Via La Tropica

I walk the dogs every morning around my estate. This takes place about 7 am after the school chauffeuring run, before the madness of the day starts and the heat sets in. ImageWhat started out five years ago in a bid to keep both dogs and owner from piling on the pounds, has brought unexpected side benefits.

I’ve gotten to know the neighbourhood aunties and uncles who are also out on their morning jaunts. There’s a nice down-to-earth, kampung vibe to my little estate, and most people will nod and smile hello. Awww.

Before you non-Singaporean folk wonder what I’m going on about, you must know this. It is something you do not see often in fast-paced Singapore – the smiling passer-by. People are more likely to avert their eyes and look studiously down at the ground when walking towards you. Worse still, they will look at you incredulously if you grin at them, with that “Siao ah, lu kua simi?” (Hokien for “crazy nut, watchu lookin’ at?!!) face.

Secondly, like a kampung, the residents are very good about using any spit of government land outside their houses to plant their fruit and spice gardens. So my walks have often turned into expeditions to collect the aromatics for the dish I intend to cook that day.

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Clockwise from left: Curry tree; Pandan; Kaffir Lime.

Want curry leaves for chicken curry? No problem, take your pick of the many, many trees growing along the way. In fact, I just helped myself to a couple of the fragrant sprigs just this morning.

Feel like making nasi lemak or chicken rice? Pandan leaves are in abundance in the hood. I’ve counted at least twenty plants growing along my usual route. Of course, if they appear to belong to a neighbour, ask nicely first. You have no idea how fierce aunties can be when guarding their home grown treasures.

Need one or two Kaffir Lime (Limau Purut) leaves for a sambal dish? There are a few growing wild just up the hill. They must be one of my favourite spices. A leaf or two sliced finely or pounded adds an instant zing to any recipe.

Fruit trees are in abundance in the neighbourhood too. Now I don’t help myself to those, as the fruit are either the pride and joy of the owner, or food for the few mynahs and orioles that also share our space.

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I took a few pictures of the fruit I saw on my walk this morning. There are many more varieties of fruit but here are a few of the less common ones you may see in Singapore: the Custard Apple, the Jambu Ayer, the Chiku and the Noni tree.

Okay, maybe the Noni is not that uncommon. There seems to be a special affinity for the Noni to the pretty awful soil we get here.  Two small Noni shrubs are growing happily along the crumbling crevices of the retaining wall I share with my neighbour, and are fruiting away.

And no, don’t ask me if I’ve made Noni juice yet. I’ve read up recipes online and they all involve fermentation of some kind and sound ghastly to me. Maybe I should, and if I do, I’m sure it will make for an interesting post in the future.

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