The Heart of Things


They say that you can’t go home again.

Over a snack of mutton murtabak and Malay ginger tea, scalding hot and satisfyingly milky, the phrase suddenly popped into my head. And my mind immediately banished the logic.

I had been bemoaning my rudimentary photography skills to my friend KF Seetoh, a Singapore TV food host (the Saint Anthony of Southeast Asia, really), when I confessed, “I just learned how to focus.”

The camera, that is. And this would be, oh, after four years of owning the darned thing. 

In fact, I’m the only person I know who can take a picture of a perfectly delicious specimen of food and somehow produce a vision that is capable of inspiring nausea and thoughts of never lifting morsel to mouth ever again.

My problem, always, has been the hunger.

The longing that festers from the placing of the order is bone-gnawing by the time I hear the dish hit the table. I find myself jabbing at the “snap” button with one hand while grabbing at my fork with the other. Glossy Gourmet spreads and enticing David Lebovitz portraits be damned. 

But I know I’ve got to be taught. And when our murtabak comes at New Victory Restaurant, an Indian restaurant that has been feeding Singaporeans since 1910, I fend off the urge to rip at the crispy roti filled with minced mutton and onions with my bare hands. And Seetoh’s tutorial begins.

I go from this…


…to, well, a far-more-relevant picture that showcases the star of the dish: the garlicky, garam masala- and turmeric-spiced mutton at the heart of it.

The little lesson is one of many that Singaporeans have been volunteering. Whatever anxiety this once-rebellious teen had about peeling back the layers and returning to the scene of her childhood to learn to cook has been evaporating.

I detect a reassuring buoyancy among friends and family, a collective determination to once again step up and help, teach, push. 

That thing about not being able to go home again?

It turns out, if you’re lucky, you can.


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