Alcohol, cooked = Evaporated. Halal? No!

So it’s called flambé -ing. Now I know. (image source)

I admit, I love watching cooking shows, especially the new ones styled after reality-TV. They make me hungry, but it’s still fun to watch. In many segments, the chef/cook will throw a splash of wine in the frying pan and it will seem to burn off almost instantly. Many times I ask myself, if the alcohol burns off, is the food halal?

Short answer: no. Apparently even after cooking for hours, there’ s still some left.

This is a good table (source) showing the length of time cooked and traces of alcohol left in the food. Even after it’s flamed in the frying pan a la celebrity chefs, 25% alcohol still remains.

Alcohol that has been… …has this much ethanol (alcohol) remaining
   added to boiling liquid, then removed from heat
   set on fire, flamed, ‘flambé’
   left uncovered at room temperature, overnight
   baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture
   baked/simmered, alcohol stirred into mixture:
      for 15 minutes
      for 30 minutes
      for 1 hour (60 minutes)
      for 1.5 hours (90 minutes)
      for 2 hours (120 minutes)
      for 2.5 hours (150 minutes)

And yes, the references checked out. See the USDA report here, page 14. Even Wikipedia has a page dedicated to cooking with alcohol.



How to Eat Sup Tulang

(Image credit)

Ramadan is a time for reflection. So today we shall be reflecting on one of the bountiful sustenance which we are blessed with – food glorious food.

Anthony Bourdain calls bone marrow as “God’s butter.” Arguably the way to enjoy marrow is one in sup tulang (lit. bone soup).

Go to Beach Road hawker center (that’s Golden Mile Food Court for ye tourists) and get yourself a plate of sup tulang from any of the established stalls in the basement. What you will obtain is an almost meatless piece of lamb bone in vivid red gravy – deceivingly bloody to some. But trust me, it is cooked to perfection.

First things first, get the marrow out. To do so, knock the bone ever way you can. If the place is packed, look around you for inspiration. Sup tulang should be the one of the more commonly requested items there, so you should find no excuse for lacking inspiration. If your hand-eye coordination let you down at the moment when it really counts, use a straw.

Success comes in the form of a cylindrical piece of wobbly jelly-like substance. Don’t consume it all at once as the distinct taste may overwhelm you. It is bone marrow after all. Connoisseurs revel at the opportunity to complement it with the rest of the meal; take the piece of bread, press it against the marrow so that a small chunk of it sticks to the pastry, and then dip the whole thing in the scintillating red gravy.

By now you should have in front of you a bite-sized scarlet piece of heaven. Do not place it in your mouth yet; enjoy the aroma while allowing the bread fully soaks the gravy goodness that actually makes you crave clogged arteries.

Then put it in your mouth.

(Image credit)

Instantly your tongue will be caressed by the delicately-balanced red sauce. It is sufficiently spicy, and wonderfully savory. Yet almost teasing your senses with the perfect equilibrium of sweetness. By now, the gravy would have enveloped your mouth, spreading itself thin. You may have thought the taste sensation is over, but at that moment the the marrow will almost instantaneously melt and suddenly reawaken your tastebuds, only this time more emphatically multiplying the aftertaste of the sublime gravy, this round with a distinct creamy sensation.

In just a moment, you will suddenly find that only the the initial container of it all – the bread – is left in your mouth. Its momentary presence between your teeth is mocking at best, merely so you have something tangible to react to; the pathetic act of chewing to physically register your pleasure while the material sensation dissipates as quickly as it began.

God’s butter. Appreciated more in Ramadan.


The (Long) Road to Racial Understanding

Forget about racial/religious harmony. To reach that pinnacle of give-and-take, basic understanding must take place. This, one assume, is basically a given in Singapore; most people from other groups know that the void deck is being used by Malays to hold marriages, Chinese for funerals, and Indians to hold birthdays and other gatherings.

But we are in trouble if that is all we know, especially if we are part of the organizing personnels involved in multi-racial multi-religion events.

For instance, I’ve been to events which were supposed to provide lunch and dinner for the participants, of which include Muslims. The organizers know a bit about Muslim diet; we aren’t allowed to consume pork. So they prepared chicken wraps and salads. In such cases, the chicken is avoided, and the salads usually come to the rescue.

No Pork No Lard ≠ Halal

True, Muslims can’t eat pork, and it’s no rocket science that chicken isn’t pork. Unfortunately, another aspect of the Muslim diet which most people do not know is that all meats must be slaughtered in a specific manner, thus the term halal meat. Alcohol should also not be served, and that includes tiramisu.

The importance of details in planning such events are so vital that most attendees just assume that their needs are catered to. Here in Singapore, organizers are usually aware of the particularities of those involved, and just choose to conveniently cater from halal-certified providers, or go vegan.

By the look of things in Singapore, I would say most passed the food test, except for the tiramisu which I really suspect isn’t alcohol-free. But, they’ve still got a long way to go.

Firstly, the “no pork no lard” phrase has just gotta go. It may work well for someone who has allergy or adverse reaction to pork, but it is sometimes confusing for those who doesn’t understand that “no pork no lard” ≠ halal. Though one may not entirely fault the shopowners (usually bakeries which doesn’t use no pork/lard but uses non-halal sausages etc) as they are merely stating facts, the Muslim consumer should also be more aware of his decisions.

no pork no lard

“No pork no lard” ≠ halal! Religion is not to be dictated by the rumbling stomach. (Image credit)

Such diluted understanding is prevalent here in Singapore, but apparently in other countries. Take this biscuit produced in Korea, sold here in Singapore.


The highlighted part actually translates into: Free from pork products and its derivatives. While this may put some hearts at rest, other may question does the E-4xx emulsifiers contain gelatin from non-halal beef? Here’s what the local religious body’s got to say on the matter.

Food claims such as ‘No Pork, No Lard’ do not necessarily imply that the food is truly Halal. Halal food must not contain and/or come into direct contact with non-Halal items. Examples of these include alcohol, pork and meat deriving from sheep which are not slaughtered in accordance with the Islamic Law.

Calendar and Events

Besides food, some religion also possesses their own calendar system. Nothing too hard to ignore, as major religious events are widely reported here, such as the Deepavali, Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, and Thaipusam. Event organizers should therefore take note of the dates, else the targeted crowd may not come.

This is a banner of what is supposed to be “Racial Harmony Sports Day”. At first glance, all seems to be okay; everyone from all races are invited to participate – a wonderful thought.


The true test of endurance: Sports + fasting.

One little issue though, the date 13/09/2009 is the final week of the fasting month of Ramadan, prior to the Muslim Hari Raya celebration.

One may say that I’m being too picky by pointing these out, but in reality, a fasting person would do as much to conserve his energy as even a drop of water is not allowed. Furthermore, for the event organizers to call it “Racial Harmony” is unfortunately oxymoronic if it is not suited to the racial groups’ observances.

And here’s a reader’s letter from today’s paper on Deepavali. I share his thoughts on the issue.

Diwali is essentially known as the festival of lights, as it marks the return of King Rama to reclaim his throne after a 14-year exile in the forest, and his victory over Ravana, a legendary evil king who abducted his wife Sita, and lights were put up in celebration.

It is also celebrated by Sikhs, who commemorate the return of Guru Hargobind, who had been imprisoned with 52 other princes at Fort Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir.

It is a major symbolic festival, but the proper greeting should be simply ‘Happy Diwali’ or ‘Happy Deepavali’, and more good times ahead, not ‘Happy New Year’.

While I do appreciate the nice gesture from my non-Muslim friends when they send me greetings on Hari Raya, it slightly bugs me that most of them choose to greet by saying “Happy New Year”. Hari Raya is not a new year. It falls on the 10th month of the lunar calendar. That’s like wishing someone a happy new year in October.

<Given-Name> <Family-Name> <Father’s Name>

Each culture also has their own name structure convention. Chinese and Western names usually have a <given-name><family-name> convention (or vice-versa). Malay and Indian names (at least in Singapore) meanwhile doesn’t include family names, their names consist of <given-name> <father’s name>.

I had naively expected this to be common cultural knowledge, knowing that the word bin and binte in the Malay/Arabic naming convention correlates with the Indian s/o and d/o. Well, I thought wrong.

Here’s a passage from the local daily, which mentions a politician’s name. The politician, a Malay,  is Hawazi Daipi. According to the Malay naming convention, he should be called by his first name, and not his last name; his last name is actually his father’s name and not his family name.

Apparently the reporter doesn’t get it, and reported here:

…Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Hawazi Daipi in Parliament on Monday afternoon.

Mr Daipi was responding to questions by MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Baey Yam Keng who asked what help do bosses who can’t afford to pay the full medical bills of their maids get. He also asked if the Government would consider capping the maximum liability of bosses.

Mr Daipi said to reduce the burden of these large medical bills…

Sloppy, as a quick google would have produced his CV and given clues to his ‘surname’.

But this example is not a rarity. I have been many times, in situations when formality ensues, called by my ‘surname’; I don’t have one, so they were actually calling me by my father’s name. So much so that I got used to it.

In fact, my previous workplace requires the work email address to be a combination fo the first letter of my first name, and my last name in full. Which in this case will be It truly was irritating. My request to have it changed wasn’t accepted. I do not mind if I actually do have a surname, but I simply don’t.

And it sounds really idiotic to have my email address based on my father’s name instead of my own. Just what can I do then?

Understanding, then Harmony

Until we have these issues being understood by everyone of different racial and religious background, the word “racial/religious harmony” will amost always be viewed like some propaganda horn blown by from the top. True, to an extent is does coerce a nervous and artificial form of tolerance, with the main objective of avoiding trouble and confrontations, while gulping down the occasional uneasiness.

But when one look closely, these trivial issues are not really so trivial, they form the very basis of harmony. How can a society truly achieve this “harmony” if it doesn’t even know what to call its neighbour? Or what to serve when hosting them? Or when to hold meet-ups or gatherings?

Culture is deeply rooted for generations. Religion is a way of life. They influence names and name structure, possesses their own calendar system, practices, and rituals.

In the end, one must remember that religion and culture is not just all about food.


Why eat less?

From المِقدامِ بنِ مَعْدِ يكَرِبَ, the Prophet (SAW) says:

مَا مَلأَ آدَمِيٌّ وِعَاءً شَرًّا مِنْ بَطْنٍ، بِحَسْبِ ابْنِ آدَمَ أكَلاَتٌ يُقِمْنَ صُلْبَهُ، فَإِنْ كَانَ لاَ مَحَالَةَ، فَثُلُثٌ لِطَعَامِهِ، وَثُلُثٌ لِشَرَابِهِ، وَثُلُثٌ لِنَفَسِهِ

“There is no worse vessel for the son of Adam to fill than his stomach. A few mouthfuls is enough for the son of Adam to keep his back straight. If he has no way [but to fill it] then allow one-third for food, one-third for drink, and one-third for air.”

– al-Tirmidzi, Ahmad, Ibn Majah, al-Hakim

Yes, you can stand up straight with just a few mouthfuls. How apt, especially in this current economic situation.