Café Vinaigrette by Raina Ng & Syar S. Alia

Inspiration for this piece comes from Roxane Gay’s amazing story Contrapasso

Enjoy some musical accompaniment in the form of a YouTube playlist at the very end.

Cafe Vinaigrette Menu

APPETISERS the ones that got away


Trip Dio trio of dips: taramosalata, hummus, and beetroot & mint, with assortment of toasted breads & crackers

Do you know how hard it is to get hummus here? Not to mention beetroot, of all ridiculous things, and that pink stuff with the fish roe you only learned about on your trip to Europe. Yeah, we know, we know, you’re travelled. You’re travelled and smart and bored and bitter that you’re home, that you’re where you’ve always known. Suddenly you realize picking up a $2 tub of hummus with the bread and eggs is an honest luxury and that you’re actually a wanker for knowing this. People had fancy dips at divey house parties in the suburbs of Preston when you were in uni. You ate taramosalata with home brand potato chips, pulled from a cooler full of ham and cheese sandwiches on a French island. Don’t choke on your sparkling water.

The Perfect Antipasto marinated artichoke, sliced tomatoes, Genoa Salami, shaved prosciutto, roasted peppers, roasted eggplant, garlic hummus, olives, crackers, camembert cheese, roasted almonds, walnuts and pine nuts, homemade garlic focaccia and tomato relish.

That was the thing — you took a look at him and thought he could fill you up but then you realised that all he made you feel like was a balloon. Your dates were a series of anti-climactic doses of him and you left each date dissatisfied, hungry for more. Nonsense filled much of the spaces that made up your conversations and you started to wonder. You tried. You talked about things that mattered and you thought you saw him cringe. You ended up talking about the colour of the walls; whether they were grey or blue, or whether they suited the chairs. You choked and finally brought up the subject of ‘us’. Was there even an ‘us’? He stopped, stared into space like you never said a thing, and finished the roasted eggplants. Eggplants were the only thing you ever ordered the bloody dish for — that bastard. You fantasised about that one day when he would look back and curse. “Why did I ever let her go?” he would say. Then you got away, finally. You broke free from the charm that ensnared because in that one moment when he once again finished the eggplants, it hit you that his sexy 5 o’clock-shadow was but a mask covering up a hollow man. Then you rolled your eyes and wondered, “How did I even think he was perfect?” and thanked God that it never went beyond appetisers.

MAINS the essential ones


Ayam Masak Kicap fragrant chicken dish cooked in soy sauce, oyster sauce, onions, peppers, chillies, lemongrass and ginger, served with fragrant rice in a clay bowl    

Once you had a second set of parents (imagine that, single fathered-orphan daughter, imagine that.) The university professors you lived with would send you after school to them, a security guard and a housewife. You were four in all, two girls, two boys, a pair born and a pair paid for. Their small house was a tall bench in the front yard, skinny cushions on rattan chairs, jalousie windows we’d peer through to spy on the grocer with his small lorry of produce. For lunch we sat on the cool linoleum of the kitchen, the gas burner by our mother’s head, one plate on her lap, doling out pinches of rice and meat from her right hand to our waiting mouths, her young children who cannot be trusted to be nimble enough to feed themselves. The other boy who was not theirs was older, and one day he had his own plate in front of him. We watched from the corner of our eyes as he doused his rice with kicap masin, like syrup on pancakes, and with equal gravity and glee, bring the palm of his hand down onto the brown and white mound. It covered the plate. We watched as he squeezed.

Drive-Thru Sliders three mini-burgers (lamb, chicken or beef) with caramelized onions & melted cheese and a serving of shoestring fries

When we tire of each other’s houses, comfortable as they are, familiar as they are with the bathrooms we had our first periods in and the bed where we talk about our dreams of boys (and girls), we get into the car and talk, talk, talk on the fuel our parents bought, until we get too thirsty to speak and so we fumble with our wallets – rehearsal for when we are young women with sleek purses – drown out the cashier with our giggles, brown bags and wax paper cups through the window, we’ll yell for the biting fizzy cola to be passed around, “Drink me!”, the greasy hot fries spilling salt on our laps and burning our lips as we get lost in the manicured avenues of a golf course country club where we’ll park in some dead end street to laugh and burp over the shoulders of the front seats, the afternoon dripping away like the sauce down our fingers, the ketchup squeezed out of slippery small packets, one out of dozens, one day out of weeks and months where we always have time for each other.

Hearty Stew brown stew beef with onions, celery, carrots and potatoes cooked in a crockpot on low heat for 10 hours, served with crusty bread

We warmed to each other and tried at once to spark an instant friendship. We spent hours together going to each other’s lectures – honestly, those math and chemistry lectures were a bore, and I am sure you were completely lost in my English Literature class, for you still have no idea who Oscar Wilde is, despite my constantly quoting him. I remember those cold winter days where we, while studying together at your flat, craved a hot bowl of noodle soup and we would scuttle down that steep hill singing folk songs out of tune, repeating old nursery rhymes while laughing, and then sharing a bowl. We found love and experienced broken hearts. We studied and boy, did we study hard. We got what we wanted – you got into medical school, I got into law school, and when we came back from our summer holiday expecting it all to be the same, we were both disappointed. It was not. We grew apart and over the years, harboured a sort of resentment, blaming each other for the failed friendship. Then you got married, I turned up late to your wedding. We both moved, and years later you called saying you would be visiting. I picked you up from the airport. We talked, we cried, we reminisced, we hugged, we said sorry and all was forgiven. Now we are older and every time I need someone to talk to I am comforted to know that I can write you a long email, and you will respond, genuinely, sincerely, and with much love. And how I devour your reply which always fills me up real good like a hearty meal fills a hungry orphan.

Yam Tong Sek Fan (Cantonese for ‘drink soup eat rice’) double boiled lotus root soup with chicken feet, served with brown rice, blanched kai-lan with garlic 

There was a time when I hated her. Hated. She had done all sorts of things, and I vowed I would never be her. “When I have kids!” I always said, “I will NEVER ever treat them like this!” There was once I came home to find my clothes tossed outside, and in a frenzy I screamed all sorts of vulgarities at her, that woman! She ruined my life, I would say. Of course I grew out of my teenage angst, and she learnt to deal with my rebelliousness, and with me. Over the years her love grew less smothering, or maybe while I never remembered growing up, I grew up. Then she began calling me for favours, and then came the calls asking for advice, and one day I realised that she had come to rely on me. Now more and more I look in the mirror and I see her; I came to feel one day that I had to be stronger than her, to carry her, and that was when a sort of sadness came and took me and I vowed never to learn how to make soup — not until the day she stops. Because at least I can rely on her for that. At least there is something I can still run to her for, especially on days where I need to feel once again like a little girl loved.

DESSERTS whirlwind romances


Rocky Road Pizza chocolate sauce, marshmallows, raspberry & strawberry jam, peanuts and dark chocolate buttons on a base of homemade pizza dough

You waited for me to finish fasting, for a break in our long day rigging lights and readying the stage for a show. You drove out while I worked and came back with a steaming flat box, and when I opened it my mouth watered. You must have thought I was so much hungrier than I was, a day of deprivation, as if I wouldn’t wake up to do the same, and again the same, for the month after and all the months before this. You made me think I was so much hungrier. My mouth near choked with everything, too sweet, too much; I was full within a slice, but you told me to have more. More, more, more. It would not be finished until I ate my last bite. You would not let me stop even as the curtains rose before us, our bodies shadowed under the seats.

Tira Misu layered sponge fingers dipped in dark expresso and rum, filled with mascarpone cream

Bittersweet memories, like bitter coffee after sweet cake. That was what she tasted like: A mishmash of flavours that broke down slowly on the tongue — contrasting yet complete. I will never forget the first time I met her — she was seated with her long white hair wrapped tightly in a bun, spectacles worn on the edge of her nose. Her odour was not always pleasant; dust penetrated much of her pores and the smell of pee and carbon monoxide cut through the smell of pungent curry and masala tea and they filled my headspace as quickly as smoke from burning butter filled a kitchen. Heady. My eyes darted, taken astray by the million flickering things accompanied by the soundtrack of white noise. I tried to decode all her signals and proceeded to empty my head, for she demanded the space as she stood fiercely looking. I heeded and then I entered. Now I am home, and I shrug as my quiet apartment hugs herself around me. I needed to breathe, to process all that Cochin had poured into me and I can tell you this — that old spectacled woman, when she filled me, reshaped my heartspace and I have never been quite the same.

DRINKS the ones we hope will be


Gin Tonic Hendrick’s gin, tonic water and two slices of lemon   

Her: You love me but you don’t know it yet.
Him: You are delusional. Delusional.
Her: But until you are wanting, I shall leave it at that.

Her: You love me but you don’t know it yet.
Him: You are drunk. It’s the gin talking.
Her: I know things that you don’t.

And he laughed. At her.

Then there was a silence.
And then she said it again. And again. And again.
Until the walls of his heart came down.

And he saw it. The creature sat looking at him, starry-eyed.

Her: You love me, and you know it.
And he smiled. Silently, on the inside.
Him: What’s for supper?

She knew it. She always did.

Holiday Sangria red wine, Cointreau, Gran Marnier, ginger ale, honey, apples, oranges, persimmons, pears & variety of spices, choice of glass or jug

The plan is a small town in an interesting country you’ve had your eye on for a while, a pin in the map. Or maybe the plan is a sunny afternoon and a picnic table, in your backyard that needs mowing. There must be sun. Children should be playing far enough away not to be a headache. You should be in love with me. I want my tongue to stain red, my teeth to stain the embarrassing purple I would let no one else see but you. I want to pick out the pieces of fruit with my fingers and lick them after, I want wine to drip down my chin, I want you to call for more ice, let everything sit sweet, cool and bitter between us.

Brewed Coffee fresh fair-trade coffee served with a dollop of manuka honey

Sunny Sunday and banana pancakes, fragrant coffee, breakfast in bed. We lie in some more, discussing dreams. The dog sticks his head up at the end of the bed and you nod, gotta take her out for a walk, so we both get dressed. We stop at the market to pick up some apples and more bananas; we discuss our lunch and dinner plans by the side of the road before deciding that we should get some groceries to make lasagne. We think we should invite the Browns over. You pick up the paper, and we walk the long way home. I call the Browns, chat with the missus for a bit while you watch and laugh at our girly conversation. Then you say you are going to have a shower, and you slip off your white tee. I watch you as you walk through the corridor into the bathroom. You look back and smile at me. I get off the couch and turn off the television, — I should not let myself daydream for too long about how it would be like if I were yours, dear Joseph (Gordon-Levitt).

Earl Grey special English brew served with lavender honey and milk on request, choice of cup or pot

“Good morning, peanut.”
“Did you have a good night’s sleep, sweetness?”
“The best, my eclair, I’m feeling good today.”
“I’m so glad to hear that, sugar bean, how good to feel good!”
“Indeed, and I think I’m feeling up for a walk, lotus cake. Join me?”
“There’s toast and jam, and eggs and hash browns, and sausages and bacon and mushrooms on the grill oh but do let’s have breakfast first, my darling plum.”
“Pudding pie, I would love nothing more.”
“Wonderful! Tea, honey bear?”

944527_10151647113221468_1191217669_nRaina Ng loves soup and mushrooms. Bittergourd and broccoli. Dark chocolate and black coffee. And a good strong dose of  gin and tonic. 

ISSUE Thumbnail Syar 2013

Syar S. Alia will eat anything, has eyes bigger than her stomach, and is always asking, “Are you going to finish that?” Find her @syarsalia

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