Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The PLUS Pagoh Selatan Rest Stop, Malaysia

Mihun Soto

Here's a bowl of mihun soto that I got at a highway rest stop right around the halfway mark back to Singapore. It had a few bones in it and was pretty salty too, but that dark chili sauce from stall number 6 (Kelibon Mosdi Mutiara) gave it exactly the kick that was needed, especially after that paltry meal served on board the bus tonight. Still, the service on Aeroline beat my expectations - the staff was very professional and attentive tonight, and even came by with a coconut jelly dessert later.

Chinese Village, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Spinach Pork Noodle

I once went to a place like this ages and ages ago, and I assume that it is the same one (I'm told that this is the only thing of its kind in KL). Basically the Chinese Village at 8 Jalan Malati is a hawker center, but under corrugated metal sheets and cracked pavement that have clearly seen better days...it almost looks like a shantytown from the outside. But inside it is bustling with office workers grabbing lunch from a variety of stall owners...and I'm told that later in the afternoon and into the evening, they bust out some karaoke up on stage. Cool.

My local colleagues suggested a number of things that were good to get here, including duck rice, char kway teow, pork noodle, and some kind of fried rice cake things. I went for the last two. They selected green spinach noodles for my bowl...it was pretty straightforward and did the job, even if the chili peppers sat in a sweet soy sauce that I wasn't a huge fan of (apparently most soy sauce in Malaysia is sweet, so there wasn't much that I could do about that). The fried rice cakes, or kuih bakul, came from a stall that was selling all sorts of deep fried items, including fried bananas and taro root. They weren't anything that I'll go nuts over, but the batter was respectably crisp and light, and beat the heck out of Old Chang Kee in Singapore.

The other interesting thing I learned was that lime juice is not called lime juice in Malaysia, but rather limau ais. It wasn't a strong pre-made lime juice like one often gets in Singapore, but rather a watery one made on the spot from limes and sugar...almost like Vietnamese soda chanh, but more sweet than tangy. As my colleagues mentioned, things in Malaysia are usually sweet; they are not afraid to use a lot of sugar in everything here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sun Fong Bak Kut Teh, Kuala Lumpur

Chili pepper and raw garlic dip

Up until this point, I had never had bak kut teh in Malaysia. It was intentional: I heard that instead of the white pepper-and-garlic-based version that I like so much in Singapore, in Malaysia they load it up with a lot of Chinese herbs, and thus it was something that I didn't think I would like. But I was still kind of curious about it, so I suggested to my colleagues in KL that we go out for a local version tonight, and we came here (35 Medan Imbi, 2141-4064).

It was definitely different. Even in terms of setup, they provided things that I wouldn't have expected, like raw minced garlic and two kinds of chili peppers for you to mix in with the sweet soy sauce. The tea was just basic tea in a large pot rather than the complicated kung fu version (at least, at this shop). And the bak kut teh itself was served in a big communal pot. But the dark herbal mildly sweet broth was a lot better than I thought it would be. For some reason, I envisioned a bunch of ginseng and other herbs dangling out of it, but the taste here was rather mild. Indeed, I even went back for two or three more bowls. I still prefer the Singaporean version, but I could see why people like the Malaysian variety.

Perhaps more interesting was something that my colleagues called petai, or stink beans. They were basically some small flat broad bean-like things, but the name suggested that they carried a rather nasty smell. I really couldn't taste anything too offensive (maybe because the thing was drenched in oil and sauce), but apparently the smell will linger on in your digestive system - and will also give you asparagus pee. We'll find out in a bit if that's true.

Breakfast on Aeroline to KL

Breakfast on Aeroline

My preferred coach Airebus appears to have shut down, so I had to fall back on the next best thing by taking Aeroline up to KL this morning. And this was the breakfast that was served: an odd mix of shrimp, calamari, and canned mushrooms on conchiglie pasta shells, all slathered in a mildly sweet and spicy ketchup-cum-chili-sauce type of goop ...and served lukewarm, at that. It obviously wasn't anything that I really want to remember, but honestly it was much better than I was expecting given previous meals with these guys. They otherwise still provided the same solid block of hours with a power outlet in which to get work done, which was the more important thing for me after all.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Taste of Semen Coicis

Barley Drink

This was nothing but a local barley drink that I quickly grabbed from the Chinese herbal tea shop at the basement of Takashimaya tonight. It was only after I nearly finished the bottle did I notice the first word in the list of ingredients. In retrospect, it looks like it's in reference to some kind of Traditional Chinese Medicine. And in fact, it looks like it's some kind of seed, to which I can't help but chuckle a bit, especially given the color of the drink. Yeah, I know...this is pretty childish of me. Maybe I should send my collection to Jay Leno for his Headlines bit.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Killiney Curry Puff, Singapore

Curry Puff and a Prawn Thing

The thing that drew my attention to this coffeehouse (93 Killiney Road, 6736-2011) was not the local curry puffs, but rather these prawn things with the giant green chili peppers, the name of which eludes me. They were basically like Indian vadai with a prawn shoved into it, thus making for interesting eating since it implied that one was supposed it eat it all, from the head to the shell to the tail. It tasted like it sounded, but it's too bad that the chili pepper wasn't anywhere near spicy, or I would have liked it a lot more.

And what about their namesake curry puffs? I could see what the fuss was about: they had a rich flaky pastry and even a piece of hard boiled egg inside. And the piping hot curried potatoes inside were a nice touch too. But it was also a tad sweet, which didn't appeal to me but is probably exactly the reason why many people like this place. They also had dishes available like mee soto and even nasi lemak. The former was fine but I'd pass on the second one. Clearly these guys built their name on curry puffs instead.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Tiny Bunch of Little Japanese Grapes

Little Japanese Delaware Grapes

There's nothing in the photo above to provide a sense of scale, but these little Japanese grapes were so small that they were each the size of a pea. And they were so tightly packed together that the entire bunch was cylindrical like a can of Red Bull. Too bad there wasn't anything that special about the taste though. Sure, they were respectably sweet and juicy, but I was hoping for something more like Kyoho grapes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Shanghai's Jade Garden Restaurant on SQ

Stirfried chicken with mushroom in red rice sauce, seasonal vegetables and fried rice

This stirfried chicken was the breakfast served on the red-eye back from Beijing this morning. Actually, I don't even know how it tasted. I wasn't in any mood to eat this morning as my body was still reeling from all of that alcohol from last night (but it sure made sleeping in economy class a lot easier!). Either way, this was from their International Culinary Panel, with this one created by Zhu Jun of the Jade Garden Restaurant in Shanghai.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hantengri Muslim Gourmet, Beijing

Xinjiang Lamb Skewers

When we told our colleagues that we were thinking of going to the night market tonight to get some Xinjiang lamb skewers from the street stalls, they retorted that it was for tourists. Instead, we were taken to this restaurant at the Xinjiang Hotel, which is run by the Xinjiang Government's office in Beijing (7 Sanlihe Road, 6833-5599, ext 8218). They told us that while it still wasn't as good as what one could get in Xinjiang itself, it was probably the best in Beijing.

Lamb Leg

Our colleagues ordered a wide array of items, ranging from that lamb leg above to that pizza-like thing below, not to mention a number of cuts of offal, and even a bone-based soup that came with little straws for one to suck the marrow out of. The skewers at the top were not grilled on the fire as long as I would have liked, but they were so fatty and tender that we kept ordering more of them, despite the fact that we had plenty of other food left. Frankly I would have been fine with basically just those skewers and maybe some of that tiger vegetable and flatbread to go with some cold beer.

Some kind of Xinjiang pizza

Even if the other dishes weren't anything that I got too excited about, I'd still like to go to Xinjiang one of these days. Our colleagues said that there were a number of reasons why the kebabs there were better than in Beijing: not only because of the wild grass-fed lamb used, but also because they intentionally don't wash the meat so as not to lose any of the flavor provided by the blood. And perhaps most interestingly, they oftentimes grill the meat there not over wood or charcoal, but rather from dried manure extracted from the animal itself, thus giving it more of that grassy flavor. Manure skewers it is, then!

Green Garlic from Bai Jiao Yuan, Beijing

Green Garlic and Dumplings

Here's some pickled garlic from Bai Jiao Yuan in Beijing. If I heard it correctly, they turn green as a result of that dark Chinese vinegar. I wanted so badly to eat a clove, but that would be a bad idea with afternoon meetings ahead. It was interesting trying the donkey meat dumplings though - they tasted a bit like corned beef but with a lamb-like muskiness.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Shanghai Lu Lu Restaurant, China

Tofu Skin Knots

After a long day of meetings today, our local colleagues hosted a dinner at this restaurant from Shanghai that has now spread to other locations around the country, including Beijing. A number of quintessentially Shanghainese dishes came out, such as xiao long bao, sheng jian bao, and that eel stuff that I like so much. Pictured above were some kind of tofu skin tied into little knots. Perhaps more interesting were some pork ribs that tasted like giant pieces of salty greasy bacon, as well as a set of little crabs that came with plastic gloves to help keep your hands clean.

To wash this all down, we were served Chinese huangjiu liquor, which was served warm, and interestingly with some shredded ginger and even a sour plum in each cup to make it a bit tangy. The herbal elements of it were a bit of a distraction at first, but its smoothness grew on me. At least it wasn't as harsh as that Chinese baijiu stuff.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

SQ Econ Class Gets A Makeover

A Singapore Sling on SQ

When I walked on the plane today, I had to look twice, as those Barney-colored purple seats were gone and replaced with new beige ones instead. Cool - did we get the new economy class seats on this flight? Not quite. Upon closer examination, the seats were structurally still the same ones from before (i.e., small screens and no power outlets), but at least the new upholstery made the cabin look refreshingly less claustrophobic. It was a warmer homey feel instead - complete with a new carpet and pillows to match. It's an improvement, but it obviously would have been nicer if they had switched out the seats altogether.

They also had a new safety video. Those of you who have flown SQ so much that the old video still rings very clearly in your head ("...and have a pleasant flight!") will know what I mean when I say that the old piano-based background song is gone. So is that dude shoving that antique HP Tablet PC swiveled inside-out into the seat back pocket, which I never quite understood since airlines usually don't want you putting laptops there. The KrisWorld in-flight entertainment system also underwent a facelift. There seemed to be more ads now, but it wasn't as annoying as it might sound.

And the food? It was the same stuff, but what was more interesting was that they are getting ready to sell a cookbook featuring recipes from their International Culinary Panel. Oh, and in case you're wondering what that manly pink drink was, it was a Singapore Sling...not because I really wanted one, but just because that ridiculous US$21 price tag at the Long Bar got me thinking of this. Sure, it came from a pre-mixed bottle and a can of pineapple juice, but hey - this one was free.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Shinjuku's List of Specials: Aji Teishoku

Aji Teishoku

Shinjuku isn't exactly a place that I'd usually order teishoku at. But they had a horse mackerel set on the list of specials today, leveraging that fish for pretty much everything it had to offer. They not only did it up as sashimi, but they also did a seared tataki, minced namero, and a couple of deep fried pieces too, together with the bones to make a crunchy snack out of the head and tail. They even provided a bit of maguro natto, and all for only S$30 (US$21). That's quite a steal considering how much I usually end up blowing at this place when ordering individual plates.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Kuriya Dining, Great World City

Gindara Saikyo Miso Yaki

I've always kept my distance from Kuriya, mainly because it was so commercialized with those gigantic picture-based menus. I was thus surprised to find very high quality food here tonight (1 Kim Seng Promenade #01-28, 6736-0888), particularly the gindara above, which was so rich and tender that I wolfed that thing down in seconds. Pretty much everything else we got, be it the creamy homemade tofu or sliced sweet tomato, also hit the mark. I'm just baffled at how could a place like this be associated with those horrendous atrocities called Ichiban Boshi and Kuishin-Bo.

Then again, Shimbashi Soba is part of this corporate family too, and I like going there (almost all of the time, anyway). My main gripe about this place though is that it's unnecessarily done up into a fancy restaurant, the premium of which you have to pay for, even if the food is pretty much just izakaya fare (well, OK, and maybe a few other things like shabu shabu). I'd much rather hop over to cozy and humble Shinjuku instead...or maybe Rakuichi if I really need to go for a nicer setting.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Sapporo Ramen Sanomaru, Singapore

Special Miso Ramen

When I read in 8 Days that another ramen shop had opened at TripleOne Somerset (111 Somerset Road #02-15, 6235-7360), I knew exactly where I was going to get lunch today, especially since I had to be in the neighborhood in the afternoon anyway. I wasn't too sure what to make of the shop's appearance at first, but one sip of that broth put all my fears to rest. The miso that they used was so rich and savory that it was almost creamy, and I kept drinking the broth no matter how salty it was. (Besides, I could always use that cool spoon with the holes in it to scoop out the last bits of corn from the bottom while draining out the sodium if needed.) Springy noodles and tender eggs never hurt either.

Now, I won't be rushing back here since Sapporo is not my preferred style of ramen, but their approach to ingredients was good enough that I won't complain if dragged here (note that this is at the old Singapore Power building rather than 313@Somerset). And maybe that next time will be after hours, when I'll be more willing to use some of that raw garlic on the side. Not like those spring onions didn't provide enough dragon breath for the rest of the afternoon in the office already...