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Books in Singapore: New reads, from Singapore Street Names to Middle Eastern recipes

We review the best books out in Singapore this month…

You say you don't know every street in Singapore by heart? 

Singapore Street Names

Victor R Savage & Brenda S A Yeoh

Marshall Cavendish | 432 pages

Here’s a book that, much like its title, doesn’t beat around the bush. A brief preface and then wham! – straight into a comprehensive A-to-Z of almost every street in Singapore, with a description of how each one got its name.

Not for everyone, then, but history and trivia buffs will love it, and aside from the many roads, parks, streets and avenues that are named very simply after places in the UK and therefore don’t have much of a story to tell, the entries are interesting.

Desker Road, for instance, was named after Andre Filipe Desker (1826-98), who moved to Singapore from Malacca in 1840. He was one of the first butchers on the island; “Today,” add the authors, “Desker Road is associated with the ‘flesh trade’ of another kind, being synonymous with Singapore’s red light area.”

Elsewhere, you’ll learn that Newton Circus used to be referred to by Tamils as ethumuchandi, meaning “the eight-junction place”; that the neighbourhood of Punggol comes from the Malay word for “hurling sticks at the branches of fruit trees to bring them down to the ground”; and of the former existence of a small hill near the Padang, which became known as “Scandal Point” because it was a gathering place for evening gossip.

If you collect books about Singapore, this one’s well worth adding to the pile.

Shamus Sillar

The tale of Rose Chan, also known as the "Queen of Striptease" 

No Bed of Roses: The Rose Chan Story

Cecil Rajendra

Marshall Cavendish | 279 pages

The “Queen of Striptease”, Rose enthralled male audiences in the heyday of cabaret in 1950s Malaya. She’d been born in Soochow, China; sold into an unhappy marriage in Singapore at the age of 16; worked at Geylang’s Happy World cabaret as a dance hostess; became a beauty queen and top ballroom dancer; formed a travelling dance revue company; then turned into Asia’s No. 1 stripper, famous for her raunchy dancing with pythons.

Initially, I thought I’d merely flip through No Bed of Roses, but it had me by the first page. Malaysian author Cecil Rajendra is a practising lawyer, inspirational poet and human rights activist. As Rose Chan’s confidant in the years before her death in 1987, he has come up with a most unusual format for this biography.

From Rose’s deathbed, he looks back at her life through a mix of conversations, reminiscences, and mini-plays detailing true-life encounters such as a court-case and a live sex show. Weirdly, this is a very practical book, too. Rose was an acclaimed cook who loved to entertain, and Rajendra has given us a number of her favourite recipes, including a number for aphrodisiacs.

What’s more, he generously shares Rose’s advice for improving sexual performance. Women learn how to isolate, strengthen and separately employ their rings of vaginal muscles in such a way as to “keep errant husbands happy, at home, in bed”. Men are taught how to prolong lovemaking by controlling ejaculation, ensuring that their partner “will always be overflowing with bliss”. That’s got to be at least worth a try!

Verne Maree

 

Step-by-step Cooking – Middle Eastern

Hayedeh Sedghi

Marshall Cavendish | 120 pages

Subtitled “delightful ideas for everyday meals”, this attractive cookbook succeeds in making Middle Eastern fare accessible to anyone who’s reasonably proficient in the kitchen.

Expat Hayedeh Sedghi,was born and raised in Shiraz, Iran. When her husband’s career brought them to Singapore in 1989, she was determined to recreate the food of her motherland. Though some important ingredients were difficult to find, through trial and error she found alternatives that did the trick.

In her introduction, she explains what goes into a typical Iranian meal – a rice dish, a couple of stews (or a soup and a stew) and a salad or two. Many of the dishes are slow food, gently simmered for a long time to preserve texture and enhance flavour; you need to set aside at least two hours for preparation, she advises.

I love the liberal use of legumes such as dried kidney beans, chickpeas and Puy lentils, together with plenty of aromatic herbs and leaves. Locally available substitutions are suggested where necessary: in the traditional noodle soup, for example, she proposes kishimen (flat Japanese wheat noodles) in place of the original Iranian reshteh. Best of all, the colourful photographs look just like the food that my Iranian-American friend’s mother cooked for us when we visited them in California last year.

A new cookbook should have you itching to get to market, and that’s what this one did for me. On my list? Glossy-black aubergines for the baked aubergines with garlic and egg; a nice whole snapper and a couple of bunches of cilantro for the fried herb-stuffed fish; minced lamb for kebabs.

I’ll need to make just one substitution of my own, though: a gas barbecue instead of the real-deal charcoal fire. More’s the pity.

Verne Maree

 

And for the kids…

 

The Usborne Picture Book Gift Set

Usborne Publishing

Stuck for gift ideas for younger kids? This picture book gift set of 20 classic stories, neatly presented together in a hardcover slipcase, could be just the ticket. Old favourites such as Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood and The Emperor’s New Clothes are simply retold, alongside colourful images from a selection of wonderful illustrators with varying styles, from the whimsical to the bold. This weighty collection makes an impressive gift – one that both nostalgic adults and enchanted boys and girls will treasure.

Beate Baldry

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