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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Ramen Showdown: Nantsuttei

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It’s official. Nantsuttei is now top of my list of best ramen in Singapore. It’s also pretty reasonably priced as far as ramen in Singapore goes. The queue here isn’t as feral as the one at Ippudo. For lunch, as long as you avoid 12.30 to 1.30 you’re all good, and for weekday dinners after 8pm is normally OK too.

I first tried the comes-with-everything noodles plus an egg. It came with a huge sprinkling of spring onions that seemed to occlude the rest of the toppings of chashu, beansprouts and special garlic oil. The first thing I bit into was the egg and it was eggy goodness all the way as the white was lightly salty from the braising and the yolk just set so the very inside was still slightly runny. So far it’s the best egg of the major ramen shops. As far as the chashu was concerned, it was rather run of the mill. Nothing much to write home about on the taste and tenderness.

Next was the noodle. It was just the right firmness for me, with enough bite for interest and not so hard that I felt that it was undercooked. The wonderful thing about the doneness of the noodles was that the noodles still tasted good when I got to the bottom of the bowl.

Then the soup. I wasn’t sure about this because it was quite salty and not particularly rich as ramen broths go. It was pretty acceptable though. I also wasn’t too keen on the slightly burnt and carcinogenic taste of the black garlic oil that makes the place famous.

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On another visit, I tried the dragon ramen. It’s basically the same ramen minus the OTT spring onion topping and with spicy bean and minced meat paste. Now this may not be particularly traditional, but it made all the difference to the soup, making it my all-time favourite. I liked the flavour of the spicy paste because the taste of the fermented bean really came through. It also muted the burnt garlic taste, making it Very Yummy.

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Nantsuttei doesn’t have a great deal to offer in terms of sides, only chopped chashu rice and gyoza. The gyoza isn’t too bad, it’s nicely burnt in parts on the outside and meatily juicy on the inside. Decent enough when you’re hungry and want more than ramen to fill the belly.

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Nantsuttei
P3-06 #03-02
Millenia Walk 9 Raffles Boulevard
Tel: 6337 7166

Rustic French

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Work has been wearing me out lately, so DC decided to take me out for a weeknight splurge at Le Bistrot du Sommelier. It has a very traditional country-style French menu with surprisingly large portions. We ended up sharing a soup and a for-two main course.

The garbure soup was pretty excellent. The base was chopped vegetables in a light chicken and duck stock. On its own, it’d be a really boring vegetable soup. What made it pretty darn sublime were both the ravioli and the chicken dumpling. The mini ravioli were perfect little parcels stuffed with savoury cheese. Against the bland foil of the soup, the slightly chewy morsels gave out bursts of salty pleasure with each bite. And then the chicken dumpling. It had a lot more chicken than flour in it and was incredibly soft and delicate. I wasn’t sure of the slightly grainy texture of overdone chicken breast, but the flavour was deeply chickeny. One of the best bits of the soup was the crispy croutons. I don’t know how the grilled chunks of country bread retained the crunch even though waterlogged, but they did and… bliss.

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We went for the Baekenofe pork casserole for two made of different cuts of pork: cheek, trotter, belly and bacon. There were two large pieces of each in the claypot interspersed with carrot and turnip chunks as well as new potatoes. This dish is one of the few that made me like new potatoes (which I obviously normally detest). The whole dish was awash in white wine, with some cuts, especially the trotter, redolent with alcohol. It was lovingly braised so that the pork was tender. The best cut was the cheek, which just about didn’t require much chewing to enjoy. I just let it sit in my mouth for a moment to savour the taste and let it disintegrate slowly into a fragrant heap. (Pardon the red cast of the photo, we sat under the sign board lit in red so there’s no helping the hue of the photo. Sorry.)

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This place has great food. It’s too bad that it’s not exactly the cheapest place around and the service can be quite take-it-or-leave-it French. Even though we were the first to arrive on a weeknight they flatly refused to let us sit inside, claiming that it was all reserved inside. Mysteriously, we noticed only one table inside over the time we had our dinner. The outside doesn’t have the best atmosphere because of all the construction work going on opposite.

[An aside: If you’d like great atmosphere, just step two units down to the Creperie Des Armes. The Brittany atmosphere is amazing, made me feel like I was in a corner cafe in Europe. What was better was the warm welcome of the French couple running the place. Here, the couple smiled so much and tried so hard to please that I couldn’t help fall in love with the place. I practised my dormant French here, to the lady owner’s delight. It’s a pity that another place I like has far superior crepes. Also didn’t help that the crepes came out one by one, so not good for impatient or hungry hordes. ]

Le Bistrot du Sommelier
46 Prinsep Street #01-01 Prinsep Place
Tel: 6333 1982

Chronicles of MPT: Bestway Bak Chor Mee

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Finally made it to the Bak Chor Mee at Bestway Building. We got there for a lateish lunch on Saturday afternoon. I was glad that we were spared the mythical 40-minute wait as there wasn’t much of a crowd this time. Everything else bar the drink stall was closed. Even though there were only two people ahead of us, our order took a while to arrive. The uncle takes his time with the noodles.

First up, I liked the taste of the noodles ($4 up) very much. The chilli was quite fragrant and the vinegar was very mellow. A bit more chilli and vinegar would have made it much better. There was plenty of dried sole fish and they were also generous with the toppings: mince meat, liver, dumplings and meatballs. The meatballs were also spiked with dried sole bits, giving extra oomph. I wasn’t too keen on the noodles. The meepok was too soft for my liking. I could tell on first sight that it was soft, didn’t even need to bite in to know. Try ordering their dumpling soup instead, it’s got all the good stuff and none of the overcooked noodles stuff. For noodles, Seng Kee is probably better.

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Verdict: I liked the taste and the toppings, but the noodles were bad.

Tai Wah Pork Noodle
Meeting Point Food Court
12 Prince Edward Road
#01-16 Bestway Building (TV12)
Mon-Sat 9 am to 3 pm
Tel: 9163 6228