Love in the rounded edges

22 November 2020, Sunday, 11.00-12.30pm (London time) / 19.00-20.30pm (Singapore)
A workshop presented for Till We Meet Again IRL in collaboration with World Wide Wontons.


A recent post of mine on social media during this period of isolation was that of an old kitchen tool, the tumbuk, lesung, or the mortar & pestle set. I had been using it in place of an electric blender perhaps due to having more time at hand. Also because I was more introspective about things around us, I also wrote about the object and its patina of age. The tumbuk was gifted to my mother by her mother in 1960s when my mother relocated to another city for marriage. When it was my turn to put down roots in Singapore with my partner, I asked for the particular set from my parents. I of course, had to replacing it with a new set for them. 

As soon as it was posted, other stories and images of the tumbuk of my friends started coming in. Ideas relating to the home, and the centrality of the kitchen to many families became very obvious. There was also a particular lineage, that the object was passed on from our mothers & grandmothers; or else bought by the person when setting up her/his own home.  

The mortar & pestle set has been a staple item for many families in Southeast Asia and beyond. One sees the ubiquity of these stone (plus wood & marble) items across many other South American, Mexican, Italian, and Asian cultures. The functionality of the mortar & pestle set is legendary. (Access to) electricity is not needed, there are very few parts to wash after, and it is does a legendary job grinding down and releasing the full aroma of the spices, herbs and nuts. The types of the mortar & pestle set include: Singaporean/Malaysian tumbuk or lesung, Indonesian cobek, ulekan & tumbukan, Thai saak & krok, Vietnamese chày cối, Japanese suribachi, Mexican molcajete, Peruvian Batan.

The project will have a few components to be presented online (& the possibly in a physical space at a later stage when time permits). I will be making sambal belacan – a spicy chili condiment with shrimp paste for that workshop. 

Questions for discussions pre or during the workshop:

  1. Provenance or stories of participants’ mortar & pestle set + images
  • Where did yours come from?
  • How did it come into your possession? Or loaned?
  • When was it purchased, approximate date?
  • Why is this item important to you? How so?
  • Any other recollections about this object?
  1. What item/dish do you normally make with it?
  2. Possible dishes
  • sambal belacan
  • sambal oelek
  • peanut sauce
  • simple garlic-shallot condiment 
  • pesto
  • guacamole
  • hummus
  • other aromatics for cocktails
  1. List of ingredients (for my sambal workshop)
  • Chili (fresh red/green ones, dried versions)
  • Shallots
  • Garlic
  • Lemongrass
  • Ginger
  • shrimp paste
  • dried shrimps
  • palm sugar
  • lime & salt to taste
  1. Demo (live) with video documentation.



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