Friday, August 21, 2015

My Uncle's Char Kway Teow

It is probably a little known fact that my famooly has some roots in the local F&B business scene. Since the 1950s when my Ah Gong was peddling drinks from his bicycle, several family members have gone on to run hawker stalls, cafes and a restaurant. It has been a humbling (and costly) learning experience and while most relatives have exited the industry, my uncle David presently still dishes up Char Kway Teow from his stall which relocated to Jurong West.

Like moost things that I hope won't change, his Char Kway Teow ($5 for large) remains as scrumptious as I had remembered it to be when I was a kid. Dark and sufficiently moist with layered flavours of chilli, sweet sauce, fish sauce, garlic and lard (made in store) produced over vigourous stir-frying in a hot wok. Shiok!

70's Char Kway Teow
Block 442 Jurong West Ave 1
Opens: Mondays to Saturdays 12 noon to 8.30pm
Closed: Sundays

Chew On This: Do you see hum? Moohehe.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Grazing Around Marina Bay Sands' Epicurean Market 2015

This year's Epicurean Market opened in style as celebrity chefs arrived on roaring Harley Davidson bikes followed by a Champagne toast. Huddled together for a group photo were (from left to right) Christopher Christie, Executive Chef of Marina Bay Sands; Tetsuya Wakuda of Waku Ghin; David Thompson of Long Chim; Nancy Silverton of Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza; Justin Quek of Sky on 57; Tamir Shanel, MBS' vice president of food & beverage; David Myer of Adrift; Hide Yamamoto of Hide Yamamoto.

With booths serving signature dishes of the many celebrity chef restaurants in MBS, a gourmet market with cheeses and fresh vegetables, and a wine area offering tasting samples, the Epicurean Market promised the ultimate weekend of gourmet pleasures. Entry tickets were sold at $28 for a 3-day pass and included a pair of Schott Zwiesel red wine glasses (while stocks last).

Among the celebrity chef restaurants, the ever-popular Waku Ghin drew a long line of people queuing for its dishes. I really enjoyed the Marinated Botan Shrimp with Oscietra Caviar ($25) which boasted fresh flavours of the sea, and the Grilled Rolled Ohmi Wagyu Beef with Fresh Wasabi from Shizuoka ($24). Certainly not cheap but it was a relatively affordable way to try these dishes without having to dine at the restaurant.

Participating at Epicurean Market for the first time was Hide Yamamoto. Here's his beautiful Chirashi Sushi ($12).

Also a first at this year's edition of the event was David Myers of Adrift. He was at hand dishing out his Californian Heirloom Tomato Toast, Vanilla, Turmeric ($10)- summery colours with fresh, sweet flavours and a slightly crunchy texture. 

One of my personal favourites was Adrift's King Crab Melt, Pimento Cheese, Bread & Butter Pickles ($15). It was a medley of rich, savoury flavours, succulent chunks of king crab and a pleasant tartness from the pickles that balanced the dish.

Wine pairing tips were also at hand to cater to those who would like a glass or two thousand with their food. Perhaps one of the most underrated booths was MBS's very own Rise. They served up a flavoursome Beef Kalbi & Kimchi Coleslaw Slider ($9), lemak Lobster Laksa ($8), and a tasty Fish Taco, Kale & Avocado Salad ($7).

Also spotted at Epicurean Market was this particular celebrity though I don't think he's a chef. Moohehe.

Over at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf's booth, an SG50 Singapore blend featured a green tea with orchids. It was soothing with sweet floral notes. 

Swiss Butchery offered very good value for mooney with their $4 sausages and $6 Japanese Matsusaka Wagyu. I went for thirds. Moohehe.

Thirsty after all that food and alcohol? The FIJI Water Mocktails ($10 each) offered a mooch welcome respite. Created by some of Singapore's top bartenders like Lucas Swallows of MBS, Jay Gray of Long Chim and Kamil Foltan of Tippling Club, these FIJI Water mocktails were made using FIJI Water for a clean finish. All proceeds were donated to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund!

Here's Lucas Swallows demonstrating his FIJI Water mocktail, the Lemongrass Ginger Lemonade, at a private showcase. Loved the refreshing, citrusy flavours.

Then it was time for moore food. Moohehe. Black Cow is a pretty smart business, churning out two products from its milk- a flavourful, nutty cheddar and a smooth vodka with a creamy finish. Yes, vodka made from milk! The curds are used to make the cheese while the whey is fermented into a beer before being distilled into vodka.

Besides wining and dining and shopping, attendees could also go for culinary masterclasses to learn recipes and pick up a tip or two. Here's one of the classes with celebrity chefs Nancy Silverton and David Myers.

It was fun bumping into so many foodie friends at Epicurean Market! Nothing better than good company with good food and drinks. :)

Thank you, Amy of MBS and Ivy of Food News PR for having me down for the Epicurean Market and FIJI Water Mocktails respectively.

Epicurean Market
14 to 16 August 2015
Sands Expo & Convention Centre

Chew On This: Can't wait for it to be back next year!

Celebrating The Moother's Birthday at Seasonal Tastes

We celebrated my seafood-loving moother's birthday with a buffet dinner ($65++/pax on a Tuesday dinner) at The Westin Singapore's Seasonal Tastes. She absolutely loved the fresh oysters and crabs, which were laid out alongside lobsters, prawns and mussels on ice. And seeing her happy made me happy too.
Preferring to graze on food without the hindrance of shells, moo favourite dish was the salmon. Soft, moist and naturally flavourful, it made me go for thirds. Moohehe. The part near the belly was especially luscious. ;)
The buffet line up wasn't staggering but offered decent variety from Indian dishes, a roasted leg of lamb, Korean beef bulgogi, assorted salads, appetisers, cheeses, Japanese dishes to laksa. This homemade sausage stew beautifully brought together two of my favourite ingredients- sausage and potatoes, in one warm, comforting pot.
Moove over the rainbow sponge cake. Here's the birthday girl with her rainbow kueh which we "stunned" from the dessert spread. Moohaha. Blessed birthday, beloved mummy!
Level 32
The Westin Singapore
Tel: 6922 6968
Chew On This:
There is a table at one corner of the restaurant that offers this lovely view. Call ahead to reserve it and go early before the sun sets to take in the sights.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Sandra Amelia Tweet's Birthday Cocktails at Shin Gi Tai

After a "simple" one-pot porridge dinner featuring lobster, scallops, prawns and abalone at home (moohehe), we headed to Shin Gi Tai, a new cocktail bar, for drinks. Here's the chio birthday girl beaming with her specially made birthday cocktail. Birthday cakes are too mainstream especially for this girl who can bake. Moohehe.

Anthony Zhong, whom I got to know when he was head bartender at Jigger & Pony, helms the intimate Shin Gi Tai bar as a one-man show. His cocktails veer towards classics with some variations but all made with the exacting precision and elegance of the Japanese style of bartending.

As we sipped on the Osmanthus Gimlet, Sexypolitan and Granny's Old Drink, Anthony slowly began showing and offering us samples of the many syrups he makes and several unique spirits and liquors hand-carried from Japan. Then an Aviation, Martini and Brooklyn soon appeared, showcasing some of these unique spirits to good effect.

Quoting the birthday girl who captured the night's emootions perfectly- "Empty glasses. Full hearts." It was a great night out and reminded me of the wonderful time we had at Hong Kong's The Butler. :)
Was great seeing Anthony again. Thank you for taking care of us at your bar! That's why guys like him are called "bar-tenders". Moohehe.
And blessed birthday, sister!

Shin Gi Tai
51 Waterloo Street
Tel: 9768 4132
Opens: Monday to Saturday 6pm to midnight
Closes: Sunday

Chew On This: The same space is Australian café Fine Palate in the day!

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Blessed 50th National Day, Singapore!

I count myself blessed to be born in this tiny country of Singapore, enjoying the benefits of those who fought and laboured for the many good things that we often take for granted.

Being a kid of the 80s and 90s, I didn't witness the horrid World Wars nor the turbulent times of racial riots that are inscribed in history textbooks but my grandparents and parents lived through them to tell the tale. Then newly independent Singapore in 1965 was a far cry from the gleaming metropolis of today. In fact, most thought that as a small island surrounded by much larger neighbours and with neither a hinterland, natural resources nor a proper defence force, we wouldn't even make it to begin with. But we did.

Despite the odds, our forefathers from foreign lands made this place home and toiled to set the foundation for progress and prosperity.

Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, Raja Rajaratnam and their contemporaries showed much grit, courage, foresight and tenacity when they faced the challenges of nation building and invested their lives into making Singapore a success.

The passing of Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew earlier in March this year made a nation weep. It was probably everyone's wish that he would be able to celebrate the 50th jubilee of the nation he fought so hard to build but sadly it was not too be. LKY had done most of his pioneering work by the time I was old enough to know his name. I wasn't there when he and his team made bold albeit sometimes controversial decisions, but yet I felt a deep sense of loss when he died.

I have never watched that much Channel News Asia until the declared week of national mourning when it aired videos of Singapore's early days and the challenges they posed to LKY and his team. Those videos were powerful lessons no National Education class could teach.

LKY's passing unleashed a usually reserved emotional side of Singaporeans. For the first time, I saw how fellow Singaporeans not only took to online and social media space with tributes and notes of thanks but also laid flowers, said prayers, wrote cards at the Istana and many other designated places etc.

What was even more impressive was the multitudes from all segments of society who showed up, queuing for hours (and some even overnight) to pay their last respects. And then there emerged stories of kindness amongst the snaking queue- ordinary people bought drinks and snacks for strangers around them, others shared umbrellas, gave out black ribbons and pins, one even gave his neighbour a message. It was most heartwarming.
When the main pillars of early nation-building were established, many subsequently wondered if Singaporeans had a shared sense of national identity and soul. Under Goh Cheok Tong, who succeeded LKY as prime minister, there was a push for Singapore to be a gracious society. With the spontaneous acts of kindness witnessed at the massive Padang queue, all those doubts were answered. I suspect it had been in us all these while. Singaporeans do have heart and soul, and not just for good food.

On LKY's final journey, his cortege route included many significant landmarks, tracing his life journey and impact on Singapore. Thousands lined the streets hours before the expected time. As the time inched closer, the skies opened and it poured heavily almost as if heaven wept. I was wondering if the crowd had dispersed. Instead, I was shocked, and guilty, when they were still standing there. Some with ponchos, some with umbrellas and others simply drenched. This is a side of Singapore and Singaporeans that I have never seen. I felt proud to join their ranks and soon found myself in the rain waiting for the cortege.

The sombre mood contrasted against the various colourful umbrellas and ponchos, and the red and white of the national flag. Then all of a sudden, there was a flurry and I could hear applause from afar. Knowing the time was at hand, I was thinking what should I do or say when the cortege passed me. Should I wave or clap? Should I bow my head in silence or verbally say my last good bye? I was lost.

When the cortege passed, I instinctively held up one hand to wave and my mouth opened but somehow no words emerged. Whatever eloquence people said I have failed me at that precise emotional moment. Tears flowed though I couldn't quite exactly comprehend why. But my heart tells me it's because my beloved country has lost its founding father who has so selflessly given his life to the nation. I might have never shaken his hand nor had a conversation with the man and while he is by no means perfect, I cannot deny that I have benefited from his leadership and labour.

Singaporeans are known to be a practical, pragmatic bunch. Queuing for hours in the scorching sun and lining up in the rain for a mere few seconds didn't make any sense but we did it. For him. And for ourselves. We responded on our own as one people, one nation, one Singapore, showing the essence of what it truly means to be a Singaporean.

A nation's emotions were summed up succinctly by the words of a young dad, who stood near me carrying his kid and awaiting the cortege, when he shouted "Thank you, Mr Lee!"

I have never been prouder to be a Singaporean.

SG50 is a historic milestone and I am glad that LKY and many from the pioneer generation were honoured at this year's National Day Parade. Let's remember those who toiled for our success today, continue to push for a better tomorrow and celebrate being uniquely Singaporean. I mean even our founding father is endearingly known by three letters in this nation's quirky love for acronyms. ;)    
This is home, truly. Majulah Singapura!

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Crab in da Bag Opens at Singapore Sports Hub

Seafood lovers can now enjoy Crab in da Bag's signature Cajun-style seafood with Asian twists at its new Singapore Sports Hub outlet, in addition to the first one at Big Splash. Both are near the sea which suits the restaurant's nautical theme but the Singapore Sports Hub outlet offers a closer access to the waterfront.  

To celebrate the new restaurant's opening, the Caboodle Festival, the largest outdoor seafood boil, was held. Guests witnessed the cooking of seafood in large pots before a custom-made 6-foot boat was filled with them lobsters, crabs, prawns, mussels, clams, corn and bratwurst. I wanted to pull up a chair to be seated by this boat before digging in but alas, my hide wasn't thick enough. Moohaha.

Dining at Crab in da Bag means eating directly on the table which was covered with a sheet of plastic. No plates. Use hands. Got bibs. Moohehe. Here's the assortment of seafood presented as the Caboodle Boil (Titanic Pot $299 for 4 pax; Gigantic Pot $399 for 6 pax) which was cooked in a mix of Louisiana herbs and spices. I personally mooch prefer enjoying them on their own but if you need added flavour, there are 3 dips- Thai green bird, northern Malaysian sambal and Louisiana garlic butter. The seafood tasted fresh and were cooked nicely except for the mussels and clams which were a tad overdone. Besides the seafood, the accompanying corn, sausage and red skinned potatoes made for very good eating!

New items on the menu here include the Salad in da Bag! ($12), a mix of greens tossed in a creamy sesame dressing or a balsamic one.

Also new is Mum's Pasta in da Bag! ($16), linguine with Venus clams and Bratwurst sautéed in a sweet and sour sauce. However, the sauce was too thick and starchy for my liking.

Don't say I selfish neh tell you about the awesome shellfish. Moohaha. The Live Venus Clams with Ultimate Curry Seasoning ($21) had an aroma of spice and curry leaf that signalled of what was to come. Rich and spicy, the seasoning reminded me of a very good marsala mix. On the right, the Boston Bay Mussels with Caboodle Mix ($24) was also cooked in a tasty combination of Louisiana herbs, spices, garlic and butter.

Oh and by the way, I hear the staff here can sing birthday songs in 8 different languages! Poweeer.

Thank you, the good ol' Food News PR team for having me over. ;)

Crab in da Bag
Water Sports Centre
8 Stadium Walk
Opens: Tuesday to Friday 4pm to 11pm
            Saturday to Sunday 12pm to 11pm
Closed: Mondays
Tel:  6384 3511

Chew On This:

    After feasting, take in the scenic waterfront sights with a nice stroll down the Kallang River.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kok Sen Dinner After "Food + Socialikes Connect 2015"

It was a meeting of a few old long-time-no-see friends and many new ones at the inaugural Food + Socialikes Connect 2015, a conference by food bloggers and Instagrammers, for food bloggers and Instagrammers. The scene has certainly changed and will ever be evolving as with the nature of social media.

Bigger emphasis seems to be on photography and some go through great lengths to get the perfect (often hipster-ish) shot. For those who complain about food bloggers taking photo at the table, wait till you see some Instagrammers. :p

Sigh. Not many of my contemporaries remain actively blogging even though the love for food and the eating hasn't stopped. Moohehe.

So after an eventful full day of talks and panel discussions featuring topics like bloggers' legal rights, food photography, the purpose of blogging etc..

I thought Hoong An was going to sing. Moohehe.

After the conference, a few of us walked by the perpetually crowded Kok Sen and realised it moost be a divine sign that there was no queue! LOL. Hence, in we went and soon this plate of Big Prawn Hor Fun landed on the table. It was robust, full of the smokiness from a searingly hot wok mixed with the spicy, umami punch of dried shrimp with chilli and the smooth gravy of starch and silky liquid egg.

Also moreish was the Har Jeong Kai or prawn paste chicken. I like that there was variety as different chicken parts were used. A squeeze of lime and a dash of sambal made me moo...internally lah. Moohaha.

Sizzling in its claypot was the assorted Yong Tau Foo. Delectable pieces of vegetable and beancurd products stuffed with fish paste and slathered in a mysterious brown sauce.

To endanger this cze char restaurant's supply of rice, order up the Pork Ribs with Bitter Gourd. The thick pieces of bitter gourd had nicely absorbed the flavour of the black beans sauce. The heady combination of bitter gourd, pork ribs and black beans sauce was such a classic winner. 

May the community be like this sauce- varied, expressive, with distinct personality yet altogether together. Moohehe.

Congrats to the organisers on the event!

Kok Sen Restaurant
30B Keong Saik Road
Opens: 11.30am to 10.30pm daily

Chew On This: The place gets pretty packed so go very early! Also, they have a charming al fresco back alley seating with graffiti-ed walls. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Singapre Botanic Gardens Celebrates SG50 with Heritage Menus!


A fitting present for Singapore's 50th birthday, the Singapore Botanic Gardens has been inscribed as the country's first UNESCO World Heritage Site! I was privileged to be taken on a tour around the gardens and to sample several of its special heritage menus as part of celebrating the Garden City's upcoming jubilee National Day.

While I have been to the Singapore Botanic Gardens before, it was my first time roaming its grounds in a buggy! And it was driven by Dr Nigel Taylor, the garden's director, who shared interesting nuggets of info and insights ranging from history and ecology to plant and animal life.

If this tree might look familiar, see the Singapore $5 note. Moohehe. Given its age and vulnerability, its lowest branch has been given a mechanized support which allows for stability and measured movement for growth.

Among the trees in the gardens are some very tall ones. Makes a tall human seem like a toddler in the greater scheme of things. With their towering heights, these trees are susceptible to lightning strikes but have lightning conductors to mitigate any harm. #dontstandunderthistreewhenitrains

The first makan stop was at The Halia at Singapore Botanic Gardens (they have another outlet at Raffles Hotel which offers a different menu). This restaurant is a bit special to me as I used to work with them. Moohehe. Anyway in celebration of National Day, two special SG50 desserts, made with a tea based on the national flower (orchid!), are available until 31 August 2015. The Ginger & Gold Orchid ($12; foreground) features ice "kacang" granite with yuzu gel, lychee fruit and jelly in a medley of textures and flavours. For a moore interesting option to chocolate cake with ice cream, the White Orchid & Lapis ($14; background) offers a long thin slice of homemade lapis cake, white orchid tea ice cream, multigrain crumble, and caramelised and crunchy banana pieces.  

For those on a liquid diet (like yours truly. Moohehe), sip on two cocktails built on red orchid tea with a choice of either gin or rum- the Yam Seng ($23) has Sailor Jerry spiced rum balanced with lime juice and grenadine syrup while the 1965 ($25) contains Hendrick's gin, lemon syrup and lime juice. Both were pretty but strong so order up some food to go with them.

Then to give our stomachs a breather, we headed into the National Orchid Garden just around the corner from The Halia. Singaporeans can enjoy free admission from now until 31 August!

It was my first visit to the National Orchid Garden and we were in good hands as local orchid expert David Lim brought us around.     

There we saw the national orchid, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, which was selected for its vibrant colours, hardiness and resilience- qualities which reflect the Singapore spirit, according to National Parks.

We also saw the unofficially-crowned "most vandalised" tree with scribbles of greetings and love notes. Moohaha.

Then it was time for the next makan stop- Casa Verde. I still fondly remember WQ's and Hushie's solemnization brunch here a few years ago. On weekdays from 3-17 August 2015, Casa Verde will be featuring local iconic dishes by its Singaporean chef Danny Tan. Enjoy your choice of Laksa, Mee Siam, Char Kway Teow or Mee Rebus with a soft drink at $9.80 nett from 12pm to 2.45pm. Additionally, kids can have fun at a pizza-making workshop on 7 August, and on 9 August, get 50% off pizzas from 11.30pm to 5.45pm!

Next stop brought us to Corner House, a relatively new restaurant that has garnered critical acclaim. I was very much looking forward to meeting local chef Jason Tan since we last met eons ago when he was at the Mandarin Oriental Singapore. His cuisine defined as "Gastro-Botanica" gives substantial emphasis to the vegetables on the plate beyond being mere garnish or a supporting cast.

Singapore's 50th birthday also happens to be Corner House's first anniversary and to celebrate the affair, Chef Jason presents a specially crafted 8-course menu ($248/person) from now until 16 August 2015. Each of these 8 courses is inspired by his personal memories and chronicles his journey from childhood to being one of Singapore's prominent chefs.

We sampled 2 dishes from this celebratory menu. The first, "Remembering Oyster Omelette" (in the above photo), harks back to pre-hawker-centre days when street food was literally food on the streets. One of the street food his dad often bought home was oyster omelette. Imagine a modern, upscale, creative version and the "Remembering Oyster Omelette" with Royale oyster, farm egg, coriander mochi and Kristal de Chine caviar would appeal with its very refined touch yet keeping a bit of an old soul.

The last course is dessert and it takes the form of "My Corner of The World". Chef Jason's tribute to Corner House and celebrating his fulfilled dreams of owning a grand restaurant, this durian bread and butter pudding with a kopi surprise inside is also inspired by the restaurant's namesake E.J.H Corner, an English botanist who worked on tropical botany and the Durian Theory.

Last stop on our heritage and food trail was at Food Canopy. I didn't even know this food court existed in the Singapore Botanic Gardens! Di Wei, one of its 7 stalls, serves up Teochew tze char with dishes like Cold Crab, Cai Poh Kway Teow and Yam Paste. Tze char in the gardens! Psst...this food court even has a nutritionist to advise stalls.

It was fun outing to the Singapore Botanic Gardens exploring this national green space (and now also UNESCO World Heritage Site!) and the many F&B options it houses. Thank you to Dawn Wee and her team for hosting us.

Singapore Botanic Gardens

Chew On This: Expect a slew of activities such as carnivals, music performances (Sam Willows, T'ang Quartet etc), movie screenings and exhibitions! Check out here for full details.