Singapore Students Association: Pasar Malam event
On Friday April 18th, the Singapore Students Association at Tufts brought homecooked Singaporean dishes to Remis Sculpture Court. Their event called Pasar Malam (which means “Night Market” in Malay) saw a host of stalls and hordes of eager eaters.
Last semester, they presented the flavors of a city-state known for its intense passion for food. This year, a focus on the “multi-racial nature of our nation and its food culture” resulted in food stalls representing the culinary traditions of the Indian, Chinese, and Malay ethnic groups.
The tight space meant that snaking lines crisscrossed each other as the crowd streamed in. The impressive turn-out meant that few had the leisure to pick what stall they wanted to line up for first, and would instead pick the nearest line and wait to be pleasantly surprised. At the DIY popiah making stall, students and community members tried their hand at wrapping spring rolls. Popiah, a spring roll recipe originally from Southern China, uses ingredients like lettuce, carrots, hardboiled eggs, bean sprouts, and stewed turnips spread across a thin paper-like pancake wrap before being rolled into a burrito-like bundle. For maximum oomph, sweet sauce can also be smeared onto the popiah skin, for a sweet and savory vegetable roll.
If you’re not a big fan of vegetables, the nasi lemak stall would have satisfied your craving for meat. Chicken wings and drumsticks accompanied aromatic coconut rice, cooked by steaming sacks of grain in pandan and coconut milk for hours. Literally, nasi lemak means coconut rice in Malay, but as a dish, it means rich and creamy rice. Traditionally topped with sambal chili, a spicy paste that will make your tongue cry for ice unlike any sriracha ever will, the SSA chose not to make that for compassionate reasons and also because it wasn’t certain if sambal chili’s complexity could be replicated with Boston’s grocery offerings. However, the toppings that were retained from the original dish (in addition to the chicken wings) included cucumber slices and egg frittatas.
A few steps from the nasi lemak stall one could get servings of rojak, a salad that is a mélange of fruit, vegetables and dough fritters (what some call “Chinese crullers”), dressed in a sweet, spicy sauce. A drizzle of crushed peanuts completed the dish: crispy dough fritters, crunchy apple slices, sweet pineapple and tangy sauce.
More than free food and drink, Pasar Malam presented a slew of mystery dishes over two rounds of a Fear Factor game, where over 15 contestants scarfed down (and tried to keep down) dishes like frog legs, chicken hearts, pig’s blood, durians, century eggs and guiling gao herbal jelly. Anna Lei and Kevin Hyun-Sik Lim, the winners, not only managed to clean their plates but did so the fastest. Truly, one woman’s juicy delight is another’s squishy screamfest, and some Singaporeans from nearby schools eyed the extra durians eagerly. Granted, while not all Singaporeans love durian (just like how not all Americans love PB & J), there is nothing quite like its dense fleshy meat and its potent smell.
Last but not least, a stall serving hot milk tea saw individually prepared drinks made from black tea and condensed milk. ‘Teh Tarik’, or, Pulled Tea, introduces a frothy texture by pouring the drink from one container to another, several times. This takes a lot of skill and a dash of bravado because a piping hot drink is not something you’d want on your arms but the end result is a uniquely Southeast Asian drink that warms the belly as it sweet talks the tongue.
-Min Yi Tan
Cover photo source.