Sunday, July 31, 2005

Thasevi Food "Famous Jalan Kayu Prata Restaurant"


This is probably the best known roti prata place in Singapore (237 Jalan Kayu, 6481-1537), and they are not ashamed to boast about it: "Best Awarded Roti Prata in Singapore" "Established Roti Prata Since 1960" "Roti Prata Available All the Time" "One & Only in Singapore, No Other Branch" (which is ironic, considering its competitor next door says something to the effect of "the best crispy prata, the one and only" - or something like that).

I liked it better than the Thomson Road place (which also likes to claim that they are the best). The egg/cheese prata is about the same, the curry is a bit bland, and the beehoon goreng (is this what "Singapore Noodle" is based on??) were only so-so, but the cheese paper prata (that big roll you see in the photo) is amazingly thin, crunchy and tasty - it almost tastes like a giant Cheez-it. The brownish mutton (kambing) soup is also pretty darned good here - full of a hearty and spicy taste. Awesome.

The service sucks though - don't come here in a hurry because it will take you forever to get through the crowds to your food. I'd like to try the next door neighbors since I'm sure they are faster but taste just as good. After all, all of these guys are the "one and only," right?

Mos Burger

This is a Japanese version of hamburgers, and was quite nasty the first time I had it. So my expectations were quite low today, and fortunately it did turn out a little better than I thought: the hot dog had quite a snappy casing, the curry croquette burger was OK (the Japanese rock at croquettes), and the iced peach tea was ever tarty. But the chili was still a bit localized, and the portions were very small. It's definitely nowhere near Pink's. I'm still gonna try to avoid this place if I can. If you do come here, don't expect American hamburgers by any means. It's more like Japanese food forced into hamburger shapes (as evidenced by the unagi rice burger).

SQ Raffles Class - Nancy Oakes


Nancy Oakes is known for Boulevard in San Francisco, which I've never been to before. If this morning's meal is any indication of the food there, then I'll definitely want to head there next time I'm in the Bay Area. Her exclusive creation today was the "grilled beef mignon and Portobello mushroom" and I must say it was pretty darned good (much better than the previous meal).

The photo here looks a bit nasty with those white spots, but I think those were "foam" from the butter (or was it oil?) that was drizzled all over the meat. Use your imagination though - that oil made it really good and rich. The mushroom further complemented that very well. Mmm...quite tasty. I wish more chichi places would keep things simple like Nancy did here.

Quite nice. I'm gonna try to hit Boulevard next time I'm in SF. I know it's been a top-rated Zagat place for a long time now.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

SQ Raffles Class Dinner - Alfred Portale (again)


Looks like Gotham Bar & Grill's Alfred Portale is the featured chef again on Singapore Airlines tonight. First off was "Maine lobster with olives and mesclun served with pesto-sundried tomato dressing," which looked pretty darned impressive with its whole lobster claw. But taste-wise, I wasn't a huge fan, partially because I am not a huge lobster fan, but also because the dressing was very bland.


The main course was a "Pan-fried Muscovy duck breast with jus, wild rice stew with shiitake mushroom, dried cranberry and walnut," which I also wasn't a huge fan of. I love duck, but I could hardly taste the duck in this (it tasted more like chicken). I also hate walnuts. I've realized that chichi food like this is always interesting as the chef is trying to show off at how he can use a variety of unconventional ingredients in a creative manner (and respectfully so), but this more often than not also creates a taste that could be better done with traditional ingredients (like Thomas Keller's "World's Greatest Sandwich" featuring simply bacon, eggs, and cheese - but prepared in a different manner). I haven't been too impressed with Mr. Portale's food on this trip, admittedly. I probably won't go out of my way to hit the Gotham Bar & Grill in NY then, although hopefully the food on the ground there is better than it is here in mid-air.


Finally, this has nothing to do with food, but I found it interesting to see this map on the in-flight display screen since it's not a perspective of the world that one commonly sees. The view out of the window was even more interesting as one could see the cracks and textures in the North Pole ocean ice 35,000 feet below.


Friday, July 29, 2005

The Salt Lick, Austin, TX


I remember my first time to Austin, hearing on the plane that the best BBQ in Austin is at the Salt Lick, and making the long 1 hour drive out into the middle of nowhere (and getting lost, mind you) before finding indeed one of the best BBQ's I'd ever had. Fortunately, we didn't have to make that trek this time, as there is also an outlet conveniently at the airport. I was definitely going to stop here on my way out.

And just as I had remembered it, the Salt Lick was pretty good. I got the brisket and sausage platter, and I definitely like the sauce here better than at Rudy's, which I think uses too much black pepper. Admittedly, the meat quality was a bit better at Rudy's (especially the sausages), but it's not like the Salt Lick was bad either. Actually, the thing that amazed me at the Salt Lick was the cole slaw, which is not the creamy type that I like, but is seasoned with celery seeds, which furnishes a very delicate taste. What surprised me even more was the potato salad, which I originally thought was an apple cobbler of sorts until I tasted it, and it also featured the celery seeds. The beans were a bit boring though (I was hoping for little niblets of pork or bacon in it), but certainly not bad.

This airport outlet had a couple differences from the real location. As mentioned above, the airport outlet offers the regular Salt Lick BBQ sauce, which in and of itself, is pretty good. Strangely though, they didn't offer their alternate habanero-based Lauren's Sauce, which I was quite disappointed in. The saving grace was the fact that they did sell bottles of the spicy sauce as souvenirs, so I just bought a full bottle, opened it on the spot, and poured it on top of the regular sauce, which I'll now bring home with me too (and use on the plane? ha ha). The other interesting difference was that this outlet served beer, whereas the original location was in a dry county, thus forcing everyone to haul in coolers of beer themselves. Finally, I think I remember that the original location is all-you-can eat. This place only gave me a platter for $10.

Anyway, I still think that the Salt Lick beats Rudy's - mainly due to the sauces and the sides. Maybe one could buy the Rudy's meat and pour the Salt Lick's sauce on it (especially since I heard that Rudy's is actually sold at a gas station, kinda like the BBQ place on Old Oakland Road across from San Jose Municipal Golf Course). I really don't like Rudy's sauce.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Dan McKlusky's Steakhouse, Austin, TX


Can't go to Texas without getting some steak, right? I had the sirloin at this place (301 East 6th Street, 512-473-8924), and it was done very well - tasty with good quality meat. The mashed potatoes had a nice garlic taste too. All in all, it was great square meal, with a big fresh salad bowl to start, and a cheesecake to finish. Don't forget the Texan Shiner Bock!

Rudy's BBQ, Austin, TX


Their slogan is "The Worst Bar-B-Q in Texas," and many folks in Austin consider this place to be one of the best. It's not bad (quality meats, nice burnt texture), but I think I still prefer the Salt Lick better due to its sauces. This place is too reliant on black pepper, in my opinion. My memory of the Salt Lick is admittedly a bit faded after 5 years, but I'll get a chance to reverify that when I head out of Austin airport tomorrow (they opened a stand there so that one doesn't have to drive an hour out into the boonies anymore).

Breakfast tacos in Texas

Leave it to Texan companies to serve catered breakfast tacos at a corporate event. I've never really liked "breakfast burritos" before, but these were darned good. Bacon, eggs, shredded cheese, salsa, and jalapeno, and wrapped into one convenient soft carrying case. It doesn't look great in this photo, but it sure was tasty (how could one go wrong with bacon and cheese??). I went back for seconds.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Nolan Ryan's Tender Aged Beef


Awesome. I smelled this stuff on the fire while going to our seats at Dell Diamond (a minor league baseball stadium in Round Rock) and I knew I had to run over there later to grab a bite. And I didn't regret it in the least. I had the sausage on a stick, and it was everything I wanted and more: spicy, greasy (oozing out creating translucency in the paper as a result), and with a decent casing for snappiness. I am still getting cravings for the spicy grease. My only regret now is not having gone back to get the much larger sirloin on a stick. But yeah, this was simply awesome (think: a hot and spicy Slim Jim on steroids). Grab some if you come to Texas. Looks like you can mail order it too.

Taco Shack, Austin, TX


I was still hungry after that smaller-than-expected enchilada, so I made a quick stop at Taco Shack, which has several locations across Austin. It claimed to be "Austin Homegrown since 1996," so I figured this was something unique to take advantage of. I grabbed a cheap chalupa and bean & cheese taco.

I'd hate to keep complaining, but these were a bore to me too (yawn!). Again, nothing stood out. I would have prefered more kick, be it manifested in the form of grease, spices, salsa, ingredients, or anything else. But it was rather mundane. OK, I'll admit that the bean & cheese taco, which they billed as simple yet refreshingly good, did indeed feature a nice clean and fresh taste. And the chalupa, which was more like a tostada, was at what I would consider to be more of "acceptable goodness," for lack of a better phrase. But it didn't wow me either. I'd eat it again, and may even get cravings from time to time, but given the choice, I'd much rather prefer Roberto's in San Diego.

Las Manitas Avenue Cafe, Austin, TX


Looking for something local to eat in Texas, it came down to either BBQ, steak, or Mexican. Knowing that I already have the first two lined up for later in the week, I opted for Mexican. I heard about this "hole in the wall" down the street (211 Congress Ave, 512-472-9357). I opted for the cheese enchiladas de michoacan, which supposedly had a spicy sauce. But it wasn't spicy at all, and was a bit of a disappointment in that the sauce had little carrot slices in it (I hate cooked carrots). Actually, the cheese was still tasty, and I loved the rice and beans. The service was also decently fast (apparently the place used to cater to construction workers who needed to eat in a jiffy). But the food lacked punch...was it the Tex-Mex localization? I felt that I could get better Mexican food in California (I was also suprised at how small the portions were - aren't we in Texas??).

It sure was packed though - even by 11:30, the lunch crowd was piling in. And it looks like this places closes early - like 4PM, so don't make it a dinner place. In fact, it looks like I may have simply ordered the wrong thing; there are accolades hanging from the wall for the migas, apparently a Tex-Mex omlette of sorts from their big breakfast menu (they open at 7 AM). Too bad I won't have time this week to come here for breakfast, although I wish I could. In fact, there were so many food places that looked good in this area (apparently Iron Works is a good BBQ place - and I even passed by what looked like the fanciest Mongolian BBQ place I'd ever seen too). It's a shame that I won't have more time here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Rio Douro Cafe, Newark Airport

Cool. I've never really had Portuguese food before, so I jumped on this at first sight. I don't think it was too authentic though as I didn't see any of that bacalhau salted cod on the menu, but nonetheless, I ordered the so-called Portuguese Delight, featuring cubes of pork and clams in a garlic, white wine, and coriander sauce with rice.

It wasn't bad, but the potato wedges on the sides didn't exactly evoke much confidence in the authenticity of the place. It was also interesting to see paella on the menu - isn't that supposed to be Spanish, or does Portugal have it too? I wouldn't mind going to Portugal one of these days, although I'll probably pass on all those innards that are usually featured in Portuguese cuisine. Well, in the meantime, here was an American version, at an airport, of all places.

Monday, July 25, 2005

2nd Ave Deli, East Village, NY


The 2nd Ave Deli (at 10th St) is a great place. How can one come to NY and not hit a deli? After perusing a very long menu, I finally settled on a simple hot corned beef sandwich on rye bread, and it was great. The meat was full of flavor, crumbling in texture, and dangling out of my sandwich in a big heaping. This is the way deli sandwiches should be (which is why I was shocked at how thin the sandwiches were at Steeple's Deli in Singapore).

2nd Ave 2

The pickles were of course awesome too: they provided a variety, including the standard kosher dill variety, a much greener-looking half-sour variety, and even pickled green tomatoes. Cole slaw was also provided, although this was in more of a vinaigrette style, rather than the creamy mayonnaise style that I'm accustomed to. Not bad, but I think I like the creamy kind better. Regardless, these accompaniments (plus the deli mustard) all help to cut through the fat taste of the beef.

Anyway, 2nd Ave Deli is a great spot. My neighbors were eating pastrami that looked really good too. Too bad my belly was full from the pizza and hot dog earlier. I'd like to come back here again and order the corned beef and cabbage one of these days.

Gray's Papaya, NYC

Greys Papaya

This is another NY institution, with several locations. Apparently they started out serving papaya juice, and hence the name. But they eventually got their reputation from the hot dogs, which are a dirt cheap $0.95. I'm told that their dogs are custom made for them, which they grill tons at a time and makes for quite a sight.


I was never a big fan of NY hot dogs though (especially because of that red onion slop), as I prefer Chicago hot dogs instead (although without the relish). Actually, my choice is still reserved for Pink's in LA - as well as the little Mexican street stands that sell bacon-wrapped hot dogs with grilled onions...YUM.

Nonetheless, Gray's today was pretty good - the meat was tasty yet lean, and I didn't get the red onions on it (the sauerkraut was still good). The grilling is also a nice touch. I definitely don't mind eating it again.

Joe's Pizza, Greenwich Village, NYC


This stand-up pizza place (6th Ave and Bleeker) place boasts of rave reviews, ranging from Zagat Survey to Ben Affleck's testimonial about this being the best pizza he's ever had in NYC. It was apparently even the setting for a scene in Tobey Maguire's Spiderman movie. Actually, because of this, I was a bit worried that the place was getting too overhyped. I wasn't too encouraged by the look of the pizza and mushrooms when it was brought out to me either.

But alas, it was indeed pretty darned good. The thin crispy crust is the best part, but the sauce also has a really solid taste with just the right amount of garlic and cheese. Not too greasy either, but still full of flavor.

Is it the best pizza that I've had? That's debatable. But this is pretty darned good, and is quintessential NY pizza, which of course is worlds better than that thick-crusted Chicago stuff - ugh!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

SQ Raffles Class dinner - Gordon Ramsay

SQ Raffles Class dinner - Gordon Ramsay

Not long after that lunch came dinner, this time designed by London's Gordon Ramsay. This was quite nice. We started with several little tasty hors d'oeuvres, such as the "creamed boursin cheese in choux bun," "Chinese-style minced pigeon hoisin mini tart," and "prawn and avocado maki." The boursin cheese was of course my favorite. And how come I keep getting repeats of last night's Sun meal today? (i.e., avocado in sushi?) Strange.

SQ Raffles Class dinner - Gordon Ramsay

Anyway, next up was the "orzo roasted vegetable salad with marinated lobster." Lobster again? The rice (actually, it's rice-shaped pasta, right?) in this salad was pretty good, and I guess I didn't mind the lobster that much. I'm certainly not complaining about anything.

SQ Raffles Class dinner - Gordon Ramsay

Then came the main event, which was "sauteed chicken in red wine sauce with confit of lemon slices, fricassee of peas, mushrooms, and potatoes." I normally don't order chicken (cue Anthony Bourdain: "chicken is for people who don't know what they want to eat"), but this was Ramsay's exclusive creation for SQ, so I went ahead with it.

It was tender and moist, and went well with the potatoes. But nothing really stood least, until I paired it with the lemon slices (reminds me of eating lemon chicken tagine in Morocco). The bitter tartness did bring out a different dimension to it. Too bad I didn't realize that until I had nearly finished the meal.

Finally, I finished the meal with a strong and suprisingly crumbly Surprise Bay cheddar, as well as a very light pandan coconut panna cotta custard. Gotta love SQ business class. This 18 hour non-stop flight to NY is certainly none too painful.

SQ Raffles Class lunch - Alfred Portale

SQ Raffles Class Satay

Alfred Portale of NY's Gotham Bar & Grill fame designed today's business class lunch on Singapore Airlines, which has its so-called World Goumet Cuisine International Culinary Panel. Aside from this, SQ of course also started with its standard satay, which I've always found to taste pretty darned good and authentic to local street vendors in Singapore. The little onion cuts on a toothpick have always been amusing to me too.

SQ Raffles Class Lunch - Alfred Portale

Actually, of the four-course meal, I only ate one item that was actually his, which was the "French duck foie gras and confit with mizuna salad." Just as with yesterday's foie gras sushi at Sun, this foie gras had a great rich taste that stole the show. The confit was a little less fatty than I would have thought, but still OK.

SQ Raffles Class Lobster Thermidor

The other items I had, however, were not his, mainly because I had pre-ordered SQ's Book the Cook service, where you can get an even wider selection of dishes, as long as you order 24 hours in advance. So I got the obligatory lobster thermidor. Actually, I don't even like lobster too much (to me, it has always been just one overgrown - and thus, too tough - shrimp), but I got it again just for the sheer novelty factor of being able to eat lobster on an airplane. It was better than I was expecting - solid chunks of lobster tail in a creamy sauce, with tomatoes and saffron rice to boot (my addition of butter and salt helped it).

I'm glad I ordered this, as the other selections just didn't seem too exciting fettucine, Chinese braised duck, Indonesian fish assam surani, or the Portale-exclusive simmered beef rib in rich broth, which my neighbor ordered, and didn't look bad, but wasn't what I wanted...I wonder how it tasted though. Finally, to close it off, I opted for a simple banana. So there was not much of a guest chef presence this time, but stay tuned for the next meal.

SQ SilverKris Lounge, Changi Airport, Singapore


Gotta love SQ Raffles Class, especially with the very spacious SilverKris Lounge, which they explicity separate from the "rest of the Star Alliance Gold" peeps (although that new lounge has gotten really nice too). Today's spread wasn't anything great though. They were serving fishball noodle, which was OK, but definitely not as good as the hawker centers - no ground pork, fried pork lard, etc. Nonetheless, it was a nice bowl to get before boarding the plane.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Japanese Dining Sun, CHIJMES, Singapore


This place opened in Singapore not long ago - it's apparently from the Suntory beverage people (hence the name) who have opened such successful places in Japan (yes, the same Suntory from Bill Murray's "for relaxing times, make it Suntory time" line in Lost in Translation). A bit hard to find given it's on the second floor of CHIJMES (30 Victoria Street #02-01, 6336-3166), but once you get up there, it's an obvious modern-minimalist decor with an open kitchen.


It's basically modern Japanese, as is evident from the softshell crab and avocado roll (with mayo drizzled across), as well as the signature Sun salad, which is tossed at your table with touches like almond flakes and corn. Both were decently good, although not anything particularly outstanding (I've lived in California long enough to get really indundated with avocado in a sushi roll!). Similarly, the kushi butakuni (breaded deep fried chunks of pork on a skewer) and the ton toro yaki (grilled pork slices) weren't bad, but weren't anything to write home about either.


One thing that did stick out quite a bit was the gyu saikoro steak, which were little chunks of beef grilled with garlic. Not bad - it's like the gariku suteki at Tanto in San Jose (although Tanto uses more butter, which I obviously like more). This little plate is also available in a much more expensive S$75 (US$45) Australian wagyu beef option, although the cheaper S$22 (US$13) Australian sirloin is still really good. The sesame sauce, watercress, and grilled daikon are also nice touches, if a bit tasteless. (Gotta love the croutons sucking up the butter and garlic at the bottom though!)

Another thing that stood out was the aburi foie gras, or seared foie gras sushi with a little bit of sauce and a little asparagus on top (sorry - I was so excited to eat this that I forgot to take a picture). I would come back just for this, although foie gras will always taste nice and rich no matter how it's served though, I guess. They also had a hamo shabu special, or raw pike for you to cook yourself in a bubbling pot of vinegar-based broth. Actually, the vinegar taste was hardly present. Not bad, although nothing I'll be craving for either.

Last, but not least, came the goma (black sesame) pudding. It was rich in cream flavor but not sweet at all - so much that all you really taste is sesame and cream. Pretty good if you like a pure sesame taste, but don't get it if you want something sweet (which I usually don't want anyway).

The prices at this place vary quite a bit - they actually advertise really cheap dishes downstairs at only about S$15 (US$8) or so. While you probably can get a cheap meal here, it's more likely that you'll opt for the much more extravagant beef, fish, or lobster, which will change your bill dramatically considering many of those are S$50-$75 (US$30-45) a pop, and yet still small in portions. We kept ordering more and more dishes after realizing that we were still hungry, and the bill showed it as a result. Honestly, I'm not much for this modern Japanese stuff - I still prefer more traditional tastes. So I doubt I'll want to come here much often again, although I certainly won't resist if someone twists my arm (especially since they are opening a new spot at Wheelock Place soon). Maybe I'll try the little pots of kamameshi next time - that appeared to be a specialty of the house.

"Kyushu Jyangara Ramen" at Tampopo, Singapore


What a disappointment. I got so excited at the thought that a local Japanese shop at Liang Court was offering "Kyushu Jyangara Ramen," named after what I (and many others) believe to be one of the greatest ramen shops ever (just look at the long lines outside each shop in Tokyo). So I headed down to this spot, expecting the usual thick, salty, greasy, and wonderfully fatty concotion known simply as Jyangara.

Oh man, did this thing suck. One could tell right away that it was a cheap knock-off: no thick broth, no alternating fat-pork slices, no big chunks of ingredients levitating out of the ramen. Horrible! The only thing that made this thing remotely similar to the Real McCoy was the scoop of spicy mentaiko fish eggs. It had the pork-bone-stewed-til-its-milky-white tonkotsu broth, but it was so runny that it was nowhere near the excessively salty and fatty concoction that you get at the real Jyangara in Tokyo. Argh! At the end of the day, the most that they can stake claim to is that it *is* Kyushu ramen (with the mentaiko and tonkotsu), but that's about it. How dare they drag Jyangara's name in it and try to pass it off as Jyangara's! I wonder if Jyangara even knows about this. Wow. I'm probably not ordering this from here again.

To be fair, it was actually still good in its own right, and certainly wasn't bad. But it just wasn't Jyangara. They never should have set that expectation to begin with (the shoddy service today didn't exactly make me happier either). Actually, some of their other ramen is OK (they specialize in Sapporo ramen instead), and I would indeed come back. Just not for this rubbish they call "Kyushu Jyangara"!

It's a bit funny that this shop is called Tampopo too. I guess they have no qualms with stealing other names.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Kueh Tu-tu


This is a cool little local sweet that can be bought off the streets of Chinatown. The guy in the stand is wrapping gula melaka (coconut brown sugar) in flour and steaming it quickly in this metal steaming contraption, with banana leaf cutouts to keep them from sticking to each other. It's pretty good if you like coconut. Get five for S$2 (US$1.20) yourself off Smith Street, not far from Erich's Wuerstelstand.

Xiao Ping Steam Pot Buffet, Temple Street


Wow - this is the third Sichuan Hot Pot place within a one block radius in Chinatown (57 Temple Street, Singapore, 6226-0889). It looked very spartan at first glance, especially with the "whispering" proprietor. But this place turned out to be the best - or at least, most consistent - of the three. The ingredients were relatively good: big frozen tofu pieces, full slices of meat, little dumplings, etc. They didn't have sa cha sauce (the mainland Chinese owner even said, "no, we don't have that Taiwanese stuff"), but his own little mixture was pretty good. He took a lot of pride in his special sausages (an extra charge, by the way) that he said that one couldn't get in Singapore - though they just tasted like hot dogs (still good though). The broth wasn't super spicy (we had to have him add more chili peppers), but it was tasty (and with a subtle numbing affect), and the light broth fortunately didn't have any ginseng in it.

Actually, nothing really stood out here, but that's a good thing. The other two places stood out, but for mixed reasons (for instance, Chuan Jiang Hao Zi had great homemade noodles but nasty ginseng soup and tiny meat slices, while Chong Qing Di Yi Jia Lao had a huge spread and good broth, but wasn't the best maintained). So I'd definitely choose to come here again rather than the other two - it's a consistent experience, even if it's not spectacular (it's still decently good).

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Roti Prata House, Upper Thomson Road

Roti prata is an interesting Singaporean modification of two Indian flatbreads, roti and parahta, intended for dipping in leftover curry. That may sound nasty, but it's actually a great little grease bomb perfect for post-drinking episodes. Roti prata goes beyond just the bread and into cool things like cheese prata, which, if done correctly, can get to a crispy greasy pizza-like taste embedded in the bread (sans tomato sauce of source).

This eponymously named place (246 M Upper Thomson Road, Singapore, 6459-5260) has endorsements plastered all over it: "Recommended by The New Paper," "The Best Crispy Prata," etc, but I was a bit let down. It wasn't all that crispy, and the cheese prata lacked cheese taste. The teh halia pulled ginger tea sucked too - it was weak in taste and had cooled off too much. Well, the prata wasn't bad, but it wasn't great - I still prefer the (admittedly-overhyped) Jalan Kayu establishments instead.

The one thing that did stand out for me was the mutton soup, which has an unattractive green-grey color, but tastes amazing with a spicy and robust taste and yet a very thin consistency. If I come back here (which is likely considering that it's 24 hours), then it will be primarily for the mutton soup. The roti prata will only be an afterthought.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

High Street Tai Wah Pork Noodle, Singapore


This place is awesome. I've gotten a bit tired of some types of hawker food, but one of the few things that I will still eat is bak chor mee, or minced pork noodle. To be even more specific, I will only eat Tai Wah's bak chor mee, since all other vendors taste too boring. Tai Wah's ingredients (fried pork lard niblets, ground pork plus pork slices, tasty meatballs, vinegar, and dried salted fish) make this place a standout.

You get all sorts of different tastes and textures in one amazing bowl: greasy, spicy, sour, hearty, and even a nice clean broth to wash it all down. (Those of you from San Jose will note that this beats the pants of Tung Kee Noodle, which in and of itself is already pretty darned good.) I usually get the dry mee pok (it's flat like linguini) version, and I order the not-obvious S$6 (US$3.50) size, which effectively means "extra large." But beware that they will include sliced liver (yuck!) if you don't speak up, so be sure to tell them ahead of time if you have an aversion to pork liver like I do. Other sizes, noodle, and soup options are available at your choosing.


As a testament to how good this place is, the Marina location usually has a line even at odd non-eating hours like 3PM. (I guess the original location was at High Street, and hence the name?) I come to the Bestway location instead at about 2PM to beat the crowds. It looks like they opened another location in Chinatown now.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Chuan Jiang Hao Zi Steamboat Restaurant

Chuan Jiang Hao Zi Steamboat Restaurant

On Smith Street, across from Hometown Restaurant, lies this Sichuan hotpot (not Singaporean steamboat) establishment. More upscale than another hotpot competitor down the street, this place serves you dishes (rather than you walking up to the fridge) in much nicer decor, although they still only charge S$20 (US$13) for all you can eat. The food quality is slightly better too, with good tasting beef slices and a cleaner, more elegant spicy broth.

So why don't I think I will return? For one thing, the beef slices are so small (not much bigger than blinis) that it's too easy to lose all your slices in the broth. You can imagine how frustrating this gets when you are hungry. The clear broth in the middle also features a ginseng flavor, which I absolutely despise (it tastes like dirt to me, literally). Finally, their condiments are too basic (mainland style), without my favorite Taiwanese sa cha sauce.

But not all is lost. Their homemade noodles are pretty good, especially in the spicy broth. The quality of the ingredients and spicy broth are better than the lady down the street. And I sure don't mind the fresh fruit juices that - amusingly - they get from their next door neighbor. This place is good to try for these reasons alone. And if I'm ever forced to come back, I'll be sure to stay away from the ginseng broth.

Philly's Flavors, Millenia Walk, Singapore

This place has decently good Philly cheesesteaks, considering it's in Singapore. It's got smaller portions than in the US though.

I usually opt for the grilled mushroom option, plus cheese fries. But be sure to ask for the "sauce" on the side - I'm not sure why they would put marinara sauce on it to begin with, but anyway...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Indonesian ("bundut"?) oxtail soup

Wow, I just keep get proven wrong about Indonesian food. Today for lunch, I had another tasty (and non-sweet) meal. Billed on the menu of the Taming Sari restaurant (at the Turi Resort) as "often imitated but never replicated," this oxtail soup was savory and light. A very refreshing and satisfying light broth with tender to the bone oxtail meat and some kind of fried crackers on top. Add some lime again for taste, and eat with rice and little pickles. It was surprisingly good.

I've also got a newfound appreciation for the chili sauce in Indonesia. It's not always the sweet sauce that I hate. They also have plain chili with no sugar at all. Maybe there is just a little lime juice, but that's it. There isn't even any garlic in it, which one would imagine to be a requisite ingredient in chili sauce, but its absence actually produces a clean and fresh taste too. I wouldn't mind this from time to time, and for that matter, I won't be as opposed to eating Indonesian food from now on. At least, for the clear light soups.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Rumah Makan, Batam, Indonesia

WOW. After all this whining about how I much I don't like food in Indonesia, I was completely blown away tonight. This was impressively good. At first glance, it seemed like a seafood place typical of the region: on a pier jetting out into the sea, fluorescent lighting overhead, stray cats at your feet, tanks of fresh fish, and little sinks for hand washing that empty straight into the seawater below.

But every dish that arrived continued to impress. The fried rice and ho fun were very tasty (pork lard in a Muslim country?), as were the standard issue veggies and even the sotong (pseudo-fried calamari) featured a nice salt and pepper combination in the batter. Even the pineapple at the end of the meal was amazingly sweet and ripe to the point of translucency.

One pleasant treat was the gong gong, which looked like little conch shells (and I always thought a conch was a huge shell that one blew into, like in Lord of the Flies). Use a toothpick to reach into the shell and pull all the meat out of the shell in one go. It sounds a bit nasty, but just dip it into a little local fermented sambal belachan chili sauce, and it makes for a pretty impressively good morsel.

The highlight of the meal though was the humbly and straightforwardly named "BBQ Fish." Ingeniously simple, it featured a fish in between two banana leaves, grilled on a fire. The leaves kept the fish moist and providec an outstanding smoky flame broiled taste. There were no marinades nor sauces; just the "fish on a flame" taste. I'm surprised that I haven't seen this way of preparation before. I couldn't stop eating this stuff.

If there were anything to complain about, it would be that the chili crab was a bit too sweet, and the pepper crab was prepared with way too much garlic. At one point, I even found that I was ingesting more garlic than crab. Although this place uses smaller local crabs with a thinner shell and sweeter meat than Singapore's big Sri Lankan crabs, the garlic unfortunately overpowers that great natural taste.

Then again, I guess anything with garlic will still taste good. Someone once mentioned to me that "if you put enough butter and garlic on something, even snails will taste good." What was perhaps more amazing was that we paid only US$9 a head. Wow. Come here if you head to Batam. It's located in Batu Besar, and the phone number is (0778)761180.

Bintang beer from Indonesia

Bintang beer from Indonesia

The label says "best enjoyed with friends."

Nasty shit. 'nuff said.

Indonesian satay

This is interesting. Satay in Indonesia is a bit different than in Singapore and Malaysia. Instead of the peanut sauce and onions on the side, they douse it all on top, with chili and oil too. It was actually decently tasty, but my gripe is that it was more so because of the condiments rather than a good job of roasting little skewered meats on a fire.

Donat Kentang (Indonesian donuts)

For some reason, donuts are one piece of American gluttony that has been picked up in Southeast Asia, and they will usually fry them in front of you with only some powdered sugar to taste. I've had some in Malaysia that were pretty good. This lady was frying some up at a Hypermart (like Wal-Mart) and I had to get a taste.

It sucked. Not only did the grease have no taste (I guess they can't really use pork lard in a Muslim country like Indonesia), but the sugar had a strange aftertaste, as if it were saccharin. I'll stick to Krispy Kreme instead, thank you. Although, at only 1500 Rupiah (US$0.15), it's not exactly a huge loss either.


On a side note, this sign was kinda funny to me. It looks like it's for a cup of corn or something. I hope it's not pronounced the way it looks.

Soto Ayam, Batam, Indonesia

Soto Ayam, Batam, Indonesia

I don't really like Indonesian food as it's usually too sweet (and without pork). But one of the few things I will eat is soto ayam, a shredded chicken and rice noodle soup that can be pretty commonly eaten off the street. I had a pretty good one in Jakarta once, so much that the lady didn't understand when I tried to explain that I wanted another one (she didn't speak English).

Anyway, here on a neighboring island of Singapore for the weekend, I got a bowl, with rice, as apparently it is a typical but optional accompaniment (plus the portions here are really small). It was a bit boring until I remembered five minutes later that one of the magical condiments off the street was a big bucket of lime wedges. But even after squeezing in a couple slices, this indoor food court vendor still paled in comparison to the street.

I'm still not a big fan of Indonesian food. I have good memories of a pretty good rijsttafel in Amsterdam (little sampling plates of spicy Indonesian food kept warm for their Dutch colonists on heated racks), as well as a relieving soto ayam after cold hard rains (and after getting really tired of one week of non-stop pickled herring in Finland), but otherwise, I'll probably give Indonesian food a pass when given a choice.