When I open up the new issue of Rubbish, the magazine lovingly produced by the Lim family, a literal mom-and-pop operation in Singapore, pure joy beams back at me from the pages. Whatever theme the mother, father, son, and daughter team tackles in each biannual issue, they do it with such obvious care and painstaking consideration for the particulars that you can’t help but be swept up in their enthusiasm. In the last issue, we met the Lim family patriarch (issue five was a touching ode to Pann Lim’s recently deceased father), and this issue takes a markedly lighter turn with a focus on food.
Packaged in a Chinese take-out box and hidden beneath a layer of specially-made to-go bags, utensils, and a thick postcard printed with a photo-realistic image of Yangzhou Fried Rice with Chinese Sausage, getting to the actual magazine is half the fun. The issue itself is meticulously printed; the cover alone achieves a visual trick that’s tough to describe. The single book is comprised of six mini-booklets increasing in size, and saddle-stitched together so perfectly that “Rubbish” reads seamlessly when printed over three separate covers.
The stories and recipes within the self-described “Emojious Odyssey of the Glutinous Omnivores” read like a love song to Singapore’s vast culinary delights, from humble home-cooked meals of tinned “Tulip” meat and eggs to the city’s long-standing late-night hawker markets, to fancy white napkin burgers. A word of warning to any parent with squeamish children, seeing pictures of the 13-year-old Renn and 10-year-old Aira sucking down the blackened yolks of century eggs will leave you sick with envy for such adventurous children the next time you’re scraping trace mustard off the burger bun of your teary-eyed son or daughter who didn’t order theirs plain until it was too late.
If you read the issue (which is written and edited by Claire, the mom) like you eat a meal, then the fake-out fried rice is course number one. The second course Emoji Amuse-bouche, four full pages of teeny food emoji stickers. Food and face emojis feature prominently in this issue, used both purposely to visually depict food and feelings, and decoratively in the many photo-collages that illustrate the stories. I had hoped for a few whimsical, custom Lim family emojis, but no such luck. According to Pann, “The fun was using existing emojis to express how we felt about our food and stories. At times we couldn’t find the most appropriate emoji, but that’s the fun part, because it gets a little silly and unpredictable, and that pushes us to think more. We particular like our Holycrap emoji logo…which is made from a praying hand and poop emoji.”
Third course is Tomato Ketchup Mee Pok Senang, a.k.a. ketchup noodle soup, the sound of which makes me want to barf emoji. But what follows is not the recipe from my personal hell but an interview with Uncle Fu, a street vendor who’s been selling the stuff (in addition to more palatable dishes) for over 40 years. He drops some knowledge on Renn and Aira when they interview him, like “Retirement is not good for the mind. If I retire suddenly I think it will be easy for me to get dementia or something.” Solid advice.
Our fourth course is Canned Food Haikus, odes to favorite preserved foods, including S&W Olives (“Olives my dearest / Drowning inside a glass jar / I shall rescue you!”) and Maille Gherkins (“Life without gherkins / so unimaginable / so terrifying”).
We get to the meat of our menu in the fifth course, Happy Accidents and Free-style Meals, a longer section of photo-illustrated recipes that I will 100% never make. But hey, one person’s Horse Urine Century Eggs are another’s Spaghetti Bolognese. And did I mention how cute these damn kids are in the pictures? Renn and Aira are either going to open the next Shopsins or the next Fat Duck; it could really go either way at this point. Their favorites range from a more-or-less traditional oxtail stew to the scary-sounding Heart Attack Bee Hoon, a bowl of pig trotters and noodles so fatty and oily Pann’s heart doctor cautions him against it.
Our sixth and final course is Important Meals and Memories, a photo-essay of notable meals the Lim’s have eaten together over the years, from special occasion birthday treats to Heart Surgery Sashimi, a flashback to Pann’s reward for getting a clean bill of health from his heart doctor. (Are you sensing a theme here?) There’s a dessert in this last section too, if you like to end your meals that way. Though I hate to break it to you it’s something called Sweet Soup.
I may not be eating with the Lim’s any time soon, but I’ll definitely line up for whatever the fun-loving foursome cook up next. And Pann, chill out with some veg, okay?