Yang Gui Fei

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We discovered this little restaurant while wandering around Chinatown looking for a quick dinner.  I liked the gentle pun in the name, as the character for Yang was “sheep” instead of  the usual character for the legendary Chinese consort’s surname. Yang Gui Fei specialises in Xi’an cuisine, and is run by Xi An people. We only seemed to hear mainland Chinese accents from the other patrons and had high hopes that the food would be authentic!

As per our usual practice, we ordered a bit more than expected, starting off with some typical Chinese cold starters, such as these pickled long beans.  When they first arrived, I was a bit dismayed by how bland and faded they looked. But looks belay much flavour and zing. The beans were refreshingly spicy and sour,  plus fermentation did wonders to add to its flavour. They were super yummy and also deceptively spicy – on first bite, they were mildly hot but the more I ate the hotter my mouth got and I couldn’t eat more than two in a row before having to cool off my mouth with something else.

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We also had a plate of seasoned enoki mushrooms, similar in its savoury umami seasoning, just not pickled and only mildly spicy. They were a good interlude between bites of beans!

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The star dish of this place had to be the mutton. We ordered the mutton kebabs and also tried out a few chicken ones. These were well-marinated, but the chicken kebabs were definitely juicier and more flavourful than the mutton ones. The mutton ones unfortunately don’t quite match up to what I remember in Xi’an. It all became clear when the proprietress told us that they used New Zealand lamb and not proper grown-up and gamey mutton. Maybe they should change to a Muslim supplier from Tekka market and make it truly Muslim-style like in Xi’an.

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Here’s a close up on the spice mix that goes into the marinade.   Yum!

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The next dish we ordered brought back fond memories from my holiday in Xi An.  “Biang Biang” noodles are thick, flat and very chewy noodles seasoned with a spicy  vinegary dipping sauce. The texture of these noodles are far from the usual slightly limp and soft Chinese noodles. They are the epitome of al dente yet are nothing like any Italian noodle. I don’t know what type of flour they used nor how they developed the gluten in the noodles to get this lovely firm noodle with loads of bite . It was wonderful.Word of warning:  one bowl of “Bian Bian” noodles is plenty for two.

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Yang Gui Fei restaurant
18 Smith Street
Tel: 6100 0629

July in Vietnam: The Madcap Motorbiking Adventure

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Maybe my hide had been toughened by the experiences of the last week, maybe my sense of reckless adventure got the better of me, but still I don’t know what got into me. After being harangued for my previous experience, the travel agent suggested I take a motorbike ride down to my next stop, the Cuc Phuong National Park, where I was up to more monkey business. He assured me that the motorbike driver, Hu, was absolutely proper and wouldn’t even try to touch me. Excellent that we got that sorted out and we were off.

Our route took us past the spectacular Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall) where I spent ages gawking and trying to figure out whether the water droplets falling on me were from the drizzle or the splash of the waterfall.

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It was a steep but very scenic walk up to the top…

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… and the views were nothing short of spectacular.

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We went past Tram Ton Pass which, according to Lonely Planet, divided the warmest and coldest places in Vietnam, Lai Chau and Sapa. As expected, when hot and cold met, you really could see air. It was mistily beautiful and mysterious, one of those places that has to be seen while you’re there. I couldn’t get any pictures because my camera was hopelessly fogged up. As we headed downslope, the mist cleared up slightly and I managed to catch some of the amazing scenery in pixels.

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Some parts of the hills gave way to little pockets of land flat enough for padi. It was the first harvest season and villagers were working hard to dry their harvest along the road, …

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… and subsequently thresh it by hand.

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It was tough work in the fields and it was also tough work staying on the bike. It was my first time for long at the back of the bike. Astride behind Hu, I had to hold myself straight and not grab onto him for propriety’s sake. It meant a mean day-long workout for my abs and thighs. When my abs were tired, I stood up slightly on my knees and when my knees were going to give way, I held my abs in to straighten up. The only alternative to this tough workout was to slump with my face against Hu’s back and I wasn’t about to let that happen. Boy was it tough going. I was so glad to get off the motorbike when we came up to a river crossing.

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Here, there were geese on the banks waiting for us. They must have thrived on the grass growing along the muddy banks.

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After waiting for enough customers at a little shop/tea-shack and chatting with the proprietor to pass the time, we got on board the little boat to get across.

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And after a short two-hour ride more, we were at a village homestay where the pigs very enthusiastically greeted us in the dusk.

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It was also where I very enthusiastically tackled my food (yes, the portion in the picture is only for two!) after a long day’s workout and passed out in the roomy common room of the stilt house.

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More next post.

June in Thailand: Food Festival and Other Sukhothai Eats

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Tom and I pulled into Sukhothai in the evening and we settled into a charming guesthouse (that would later steal money from the stash we put in safekeeping with them, unfortunately). We wandered out onto the street looking for food and chanced upon a banner advertising the Sukhothai Food Festival. It was just on the opposite side of the river from our guesthouse and nicely within walking distance. The place was bustling but not too crowded, just right for soaking in the atmosphere yet getting our food with no problem.

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There was loads of stuff on offer, from salads and fish cakes to rice with dishes and plenty of fruit and desserts. Here was where I introduced Tom to the joys of rambutan and my favourite, mangosteen. But let me show you just the highlights. I particularly liked the salt grilled river fish. The tilapia-like fish was coated generously in salt and grilled over a charcoal fire. When it’s on the plate, just lift off the skin, scales and salt and all. The interior is steaming hot and incredibly juicy, heavenly with the spicy lime and chilli dipping sauce.

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Then there were the grilled jumbo-sized prawns. Oh my, how fresh and succulent and good these babies were. It was Tom’s first time eating proper prawns, so I taught him how: grab and pull off the head, being careful not to let the juices dribble out, then quickly suck out the brains; peel carapace off body section by section, dip in sauce and devour. There’s something just so magical about charred crustacean. Like my prawns, I lost my head and blew my daily budget getting more. I’d just have to eat less the next day. (As if.)

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The most fascinating thing I saw of the festival was this dessert stand. It made gossamer-thin pancakes, even thinner than paper-thin, somewhat like Singaporean popiah skins. With the pancakes came a bundle of coloured spun sugar, a bit like cotton candy. Eat by rolling sugar in pancake then popping in mouth. It was a great dessert and we stood for ages at the stand, mesmerised by the deft twirlings of the chef slapping dough ball on hot slab to make perfectly round pancakes in perfect timing.

The food festival was so good we went there two nights in a row, but of course that’s not all we saw of Sukhothai cuisine. I read in the guidebook of a place that specialised in Sukhothai kway tiew noodles. It took little coercion to get Tom in on the hunt and after one failed attempt (it was closed), we sat down to two variations of the exceptionally thin flat rice noodles. The first was a bowl of scalded noodles with toppings, somewhat like the Vietnamese noodle salad bun thit nuong. It had bits of boiled pork, deep fried wanton skin, chai poh (preserved turnip), grated peanut, beans and herbs, all topped with lime and fish sauce. The medley of flavours was refreshing and a delicious change from the usual soup noodles or fried noodles.

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Speaking of which, the fried version was very yummy too, thanks to the generous sprinkling of deep fried lard over it. It was somewhat like pad thai minus the ketchup and shrimp. While both were delicious, I think the unfried version was slightly more unique.

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Stomachs sated, we were satisfied enough to head out to the attractions of Sukhothai.

Basilico Buffet

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It was the last big meal of the festive season and boy did we have a big one. My aunt loves hotel buffets and she treated Mum, Dad and me to lunch at Basilico at the Regent. It’s an Italian spread with some local food to supplement, and a very good spread it was! I apologise for the presentation in the photos because they were obviously assembled by greedy me.

Let’s have a look at the appetisers first. There was a whole range of seafood salads, from prawn to squid to seafood. Avoid the mussels and scallops unless you like tasteless frozen jumbo ones. There was also smoked salmon and boiled crab parts (the knobbly, slightly bristly alien thing in the left foreground is a cracked open crab claw). On the vegetable front, there were grilled asparagus, marinated radicchio (bitter but very good) and marinate artichoke. There was also a decent beef carpaccio and the most excellent burrata ever. I ditched the mozzarella for the caprese salad and replaced it with the soft, yielding and beautifully creamy Puglian cheese.

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The breads were pretty good too. Aunt loved them. I especially digged how delicately beautiful the zucchini on this not-pizza bread looked. But I stayed clear to make space for the cold meats.

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There’s a nice selection of cold meats here. It was mainly pork with just one beef mortadella with pistachio that I didn’t fancy. The rest were salamis and various types of pancetta (oooh fatty lovely cured pork). And of course the star: parma ham with melon. Coupled with pickles on the side including tuna- and pesto-stuffed pimento, olives and cornichons, this was very very good. Oh, and don’t forget the extra serving of burrata on the side.

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Next, I went for the salad. Don’t scoff at the salad here because the leaves were fresh and pert (I hate having to pick out wilted brown bits off my plate), but mostly because of the truffle dressing. Sure, it’s just truffle-infused olive oil but what a treat! I adored the subtle earthiness of the truffle contrasted with good balsamic vinegar plus crunchy greens. It helps that I like rocket and raddichio too, the bitterness added a whole new dimension to it.

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Onwards to the soup! The mushroom soup is rich, not thick, and redolent with truffle. Very yummy because the truffle was again very subtle so it complemented rather than overpowered the mushroom flavour. Excellent stuff.

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You’ll notice that I didn’t have any real mains. I’m more of a nibbly appetiser type and I nibbled at Dad’s roast beef (passable), lamb (excellent) and squid ink pasta with tomato sauce (very very good!). Getting star mention is the roast pork belly. It was melt-in-mouth good though pity the skin was soft, I need my crisp crackling! I find that buffet mains tend to be a bit of a let down because they need to be kept hot and get stale or overcooked. The mains were fairly decent but not worth writing about.

The same goes for the desserts. They were all passable. I liked the plum tart and the caramel gelato. Other than that, the cheese did far better.

Cheese in small portions looks terrible indeed, but that was all I could handle by the time I ate my way through the preceding few plates of food and picked at Dad’s plate. There were two types of pecorino, of which one had a fantastic nutty flavour and it had bits of salt crystals that crunched just so in the mouth (just too bad I can’t remember the name). I liked the smoked ricotta which tasted, well,smoked. There were a few other hard ones, and of course my beloved burrata. Accompanying these were various preserves. I remember a lemon marmalade, different types of preserves with mustard, quince jelly and a very lovely fresh tasting plum jelly. There were quite a few types of honey too. I especially liked the truffle one. Odd how this buffet seemed to feature quite a bit of truffle and odd how I don’t normally like much truffle. Just as well that this was a buffet so they were more lighthanded with the truffle.

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Overall, an excellent outing with far more hits than misses. It was worth the distended tummy and a fitting start to the new year!

Basilico
1 Cuscaden Road
Level 2 The Regent Singapore
Tel: 6725 3232