Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Yakisoba from Nanjya Monjya, Singapore

Yasai Yakisoba

This was our yakisoba from Nanjya Monjya, a place that we really should go to much more frequently than we do now. I had forgotten about what a great menu these guys had, as well as their long dinner hours. Besides, it's always fun to throw things around on a hot griddle.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cold Noodles from Hometown on Smith Street

Cold Noodles with Chicken Strips

I know that here have been a ton of Sichuan places popping up in Geylang that are probably pretty good, but Hometown Restaurant in Chinatown is still one of my favorites (the new location of which is 25 Smith Street...just a few doors down from the old unit). And here were the cold noodles that I got from them today.

If it looks similar to Taiwanese Fool's Noodles, that's because it is - except that this was cold and featured a few strips of chicken on top. That made it even better for me, even if this version carried a much heavier dose of soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lao Da Hua at VivoCity's Food Republic

Bak Chor Mee

Tai Wah Pork Noodle is probably my favorite noodle stall in Singapore. So when the Sunday Times published a story today on the family feud resulting from a third brother advertising his new stall at VivoCity's plasticky Food Republic, my curiosity was piqued. Was there going to be much of a difference between it and Tai Wah?

There was...a bit. The most obvious difference was the broth on the side: here at Lao Da Hua, it was a clear salty thing garnished with cilantro, whereas the one at Tai Wah was cloudy and hearty due the the pork bits. I didn't get a wonton in today's bowl, and the dried fish topping didn't seem as edgy as I recall Tai Wah's being. I thus preferred Tai Wah, although this rendition was close. Fortunately, the meatballs - one of my favorite items in Tai Wah's bowls - tasted similar enough.

Interestingly, it wasn't until this news story came out did I realize that the spelling difference between Tai Hwa at Crawford Lane and Tai Wah at the Bestway Building (and Hong Lim Food Centre) was intentional. I always thought that they were used interchangeably, since the food at both Tai Hwa and Tai Wah generally tasted the same to me. Either way, it's interesting to see this family noodle shop rivalry and the resulting variations on the name; it sounds a bit like TK Noodle versus Luu New Tung Kee in Northern California, which eerily are also some of my favorite noodle shops.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Meat Doria from Saizeriya Singapore

Doria with Meat

Ugh - that was nasty. I tried to like this thing but I just couldn't. See, doria is basically a Japanese concoction of rice covered in a creamy cheese sauce and baked in a "Western" style. With this being a big seller at Saizeriya, I came by tonight out of sheer curiosity, especially since that fried chicken meal earlier was a bit small on portions.

While it did come out with a very attractively bubbling cheese, the taste was just a yawner. It basically tasted like it sounded: a very mild cream sauce baked onto a bed of rice, which did nothing for me. I wonder if a proper shop in Yokohama would do a better job. At least it was dirt cheap here at just a little over S$4 (US$2.75).

The UK's Dallas Chicken & Ribs in Singapore

Two Piece Chicken Meal

The title of this post may be a bit confusing, but this was a British fried chicken chain that had made its way over to Singapore (12 Upper Cross Street, 6220-0203). And despite the name of the shop, Texan ribs were nowhere to be found, as these guys were clearly more focused on chicken instead.

But something about the fried chicken hit the spot tonight; it was probably the sheer simplicity of it all, be it the humble batter or unsalted fries. Even if one chunk of breast meat that I got today was disturbingly dry, I have no qualms about eating this again.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Geylang Skewer Shootout: Lao Xinjiang

Xinjiang skewers

I finally made it back down to Singapore's Geylang district tonight to check out that third Chinese skewer shop that was discussed earlier this week. Located across the street from Lorong 9's Famous Beef Kway Teow shop, Lao Xinjiang had a huge menu (206 Geylang Road, 6842-3007). But I stuck to the skewers, picking up just a sampling of the basics to get a quick taste.

Unfortunately, I wasn't a big fan. While definitely still edible, the seasoning on these was a bit too boring for me, and I would have liked the meat to be just a bit more scorched too. Among the three skewer shops, I like Xiao Ping the most. His seasoning is deeper in flavor, his meat is of higher quality, and his cooking is more attentive. I still plan to head back to LDM to check out some of its other items too, so by no means has it been dismissed. But I definitely prefer either of those two to this Lao Xinjiang place.

Speaking of which, I'm starting to realize that these skewers should probably be more appropriately called Xinjiang skewers. I've never been to Xinjiang before so I have no basis for comparison to what is authentic. But Xiao Ping still tastes the best to me, even if his establishment is just a tiny little hawker stall.

Cova Pasticceria Confetteria in Singapore

Cotoletta di Vitello alla Milanese con Rucola e Pomodorini Ciliegino

I'm not big on sweets, so I'm clearly not the target audience for this pastry shop at the back of the upscale Paragon shopping center in Singapore (290 Orchard Road #01-20A, 6733-0777). But they had a food menu too, so we came on by today for a quick lunch, even if my T-shirt and shorts were rather out of place amidst the table linens and tuxedo-clad wait staff.

Seeing how this place hailed from Milan, I went for the cotoletta. The breading was light and the veal was tender, allowing me to wolf this thing down in seconds. A taste of the pappardelle was salivatingly good doubt assisted by that lovely truffle oil. Even if it was rather pricey, we're definitely coming back to try more. Maybe next time I'll actually finish off the meal with some of the coffee and tarts that appear to be the bigger focus here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

LDM Charcoal BBQ Restaurant, Geylang

A cold platter of spicy strips of tofu with skewers grilling away in the background

The name here may sound rather industrial, but it is an abbreviation of its pinyin name, Liu Da Ma Wu Yan Yang Rou Chuan. Located across from Lorong 15 at 260 Geylang Road (6747-4744), this was basically a Chinese skewer shop, but with charcoal grills in the center of the metal tables, thus providing a DIY option with a full complement of spice powders at one's disposal.

It took me a while to figure out at first: I either overcooked them or made them too salty (I sure am thirsty right now), and I kept fumbling with those long flat metal skewers. I eventually got the hang of it and still ate the meat with ease, but next time I think I'll have them cook them for me.

As much as I like Xiao Ping's skewered meat, I want to give this place another go, especially given the sheer selection of items available here, including cold platters like these spicy strips of tofu in the foreground of the photo. There isn't any shortage of skewer shops in the area though - in fact, I originally thought that this was the one mentioned in a comment at this post until I noticed another shop down the road afterwards that was more likely it. A shootout of Geylang's skewer shops is definitely in order soon.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Barcelos Flame Grilled Chicken, Singapore

½ Chicken with Corn on the Cob

While there may not be a Nando's in Singapore yet, it looks like another spicy chicken chain from South Africa has popped up at VivoCity (1 Harbourfront Walk #02-91, 9339-6853). I'm not sure which one came first, but this place was strikingly similar, complete with a rooster logo, little toothpick-mounted flags, and an array of sauces sitting on each table that you could also purchase for home use.

The second hottest grade, Veri Peri, wasn't spicy enough for me, but the hottest grade, Super Peri, carried so much heat that it drowned out everything else. I'm not exactly a Nando's regular, but I seem to remember Nando's sauce being more favorably sour. Well, Barcelos was still tender and mouth-wateringly delicious, and I'm just glad that there is something similar to Nando's in Singapore now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Japanese Musk Melon

Shizuoka Meron

At long last, here it is: a Shizuoka melon. I got it as a gift, but I know that it was purchased from a Japanese market here in Singapore for S$79 (US$55). Why was mere fruit so darned expensive? Apparently only a few melons are grown on a single tree; others get removed so as to allow the nutrients to concentrate on the remaining fruit.

Shizuoka MeronAnd the result was a ridiculously sweet, juicy, and tender melon - so tender that a spoon basically went through it like a hot knife through butter. It was all about quality - notice how the shape of the melon was perfectly round. This bad boy yielded about ten slices, making it about US$5.50 a slice, or perhaps even US$2 a bite.

Yes, it was unnecessarily excessive (especially in this economy), but without a doubt an absolutely perfect melon in every way. If one hypothetically had enough money to start a meal with some otoro, move onto some wagyu, and then finish it off with some Shizuoka melon, then they'd really have a triple punch of egregiously expensive yet incredibly delicious Japanese ingredients.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Taiwanese Fool's Noodles from Changi Airport

Sha gua gan mian

I'd never seen this in Taiwan before, so it's a bit odd that I came to discover it tonight at Singapore's Changi Airport...and after a flight from Beijing, no less. Anyway, a local shop called Peng Lai Ge selling Taiwanese food at the basement of Terminal 3 had something called sha gua gan mian, or literally translated, Fool's Dry Noodles. It was just a small bowl of hot noodles with nothing more than some soy sauce, vinegar, scallions, and chili oil on top. That combination of condiments worked so well for me that I went right back for another bowl. I should look for the real thing next time I'm up in Taipei.

Black Pepper Chicken in SQ Econ Class

Wokfried chicken in black pepper sauce and fried vegetable rice

This was the "oriental selection" in SQ economy class tonight, the black pepper sauce of which was delightfully spicy and made eating the rice a breeze - so much that I wish I could have had more. The duck salad starter didn't quite agree with me, but I did like the little strawberry cookie, which reminded me a bit of pineapple tarts from Taiwan.

Perhaps more importantly, I finally got one of the 777-300ER's with the upgraded seats. Having laptop power and a 16:9 VOD system in economy class was a world of difference from the old school non-VOD plane that I got on the way up. For a while there, I was starting to think that SQ was dumping all of its planes with older seats on its Beijing route.

Can Anyone Identify This Thing??

Dumplings and some mysterious vegetable that looks like something else

Does anybody know what the heck those little brown things in the foreground are? This is the second time that I've come across them at a hotel breakfast in Beijing and the mere sight of it reminds me of something that one of our furry friends likes to deposit onto sheets of newspaper. But it's neither that nor a worm, which I initially suspected. I took a bite and it was basically some kind of vegetable pickled in soy sauce.

I have no idea what kind of vegetable grows in that kind of shape though. And was brown the natural color, or was that a result of the pickling? It didn't taste as bad as it looked, but it just happened to be sitting in the condiment tray next to some dumplings and chili oil that I grabbed at the hotel's breakfast buffet this morning. If only they offered some weasel coffee to go with it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Panfried Chicken on SQ Econ Class

Panfried chicken in coriander sauce with roasted vegetables and potatoes

Hey that wasn't too bad. The chicken was super juicy and the coriander sauce went well with it. Too bad the new square trays didn't match the seats, as this was one of the old planes with the non-VOD systems. I couldn't even watch the movie I wanted because the tracking was so bad that the audio kept fading in and out.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gänsebraten mit Rotkohl on Lufthansa

Gänsebraten mit Rotkohl, Kartoffelklößen, und Kräuterschmelze

Interesting. I didn't realize that roast goose was a big thing in German cuisine, but apparently it is a year-end holiday dish like turkey in the US. And fortunately, they were serving it on Lufthansa tonight. With the gravy, sweet red cabbage, and potato dumplings on the side, it definitely tasted more like American turkey, cranberries, and mashed potatoes than any Cantonese roast goose. I enjoyed it either way, especially having just gotten a taste of a German Christmas festival just a few hours prior.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sights from the Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt

Sweets for sale

Wow - what great timing. We didn't realize it coming into the city, but the annual Christmas market was in full swing today, and boy, was it packed full of people. All sorts of things were being sold, be it arts and crafts, roasted nuts and sweets, and of course lots of sausages and potatoes. Glühwein was available at a countless number of stalls, with pretty much everyone sipping away at the piping hot beverage rather than a cold beer.

Champignons mit Knobi

We grabbed a number of things, be it some Currywurst, fried potato cakes, or this bowl of mushrooms topped with some kind of garlic sauce called Knobi. Admittedly one reason I got it was out of sheer vengeance after being denied mushrooms so many times back in Barcelona this past week, but these steaming hot things were great eating in today's near-freezing temperatures either way.

A Run to die Kleinmarkthalle in Frankfurt

Vegetables for sale

We intentionally set a very long layover in Frankfurt today so that we could head into the city from the airport and hit up places like die Kleinmarkthalle before connecting to the next flight. As with other local markets, this place was loaded up with tons of fresh veggie stalls and butchers. But being in Germany, this one also featured local items like cheese, sausage, and bread, as well as a surprising number of stalls selling fresh pasta and very hot chili peppers, including fresh habanero.

A Pork and Garlic Sausage

One stall in particular always had a very long line whenever I came here, so I was glad to have been able to stop by today to see what all of the fuss was about. The proprietor suggested I get some pork and garlic sausage, to which she pulled a giant one out of the steamers and proceeded to slice off a chunk, giving you the option of the skin on or off. While I liked the sausage's refined taste, I depended quite heavily on the spicy mustard. Either way, it was fun to stand there and eat it with our fingers while standing off to the side. The stall was along the row of butchers and had the name Schreiber posted above it, but you'll most likely notice the long line flowing out of it first.

Beer and Olives from the Spanair Lounge

Buckler Sin, Heineken, and Olives

I grabbed a quick plate of olives from the Spanair lounge here at Barcelona airport this morning, along with a little half-sized can of Heineken. This Buckler Sin stuff was something I hadn't seen was a non-alcoholic beer from what appeared to be the Heineken Spain people. I definitely didn't care for the taste of that one.

A Local Drink Roundup from Barcelona

From left: Ruffles Jamón, Fanta Naranja, Fanta Limon, Vichy Catalan, Veri Agua, Ruffles Picanha

Time for another local drink roundup. Being in Europe, Fanta was readily available, but soda was often provided in very small glass bottles. And being in Europe, of course there was bottled water everywhere, including this Vichy Catalan brand of carbonated (and mildly salty) water. Those locally flavored chips tasted just as they sounded with a light hint of ham and Brazilian picanha flavor.

Avalle Gazpacho, TriNaranjus, Goshua Arroz con Leche, and Te BlancoNo, your eyes aren't fooling you. That was gazpacho in a milk carton. For some reason, we didn't really come across too much gazpacho on this trip; I'm not sure if it was because this stuff was not commonly consumed in Catalonia or if it was simply because it was too cold in December for anyone to want to drink it. But I love gazpacho and didn't care if it came out of a packaged carton from a supermarket. It was still full of cucumber, garlic, and olive oil flavors. The other items in the photo included some melon-flavored drink that - if I read the label correctly - was some form of white tea (?). I was surprised to find the TriNaranjus to be uncarbonated, while the little arroz con leche was interesting only because it came in a little clay container.

SuísOn the left here was the Suís version of xocolata, which pretty much just loaded up on the whipped cream. Separately, one very peculiar thing we encountered on this trip was the fact that the hot tea was often salty. Granted, tea wasn't exactly the beverage of choice around here, but we weren't sure if the saltiness were intentional or not. It seemed that the only way to escape that was to hit up Starbucks, whose presence around here was additionally puzzling to me given the local coffee culture that it had to compete with - and yet Starbucks was always packed. Can anyone shed some light on either of these phenomena?

Estrella DamnAlcohol-wise, there was of course plenty of it, including local beer like this Estrella Damm, which was straighforwardly light and went well with some tapas. I'm not a huge wine person so I didn't exactly take advantage of all of everything available here, but I did drink quite a bit of cava, or local sparkling wine. I didn't realize until coming here that sangria was really only for tourists.

Yahoo Supermercado Rápido

Oh - and check out this gigantic vending machine that we came across - by sheer size it puts Japanese vending machines to shame, although such behemoths were definitely not as ubiquitously located. It was interesting to see Coke's Aquarius brand of sports drinks available here too, especially given its prevalance in Japan.

The Orange Juice MachineFinally, I loved the omnipresence of freshly squeezed orange juice around here (zumo de naranja). Many places had these big machines that automatically loaded up the oranges, sliced them, and juiced away. Others juiced them by hand, but either way it was fresh. I wasn't quite sure why Sunny Delight (yep - bottles of SunnyD) seemed to be so popular here as a result, but then I realized that this might be because its European HQ is based in Barcelona.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Envalira at Plaça del Sol, Barcelona


This was a bit of an old school place (13 Plaça del Sol, 93-218-5813), and we came here because they supposedly had a bit of a reputation for good rice dishes. We thus grabbed an order of arròs negre, which I rather enjoyed with its delicately cooked rice and flavor, even if the unsightly black squid ink appearance kept messing with my head. We also tried some Catalan botifarra for the first time, which was hearty and firm, tasting a bit like a breakfast sausage at that.

But non-smokers may also want to think twice about coming here given how smoking was permitted inside this little place. And our order of peppers from their specials list were a bit soggy, so this place probably won't be high on my priority list for a return visit. At least I finally got some mushrooms tonight, even if they weren't the wild ones that I was hoping for. Plaça del Sol wasn't immediately obvious on a map, so the GPS coordinates were approximately 41.4018 degrees north by 2.1567 degrees east if it helps.

Cal Pep, Barcelona

Cloïses amb pernil

Wow - all of the praise that this place receives is well-deserved. We couldn't even get seated the other night as it was completely packed, so fortunately we got here (8 Plaça de les Olles, 93-310-7961) right when they opened at 1 PM for lunch today. We were surrounded at the counter by locals who clearly knew what they wanted, while we let the staff choose items for us. And what we got was amazing.

They started us off with an order of clams that were not only tender and fresh, but also had the added bonus of being prepared with bits of ham. Next came some good-sized pieces of fried artichoke as well as the trifásico fregit, or a plate of small shrimp, fish, and calamari all fried up into little salty crispy bits that one could eat whole, head and all. An aioli-topped truita trempera omelette filled with potatoes and salami followed, after which they closed us out with some little squid and garbanzo beans stir-fried together. All of this was fantastic - with the clams being some of the best I've ever had - and by far being one of the best meals of this entire trip (Zagat has finally been redeemed after a rather questionable experience elsewhere).

One very interesting side observation was how strikingly similar much of this was to a meal in Japan. Some of the dishes today were nearly like asari clams, bite-sized fried karaage, or shishito peppers, as they were all simply-prepared in order to highlight the quality of the fresh ingredients. They came in little izakaya-sized portions - even the tiny caña servings of draft beer were similar to small Japanese glasses. And it was housed in a narrow counter-based venue with an open view of the kitchen and a chef that basically gave you his suggestions as if you had told him "omakase." Sure, there were some uniquely local things like the tomato bread, artichokes, and cured meat, but otherwise we could have nearly closed our eyes and ears to think that we were in Japan again.

Sights from Mercat de Santa Catarina

A Selection of Tomatoes

One thing Barcelona is not short of is markets. La Boqueria may be the famous one, but I liked this one better. Less chaotic and housed indoors, this one featured of course the usual veggie, seafood, and butcher stands, as well as ham, cheese, and egg shops. Check out all of the varieties of tomatoes available above, as well as the selection of mushrooms below.

A Selection of Mushrooms

Seeing such a wide range of mushrooms at the market has made it all the more frustrating that every single restaurant we've been going to has been out of mushrooms for some strange reason. I've really got to try some of these elusive things soon, especially the orange and green colored ones that seem to be featured at the market.

Note to self: the artichokes here in Barcelona were all on the small side, making the ones that I'm used to in California look like they are on steroids.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Salad from Spain's Fresc Co Chain

My Salad

I hate buffets and I hate chain restaurants, especially when there is so much good local food to be had. But surprisingly one thing that we haven't encountered too much around here despite our presence on the Mediterranean has been a simple salad. Sure, there have been plenty of olives, tomatoes, and bell peppers to be had, but a pile of leafy greens was something that we needed to reset our systems after all of the sodium and cholesterol that we've been ingesting. So we popped on into one of these salad bar chains that seemed to be a Spanish version of Souplantation or Fresh Choice from back in California.

It really was pretty much the same thing: pay a flat fee, grab an institutional tray and utensils, and get unlimited access to a long salad bar. There were also other stations featuring soup, pasta, and pizza...and unattractively thick slices at that. Inevitably making an appearance was that ever-present hallmark of such buffets: the soft-serve ice cream machine. I was hoping that we would have at least encountered some local twists within the spread, but that was really limited to a large selection of olive oil, some grilled eggplant, and a salty fish soup. That, and some tangy little oranges and a selection of local wines.

In the end, I got the same feeling that I get when going to Souplantation: I was physically full from the unlimited food but emotionally a bit disgusted by the cafeteria-like experience. At least it was healthy, and in that sense, our mission was accomplished. Time to go back to more ham and beer now.

Granja-xocolateria La Pallaresa, Barcelona

From front: Xurros, Xocolata Espanyola, and Flam

Another morning, another chocolate shop. This one (11 Carrer de Petrixol, 93-302-2036) was just down the alleyway from Dulcinea, but it usually had a longer line to get in. Fortunately the line was non-existent today, presumably since the long weekend had passed, so we sat on down to get the usual xurros and xocolata espanyola.

This chocolate was thicker than Dulcinea, and also more bitter. I preferred La Granja as a result, but these guys did have a flan whose taste was much more sophisticated than what I'm used to. I was also quite happy with the torrades here, which was nothing more than just toast, but it was so light and crunchy that it was almost like a cracker.

It just came to reinforce my hypothesis that the only reason why I dislike bread is because I simply grew up eating poor quality mass-produced stuff. If I had grown up eating this and/or some crispy baguettes, I'd probably be eating a lot more of it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Elx, Maremagnum, Barcelona

Fideuà Valenciana de Marisc

The public holiday today messed up our plans to head to Valencia for paella, so it was good that we were able to come across this place (5 Moll d'Espanya, 93-225-8117), whose sister restaurant Elche apparently has a history of serving rice dishes in Barcelona. Ironically, we ended up grabbing fideuà, or the noodle-variant of paella, but we were particularly curious about this rendition as it featured thick and curvy (almost macaroni-like) noodles rather than the thin noodles from the other day.

It was a bit more oily and salty than I was expecting, but it was still delicious enough to wolf down quickly, especially after a quick squeeze of lemon. I was also quite happy with my Pulpo a la Gallega starter, whose sliced octopus was very tender and easy to eat with all of the seasoning on top. My only gripe was that the shrimp in the fideuà weren't as fresh as they could have been, which was a bit surprising for a place this upscale. I don't know if it was just our bad luck, but this was the second Michelin-listed place in the past few days that seemed to suffer from this problem.

A Fuet Sandwich from Barcelona

Entrepà Fuet

This was just a quick sandwich that I picked up this morning, this time featuring fuet, or a dry Catalan sausage. Yes, the thin slices carried all of the taste from the curing process, and clearly there was quite a bit of tomato rubbing on the inside as well.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Txikiteo Taberna Vasca, Barcelona


Given that our initial intention to go to San Sebastián on this trip got nixed, it was fortunate that we happened to step into this Basque restaurant here in Barcelona (7 Josep Anselm Clavé, 93-412-4157), as if it were a form of consolation. We got a huge spread of items, including a garlic soup that hardly tasted of garlic, as well as something called pisto, which was a thick mix of tomato, peppers, and zucchini that made for great bread dipping.

Gulas a la VascaMy favorite of the bunch was the gulas a la vasca, or young eels sitting in a little dish of bubbling hot oil, garlic, and chili peppers. These weren't giant unagi-type eels, but rather little noodle-like things that one never would have thought was a form of seafood at all.

Some items pushed the envelope a bit though, including the marmitako stew in the photo up at the top. The dark cubes of tuna carried enough of a fishy stank to the point where we only ate the potatoes. I also got some Arceniaga black pudding that, while edible enough, had a bit more of a bloody aroma than the stuff from yesterday. I'm glad I tried it all either way - next time we'll just have to make sure that we actually head over to the Basque Country to get it straight from the source.

Fideuà from Antic Olimpic, Barcelona


Here's a quick serving of fideuà, which is a noodle-based version of paella that I rather enjoyed. This was from a random place that we found on the street (71 Vía Laietana, 93-301-4748) that interestingly seemed to feature grilled meat - a sight that hasn't been too common around here. I also grabbed a Catalan-style spinach, which was basically spinach with raisins, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil. I am not huge on sweet things, so the raisins were a bit of an annoyance, but I'm glad I tried it.

Granja Dulcinea, Barcelona

Churros and Chocolate

This was another little hot chocolate shop in Barcelona (2 Carrer de Petrixol, 93-3026824). While still thick in consistency, the chocolate was thinner than nearby La Granja's. I kinda preferred the thicker one as I was really only looking to dip into the chocolate rather than drink it, but this place had churros at least.

Bikini Sandwich

These guys also had ham sandwiches, but they used sliced bread and made it like a basic grilled cheese sandwich (interestingly, this was called a bikini - presumably because of the triangular shape?). I definitely prefer La Granja's baguette-based sandwiches instead. The little alleyway may be a bit hard to find on a map, so the GPS coordinates were approximately 41.3825 degrees north by 2.1734 degrees east if it helps.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Can Majó, La Barceloneta, Barcelona

Bacallà en Salsa Verda i Cloisses

This place still leaves me scratching my head completely puzzled. We made the trek out here (23 Almirall Aixada, 93-21-5455) because everything we had read about this place was that it was one of the best seafood restaurants in town, with everything fresh and on the waterfront. And these included listings in both Zagat and Michelin, so there was no way any of this could go wrong, right?

It seemed encouraging enough when we went in. The cozy old-school building was unpretentious, the host was engaging, and live seafood was abound in the glass casings. An appetizing aroma of grilled shellfish greeted us from the kitchen, and we all got pretty excited at how likable this place was.

Then things started to crumble apart. My order of grilled mushrooms off their list of specials somehow turned into grilled jumbo shrimp. When we pointed this out to our server (who defensively kept pointing to that plate of shellfish insisting that they were "mushrooms"), it became clear that this was because we were ordering in English. So I didn't have a problem with her resultingly curt attitude as long as the food was good.

But what surprised me even more was that some items were not as fresh as they could have been, including an order of gambas al ajillo that - while edible - just wasn't as mindblowingly fresh as the standard set by what we've had in the past two days here. The kitchen was also oddly out of stock of a lot of items given that it was still relatively early on a Saturday night. Could it be due to the fact that it was in the middle of winter when business was slow?

Well, at least my bacalao above was half-passable, as were some of the other items that came to our table. And maybe we simply should have ordered fideuà instead. But for a place that had gotten so much public praise, we were completely let down, feeling like we got suckered into a tourist trap. This was by far the only bad experience out of what has otherwise been a great food trip.

5J Jamón Ibérico from Mesón Cinco Jotas

Jamón ibérico

Cool. It was with sheer luck that we stumbled into this place, needing to plop ourselves down at a tapas bar after a long afternoon of walking around. Only later did was realize that this was actually a chain of places across Spain that specialized in 5J-branded Iberian ham. It was impressively smoky and rich without being excessively salty nor fatty, and pairing well with some Catalan toast here in Barcelona. That portion above ("1/2R," whatever that means) wasn't cheap though at €17.30 (US$22).

Gambas al ajillo y Morcilla de Burgos

We grabbed a few other things that we saw behind the glass casing, including some delightfully tender gambas al ajillo as well as what I initially thought was eggplant but turned out to be blood pudding. The latter was much better than it sounded: it tasted more of rice and spices rather than blood, thus reminding me a bit of haggis. I'll easily go for that again.

La Granja, Barri Gòtic, Barcelona

Entrepà de pernil dolç

This was actually a milk bar serving hot chocolate (4 Carrer Dels Banys Nous, 93-302-69-75). But with a basket full of these lovely sandwiches, I couldn't resist succumbing to a ham sandwich with a couple plates of green olives this morning. One of the things that I've been loving about this trip is the omnipresence of proper crispy baguettes (unlike the soft bread that one gets in Singapore). If all bread were like this, then I would eat a lot more bread than I do now.

Clockwise from bottom: xocolata picant, melindros, and ensaïmadaSure - the hot chocolate here was a delight too. The spicy xocolata picant was thicker, darker, and sweeter than what I've had in both Mexico and Argentina and went well with the melindros and ensaïmada pastries. But I just got more excited about the sandwich instead as I'm normally not much for breakfast nor sweet things.

This quaint little place was in an alleyway of the old city without a signboard, but look for the unit number four posted. And if it helps, the GPS coordinates were roughly 41.3822 degrees north by 2.1751 degrees east.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Lonja de Tapas, Barcelona

Pimientos de Padron fritos con sal Maldon

We had no idea if this place were going to be any good, as our initial destination was shockingly packed to the brim with people waiting to get a seat. So we backtracked a bit and randomly stoppped here (5 Placeta Montcada, 933-151-447) to pick out a number of tapas, ranging from simple marinated artichokes to deep fried camembert, not to mention some grilled pork that made me jump for joy.

Yes, we were quite happy with it all. The deep fried peppers above were rather mild - much more like Japanese shishito rather than a Mexican jalapeno - but were still a great excuse to eat grease and salt. A big grin instantly appeared on my face when a bright red oil oozed out of some grilled sausages. And even something as simple as tomatoes seasoned with olives and anchovy dressing came topped with thin slices of deep fried pork lard. Nice.

Now, the requisite Catalan tomato bread wasn't as fun as the traditional DIY version, but the tomato and garlic mixture was at least provided on the side so that the super thin bread didn't get soggy. Also of particular interest was the tres texturas de chocolate, whose three layers of chocolate were interestingly topped with a touch of olive oil and Maldon salt. It sounded weird but it really did work.

La Garduña, Barcelona


Geez that was a lot of food. Maybe it was the language barrier, as I thought the guy told me that the zarzuela was small enough for a single serving. But it arrived in a giant pan that was clearly meant for sharing. Well, it was good though. These guys were tucked away in the back of the La Boqueria market (18 Jerusalem, 93-302-4323), so clearly they could source their ingredients easily. And this stew was just filled with all sorts of goodies, including clams, langoustines, calamari, and three different kinds of fish. I practically had the entire ocean swimming in my belly afterwards.

Not everything here was this gigantic though - in fact, this was the most expensive item on the menu at €35 (US$45), whereas most items came in much closer to the €10 mark, including some daily set meals featuring an incredibly tender chicken today. The gambas al ajillo was also so fresh that the shrimp were mildly sweet. I just wish I had more stomach space in order to try more.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

QuQu (Quasi Queviures), Barcelona

Escalibada con queso de cabra gratinado

OK, this place was a bit touristy, judging by its location (24 Passeig de Gracia, 93-3174512) and what seemed to be lots of sangria coming out of the bar. But with all of those colorful items glistening away behind the counter, I couldn't help but pull up a chair and try some of them out.

I asked for some tapas recommendations, and the first thing that came was this escalibada, a Catalan form of grilled vegetables seasoned with olive oil - and in this case topped with cheese too. It was fine - it tasted like it looked and sounded. Behind the escalibada in the photo was some chorizo, which were a bit mild but still fun to eat, especially when paired with beer.

Next up was a plate of patatas bravas, or cubes of fried potatoes covered in a mildly red mayonnaise that wasn't as spicy as I would have hoped for. I also got some fried artichoke, which were interestingly cut into very thin slices before deep frying. This made them potato-chip like, albeit with little remnants of the leaves attached. Hopefully they at least used olive oil for their deep frying so that my conscience can feel a bit more at ease.

Mercat de la Boqueria, Barcelona

Fruit for Sale

With (nearly) all of my work done for the week, I shifted into vacation mode this afternoon to engage in one of my favorite pastimes: checking out local markets. One of the biggest ones in Barcelona, La Boqueria, was filled with the usual seafood, produce, and butcher sections that one would expect of an open market like this. But it also had a number of uniquely local items, including plenty of ham dangling around as well as little tapas stands for you to pick out little snacks from and pair with a drink.

Seafood for Sale

I picked up a few tidbits, including some kind of mushroom crepe as well as some potato and onion filled omelette topped with cheese and chili peppers. These lukewarm things were fine, although not as mindblowing as I would have hoped for. Well, no worries. There will be plenty of time to get tapas on this trip so I'm sure that there will be better stuff to come.