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Bananas in my Backyard

Bananas in my Backyard
By Sheere Ng

Moments before Tse harvests his bananas

Patrick Tse may not be as dashing as the Hong Kong screen veteran who shares the same name but
he possesses the skills of a great Goreng Pisang master. Not only does he have a 30-year-old stall
that is frequently featured by the local media, he also owns a small banana plantation – one quarter
of the size of a football field – a feat in land scarce Singapore.

His yield is slightly more than 1000 bananas a week, just enough to fall back on when the supply
from Malaysia drops. Four years ago, the imports from Malaysia were, in his words, “barely
edible”. While some said it was the changing climate, others attributed it to a virus. Up till today,
the cause is still a mystery.

In 2009, Patrick set up his own plantation at Lim Chu Kang to ensure that his stall would have a
steady supply Despite having what looked like slightly more than a thousand trees densely packed
together, there is only one type of banana – the red-flesh Pisang Rajah. Patrick said this particular
one is small, sweet and fragrant, therefore, making the best fritters. But its good taste comes with an
inconvenience. Pisang Rajah takes a longer time to grow compared to others – almost a year before
it bears fruit.

When Patrick gave us a freshly plucked banana, we were instantly hit by the strong fragrance. The
taste, on other hand, was consistent with what the aroma had promised. It was sweet but didn’t cloy,
and also has a subtle tanginess. Although the size of the banana was smaller than the ones at the
famous Lim Kee Banana Fritters, it possessed all the attributes of a Pisang Rajah literally translated
as “King Banana”.

But the problem with owning a plantation is fighting the pests. Birds like to dig their beaks into the
flesh and render the fruit unsuitable for eating. Patrick finds himself throwing away quite a number
of bananas each time he visits. But the cheerful man also sees the bite marks as stamps of approval
of sort. “Animals only pick the best to eat,” he said proudly.

When the bananas on top of the tree show signs of ripening, and if the birds haven’t gotten to them
yet, Patrick will harvest and smoke them in an enclosed room with burning joss sticks. It is nothing
religious but a popular practise among goreng pisang sellers to hasten the ripening. If he were to
leave them on the tree, those on top would be past their best by the time the rest have ripened.

Despite how demanding farming can be, Patrick never complains and in fact, finds it enjoyable and
relaxing. This is surprising to hear from a man whom at 16, swore that he would never become a
hawker after spending most of his childhood helping out at his father’s char kway teow stall. “It is
too tiring, and it implicates the entire family,” he said.

But he became a hawker after all, as he soon discovered from his first job that he prefers to be a
boss. Unlike his father, he picked a dish that he could prepare, cook and sell all by himself. –
His goreng pisangs are light, crumbly and crispy, different from the Malay-style fritters, which
crunch like crackers “A good Goreng Pisang must be crispy even after they have turned cold,”
Patrick said.

Besides the bananas, the stall also has the usual fare like sweet potato, tapioca and yam. But what
struck us most was the banana and durian combo. Stuffed in between two slices of bananas, the
durian heightened the richness and creaminess of the fritter, and yet it didn’t taste overly sweet
because of the banana’s slight tanginess.

Tse showing off his proudest creation, the Durian Pisang

Patrick’s pursuits for perfections, be it the quality of the bananas, the batter or the new products, are
the reasons why this little stall at Clementi Hawker Centre can thrive for so many years. A good
goreng pisang, like he said, needs to be crispy. What he did not say but showed us was that it also
requires great passion – passion that will drive one to oversee the entire making process, personally
growing them to frying them to perfection.