The last tiger

The last tiger

“A Tiger in Town.” This was the headline of the daily The Strait Times in Singapore. It was August 1902, and the breaking news was about the last tiger seen in the city, and it continued, providing first-hand information: “A tiger was shot under the billiard room of Raffles Hotel early this morning. Lest anyone be inclined to doubt the veracity of the foregoing statement, a representative of this paper, who saw the dead body of Stripes soon after he was shot, is prepared to bet a new hat that a live, loose tiger slept under the billiard room of Raffles Hotel last night...”

Apparently, so-called “Stripes” had previously escaped from a “show,” so it must be a circus of some sort, and went missing for a few days, and wandered along the Beach Road, probably swam along the Singapore river, and finally took refuge in the billiard room, an annex building elevated from the ground.

The story continues quite descriptively, from the moment he was seen in the bar: “… Lo and behold! His Majesty of the jungle gave the bar ‘boy’ a stiff shock by staring through the low verandah railing…”
The story in the 1902 paper is quite long, carries on describing how the shocked bar boy hid in the bar, then escaped locking the tiger in the building, then called for help, and then the missed shootings, and the final deadly shot right in between the eyes of the tiger. Poor thing, apparently it was not lucky times for him, interestingly, according to the Chinese calendar, 1902 was the year of the Tiger.

Three zodiac cycles ago, in 1986, the hotel decided to arrange its centennial celebration to coincide with the Year of the Tiger, and a live tiger was brought to the bar in memory of Stripes. The building, named after Stamford Raffles, was built in 1887 by the Armenian Sarkisyan brothers who migrated from Isfahan.

Since its very first years, the building played a central role in the city life. Singapore takes its name from the Malay word Singapura, which means lion city, and interestingly Stamford Raffles, who founded the city back in 1819, was a keen naturalist and the founder and first president of the Zoological Society of London and the London Zoo, a contradictory fact considering that the urbanization of the Lion city he founded destroyed the forest, the natural habitat of
the tigers.

Why I remember Stripes, His Majesty of the Jungle, is the reason that we are about to step into another Tiger year as of Feb. 1. Every year, I try to write a few words on the Chinese New Year, not only because I am fascinated by the food traditions with all its rituals, superstitions and beliefs, but also as about one-fifth of the world’s population celebrates it.

And of course, beyond food, there is the curiosity factor, the guessing games on what the year will be bringing us, what are the characteristics of the forthcoming year according to the Chinese zodiac, and speculations on the good and the bad awaiting us.

Last, but not least, the Chinese calendar is very similar to the old Turkic calendar, which is also based on 12 animals, and this year it will be the year of the Pars, which is the panther or leopard. Interestingly, in some regions in Turkey, the elderly used to make guesses on the coming agrarian season based on the animal sign of the year, whether there will be draught, abundant rainfall, or hurricanes, etc.

So, in a way, the 12-animal calendar is a mutual heritage we share with the Chinese culture. Even some of the food traditions can have a significance in common, such as the Laba porridge with nuts and seeds made on the eighth day of the last lunar month, which is sometimes strikingly similar to our wheat porridge Aşure, traditionally made on the 10th day of the first lunar month of the year.

The core idea is to call for the plenty by making a sweet concoction of grains, pulses, dried fruits and nuts, all representing the bounty of nature. One must celebrate, admire and respect, and also finish off the produce of the last harvest year, so as to open space and call for the generosity of nature, to wish for the abundance of a fruitful new
harvest year.

Coming back to the day the last tiger was shot, it was not only a Tiger year but a Water Tiger year, just as this year we are about to enter. So, beware tigers among us, and of course all the rest of us, it will be a tough year, and for some of us, it could be the last one!

Drink of the week:

The Raffles hotel is famous for its many qualities, such as being the last refuge of the last tiger, but it is best known for the cocktail created in this hotel. The Singapore Sling cocktail is synonymous with its world-famous Long Bar. This fruity vividly colored drink was created in the 1910s by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon, reportedly invented for stylish ladies who were once condemned to drink, so as they could sip their drinks in the image of an innocent fruit cocktail. The drink became popular in a short time with its refreshing taste on hot Singapore days and has established a throne in the hearts with its bright pink color. Today, it is still served in the Long Bar together with huge bowls of shelled peanuts on the side.

Although it seems contradictory in Singapore, a city obsessed with tidiness and cleanness, where it is forbidden to throw a single piece of garbage on the ground, guests are free to throw peanut shells on the ground just like in the good old times. The original recipe was lost, but in later research, the closest recipe to the original was made again, based on the notes written by the Long Bar bartenders.

You can serve this official Singapore Sling recipe, accepted by the International Bartenders Association, knock down a few, and feel like a panther in keeping with the Year of the Tiger.

Here is the official recipe: 8 parts of gin, 4 parts of Heering Cherry Liqueur, 1 part of Cointreau, 1 part DOM Bénédictine, 2 parts Grenadine (I suggest using Punica pomegranate extract, it is so concentrated that 1 part will suffice), 16 parts of fresh pineapple juice, 6 parts of lemon juice and a few drops of Angostura bitters. Put all the ingredients in a cocktail mixer with plenty of ice and shake quickly. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a slice of fresh pineapple and a cocktail cherry. Finding all the ingredients to make this drink can be difficult. You can use any brand of cherry, orange and bitter herb liqueurs and improvise. Serve with shelled peanuts in large bowls on the side, and throw the shells mischievously on the floor while eating the peanuts.

Aylin Öney Tan, coctail,