Quick Eats: Temple Street Desserts

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Mei Heong Yuen is famous for its excellent desserts. The standards are still high despite its popularity and the sheer volume of people and corresponding desserts passing through. I went for the tang yuan in ginger soup. The glutinous rice balls were soft and chewy and came in black sesame and peanut flavours. I liked the peanut one more as the filling had bits of crunch while being just the right sweetness. It contrasted nicely with the spicy ginger soup. Such traditional comfort food for me.

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Slightly less traditional was the shaved ice that was new to the menu. I like how they took a new-fangled idea and made it their own with the almond snow ice. It’s basically a block of their signature almond cream frozen and shaved into delicate layers. Same familiar flavour, quite a different and incredibly novel texture. I liked how the very slightly grainy almond layers melted in the mouth.

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I’ll definitely be there again soon, sooner if it’s a hot day!


Mei Heong Yuen Dessert
65-67 Temple Street
Tel: 6221 1156

Secret Eat Revealed: Chinatown Fish-Head Beehoon

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Remember that place I told you about before? I think it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. This place needs recognition. It’s run by an old couple in a Banda Street food court. Not sure where Banda Street is? It’s the place overlooking the carpark next to the Buddha Tooth Temple, kinda across the road from Maxwell Market.

I went back there with Delightt and this time we brought our men with us. The fish head beehoon was as good as ever, perhaps better this time as the beehoon was perfectly done. I liked how the soup was still cloudy with no milk added and plenty of good flavour from the fish head and bones. It was hard to eat the fish pieces because tongue had to navigate between fishy grooves to find tasty meat and spit out the spent bones. It was one of the few places where the second visit after so long was better than the first!

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The nice stallholder auntie recommended chicken with bittergourd and black bean sauce. It was good too! There was plenty of wok hei in the dish and both chicken and bittergourd were well-cooked. The chicken was tender and just cooked through while the bittergourd was nicely braised yet not too soft. The chef has real mastery over his fire here!

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Come here for good Cantonese fare, just be prepared to wait as there are lots of regulars and the old man at the wok isn’t very quick on his feet.

Blk 5 Banda Street
Corner near restrooms

True All-Day Breakfast

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DC and I were frustrated in yet another attempt to eat at Ippudo. Disheartened by the queues, we headed over to Wild Honey instead. It’s an interesting premise here: an eclectic set-up with odd-sized tables and chairs or sofas, a chalkboard menu with pictures to browse on an iPod Touch, and an emphasis on breakfast food. I was a bit surprised to have to queue and pay at the counter for my food, but soon understood as part of the fun was deciding what to eat from the photos on the iTouch.

True to its name, this place had several honey-themed drinks. I liked my refreshing fizzy pink grapefruit and manuka honey drink. DC also liked his banana, honey and meringue drink which was more smoothie than drink. It was like breakfast in a glass. I found it way too thick and rich and while I don’t particularly fancy soft meringue, I liked the creativity of the soft meringue topping crisped on the outside (most likely with a blowtorch). DC enjoyed it thoroughly, enthusiastically sucking up the gloop with the straw.

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The goat cheese salad was another hit. Hardly healthy at all, our token nod to vegetables was dominated by the very yummy breaded deep-fried goat cheese. The oozy, salty goodness went really well with the bacon bits and pine nuts. It seemed like the fresh salad leaves were an afterthought.

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I went for the Yemeni breakfast of “malawach with whole boiled egg, green chili harissa and tomato kasundi.” Turned out that malawach is a Yemeni version of roti prata, very similar to a fluffier version of the frozen kind you pop in the toaster oven to reheat. It came with a loh neng, seemed just like braised egg in soy sauce, but I had no idea what the sauce was. The harissa was quite spicy hot and the tomato kasundi rather sweet. The owner came over and explained to me that it was his favourite childhood breakfast and he was absolutely delighted that I’d ordered it. He taught me how to eat the dish: by mashing up the egg and then mixing the sweet and hot sauces to my liking and eating it all with the prata malawach. It was quite yummy, but I felt it quite expensive ($18)  for what I got.

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DC’s choice was more substantial and I rather preferred his Tunisian breakfast of a “sizzling pan of tomato stew, fried eggs and chorizo sausage.” Given that we were having dinner, this breakfast dish seemed more apt for the time of the day. I liked the combination of gooey egg yolk, salty spicy chorizo and tomato on toast. They were somehow a bit nicer on the toast soldiers that came with the salad.

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My verdict? I guess I’m not much of an all-day breakfast girl. It’s a nice little place with friendly service and interesting concepts. I wonder if it’ll last in fickle Singapore, especially given the high prices (think about it: eggs and bread for slightly under $20?). Still, I’d go back for brunch and try the other stuff too.

Wild Honey
Mandarin Gallery #03-02
Orchard Road
Tel: 6235 3900

June in Thailand: Elephants and Other Modes of Transport

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It was our last day in Ayutthaya and I went wandering the streets on my own while Tom recuperated from the heat. Along a shady area between wats, I found a little food stand and sat down to a simplet yet fabulous lunch of braised chicken with preserved salted vegetables, lots of herbs and incredible chilli sauce. Of course, all the ordering was done in sign language and it helped that I peeked at what other people were having before sitting down. There is nothing like street food for tasting what the locals eat and nothing like street food to have the true taste of a country.

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I wandered past the temples again, this time slowing down to take in the views.

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Outside one of the bigger temples, I spied a group of elephants from afar. The getup of the elephants was supremely touristy but somehow apt and nicely atmospheric for this city.

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The elephants looked so grand in their brocade and tassels.

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The mahouts perched on the elephants’ heads wore matching red costumes.

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And the tourists (Japanese?) posed cheerfully for my shots.

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They formed a very grand retinue, such a lovely sight all together.

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Soon, they ambled off as a group and it was time for me to go. I approached a nearby motorcycle-taxi driver, negotiated my price, and off I went back to the guest house to meet Tom and get to our next destination.

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June in Thailand: Minor Temples in Ayutthaya

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The rest of Ayutthaya was a blur of temple after temple. Some of them were still in use as places of worship such as the one here undergoing renovation works while still having devotees throng the area. The Buddha images were completely wrapped in orange gauze to protect them from the reno works. 

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Bizarrely enough, some warranted even more protection, such as this shrink-wrapped Buddha image.

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Tom and I got off the island and took a boat trip to the outer temple ruins where there were some pretty impressive pagodas…

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… more ruins, this time of the same era of the ones on the island…

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… and more weather-beaten Buddha images.

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Tom and I were lucky to get this photo. The boat took us to the bank and we didn’t realise that the boat ride covered, well, only the boat road and not admission charges. Thankfully no one noticed us till we’d taken the picture. After being discovered, we had to take a circuitous route back to the boat to avoid paying the fees!

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The last stop was the former Royal Palace, a lovely building quite austere in contrast with other royal palaces I’d seen.

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Before going in to see the giant golden Buddha, we had to put our shoes in the lacks.

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Only after noticing the lacks were we able to view the golden Buddha in all its majesty.

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June in Thailand: Ayutthaya

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First on the temple circuit (in my books at least) was Ayutthaya. Tom and I decided to travel together up to Chiang Mai and we caught an uncomfortable minivan ride from Kanchanaburi up to Ayutthaya. It’s an ancient town situated pretty much within an island formed by the confluence of three rivers. Most of the ancient temples were on the island, but there were some interesting ones on the other side of the river.

Our first stop was on the island. Wat Phra Mahatat contains the most photographed trio of stupas in Ayutthaya, its graceful peaks still pointing straight up into the sky  after so many hundreds of years.

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I like how the brown brick weathered off the top of the structures to reveal the grey material within. It made them look more austere and elegant.

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There’s quite a lot more to see in the area. Even though most of the wats were in ruins, the Thai still venerated the Buddha images by placing orange sashes on them.

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This particular image still retained its serene expression and quite a bit of detail despite being exposed to the elements for so long. Behind it were some tall stupas.

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Coupled with the tall stupas were of course incredibly steep steps that even this local dog had to tread carefully down.

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There were plenty more Buddha images all over, each in a unique pose.

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I also spied among the ruins this odd Chinese-style Buddha that looked like it’d been planted there by a tourist.

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It’s quite sad how a lot of the Buddha images were headless. It’s either because of natural weathering or more likely looters. These didn’t have orange sashes.

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There was also a whole avenue of headless Buddhas, which was startling and strangely atmospheric in its sense of tragedy.

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And then the crowning glory of the place: a Buddha statue grown over by a tree. For once the norm was reversed so that only the head could be seen.

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It’s amazing how the tree roots simply took over yet left the head and face untouched.

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15 Minute Stir-Fry Dinner

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When I’m tired from a hard day’s work but don’t want to cop out by having instant noodles, I go the wholesome route by doing a quick stir-fry. This time, a quick run through the supermarket got me some organic choy sum, mixed agro-tech mushrooms, ginger and some pork shoulder. Once I got home, I washed and cut the vegetables quickly, then sliced the mushrooms, ginger and pork. (I can never be bothered to wash them.) That takes about 10 minutes and then the stir-fry itself takes 5 minutes. If there’s leftover rice in the fridge, then a 2 minute microwave sorts out the rice. If not, it’s a 5 minute boil of noodles. No, the minutes don’t add up to 15 because a lot of them are done simultaneously. After that short time of quick work, a piping hot and very home-cooked satisfying dinner.

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Ingredients:
1 tbsp oil
6 thin slices of ginger
handful mushrooms, cut into chunks
small piece pork, sliced
good splash Chinese shaoxing wine or dry sherry
salt to taste
soy sauce to taste

Method:

  1. Heat your wok over the highest possible flame. Coat the wok with the oil and allow to get as hot as you dare. Make sure all your ingredients are ready.
  2. Slide in the ginger (gingerly!) and stir. Just before the ginger burns, toss in the pork. Stir rapidly till just about cooked, then add the mushrooms and keep stirring furiously. Now add the vegetables and keep going till the leaves are completely wilted.
  3. Splash in the Chinese wine and add salt and soy sauce to taste. Turn off the heat and serve over rice or noodles.

Serves 1.

Quick Eats: Soup and Salad

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There’s a new salad place at Citylink Mall that’s both good and shockingly good value for money. I went for the $10 set lunch consisting of a soup of the day, a basic salad (the cheapest one on the board), and a small freshly squeezed juice. The juice wasn’t as small as I expected and they didn’t cheat by putting a huge lot of ice. My green apple juice was still sweet (I’m assuming no added sugar) and very refreshing. I went for a safe choice for the soup: mushroom. It was velvety and smooth and very flavourful – not your usual Campbells stuff.

The soup and nicely toasted bread were themselves quite filling, but the generous salad rounded off the meal so much that I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish the portion! I liked how they had nice leaves like rocket, mizuna and baby spinach leaves. The system works so that you can choose a few kinds of each category according to the price of your salad. I was quite happy with the basic one because I wanted to go vegetarian for that meal. For the more expensive salads, the extra price goes for added meat and seafood ingredients. They had quite a wide range of dressings, just that I can’t quite remember what sorts they had. I went for the Asian dressing, which I quite liked even though it was slightly too sweet.

Mescluns
Citylink Mall (opposite HMV)

Indian at the Esplanade

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DC and I needed some dinner before seeing the opera (how chi-chi!) at the Esplanade. We didn’t have particularly high expectations of the selection at the Esplanade. The Kebab Factory seemed interesting, so it was a whole load of carbs and curry before sitting through La Boheme. Definitely not a very wise choice, but we’re led by the tummy not really the brain. It was surprisingly good!

We started off with an interesting drink of lime, mint and cumin seed called jaljeera. It was a refreshing aperitif to prepare us for a good meal ahead. Our first dish was a palak dish that tasted a whole load better than it looked! Pushing aside the thought that it looks like gloopy baby food, the pureed spinach was smooth, creamy and quite rich. For a vegetable dish, it sure wasn’t a healthy option but at least we were eating our greens!

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The tandoori salmon I felt was a bit of a weak link. It was competently executed and the spices were fine. Too bad it was overcooked as is quite typical for Indian cooking. It resulted in a rough and not particularly pleasant texture. I liked the side salad of shredded daikon and beetroot much better.

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My favourite dish of the evening was the one with chicken balls stuffed with lamb mince. It’s not often to have something that incorporates two different types of meat. The chicken breast on the outside, quite surprisingly, wasn’t overcooked. The lamb stuffing was flavoured with tomato and it was a bit like bolognaise sauce, a very nice twist – very Indian and very Italian at the same time.

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We tried one of the wholemeal breads but that didn’t turn out too good. It was too tough and didn’t taste that great. The plain naan, on the other hand, was flavourful and fragrant. We’ll go for just the naan next time.

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Mirchi’s Kebab Factory
#02-23 Esplanade Mall
Tel: 6334 5590

June in Thailand: The Tiger Temple

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The real reason why I wanted to go to Kanchanaburi was to visit the Tiger Temple. I know it’s vaguely gratuitous to see wild tigers in captivity, but getting close to these beautiful kings of the jungle was an irresistible premise. Before they let you into the area, you’ll have to sign off the back of your ticket. Doesn’t help that it’s all in Thai. I’m assuming that the sign below in English was what it said, rather than something like were I to die from a tiger mauling, the temple would get all my worldly belongings.

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No matter, the Tiger Canyon beckoned.

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It was a bit of a walk inside and I was glad to have met Tom, who was on the same tour. His enthusiasm and anticipation rubbed off mine and we got well excited just getting down the path.

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Only to come to a long queue in front of the tigers. They were all chained and the yellow-shirted volunteers thronged them, making sure that both tigers and tourists alike behaved themselves. Here you could choose between simply having a picture taken with a tiger for a small fee or paying an exorbitant 1000 baht (approx S$40) to have a picture with the tiger’s head on your lap. Being on a tight budget, we both agreed that we’d go for the regular picture, at the same time looking longingly at those who were happy-snapping away at tiger on lap.

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Needless to say, these were majestic creatures and we were surprised by how placid they were. Tom struck up a conversation with an Australian volunteer and he explained to us that the tigers had gotten used to the monks and the volunteers. As long as no red was flashed before them and the weather remained hot, they were generally non-aggressive.

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Despite knowing all this, something inside me was ready to run should the worst happen. They’d get someone else who ran slower, not me.

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Soon after, the unbearable humidity finally turned into torrential rain and the tourists started scattering. We were upset that having queued so long we still hadn’t our turn, but the volunteers insisted that photo-taking was over and that it was time for the tigers to retire for the night. The same volunteer told us that as the weather got cooler with the rain, the tigers would start getting restless and that was when any kind of aggravation would be dangerous.

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True enough, we noticed them starting to get up and pace and gradually getting more agitated. Reluctantly, Tom and I started up the slope. We were debating what to do as we’d come this far but hadn’t a picture taken yet, quintessential tourists we were. Tom spoke glumly about having to come back up the next day on another tour. We decided to hang around for a while and take shelter from the pelting rain before deciding what to do.

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The rain cleared and the Australian volunteer came by again. He told us that we could hang around and wait till some other tigers came out for a walk and we could get our pictures then. Soon the scattered remnants of wet and rather bedraggled tourists formed a queue behind the monks and volunteers. We gave our cameras to the volunteers and were given strict instructions to keep walking and to stay behind the tiger’s head. Before I knew it, I was holding the tiger’s leash, wondering what on earth I was doing as I’d obviously be dragged along the muddy ground if the fella decided to break into a run. Too soon, I had to give up the leash to Tom behind me.

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Thank God for second chances. This time I was relaxed enough to get close and pet the scratchy coarse pelt and force a grin for the camera.

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Tom and I returned to Kanchanaburi damp and smelly yet jubilant over our tiger experience!