Monday, October 27, 2008

Cheap Eats in the East

My strong affinity with the East side of Singapore has alot to do with the fact that I was raised and schooled here. But for most part, it is the sheer delight in the abundance of cheap and good food easily available in this area that has my head pounding in ecstasy. Okay, perhaps that is a rather strong metaphor but I will stand by it and ask that you check with another Eastie. I can assure you that it is most likely the appetising buffet of sweet, sour, and hot that gets our blood pumping more than anything. Couple that with a rich culture and breezy location, and you know you have a winner.

Granted that the East is not so small, you must be wondering which part of this Eastern side I am talking about. Well well well, that photo above should be ample enough, if you do live in this area.

That my friend which you see above is my latest new favourite cheap food find. This fine gem sits at the junction of East Coast and Joo Chiat Road. Its exact location is 125 Joo Chiat Road, in a coffeeshop called D'Orange. Dot discovered this place last week when her colleague brought her to try it. Her workplace is right smack in Katong so exploring the great eats there is really convenient. It's a blessing I say, because I get to benefit as well. I've tried several great eats there due to her recommendations and all have turned out to be really satisfying and lip-smackingly good.

Every person should have at least one foodie friend who loves food just as much as you do. That way, you can always count on stumbling on great food finds even when you aren't looking. :) Dot is obviously a foodie like me and as said, most of the time when we chill out, it usually surrounds not just fun adventures but also delicious outings. Yesterday was one of them.

After mass ended at OLPS, we met and headed to 125 Joo Chiat Road, the place that's about to become my favourite la mian and xiao long bao dig. Known as Dragon Delights, this small little stall is tucked right behind Mary's Tau Kwa Pau stall and a famous hokkien mee & char kway teow stall. I was quite surprised to find out about this place because truth be told, I've never bothered entering the coffeeshop though I've walked past it a million times. Shame on me I say. This is what happens when you become too comfortable with your current food choices and don't bother sussing out other potential good eats. Curiousity never killed the cat, it only made it happier. I should learn.

Okay, on to the la mian a.k.a. pulled noodles. Till this day I still hold a deep fascination for the way pulled noodles come together. Pulled dough never gave you silky slim threads of noodles, at least that was what I thought when I used to be young and ignorant. I used to tell myself that it was all just a simple trick. Perhaps the chef just wanted some theatrics so when in an open kitchen, he would play with balls of dough, stretching it out, long and wide, slamming it onto the countertop one time, two times, three times following a rhythem and then when no one's looking, he'll hide the 'play' dough and use pre-cut noodles to cook and serve. Can you believe how silly that is? No wonder I never really was good in science. If only I knew that how magical flour can be. Pulled noodles are far from a figment of my imagination. They are a real treat, especially when done well. Like these:

They look like tagliatelle which is one of my favourite pastas especially for pairing with thick sauces. This bowl here is actually zha jiang mian, which means 'fried sauce noodles'. This is a popular chinese dry noodle dish that's loved by those looking for something with a salty bite. It's usually paired with normal thin pulled noodles but Dot ordered the flat version as seen here because we both think it goes better with the thick meat sauce.

Not only were the noodles done al dente, the sauce itself can be compared and referred to as an Asian version of bechamel sauce. It sounds far fetched, but just the texture and flavour of the minced pork and sauce itself kind of made me to a double-take. For a split second, I did almost think I was slurping up Italian pasta. You know a sauce is good when you find yourself wanting to lick every morsel off the bowl, throwing away all thoughts of hygiene and potential embarrassment. These noodles were cheap too. At $3.50 a bowl, I must say it is a steal, especially since it was a generous portion.

And if you think the pulled noodles were the main attraction, you're so wrong. Ahem, shall I present what is by far the cheapest xiao long bao ever:

These cost us only $2.80. Okay, so they are cheap. Your natural instinct would of course be, 'Okay, for that price, it's cheap, but is it good?'.

'YES', would be my immediate answer.

Go try some if you doubt me.

The silky skin folded tightly, yielded neat folds that were thin and uniformed:

Gently prodding each dumpling, I slowly transferred one to my spoon carefully, lest I waste the precious caramel-brown coloured broth held in by the thin and slightly buoyant skin.

Once it slid into my mouth, I closed it, preparing for the warm flood as my teeth sank into the dumpling, breaking the delicate skin in the process. Yes it was good and yes it was $2.80 very well spent. We could have ordered several more portions if only we hadn't gotten a plate of hokkien mee and some tau kwa pau already.

Just for you, I broke one dumpling in my spoon to show the beauty of such well-made xiao long bao:

Let me guess, you certainly wish you had a steamer full of piping hot xiao long baos in front of you now eh? Unforgettable dumplings I'd call them. This would be my new xiao long bao place from now on. It's a commitment I'd gladly take on. My compliments to the chef. I hear that they've been here for quite a while and I actually saw several proudly displayed food awards. Quite surprising however, that the stall was not packed and super busy. Hey, I'm not complaining. It's good this way I guess, so I can easily get my fill of xiao long baos without a long wait.

Here's how the stall looks like:

As you can see, it's very much no frills. Everything is said in the food.

The xiao long baos all wrapped and ready to be steamed:

If you think that was the end of our Sunday lunch, you are so wrong. We were indeed full from our meal but not full enough to want to skip dessert. When it comes to dessert, we always have appetite for it. Of course we went with something light, something icy and again, a new find as discovered by Dot. This one's really close to her office. Called Summer Frost, it's actually kind of like an ice-kachang place, except that they use flavoured milk ice. The flavours offered are champagne grape, peanut, black sesame, green tea, and milk. It comes with a topping of your choice and only cost $2.

I chose black sesame and paired it with nata de coco:

While Dot got the green tea one and paired it with chocolate chips:

We really liked the combinations we chose. My black sesame ice was flavoured with the right amount of milk and black sesame and the nata de coco added a lovely bit to it. It was refreshing. Dot's green tea ice was great too. I was rather surprised that I could really taste the green tea. I think they used matcha powder. The chocolate chips given was great, and I think they were dark chocolate, and wasn't too sweet. These desserts are a great end to any meal, especially on a hot day.

If you thought our lunch was delicious, you should hear what we had for dinner yesterday: fried or luak (oysters) and ikan penyet from Changi Village. Sorry I don't have photos for those dishes. We were really hungry from cycling all the way from home. These days, my favourite hobby is cycling to a food destination for a satisfying meal and then cycling back home or to another place that grabs my nose. Yes, did I tell you how sometimes I let my nose lead me to my great food finds? But ah, that's nothing new.

What about you, how do you stumble onto your food finds? What are your sources? Feel free to share them with me, and of course, if there's any other place that you love and think that I would like as well, drop me a note.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Satisfying my cravings

Till this day, I still find my love of food to be an utter blessing. I'm glad I enjoy eating. It does sound tragically mundane but it's really not. That's because I do know some people who find eating a chore. I find that to be quite a pity though. Look at it this way - we have three meals a day to play with (some say more, especially those who snack, including me) and I would say it can be exciting, the anticipation that creeps up prior to a meal as I ponder, dream or crave the food that I'm to partake. You know me, I'm the girl who thinks about what to have for dinner even before I've gone out for lunch. And there are those times when watching food porn on Tastespotting simply triggers a random food outburst, or yearning. It's no joke. It's dangerous to look at photos of food when I'm hungry. I just want to peel off the liquid crystal layers of my laptop and hope that I can find a sliver of that vividly rich velvet cake somehow.

In some ways, I think food cravings are fun. I enjoy the process. To me, it's a game. A game where I try to sense what I feel like eating. At times, it can seem weird. Take for example just now - I was walking home in the pouring rain (with my trusty green umbrella of course) and I passed by a block of flats and just for that few seconds, my nose picked up the comforting scent of curry. Yes, piping hot, and bubbly curry. It was a quick scent so I was not able to pick out what type of curry it was. All I know is that for that split second, I could picture a bowl of that spicy thick broth paired with warm toasted french loaves ready to be coated with that golden sauce of heaven to be consumed by me. You can tell that I was hungry. I make no effort to disguise that. It was nearly 9.30pm and I haven't had dinner, save for some instant miso soup (bought from Daiso) I made in the office at 7pm. You bet I wished the curry smells came from my home. I secretly wished that Dad had cooked curry. I wasn't disappointed to find out that I might have just encountered a pseudo craving because of my hunger. Dad was preparing chicken salad and I was thrilled - both because I was hungry and the fact that his salad rocks. It's a simple salad that's both easy to make and big on taste. More on those wonder greens another time.

What I'm trying to say is, when cravings come, don't hide or think that you are simply being greedy. I belong to the camp of people who pursue their cravings, no matter the time or day. Take for example last week. I had recently noticed a stall in Geylang selling bak kut teh. It was not just any normal bak kut teh. The signage said Klang bak kut teh. You could have guessed how intrigued I was. Thing is, I've been to Klang a couple of times because I have family there, but never once have I gotten a chance to taste any bak kut teh while I was there. So I told myself that I would come to check out the herbal soup at this stall one day. Little did I know that that 'one day' was going to be that same week. It's true. I"m not making this up. One evening after work, I was hungry and it was late as usual. My parents did not cook and I was just thinking of what to have for dinner when I suddenly pictured soup. Hot and steamy soup. Then I remembered the bak kut teh stall. And the rest as you know it, satisfactory slurping of soup and all, is the result of my craving.

It seems as though my craving encounters will never end. I have one more to tell before I go to bed. This one is the kicker. Why? Well, because you are about to find out what the best mee siam tastes like. Do take note that it is in my opinion so unless you like the same flavours as I do, you might not like the said dish, or rather, dishes.

On Saturday, I was on the bus, on my way to meet Dot in the morning to check out some stuff at East Coast Park. I was to meet her at Parkway Parade and on the bus, right smack in front of me was TV mobile (for my non Singaporean readers, this is a mobile TV set mounted in almost every bus all over the island. which literally translates into free TV when you'[re on the go). There was a food programme on the TV just when I was staring at the box, out of boredom. Then I saw close-up shots of carrot cake. Fried carrot cake, yes the oriental kind, in other words 'char tau kueh'. This carrot cake looked immensely sinful yet delicious. It was unique because the hawker uses fried ikan bilis as a topping and he adds extra 'icing' on his fried carrot cake to give it that extra kick - I wasn't sure what that extra ingredient was because the bus was too noisy.

Anyway, all I knew was that I had to have some fried carrot cake. I need not have that exact same one featured on the show but I knew that I had to get my hands on some. I immediately sms-ed Dot and told her about the carrot cake. This lass knows me best. She happily replied saying why not we go get some for lunch. That made me smile and you could have sensed my glee if you were right next to me. So I went to meet her at the foodcourt at Parkway Parade. They have a fried carrot cake stall that sold both white and black (white is without soy sauce, black contains soy sauce) versions on a 'yin-yang-esque' dish which cost $5:

The fried carrot cake was decent. It wasn't mind blowing but it did satisfy my craving. Dot seemed to like it too so that was good.

But of course we didn't just have fried carrot cake for lunch. Both of us have healthy appetites and our latest obesession (or mine for that matter) is this nonya-style mee siam sold at Parkway Parade's food court. I heard that it's been here even before Parkway underwent renovations. According to Dot, she grew up eating the stall's mee siam after mass every sunday. I was really taken by surprise because first of all, I've always seen people eating the huge plate of mee siam but I never thought much of it because I don't really like mee siam all that much. But oh boy was it all about to change. I think it has alot to do with the fact that this version is very Peranakan in taste.

This mee siam had a gravy that had a perfect balance of salty and tangy. A true indication of a genius use of assam and I believe fish stock? I hope I am right. All I know is that this watery gravy is meant to be drunk, every drop of it. I also like the fact that they gave plenty of bean sprouts, scallions and tau pok. There's also this wicked sambal you scoop from a huge porcelain bowl in front of the stall and onto your plate as you proceed to return to your table. Trust me, this sambal is IT. It is not your typical sambal. It is a nonya type of sambal, spicy but not too spicy, savoury but not too savoury. There are shallots in it too and you can so imagine eating it with lots of fried ikan bilis. This is only the second time that I am eating this mee siam and it still feels like love at first side. Believe me when I say that this mee siam beats all others hands down. Best part? It's only $3.70. Can you imagine that?

Not only do they sell some kick-ass mee siam, there's also curry chicken (which also rocks my socks by the way, but that is for another post), laksa, mee rebus, bean curd and chin chow jelly. Mind you, everything is made from scratch and that includes the bouncy shiny black jelly:

At first I was amused that a mee siam stall would sell home made chin chow. But then I realised what a smart idea that was. Topped with ice, this jelly is the perfect foil for those out there who have scorched tongues. It clearly is homemade - the texture of the jelly reveals that. It is neither too synthetic and neither do they use excessive flavouring. The cold dessert is ideal on a hot day.

After chowing down our carrot cake, mee siam and chin chow, we were clearly full. But we managed to walk it off with plenty of shopping. How's that for a random Saturday craving? Trust me when I tell you that this is only the beginning.

More tales of food cravings coming up soon....

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Coffeeshop talk

My recent sporadic posting might have led you to believe that I have indeed got sick of this little blog of mine. I assure you that I am not about to abandon this cosy space. What I do know is that I want to continue to entertain you with not just delicious photos but more recipes and appetite-inducing musings.

I do realise that it is very easy to fall into bouts of laziness in the kitchen especially after a long day at work. I eat out more than I used to. I spend more money on meals at restaurants and cafes. I also find that I no longer bring my camera out with me wherever I go. Oh the horror of horrors. How can someone who manages a food blog NOT have her camera with her especially when she tries a new restaurant? Believe me, there have been many instances when I just wish I had brought my humble Canon Ixus out with me.

But not bringing out my camera also means I have an excuse to go back to said restaurant to sample the food again, especially if it was memorable. Case in point, Pasta Cafe. I tried it last week for the first time and was pretty much dumbfounded. It made me kick myself and think aloud how I never got to try this place even though I've walked past it a million of times. But I will save that story for another post.

Have I lost my eagerness to ramble about food and capture delicious moments of my life? I think not. Alot of the the problem has to do with time. Work has been busy so it's very easy to neglect this blog. On the other hand, that does not mean I am not thinking about my next food adventure. My life still revolves around food and there are times where I find myself craving for a certain dish that I want to have for dinner even before lunch is over. This is one occupational hazard I am glad to have. It is my job to keep myself updated with what's new, hot and upcoming in the restaurant scene, the food industry etc. I find myself reading more food literature, in hope of becoming the next Ruth Reichl or Alan Richman. I am really fascinated with the entire business of food writing. Both food and writing are equally enigmatic and each have the potential to cause extreme emotions. For me, all I know is that I am going to do whatever it takes to get there. To get to that level where I can simply look at a dish and in 10 minutes, come up with a vivid and enjoyable description of it without using any of those forbidden and vague adjectives (ie. amazing, fantastic, tasty, yummy etc).

Why am I submitting you to a boring account of my personal self-discovery of sorts? Perhaps it is because I feel like there is nothing to hide. It's been 3 years since I started this blog and a portion of my life have been documented here; well at least the most delicious ones. I feel like I can speak my mind and not be misunderstood.

So thank you dear reader for staying on to read this. This blog might have been quite quiet but I assure you, I am working hard to get into the baking and cooking groove yet again. Time is precious and although I don't have the luxury of ample free time everyday, I will work a way around it. There are just too many cakes, cookies and muffins out there for me to bake and too little time to fret about not having time. I might have regular columns with specific themes. It won't be immediate but it's in the works.

Right now, I will have my coffee, drink it and stew in the many possibilities for the future of this blog. As we grow, and as we advance, so do our surroundings. Please stick around and have some coffee with me while I steer the direction of this blog to more culinary endeavours.


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