They have never cooked laksa before.
But yesterday, four members of the Qantas Australian Men’s Rugby Sevens Team – Cameron Clark, Sam Myers, Frank Winterstein and Stephan van der Walt – turned into chefs. They were cooking at the Song Kee Fish Ball Noodle stall at the Lau Pa Sat food centre, ahead of the HSBC Sevens World Series Tournament this weekend,
Each prepared their own versions of Laksa
The rugby quartet was pitting their skills against one another – to prepare their own version of Laksa, at a cooking challenge – sponsored and hosted by Qantas. It had been certainly quite the departure from the rucks and tackles that the players are probably much more used to!
Prior to the cook-off, the quartet had been shown how to prepare laksa by Chef Ah Huat who runs the Song Kee Fish Ball Noodle hawker stall. Cramped into the small stall in the food centre, the four players may have looked quite a sight to the general public, but they all gamely took it in their stride, to prepare a Laksa dish. And the four, made tossing noodles with a metal strainer, look as easy as a flying tackle on the rugby pitch.The quartet may have felt nervous at the beginning, but once the challenge had started, they displayed nerves of steel, gamely tossing noodles with a metal strainer and combining it with the other typical laksa ingredients such as tau pok, fishcake, cockles, bean sprouts and laksa leaves.
While some of them had stuck to the more traditional version of laksa, others took the chance to add their creative licence to the dish, for example, by including some Vietnamese style raw bean sprouts.
During the laksa preparation too, the players were asked for their interpretations of common Singlish phrases. While a couple passed with flying colours with the correct guesses, such as shiok meaning amazing, it had been quite hilarious to hear one, for example, say that walau [oh my gosh] means beautiful.
And when asked to string some newly learnt Singlish words into a sentence, Clark, 23, who plays as a Back with the Australian Sevens team, quipped, “My laksa is shiok.”
Had great fun preparing the Laksa
The players themselves had great fun making and preparing their Laksa dish.
Said Clark, “Yeah the laksa making session was quite a fun challenge – I have been lucky enough to go to a lot of cool cities in the world over the years but it was still really nice to experience doing something a bit different from home, for a change.”
Judging of the laksa
There were three judges altogether – Chef Ah Huat from the Song Kee Fish Ball Noodle Stall at Lau Pa Sat, Joanna Er who is the Qantas South East Asia Manager of Airports, and myself.
The judging process was quite simple – after tasting all of the four laksa dishes, we ranked them in order of preference, before using Aussie slang to describe them.
The three phrases that we were supposed to use to describe the players’ Laksa, were “it’s a ripper” meaning “delicious”, “nothing to write home about” meaning “average” and “a bit dodgy” for “bad.”
it had been quite interesting and maybe slightly hilarious, to watch the ever-changing facial expressions of the four players, when each one’s dish was being rated by us! But they took the comments and ratings in their stride, regardless of whether these had been good or not-so-good.
And the players took turns to hold their breaths – before the verdict of each bowl was delivered.
Winterstein’s Laksa won the challenge
Winterstein’s Laksa turned out to be the overall winner of the Laksa Challenge and he was presented with a Merlion stuffed toy as a trophy.
Personally for me, I had thought that Winterstein’s version of laksa had been the most interesting one, with the generous helping of sambal chilli to give the dish an additional spicy kick – that had hit me immediately when i tried the gravy. In fact after trying Winterstein’s, I had to wash my palette with a sip of water, so that it would not affect my judging of the other bowls of Laksa! Other ingredients in the winner’s dish had included extra crunchy bean sprouts, which had really enhanced the texture of the Laksa dish.
At the same time, the usual and traditional ingredients such as the Tau Pok and Fish Cake were also part of Winterstein’s Laksa dish, so in this way, it was a good, local Laksa dish with some slight tweaks, but had still brought out the Singaporean flavours nicely.
Aesthetically, the extra sambal chilli that had been stirred and mixed inside the dish, had also added a very delicious looking red shade to Winterstein’s Laksa and this had enhanced the colours in his dish. And at the same time, the fact that he had chosen to stir the huge pot of Laksa gravy prior to scooping it over his noodles, also meant that his bowl did not appear to have an obvious layer of oil floating on the top when it had been first served. This added a bonus to the player’s dish.
Said a confident Winterstein, 23, who plays as a Second-Row, “I knew that mine was going to be the best! When I eat laksa, I like it with a lot of soup and also spicy. So I had to find some chili and add it in!”
He added, “Usually when I am in Australia, I get the seafood laksa. Compared to the one there, this Singaporean version has the addition of the tau pok. As well it consists of a strong coconut and chili flavour, which makes it quite nice to eat. But it was also great to learn to make this laksa from a local chef, and get more insights into how the Singaporeans cook it, here at Lau Pa Sat, one of Singapore’s most iconic landmarks in the city that offers the best insights into Singapore’s street food.”
The event host was pleased with the outcome of the Laksa challenge. Said Benjamin Tan, Senior Vice President Asia, for Qantas, “We wanted to welcome the Qantas Australian Rugby Team to Singapore by sharing tips and insights about our wonderful local cuisine. The team is pretty cool under pressure on the field but testing their skills in the kitchen is a different experience altogether and the players did really well.”
Added Tan, “Laksa may just be the secret pre-tournament training tool to add extra fire in the bellies of the Qantas Australian Rugby 7s Team ahead of the tournament this weekend!”
Chicken Rice and Chilli Crab were other popular local favourites among the players
Besides the laksa, Winterstein added that he loves the local chicken rice. The players had all shown enthusiasm about tasting some chicken rice. And so a dish had been ordered for the players following the laksa challenge. Winterstein had been hugely impressed by the subtle flavours and how everything blends in so well together in the dish. He said, “It’s lovely and really nice. Actually I love Asian food so anything Asian I am definitely willing to try. So over the course of this week, I am going to feel really at home in Singapore.”
And looking forward to trying out some Singaporean chilli crab though, was van der Walt, 24 and playing as a Centre/Winger. He said, “Besides the chicken rice, I also want to try some chilli crabs – I love mud crabs. What I generally have noticed about the food here as compared to in Australia, is that we [Australians] have less soup and spicy dishes. So I really enjoy Asian cuisine. I am also always keen to taste something new.”
He added, “Everyone has also been talking about durians so I am really keen to dig into some. Actually I have had durians before and I love the stickiness of the fruit. Though the strong cheesy smell had put me off when I tried it for the first time, but the flesh is really nice and creamy.”
“Singapore Noodles” does not exist in Singapore
Winterstein pointed out, however, that coming to Singapore, had enlightened him that a Chinese dish called “Singapore Noodles” is not actually available here.
Typically sold at many of the Chinese restaurants throughout Australia, “Singapore Noodles” is a dish comprising of stir-fried Vermicelli and plenty of curry powder.
Said Winterstein, “I thought that this was quite funny that this dish doesn’t exist in Singapore! When I order it in Australia, it is quite yellowy and consistent and I quite enjoy eating it with a bit of fried rice.”
Added van der Walt, “But all of this delicious food will be reserved for the day after the rugby finishes though – our stomachs are generally not used to eating this sort of food!”
The Tourist attractions in Singapore are also appealing
But though tasting the local cuisine may be one of the things that the players are certainly looking forward to, it is not the only one. The tourist attractions also appeal to them.
Said Winterstein, “Before coming to Singapore, I have been here through flight transits to the United Kingdom. Once I had a long break for seven hours and I took a free shuttle from the airport – i was very impressed with the fact that everything in Singapore is so clean and green!”
He continued, “But one thing that my team mates and I are all really keen to check out though, is the Infinity Pool on top of that special hotel [Marina Bay Sands] but we heard that it is quite hard to get up there unless you are staying at the hotel. But it will definitely be an experience though, to see it. So we will see what we can do about it!”
And for van der Walt though, his previous visit to Sentosa Island on a previous trip to Singapore, a couple of years ago, had left an impression him. He said, “I stopped over in Singapore for a day, a couple years back, and visited Sentosa Island. I really enjoyed that, so it would be lovely to go there again to soak it up and see what it is like now. Universal Studios would also be great to visit – I have never been inside there.”
Known for its diversity in culture and culinary delights, Singapore will be hosting the only stop of the HSBC Sevens World Series in South East Asia.
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