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

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Diving the Similans: Eating at the Villa After

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The Vijitt has a beautiful infinity pool to match its beautiful grounds. We admired it every morning at breakfast and had a dip a couple of times. Too bad it wasn’t quite as good as the diving the past week!

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Food at the resort was very good. I liked the breakfast, the buffet spread was decent and they provided fresh juice to order. DC, however, has higher standards. Good thing the a la carte menu for dinner met his standards! There were two restaurants inside, one the main restaurant looking out at the pool and the other an intimate Thai restaurant in a beautiful house facing the beach. It was this restaurant that had fabulous food. I liked how refined the cooking was.

Here we’ve got a delicate soup that tasted like a very sophisticated tom yam. It showcased the vibrant taste of fresh herbs and aromatic roots to a T. Didn’t hurt at all of course to have fresh juicy prawns to add to it. The clarity of the flavours was astounding. I’m fairly drooling thinking of it as I type.

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Another dish was rather oddly named as fermented smoked shrimp. It turned out to be deep fried dried shrimp with deep fried lemon grass bits and peanut, all tossed together with herbs and chilli. While the shrimp was a bit of a chewy-crunchy mouthful, the deep seafood umami flavour permeating this dish really worked. It’s nothing like I’ve had before and a definite re-order. (What am I saying, all the dishes featured here are definite re-orders.)

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Yet another re-order was the salad of winged bean and shrimp. There’s something magical about the combination of savoury fish sauce, tangy lime juice, seafood and crunchy greens. The topping of dried coconut and fried shallots brought it to another level. What can I say except “yum!”

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Last dish to feature is the simple yet very skillfully made crab omelette. It was crisp at the edges and still runny in the centre. Of course, the crab was fresh and sweet. It was such a satisfying counterfoil to the rest of the dishes. I could eat here every day!

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The Vijitt Resort Phuket
Friendship Beach
16 Moo 2, Viset Road, Rawai, Muang, Phuket 83130
Tel: +66 (0) 76 363 600

March in Laos: Eating in Luang Prabang

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Laos in general and Luang Prabang in particular had lots of great food. Siamesecat and I started off one misty morning with a glass of thick, sweet and strong coffee chased down with a glass of steaming hot tea. Sitting on a wooden bench watching the morning bustle while sipping hot robust coffee was one of those subliminal moments of the trip.

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After having our caffeine and sugar fix, we table hopped to the next stall and tucked into the typical breakfast of foe (yup, almost exactly like Vietnamese pho). I don’t know how they make it so tasty, but thin flat rice noodles with hot broth, topped with herbs and raw vegetables to your preference hit the spot for me every day.   This morning the noodles came with pork strips and tomato. I could have noodles three times a day and not get sick of it. The trick was to experiment with the toppings provided at the table. They typically have salt, sugar, msg and chilli powder but there’s normally lime, basil, coriander, mint, sweet chilli sauce, various types of belachan (fermented shrimp paste) and fish sauce. I especially liked trying out the pongy variations of belachan at the different places.

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Foe is normally served in really small portions, which was fine with us because it gave us all the more reason to snack along the street. Here I’m stuffing my face yet again at a barbecue stand selling grilled animal parts like spicy minced pork patties, water buffalo jerky and belly pork. It was all mmm good.

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For lunch, we again had noodles, the one here a beef version with popped rice cracker-cakes on the side. If you look carefully you’ll spot the two small tubs of belachan on the table. One was the typical shrimp one and the other made of tiny river crabs. We noticed a lot of Lao people take a chilli padi, dip it in belachan, take a chomp and double dip it while waiting for their noodles. I guess the heat from the chilli kills the germs.

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Heavily fortified by all this food, Siamesecat and I proceeded to wander the streets. It was evening when we came across this vampire-phobic cat lying on a bed of garlic. It was obviously bed time.

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It looked incredibly satisfied at the end of that yawn!

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As the sun began to set, Siamesecat and I decided that we really should have something quite special. While we both loved noodles and never got tired of them, we had to try the slightly fancier food too.

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We found a restaurant along the Mekong and enjoyed the view while waiting for our food.

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This place served mainly set menus catering to tourists. We figured that it was as good as any other. Not having any locals to take us to truly authentic places, at least this would allow us to try a bit of everything.

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The set dinner started with watercress salad, a fresh minty salad with sharp watercress and other herbs dressed in a type of mayonnaise. Then it progressed to dried pork sausage with very spicy buffalo skin dip. The pork sausage was like a slightly less fatty salami with lovely smoked overtones while the dip had strips of rather tough buffalo hide bound by a fiery chilli paste. Crispy sheets of dried riverweed with sesame seeds helped to balance out the fire but the extremely spicy beef stew didn’t help things out.

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Siamesecat and I then hit the night market for incredibly cheap buys like a beautiful silk and cotton mix pair of fisherman pants for about USD2.50. There were pretty handicrafts and all sorts of ethnic and hill tribe knick knacks on sale. Apparently a lot of these items were brought over the border to Thailand for sale in their own tourist markets.

I stopped to buy something that couldn’t be exported easily to Thai tourist markets: more food. Supper that night was baguette filled with ping kai (barbecued chicken) and lettuce. It was up to me to choose my sauces again. This time it was at least three kinds of chilli sauce, two of which had some kind of fermented seafood incorporated within, and two types of soya sauce. Amazing.

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Quick Meals: Black Bean Noodles

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I wanted to make something vegetarian and something quick. A pack of fermented black beans (tau si) had been sitting in my fridge for far too long, so I put two and two together and made these very satisfying noodles. The beans have such depth of flavour that it’s easy to forget that there’s no meat in it. For the noodles, use any dried wheat noodle. The packets are normally labelled la mian or some sort. I like to buy the bai yu (white jade) ones.

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Ingredients:

1 bundle dried wheat noodles
2 tsp oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tsp black beans, crushed
1 tsp sesame oil

Method:

  1. Boil the noodles in plenty of water till al dente.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan on medium and add the garlic and black beans. Fry till brown.
  3. Stir in the noodles and season to taste. Add soy sauce if you like.
  4. Top with sesame oil and serve with blanched vegetables on the side.

Serves 1.