June Eating House

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Quite a few friends highly recommend this place, so we thought to take my parents her to see what the fuss is all about. We ordered most of the stuff that friends recommended (thank goodness for facebook!) and had a look round the other tables for ideas too. The food came pretty fast, but the mosquitoes in the open air area got to us faster! Bring mosquito repellent if you do go.

The first dish was the pumpkin prawn, an interesting take on the now-typical salted egg prawn. The prawns were first deep-fried in a light batter, then slathered with a thick savoury pumpkin sauce, full of curry leaf and some salted egg. With fresh, plump prawns, and a great sauce, it was hard to go wrong. If eaten early on, the prawn is crispy enough to be eaten whole, shell and all.

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We saw other tables happily eating the long beans fried with dried shrimp (hae bee) and followed their good example. The beans were done with a deft touch, still crunchy and going incredibly well with the salty, fishy dried shrimp.

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Salted egg crab came next, again done very well. It was first deep-fried and then coated in a dry salted egg sauce. Some bits of the crab were fried so well that you could chomp bits of it down, delicious shell and all. I licked up all the salted egg sauce and the sweet, fresh crab meat inside the shell.

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We couldn’t help but also order the pork trotters. My dad liked it so much that he whacked most of it, leaving the rest of us to quickly take whatever bits we could before he finished off the crispy outside, tender inside pork. The sour chilli sauce cut through the richness, making us hanker for more.

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A reasonably priced zichar place that does deep-fried food very well. Watch out for the mosquitoes though.

June Eating House
315 Tanjong Katong Road
Tel: +65 6345 0301

Guan Hoe Soon

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My uncle took us to Guan Hoe Soon, apparently a venerable institution of Peranakan food. I didn’t have the best memories of them at my last visit there many years ago, but this time, Guan Hoe Soon redeemed itself with excellent renditions of sambal prawns ($12), beef rendang ($12) and sambal timun (complimentary starter). The prawns were fresh and sweet, and the sambal was topnotch, flavourful and well-balanced so that it was hard to tell exactly what went into the sauce. The beef rendang was tender, a rarity for this dish, and again with very well-balanced flavours. I liked also how they did the sambal timun so simply and well, because a lot of places take the attitude that free starters are a take-it-or-leave-it affair.

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The ngoh hiang ($10) and sambal kangkong ($10) were decent, but nothing special to travel for. The ayam buah keluak ($12) was a disappointment, partly because they mixed the buah keluak with meat but mainly because the sauce was rather anaemic.

Other than that, the desserts were decent. Most order the cendol ($3.50), which the others reported to be good.

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I had the sago gula melaka ($3.50), which was, again, decent but not worth going back for. I wasn’t sure about the ice ball because it took way too long to chip through and tended to freeze the sago to unappetisingly hard little blobs. Otherwise, the gula melaka was nice and thick and I think the coconut milk freshly squeezed.

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Come here if you’re in the East, on a budget, and have a craving for Peranakan food.

Guan Hoe Soon
38 Joo Chiat Place
Tel: +65 6344 2761

Bunker

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Bunker is a restaurant tucked in a little known corner in Changi. It’s right next to Johore Battery (whut? I hear you say), just beyond Changi prison complex and directly opposite Selarang Camp.  For the history buffs out there, the Johore Battery was the only 15-inch gun battery that was not able to swivel round to fire on the Japanese troops arriving from the north.  I guess the Sultan of Johore didn’t like the idea of the guns that he was paying for being able to turn in his direction.

Rather incongruously, Bunker features a very nice chill-out open-air bar and an indoor fine dining restaurant that serves decent western food.  Unsurprisingly, given the location, Bunker has a monopoly on fine dining options in this part of Singapore and the place was quite full even though we were visiting on a weekday.

The first course we tried was the rather ubiquitous escargot, which was alright but nothing special.  DC didn’t think the hazelnuts stuffed into the escargot shell added that much to the flavour. I don’t like the escargot because of the car tyre texture, and this didn’t change my perception.

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Next up was a field mushroom soup, which I thought was good because of the clear, strong mushroom flavour. Then again, I’m a sucker for mushroom soup because DC didn’t find it very special.

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The seafood salad was a bit better, as it had nice large prawns in it.  However there was a tad too much oil drizzled over the salad which had the effect of drowning any other flavour the dressing may have had.

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For the main course, we had the Asian-style seafood spaghetti, which was actually spaghetti in some sort of laksa-tom yam concoction.DC liked this a lot.  I guess it was like laksa, but had a bite of sourness to it mixed in with the creamy texture to create a slightly unusual taste profile.

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You’ll notice we were very restrained in our ordering this time.  I guess we were on a diet!

Bunker is a good idea, especially for people who are stuck out in the Changi village side of Singapore and are looking for a finer dining option.  The open-air bar is really lovely and you should try to get one of the private gazebos for a really romantic dining experience.  Bunker also offers interesting and decently-priced weekday set lunches that offer a decent alternative to the usual local fare around the area.  Do take the opportunity to check out this place one day and chill out among the remnants of Singapore’s WWII history!

Bunker
27 Cosford Road
Tel: +65 6466 9000

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

Crispy Pata at Katong Village

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DC and I chanced upon this place while parking at Katong Village. We are big fans of unhealthy pork knuckle and were sold when I later saw the restaurant showing off their crispy pata on a TV feature.

Too bad that I couldn’t allow us to just have the crispy pata on its own. We had to have some other dishes to complete the meal. The grilled squid stuffed with vegetables (i.e. tomato and onion) was fairly decent, though I’d prefer it to be a bit more charred for more flavour and texture.

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Then there was the stir-fried mixed vegetables that we ordered for the sake of health and fibre. Nothing to shout about, a typical Filipino style stirfy with long beans, ladies fingers, brinjal, bitter gourd, pumpkin and peppers. Vegetarians do note that it’s almost impossible to get pure vegetarian food here. I was surprised that there were quite a few pork slices in this vegetable dish. It wasn’t mentioned in the description on the menu and neither did the server tell us. Not a big deal for us, we treated it as a bonus.

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And now for the star of the show. The crispy pata was what we were here for! When we ordered, they told us that the crispy pata was sufficient for three or four people and despite this, we carried on to order the other dishes above. Nonetheless, the two of us fell on this dish and polished it all off, it was that good! I don’t know how they made it, but the meat was meltingly, unctuously soft on the inside, with the fat just lightly coating the meat, most of it having dripped off in the cooking process. The skin was robustly crisp and consistently so. The crisp to soft ratio was very satisfying, with enough of both to keep me wanting more. Very excellent. I’d go back there just for the crispy pata.

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Cafe D’Manila
01-19/20 Katong Village, 86 East Coast Road

Quick Eats: Bedok North Hawker Centre

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I like Bedok North Hawker Centre quite a bit because while there’s plenty of good food, it’s also unpretentious and doesn’t have super long queues. I like the ban mian a few stalls down from Joo Chiat Chiap Kee. It has a clear, robust stock that tastes like there’s both pork bone and chicken in it. They use round spinach (bayam) in it, giving the soup a special fragrance. The noodles are decently chewy and don’t get too soggy after sitting for a while. I also like how the ikan bilis and onion bits taste like they’re fried in-house rather than taken from factory-made industrial-sized packs.

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For dessert, I love the taufa quite a few stalls down. It’s soft and silky and slightly creamy at the same time. I couldn’t ask for more.

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Bedok North Hawker Centre
Blk 216 Bedok North St 1

Hajah Maimunah

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Hajah Maimunah is the grandmummy of nasi padang places. It’s got lots of very excellent stuff. Make sure you get there early so you get the best selection. There’s always  a queue, so try to avoid the peak lunch period. The day we went, the stars of the meal were the grilled parrotfish and the tahu telor. The parrotfish was done to perfection as parrotfish is very often overcooked. Here, the firm flesh that so easily goes tough and rough was just yielding and incredibly fresh and sweet. Coupled with the kicap manis with chilli and lime juice, the fish was all I really needed. But wait! There was the tahu telor. The tower of good quality taukwa was deep fried till crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. It was another triumph of deepfry and sweet sauce.

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Other good things of note: begedil, grilled chicken with sambal, sayur lodeh. The begedil was soft and flavourful, I always love these potato patties. The grilled chicken with sambal chilli was tender and the sambal full of complex spices. The sayur lodeh had heaps of tender vegetables and very yummy tempeh inside. The beef rendang was good too, with an incredibly aromatic rempah, the only downside was that the meat could have been a lot more tender.

Another excellent thing about the place is the incredibly array of desserts there. There are quite a few different sweet soups like green bean soup and boiled bananas in coconut milk. We didn’t have room for that and took away some kueh-kueh. There’s such a mind-boggling variety there. All I can say is that all the ones I tried were good!

Go try other dishes there and let me know what else is good!

Hajah Maimunah
20 Joo Chiat Road #01-02
Tel: 6348 5457

Crab of My Childhood

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I’ve been eating at Hua Yu Wee for years. My parents love this place and it was a natural place to have a birthday celebration for my father (yes, a second time, we always find excuses to eat good food).

We started off with the deep fried baby squid. Here, it’s done to perfection because it’s incredibly crispy even after sitting for a while. It’s the right blend of sweet, spicy and peppery. ‘Nuff said.

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The sambal dua tao are one of the few good renditions on the market. Here the sambal is spicy and not overly sweet with plenty of dried shrimp in the mix. I liked how the plump mussels were incredibly fresh and full of clean flavour. Thumbs up.

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The chicken was probably the weak link for the dinner. While the chicken was nicely browned and crisp, it wasn’t particularly flavourful and the green chilli sauce didn’t do much to lift it. Definitely not a re-order.

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Fish at this place was faultless as usual. The live seabass was steamed till just done and lightly seasoned with soy sauce and coriander. The smooth texture and good flavour of the fish was excellent as usual. Good with rice.

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Then came the stars of the show: the crab. Note how they’ve changed the presentation so people get to the good bits quick instead of having to turn over the shell first. The crab here is always sweet and meaty, and the chilli crab sauce is thick and spicy. I’m not such a big fan of chilli crab but the sauce is great with the deep fried mantou.

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My favourite type of crab here is the pepper crab. I like how it’s deeply spicy without being overwhelmed by peppery-ness. It’s got plenty of the depth of flavour of pepper and the top notes that quickly fade when pepper gets stale. This version is my favourite, I guess it’s hard to describe it well when the taste is so familiar. Just go have some and tell me what you think!

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Hua Yu Wee
462 Upper East Coast Road
Tel: 6241 1709

Chronicles of MPT: Opera

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I’ve been a regular at Bedok South Hawker Cenre’s Opera for a long time. The auntie who took order would take one look at me and tell me my order immediately. It’s too bad she’s not there anymore, but the auntie who makes the noodles is still there.

What I love about this stall is how healthy and clean everything tastes. It’s not your usual fishball noodle nor bak chor mee. It’s invariably full of fresh ingredients like baby romaine lettuce (which other stall uses baby romain?), sprightly beansprouts and incredibly fat free minced pork. Coupled with homemade fried shallots, good chilli sauce and excellent vinegar,  the dry version is heavenly. I could eat here every day. In fact, I see lots of old-timers order their daily fix from this stall. (For the record, it’s not the one with the queue, I personally can’t see why people like the famous fishball stall with the long queue.)

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I also ask for extra vegetables for $0.50 more and they give me a much bigger bowl of soup plus extra fishballs and other ingredients. This is worth my while because it’s the only accompanying soup worth drinking. At other places I invariably leave the soup untouched because it’s just msg and water. Here, things are quite different and I always finish every drop of the soup. It’s fantastic.

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What’s not so great about it? The meatballs are only a notch above run of the mill and the meepok can sometimes be soggy. Go for the meekia or meesua, both the dry version. Both are excellent.

Opera
#01-175
Blk 16 Bedok South Road Hawker Centre

Possibly the Best Vegetarian Food in Singapore

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Naive was so good we went there twice in a month, a rarity considering how promiscuous we are with our food places. This post is an amalgamation of both visits. At the start of the meal, a waiter will bring round a mortar and pestle filled with black and white sesame seeds for a wellness ritual of sorts. It was quite a nice start grinding up the seeds for sprinkling onto our food later.

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We started off with the excellent and almost unbelievably good brown olive rice. With the savoury olive paste inside, it was tasty enough to eat on its own. The kaffir lime leaf strips on the top brought it up a notch so much so that it was almost a waste to eat the rice with the dishes!

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The tamarind tofu cake was flavourful and the firm tofu tasting almost meaty. It really didn’t taste at all like I was eating a vegetarian dish. I liked how the seaweed wrapping the tofu gave it plenty of umami flavour that went well with the spicy tangy sauce.

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My favourite dishes were the monkeyhead mushroom ones. I can’t decide which is better, the braised version (Enchanted Forest) or the slivered and fried version (can’t remember the name).

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Both versions tasted fairly similar, they probably used the same sauce. It was made from good stock nonetheless and I’ll definitely have it again. I liked the texture of both versions. The fried version had a very nice crisp-chewy texture while the braised version was somehow firm and again, almost meaty. It certainly didn’t feel like I was eating vegetarian here.

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There were quite a few dishes that didn’t work for me. DC liked the golden oats (it’s his soft spot), but I felt that it was too pedestrian. The tofu in the dish didn’t shine at all. There was also the rendang tofu paired with mantou. That flopped because the taste was neither here nor there and the mantou gave the wrong taste associations: tongue was expecting darkly savoury and sweet, but got spicy instead. A big no-no.

I also didn’t like the steamed tofu with water chestnut and orange sauce. It didn’t help that the service is a bit odd: our waitress was this “I know better than your mum” type who didn’t get her recommendations right. She told us that the special of the day was two kinds of steamed tofu, one was orange and watercress and the other something I can’t remember. I expected that it would be a pairing of tofu, which would be rather interesting, but we were disappointed. It was also a bit annoying to find that the portions were really small. At first, we ordered only one olive rice and asked for a bowl so we could share. When the food arrived, we realised that we needed extra. At this point, the server took away the empty bowl, meaning that we couldn’t even share out the first bowl of rice and start eating. Sure, the second rice arrived very soon, but befuddling moments like these punctuated our entire meal.

Last gripe: the bowls are pretty but hopelessly impractical. The sloping sides made it impossible to rest our chopsticks  naturally in between bites. I kept trying to put my chopsticks down only to realise belatedly that I had to angle them 90 degrees before it would work. Eat there and you’ll realise it.

Final verdict: the cooking at this place is very good, if they fail it’s because of the flavour profile falls flat, not the textures or cooking technique. There are some dishes that work really well, especially the signature monkeyhead mushroom and tofu cake dishes, as well as the olive rice. Other dishes aren’t so good, so be careful of the side-ish dishes. The place is too expensive for what you get and the service is very odd! (See above, plus they don’t take reservations for groups of less than five. I don’t see what’s stopping people from making reservations for five, turning up with three and telling the restaurant that the others didn’t want to go because of their odd requirements.)

99 East Coast Road
Tel: 6348 0668