Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Sourdough Bread Bowl from SFO

Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bread Bowl

Here's one of those touristy sourdough bread bowls filled with clam chowder from here in San Francisco. I didn't have much time to go anywhere to eat on this very quick business trip to the US, but I figured that I could at least get something local to eat at the airport this morning. It did the job, even if it wasn't from that Boudin Bakery.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mu Shu Pork from the US

Mu Shu Pork

Mu shu pork is another one of those dishes that are really American despite the foreign reference (kinda like Singapore Noodles). This burrito-like roll is self-assembled at the table, starting with the smearing of some dark sweet sauce onto a thin steamed skin, just as one does with Peking Duck. But that is where the similarity ends. Instead of using a roasted duck from China, the stuffing is a sauteed concoction of pork strips, cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, and whatever other fillers these guys want to offload.

Given that this is really only served in the US, I haven't had this in ages, so I made a request for it here at a random Chinese restaurant in California. And I am a bit embarrased to say that I kind of like it. I suppose that the DIY aspect is a novelty that adds to the experience of eating these greasy little things, even if I can't seem to get Chris Tucker's Rush Hour 2 lines out of my head.

Sauteed Prawns on United

Sauteed prawns with caper lemon butter sauce

Here were the sauteed prawns on United's long haul today. Despite the disturbing shade of yellow in the caper lemon butter sauce, this went well with the basmati rice and tasted decent...for airplane food, anyway.

Lei Yuen Noodle & Congee Restaurant

Wanton Mee

I was told that this place (539 Lockhart Road, 2832-4978) sold wanton mee that was supposed to be even better than my favorite Mak's Noodle. With a claim like that, I had to come by. And conveniently enough, they were right by my hotel and open until 2 AM, so I came over for a quick midnight snack.

I'm not sure if I understood why this was considered better though. The broth had less aroma, the dumplings did not have that bite of fresh shrimp, and the noodles - while laudably firm - didn't have as much of that egg-flavor that I have come to love about Mak's. Indeed, I even had to add some of that Cantonese chili oil just to get some flavor into this thing.

Well, apparently this place is also known for its porridge, so maybe I just ordered the wrong thing. But I definitely prefer Mak's noodles instead.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Under Bridge Spicy Crab, Hong Kong

Typhoon Shelter Crab

When my colleagues suggested that we go to some spicy crab place for dinner tonight (Canal Road at Lockhart, 2573-7698), I thought, "Hey...wasn't that the typhoon shelter stuff that Bourdain ate on that boat?" It was. And it's hard to tell that this thing is spicy just by looking at it. I mean, there was so much garlic showered onto it that you could hardly see the crab parts underneath (vampires, keep your distance!). But weaved into those little brown bits of surprisingly not too overpowering garlic were some kind of chili peppers for spiciness, the degree of which you could specify according to your tastes.

This was pretty darned good, and better than Singaporean chili crab in my opinion (it looks like they were also using thick-shelled Sri Lankan crabs here). All of that garlic made it a bit reminiscient of Bangkok's Polo Fried Chicken but with a delicate spiciness that grows on you. And when you got past the claws and legs, you got to the ultimate cholesterol bomb: the crab butter, which also happened to be drenched in the oil that was used to cook this thing. It tasted just like it sounds: tasty, but rich as hell. I'm gonna have to eat salads for a few days just to offset this offense.

Super Star Seafood Restaurant, HK

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings

Hey that was pretty good. These guys are apparently a rather popular chain across Hong Kong, specifically because of a few dishes such as some little salty battered fish snacks, some other stuff based on the venomous stonefish, and dim sum that is formed in little animal shapes. Cutesy-ness aside, the food was rather enjoyable.

My favorite of the bunch was some crispy pork thing. It was a bit less refined than the beautiful one at Lei Garden, but in a good way. The skin was salty and crispy while the layer of fat fueled a smoky taste without being too oily. I couldn't stop eating these wonderful little cubes of fun.

The rest of the stuff was good too of course, including some kind of steamed custard buns, some little fish balls with a fermenting salty clam dip, and even some noodle soup in a milky white broth. Good choice for lunch today.

Fried Rice and Satay on UA Economy

Fried Rice and Satay

Here was the economy class meal on United this morning, featuring what seemed to have been the first time that I'd seen satay served on board. It certainly wasn't SQ's version with the peanut sauce and onions, but it was a needed break from the usual omelette. The rest of the meal was easily forgettable.

Putu Mayam at the SATS Premier Lounge

Putu Mayam

Cool - they had idiyappam (or at least, the local version of it, putu mayam) at the airport lounge today. Granted, it was only sugar and coconut on the side without any curry to go with it, but it's a nice break from the usual porridge.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Some Kind of a Chinese Meatball

Some Chinese Meatball

Here's some kind of Chinese meatball from that martial arts theme restaurant on Temple Street in Singapore. They were so proud of it that they put it at the top of the menu, and only served them individually. There was a salted egg yolk in the center of the meatball that gave it all the more of an edge.

To me, this is much better than that fen jen pork rib stuff, since you still get the steamed sticky rice coating but don't have to deal with all of those bone fragments. I'm not sure if I understand why they made the point that you can only have one though; regardless, I'm sure that your cholesterol count will be thankful.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bistro Petit Salut, Jalan Merah Saga

Salmon Tartare

Wow - I enjoyed this place. I had always avoided it (44 Jalan Merah Saga #01-54, 6474-9788) despite a number of suggestions in the past given that I've never really been that big on French food. But a colleague suggested coming here for good steaks, and I'm glad that we did.

The onglet, while still requiring a bit of effort to cut in some parts, went down in a jiffy. Part of this was due to the sauce on top. I normally shun sauces on a steak, but this stuff (red wine reduction, I think?) paired up nicely enough with the meat and potatoes for me to clear the plate with ease. The salmon tartare starter that I got was also just as it looks in the photo: light and refreshing. This was a pleasant surprise. I liked it enough that I think that I'm going to come back here soon to try some other stuff. Cool.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ramen Santouka, The Central, Singapore

Tokusen Toroniku, sans Ramen

Someone suggested this place in a comment this morning (thank you!), so I popped on down here on my way home tonight, especially when I realized that this was the ramen shop from Hokkaido that has been creating so much buzz in Southern California lately. This branch in Singapore (The Central #02-76, 6224-0668) was so new that only half of the menu was available today. Fortunately, the item that they seemed to be most proud of, the tokusen toroniku ramen, was available.

What was so special about it? The pork, which arrived separately from the soup. And what wonderfully tender slices they were...I literally stopped eating to say, "Wow." Mind you, this was completely separate from the tonkotsu broth, which was so rich that it was almost like drinking milk. Indeed, some might argue that there was so much flavor that it was overwhelming. I wished there were more of those little red pickles to help cut through all of the grease.

And that, unfortunately, will probably keep me from being a regular here, as the flavors were a bit too intense for me. (Then again, maybe it was because I just ate a full meal about one hour ago, so go ahead and call me a fat pig.) Well, my preference is still for Marutama upstairs, but I will try coming back here on an empty stomach next time (and hopefully when more of the menu is available) to give it a another run.

The French Stall, Singapore

Steam Rolled Dory Fillet with Garlic Scented Mashed Potatoes

This place has always held a bit of a novelty factor for me (544 Serangoon Road, 6299-3544), so it was good to see that they were still around after all of these years. On the premise that French food doesn't need to be pretentious nor expensive, this guy sells his food in a local open-air kopitiam. For instance, my French onion soup ran for S$4.80 (US$3.20) while my escargot ran for S$8.80 (US$5.90). The fish above was a simple S$12.80 (US$8.50).

Granted, at those prices, the cheese was not baked onto the soup, nor were the snails presented in any shells or containers, but the objective was achieved: basic food at affordable prices. The fish that I got was surprisingly tender and fresh, even if that olive oil and garlic combination did start to get a bit tiresome after having seen it on the escargot earlier. Then again, I really don't know much about French food anyway, so who am I to judge?

Monday, January 14, 2008

La Nonna, Holland Village, Singapore

Pizza La Nonna

Here's another Italian place that has popped up in Holland Village (26 Lorong Mambong, 6468-1982). It's apparently part of the Senso group, and in fact sits on the former grounds of Spizza, another member of its family. Fittingly, were told that the thin crust pizza was good here, so we grabbed their namesake pizza to start.

It came with a still mildly runny egg in the center, which I hoped would transform the taste of the thing. But it tasted only like it sounded: a sunny side up egg on top of a pizza. I wasn't quite used to finding asparagus in my pizza either, but alas, it still tasted fine in the end given all of the cheese shavings on top. The fish that I got as my main course was much tastier than it looked too. I probably won't be getting many cravings for this place though.

Barokes Wine in a Can on Tiger Airways

Barokes Chardonnay Semillon

One thing I noticed about no-frills Tiger Airways is that they sure have a lot of advertising, presumably to help make up for the low airfares: the Visa logo on the flight attendants' shirts, the ads for Australia's Northern Territory on the overhead bins, and interestingly enough, a verbal plug on the loudspeakers that they are selling some "award-winning" wine in a can on board. I slapped down my S$5 (US$3.30) for a can, pretty just much out of curiosity...and I suppose a mild novelty factor.

Now, I am not a wine person, so I really couldn't tell you if this were any good or not (all of that nasty Cisco and Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill from back in college probably did some permanent damage to any wine sensing ability that might have existed). But that little can did get you nearly two glasses worth, even if it were in a cheapie airline cup.

An Assortment of Standard-Issue Thai Food

Tom Yam Goong

With the exception of a few things like kanohm jin, there probably aren't too many dishes that unique to Phuket. And with us being stuck in touristy Patong, many places that we ate at offered the same standard issue Thai food no matter where we went. So rather than rambling on about some random shop's tom yam, pad thai, or som tam, I'll just shut up and let some pictures from the past few days stand for themselves.

Some Noodle Soup

Pad Thai

Som Tam Poo

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Fried Chicken Shop on Phrabaramee

The Colonel has some competition

Jackpot! After a failed attempt to get fried chicken at a tourist trap last night, we found these ladies at 163/5 Phrabaramee here in Patong attracting a sizeable hoard of locals at lunchtime today. Not only were the typical drumsticks, wings, and breasts available, but also chicken feet should you so desire. Perhaps more interestingly, they also had some hallmarks of my favorite Issan cuisine, such as som tam, larb, and little servings of sticky rice. Cool!

Now, the fried chicken was not as crispy I was hoping for, but they were much lighter than that heavily battered stuff from the Colonel, and the savory taste paired up perfectly with the sticky rice and plate of raw veggies. I asked for some pork-based larb moo too, only to realize that this was a Muslim stall, so I ended up getting a delightfully spicy (if liver-laced) beef larb instead. Gotta love how generous she was with the rice powder in there too.

Beef LarbThumbs up. If you're particular about things like flies swarming about, then maybe this place isn't for you. But if you couldn't care less about them and yet don't want to take a drive out to Phuket Town just to get a quick lunch, then try coming down here. I don't know the name of the place since it's in Thai, but it's on the south side of the street a few hundred yards in from the beach, and the sign featured a Coke bottle on it. Look for the red awnings and a crowd of locals surrounding the piles of fried chicken.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dang Restaurant, Patong, Thailand

Nam Prik Gung Saeb

Rat U Thit 200 Pee Road just north of Soi Bangla is pretty much tourist central in Patong Beach, and this place looked like it fit right in. Normally I wouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole, but a fairly credible forum had mentioned this place on more than one occasion (number 188 across from the PS Hotel ...not to be confused with the open air Dang Seafood just a bit further up the street), so we went to check it out tonight in the hopes that appearances were deceiving. Besides, it was worth giving it a try just for the amusing name alone: "Hurry up...we have to go to the Dang Restaurant!"

Actually, one of the main reasons we came was because the fried chicken was supposed to be pretty good, to which Bangkok's Polo Fried Chicken immediately came to mind. Only after our plate was delivered did I realize that "fried" meant "stir-fried" rather than "deep-fried," thus relegating this to any gooey old plate of sauteed chicken that is pretty common across Asia anyway. Oh well...there are plenty of deep fried chicken stalls on the streets to console us later.

The rest of the menu seemed pretty typical of a place like this, although there was one item, nam prik gung saeb, that caught my eye, as the English description suggested to me that perhaps it were made from raw shrimp. When I asked about it, the lady said (in a perfectly respectful way, as if she were trying to look out for our best interests) that "It's not for you...it's for Thai people only." She couldn't have said a single thing to make me want it more, and her jaw dropped when I said that I wanted it. Only when it arrived did I realize that it wasn't made from raw shrimp, but dried shrimp, and was basically another one of those fermenting belachan-like spicy dips that one was supposed to eat with vegetables, which were blanched in this case. It was spicy and stanky, but also a bit sweet, and generally not as offensive as I would have hoped.

Well, that aside, this ended up being the tourist-friendly place that it looked like, and would fare fine if that's the kind of thing that you are looking for. Beware though that the banana pancakes that our neighbors ordered looked as if they were made with Bisquick rather than those thin crepes off the street, while the banana fritters were coated in fish & chip batter rather than those sesame dusted ones that we got off the street the other day.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Finding Locals In Patong Food Park

Fresh raw vegetables tableside

Touristy Patong Beach isn't exactly a place for finding particularly unique food. Most of the establishments are filled with so many tourists that one might have thought that he were somewhere in Europe. And while the tourist vultures out at the Patong Food Park near Aroonsom were just as aggressive as they are at Boat Quay in Singapore, one stall in particular there loaded its tables up with a huge amount of raw veggies and seemed to cater to locals. Our choice of where to eat became a no brainer.

It was a good sign when we sat down, as the lady spoke no English nor had any menus. All she did was point to these big pots in front and asked us to pick from one of them. I selected some green curry, and figured that they would probably just dump some onto a plate of rice and let it be.

Kanohm JinSo it was to my surprise when they brought over plates of spaghetti-like rice noodles topped with the curry instead. Hey! That's that elusive kanohm jin! So that explains why there were so many types of veggies on the table. The noodles and curry were still just as disturbingly lukewarm as on my previous experience with this stuff, but I still piled on the condiments and slurped it all down.

That means that when we got the tip to come to this area for kanohm jin a couple of years ago, it was actually a valid referral; we just got duped by one of the many tourist vultures instead. Now we know. If you need help finding this lady amidst the rest of the tourist messes, look for the Kodak Photo Express and My Thai Guesthouse. The tables loaded with veggies should be right in front.

Those Thai Almond Things Again

Some Kind of Thai Almonds

I'm still stumped as to what exactly these things are, but some guy was selling these Thai nuts out on the beach again today, asking for a whopping 50 Baht (US$1.70) for a tiny little bag. We bargained him down to two bags for 60 Baht (US$2.00), but I still wonder what the deal is with these things. He said that they were expensive because they came all the way from Chiang Mai. Really?

Well, I still love the taste of these things. The white flesh underneath the thin brown skin is so delicate yet delightfully rich...mildly butter-like, and with a touch of smokiness. It looked like I wasn't the only one that likes these: a bird came by later to eat the scraps that fell to the ground. Can anyone help clarify what these things are?

Thai Banana Fritters

Thai Banana Fritters

There was a lady frying up some banana fritters in a giant wok on the street today, so we picked up a small bag for 10 Baht (US$0.30). They were still warm when we ate them, and the sesame seeds were a nice touch. Cool.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Grilled Dried Squid from Phuket

Dried Squid

These dried squid were dangling from a wire at a random street stall here in Phuket. She was actually selling a bunch of skewered meats to be grilled on a flame, most of which turned out a bit on the sweet side. But the squid struck me as particularly odd, as it was clearly already dried out and salty while hanging there. And yet she proceeded to throw it onto the grill, whereupon it shriveled up and then still tasted just like you would expect it to: dry, tough, salty, and fishy. I suppose that it's a bit like beef jerky, but is there supposed to be something more to it?

A Random Bowl of Tom Yam Soup

Tom Yam Soup

Here is a random bowl of tom yam soup from here in Phuket. It wasn't necessarily anything special...we are planted here in annoyingly touristy Patong Beach, after all. But the puckeringly sour and spicy potion was much needed after a frustratingly early flight on Tiger Airways this morning. At least the airfare was ridiculously cheap.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tan's Beef Noodle, Holland Drive Food Centre

Beef Noodle

I noticed this guy's banner boasting of "Famous Taiwanese Beef La Mian" and a 60-year old family recipe, so I went on down today (44 Holland Drive #02-35) to check it out. While the portions for even the "large" bowl were rather small, it fortunately did taste respectably like the real deal. Too bad that I'm not a huge fan of Taiwanese beef noodle to begin with though.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sichuan Restaurant, New Bridge Road

Red Oil Wontons

This place probably didn't win any awards for creative names, but I noticed this while passing through Singapore's Chinatown the other day. We thus came by tonight to check it out (199 New Bridge Road, 6225-2578). True to its name, this place serves Sichuan food, so we grabbed a couple of our favorites, including red oil wontons, which turned out to be surprisingly sour but were still pleasantly spicy enough to be consumed in seconds.

Tiger VegetablePerhaps more interesting were a couple new things that we tried, one of which was called laohucai, or "tiger vegetable" from northern China. What is this, you ask? Imagine that you were in the kitchen, getting ready to stir fry some beef or something, and on the side you have all of your fresh spices ready to go into the hot wok to help season the beef. But now remove the beef from the picture, as well as the hot wok, and what's remaining is "tiger vegetable."

Yup, that means a cold plate of nothing but sliced chili peppers, scallions, cilantro, sesame oil, vinegar, and salt. Sounds nasty? Far from it. This thing was so fragrantly spicy that I still salivate just thinking of it. Yes, it was a bit weird just eating a bunch of uncooked spices without any actual "food" to go with it, but I guess one can just think of it as a salad...or a Chinese version of salsa except that you have to eat it straight without any chips (something that I will half-embarrasingly admit to have done before).

Beer DuckFinally, we got something that looked so odd on the menu that we just had to try it. This "beer duck" dish literally came with an inverted glass of beer sitting in the middle of the plate. The idea was that the beer would slowly seep out from underneath the glass to help provide a bit more flavor to the duck. I was a bit skeptical at first, so I was rather surprised to find the added taste of the alcohol not only rather pronounced but also rather agreeable (did they marinate the duck, by chance?).

Unfortunately, this thing was so loaded with bones that hardly any edible meat was to be found...perhaps it's meant to be more of a bar snack where you slowly suck out the flavor rather than actually trying to get full. Well, despite the gimmicks (and a disappointingly gooey stewed eggplant that we got), we'll be coming back to try out more, especially since they are conveniently open until 3 AM. Hometown just may have some new competition if some of the other dishes here turn out OK.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Monster Mash Cafe, Singapore

English Cumberland Sausage, Champ Mash, and Onion Gravy

Cool. These guys from Edinburgh just opened a shop in Singapore one week ago (26A Lorong Mambong in Holland Village, 6463-4610), specializing in bangers and mash...and a variety of sausages, potatoes, and gravy for you to choose from at that. While I don't exactly frequent the UK enough to lend much of an opinion on this, it worked for me. The sausages were grilled just right and were savory without being excessive, while the potatoes were lumpy enough to provide texture and tasty enough even without the thin gravy on the side. Now, this place isn't exactly styled like a cozy pub, but I'm definitely coming back for the honest, no frills food; they also offered other things like fish and chips and even a promise of haggis soon.