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.