  4. Once cool, re-fry the chicken until it is golden brown and crispy.
  5. Serve immediately with cucumber garnishing and tomato ketchup.

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