Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pringles Extreme and Restaurant Cravers

Pringles Extreme and Restaurant Cravers

Today is one of the few days out of the entire year when I can forgive myself for buying this kind of crap: I can try a few of each flavor while bringing the still-fresh remainder to a New Year's Eve party tonight, where it no doubt will be devoured in seconds. Actually, all I really wanted to try were the Extreme flavors on the left, but we also picked up some of those Restaurant Cravers while we were at it.

The surprise favorite of mine was the Kickin' Cheddar version; it wasn't until I tasted it that I realized that there were little pictures of jalapeno peppers on graphic, as there was a subtle bite to it. I liked the Screamin' Dill Pickle too...it tasted more of dill weed than pickle. The Blazin' Buffalo Wing flavor was a bit of a letdown, although maybe that was because those few chips at the top didn't get coated in as much of the seasonings as they should have.

I didn't really care much for those Restaurant Cravers though. Sure, they really tasted like mozzarella sticks and that other kind of junk food that one gets at American chain restaurants. In fact, that's probably why I didn't like them given how I'm not exactly a fan of those kinds of places either.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Istanbul Epilogue: Lokum Turkish Delights

Lokum Turkish Delights

I chuckled a bit when I was told a few weeks ago to bring back some "Turkish delight" when I was in Istanbul. Only later did I realize that Turkish delight was a real product called lokum, and was basically a soft candy of sorts. I thus made my way down to the original location of Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekirhacı (Hamidiye Caddesi 83, 0212-522-0666), where the stuff was invented a couple hundred years ago, and picked up a box to bring back.

Only the following day did I realize that I could have just waited until getting to the airport, as the shops there were overflowing with this brand's stuff, and even had these huge sample plates available for you to try each flavor. And to this sweet-averse palate's surprise, it was hard to stop eating the coconut and pistachio variety that I brought home. Still, I won't go out of my way to buy another box again...except perhaps to see if the fresh stuff directly from the shop tastes much better than the packaged version.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Prawn Machbous on SQ's Book the Cook

Prawn machbous with aubergine and tomato

Machbous, a Middle Eastern spiced rice dish similar to Indian biryani, was my Book the Cook selection for the onward leg out of Dubai tonight. It was a lot better than I was expecting, with its fluffy grains of tasty rice plus spicy prawns and eggplant to go with it.

I loved how generous they finally were with the rice too, especially given the frustratingly limited portions I've seen in their Indian meals. It's too bad that the chicken shish kebabs on the first leg out of Istanbul were dry and uninspiring though. And yep - they were still using the same old school seats as on the way up.

Catching Up on Turkish Food at IST

Döner kebap and Ayran

With such little time on the ground here in Turkey, I really didn't get a chance to do the food proper justice. But at least I could still pick up a few things while I was at Istanbul airport this morning, like this döner kebap, which I made sure to get in a pide bread sandwich form rather than on a plate. This really wasn't much more than just meat with a little bit of garnish on dry bread though; in that sense, I still prefer the German version with all of its chopped veggies and sauces.

Burma Kadayif with Pistachio

A number of airport shops were also selling baklava from Karaköy Güllüoğlu. I gave this kadayif stuff a try this time. It was similar to baklava in that it used syrup and things like pistachio nuts, although it was based on shredded wheat-like strands rather than filo pastry. Fortunately this wasn't too sweet either.

Some kind of snacks at Istanbul's Millenium Lounge

The last item here wasn't even a proper dish - it was just a collection of a few things that I picked up at the lounge, but all of which surprised me by how much I liked them. The red stuff on the left was couscous-like, but was a bit sour. Similarly, that shredded pink cabbage stuff was also a little sour. The cucumbers and tomatoes were plain - but lemon juice and olive oil were provided as condiments, so of course I made them a bit sour too. I don't know the names of this stuff - nor if I ate these the right way, but they were refreshing.

A Local Drink Roundup from Turkey

From left: cherry juice, raki, and Efes beer

Given that I was here in Istanbul for such a short period of time, I didn't really pick up any locally branded drinks this time. But there were a few things beyond that ayran yogurt stuff that I did get to sneak in this morning at the Turkish Airlines lounge.

Fruit juice was very common at food stands around the city. But oftentimes atypical kinds of fruit were used, like pomegranate juice, or the red cherry juice pictured here on the left. Both of them tasted like they sounded; basically like their corresponding fruit but in liquid form.

The white one in the middle was not yogurt, but rather rakı, the anise-based liquor that I failed to get last night. Just as with Greek ouzo, this stuff was clear until one added cold water to it, and the licorice-taste of which made a great companion to salty food. Finally, Efes on the right was just a local lager that was cleaner tasting than I thought it would be.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sights of Food Across Istanbul

Fish for sale

Man, I can't believe that I didn't come to Turkey earlier; there is food everywhere around here! Sure, most cities have some kind of a fish or spice market, but there was just so much that I wanted to eat here - and yet with such little time - that my biggest challenge was trying to eat in small enough portions so that I could still have enough stomach space to try everything.

Selling corn

Indeed, one of the things that I really just didn't have any stomach space for was all of the stuff being sold on the street, be it the bagel-like simit bread or the chestnuts and corn from a cart that were so common around here. And of course, döner kebap shops were all over the place here too.

Selling balık ekmek

And out of all of that, one thing that I really wish I had the time and stomach space for was balık ekmek, or grilled fish sandwiches that were sold at the lower level of the Galata Bridge. These things just smelled great. Next time I really should spend more time here than this one-day mileage run allowed.

Hacı Abdullah Lokantası, Istanbul, Turkey

Imam bayıldı and artichoke

One Turkish dish that I definitely had to try on this trip was imam bayıldı, which literally translates into "the imam fainted." Yes, this eggplant dish with garlic, onions, and tomatoes was supposed to be *that* good. And this old place (Sakızağacı Caddesi 17, 0212-293-8561) apparently was one of the best at it, so I hiked up the hill to the İstiklal Caddesi area to see what it was all about.

Clearly my expectations were set a bit too high. Somehow my warped mind mistakenly thought that the garlic and onions in this thing were going to be pushed to such an extreme that I would jump for joy at the borderline spiciness of it all. Instead, it was really just cold eggplant drenched in olive oil topped with a little bit of tomato.

Don't get me wrong - it was very delicious on its own, and probably would be something that this eggplant and antipasto lover would get regularly. But in the end, it (as well as the inverted artichoke heart seen in the background) was really just cold meze rather than any destination in and of itself. Too bad this place didn't serve alcohol either - I was hoping to get some of that anise seed-based rakı stuff to go with it.

Baklava from Istanbul's Karaköy Güllüoğlu

Baklava and tea

Up until this point, my experience with baklava has been sadly limited to those gigantic pieces that one could get in trays at Costco. And those were so sickly sweet that even eating just one was a task on its own. So when I got to this place this afternoon (Katli Otopark Alti 4, 0212-293-0910), I only asked for one piece too.

The man looked at me a bit oddly at first but gave in nonetheless. And only after I sat down to bite into mine did I realize why it was so odd: this thing wasn't nearly as sweet as I was exepecting...and also was cut into only about a third of the size. Most folks were getting about three or four of these on one plate instead.

Yes, I liked this a lot better. It was still very rich and flaky, and yet the syrup was reasonable in its sweetness, going well with that little Turkish tea that is so commonplace around here. I only realize now that the tea wasn't meant to be spicy, but rather just being very potent and mixed with nothing but sugar.

Develi Kebap, Istanbul, Turkey

Fistikli Kebap

This being my first time to Turkey, there are a million things that I want to try. But the quintessential dish that I had to get was some form of kebabs, and I came to this shop (Gümüşyüzük Sokak 7, 0212-529-0833) because it had a long history here. It turned out to be a bit more touristy than I thought it would be.

Nonetheless, I got an order of fistikli kebap, which was basically minced meat with bits of pistachio in it. The grilled exterior was a bit firmer than I was expecting, but inside it was still juicy and hit the spot, especially since it was paired with those raw onions and grilled tomatoes. (While that chili pepper looks burnt in the photo, it was tender and green inside without any scorched bitterness, and in fact was very mild in flavor rather than being particularly spicy.)

Still, I think I prefer Persian koobideh instead, even if this was arguably more sophisticated. The Turkish ayran yogurt drink was also thicker and less exciting to me than Persian doogh. But I really liked that potent-tasting sheep's milk cheese that came with the flatbread - I could eat that all day!

Risotto from SQ's Book the Cook Service

Wild mushroom and chorizo risotto in natural jus with arugula

Here was the wild mushroom and chorizo risotto from SQ's Book the Cook service. It wasn't as creamy as I would have hoped, and some parts of it were a bit dry (perhaps due to the on-board heating units?), but hey - it was risotto on an airplane after all, and I was happy with that. Too bad that they were still using the old school (pre-SpaceBed) Raffles Class seats on this route though.

Steering Clear of Iraqi Airspace

It was interesting to see this flight path to Istanbul either way: we stayed just within Saudi and Jordanian borders so as to keep from crossing into Iraqi airspace. I am a bit puzzled as to why onward passengers could not leave the plane when we stopped in Dubai though.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Charbroiled Chicken Set from Ootoya

Charbroiled chicken with leek and miso dip set

This may sound a bit weird, but for some reason, I was craving some chicken after a few post-work beers tonight. And it wasn't of the fried variety either; specifically, I was yearning for some of that Japanese yuzu chicken from Cafe Garb.

Unfortunately, they have since shut down, so I made my way over to Ootoya instead. Despite the huge lines stemming from the Christmas shopping crowd on Orchard Road, I got seated with ease as a solo diner. This chicken with grilled daikon and miso paste wasn't quite the same thing, but it still did the job so well that I polished it off in no time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Zhong Hua Mei Shi, Boat Quay, Singapore

Xinjiang Skewered Meat

It looks like another shop down at Boat Quay is now selling Xinjiang skewers and Shaanxi cold noodles. These guys are closer to the North Bridge Road side (77 Boat Quay, 6532-2653) and went a bit easier on the spices - despite us telling them to load up on the heat. That meant that the taste wasn't as memorable as the other guys down the way, but it also meant that it was a bit more guilt-free...relatively speaking, of course.

Well, we also got one of their hot bowls of noodles, whose clean taste was better than some of the other ones that I've had in Geylang. And in case you're wondering, no, those are not marshmallows at the end. Those are steamed Chinese mantou buns...but grilled on a flame and covered in that seasoning. I think these guys are only open until midnight though, which pretty much eliminates the possibility of their dishes serving as a post-drinking snack.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

SaladStop!, Marina Square, Singapore

Salad

It seems like not that long ago when I was whining that there weren't many places in Singapore to get a salad. Now it seems like they are all over the place, with at least three or four new spots in the city that have opened in the past few months alone. None of them were particularly memorable, but I wanted to give this place at Marina Square a try (#02-06, 6720-8590).

The thing that made this place a bit different was the fact that they chopped their salads after having selected all of the ingredients. That process cut the leaves into even more bite-sized pieces, although it also oddly cut everything else up (like beans) into pieces that were smaller than I'd like. Well, the staff was engaging and it did the job in the end. Even though I still prefer the sheer speed of Juiced Rawbars, I'm glad to see so many salad places popping up - these guys in fact are planning another outlet at Raffles Place soon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Shabu-hana Japanese Restaurant, Singapore

Wagyu Shabu Shabu

That was a bit of a letdown. Maybe it was because our hopes were set too high, as this place (14 Mohamed Sultan Road #01-01, 6235-8216) specialized in wagyu shabu shabu. But the wagyu, as tender as it was, didn't really carry the rich taste that we were hoping for from Japanese beef (was it by chance from Australia?).

Sure, the quality sauces made up for it, and I lapped up the soup at the end like nobody's business. But we kept thinking about the pork at Ohsumi the entire time, even if our most recent experience there last year was also disappointing.

Well, at least this place was light years ahead of Shabuya at VivoCity. Maybe we'll try coming down here on a weekend - if I read the menu correctly, it's actually a bit cheaper at that time. Either that, or we should have opted for the more expensive grade of wagyu.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ippudo Singapore...With a Full Menu Now

Goma Kyuri

Ippudo Singapore officially opened with a full menu today. We went down there this morning to see what else they were offering beyond last week's soft launch. Unfortunately, kogashi ramen still was not being offered, but they did have a few other varieties, one of which was a seasonal karaka-men, which basically came topped with a scoop of spicy miso. It packed a punch, but almost too much - the spices overpowered the beautiful broth underneath, making us want to stick to the more elegant tasting akamaru instead.

I really liked their goma kyuri though. It was nothing more than a Japanese cucumber seasoned with a bit of sesame oil and the like, but it was so refreshing that I gobbled it up in seconds. Indeed, we took a look at their dinner menu and found a lot more things than what was available at lunchtime, largely because of a bunch of appetizers and such. Well, even if they aren't offering kogashi ramen, the chance to try out more of those little dishes is probably worth several more trips down here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Rice Cracker Thing From Thanying

Khao Tang Na Tang

Here's an updated photo of the rice cracker thing (khao tang na tang) from Thanying. It was still the same airy, crispy, yet rich appetizer that I like so much.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Shimbashi Soba's Mentaiko Tarako Special

Mentaiko Tarako Soba

Ugh - that was kinda nasty. I love mentaiko, so I figured that this dish on Shimbashi Soba's list of monthly specials would be worthwhile. But it was really just a cold goopy mess - and the baby corn just took the taste in the wrong direction. I just have just stuck to the normal seiro soba tonight. Well, at least the agenasu in the background was worthwhile.

The Bottomless Lunch from Chili's Singapore

Chili's Endless Express Lunch

I haven't been to Chili's in ages - it's one of those American chain restaurants that I intentionally try to stay away from. But somehow I found myself at their Tanglin Mall outlet today (163 Tanglin Road, 6733-3317)...in part out of curiosity, in part out of convenience, I suppose. I struggled to find something half-healthy on the menu, and ended up on their weekday S$14.90 (US$10.75) Endless Express Lunch special, featuring soup, salad, and chips with salsa. It sounded reasonable enough, right?

Oh man, when it came out, my jaw just dropped. Not only was the basket of chips obscenely big, but the salad and soup were both covered in cheese. I scraped away as much cheese as I could (and thankfully I got vinaigrette dressing instead of the blue cheese or ranch that I briefly considered) and tried to exercise moderation without guilt for wasting the remaining food. But in the end, it really was too much. And to think that this was actually a "bottomless" offer too. I'm still shaking my head at this.

Well, I still might end up at Chili's again, perhaps just for the nostalgia of those fajitas from my childhood. Or maybe if I just want to plop myself down at the bar with those chips again. I have to admit that I'm still kinda curious about the guacamole option as well as their buffalo wings.

Monday, December 07, 2009

My First Flight on Jetstar Proper

Buy-on-board food on Jetstar

Our return flight with Valuair from Bali turned out to be with Jetstar instead. But when I got on board, the seats and decor didn't look like the Jetstar that I remembered. It was only after looking at the in-flight magazine did I realize that we were not flying Jetstar Asia, but rather Jetstar proper from Australia.

That also meant that it came with a food menu that was largely sourced from Australia. They did not have any pies nor Solo lemon drink left today, so I settled for this other stuff. None of it was anything exciting, but the flight was a lot better than Jetstar Asia or Valuair. Those seats on the way over were rather uncomfortable.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Bebek Bengil Dirty Duck Diner, Ubud, Bali

Bebek Bengil

One of our friends told us that if we go to Ubud, we have to go check out Bebek Bengil (Jalan Hanoman, Padang Tegal, 361-975489), a gigantic garden-like restaurant that serves some kind of a crispy duck. Well, the picture doesn't quite do it justice, but that duck was unexpectedly good. Deep fried with local spices but batterless, the aroma coming from this thing was so unique that I ordered another one. I liked it a lot better than that bebek betutu stuff. Indeed, if there were a fast food version of this, I'd have difficulty going to KFC.

Poolside Afternoon Tea in Ubud, Bali

Afternoon Tea in Ubud

Our hotel in Ubud offered to bring us afternoon tea while we were down at the pool today. The treats were Indonesian though - with a piece of fried banana, a savory vegetable fritter, some kind of a sweet bean and coconut milk thing, and a little piece of cake. We're really liking Ubud - this cozy rice paddy town in the midst of the jungle is such a relief from over-commercialized Kuta Beach...especially if one gets decked out at one of the resorts here.

Some Chilis from Ubud Market, Bali

Drying out chilies

Ubud Market is more of a tourist trap hawking souvenirs than the usual local food markets that we like to hit up. But someone was drying these out in the sun today - I don't think they were for sale though.

Ibu Oka Warung Babi Guling, Ubud, Bali

Kulit Babi Guling

After going to all of the wrong places last time, we finally made it up to Ubud today for the famed Ibu Oka (Jalan Suweta at Jalan Raya Ubud, 2077490), where a giant roast suckling pig awaited. The tiny little place was crowded at lunchtime, but we eventually found some seats and got one plate of the "Special" and one plate of what was curiously named in English as "Different." Both were pretty much the same, except that the rice in the latter came in a separate plate, and with the bonus of some soup and pig's ears.

Babi Guling Pisah

To my surprise, my favorite piece wasn't even the skin, which by itself certainly was still very tasty and crispy. I was more impressed by the meat itself, which sat in a ton of local spices that wasn't hot but really gave it character, making it a bit more distinguished than Filipino lechón. Those spices were also prevalent in the blood sausage, which I quickly devoured, as it didn't even taste of iron. And it all got complimented with some of those crunchy pig's ears with their pork rind-ish flavor (they also had bags of pork rinds on the tables if that wasn't enough). The other amazing thing is that the most expensive thing on the menu was only 40,000 Rupiah, or US$4. This place rocks.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Grilled Corn on Jimbaran Beach, Bali

A Grilled Corn Cart

Jimbaran Beach in Bali is loaded up with so many grilled seafood shops for tourists that it wouldn't have been my first choice. But our resort was located so far out of the way that we still came up here to get some food. And while we were waiting for our overpriced seafood to arrive tonight, we noticed this grilled corn guy and went up to him for a quick snack. To my surprise, he made these almost like the way the Taiwanese do it: with a thick spicy sauce caked onto it, except it wasn't as sweet. It made for a fun treat at only 10,000 Rupiah (US$1).

Catered Lobster Bisque

Lobster Bisque

I'm really only putting this up here because I like how it looks. It arrived lukewarm, but I guess it wasn't that surprising given that it was served during a busy banquet. It probably would have tasted better if it were served hot.

More Bintang in Indonesia

Bintang Beer

It wouldn't be a visit to a beachside resort in Indonesia without some Bintang suds to go with it.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The In-Flight Meal on Valuair

A Free Muffin on Valuair

After going through a few of those low cost carriers lately, I was kinda curious to see what Valuair was like, as they served free food as a means of differentiation. It turned out that "food" was stretching it a bit...all we got was this miniature muffin and a glass of water. I actually liked its banana taste enough to wolf it down in seconds. And one can't exactly complain either - it was only a two hour flight after all, and at a much cheaper price than the full fare carriers. I just wish that those seats were a bit more comfortable.

Wanton Mee from Changi Terminal 1

Wanton Mee

Here was a plate of local wanton mee from Changi Terminal 1. It was forgettable, but I'm pretty sure that it will be better than anything that we'll get on the plane. Man, Terminal 1 is a bit messy now with all of that renovation going on. I hope that they finish soon.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Ippudo Singapore, Mandarin Gallery

Akamaru Tamago Ramen

At long last - after so many months of waiting, Japan's Ippudo finally opened its outlet in Singapore (333A Orchard Road #04-02, 6235-2797). I've been waiting so long that when the Straits Times said that they were open today for a soft launch, we bolted on down here. The new Mandarin Gallery mall was still incomplete for that matter, with the sounds of construction and a faint smell of paint still drifting over from the many unopened stores nearby. Either way, we got our ramen.

The soft launch meant that they were serving a limited menu for now, but we got one of each type of broth. To my surprise, the noodles were straight and skinny, while the broth was very thin (unlike the heavy sauce-like qualities of Jangara). But thin did not mean that it was short on taste, as the rich pork bone flavor still shone through. The tiny thumb-sized gyoza were also rather amusing yet still enjoyable.

Gyoza

Yes, that was one of the better bowls around, but it still wasn't my beloved kogashi ramen from Ippudo's sister shop Gogyo. And with long lines sure to form here, I'll probably keep parking myself at Marutama for a while. I look forward to seeing what the full menu eventually offers later this month though.