Quick Eats: Ayer Rajah Food Centre

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DC was told to try out Hasan Rabit’s nasi briyani and we realised that it was at Ayer Rajah Food Centre. We took the excuse of visiting a friend in the area to try it out. It was too bad that Hasan Rabit itself was closed but the place was chock full of Malay stalls, worthy contenders to fill our stomachs that night.

Two dishes stood out. One was the ayam penyet from the amusingly named Boombastic Penyet stall (#29). The chicken was well fried so that it was very crispy. DC even managed to chew up some boney bits, it was crispy enough. I liked the rice, done chicken rice style. It was made with plenty of chicken broth and was tasty enough to eat on its own, yet wasn’t overly oily like how the Chinese style chicken rice can be. Last, but definitely not least, the chilli sauce was rich, tomatoey and incredibly spicy, just the way it should be!

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DC ordered another dish that’s not very common. He ordered not the mutton soup but the mutton tongue soup from A. Rashid Khan (#59). The tongue had a great texture, firm and slightly chewy, going extremely well with the highly spiced and peppery soup. Excellent stuff.

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We’re returning soon to try out more stalls.

Ayer Rajah Food Centre
503 West Coast Drive

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Two Chefs Eating Place

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Another night of eating adventures found us at Two Chefs Eating Place with Tricia and Mfluder. We’d heard good things about the butter pork ribs topped with a strange white powder and were intrigued. It was also a night where I left my trusty Canon S90 at home and had to use my trustier iPhone as a stand in instead. I apologise for the worse than normal photos. First up was the butter ribs. We weren’t sure what to make of it because it was deep fried pork ribs scented with curry leaves, as is usual for butter-anything, and topped with what appeared to be milk powder. While the pork was tender enough, I wasn’t sure about the flavours and whether it was worth raving about. It was a bit odd, but the sweet milky flavour was pleasing enough for DC. For me, it didn’t make the cut for a reorder.

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What I liked far better was the spinach in three eggs sauce, which looked alarmingly like something not normally seen on a table (more like something seen after a long night’s boozing). No matter, the flavours mingled really well as the salted egg and century egg was minced quite finely and obviously left to stand for a while. One thing that could improved was that the vegetables could’ve been a lot less soggy. They were way too overcooked I felt, but the taste made up for it.

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The mushroom tofu followed in the theme of gloopy. Again, taste belied looks and the smooth texture of the tofu won me over straightaway. This was a comforting dish that easily wins people over.

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Following up on gloopy came the lemon shrimp with pork floss. It’s an interesting take on lemon chicken as the flavouring is exactly that, just that the fried bits were prawn. Tricia and I were trying to figure out exactly what was inside (fish? chicken?) till someone remembered that we ordered prawn! The lemony mayonnaise on top was a nice touch and the pork floss just gilded the lily. It was imaginative, though I’m not sure if this is something that really works. A possible reorder I think.

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The last dish of note was fried chicken with garlic, I can’t remember the exact name of the dish but everyone at the table liked it. It was sweet and peppery and of course garlicky. They used spring chicken so it was tastier and very tender. It was everyone’s favourite dish of the evening. Now all I have to do is remember the name!

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The last dish was black pepper crab. Too bad it wasn’t good enough to be featured. Lesson learned: only order what everyone else at the other tables have especially when it comes to crab.

My verdict? It’s experimental and has some winners, don’t expect every dish to be great.

Two Chefs Eating Place
Blk 116 Commonwealth Crescent
#01-129
Tel: 6472 5361

A Viet Gem

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We dropped by Viet Lang for a dinner with friends one weekday evening and were pleasantly surprised by how good the food was. Every dish we ordered was good, quite a change from most restaurants were there were invariably some items that were pretty run of the mill.

We started off with the imperial spring rolls, which had a filling of chicken and prawn encased in a net wrapper and seaweed of some sort, then deep fried to perfection. Wrapped with lettuce and aromatic basil leaves, then accompanied by a fish sauce based dipping sauce, the rolls tasted really fresh and had wonderfully contrasting flavours and textures.

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Next up came a dish that was awful to look at, especially in the badly taken photo below, it looked like something the dog brought home perhaps. But oh the flavour! The smokey eggplant really was smokey, which added an extra dimension to the dish, a bit like a very lovely Vietnamese take on babaganoush.

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The next dish, prawns steamed in young coconut, came masquerading as a drink. We wondered why the waiter was serving us a drink halfway through the meal but soon realised that the prawns were cooked in the coconut shell. It was very unusual because of the light touch to the flavouring. It was just delicate coconut juice, prawn and coriander that shone through, and was very, very good.

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Then there was the Hue-style grilled chicken with fried glutinous rice. The chicken was decent and quite tender, which I liked. Here, the unusual part was the fried glutinous rice. It was a bit like a cross between fried polenta and plain tangyuan (glutinous rice balls). DC loved it but I found it a bit stodgy after so much food so far.

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Then there was the Hanoi style hot pot with beef and seafood. The hot pot came with accompanying raw meat, seafood and vegetables and it was up to us to cook it ourselves.

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The ingredients were fresh and of very good quality, particularly the beef and seafood. The broth at the end was full of flavour and the glass noodles soaked it all up, showcasing the fresh flavours nicely.

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Last but not least was the pho bo. I was a bit sceptical when one of our friends specially requested for it but was amazed by how good this traditional beef noodle dish was. It beat any other version I’ve tried hands down with its lightly spiced broth and very good quality beef that melted in the mouth. A definite re-order for next time.

We didn’t have any space for dessert, but are definitely planning our return!

Viet Lang @ The Arts House
1 Old Parliament Lane #01-03
Annex Building, Old Parliament House
Tel: 6337 3379
E-mail: vietlang@wellborn.com.sg

June in Thailand: Chiang Mai Street Scenes

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After getting the obligatory temple sightseeing out of the way, I felt freer to poke around and enjoy the little sights and sounds that make a city special. Here was an imaginatively vandalised street sign that to me seemed to add to the sign rather than turn it into a nuisance.

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The monkey head was cute, but I also liked how the authorities didn’t do anything to clean up the sign, leaving pop culture to do its thang here.

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Then there were the curiously well-meaning signs like the “Dangerous Zone” one below. There really wasn’t much to that area except that a pipe had probably been recently cemented over, creating probably the tiniest bump ever on the road. Exactly why it was a dangerous zone, I’d never know.

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Now more interesting was the famous night market down one of the main streets of Chiang Mai. There was of course a huge variety of items on sale, but the most exciting thing for me were the stall selling deep fried creepy crawlies.

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There was an incredible selection of the stuff from bamboo worms to crickets to scorpions, sold either loose by weight or in pre-packed portions.

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Erico was completely game for the variety fun pack that had crickets, bamboo worms and I can’t quite remember what other insects inside. They were all deep fried to a crisp and tasted of not much else aside from oil, really. Still, I couldn’t handle it and only barely managed to swallow the crunchy bits of bamboo worm. There wasn’t much to it except that bits of the carapace got stuck in my throat. Erico quite happily ate the rest and wasn’t too impressed by the taste of the frying oil. Seems like none of the insects tasted of anything much at all!

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Fear factor over, on other days we had the famous Chiang Mai noodles, khao soi, which were completely different from the Lao version of the same name. It was a sort of chicken curry with yellow noodles, except that the broth was more thin soup than thick curry, and was served with herbs, salted preserved vegetables (yum!) and topped with deep fried crispy shredded wanton skin.

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Chiang Mai is also home to the world-renown mango sticky rice. Here, it was both cheap and very, very good. No matter where you go in Thailand and especially Chiang ,Mai the rice is always perfectly steamed till just past al dente and the mango always sweet and perfumey.

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April in The Philippines: Eats

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After Malapascua, Omar and I ended up at SM City Mall at Cebu City. Having seen so many Jollibee branches along the way, we couldn’t help but try out the Filipino answer to McDonald’s. My Palabok Fiesta with Chicken Joy was such a joy for the carb lover, it had so many different types of starch! There was the Palabok Fiesta, some kind of bihon (thin rice) noodles topped with a gloopy salty sauce, egg, shrimp and crispy bits; then there was the patty of rice wrapped in burger paper; and the mashed potato; plus don’t forget that corn and carrot have loads of carbs too. The fried chicken was very good, much better than KFC. I pretty much gave up at the brownie (more carb anyone?) at the end and only managed a couple of sips of my seemingly extra sweet iced tea. What an experience!

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The next day, we did enough walking around Cebu City’s Carbon Market to work up an appetite.  No pictures of this place partly because it was crowded and I was afraid of getting anything stolen and partly because when I felt safe enough to take pictures, I felt like I was intruding on the friendly locals. It was a strange dichotomy I know, but that’s the strange charm of Carbon Market. The place is one of those messy markets that makes it clear that on no uncertain terms that it was not built for tourists and would never be. There were stalls of all kinds selling things from clothes to cooking pots and hardware, to cooked food, to grain, to vegetables, to meat. There were queues snaking all over at the grain stores. Yet strangely there was no problem at all getting a spot on a bench to grab a quick bite of lunch. There the local food was unbelievably cheap and also very good, and the lady boss delighted that two very foreign looking people would pull up to her stall for sustenance.

Yet there was another side to Carbon Market. There was debris strewn all over most parts and the more deserted areas were more than slightly dodgy. The ground was covered in a thick layer of grey muck from all the crap built up over the years. I suppose that’s where the “carbon” bit of the name arose. (After exiting the market we doused our feet in bottled water before proceeding.)

Some other bits of the market were slums packed with squatters. We didn’t realise this till we wandered down one alleyway again in search of food. There was a lady frying a whole load of springrolls. Assuming that she was selling them, we asked how much one was. She simply gave us each a crispy lovely parcel of goodness to try and it suddenly dawned on us that she wasn’t selling them! It was her daughter’s seventh birthday and they were celebrating with the entire neighbourhood. Before we knew it, she stuffed a good dozen perhaps of them in a plastic bag and pressed it on us, of course refusing payment. Such generosity and hospitality was almost too unbelievable. It was beautiful.

By the time we left Carbon Market it was time to eat again. We tried out Chow King’s halo halo, one of those uniquely Filipino concoctions with everything and the kitchen sink in it. Think ice kachang and an ice cream sundae cross-bed in a bizarre Frankensteinian way. This one had lurid purple yam ice cream, various types of radioactive hued starch balls, comparatively normal red beans, oat bits, jelly, creme caramel and even some kind of tapioca cake in it. The fruit in the mix was candied banana and candied jackfruit, plus some coconut shavings (if you call coconut a fruit). It was, well, very sweet from being drenched in so much syrup.

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Here I am doing my darndest impression of enjoying it. We ended up eating most of the shaved ice and then headed outside to get some mango from a street-side hawker.

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Last up in the series is this tea time set I had. It was in a fairly chi-looking cafe. Needless to say, everything had carb in it and everything was faintly sweet. It was very good though. There was one of tapioca strips studded with prawn and then fried to a crisp, then there was more of that Palabok bihon stuff, there was also a purple version of kueh dadah (coconut pancakes rolled up and stuffed with coconut sugar) and there was a kind of sweet, moist donutty batter with an salted egg wedge in it. Very yummy and lovely.

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Comfort for Sickies

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I was sick and in need of some easy and good comfort food. Even though there wasn’t a great deal in the fridge, thankfully there was  chicken stock and chicken breast in the freezer, and a carrot in the fridge.  This porridge made me feel miles better. It’s so easy to make it probably doesn’t really need a recipe, but he goes anyway.

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Ingredients:

½ cup rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 carrot, sliced
1 chicken breast
fried shallots

Method:

  1. Add the rice and chicken stock to the rice cooker. Slide the carrots atop the rice and sit the chicken breast  above the carrots.
  2. Start the rice cooker. Check back every few minutes. Fish out the chicken breast once the mixture boils and set it aside.
  3. When the chicken has cooled, shred it.
  4. After about 20 minutes, check on the porridge. The carrots should be soft and the rice cooked. If it’s turned into rice, simply add water and stir till you get the right consistency.
  5. Add salt, soy sauce and sesame oil to taste. Top with fried shallots and serve.

Serves 2 sickies.

Red Curry Fried Rice

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I see fried rice as a way to use up leftovers yet not feel like I’m eating old stale food. When I cook rice, I always make sure to cook more so that if I ever want to make fried rice, day old rice is ready for frying. Don’t even bother trying this with fresh rice. It’ll just be soggy and spoil the texture.

Normally I like to start with some kind of rempah base, usually from a packet. A lot of times it’s tomyam or green curry. The day I made this, I ran out of my favourite green curry paste so I had to plump for some remnants of a pack of red curry paste. Other stuff languishing in the fridge were leftover tinned sardines in oil, a chunk of wong bok, a few limp red chillis,  and some coriander. From the freezer came petit pois, chicken breast and kaffir lime leaves. Add to that some taupok and fresh lime and dinner is sorted.

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Ingredients:
3 tbsp oil
1 cup leftover rice
2 eggs

1 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tbsp chopped shallots
½ tbsp chopped ginger
2 tbsp red curry paste
4 kaffir lime leaves, torn
4 chicken fillets, cubed
1 tinned sardine in oil, mashed
5 taupok, cubed
½ tbsp petit pois
5 red chillis, thickly sliced
fish sauce, to taste

coriander
lime wedges

Method:

  1. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok and fluff the rice. Crack the eggs directly into the wok and toss in the rice. Wait a few seconds for the egg to set slightly then stir-fry the rice till it turns golden and the grains separate. Set aside.
  2. Heat the remaining oil in a wok and fry the garlic, shallot and ginger till fragrant. Add the red curry paste and kaffir lime leaves, keep frying till fragrant.
  3. Add in the chicken and keep stirring. Just before the chicken is cooked, toss in the sardines, tauok, petit pois and chillis, stir for a bit more.
  4. Finally, stir in the reserved eggy rice and season with fish sauce to taste.
  5. Serve garnished with coriander and lime wedges.

Serves 3.