Ovidia Yu

Ovidia Yu
Aunty Lee’s Delights

As a mystery venue, Singapore hasn’t enjoyed the same vogue that India and Thailand have. But the city-state at the tip of the Malay Peninsula more than holds its own when it comes to cuisine. Drunken noodles, tikka masala, satay—you name it, somebody in Singapore is sure to be cooking up a superlative rendition, hawked over braziers, under canopies, at stand-up counters, from pushcarts.

And tucked away in Binjai Park sits a small café serving traditional Peranakan fare. Its proprietor, Rosie Lee, is renowned for her ability to tell when something is “off,” be it an ingredient or a situation. She dresses like a bird of plumage, follows news reports obsessively, and feels responsible for the people she feeds: “Once my food has gone into them . . . I become part of their lives.”

Years of running a restaurant have taught Aunty Lee not only to anticipate human behavior, but to reverse engineer it, much as she would an unfamiliar dish. She deals adroitly with troubled Western tourists, an assistant lacking the proper immigration papers, and her grasping stepdaughter-in-law Selina (“Silly-Nah”). And when a poisoner targets members of Aunty Lee’s supper club, her means of unmasking the criminal is as ingenious as it is effective.

Best of all, she survives to sort out one more family squabble, pickle another batch of achar, and continue coaching the Singapore police on what they’ve missed in their investigations, listing suspects and motives on the same blackboard that announces daily menu specials.

You may detect a pinch of Mma Ramotswe, a dollop of Goldy Bear, and a soupçon of Vish Puri in Aunty Lee’s makeup, but she herself is wholly original, as fresh and piquant as the dishes she concocts.

Aunty Lee is Ovidia Yu’s secret sauce.

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