Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Beef Encounter

Beef noodles are one of my favourite local foods. Although quite commonly found in the ubiquitous foodcourts strewn around Singapore, a good bowl of beef noodles is hard to come by. That's why I've been patronising this stall in Lavender Food Square for over ten years. In fact, it's the only item that I'll order without fail each time I pop by.

The stall, Bugis Street Ngak Seah Beef Kway Teow, serves a potent bowl of beef noodles. I ordered the Dry Beef Noodles with Beef Balls (not the testicles!) ($3) picking chor bee hoon (thick flour vermicelli) as the choice of noodles. The chor bee hoon and bean sprouts were blanched in boiling water before being tossed into a bowl. Next, slices of beef were briefly cooked in a beef stock and placed on top of the noodles. A thick, brown gravy was then poured over the above-mentioned ingredients. The tasty gravy had all the goodness of beef and hints of cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves and star anise. The gravy was further enhanced by juice from a freshly-squeezed lime. Lovely. Served together with the noodles was a piquant chilli sauce that was spicy and tangy. The beef balls were decent but I would have preferred them with more bite and less flour.

A soup version with noodles or rice is also available and no less delicious. If you can't make up your mind on whether to have it dry or in soup, be like me, just order both.

Bugis Street Ngak Seah Beef Kway Teow
Lavender Food Square (operated by S11)

Chew On This: Add a few dollars to include beef tendon. The gelatinous connective tissue is all soft and chewy. A delight with the gravy and chilli sauce.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Lunar Bliss

At around this time every year, Chinese in Singapore and elsewhere celebrate the Mid Autumn Festival. And no festival is complete without festive food.

Unlike an unfortunate planet that has recently lost its status, mooncakes seem here to stay. Story has it that these mooncakes were used to hide a secret revolt message and were being distributed to the masses in China long, long ago. Apparently instrumental in the eventually successful revolution, mooncakes have since been passed around during this festival. Many family and friends buy boxes of these sweet treats to give each other as goodwill wishes.

Not like a Western-styled cake or a Malay-styled kueh which contain mainly flour and eggs, the mooncake is traditionally square or round with a sweet lotus paste filling, wrapped by a thin slightly chewy pastry skin. Baked in the oven and served at room temperature, usually with Chinese tea, mooncakes have found their way into many stomachs, and hearts.

Maybe it's the fact that people like innovation and get bored with the norm that many producers have created versions featuring new skins like snow skin and flaky pastry, new fillings like yam, sweet potato, green tea, durians, nuts and seeds, and even ice cream, Bailey's and chocolate truffles! More extravagant ingredients include XO cognac, bird's nest, ginseng and abalone. From mooncakes made with natural sugar to those made with artificial sweetener, sweet to savoury, baked in the oven to chilled in the fridge, traditional to modern creations, everyone is bound to find a personal favourite. Each year, a plethora of choices will spoil even the most fussy consumer.

I have tried some new varieties and have taken a liking to pandan snow skin, green tea and ice cream mooncakes. Call me a purist, but it's the traditional pure lotus paste (both red and white lotus paste variations but I prefer the lighter, more fragrant white) with either one or two embedded salted duck's egg yolks, that still warms my heart. Some producers have stubbornly clung onto these traditional mooncakes, refusing to conform to the wave of new, fancy types that flood the market. I salute them for staying true to the real deal.

Featured in this post is Crystal Jade's White Lotus Paste with Double Yolk Mooncake ($38 for a box of four). I'm pretty impressed with this product of the Chinese restaurant-chain. The only gripe was that the tanned brown skin was a tad too thin for my liking. The salted duck's egg yolks were slightly salty and lent a savoury touch to contrast the sweet lotus paste. The white lotus paste was smooth, fragrant and slightly oily, a pleasant trait that would otherwise result in a disastrously dry and crumbly mooncake filling. The fact that impressed me the most was how incredibly light the mooncake felt in the mouth and stomach. Normally, I would be satisfied with a couple of sliced pieces but this time I polished off one whole mooncake without feeling as if I had swallowed the moon.

I paired the mooncake with Da Hong Pao (HK$168)(literally translates into 'big red cannon'), a Chinese tea sourced from Fujian. The robust slightly tannic tea cuts the sweetness of the mooncake nicely and makes a good complement.

With mooncakes and tea this good, I was, well, over the moon. Maybe it's time that the phase 'the hungry cow jumped over the moon' is coined.

White Lotus Paste with Double Yolk Mooncakes
Crystal Jade Culinary Concepts Holding
Crystal Jade Kitchen
Block 470 Toa Payoh Lorong 6 #01-70

Da Hong Pao tea leaves
Yue Hwa, Hong Kong.

Chew On This: A recent newspaper article stated that each mooncake contains about 1000 calories. That is half the recommended daily intake of around 2000 calories! Fortunately, like most festive food, it's only once a year that mooncakes appear. Moderation, moderation, moderation. Easier said than done but still possible. *Handcuffs and duct tape sold separately.*

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Dark Fingers

It's amazing how many versions of a single item can spring up in just a matter of months. Kit Kat, the two fingers of wafer coated with milk chocoloate and wrapped with aluminium foil, is what most of us will fondly remember as a childhood treat. Who hasn't heard of their famous tagline "Take a break, have a Kit Kat."? Kit Kat now comes in new and some rather interesting flavours.

Being a lover of dark chocolates, the word 'dark' instantly caught my attention. I was expecting the same crisp wafer biscuit coated this time with dark, rich, bitter chocolate. But dark chocolate fans like me will be slightly disappointed. Getting past the gold foil wrapper, the chocolate was sweet and contains not a bitter taste. The only difference between this 'dark' version and the original is that the former contains more plain chocolate and less milk chocolate, rendering it richer and slightly less sweet.

Kit Kat Dark is still enjoyable but fell below my expectation of something labeled 'dark'. Perhaps people who like their chocolate to be richer yet are adverse to the bitter taste of dark chocolate will take a fancy to this.

Kit Kat Dark
Available at most supermarkets.
Bought at Shop n Save for $6.60.

Chew On This: Other flavours available include orange, mint, white chocolate and lemon cheesecake, with the first three (plus Dark) being made in UK.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Dessert Not

Post dinner and wanting something sweet to end the night, together with a few members of the League, I headed to Azabusabo at Marina Square. The place which has just opened in the past year or so was packed as usual even when we had arrived past 8pm. The queue was fairly long but the female manager offered us seats while we waited, handed us the menu so we could browse and made sure we were attended to every few minutes. Her warm and efficient service made the wait pleasant.

We looked through the extensive list of desserts and ordered four. (I couldn't remember their exact Japanese names but I'll use what's printed on the receipt.) The Ice Cream with Mango ($8) was a shaved ice tower topped with soft vanilla ice cream and with mango pieces and puree slathered over the shaved ice. It wasn't too sweet and the mango pieces brought out a really fresh mango taste. The soft ice cream resembled 'Mr Softie' served in 7-eleven outlets but with a more intense taste. It reminded me of the yummy Mango and Pomelo dessert I had in Hong Kong. This dessert also came with a molasses-tasting accompanying sauce.

The next dessert was a visual-pleaser. In fact, Mattchazen ($6.50) looked so cute that I felt sorry for digging into it. But all traces of quilt instantly vanished as I tasted the unique blend of red bean paste, green tea ice cream and chewy mochi. The red bean paste was not like that found in Chinese red bean pau. Instead, the red beans are slightly mushy and sticky but still retains their texture. I like the scoop of green tea ice cream. It was refreshing and did not have the powdery after taste of many versions elsewhere. The small round balls of mochi were pleasantly chewy and though blend, went well with the sweet red bean paste.

Shira Kuri Mit ($7) came next and is a concoction of soft vanilla ice cream together with slices of sweet potato, fruits and kanten jelly. Although it wasn't too bad, I felt that it paled in contrast to the first two desserts. Kanten jelly is made with a gelatin derivative of a seaweed.

Last to be served was Rum Wine ($8). A round, flattened cake of mashed sweet potato topped with soft vanilla ice cream. The mashed not-exactly-sweet sweet potato did have a hint of rum but was otherwise blend-tasting. This dessert would have benefited from a caramel rum sauce and perhaps cinnamon-infused sweet potato that would have given this dessert a very much needed lift.

Besides desserts, Azabusabo also serves typical Japanese fare like tempura, ramen and bento. I'll give these a try the next time. But for now, I would be satisfied with just getting scoops of their Japanese ice creams over the counter. I particularly like their black sesame, green tea and passion fruit flavours.

Marina Square
Tel: 63381244

Chew On This: Get a 10% discount with your UOB card.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fish & Cheap

The sign boards are so conspicuous that you simply can't miss this place on New Bridge Road. In fact, this place boasts that it serves the 'Best Authentic Fish and Chips'.

The name reminds me of Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. I was only 14 years old when I had visited the tourist spot on the Western part of the United States. There were people, attached to bungee cords, jumping on huge trampolines and I remembered choosing a live oyster to be shucked, not for its flesh but for its pearl. As the name suggests, Fisherman's Wharf was like a pier with the sea breeze ever blowing so gently and with restaurants offering clam chowder and other seafood.

Ironically, I did not remember anything about eating Fish and Chips there. As a child, my fondest food memory at Fisherman's Wharf was a delicious chocolate rose and a then-novel chocolate-coated-green-apple-on-a-stick. A few years back, some clever people brought this novelty into Singapore and now we have apples and other fruits coated with chocolate or caramel, on a stick.

This Fishermen's Wharf in Singapore boldly claims to serve the best Fish and Chips but I have to admit that while their version's not too bad, it is certainly not the best around. The fairly-sizeable dory fillet, served on grease paper, was decent and did not taste fishy but the chips were a disappointment. Each order came with a choice of either chips or fries on the side. 'Chips' as defined by the staff are fried slices of potatoes. These turned out rather soggy and unappetising. I reckon the fries would have been a better bet. Patrons can also choose either tartar, honey mustard, curry or Mexican as an accompanying sauce.

At $6.50, it was well worth the price but don't expect any fancy ambiance or great service. That's not what you are paying for at this price anyway.

Fishermen's Wharf
27/29 New Bridge Road
Singapore 059392
Tel: 65326468

Chew On This: Do check out their set lunches ($9.50) and also try out the other types of battered fish available.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Good Food Lei

Singapore is home to a number of Chinese restaurants that have established themselves here over many years. Most of them have pride themselves on using fresh produce and in many cases even 'live' ones. One such restaurant is Lei Garden. Well known for its clean refined Cantonese-styled cooking, using fresh ingredients and traditional recipes, Lei Garden ranks as one of my favourite Chinese restaurants.

Although there is a newer branch at CHIJMES, sentimental me decided to head to their original place at Orchard Shopping Centre. After all, it was there that I first visited a number of years ago. On the recommendation of Emily, the captain, my mum ordered a 'Special Promotion Set' at $118. The set was meant for four persons but I found it sufficient for even five or six people.

The set comprises of seven dishes including dessert. The first dish was Braised Shark's Fin with Cabbage and Bean Sprout in Brown Sauce. Shark's fin, just like bird's nest, in itself to me is quite tasteless. Most of the flavours and taste come from the broth or gravy that it is cooked in. And this thick starchy gravy was as tasty as any could get. Tasting of dried goodies like scallops and oysters, the gravy was not overpowering and rather light despite being starchy.

Now that I have assessed the dish, I have to clarify that I do not condone the brutal culling of sharks for their fins. After learning and watching documentaries of how fishing boats would haul these sharks up before cutting off their prized fins and then throwing the sharks back into the sea, leaving them to bleed and die, proved too cruel. I would never have walked into a restaurant to order shark's fin but since my mum had already ordered, I did not want to kick up a big fuss. More importantly, I did not want to spoil a nice Sunday family lunch with my grandparents. After lunch, I just politely informed my mum about my fin-pricked conscience.

Second to be served was the Braised Chicken in Superior Soya Sauce. Half a chicken was chopped into more manageable pieces before being beautifully displayed on a plate. The chicken meat was tender and infused with soya sauce. It was not overly salty but rather fragrant. Best when eaten with steamed white rice.

A dish of Baked Live Conpoy with Golden Egg Yolk was presented next. Still plated in their shells, these scallops tasted fresh and the salted duck egg yolk provided a nice albeit salty touch.

The next dish, Poached Live Sea Garoupa Fillet Prepared in Chef Recipe (Served in Claypot), has my vote as the best dish that afternoon. A Sea Garoupa fillet was patted lightly with flour and pan-fried before being poached in a flavourful stock. The thick flesh of the fish was firm and held together well. It was fresh and not fishy at all. The nutritious stock tasted mainly of dang gui (Chinese Angelica root) and lists gou qi (Chinese Wolfberry) amongst other herbs as an ingredient. I would highly recommend this dish, especially if you are dining with herb-conscious old folks or even your prospective parents-in-law, for that matter.

The Sauteed Hong Kong Kai Lan (Chinese Kale) with Black Fungus and Wild Mushroom was a tad oily but otherwise also good. The strips of chewy black fungus and springy wild mushrooms paired well with the thick crunchy stems of the Kai Lan.

Very predictably, as in all Chinese wedding dinners, the last dish before the dessert was a noodle dish. For this set, it was a Fried Venus Noodle with Shredded Pork and Capsicum. The noodles tasted quite like the common Ee Fu noodles. Nothing to complain about but neither fantastic as well.

Dessert was a weird-sounding Chilled Dried Apried Apricot with Perilia Seed. I do not know what 'apried' and 'perilia' are or if they happened to be a typographical error. In essence, it was a bowl of fruit cocktail (which may have contained apricot)in too sweet a syrup broth. This was probably the worse of the menu. The only thing that intrigued me was how the chef managed to coat the fruits with selasih seeds to the extend that the seeds remained stuck even when immersed in the syrup. Chemical bonding perhaps?

I had a wonderful Sunday lunch and the grandparents loved it. I feel happy to see old folks happy. After all, I have always thought it's better to appreciate, treasure and shower people with love, concern and, of course, good food while they are still around and kicking.

Lei Garden Restaurant
Orchard Shopping Centre (the building beside Orchard California Fitness)
Orchard Road #03-00
Tel: 67343988

Chew On This: Al fresco seating is available and I think the view and feeling of tucking into such delicious Cantonese fare on the third floor of a building along busy Orchard Road will be quite an experience.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Good Ole' Jack

For many Singaporeans, Jack's Place has always been a favourite dining spot for birthday celebrations, family dinners, reunions, get-togethers between friends et cetera. Priding itself on good food at affordable prices in a clean, cosy restaurant setting, Jack's Place certainly delivered when I popped in for lunch recently.

I visited the Yen San Building branch, a good respite from the over-crowded Orchard Road area. This place brings back fond childhood memories of my sister and I who used to play with the candles on the tables, making forms and shapes with the hot candle wax. I was blessed to be able to frequent it enough that the then female manager would recognise my sister and I and nicknamed us 'candle girl' and 'candle boy' respectively. It was also here that contributed to the development of my love affair with beef.

I ordered my usual, Fire Steak ($20), to test if it was still as good as I had remembered. The thick piece of tenderloin was flamed with brandy right by the table before being served, just as it had been done some ten years ago. The steak was juicy and the timing on the grill for my request, medium-to-rare, was spot on with the slightly warm pink insides contrasting the browned exterior of the beef. I thoroughly enjoyed my steak.

Almost everything seemed unchanged, as if time had stood still. The signature green and white checked table mat, the nice fluffy baked potato with toppings of green spring onions, bacon bits and sour cream and the hotplate with a cow's head design on the left were all the same. With the exception that the place had undergone some kind of interior renovation to extend into what used to be a bar area, hence increasing its seating capacity. Bright pictures of its food also now adorn the once empty walls.

For juicy steaks and for old time's sake, I'll definitely return for a good dose of nostalgic childhood joy. I guess that brandied flame that fascinated me as a small child still works magic till today. But I'll now leave the candles alone, I promise.

Jack's Place
Yen San Building (beside Heeren)
268 Orchard Road

Chew On This: Jack's Place is celebrating '40 years of Sizzling Steaks'. With $40 and above spent, take part in their Celebration Sure-Win Instant Dip and stand to win prizes.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Budget Bites

With just a few dollars in my pocket and feeling peckish, I wondered what could satisfy me within my budget. Seems like following my friends blindly into Muji paid off. While they did their shopping, I wondered around and stumbled upon these goodies near the cashier.

An 80g bag of tea cookies, a 58g bag of whole wheat lemon cookies and a pack of two small chocolate yuzu bars were on special sale at a dollar each. One dollar for these made-in-Japan snacks that looked really tempting proved too much to resist. I grabbed a few and happily paid up.

The tea cookies (pictured on the left) were deliciously infused with aromatic tea and thankfully not too sweet. After popping one into my mouth, my hand involuntarily repeated the action, much to my brain's delight. The whole wheat lemon cookies (pictured on the right) were good too but I would have preferred them to be more buttery. The small bits of apricot gave it a nice texture and bite while the slight lemon flavour added tartness. The chocolate yuzu bar was actually rice crisps coated with a rich, slightly bitter chocolate spiked with yuzu. The citrus fruit added a tangy touch to the bitter-sweet chocolate, cutting through the sweetness to ensure that it was not at all cloying.

A good cup of tea together with these goodies would be a great afternoon bliss. Do buy a couple of packs to share with friends...But just don't forget to stash away one for yourself or you'll it regret later.

Level 2
Bugis Junction

Chew On This: These items on special sale have expiry dates that are nearing. Remember to finish them quickly and then look out for the next batch of these tasty budget-friendly snacks.