Singapore Spring

The Straits Times beat me to this post, but it must be newsy enough to make it to our local rag.

Spring has come to tropical Singapore.

We’ve seen the latest Imagedepressing UN climate reports (http://bit.ly/1lGYRKz) and the local government machinery has already begun pre-emptive mumblings to the population to expect many dry, hazy days ahead. Singapore’s just experienced it driest first quarter in a century, and we have El Nino and that blasted haze to look forward to. In all that gloom and doom, however, Mother Nature has in recent days given us a respite with a glorious showing of her inimitable raiment.

photo (7)The rain showers on our parched soil has brought forth a flurry of blooming. Nature is in a bit of a panic, I think, and is going full throttle to reproduce and ensure the continuation of her species. It is not lost on me also that this coincides with Spring time in the temperate zones. Many people I know are jetting off to Japan to see the Sakura. While that is still on my bucket list, I am grateful that we are experiencing the benefits of Spring right here in good old Singapore.

The streets, if one bothers to actually stop smart-phoning to look, are currently festooned with brilliant colour from the flowering trees and shrubs. I give the National Parks Board full marks for planting the very picturesque Trumpet (http://bit.ly/PBQ8vf) and Cassia Fistula (http://bit.ly/1oA9i4H) trees along our Singapore roads. I’m sure these would win hands down if there was a prolific flowering contest.

There’s another side benefit to Spring in the tropics. We also get to enjoy Summer and AutumnImage treats too. Summer because of the loads of fruit I see ripening everywhere I look. Autumn because the falling tissue-like flowers from the Trumpet Trees, as well as the detritus of the dry leaves from the recent drought have turned sidewalks and parks into seas of pinks, mauves, whites, reds and browns.

A neighbour’s luscious mangoes

I’m not usually one to go on a soap box but this crazy weather makes me fret. We are treating Mother Earth terribly, trashing our only home in a voracious thirst for urban development and all things man-made.

Kedongdong or Buah LongLong fruit

She has been compassionate this time, blessing us with welcome rain and all this beauty. But time is running out, and I’m sure vengeance will be served. I hate to think that perhaps, just perhaps, what I enjoy today, will only be a fond but distant memory for my kids in their senior years.

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Exotic Edibles in Singapore

My parents have green fingers, and thanks to them, I know a little bit more about the exotic edibles that you can find in odd nooks around Singapore. That is, if you look hard enough.

Mum grew up in rural Taiping, a sleepy town famed for its lake gardens in the north of Malaysia. She spent her childhood out and about, eating wild berries and fruit from the tropical rainforests while looking for firewood. She used to tell me that one of the highlights of her youth was to climb up her neighbour’s Mangosteen trees. There she would sit on their branches and devour dozens of luscious, juicy white sections of that queen of fruits, straight from the trees.

Her father managed a durian plantation too, and to this day, nothing brings mum more pleasure than to tuck into a durian or two.

Through mum, I know a bit more about the fruit that grows wild in little corners of rabidly urban Singapore. I have passed these on to le kids too, so that a bit of rural rubs off on my city slickers.

Buah Susu (Milk Fruit translated directly from Malay, don’t ask me why)

photo (11)While out on after-dinner walks with the family around our estate in Singapore, I watched and learned as mum paused by a weedy fence to gather Buah Susu, a tinier cousin of the passion fruit. The bright yellow balls that are slightly larger than marbles are shrouded by delicate green mists of netting.  I remember them to be sticky and death to insects, but mum would brush them off for me, breaking open the yellow shell to reveal a burst of piquant, sweet seeds.  Sucking them straight from the shell, the juice and seeds would melt in the mouth in a tiny, but delectable riot of sweet and sour.

If you ask me, I’d say that these little Buah Susu balls put the passion fruit, its bigger, more sour, cousin to shame.

Dwarf or Miniature Holly (Singapore Holly)

ImageAnother plant mum pointed out to me was the Dwarf Holly. These used to grow wild around my estate and were a great favourite with the birds. Like its temperate cousins, the leaves are thick and slightly prickly, but the tiny red fruit was a source of fun for me and my sisters. They were tiny berries and not so easily visible, so it was always a minor triumph to find one. The berry is tiny and mostly seed, encased by a sliver of flesh. It’s not the greatest in terms of taste but hunting for the berries is a game in itself.

Even now, my kids hunt through the Dwarf Holly in grandma’s garden whenever they drop by, just for the pleasure of popping those elusive red beads in their mouths.

Rose Apple, the Fragrant Fruit

ImageWhen I moved to my current place in Bedok, I wondered about the tree that grew by my gate. It had white flowers that looked like foamy tutus and were hell to sweep up when they wilted, leaving behind yellowish-green fruit that grew in clusters and looked a bit like the Guava.  An elderly neighbour passing by told me that it was a Rose Apple tree and encouraged me to try one.

My goodness, I was eating roses!

The flesh is not particularly juicy but the fragrance is astounding. Subtle, aromatic, I would challenge perfumers to create a blend as complex and delightful.

Image

The hot weather has been awful, but it has also forced the plants in my garden to flower and fruit in abundance. The Belimbing Wuluh, Banana, and Starfruit are all going gangbusters. So while I pray for the rains to come, I also count my blessings that perhaps I may have somewhat green fingers after all.