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A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Feb 27, 2017

Food Rationing in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation

Hokien Street in Singapore c 1950s

Hokien Street in Singapore in the 1950s as I remember it from the above "memory-aid" photos (with the courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore) when I was about 8 years old.  My mother once lived in one of these pre-war 2-storey houses when I was not yet born.  She was staying with her relatives at Hokien Street for many years in the 1940s.

The related blog about Hokien Street posted here . When my mother brought me to visit her relatives at Hokien Street one day, I learnt something about her life in Singapore from her conversation with them. 

When she was young, energetic and active in her 20s, she ran errands for the relatives and neighbors to make herself useful and do things which others are too busy or too old and weak to perform these tasks by themselves.

Photo of my mother taken at the Mellow Photo Studio in Great World Amusement Park in 1958

I learnt that during the Japanese occupation in Singapore from 1942-1945 after the war, my mother would help them to buy rice, sugar, salt and other daily necessities available with the use of food ration certificates.  She would join queues under the hot sun and help the needy friends, relatives and neighbors.

Food Rationing in Singapore

The Japanese Occupation in Singapore from 1942 to 1945 caused the disruption of Singapore's traditional entrepot trade.  This caused a shortage of food, mostly from neighboring countries by roads, ships or boats.

The Japanese decided to implement the system of food rationing to solve the problems of food shortage which drove inflation upwards.  (Courtesy of  NewspaperSG, National Library Board).

Every registered household was given a "Peace Living Certificate" to obtain ration cards.  It was a certificate that allows people to get ration can buy the daily necessities like rice, salt, sugar etc at the allocated distribution centres in Singapore.

The lack of fresh vegetables, fruits and food caused many people to suffer from malnutrition because there is limited food supply for them to consume a square diet for the young and old.

"Black Markets"

What are "Black Markets"?

We have heard of "night markets" (pasar malam), open-air markets, "flea markets" but few young Singaporeans know about "Black Markets".  However, our pioneer generation heritage friends would remember the "black markets" in Singapore in the old days.

The food rationing caused people to open 'black markets' where they sold goods at exorbitant prices which only wealthy people can afford to buy.

In Singapore during the Japanese occupation, food and other commodities were in very short supply and strictly rationed.  This means that people would be willing to pay higher prices to get more than their limited ration.

There were also thousands of people who made a living by hawking goods on the street, and even door-to-door salesmen.  So the black market was everywhere.  The enterprising businessmen with money and capital to obtain the commodities would then sell them at a high profits. 

During the Japanese occupation from 1942-1945, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was stopped from going to university and he ran a successful black market business selling tapioca-based glue.  [Source: Wikipedia].

The 'black market' was so rampant and people deliberately hoard supplies of food and desired products in order to drive up the prices.

The Japanese printed "banana notes" with no serial numbers.  This cause them to lower the value of the currency notes as money.  The "banana notes" are not legal tenders and not recognised elsewhere except in Singapore during the Japanese occupation.  After the surrender by the Japanese after the war, the "banana notes" was worthless to use as money.

Grow More Food Campaign

The Grow More Food Campaign was started during the Japanese Occupation to place a check on inflation. People were encouraged to strive for self-sufficiency by growing their own food. Vegetables, tapioca and sweet potatoes, yam, maize, were some of the common crops grown. The campaign targeted people from all walks of life including city-dwellers, government workers and schoolchildren.

People planted wherever there was empty space of land  - in front, beside and behind their houses in the kampong and along the roadsides.  No space was left vacant.  Even the grand Padang was not spared.  In 1944, its grassy plains were planted with tapioca trees.  These changes in the city landscape led a Japanese wartime official, Shinozaki Mamoru, to comment that Syonan had changed into a vegetable garden.

Today, Singapore is a Garden City, not a "Vegetable Garden"

The transformation of the Padang after the surrender to Singapore in 1945

Under the supervision of the British colonial administration in Singapore after the surrender in 1945, the Japanese prisoners-of-war (POW) working on the Padang to restore the condition of the land.

Japanese POWs performing heavy manual work under Allied Forces supervision after the surrender.
Photo dated September 1, 1945. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore).


Jan 27, 2017

Food to Celebrate Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner

Violet Oon hosting her very own television cooking program in the 1980s.

Get to know the Grand Dame of Singaporean Cooking, Violet Oon.

Her influences, inspiration and mission.

Violet is living out her lifelong dream of entertaining and feeding family, friends and neighbours, while sharing her knowledge and expertise, all from the comfort and warmth of her own “kitchen”.

Violet began her career in journalism in 1971 as a reporter for music and the arts and in 1974, she became The New Nation’s food critic. Driven by her passion for sharing good food, Violet started her own culinary magazine called The Food Paper in 1987. That passion would later lead her into diverse adventures; from the launch and operation of her own food outlet in Takashimaya in the 1990s, to the role of food researcher for the National Heritage Board.

Having successfully carved a niche out for herself, Violet has served as an F&B consultant in key national events such as the 2006 IMF World Bank Conference and the 2009 APEC Meeting in Singapore. She is also lauded as a speaker and has presented talks at the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ annual conference in Baltimore, USA. Violet has also been appointed Chef de Mission, leading Singapore’s team of chefs at the World of Flavors Conference and Festival (2004, 2007 & 2009), held by the Culinary Institute of America.

Always generous with her knowledge and experience, Violet has written three cookbooks of her own: Peranakan Cooking, Violet Oon Cooks and A Singapore Family Cookbook, with a fourth book in the works. She has also co-authored the Curry Cookbook from German publishing house, Teubner.

In addition to spreading her passion for Nyonya cuisine in person and on paper, Violet has enthralled radio listeners and charmed television audiences in TV programmes filmed and aired by the BBC, CNN, The Food Network and Singapore’s Channel 5.

A long forgotten newspaper article related to the Chinese New Year reunion dinner devised by Violet Oon a 7-point plan, published in Singapore Monitor on 8 February, 1983 to share on how not cook and still enjoy.

Getting through the Chinese New Year festivities can be rough if you have to cater your own food.

Unlike the other public holidays during which at least half if not more of the restaurants and hawkers are operating, Chinese New Year is one festival
which means closing shop for four days for most eateries, except the pricier hotel restaurants and coffee houses.

No, it does not help if you're a millionaire with hordes of servants.  Unless they are Thai, Filipino or some other nationality, they'll all be off for the holidays

You want to be freed from the household chores, and nothing is more difficult than having to cook every meal for four days when you're supposed to be having fun.

So what do you do?  Read on.  VIOLET OON has devised a code for getting out of cooking for the New Year.


Get yourself invited out for every meal and visit friends all the time.  Go home only to change, bathe and sleep.  Make sure you're not in when people visit as you'll have to take out the cakes, cookies and dringks and wash up afterwards.

By now you should know whose mother makes the best food, so head for thdir houses.  Be a good guest.  Go visiting bearing gifts - four oranges each house and if you feel generous, a bottle of cognac or wine.

Be prepared to pay for your meals in the form Pof "hong bao" for the motoey lot of children that congregate in the homes of famous cooks.  Still, it'll be worth it.  Put only $2 in each packet and make it as anonymous as possible so it won't be traceable.



Make sure you're a younger relative who attends the reunion dinner in your parents or some other older relative's house.  Again go bearing gifts and prepare lots of compliments.

Help out with the washing up but with many people helping the chore becomes enjoyable.  Anyway you get a beautiful dinner slaved over by someone else, preferably your mother.

But if you do not , an older brother or sister and turn out to be the head of the family who is expected to host the reunion dinner, don't panic.

Be modern and innovative.  Tell everyone: "Who wants to go through the name of stuffy dishes?  Let's have a real group effort with a Pot Luck Dinner.  Each one brings a dish and let's rotate houses each year."

If you really get cornered, and can't get out of cooking for the reunion dinner, why not try a barbecue?  You can get all your meats cut, marionated and neatly
arranged in foil trays by way of the leading supermarkets.

Visit one that has a good selection of meats, good selection of meats, buy the foil trays from the shelves and place your order now.  Don't wait till the end of the week.

Yaohan and Cold Storage marinate beef, chicken wings, lamb and pork beautifully.

At the same time, buy all the salad, vegetables and sauces, pick up some French bread, get some cold meats from the delicatessen counter, plurge on some large prawns and you're set for the meal.

Dessert can be ice cream with fruit cocktail or a cake ordered from the supermarket.  Use disposable plastic plates and cups and you'll have a party without too much cleaning up to do.

Of course this lacks the atmosphere of a meal made up of traditional favourites but the aim of the dinner is to get together, after all.


Get it catered by a non-Chinese caterer.  Today there are many Indian and Malay shops and stalls that cater for Chinese parties during the New Year season.

It's still not too late to book a satay man and get him to cook some sotoh, lontong or other dishes.  You can even have a buffet spread if your party is big enough.


Visit a fast food restaurant that's open.  They're among the least pricey of the eating out options.


Scout around for Indian and Malay stalls and restaurants that open for the season.  Make your enquiries and phone calls now or you'll find yourself starving come New Year.


Go to Malaysia.  Even Johor Baru will do as there are more Malay hawker stalls there than in Singapore.


For those who have money to spare and really want to pamper themselves, book late a local hotel and eat at the cofee house, restaurant or order room service.  If you're married this can be a second honeymoon and the children will be so happy having a pool to swim in that it'll be a New Year memorable for the relaxing time rather than one of petty quarrels and flared tempers because you had to do so much work in the kitchen or because the food you ate was best forgotten.

So you've got through the New Year's Eve Dinner and visited all your friends.  Still there are meals to eat at home.  What do you do?

One alternative is to open cans but what is poor plan for a festive season.

Buy more sophisticated emergency rations.  If you do not object to European food buy some crusty French bread, cold sausages and meat, pickles and salad, and have a cold collation at home.  There's no cooking involved and washing up is minimal.

Also stock up on instant noodles, lots of snacks and frozen local food found in many supermarkets such as yam cake, beef balls, marinated chicken wings that only need to be heated up, grilled or boiled.
Over 30 years later, Violet Oon "invented" the "Chinese New Year feast take-away trays" here .

At Violet Oon's National Kitchen in Singapore

Distinguished Guests at National Kitchen

Here's wishing everyone who celebrates a Happy Lunar New Year! May you bask in the comfort of good food, great company, and belly laughs, and may your rice bowl always be full.

The National Kitchen will close early on CNY eve so our team can enjoy reunion dinner with their families and will remain closed on the first day of CNY (28 Jan). We will reopen on Sunday, 29 Jan 2017.  [Source: National Kitchen].

Happy & Prosperous Chinese New Year of the Rooster 2017!

Jan 19, 2017

Games Seniors Play

Singapore's favourite family carnival, PlayLAH! is back again with an event even more exciting line-up of activities this year.  Hours of fun and thrills await you in our Play, Learn, Eat and Bond theme zones.  Another thematic event brought to you by SingEx.

Held on 19 - 22 January 2017 at Singapore EXPO Hall 5 from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Hall No. 5 at Singapore Expo was transformed into a big playground for the family, young and old.

It’s Chinese New Year at Singapore EXPO, and PlayLAH! is back! Organised by SingEx, PlayLAH! Let’s Celebrate Chinese New Year 2017 has an even more exciting line-up of activities, complete with hands-on workshops and game booths for you and your family’s ultimate day out. Let’s get creative, learn a new skill or simply soak up the carnival atmosphere with hours of fun and thrills in our 4 dedicated theme zones!


Get ready to bump your way around our purpose-built car zone and experience the beautifully-coloured LED rides for endless hours of energetic fun!

Student volunteers to run the booths

Mandarin Orange Peeling & Eating

I registered to play with the "Mandarin Orange Peeling & Eating" game.  The pioneer generation players were required to eat the 3 oranges after peeling the skins.   The winner receives a $100 voucher to shop at Robinsons.

However, I lose the game and the winner had eaten faster than me in less than a minute.  Please watch the video clip on YouTube to enjoy here  

It was fun!  My consolation was the 3 large, juicy and large mandarin oranges free of charge :)

PlayLAH Games for Everyone

I played the games according to the rules and regulations and completed with the activity coupons mentioned above.

National Library Board - Learning Zone

S.U.R.E. Talk by Mr Roy Won, Senior Librarian of the National Library of Singapore, at the PlayLAH! 2016 at the Singapore Expo on 22 January 2016.

How information literacy can help you  excel in life.

Source. Understand. Research. Evaluate.

You can find out more about information literacy through S.U.R.E. website at .

Wefie with Teacher Stephanie Jennifer of Zentagle

Zentangle at Bond Zone

Zentangle is an easy-to-learn, fun and relaxing way of creating beautiful images using repeating patterns.  It is yoga for your brain.

Join Teacher Stephanie in learning how to create your own Zentagle patterns with easy to follow step-by-step instructions and you will also get to bring home the artwork you create.  If you can draw a line and a circle, you can do Zentangle!  This activity is suitable for children 7 and above.

It was a learning experience and was rewarded with a Limited Edition PlayLAH! chicken plushie! for my newborn grandson :)

Source: with thanks and acknowledgement.