Relish

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It was raining so instead of our usual running date, DC and I went to stuff our faces with beer and hamburgers. Oh joy.

First, the beers. DC had the German Konig Ludwig Weissbier (5.5%) that was light, wheaty and smooth. I didn’t fancy it that much because it was a tad characterless and hadn’t much in the flavour department.  But true enough to the suggested pairing, it went well with his burger (see ginormous later).

I had the Belgian Titje Blanche (4.7%), also smooth and light but much better than the Konig Ludwig. It had a sweet and rounded fruity taste that I liked a lot. Slightly hoppy, it had a bitter aftertaste that balanced off the flavour profile very nicely. A worthy pairing with my seafood burger.

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DC ordered the bacon and cheese burger with guacamole on the side. It really is as huge as it looks! It was a rather decent burger: juicy though vaguely lacking in beefiness. I liked it together with all that sinful melted cheese, bacon and even more sinful guacamole. Accompanied by fries and mayonnaise, this probably negated our exercise gains for the month.

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I went for the seafood burger. It worked surprisingly well as the prawn, crab, squid and fish (?) combined very well.  Tasted good and had lots of texture from bouncy prawn to soft crab to rubbery (in a good way) squid. Enhanced by the lime mayonnaise it’s definitely a keeper. I’m coming back for this one.

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It was Wednesday, where there was some kind of ladies special. DC mock pouted as I tucked into my free chocolate cake. He’ll just have to come back wearing a skirt! For the record, it was very good. There was something a bit dense about the cake, as if there was too much cornstarch in the mix. Now don’t come telling me that molten choc cake is supposed to be dense. It’s not. Molten choc cake is supposed to be rich. Rich and dense are two different things. Anyhow, I’ll stop knocking the rather flavourless cake, it was free after all.

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501 Bukit Timah Road
#02-01 Cluny Court
Tel: 6763 1547

March in Laos: Vientiane’s Temple Architecture

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People don’t really go to Laos for its temples. While it’s hardly Ayuthaya or Angkor Wat, Vientiane has  some lovely architecture. Siamesecat and I spent a leisurely hour exploring How Pha Kaew which now functions as a museum of art and antiquities rather than a temple.

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The style was a lot less formal and lacked the grandeur of other places in the region. But this gave the whole complex a rather relaxed feel, somehow as if they didn’t take themselves that seriously.

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I liked this wooden structure beautifully gilded with gold leaf. The inside housed many treasures belonging to the city. It was a pity that the interior was poorly lit and the exhibits were placed rather haphazardly.

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Laotian architecture, influenced by neighbouring Thailand, pays attention to small details. I enjoyed this naga carving…

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… and absolutely adored the carvings on the eaves. I especially loved how this dragonfly was taking a breather on the dragon! Look carefully now.

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Inside, the door panels had ornate carvings, again coated with gold leaf.

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As in most Buddhist structures, there were Buddha statues all over the place. This tortoise stuck out amidst the many statues. I guess the poor guy doesn’t get much respect seeing as they had to put a “No Sitting” sign on him!

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March in Laos: Rush Hour in Vientiane

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The first trip of my year off was with Siamesecat to Laos. We flew into Vientiane by budget airline and made a whistle-stop tour of the capital Vientiane. Cheapskates as we were, we refused to pay the 30,000 kip (S$6) offered by the taxi drivers and strolled out of the airport gates. Luckily we managed to flag down a tuk-tuk without a fare and paid 20,000 kip (S$4) instead. The airport highway was hardly a highway at all and we already felt relaxed in the traffic at rush hour.

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Nope, your eyes didn’t deceive you. This is rush hour traffic. Amazing stuff, isn’t it?

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There really didn”t seem to be much happening in this neck of the woods except other backpackers in search of accommodation. It’s true, Laos is just so plain sleepy!

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There wasn’t much in terms of attractions in Vientiane. Here’s some fountain that’s supposed to be a tourist attraction but I forget why it’s important. Siamesecat just took the picture for the heck of it.

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What I liked most about Vientiane was it’s unassuming charm and the pretty sights that were never really meant to be postcard worthy. There’s something about the coconut trees and temple eaves juxtaposed against off-roader that makes me think of tropical paradise here.

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We were lucky to arrive during mango season. At this stall at the Morning Market (still open in the afternoon), the boss lady deftly cut up our mangoes with expert fingers and looked on amusedly as we posed and then devoured them. One of my best fruit memories of the year was eating mangoes here. As I type, my mind replays the fragrant sticky-sweet drip, and my mouth waters.

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Homemade Yogurt Breakfast

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I had a teeny bit of time one Saturday morning, so I made this healthy yet very satisfying breakfast. There was mango and pear in the fridge, and some greek yoghurt too. I wasn’t quite content with just fruit and yogurt, so I rummaged in the freezer for some rolled oats, toasted it and then drizzled over some Manuka honey. I think the combination of nutty toasted oats and herby honey really lifted the yogurt to a higher level. Not to mention, the mango was nice and fragrant, making it something yummy to look forward to again soon.

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There’s no real need for a recipe, but here goes if you must.

Ingredients:

1 small mango, skinned, seeded and cubed
1 pear, cored and cubed
1 cup thick greek yogurt
1 handful rolled oats
1 tbsp Manuka honey

Method:

  1. Prepare the fruit, lay in a shallow dish and spoon over the yogurt.
  2. Spread the oats in a thin layer in a toaster oven and toast for about 2 minutes or till just brown.
  3. Scatter the oats over the fruit and yogurt, then drizzle over the honey.
  4. Stir and enjoy.

Serves 1.

Quick Eats: Cheng Tng at Tanjong Pagar Hawker Centre

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Tanjong Pagar Hawker Centre is most famous for its peanut ice kachang. As I’m not the biggest fan of that and have already tried it before, I went for the cheng tng at the stall behind Annie’s.

This is one of the better and more unique cheng tngs I’ve had. I liked how only old-fashioned ingredients were used, so there was none of that weird QQ ball stuff or strange food colourings. It was also good that the shaved ice dessert it wasn’t overly sugary. The sweet potato was cooked plain and didn’t need the help of syrup to make it taste right. There were the usual toppings: barley, big sago balls and agar agar strips.

I liked how they made mundane ingredients special. For one, they used jumbo red beans instead of the usual tiny ones. That made a big difference to this erstwhile red bean hater. The reconstituted dried longan was quite special too. I don’t know how they did it, but it was done so that the longan was juicy but still retained that slightly earthy dried flavour. The gilding of the lily came with the splash of gula melaka on top.

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For $1.50, this blend of flavours and textures on ice was a real winner for me.

Huat Kee
#02-53 Tanjong Pagar Hawker Centre

Seafood and an Unexpected Find at Alexandra Village

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I try to make sure I don’t get too fat by running three times a week. Unfortunately, running is almost always negated by dinner. After a good run at Labrador Park, we headed to Alexandra Village. We got there a bit too late as most of the famous stalls were closed. The good thing was that Rong Guang BBQ Seafood was not. We ordered sotong kia (deep fried baby squid in black sauce) and sambal sting ray. I managed to head off disaster by persuading DC that we really shouldn’t go for the deep fried you tiao.

DC decided that the sotong kia was one of the best he had, very similar to the memories of his childhood. I liked the crisp crunch of the squid especially while still piping hot, but I thought it was a bit too sweet for my liking. The best I’ve had in recent memory is the one at Pulau Ubin still.

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I adore sting ray and can never get enough of the moist smooth flesh. Grilled with sambal and eaten with onion-soaked chinchalok, it really is heaven in a mouthful. Here, the sambal was spicy with good kick and the fish fresh and firm.

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We had been rather, um, restrained in our ordering as DC wanted avocado ice cream. He was buying our very fresh and sweet pineapple and starfruit juice when he spied the avocado ice cream sign. Apparently Seng Hong Fruit Juice specialises in avocados. They make a mean avocado juice/milkshake too. (We had to go back another day to try it!)

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It’s the avocado ice cream that takes the cake. At first look, it’s a small tub costing $1. The pale green stuff was frozen solid and needed a while on the tongue to start yielding up some taste. I was dubious at first, but then started whining at DC for eating faster than me. The ice cream was very creamy and had a lot of avocado pieces swirled into the jade goodness. It’s definitely better and probably cheaper than the stuff you get at the local ice creameries. A definite win!

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Rong Guang Seafood BBQ and Seng Hong Fruit Juice are pretty much side by side, at the far corner of Alexandra Village hawker centre.

August in China: Pasteurised Hands and Little Fat Lambs

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There was a cleaning station at the entrance of one of the higher quality restaurants our relatives took us to. I was incredibly amused by the request to pasteurise my hands.

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As I dispensed the happy juice, I was relieved that water at 70°C didn’t spurt out and bathe my hands for 5 minutes! Hee.

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In other stories, I treated my uncles to dinner at Xiao Fei Yang (Little Fat Lamb) the night before we flew back home. This place specialises in hotpot and has a few flavours to choose from. We chose the herbal chicken and the mala flavours. True to usual form, we over ordered. Between the three of us, we had so much food that the restaurant had to provide a side table to cram everything in!

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Here’s me and First Uncle before the food fest started. I guess at this point you’d want to know how it tasted. Of course it was good, if not why would I post it? I’m going to leave you to track down a branch when you next go to China!

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August in China: The Box Factory

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One of our relatives in the village has a share in a cardboard box factory. No surprise it’s in the area seeing as Dongguan is one of the largest industrial cities in China. I heard rumours that Dongguan is the world’s largest producer of shoes. So many shoes probably means a big demand for my relative’s boxes then.

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First we saw the bales of paper. There’s First Uncle going “it’s this high!”

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Then the requisite group photo.

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The bales are then unstacked and gotten ready for processing into cardboard.

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The sheets are glued together to formed the corrugated board and then cut by this lean mean machine.

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I realise that I never got to see any boxes at all. Perhaps it made just cardboard and didn’t assemble them into boxes. I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that I quite like this gloomy shot of the factory interior.

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August in China: My Mother’s Ancestral Village

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It just happened that my uncles were in the area as they were going back to the ancestral village. I planned my trip so that I could go have a look too. My mother’s ancestral village of Caotun has now been swallowed up by Dongguan, a major industrial city, and is more suburb than village. Still, everyone in this area has the same surname and is related in some way. (In case you’re wondering: no they didn’t marry their cousins, they just went to the next village or so to look for a wife. At least that was what happened in the old days.)

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Here I am at the local vegetable patch. My uncles somehow took it into their heads that as a city girl I had to acquaint myself with it. So yes, vegetable patch, meet me; me, meet vegetable patch.

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Now this is where things get slightly more interesting. Here’s the local village hall. I’m posing with my Third Uncle…

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… and then with my First Uncle.

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And why is it interesting? There’s a roll of honour here for people who donate to the hall. Here I am pointing at my great aunt’s name.

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And here is one of the pair of stone lions my grandfather donated.

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Somehow this tiny village has two halls. My grandfather donated to this one too and here I am tiptoe-ing to show you his name.

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And finally in my grandfather’s house, there’s the family columbarium of sorts. It’s maintained by our relatives who still live here. One of the old ladies still climbs up to this room pretty regularly to light joss sticks and offer fruit. From left to right, I think the ashes are of (unknown), great aunt, great grandmother, grandfather, and other less direct relatives. For some of them I couldn’t even make out who it is from the markings on the urn.

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It was quite an experience to see what might have been had my grandparents not moved out to Singapore in those early days. I guess this is part of what they mean when they talk of finding one’s roots.

August in China: Modern-Day Chaozhou

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I wasn’t sure what to expect in Chaozhou. In my mind, Chaozhou has an almost mythical quality, more so than Xiamen. For the Hokkiens have the entire Fujian province as a spiritual home while the Teochews have only the city Chaozhou for theirs. Sure, nearby Shantou speaks Teochew as well but to the overseas Chinese in me, it doesn’t really count. (For those unfamiliar with the local terms, Chaozhou is pronounced Teochew in the local dialect of the same name and Fujian is said Hokkien, again in their local dialect Hokkien.)

There wasn’t much on Chaozhou in my guidebook, so I contented myself with a quick four-hour pitstop in between Hakka country and Guangzhou. I spent most of my time exploring the crumbling streets around the Anping Lu area. Here the houses set along zigzagging alleys dated to the Ming dynasty. It was fun to spot little details yet untouched by restoration for the tourists. As usual, the old seedy area was much more interesting than the prettier but less characterful area under restoration just streets away.

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I wandered the backalleys which often turned into people’s backyards, surreptitiously taking shots of, well, everyday life.

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Here, it didn’t seem like time passed very fast at all. This scene of the crumbling tile and rusty bicycle to me fits fine even a hundred years back.

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I liked how traditions still ran strong here, with freshly calligraphed couplets adorning the courtyard door.

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Here’s another surreptitious shot, this time of old-timers at their usual practice session. Two of them are playing the erhu (a two-stringed instrument vaguely similar to a violin) and a yangqing (conceptually somewhat like a piano). It was great standing at a respectful distance just watching and listening.

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The bridge was the last stop before I turned back to the bus station to catch my coach. I think this could be Xiangzi Qiao which was apparently built in the 12th century. Too bad it was crumbling and not particularly attractive, plus had some kind of exorbitant entrance fee (as usual). I turned around and strolled back past the atmospheric streets I’d just finished exploring, slowly savouring the sights and sounds (for free!) all the way back to the bus station.

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