One Question Quiz

KaiMay 1, 2024

The art of the three-day birthday


We get but one birthday a year – why not make it last as long as possible by scheduling as many meals with friends and family as you can?

This is an excerpt from our weekly food newsletter, The Boil Up.

How do you celebrate your birthday? Do you celebrate at all? For a self-confessed birthday diva such as myself, it came as a shock when I first learned this latter type of person existed, let alone that members of my own family fall into this camp. As children, we celebrated Dad’s birthday for him, never realising it was actually more for us. In her adult life, my sister has edged towards non-celebration, or perhaps more a kind of conscientious objection as she often opts to leave town for her birthday, finding the pressure of celebration all too much.

I now know that people with all kinds of birthday philosophies exist, from those who turn up to work like it’s any other day, never saying a damn thing, to the ones who start treating themselves as soon as their birthday month rolls around, citing their upcoming anniversary as a justification for every extravagance. Last Friday was my birthday, which meant that really, the entire weekend was my birthday, which meant much of April was absorbed into planning where and what I would be eating over a three-day period. Out of a sensitivity to the schedules of various interested parties as well as, you know, my own greed, I decided there would be three separate celebrations this year: Friday night dinner and (mandatory) karaoke with friends, birthday edition date night on Saturday and a Sunday morning yum cha with family. In the interests of sharing (not bragging!) what was an almost perfect weekend of celebratory eating so that readers might purloin ideas for their own celebrations, below is a brief itinerary of where I went and what I ate.

Cake for breakfast at Burnt Butter Diner; Beef Kare Kare and Taho at Hapunan; lamb on willow skewers and a beer tower at Go Go Music Cafe. (Photos: Lucinda Bennett)

Friday: Where could be better for birthday breakfast than Burnt Butter Diner, where cake for breakfast is literally on the menu? My partner and I shared an unholy combination of dishes – mussel fritters and a slab of hot custardy clafoutis served on a bed of pink rhubarb, topped with milo whip and a generous scatter of blueberry granola – while the chef kindly accommodated my vegan friend by swapping out the dairy elements of their savoury gnocchi dish. We then headed to the hot pools for a soak, after which I went at my obligatory takeaway slice of cake from Burnt Butter with my bare hands, scooping bits of torched meringue into my mouth with chlorine-scented fingers. As is our ritual, we stopped at Hapunan for lunch and I had my favourite Filipino dishes, achingly tender beef kare kare and silky just-sweet taho. That evening, we headed to Go Go Music Café for smoky skewers, cucumber and black fungus slick with chili oil and golden beer towers shaped like trophies before a hīkoi up to Mr Wang’s for karaoke and too much soju.

Saturday: A gentle day was required after the evening’s festivities, but by nightfall we were fully recovered and ready to eat some vegetables and so we headed to Forest, where they do them better than anyone. Despite writing this newsletter, I don’t eat at fancy restaurants very often – perhaps if I did, I wouldn’t appreciate meals like this quite as much as I did. Every bite was so thoughtful, so flavourful – some to the point of being almost too much, the little nerves around my eyes flickering at the sourness of feijoa skin sherbet before the balm of smooth earl grey custard. This was a special meal, one I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Deep fried halloumi, celery honey and pickled mushrooms + whole fried feijoa donut, feijoa skin sherbet, ginger cake and earl grey custard at Forest; golden custard buns and dumplings at Pearl Garden; Mum’s ricotta torte birthday cake (Photos: Lucinda Bennett)

Sunday: Wearing loose fitting trousers, we headed for yum cha at Pearl Garden where we ordered lavishly: egg tarts, golden custard buns, prawn balls, duck dumplings, stuffed aubergine, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, crispy pork, shao mai, all washed down with smoky tea and glasses of vivid red watermelon juice. Full to the gills, we rolled back to my place for coffee and birthday cake – a ricotta and hazelnut torte made by my mum, slathered in sweet apricot jam and a flurry of dark chocolate shavings.

Keep going!