Quick Eats: Tsuru Tsuru Tei

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DC and I found ourselves at The Central one work night. Despite wanting something light, we were lured in by the siren call of the deep-fried black pig ramen. I thought to order a salad to help lighten the meal and ended up ordering the only salad on the menu: avocado salad ($7.80). At least there were vegetables. I liked how the leaves were fresh and there were quite a lot of avocado chunks. The onsen egg was a lovely touch to top off the salad, I love eggs with still-runny yolks and barely set whites. Yummy!

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And now for the piece de resistance, the koumi ramen ($15.80). I apologise for the poorly composed photo. It was a work night, it was late and I was tired. The basic ramen below the rack containing the deep-fried pork, though not among my favourites, was decent. The noodles were fairly firm on arrival but got soggy towards the end. You just have to eat fast to enjoy the firm texture. The soup was a decent tonkotsu style broth, very milky and unctuous with plenty of collagen dissolved in it. I think it had loads of msg too, so watch out before you over-indulge.

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Ah… and the thing that lured us in! The deep-fried pork rib was fairly decent, though not as crispy as we’d anticipated. Still, the meat was substantial and tender, and the batter fairly light. I’d prefer it slightly less sweet, but for something that’s not too expensive, I’m not quibbling too much.

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Tsuru Tsuru Tei
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
#03-88/89 The Central @ Clarke Quay
Tel: 6327 7887

Ayam Penyet Ria

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We found ourselves at Ayam Penyet Ria at Lucky Plaza on recommendation from DC’s friend. The crowds and high turnover rate spoke for themselves and we happily settled in with some drinks. DC’s happy soda wasn’t quite the Southeast Asia backpacker joint variety, it being a very innocent (!) combination of rose syrup and condensed milk topped with 7-Up. Despite the incredible amount of sugar, he seemed to quite like it. My avocado juice started off really well, with plenty of thick avocado pulp mixed with runny gula melaka. Towards the end, it got really bitter as they inadvertently blended some avocado skin into the juice too. I had to get another sweet drink to rinse away the bitter taste!

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We started with some tahu telur, firm beancurd (taukwa) dipped in beaten egg and deep-fried, then topped with peanut sauce (Indonesian style) and garnished with vegetable shavings. It was very decent for fast food, with good quality taukwa and a very nice runny peanut sauce. It was slightly spicy, slightly sweet, yet not quite like satay sauce. Good stuff to start off the meal.

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We went for the more unique dishes and didn’t do the ayam penyet (smashed fried chicken). Instead, DC went for the empal penyet, or smashed beef steak. I was convinced that deep-fried beef was going to be overcooked and tough, but DC’s judgement was true. The beef, being smashed before it was fried, was decently tender and tasty. It went well with the crispy bits and the chilli sauce. Now that chilli sauce was jaw-judderingly spicy, as is typical of ayam penyet chilli. It was also very, very yummy. A lot of super spicy chilli sauces stop at being super spicy and aren’t a great deal more than chilli paste. This chilli sauce actually had flavour aside from simply “very hot”. They’d obviously used good belacan and added other spices that really added to the flavour. Sadly, I couldn’t eat more than a dab or two at a time, but it went well with both fried meat and the accompanying tempeh, tahu and vegetable sides.

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Mine was the lele penyet, or smashed deep-fried catfish. The catfish wasn’t smashed at all, maybe they’re referring to how the scattering of fried crispy bits on top make it look sort of smashed. I don’t know. The accompaniments were the same ones and the chilli sauce the same fabulous stuff. My fish was very excellent. It was succulent on the inside, and really crispy on the outside. I like how they fried it such that I could crunch up much of the fins and tail without having to spit any bones out. Also, with careful dissection, the fish wasn’t too bony. Plus, most of the small ones were soft enough to scoff down together with the tender white meat.

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It’s extremely good value. Treat it somewhat like fast food with slightly higher standards, and be warned that it’s not for chilli wimps!

Ayam Penyet Ria
304 Orchard Road #04-25 Lucky Plaza
Tel: 6235 6390

A Cambodian Bug Encounter

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I’d known of this Cambodian place for a while but just never got round to trying it out until now. We started with a fairly standard pomelo salad that I thought tasted a bit too weird for my liking. While it had almost Thai flavours of fishy smoked fish, some sweet, some sour, and some chilli, it was fairly toned down in terms of the four standard flavours. There was a herb in it that I didn’t appreciate – it was a bit too earthy and bitter-smelling (though not actually tasting bitter at all), a bit like off garlic.

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The other starter was much better: steamed minced pork paste with preserved fish roe. It was very unusual, like a cross between a warm pate and meatloaf. I scooped spoonfuls of the smokey, fishy meat mixture onto the raw veggies and enjoyed the almost salted egg-like flavour. I never knew that eggplant could be eaten raw and I happily walloped the spongey vegetable with the meat. It went surprisingly well.

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DC saw the writeup on crickets and tarantulas on the wall and immediately wanted to try them. I told him I could probably stomach a cricket or two rather than a hairy spider leg so he ordered this off-menu. My heart sank when the deep-fried crickets arrived. The fellas were fried to a dark crisp – so much so that their carapaces were almost black, making them look like skinny cockroaches. Ewwww. Feeling slightly queasy, I attempted a few times to spear one with my fork but failed as the little buggers (literally!) were fried so hard and crisp they were impossible to spear. DC and I picked out one that looked least like cockroach and I gingerly ate its thorax and abdomen. Honestly, it didn’t taste like much aside from deep-fried. There was a very slightly sour aftertaste but not much. So there was half a cricket in my stomach and the other half – black and winged – still sitting on my plate. I hid it in my rice and hastily chewed it up, and swallowed. Then I looked up and saw DC calmly, and with great enjoyment, crunching up the rest of the plate of crickets. This is the reason why I’m a wuss and I’m with this very brave man with the appetite for adventure. If he can put up with bug-eating, who knows what other crap he can put up with!

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OK so enough with the wussing out – the last dish was their signature dish of fish amok. I’d tried it in Cambodia before and was expecting something thick yet still fluid, somewhat like Thai green curry. This version was like a non-spicy otak. The flavours were very similar and the fish was moulded in a slightly runny coconut custard. DC and I both liked the delicate flavours and the soft-firm texture of the fish. Thumbs up!

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We didn’t manage to get dessert as the banana sago dish I wanted wasn’t available. Service here is generally very sincere and warm, though slightly dopey and haphazard. Be patient with them and you’ll have a good experience.

Khmer Delight
922 East Coast Road
Tel: 6449 1529

Lombok: Rice Fields and Hindu Temples (and Good Food)

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Traffic in Mataram town itself could be rather alarming for a first-timer as there are so many different types of traffic here! Aside from the usual  seemingly blind pedestrians, careening motorbikes and SUVs of all shapes and sizes, there were also horse-drawn carts!

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If there was a sudden slowdown along the way, it was sure to be because the traffic was piling up behind one of these carts being pulled manfully along by a blinkered pony. Such were the traffic snarls we had to get past when travelling across town.

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Out of town, however, was far more peaceful. It was almost surprising how close the padi fields were, they started immediately at the suburbs of Mataram town and when we visited in December 2010, the fields were green with new growth.

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There’s something ineffably tranquil and calming about the sight of coconut trees dotting the padi and kangkung fields. To me, it was a symbol of escape from city life and a return to the bucolic past.

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Hidden in the farm area was Pura Lingsar, one of the few Hindu temples in Muslim-dominated Lombok.

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In the past, the Balinese attempted to colonise part of Lombok and extended its influence fairly deep inland. Near the coast, however, was where most of the Hindu temples remain. Pura Lingsar is believed to be one of the most major Hindu centres in Lombok and its

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A tout approached and asked for a bit too much money than we thought was necessary. He wanted to take us inside to see the inner chamber and pool where an albino eel resided. I read from our guidebook that visitors could buy hardboiled eggs to lure it out from its hiding place. Cute as that could be, the tout was a bit too pushy for our taste and we ended up taking pictures of the outside instead.

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It was enough for me to look at the beautiful carvings on the outer perimeter, like this gracefully etched guardian. Having said that, we were glad that we had a car and could zip in and out quickly. It wouldn’t be worth the hassle to get all the way out there on a special half day trip.

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That evening, we headed back into town to Mataram Mall for some dinner. Again, Ibu Rosa at Villa Sayang recommended the place and it was excellent food as usual. I apologise that I can’t remember the name of the place. It serves Indonesian food, is on the ground floor, towards the centre of Mataram Mall and is opposite Istana Gadgets. Have a look at me tucking into our sweet-sour gurame to have a feel of the place.

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This was probably DC’s favourite dish of the night. It was a whole deep-fried gurame topped with sweet and sour sauce. Gurame is a freshwater fish and the flesh is very succulent, never getting stringy like other types of fish when overcooked. I enjoyed the especially juicy bits of the cheeks and also the crunchy fins.

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True to our style, we had lots of side dishes. I felt that the tempeh and squid were rather ho-hum compared to what we’d had before, but the kangkung cha (stir-fried  local kangkong) was a welcome familiar dish.

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We also had the ayam penyet (or deep-fried “smashed” chicken) accompanied by a very spicy chilli sauce. It must’ve been very good because DC ate most of it. He also ate most of the chilli sauce with the tempeh while I was still gnawing on my deep-fried fish fins.

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And as usual, we staggered out of the restaurant stuffed to the gills.

Again, please check in with Ibu Rosa at Villa Sayang for directions (and the restaurant name!). It’s at the ground floor of Mataram Mall, towards the centre of the place and opposite Istana Gadgets.

Modern Thai at Kha

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Hort Park is a special place for DC and me. We go there regularly but never quite during dinner time till this one time we went to Kha, a modern Thai restaurant. It’s run by the same person who does boutique hotels, one of them being Jia in Hong Kong. It’s cute how the names of the two places are linked: “jia” means “home” in Mandarin while in Cantonese, it’s pronounced “ka”. In Thai, kha is a modifier word for females to use at the end of a sentence to make it polite. (The equivalent for males is “khup”.) What a clever way to name the restaurant. I like!

I was pleasantly surprised already when they served the complimentary appetiser. Instead of the typical prawn crackers with sweet chilli sauce, they gave us popped rice biscuits with red curry sauce. It made for a zingy start to the meal.

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We ordered two appetisers and a main so that there’d be space for dessert. First was the crispy catfish with sweet pork and mango salad. It was very good – tangy and slightly spicy with plenty of texture. I’ve always liked the crispy floss-like texture of catfish done this way. They did right not to mess with the classic combination of catfish and young mango strips. I also liked the extra crunch of the peanuts but felt that the pork wasn’t necessary.

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Our second appetiser was banana flower salad with young coconut and chilli. I didn’t like this one as much. It still had the classic sweet-sour-spicy combination so characteristic of Thai salads, but I felt that the texture of banana flower didn’t lend itself well to a salad as it was too “siap siap” – you know that nasty tannic texture, a bit too sappy? The young coconut helped a little but didn’t help much to give interest for flavour. Interesting idea that flopped.

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The main we shared was very good! It was baked half sticky chicken stuffed with coriander and lemongrass, paired with stir fried pineapple rice. The sticky chicken was marinated in some kind of sweet dark sauce hence the stickiness from all that sugar. It tasted Asian but not quite vehemently Thai. The meltingly tender chicken paired nicely with the pineapple rice for a very safe, crowd-pleasing main. I liked how they used some unpolished rice to add flavour and texture. Good call.

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For dessert, we went for the baked pumpkin custard with coconut ice cream. The pumpkin custard is very typically Thai. This version was very nicely made, with smooth silky and not too sweet custard. It went very well with the rich coconut ice cream, a very nice end to the meal.

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Too bad the drinks weren’t as good. We wanted to enjoy the view outside and had our post-dinner drinks there. They tasted as bad as they looked. Don’t drink the aromatic pear mojito – the pear was somehow oxidised and brown; it left a very grainy feel in the mouth. The khao lao rum looked less bad and tasted OK. It was just another sweet drink. Both were very weak, so Kha is not a place for getting smashed.

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My verdict? A nice place for a romantic meal, just skip the drinks. I hear that they are moving soon. It’s a pity as the space is really quite lovely. Check it out soon!

Kha Restaurant
33 Hyderabad Rd
Tel: 6476 9000

136 Hong Kong Street Fishhead Steamboat

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One night I had a dinner at a new place recommended by my aunt. We had a boisterous family gathering round an eponymous fishhead steamboat. It was chockful of chunky grouper fishhead in a rich, flavourful stock, all augmented by plenty of fresh vegetables and yam. The yam practically melted in the mouth after spending a while in the soup. It was a great dish for sharing in a group.

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To accompany the steamboat were deep-fried pork spareribs that were fairly decent. It was blown out of the water by the next dish.

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I spied this dish at another table and insisted that we order a portion of it: prawn sang meen. The  crispy noodles bathed in thick yet not too gloopy sauce was simply heaven. I don’t recall anywhere else that does the noodles so thin and crisp and plain yummy! The juicy big prawns with plenty of orange milt helped a lot too. I’m still dreaming of this dish.

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Not satisfied by just one serving of crispy noodles, my cousin insisted on another one, this time fish. I don’t know how we could be relatives but this cousin doesn’t even like prawns, hence this version. It had the same to-die-for crispy noodles and yummy sauce, but I felt that the prawn version was far better.

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136 Hong Kong Street Fishhead Steamboat
291 South Bridge Road
Tel: 8288 3368

Tekong at Changi

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Shinta wanted to eat seafood and we found ourselves in my neck of the woods. The oddly named Tekong Seafood is at Changi Point, somewhat badly located in a building way to the back of the hawker centre. We were there on recommendation of Shinta’s guildmate and ordered most of his recommendations.

The gong-gong was decent, though nothing to shout about. A bit chewy, not particularly tasty nor fishy, went decently with the sweet chilli sauce. Next.

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I quite liked the meesua though it’s not something that I’d make a special trip down for. I liked how the special meesua was just cooked so it was still rather stiff and almost chewy, a bit like very fine meekia. The sauce was the classic brown gloopy sauce that was very well made, aromatic and full of seafoody flavour. Yummy.

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Things really started going when the deepfried squid rings appeared. They were so good that they disappeared before everything else and we had to immediately order a second plate of the stuff. The batter was very crisp and perfectly seasoned with plenty of salt crystals, aromatic curry leaves and a touch of sweet. I liked how the crispy outer layer gave way to the slightly chewy squid on the inside.

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I thought the oat prawns were great too. I normally prefer prawns poached as it really brings out the flavour, but this time the flavour wasn’t sacrificed as they fried them so the heads were still juicy inside. Plenty of crunch from the batter and oats, prawns fried well so that it was so crispy that the shells could be eaten too yet still juicy on the inside. Nothing much to criticise here. Great stuff.

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Aim of the next visit? To check out their crabs!

Tekong Seafood Restaurant
Block 6 Changi Village Road #01-2100 Changi Village
Tel: 6542 8923