Yahava

Jean told me about this place called Yahava tucked in an area of town that I’ve been frequenting quite a bit. It’s stylishly decorated…

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… with interesting details such as the portafilters standing in for door handles. Cute eh? The inside feels very airy because they haven’t crammed the place full of tables and chairs. There’s plenty of space for displaying coffees from around the world. (They urge you to take a pack home to try.) There’s also a comfy couch if you feel like lounging.

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And how’s the coffee? Very decent. The cafe latte is aromatically assertive¬†with a light bitterness and none of the horrible acidity of inferior brews.

IMG_4637Worth trying if you’re in the area. Good coffee, great atmosphere.

Yahava KoffeeWorks
4 Jalan Gelenggang
Singapore 578188
Tel: +65 6554 7080
koffee@yahava.sg

July in Vietnam: A Ho Chi Minh Finale

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Before I knew it, I was back in Ho Chi Minh City. It was unmistakable from the sheer volume of motorcycles that seemed to populate the city.

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I visited the main sights like the Main Post Office, worth a look for its French-style architecture.

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And the stately People’s Committee Building or Hotel de Ville. Sadly, it didn’t take visitors, leaving me to take (very bad) pictures from across the street.

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Right in the front of the Hotel de Ville was a statue of Uncle Ho, the city’s namesake, comforting a child.

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Then there was the Notre Dame Cathedral that lost all its stained glass in the War. Its facade wasn’t very inspiring…

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… but inside there were rather unique statues of Vietnamese saints at one of the niches.

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There were also amusing Fun With English admonishing tourists to let the mass be.

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I also wandered out into the Cholon district, where the Chinatown of Saigon lay. Some of the temples here outshone those in Hoi An by far with their ornate yet somehow tasteful decor. I greatly enjoyed the contrast between black and gold here, complemented by the red background.

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The light that day was just perfect for this lovely shot of celestial light streaming past the conical joss sticks to reflect wildly off the ceremonial urn.

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There were other bits of detail that I really enjoyed, like this eave guard standing with his fan or some such ready to do… what? Battle with unseen miniature dragons? Beat back the wind?

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And there was this deliciously child-like panorama of a manor house and its out buildings.

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I’ve somehow lost the pictures I took when eating with Delightt, of banh mi so yummy I had to take some on the plane with me, and mushroom pizzas so addictive I had to have one for brunch despite already having had breakfast and plans for lunch. But I managed to take a picture of a very unusual breakfast of banh cuon, the Viet take on chee cheong fun. I must say that the Vietnamese can outcook the Cantonese for chee cheong fun. (The Singaporean hawker version served with that nasty sweet sauce is irredeemable.) Their version was much thinner and finer, so good that it was even better eaten cold. Mine was stuffed with minced pork and mushroom then sprinkled with nuoc mam and accompanied by spamsticks and basil. It was incredibly yummy.

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And then there was Fanny. Delightt and I spent a good afternoon there trying flavour after flavour. They had strange ones like custard apple, peanut and ginger flavours. Most were really yummy, like passionfruit and mango and the usual vanilla flavours. The waitress was incredibly patient with us as we chose to order each scoop separately (they gave one wafer and one grape garnish for each ice cream cup), especially considering that each scoop only cost 11,000 dong (USD0.65). Excellent stuff.

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And last of all was one of the best bits of being in Vietnam – having ca phe sua da (ice coffee with condensed milk). Trung Nguyen was everywhere and I dropped in often to get my coffee fix. It was here that I had the most expensive cup of coffee in my life – civet cat coffee, which was strong, intense and cost me a pretty USD7. It would otherwise have bought me a whole day of gluttonous eating. A pity that the coffee was so strong it started giving me palpitations and I couldn’t finish it.

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Perhaps a fitting metaphor for my experience in Vietnam. Goodbye Vietnam of the bittersweet memories.

July in Vietnam: Eating My Way Through Hoi An

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Back in Hoi An, a great deal of colour and eating beckoned. The colourful Chinese lanterns dotting the streets and the relaxed way of life really charmed me. Here, there were few motorcycles and a lot of people got around either on foot or by bicycle.

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I spotted some amusing sights on the way, like this couple trying very hard to relax for their wedding photo shoot…

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… while their costumed wedding party awaited.

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And just before dinner I spotted this restaurateur picking his nose outside his very empty joint. I wonder why no one patronised his cafe.

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I headed on towards the market where lots of yummy sights and smells awaited. The sheer variety of fruit, vegetables and herbs made me yearn for a kitchen to whip up some food inspired by the local produce.

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I settled with having their local snacks instead. First, there were these odd little pancakes, reminiscent of the Indian appom. The tiny cakes were small enough to pop into the mouth whole and were crispy. The greasiness was countered by the shredded vegetables and herbs and the whole ensemble completed with a spamstick and a mystery-meat ball. It was a very satisfying starter.

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A short wander away was this version of bun. The thick rice noodles were bespattered with thick sweet sauce a bit like the stuff at home that’s put on yong tau fu, just quite a bit more savoury. It was much nicer with the hot sauce and the hotter yellow chillis.

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Yet another odd dish was this plate of assorted steamed dumplings. I wasn’t particularly impressed even though the guide book said something about “white rose” which was supposed to be shrimp encased in rice paper of sorts and steamed. It was more like soon kueh with slightly drier skin. Not bad when hot but not much more than not bad.

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Wandering away from the market, I ducked into an alley along the quaint streets…

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… and found myself in a little porch with a bowl of cau lau in front of me. This is a Hoi An specialty that involves flat yellow noodles being smothered with braised pork and topped with lime juice and the usual herbage. It’s finished off with crispy fried rice paper bits and tastes really yummy, though very much reminding of what I do at home with leftover braised pork.

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The best dish I had in Hoi An was the chicken rice, thankfully not featured in the guide but chanced upon on the street. The rice was cooked with chicken stock, just like Hainanese chicken rice at home. Unlike the stuff at home, it was topped with a whole variety of oddities like boiled pork, beansprouts and herbs. Not to mention, the chicken was just the shredded type torn apart with fingers. The flavour was amazing. It was an epiphany to have incredibly aromatic, chickeny rice matched with herbs like coriander and laksa leaves. It was definitely a step up from Hainanese chicken rice.

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I’m sure some of you must be wondering why I hadn’t mentioned Vietnam’s national drink yet. The coffee here is thick, strong and incredibly sweet and milky with added condensed milk. And that’s the only way you should have it. Ask for ca phe sua da and you get a tall glass of ice to cool it all down with. It’s wonderful on a hot day. When you’re done, chase it down with the green tea provided gratis.

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I first noticed this coffee place because of the many men perched on red plastic chairs watching TV in the morning. They disappeared by midday and I only ventured there in the afternoon to get a mobile plan top up card and a glass of coffee. After the first sip, I was hooked. I spent every afternoon there enjoying my ca phe sua da, playing with the very cute puppy called Remain, and chatting with the proprietress about Hoi An, Vietnam and Singapore.

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La Nonna: Good but Flawed

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La Nonna’d been on my to-try list for a while. We went there one gloomy Sunday for a pick-me-up lunch. I liked how hot bread came quite swiftly. There was the crispy flat bread and the softer bun to choose from. The bun was very tasty with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar provided at the table. Nothing like hot bread to start a meal. The only problem was that the flat bread wasn’t that great and the bun was the type that would go stale once cold. Everything had to be eaten hot and eaten now.

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We ordered a couple of specials as appetisers. The first was pan-fried mozzarella wrapped in pancetta. It was a rather decent dish that was pretty well executed especially with the drizzle of balsamic vinegar as a finishing touch. Two flaws marred the dish: first, the cheese was a rather run of the mill mozzarella. Next, the cheese wasn’t oozy at all. The best part is that if the cheese was good, it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t oozy. And conversely, if the cheese was oozy, it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t very good!

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Next up was the spicy sausages. These were very tasty, but I felt that they were so heavy-handed with the spice that I couldn’t quite enjoy the meaty flavour. A little more restraint with the chilli and it would have been just perfect. The new potatoes on the side were excellent, particularly paired with the mustard. Again, another dish where a little tweak would have made it just perfect.

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Next came our main course of the house special pizza. It had asparagus, truffle and a runny egg on it. The combination was very good, especially the truffle and egg. I liked how the truffle aroma was just right, enough to entice but not too heavy to drown out everything else. By now you must be wondering about the downside. It was the crust. It tasted and looked frozen as the edges were too uniform and the flavour too flat. Freshly made pizza dough always has the most amazing medley of smells which this version lacked. Again, such a pity.

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After the mains, we had a cappuccino to recuperate. Here I had no complaint as the coffee was rich and robust. Thumbs up.

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And then dessert. DC and I are split on this. I liked the crust but wasn’t sure about the apple filling. DC found the crust too hard and liked the filling a lot. He also liked the rather novel combination of chocolate ice cream with apple tart. I wasn’t sure. Here, it wasn’t so much good but flawed, it was more good but controversial!

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La Nonna seems to be a restaurant that’s on the brink of going downhill. There’s lots of promise in the food and good flavours to be found, just that the chef needs to be vigilant and not cut corners. All its flaws are very much fixable, I hope they do something about it soon.

La Nonna
76 Namly Place
Tel: 6762 1587

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

Oriole Part Deux

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We went back to Oriole to have a proper meal and were rewarded with excellent starters and mains. The potted crab was a lovely starter. I liked how the firm crab pieces blended well with the mayonnaise and generous amounts of pepper. The contrast with the crisp toasted bread and crunchy aromatic herbs was lovely.

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I had the beef cheek tagliatelle which was fantastic. It was one of the few dishes involving what’s normally a main course repurposed as pasta sauce that actually worked. The rich beefy sauce was absorbed well by the noodles and the mushrooms provided a burst of soft flavour ever so often. A definite reorder.

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Talking about reorders, the risotto was one as we enjoyed our taster of the last one very much. This time it was as good as ever. I think it was a slightly different version from before with a different fish (plus more too!) and asparagus included in it. Very good stuff.

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The dessert was where a bit of disappointment came in. The Eton Mess had overwhipped cream in it and wasn’t particularly special.

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Last of all was the espresso that we had to send back because it was too sour. Unfortunately the replacement espresso came back sour too, so we gave up. Nonetheless, KK says that coffee made by a certain barista is good, so we’ll have to reorder on a day when he’s there.

Oriole Cafe and Bar
96 Somerset Road
#01-01 Pan Pacific Serviced Suites
Tel: 6238 8348

Trung Nguyen Coffee

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I was delighted to find out the Trung Nguyen Coffee got to our shores, and even more delighted that DC found it too and loves it. In fact, he loves it so much they recognise him already. I think one week he went there for a cuppa almost every day.

Trung Nguyen is the Viet equivalent of Starbucks, only infinitely superior to the coffee-flavoured milk Starbucks serves. Here they do things the traditional Viet way using flimsy little drip coffee contraptions. Choose which number brew you like (each is blended differently) and wait for the hot water to percolate through the metal filter. I like Blend No. 5. It’s deeply aromatic and very robust with little acidity. It’s the equivalent of a boot up the bum gulped black, but what a fragrant boot up the bum! Drunk with a good dose of condensed milk, it’s a better version of the coffeeshop kopi: very sweet, very smooth and very strong. I think this is the best coffee in Singapore. Do yourself a favour and forget the other coffee places. This is it.

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Trung Nguyen Coffee
Liang Court
177 River Valley Road #02-34
Tel: 6837 3314