August 3, 2009

Singapore Sling and a Famous Hainanese - Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon

What has a Hainanese man got to do with a world famous Singapore Hotel and purportedly the most famous cocktail of the world? Everything.

"Singapore Sling" is an icon amongst cocktails. But because it comes from Singapore probably it has won more hearts than most drinks.

This cocktail has been around for almost a century without our realising it. And it has won its way into novels and magazines. It fills many pages in cyberspace today.
Created by a Hainanese bartender Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon at the Raffles Hotel at the beginning of the 20th century this cocktail has become legendary in South East Asia.

Singapore Sling
1 1/2 ounce gin
1/2 ounce Cherry Herring
1/4 ounce Cointreau
1/4 ounce Benedictine
4 ounce pineapple juice
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/3 ounce grenadine
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Garnish: Cherry and slice of pineapple
Shake with ice. Strain into an ice filled Collins glass.

The secret ingredient is Benedictine. "While the resultant flavor is not overly predominate, it does add a certain flavor profile that would be totally missing without this secret ingredient."

None dispute that the Singapore Sling was originally created by Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon for the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. However that is where the agreements end. The exact date is in question, with some people claiming it was in 1915, some 1913, while the hotel itself claims that it was created sometime prior to 1910. There is also plenty of disagreement as to how closely the current version of this drink that is served at Raffles is to what was originally served. Apparently the original recipe was lost and forgotten sometime in the 1930's, and the drink that they currently serve at the hotel's Long Bar (see recipe) is based on memories of former bartenders, and some written notes that they were able to discover.

If you would like proof of the writing you can view view the safe in which Mr. Ngiam locked away his precious recipe books, as well as the Sling recipe hastily jotted on a bar-chit in 1936 by a visitor to the Hotel who asked the waiter for it in the Hotel Museum.

Originally, the Singapore Sling was meant as a woman's drink, hence the attractive pink colour. Today, it is very definately a drink enjoyed by all, without which any visit to Raffles Hotel is incomplete.

So when you next visit Singapore ask for a Singapore Sling or sit in the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel. Real spirits and spirits of another kind might just fill the nostalgic atmosphere and give you that special ambiance that all that was colonial have come together in a moment of reflection.

I am going to make one for myself and read my Somerset Maugham book. Cheers!


Greenspot said...

Hi Sarawakiana,

Grenadine is the juice of pomegranate, if I am not mistaken, which gives it the pink colour.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Greenspot

Thanks for the tip!! I have always wondered by grenadine and its beautiful pink colour. Now I know....

Nice to see you back.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sarawakiana

Justin here. Nice of you to write about cocktails. I have always liked grenadine. Especially when in boarding school we had plenty of SunValley Orange squash and grenadine when we had sports day...those were good days for me.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Justin
Yes I remember helping my school athletes by buying orange squash and grenadine and also Glucose. And then we as teachers helped to put ice blocks into pails (in those days no Coleman) and make all those delicious drinks!!!
Those were happy days. I agree with you.

Sports days were the highlights of our lives then.

Sibu Tales : Making Bah Gui from Scratch

The pioneering families of Sibu Foochows continued to practise the  adoption of girls from poor families who become their maids (slaves). ...