A Taste of Home: Chiya Amos on the Dishes and Drinks That Remind Him of Singapore
Similar to the global F&B scene, the music industry was also heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and St. Petersburg-based Singaporean conductor Chiya Amos saw his life savings drying up after more than a year of unemployment and cancelled engagements. Thus, he moved back to Singapore in December of last year and applied for more than 40 temporary positions to get by until he could return to Europe. “I got rejected and ghosted by all of them,” he recalls, until he got an offer as a Foodpanda delivery rider which offered a flexible work schedule and put him in charge of his own earnings. As he puts it: “The more I worked, the more I earned.”
While working as a delivery rider until mid-April, he's thankful that he was able to continue doing music when he and his friends organised the first virtual Opera and Ballet Conducting Workshop in February, which was a "success and well-received". He also continued to give seminars and masterclasses on piano performance.
He has since returned to St. Petersburg, although he admits that the situation is still difficult as Russia has been hit with the third wave of coronavirus and performances have been halted again. "It's extremely difficult to thrive as an Asian, conductor in Russia during these difficult times, as orchestras are actively working with home-grown talents instead of foreign artists," he shares, but he is still clinging on to a glimmer of hope that things would be better and he could return to the stage.
Asked what the soundtrack of his life would after everything he has gone through in the past year, he says it's Requiem in D minor by Mozart. "It’s a reflection of my life in the last 12 months, starting out turbulent, with vivid and terrifying imagery...but there's some respite from the fear and trepidation, and I've confidence that salvation will come to all."
As he continues to hunker down in Russia, we check up on him on the foods and drinks that bring him back to Singapore.
What do you miss most on the food/drink front when you are away from Singapore or haven’t been back for a while?
Chiya Amos (CA) I miss quite a few of the usual Singaporean dishes and drinks—mainly chicken rice, BBQ sambal stingray, fried Hokkien mee and sugar cane juice. While I can cook most of these, it's difficult to replicate them in Russia as we don’t have the same exact ingredients, and it will always taste a little different from those at home.
If you have visitors/guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of home?
CA When my wife, who is Russian, first visited Singapore in 2016, I brought her to 85 Fengshan Market & Food Centre (where I used to live just minutes away) for a taste of some of Singapore’s most popular foods. It has everything from bak chor mee to satay, and is an important part of our UNESCO hawker culture.
What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?
CA I can’t remember what’s the first dish I eat whenever I return to Singapore, but the first meal I have is always at home with my family. I usually arrive in the early evening and would head home to have dinner prepared by my mother with my entire family. My mother’s Teochew, so we would have dishes like steamed pomfret.
Related: Hawker Food in Singapore: How Young Chefs Are Ensuring Its Survival
Do you have a favourite restaurant in Singapore? For fine dining/special occasions and for more casual experiences?
CA My favourite restaurant for fine dining would be Keyaki at Pan Pacific Singapore. I grew up overseas and my parents taught me everything about Japanese cuisine when I was a boy. There weren’t that many authentic Japanese restaurants back then as far as I could remember, and my father used to take the entire family to Keyaki all the time. We even sat in the same little room by the entrance each time we visited. Unfortunately, times have changed and it has been years since I was there. We sometimes go to Melt Café at Mandarin Oriental, Singapore and stuff ourselves with seafood and other local cuisines for special occasions.
For more casual experiences, I love this relatively new Unagi restaurant at Bugis+ called Una Una where one can find quality grilled unagi at reasonable prices.
What are your favourite Singaporean heritage dishes and where are some of the places you go to find them?
CA Chicken rice! While others have their preferences based on the type of chilli or chicken, I prefer roast chicken served with a more flavourful soup and fragrant rice that isn't too soft. My wife has the same preferences and we found a place just beside Simei MRT station. I can’t recall what the hawker is called but I’m sure many would know about it! I also love BBQ sambal stingray, and I think the best place for that, along with many other heritage dishes, is Chomp Chomp Food Centre.
Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food/drinks?
CA My friends and I rarely visit the fancier establishments in Singapore—we always meet at a nearby Toast Box for breakfast in the morning, or Saizeriya for food and drinks.
Do you have a favourite bar and/or café in Singapore?
CA I practice abstinence from alcohol as much as I can and have never drunk a single drop of coffee in my life, and hence am not too familiar with the bars and cafes in Singapore. I know there’s a myriad of modern third-wave cafes proliferating the café culture in Singapore in recent years, and my wife and I enjoy exploring and visiting them whenever we are back in Singapore. Perhaps I would find something which suits my preferences soon.
Related: 10 Best Modern Asian Restaurants in Singapore
Is there anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?
CA I also love ramen and never leave Singapore before visiting a couple of the popular ramen places in town, especially Ramen Keisuke Kani King at Cineleisure Orchard. It's one of my all-time favourites.
What do you always take back home with you when you leave Singapore?
CA Lots of sauces and condiments, such as sambal chilli, chicken rice paste, laksa paste, and more. It's impossible to find them in Russia!
Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home in Russia?
CA I’m not sure about Moscow, but here in St. Petersburg, it's extremely difficult to find any authentic flavours of home or Southeast Asia. I've been cooking for myself since I left Singapore years ago, and thanks to the many recipes shared online, the condiments which I often bring from home, as well as the experience in the kitchen with my grandmother and mother, I am often able to replicate the flavours of home with near success in my own little kitchen.
Related: Where Do The Top 20 Chefs In Singapore Go For Their Hawker Fix?