The Lesung


The Lesung, also known as the Asian version of the Mortar and Pestle. Is used for crushing and grinding spices to prepare rempah or samba belachan for Peranakan dishes. Unlike a food processor where all the spices can be thrown in and processed together, using a Lesung means that the ingredients need to be slowly lined up for pounding.

Starting from the hardest ingredient, candlenuts (buah keras), before ending off to the softest, i.e., soaked dried chillies.

‘Mama never had a food processor or a grinder or a blender. Everything was done by hand, the old fashioned way, with a lesung. I remember her squatting in the kitchen pounding away. Chilli, turmeric, ginger, garlic…’

This Singapore Mum Blogger occasionally uses the Lesung in her kitchen, and intends to pass her Lesung together with her grandmother’s kebayas to her children as heirlooms.

Who is she? Find out tomorrow from my 3rd post in my series of  “Portraits of a Singapore Mom Blogger.”

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Portraits of a Singapore Mom Blogger 2

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“My pair of earrings (which I wear daily) is passed down from my great, great grandmother. It is set in white gold, which is very unusual for the time it was from. My Mum passed them down to me when I turned 18, and it is so close to my heart because I remember my Oma smiling as she helped me put one on, while my Mum put on the other.

She told me that more than its value’s worth, it has borne witness to the lives of all the women in the family, who have worn it before me.”


What is your earliest memory of your heritage?

I grew up with smells of food, and I remember sitting in my late Granny’s lap while she prepared ingredients for meals. Those were fond memories and I will always associate family time with the comforts of home-cooked food.

Indonesian food is richly steeped in tradition, varies greatly by region and has many different influences. My Mum is of Chinese – Sunda descent, and my Dad was of Chinese-Javanese descent. My maternal Grandma was half Dutch, so I was introduced to a miss mash of Indonesian foods which have different, yet distinctive flavours.

At the dinner table, my Granny always made sure that all of us, her 5 children, their spouses and her 13 grandchildren, were fed well…and it is also her belief that there should always be leftovers when everyone is done.

I loved my Granny’s fridge. It was an old General Electric fridge, light green and was the main gadget in the old, airy house.  One thing I would always remember about that fridge is that it was always full. Never once have I opened the fridge and not found something to eat. It was full of condiments, raw ingredients, and treats. My Granny believed that a full fridge will bring prosperity for the home, and food in abundance will ensure that no one ever is in want.

My grandparents started off with nothing for the home when they got married and this was the first item that my Oma purchased after saving up for almost 10 years. She told me it was the happiest day of her life when they brought it home. Marriage day and the births of her children were no comparison, because in her words, “This was something which I know will give the family joy, whereas giving birth was painful, and the wedding day was a brand new start to a journey where I had no clue what was in store.”

That’s the Oma I know and love. She was practical, honest, and loved her family so much that none of us should ever go hungry. She lived through the war, and always told us that once you know raw, unadulterated hunger which cannot be sated…you will never be the same.


What stories have you heard about your heritage from your parents or grandparents?

I was very close to my maternal Grandma. I stayed over with her on weekends, and I looked forward to Friday afternoons. This was the time when my Grandpa will pick me up from school (I can still picture him now, waiting for me at the school gates!) and we will take a train from Jakarta to Bogor, a small town 60km away from the capital city, where they live.

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This station, built in 1870, was renovated in 1926. It still stands as is today…and the sight of these domes marked the start of a weekend for me.

She told me stories. Oh, how I loved her stories – because she conjured them up like magic. She was an artist. She drew and painted, and taught me how to draw my dream house at the foot of the mountains. I believe my interest in art was fueled by her; she made me see beyond the obvious…and opened up the way to help me visualize things in my mind.

She told me about the war. The atrocities committed by the Japanese, and the hardships the people had to endure during the occupation. She told me about death, and how precious life is. She teared when she told me about the 7c it costs to buy a jerry can of fresh water, which the people (who were fortunate enough to own wells) sold. If they had no money, they had to hope for rain.

They got married during those days which were filled with trepidation, and the air was thick with fear. There were days when she had nothing to eat, because they was just simply not enough produce from the land. My grandparents decided to hold off having children because they didn’t want them to suffer during the war.

Indonesia gained its independence on the 17th August, 1945. My Mum, the eldest child, was born on 26th November 1946.

My Grandfather was a military dad to his children. As much as my Mum hated it, she is her father’s child, and therefore she was extremely strict during our formative years. I sought solace in them whenever I had to face her wrath, and as the first grandchild of the family, I remember times when my grandparents quarreled with my Mum over me. I remembered saying things I should not have said to my Mum back then, which must have hurt her so deeply.

I know now, because I’m a Mum.

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Although I have called Singapore home for the past 30 years, I am proud to still be an Indonesian. Perhaps in time I will make the change from blue ID to a pink one, given that I have married a Singaporean, and my son is one as well.

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Indonesia was my country of birth, and no matter where I am, it will always have a special place in my heart.


The first time I stumbled upon Regina’s blog was this post she wrote of her mum. Her reminiscence of her growing up years with her mum struck a chord with my feelings towards my own mum. Her effusive and expressive way of articulating her experiences, brings across an almost lyrical-style like prose in her writing, which makes her blog a thoughtful read.

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This versatile mum-of-one, shares her honest observations and anecdotes, all told with her trademark warmth, wit and wisdom at her blog

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Stay tune for the final post in this series of Portraits of a Singapore Mom Blogger coming up in the next few weeks.

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Katong’s Peranakan Culture

To learn more about this neighborhood I call my home since Feb this year, I  spent some time exploring Katong the last few weeks.

Katong, being the area associated with the first Peranakan community in Singapore, has retained some of its Peranakan heritage. Located on the stretch of Katong Road, are three shophouses with distinct Peranakan architecture; Rumah Bebe, Katong Antique House and Peranakan Inn.

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Ornate and intricate patterns lined the walls and floors at the shop. The beautiful architecture of the shop house intrigued me…

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Until I stepped into the shop.

I was greeted by a scowling-face middle aged lady, whose first words were,”No photography allowed!”, when she saw that I was holding a camera. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for the rest of the time K and I were in the shop. She hovered around us as we browse through her merchandise, her ‘menacing’ presence made me almost afraid to ask her any questions about the $500 Kebaya-s and $300 beaded slippers on display.

I felt pressured enough by the lady in the shop to eventually buy something before leaving; a slice of Kueh Lapis. Which incidentally gave me very bad diarrhoea for the next 4 days. This was one of the worse experience I ever encountered from any retail shop in Singapore. So enter Rumah Bebe at your own risk!

It seems I am not the only one that experienced this from the shop assistant, found these bad reviews about Rumah Bebe from Trip Advisor.

I have learnt never to trust the write-ups from Singapore Tourism Board.

I can’t help but peek into the shop as I walk pass Rumah Bebe almost daily in the early evenings, and I am really not surprised to see the shop without customers every time.

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Now, I had a totally different experience from this other location. Which made me wonder if Katong Antique House is ever opened for business, for those times I visited. Maybe I should have called to make an appointment?

Interesting facade and exterior, but my experience ended there. I visited the place thrice but never had an opportunity to venture beyond the hall of the place. So no photo opportunities either. If Peranakan antiques and artifacts interest you, Peranakan Museum will be a better place to view these things.

Just look at these lovely Peranakan tiles then,

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I wonder though will I be warmly welcomed into these places, if I was of  a native of another country, other than a local Singaporean. Or are these just examples of bad customer service?

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For a friendly and tastier Peranakan experience, venture next door to Peranakan Inn.

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So will there be more to discover from the Katong neighborhood? Likely so. But not till this’accidental tourist’ sets aside some time the next few weeks to find out more about this neighbourhood.


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