Crab Biriyani at Heritage Bites

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DC and I took his parents out for Indian. We’d heard about the crab biriyani at Heritage Bites and were very eager to try it out. The restaurant itself has a very understated decor – modern with Indian touches. Its simple layout adds to the spaciousness and helps in getting the attention of the waitstaff. DC started off with a jaljeera, a drink with mint, lime, cumin and chilli. I liked the crispy bits floating at the top, they stayed crispy throughout, which is quite amazing considering it’s soaking in the drink. What I didn’t like was the drink itself. It tasted like watered down green chilli sauce to me. Pass.

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We had some starters to begin the meal, a combination platter of chicken tikka, tandoori chicken, prawn and fish. The morsels were tender and well-marinated, though ultimately not as memorable as the mains.

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For mains, we had the Punjabi mutton dhabewala ($15), which was very tender pieces of goat simmered in a thick tomato-based curry. I didn’t get much of it because DC and his dad slurped most of it up! No great loss to me because I was most enamoured of the palak paneer ($15). It was incredibly smooth and creamy without being heavy, and had a tart tang that made it taste almost like tomato (green tomato?). The paneer (mild yogurt cheese) cubes were just the right consistency of yielding yet chewy to the bite. It was really excellent when wiped up with plain naan ($3), probably the best naan I’ve had in recent memory. It was quite thin and amazingly crisp, yet despite its thinness had a soft, slightly al dente centre. If not for the crab biriyani ($25) that followed, we’d probably have ordered one each. Oh yes, there was another dish with okra – I can’t remember what it was exactly, except that it was decent. Too bad that the other dishes completely stole the show.

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And then the piece de resistance! The crab biriyani is da bomb. It is such a great idea: cleanly shelled crab (no nasty jaw-jarring bits at all!) layered with fragrant basmati rice and cooked to a beautifully spiced finish. Add some curry gravy to moisten the thing and you wouldn’t even miss the raita that they forgot (they later included it in the portion we took home). There was a lot of moist, fresh crab in the biriyani, each spoonful had plenty of crab to feel its texture on the tongue and fully taste the yummy crustaceousness of it. It’s such a great idea for a lighter biriyani. I’m definitely coming back for this.

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We were so stuffed that we had to take back a portion of our crab biriyani. But that didn’t stop us from ordering the jalebies ($8). These little fried dough coils soaked in fragrant syrup were quite special: crisp throughout and not tooth-achingly sweet, the syrup was spiked with some lemon juice to round off our dinner on a yummy sweet-sour note. Be warned that each jalebie is quite small, so it may not be the value you’re looking for.

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Nonetheless, we had a very good deal because the place was running a 40% discount promotion on all orders made between 6-8pm. Get there for your crab biriyani fix!

Heritage Bites
#B1-012 Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6837 0858

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Ootoya

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Ootaya has been in Singapore for a while and they just opened a branch in Suntec City. The mains were fresh and cooked fairly healthily, tasting like home-cooked fare. Mine was a mixed bag as the pork balls with tendon just tasted a bit gristly, though still a notch above the mystery-meat balls served at economy rice stalls. I loved the onsen egg, essentially a chilled soft boiled egg, but I have a soft spot for those and this was cooked just right till the whites turned, uh, white and the yolk hadn’t yet set. Shinta and CH both enjoyed their mains and I especially liked this grilled pork dish that we shared. The pork had a layer of fat on it that charred slightly and reminded me of the reason why pork is just So Good.

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CH went for the Kyoto Uji matcha green tea mousse that came with milk ice cream, mochi and red beans. The green tea mousse was very intense and quite excellent as the bitterness of the tea comes through robustly. Much better than most insipid green tea concoctions.

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Shinta and I shared the castella parfait, a trifle made up of cake cubes, ice cream and plenty of cream. Oh I think there was jam or some kind of fruit sauce in it, but who cares? Cake cubes soaked in melted ice cream and accompanied by good quality whipped cream make my day any day.

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Ootoya
3 Temasek Boulevard
#B1-057 Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6837 3718

July in Vietnam: The Imperial Capital of Hue

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It was early morning when I got into Hue and hopped out of the night bus. A lovely long day of sightseeing across the Perfume River awaited.

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Here in Central Vietnam, there was a slight change in personality. Somehow I felt that people weren’t quite as hardened by war and that commerce, tourism and the free market had penetrated somewhat.

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The first stop was the Imperial Enclosure, a large citadel built by the Vietnamese emperors. These were largely in the Chinese style, given the vast influence exerted by their vast northern neighbour. First, I had to get past the outer moat.

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The walls surrounding the Enclosure were thick earthen ones with squat yet somehow very fitting gates and gatehouses built into the packed earth.

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And then there were the grand linkways between the various buildings topped by intricate carvings and prosperous sayings.

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The buildings themselves were very grand. Again, the strong Chinese influence was unmistakable, particularly in the Thai Hoa Palace, a receiving hall for the emperor.

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Further towards the back of the Enclosure were little residences of a slightly less grandiose nature, like the Truong San Residence, recently rebuilt after being devastated in the war. The pretty garden with rockery and pond added lots of charm to the place.

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I liked the little details I saw while wandering through the city in miniature. Looking up at the eaves of gates, I wondered why the decorations were made that way, whether for good luck or merely for ornamentation, perhaps to please the whim of a favoured concubine.

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Other decorations were more for impressing visitors, like this stone qilin (unicorn).

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There were also old cannon left behind from the old days. I wonder whether these were just for show or they really were meant for battle.

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Nonetheless, these weren’t spared the Fun with English sign of “No laying sitting on the selics.” Evidently done by someone with poor copyrighting skills.

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Outside the enclosure but still within the compound of the ancient city, there was plenty of living city. People carried on their daily business amidst the backdrop of beautiful lotus pond fringed by banana trees.

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After walking round imagining what life in ancient Hue would be like, I went to Y Thao Garden, a restaurant that specialised in imperial Hue cuisine. It had a little garden in the style of the imperial palace.

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The menu here is a Viet version of the degustation menu, with lots of little course that never quite seem to end. The only problem for a one-person meal was that the little courses weren’t as little as expected, as evidenced by this starter of deep-fried spring rolls masquerading as feathers atop a pineapple-carrot phoenix.

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Then came the less highly decorated poached prawns with salt and pepper.

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Followed by a slightly greasy but very yummy pancake called banh khoai. It was stuffed with meat and beansprouts and dipped in a peanut-based sauce.

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Next came a meat salad of sorts, a bit like the Lao/Thai larb gai. Combined with herbs and topped with ground peanuts, this aromatic mixture was eaten by scooping some up on a crunchy prawn cracker.

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I so full I was about to give up when the rice arrived. I thought it was going to be a run of the mill fried rice but boy was I wrong. This appeared to be fully vegetarian. The rice was cooked in a lotus leaf  with carrot, lotus seeds, black fungus and other vegetables. The fragrance of the dish blew me away. I don’t know what they did to make it taste so good but they sure did the right thing.

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Dessert was slightly less inspiring. There was only one, masquerading as table flowers. They’ve changed with the times and use plastic flower stems as the base, sticking on little soft pastry desserts. The filling was yellow mung bean, which was encased in a soft glutinous rice pastry, then painted over with some glossy jelly. It was pretty but not particularly tasty. Nonetheless, it was overall a great introduction to Hue imperial cuisine.

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Y Thao Garden
D Thach Han
Hue, Vietnam

[edited to include name and address of restaurant]

Quick Drinks: Once Upon A Milkshake

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DC sniffed out this place. We whizzed by for some takeaway milkshake and ice cream. Though I didn’t try the ice cream, I’m already a fan! We had the Agent Strawberry flavour, a straight-up strawberry flavoured milkshake.

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Check out how thick the milkshake is. I’m not normally a fan of milkshake as I really couldn’t stand the ghastly over-sweet synthetic stuff McDonald’s used to hawk. This one made a convert out of me. The strawberry flavour shone through with clear flavours of sweet yet tart strawberry. It tasted almost like my weekend breakfast smoothies (just that homemade is always better) and was very very smooth. I really liked how the shake didn’t separate as it gets drunk. Some just turn into ice as you suck away the sweet milky part, but this one was pure strawberry goodness all the way to the last drop. Go try it, it’s very very good.

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Once Upon A Milkshake
32 Maxwell Road
#01-08
Maxwell Chambers
Tel: 9823 3779

April in The Philippines: Cebu City

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Visitors to Cebu City typically go to Fort San Pedro and the Cebu Cathedral. We started off at the Fort, a lovely little respite from the heat built in the time of the conquistadors.

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The gardens and old guns were rather nice to look at, though I wasn’t very good at appreciating the history involved.

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It was a very handsome fort nonetheless. I wish I could have done it slightly more justice than a place to poke around in and sit with a cold drink for a while.

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We headed on to the Cebu Cathedral. I loved the baroque architecture and how it seemed so sturdy and somehow unfussy compared to famous European cathedrals. We went to the neighbouring Basilica of Santo Niño to see the Santo Niño statue and ended up queuing for 15 minutes with the locals to go in. They brought their pleas to the statue, wiping the glass casing and then their faces with a handkerchief, then kissing a special glass window, and finally crossing themselves. Most of  them wiped away tears as they prayed. It was hard not to be moved by the scene. I walked out of there feeling the spiritual and emotional power of the place. As we left the area, we realised that tourists could view the statue from the main sanctuary instead of queuing to go inside. No regrets though, as being a part of the ritual made it a far more meaningful experience.

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Last stop was at Magellan’s Cross, which didn’t seem to actually be planted by Magellan. Seems like it was planted by order of Magellan. The big deal was more that it was a symbol of Cebu. I think I liked the paintings on the ceiling of the chapel more!

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