Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Jumping Table -- A Nostalgic Brunch with Gen Shu

Business and work had taken me away from Singapore for a time, to Hong Kong and China where I lived for several years. When I returned home about two years ago, I became acutely aware, more than ever, of how food in Singapore had generally deteriorated over the years.

More and more chain food stalls, especially in our food courts and modern kopi tiams, had displaced the traditional, self-operated businesses. Operating costs have also risen, too fast and too greatly, such that many F&B operators have had to compromise on quality in order to survive. I realized that when it came to food, I’ve become the very thing I used to laugh at – a grumpy old man who kept griping about ‘how things used to be’!

A hand-written menu specially created 
for my friends and I.
When by chance, I met Gen Shu (根叔), I found in the respected 60-ish chef someone who shared my sentiments about the state of food today. We spoke briefly and nostalgically about dishes we both remembered eating as children growing up. One thing led to another, and he agreed to cook these dishes for me, refined with what he has learned over the years, but still retaining the essential flavors and character of what he remembered them to be.

By sourcing out chefs, such as Gen Shu, with the requisite skills and ‘memory’ or ‘vision’, we could preserve, document, and hopefully even revive the popularity of dishes that are on the verge of extinction in our local cuisines. This struck me as a pretty good idea, and became the inspiration for ‘The Jumping Table.’ ‘Table’ because it refers to a group of friends or diners seated around a table; and ‘jumping’ because each meal would take place at a different location with a different chef and a different menu, hence the ‘table’ will ‘jump.’

My friends and I enjoyed an inaugural session, which featured a special meal prepared by Gen Shu. If you’d like to know more about Gen Shu, there’s more about him in the posting by ieatishootipost.

Double-boiled Lu Mei Soup
For those who are into Cantonese herbal soups, this would be the “entry level” candidate. Six herbs form the basis of many herbal soups in traditional Cantonese cuisine, and they are all found in this soup, along with meat. The herbs are dried longan, Chinese yam, wolfberries, Yoke Zhung (玉竹), red dates and Chinese barley. Some cooks would include a couple more herbs such as ginseng and dried figs to add further layers of taste. Sometimes, a black chicken is used to add “value” to the soup.

This same soup, without meat, and served cold or hot with rock sugar, becomes the commonly found Cheng Tng.

Braised Grouper with Shu Choy
As a kid, I was used to eating fresh fish that were at least 1 kg and more. The flesh of such fish would then be thick, with a firm bite. Gen Shu managed to procure a grouper of a decent size, deboned and sliced thickly. The chef used an old method to season the fish slices without overly coating the meat with flour.

Shu Choy (雪菜) is actually a produce of Zhejiang, brought to Hong Kong by the Shanghainese emigrants, where it became a commonly used ingredient of the Hong Kongers. Here, Shu Choy gives a slight sourish taste to the braised fish.


Steamed Chicken with Brandy wrapped with Lotus Leaf
Steamed chicken is a down-to-earth Cantonese home-cooked dish. Normally, the dish is heavily marinated with oyster sauce, ginger juice and Chinese wine. Gen Shu has decided to use brandy instead of Chinese wine. Back in the 60s, brandy was considered a luxury drink among the middle-class families, and it would commonly make an appearance on the dining table in all celebratory occasions.

It was a pity that Gen Shu didn’t use fresh lotus leaf; however it is almost impossible to find in Singapore. Nevertheless the dried version left a hint of fragrance as the dish was served hot.

Salt & Pepper Baked Prawns
Salt-baked prawn was a popular dish at Cantonese restaurants here in the 60s. Originating from the Hakka cuisine, the method of salt-baking was used for many meats such as chicken, crabs, mullets and others.

The salt actually enhances the sweetness of the meat during baking without over-powering the meat with saltiness, since the salt would be removed before serving. Again, Gen Shu gave a modern twist to the recipe by adding pepper to the dish, an updated practice common in Hong Kong from the 80s onwards.

Braised Seafood with Vegetable
In the past, serving plain vegetables during a feast was considered taboo, as it could be misconstrued that the host was frugal, or worse, stingy! So, the dish would be embellished with expensive items such as mushrooms, seafood or meat to enhance its perceived value.

A sauce of dried scallops, mushrooms and crabsticks was prepared before adding to the braised cabbage. The cabbage would absorb the flavorful sauce, making it a delightful dish.

Stir-fried Glutinous Rice
This dish meant a lot to me, and I had blogged about it earlier. Gen Shu was kind enough to cook his version in answer to my pleas. The glutinous rice was first stir-fried, steamed, and then quick-fried with Chinese sausages, dried shrimps and all.

The whole process is tedious, that’s why many F&B outlets are unwilling to offer it. But the end result is superb: every grain of rice coated with the oil from the Chinese sausages, and with a slight crust.

Look out for the second outing of The Jumping Table.

Gen Shu Mei Shi She Jia
Toa Payoh Lorong 4
Blk 74 Food Centre #01-03

Photography by: Mark Ong


  1. Thank you for giving the context and the details of how the dishes are prepared. This helps one to savour the dishes with meaningful appreciation of the dishes not only based on how they taste but also the effort that goes into each dish.

  2. looks very good !!!! regretted that i missed it

  3. does gen shu serve these dishes at his stall?

    1. They are not part of his daily menu. Have a chat with Gen Shu and he might recommend some interesting dishes to you.