Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Missing National Day

August 9th was Singapore’s 42nd National Day, and I can’t say it was a banner day for us. Perhaps it’s because we’d already missed our own US Independence Day celebration: the lone American fireworks display was the weekend before July 4th, when we were in Taiwan. But that aside, on National Day we felt more like outsiders than ever, as all the “real” Singaporeans celebrated their belonging.

Not to mention, we hadn’t managed to snag seats for the highly anticipated National Day extravaganza. Singapore recently closed down its 55,000-seat stadium (to make way for a new “sports center” of approximately the same size), so this year the festivities were to be held on a floating platform in the bay, with seating for only about half the usual guests. We didn’t know whether foreigners were allowed to queue for tickets, but we figured even if we were, we’d never out-queue 5 million Singaporeans.

So we decided to celebrate by staying home, watching the show on TV, and enjoying a tradition of our own: making Chinese dumplings. Ever since we met, we’ve been making them together and teaching countless friends how to fold the little circular wrappers around the filling just right, so the dumplings turn out the perfect crinkly shape.

It’s been fairly easy in the US, as we’ve always just bought the wrappers at our local Asian food market. But here in Singapore, where you’d think they’d all be “Asian food markets,” they stock nothing of the kind. We tried wonton wrappers and got chewy, eggy dumplings in completely the wrong shape. We tried paper-thin wrappers used for steaming and ended up eating shreds of burst dumplings after the wrappers stuck to the pan. It just wasn’t the same.

So this time, we rolled out the wrappers ourselves, through many painful hours of trial and error: Dough too stiff, dough too sticky and impossible to remove from rolling pin. Dough I tried to roll out on our old dining table, for more space, that peeled off neat little strips of the table’s wood finish. (Time to make a new batch of dough...) Dough that rolled out square, not circular, no matter what we tried. And, once I finally got it right and had a pile of them, each carefully separated by dustings of flour, it had taken so long that they had congealed into a single, inseparable column. There was nothing to do but start over.

We’d started midmorning, and by sunset we had worked out our technique: Joey rolled one, and I folded it. And if either of us got ahead of the other, we’d dart over to the TV to see what we were missing at National Day. Conversation was odd that evening: “Here’s one to fold.” “Okay. Hey! They’re doing military exercises with an Apache from the US!” And later, “I’m putting this batch in the pan now. What am I missing on TV?” “Well, right now it’s schoolchildren dressed like glow-in-the-dark squid, blowing bubbles in time to the music.” (It was a sea theme this year.)

And by the time the show was finally over, and the citizens of Singapore were saying the pledge and singing the national anthem in English and Bahasa, we were finishing up our own celebration, too: the last pan of perfect dumplings was just about ready to eat.


Jill said...

But were they really perfect dumplings after all that work? You stopped the story before its end! How did they TASTE?! I so miss eating dumplings with you...i even went out and bought the non-stick pan to make them...before I got Charlie and learned that non-stick cookware will kill her. I have not found anyplace in Miami that makes anything that resembles your dumplings, never mind tastes as good. I found good Cuban and good Peruvian, even good Cuban that delivers to my house and good Cuban right near the office...but no good Chinese or Thai ANYWHERE. Miss you terribly!

Tobey said...

I love food holidays! Go, you, for improving Naional Day with tasty dumplings!

Tobey said...

Er . . . NaTional Day, that is. Y'know, it kinda stinks to not have a local copyeditor.

Anonymous said...

haha you could have bought the wanton wrappers from the wet market.