The Singapore Night Festival opened with a bang yesterday, Friday 19 August 2022, after a 2-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’ve been following us on our social media pages, you will have learnt that the Festival offers more than just the usual night lights and projection mapping artworks, even while these continue to be the main draw for most visitors. With a hyper-local focus, the Singapore Night Festival 2022 is inspired by the rich history and heritage of the Bras Basah Bugis precinct and affords visitors the opportunity to discover the people, places and stories that inhabit this fascinating locale, in a variety of ways.
One of the Festival’s experiential programmes that piqued our interest is BBBooze O’Clock powered by Sui Gin. Running around taking in all the night lights, projection mappings, performances, etc. can be hot and thirsty work – so why not make a pit stop or two (or five!) at the participating cocktail bars in BBBooze O’Clock? Each of the participating outlets (details at the foot of this article) has created a bespoke cocktail for the Singapore Night Festival 2022, based on the theme of Famous Characters of BBB (we do love our acronyms, don’t we?).
In the true spirit of investigative journalism and for your benefit, dear readers, we checked out one of the participating bars, Mama Diam, to sample and learn more about the bespoke cocktail they have created, Run Fast, Ride Slow, which is inspired by the rickshaw pullers who used to ply Middle Road and its environs in the late 19th century. These hand-drawn taxi-cabs were an important form of public transportation and a primary source of income for the thousands of Chinese immigrants who fled to Singapore from China in search of a better life.
Requiring only physical strength and good coordination, unskilled and often illiterate immigrants, mainly from the Henghwa and Hockchew communities of southeastern China, were naturally drawn to the trade. It was, however, not without risk of injury and was extremely demanding physically, as you can imagine! In fact, an article in the 28 October 1912 edition of the Straits Times described rickshaw-pulling as ““the deadliest occupation in the East (and) the most degrading for human beings to pursue”.
Mama Diam’s cocktail, Run Fast, Ride Slow, created by resident mixologist He Xin, himself an immigrant from China who came to Singapore some 15 years ago, pays fitting tribute to these hardy and hardworking men and to the heritage and history of the area in which Mama Diam is located. On my visit to Mama Diam last week, I not only sampled this refreshing cocktail but also got to speak to its creator, He Xin, and Mama Diam founder Sebastian Ang.
If you decide to buy a ticket to BBBooze O’Clock (and I highly recommend you do) you might have a little bit of trouble finding your way to Mama Diam as, in the true spirit of speakeasy bars (which take their name from 1920s Prohibition-era illegal liquor establishments in the US), it has a hidden entrance. In fact, like me, you might just walk right by its facade, since it looks nothing like a cocktail bar but, instead, appears to be a traditional provision or “mama” shop.
Owner Sebastian Ang explains that during the pandemic, he read about an elderly couple, Mr and Mrs Teo, who had decided to close their provision shop after running it for 40 years, from 1981 – 2021. The neighbourhood provision shop is something that holds many personal memories for Sebastian. He was inspired to preserve this nostalgic slice of local heritage and bought over their shelving, cabinetry and stock to create the storefront for Mama Diam.
“To me, a “mama” shop isn’t just an old-school convenience store that sells sweets and tidbits … it is a place that gives Singaporeans a feeling of connection and oneness.”
In that same spirit, Mama Diam’s cocktail offerings are infused with familiar old-school favourites, like kaya, kopi, teh, rose syrup, sng bui, hawthorn flakes and ice gem biscuits.
Mixologist He Xin explained that, in creating Run Fast, Ride Slow for the Singapore Night Festival 2022, he wanted to use a base flavour that would pair well with and enhance the flavour of Sui Gin, the Japanese gin by Suntory that is the main alcoholic component in all 5 of BBBooze’O’Clock‘s bespoke cocktails. His choice was jasmine tea – a drink that he believes the rickshaw riders of old would have consumed plenty of in the course of a busy workday plying their trade.
The subtle, light floral flavour of jasmine tea (he used Rickshaw brand tea!) pairs well with the gin without overpowering it. After that, it was simply a process of building on this base to create a combination of sweet, salty, tangy notes that make for the perfect cocktail tribute to the valiant rickshaw pullers of Middle Road.
In case you’re unable to make it for BBBooze O’Clock, Mama Diam and He Xin have very generously shared the recipe for Run Fast, Ride Slow so that Plural readers can make the drink and enjoy it whenever they like:
Sui Gin 45ml
Rickshaw jasmine tea 45ml
Yuzu Honey 3 bar spoons
Green grapes 6pcs
Lime juice 1/4 pith removed
Saline 5% 1/2 bar spoon
1 pc green grape on skewer
lemon coin, express then discard
How to prepare:
1. Wash and remove stems from the green grapes, drop 6 pieces into shaker and muddle to release the juices.
2. Pour half a bar spoon of saline on your bar spoon and drop into the shaker.
3. Scoop 3 bar spoons of yuzu honey and drop into the shaker.
4. Squeeze the lime and discard it.
5. Measure 45ml/1.5Oz of Sui gin and pour into shaker.
6. Measure 45ml/1.5Oz of Jasmine tea and pour into shaker.
7. Using the bar spoon to stir and taste test.
8. Add ice into shaker and shake it till cold and properly mixed.
9. Double strain and garnish with green grape on skewer and express the lemon coin to release the essential oils
Note: The Singapore Night Festival 2022 runs from 19 – 27 August 2022. The other participating bars in BBBooze O’Clock powered by Sui Gin are Vertigo 26 (with Singapore Cowboy), Analogue (with Mat-Tini), Hopscotch (with Lady Yang) and GudSht (with Laksa Sayang).
Feature image courtesy of Mama Diam and the Singapore Night Festival.