Tuesday, October 23, 2012


My mother had friends from different cultures.  She learnt how to cook their food.  They exchanged recipes.  In the many handwritten notebooks my mother left behind, there are entries for 'Inari sushi', 'Bergedil', 'Curry Devil' and such.  In this age of global citizens, it is a precious attribute worth sustaining.  This past Friday, my friends and I of 'Cinco de Mayo' dinner party fame (see entry 'Singapore Noodles' on 5/9/12), met up once again.  We celebrated Oktoberfest with 'fraulein' Anke (she of Black Forest fame too, see entry on 6/28/12).

Alice, Anke and I met up in the morning in the Upper East Side.  After a quick breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien (Belgian origins), we inched closer to the 'Vaterland' when we dropped in at Glaser's Bakery on 87th and 1st.  I had stumbled upon this bakery- opened in 1902 and located in the heart of German Yorkville - when I walked past it one day with my son on our way to Asphalt Green for soccer.  For those of us in Singapore who miss the Red House Bakery in Katong, this is its New York cousin.  The store has old wood-paneled walls and a zinc-tiled ceiling.  The glass cabinets displayed chocolate cakes, marzipan-frosted sheet cakes, apple strudel, cookies and cherry tarts.  The open kitchen at the back offered a homey whiff of fresh-baked goods.  There was an air of nostalgia as we lingered and longed for the bakeries of our childhood, not the cookie-cutter cupcake shops that dress up like old milk shake bars from the Eisenhower era.  Glaser's is the real thing.

We then walked over to Schaller and Weber, a venerable German delicatessen that carries some of the most authentic bratwursts and hams, pretzel and rye bread, plus an array of European canned food and condiments.  Anke recommended the sweet mustard and Kelcher's horseradish to go with our 'choucroute' for that evening.  The butcher was super-thrilled when Anke spoke to him in German and explained that we were celebrating Oktoberfest. One could feel his enthusiasm, almost as if he would spiritually join us for the festivities.  Anke and the butcher reveled in their common language and he tipped her on where to source her German beer.

So we all sat down for dinner that night.  Smoked pork knuckle, pork ribs and two half slabs of bacon that had been simmered for two hours in Riesling and sauerkraut, washed off with Eiswein and lots of beer.  Anke came to serve us in her dirndl - 'Sexy Bavarian Girl' from the Halloween pop-up store.  She taught me how to sear the bratwursts with much pride and almost teared up from homesickness while peeking at the pot of meat and potatoes.  We succeeded once again with such an insightful excursion during the day and cultural exchange through Anke's instructions in the evening.  The stakes had just got higher for our next dinner gathering.

Reflecting on that evening, I thought about my mother, and my father for that matter,.  They cultivated friendships that have lasted for decades.  My father recently celebrated his 86th birthday this past Sunday.  One of their oldest friends, a lovely Eurasian lady named Aunty Lilian - doing what she has done for the last 50 years - called him in the morning to wish him well.  I can only hope to keep friends in the same way that my parents have.   

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