Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Katsuodon from Tampopo Singapore

Katsuodon

Tampopo has moved upstairs to #01-23 now that Yusaishoku has taken its old basement location at Liang Court. And I'm liking the new one upstairs. Not only did they have this special bonito bowl but a huge menu with so many specials that it would take forever to come try them all. We'll be coming back for more. And yes, they still had a Tomton menu to pick from if you so chose.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Teochew-Style Steamed Fish

Teochew Steamed Fish

Here's a Teochew-style fish from...well, the Teochew Cuisine Restaurant in Singapore. I love this style of steamed fish, as the tomatoes, pickled veggies, and plums produce a mildly sour broth that does not overpower the naturally delicate taste of the fish itself. The light flavor nicely complemented the shiitake mushrooms and tofu garnishes on the side too.

Now, they provided a number of sauces to go with the fish here, consisting of a variety of vinegar, ginger, chili, or salted bean concoctions. But I was really here for the thin broth that the fish sat in, slurping it all up like a soup. I just need to remember to drink it more quickly next time; waiting until I'm done with the fish first just meant that the broth got cold. Either that or just go to a place that puts the fish on a burner instead.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sosis by Shiraz at Singapore's Clarke Quay

Chorizo with Curry Sauce

It looks like Shiraz has been expanding. I've been pretty disappointed in the whimpy little kebabs sold at Shiraz Mazzeh, the late night takeout stand across from the proper Shiraz restaurant. So I was surprised to see that they had started a sausage stand just around the corner (Block D #01-14).

Taking its name from the Bahasa word for sausage, this place offered a selection of weiners ranging from chorizo to debreziner, all to be complemented with a number of condiments and sauces. My choice of chorizo with curry sauce might have been a bit odd, but at such a late hour, it's not like it really mattered anyway. The salty greasy bite of it all more or less fulfilled its purpose.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wanton Soup in SQ First Class

Char siew and wanton noodle soup

This was the first class meal on SQ's redeye flight back tonight. Is it just me, or does it seem like the main thing that distinguishes first class meals from the rest of the plane is soup? At least, I've always tended to notice soup being served on those few times that I have flown in first class (no, instant noodles don't count). This one couldn't have come at a better time though given all of the Chinese alcohol stting in my belly from dinner.

What did strike me as odd though was these first class seats. I pretty much knew that I was going to get the old school first class seats, but these seemed to be one generation further back than the one I got on the way up. The seats didn't lie flat and in fact still featured a tiny little non-VOD screen. It didn't really matter too much in the end as I completely passed out after having finished the meal, but I just didn't even know that these old seats even existed.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Xie Lao Song, Beijing

Ma La Xiang Guo

My local colleague told me that one huge thing that has been popping up in Beijing lately has been restaurants specializing in ma la xiang guo, or literally "numbingly spicy fragrant pot." I wasn't quite sure what to expect: he mentioned something about duck heads and frogs in a pot with Sichuan spices. So I was a bit surprised when this basically turned out to be like a large version of Shanghai's Chicken Pot.

Basically one pre-selects ingredients from the menu (crab is apparently quite popular, and you can add other stuff like Spam too), after which they cook it all for you in the back before bringing it out in a big pot. I had quite a bit of trouble eating those duck heads pictured above given all of the bones involved, while the frog meat was also a bit of a challenge for the same reason. It was also a bit frustrating trying to get your hands on something tangible in the pot as everything was chopped up into a big sloppy mess, but the salty peppercorn-filled mixture was still tasty. It got much better for me after they poured soup into it and turned on the gas burner underneath.

Wasabi CabbageOne odd thing that my colleague ordered on the side were some cold cabbage rolls with a thick layer of wasabi spread across the top. It tasted just like it sounded: a bit weird, but nonetheless something that apparently is a Beijing thing. And of course, he had to bust out a copious amount of Chinese jing jiu alcohol, which still tasted a bit like watermelon Jolly Ranchers to me. I can't read the name of the Chinese address but the phone number was 010-64238422.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Three Guizhou Men, Beijing

Guizhou Ribs

An old friend of mine in Beijing loves this place, and he insisted on coming down here tonight. Having now expanded to a number of branches across the city, these guys specialize in food from the Chinese province of Guizhou, which borders Sichuan and thus is similar in that the food is spicy. Unlike Sichuan food though, it does not prominently feature those numbing peppercorns. The food tends to skew mildly sour instead.

And that made it all really delicious. I enjoyed everything that we had tonight, including a cold spicy noodle starter and a fish that looked deceivingly like it was covered in a Thai sweet-and-sour sauce but was not sweet at all, which made it all the better for me. The ribs in the photo above just crumbled off the bone, and with all of those savory seasonings as an added bonus. I could see why he likes this place so much - yes, it's worth coming back to.

Air China Economy Class Lunch

Air China's Economy Class Chicken Meal

This was the domestic economy class meal on Air China today. It actually wasn't as bad as it looked, as the chicken was salty and moist enough that it helped to make the rice ingestion easy. But it's not exactly anything that I am going to miss either.

A Late Night Bowl of Soup in Shanghai

Some bowl of noodles

I don't really know what this was. But after a number of drinks tonight, my stomach was craving some soup, and this stall's late night noodles on Wujiang Road fit the bill. The broth was light yet full of savory flavor, all going nicely with the rice noodles, deep fried tofu, and chili pepper paste on the side. I wasn't in much of a mood to eat those blood cakes though.

Epilogue: I just found out that this was called lao ya tang, or literally "old duck soup." I'm not sure what it was supposed to taste like, but if the broth was duck-based, then that explains why it was so tasty.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lamb Skewers on Wujiang Road, Shanghai

Lamb Skewers

One of the other things featured prominently on Wujiang Road were all of the stalls selling skewered meat. There were tons of vendors, each with a huge array of items including whole fish on a stick. There was one stall (next to a Chicken Hot Pot outlet, by the way) in particular with a very long line, so I hoped that meant that it was the best. I patiently stood in line for 35 minutes to get my order of six lamb sticks for RMB 10 (US$1.50).

The meat ended up being much more tender and greasy than Xiao Ping back in Singapore, but it was also much saltier. In that sense, I preferred the earthy spice mix of the Whispering Man, although I really couldn't complain as I still cleared them all within minutes. I wonder how much the other stalls differed from this one.

Yang's Fry-Dumpling, Shanghai

Sheng Jian Bao

Cool. I ducked out onto the streets of Shanghai looking for some simple street food. I didn't even know that I was just down the street from Wujiang Road, a street dedicated to local snacks. One of the places (54/60 Wujiang Road, 6267-6025) was specializing in sheng jian bao, or these pan-fried buns that were filled with meat and soup (yes, as it turned out, this was the same one that Bourdain went to). They were a bit like xiao long bao but were much thicker-skinned...and pan-fried instead of steamed.

I learned the hard way about the soup part though. Taking a bite into one of these bad boys elicited a squirt of scalding hot soup right into my face, no doubt to the amusement of some of the locals that I sat next to. They must have sat in shock looking at this ignorant guy losing all of his precious soup as it dripped out of the bun. I tried the bite-a-little-hole technique that one does with xiao long bao, but couldn't get it right given how thick the skin was. Well, it all went down nicely either way, especially when complimented with that chili seasoning on the tables. And it was all only 4 RMB (US$0.50) for a set of four. Rock on.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shi Quan Shi Mei on SQ First Class

From left to right: beef fillet in barbecue dressing with cucumber julienne, mushroom tofu with soya crumbs in ginger sauce, papaya cup with curried chicken salad, and sliced abalone with black fungus, avocado, and tomato

I'd never flown First Class on SQ before, so I cashed in some miles for an upgrade tonight just to check out the experience. There was some expectedly excess pampering at Changi T3, be it the posh check-in area, the exclusive immigration lines, or even the First Class section of the SilverKris lounge, which featured a notable cheese selection and even some Ipoh hor fun made to order. I wasn't really in the mood to eat in the lounge though - I was waiting for my meal on the plane.

Clockwise from bottom left: stewed pork belly Dong Po style, steamed Chilean bass in ginger sauce, crumbed duck breast with sweet and sour spicy sauce, broccoli with shredded compoy, and double boiled pork soup with conpoy and Brazil wild mushrooms.

Specifically, I was looking for this set meal from Sam Leong of the Tung Lok group called shi quan shi mei, or "a complete and perfect Chinese culinary experience," as the leather-covered menu put it. This basically featured ten little kaiseki-like dishes: four cold starters, four hot dishes, a soup, and a dessert. Even though it produced major dragon breath, I enjoyed the fresh and light taste of nearly everything, all to be washed down with an impressive selection of loose leaf teas.

Satay on SQ

Unfortunately, this plane hadn't been upgraded to the new SQ First Class yet, so it was still the old version where seats sat side by side rather than those gigantic palaces that they've been advertising for the long haul flights. In that sense, UA's new Business Class was better than this with its larger screen and standard AC power outlet. But that's not a fair comparison given the generation differences, and this thing arguably beats UA's old school first class, especially with the latter's antiquated 8mm tape system. And yes, even in First Class, one still gets SQ's Raffles Class satay rather than peanuts after takeoff.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Murugan Idli Shop in Singapore

Idli with chutneys plus oil & podi

This wasn't meant to be a weekend of Chennai-based restaurants in Singapore. But when I was at Anjappar yesterday, it reminded me that I had yet to go check out that idli shop that popped up here earlier this year (81 Syed Alwi Road, 6298-0858). And when the logo in front showed nothing but five idli steaming away, you knew exactly what to order.

The process was simple: sit down, mark your selections on the piece of paper, and then out comes a banana leaf-covered tray with a few chutneys ladled onto the edges. Give it another minute and a guy comes by with your piping hot idli, placing them onto the center of your banana leaf. If you got the optional "oil & podi" condiment to go with it, then another guy comes by with heaping spoonful of a brownish powder, digs a hole in the middle, and then pours oil into it. Even though that dark mixture didn't provide the searing chili pepper heat that I was hoping for, its savory earthiness went well with the idli, allowing them to disappear into my mouth faster than Homer Simpson could eat doughnuts. And I didn't even opt for the more sinful "ghee & podi" option!

There was other stuff available, ranging from dosai to uttappam and even little cups of rice if you happen to be there before 3 PM. But I just loved the sheer simplicity of this place, as I was in and out of there in ten minutes with a satisfied belly. Plus, its business hours of 9 AM - 11 PM meant that it will make for either a convenient breakfast or late night snack. Yum.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Anjappar Two Times in One Day

Clockwise from left: nattu koli masala, jeera rice, paneer butter masala, and chicken 65

Yes, I know - I was here earlier today. But the description that I read online about the nattu koli masala drew me right back here for dinner as I wanted to see first-hand just how spicy it really was. I was hoping that perhaps it could rival a good vindaloo, one of my all-time faves.

I was thus a bit let down to find it arriving in a greenish brown color, and honestly not being that spicy. OK - let me qualify that. Yes, it did have some heat and it certainly was spicy from the perspective of all of those other spices that gave it a deep earthy base. But I was hoping for the much cleaner and in-your-face heat of a vindaloo that could rip your stomach apart, and this was not it. I did like the richness of the jeera rice here though.

Actually, one other interesting thing that we did have tonight was what was known as Chicken 65: fried chunks of spicy chicken as a snack. It was also available in other variants, like Fish 65, Paneer 65, Mushroom 65...you get the idea. So what the heck was this "65" deal all about? From what I gathered, no one really knows where the name comes from. Theories range from the year of its creation to the number of spices involved or even the number of days that the chickens had aged. Either way, I didn't really care too much for how dry this one turned out to be.

Another Run to Anjappar Singapore

Clockwise from bottom: sura puttu, steamed basmati rice, and dry chilly chicken

In the mood for something spicy today, I decided to give Anjappar another go, this time focusing on some of the reader suggestions from last time. Surely enough, with every order I placed, the staff here tried to upsell me to something else. But I held firm and stuck with the suru puttu shark meat as well as steamed rice instead of biryani. I also grabbed a dry chilly chicken on the advice of one of my colleagues.

The shark flakes came out in a tiny little dish and tasted like it looked: a bit dry and nothing that I'll go out of my way for again, but was still very edible nonetheless. I was much more impressed with the chilly chicken with its solid punch of flavor without being sweet. Everything here was really salty, but in many ways, that was a good thing when paired with that big bowl of white rice.

Indeed, I still had some rice left, so I squeezed in their namesake Special Anjappar Chicken Masala at the last minute. This dark brown gravy concoction wasn't as interesting as I had hoped for, but at least they offered me a boneless option to help make it easier to finish off the job. I plan to come back - there is at least one more spicy chicken dish here that I want to try.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Teochew Cuisine Restaurant, Singapore

Teochew Cold Crab

There are no bonus points given for guessing what kind of food the Teochew Cuisine Restaurant serves (413 River Valley Road, 6738-0020). Actually, I avoided this place for a very long time, mainly because of a horrible experience with a fish soup thing that was served from the window facing the street. But there was a proper restaurant in the back with a full menu, and tonight I came down here to get one of those quintessential Teochew dishes: cold crab.

Maybe I got one of the last ones before they refreshed their inventory for the weekend or something, but my crab could have been a bit fresher. Still, the relatively fine meat easily slid out of the appendages in solid chunks, so it worked in the end, especially when dipped into the Chinese vinegar and ginger on the side. Clearly this little thing wasn't going to get me full though, so the waitress recommended some venison fried rice, which went down easily and helped to close out the meal.

It was all light and refreshing, and I suppose that it could be a local alternative to dungeness crab from back home. Sure, I could go to The Big Bird too, but I like the ginger/vinegar thing here (the Thousand Island dressing was a bit of a weird one though). Hopefully next time they won't be sold out of the steamed pomfret like they were tonight.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tung Lok Signatures, Singapore

Braised Homemade Beancurd with Wild Fungus & Conpoy Crisp

Whoa - I was not expecting that at all, especially given my aversion toward chains like rival Crystal Jade. This fancy place, with locations at VivoCity and the Central, was supposed to showcase dishes from across the Tung Lok Group's restaurants. So I was surprised to find myself enjoying nearly everything that we had tonight, be it some simple fried tofu starter, a side of sauteed string beans, or this big stone pot rice with beef and egg that we closed with.

Of particular note was the tofu dish above, which was made to look like fish but tasted like neither fish nor tofu. Its smooth texture and light taste went nicely with that crispy shredded scallop topping. They had a baked Japanese cod dish whose rich caramelized flavor was better than some of my gindara experiences at Nijumaru. I guess I didn't mind Tung Lok as much as I thought.

Next time someone suggests that we go to Crystal Jade, I'm going to counter with Tung Lok Signatures instead. I just have to remember that the name is not pronounced like the fleshy muscular organ in your mouth combined with a key-operated mechanism, but rather like the rapper behind Funky Cold Medina ("Sheena was a man!").

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Al Qasr, Holland Village, Singapore

Counterclockwise from bottom right: hommos, kebbeh nayeh, and pita bread

This place (46 Lorong Mambong, 6467-7793) was suggested in a comment not long ago. The huge swath of tasty-sounding items on the menu looked encouraging enough, so a buddy of mine and I came on in to fill our empty stomachs.

We started with our usual hummus and pita bread, which fared fine. But the menu item that really caught my attention was the kebbeh nayeh, or raw lamb meat mixed with spices, olive oil, and bulgur, a semolina-like wheat. Despite how it sounded (or looked in the photo above), it was hard to tell by taste alone that it was made of raw lamb, as the olive oil and garlic mayo powered their way through it instead...in a good way. Throw it all together with the plate of olives and pickles that they provided at the start of the meal, and we got really excited at what would come next.

Unfortunately, the meal hit a wall after that. Granted, I knew better than to order Persian food at a Lebanese restaurant, but the soltani that I ordered came out looking like baby cuts of beef jerky...and almost tasted the same too without any of the richness that makes the dish so wonderful. Well, that's my own fault for ordering that - next time I'll stick to the Lebanese dishes instead. The sheer variety of other items here - particularly the starters - could keep me entertained for quite some time, especially if they are as fun to eat as the kebbeh nayeh.

Harry's New Self-Branded Lager

Harry's Lager and Mr. Porky Pork Scratchings

After skipping past it at the Beer Festival last weekend, I gave Harry's new brew a try today. It was pretty much what I expected - a straighforward lager that went down easily in today's heat. It was light, but it carried a enough of a hint of maltiness that I easily liked it.

Besides, everything tastes better when accompanied by a little pack of British pork scratchings. How great would it be if they served these on airplanes instead of peanuts? I can only drool at the thought of it.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Singapore Beer Festival 2008

From left: Grand Ridge Brewery Pilsner, Pure Blonde, and Butcher House's Debreziner and Spicy Italian Sausages

I love festivals, so I eagerly marked my calendar when I had heard about this one. But I was a bit bummed upon arrival today as it felt a bit more like an industry trade show rather than a festival for the masses. Local microbreweries like the Pump Room, Brewerkz, and Archipelago were there (and even Harry's, which had launched a self-branded beer), but their venues are so easily accessible here in Singapore that I skipped right past them, along with the booths featuring commonplace global brands.

Thus, the only ones of interest to me were the imported beers, but most of them were in bottles (including Gordon Biersch from back home). The few draft beers that I did try, including both the pilsner and the ale from Australia's Grand Ridge Brewery, fared fine (and I was surprised to find that Pure Blonde low-carb beer from Foster's to be better than I was expecting), but in the end, I just couldn't get too excited about it all.

So I had hoped that perhaps the food vendors on site would help save the day, but there wasn't much to choose from either: it was limited to O'Briens, Kinara, and Brewerkz's own food menu. Fortunately, River Valley's Butcher House was grilling some tasty sausages over a fire outside, but using S$10 (US$7) tickets for one sausage was a bit steep, especially when that sat on top of a hefty S$40 (US$30) admission fee for the event itself. Well, I am encouraged that such a festival popped up here; I just hope that next year's program is a bit more interesting.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The New La Braceria on Greendale Ave

Ravioli

This was the ravioli from one of our old favorites, La Braceria, which has moved to a new location (5 Greendale Ave, 6465-5918). Just as with before, the new digs featured a small pizza oven facing a rather cozy dining room. But there were some minor changes, most notably in that the sausages that I loved so much from before were not listed as an entree today. They still had their house pasta that featured bits of that sausage, but they used orecchiette and broccoli instead of fettucine and truffles.

The pizza that we ordered was also surprisingly oily, thus making the crust a bit soggy in the center. And the chili pepper flakes were no longer the super spicy version of the past. But all of it struck well enough into my savory-inclined tastebuds that I still consider this to be one of my favorite Italian places in Singapore. It's good to see that they have resurfaced.