Traditional Teochew

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We went out with family for the famous Teochew food at Ah Orh, mainly because DC’s grandma wanted to have braised goose. I have no objections whatsoever to one of my favourite types of fowl and happily joined in. The star dish of goose was excellent, where the slightly gamey taste of goose was very well set off by the flavourful spices. I liked how mellow the dish was. We made some halfhearted comments about taking some back for those at home, but ended up polishing off the whole dish instead. There were some other bits to the dish as well: tau kwa, braised pork belly and cucumber. I liked the soft, yet rather dense texture of the very fresh and creamy tau kwa and also the cucumber chunks that very nicely soaked up the goose gravy. It’s well worth coming here just for the goose I think.

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But won’t you miss out if you only eat the goose here? The hae cho (prawn rolls) here are pretty good. They’re made with yam, so a little different from the norm. I’m not sure how much prawn really goes into this but I think the stuffing is prawn, minced pork, yam and maybe chestnuts. All that is wrapped in tau kee (beancurd skin), deep fried and then eaten with a burnt caramel sauce. I quite liked this version although the yam made it rather heavy after a couple. I had to go easy on this to make room for the rest of the meal.

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They made a decent rendition of oyster omelette, with barely cooked oysters atop a nicely executed omelette. DC’s mum wasn’t too keen on the fact that the two had obviously been cooked separately. I guess she’s far more discerning than me on this! For me, oyster and egg make such a magical combination that as long as they’re decently cooked, I’m happy.

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The weakest link in the meal was the braised fish head with bitter gourd. The taste was all over the place and not harmonised at all. There was bitter and salty and chilli-hot, and that didn’t enhance the slightly over-fried fish pieces. It didn’t help that the fish was rather bony and we were spitting out bits of bone more than chewing and enjoying. This was a dish I wouldn’t re-order.

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Special mention must be made of their sambal kang kong. I liked how there was plenty of wok hei and a very flavourful sambal with bright flavours that really stood out. It was quite a spicy dish too, so beware!

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We weren’t really going to order this because we’d stuffed ourselves silly. But how to go to a Teochew restaurant and not order orh nee for dessert? I am a huge fan of yam paste and while this version looked rather disgusting (pardon the photo), I was surprised by how much I slurped it up and even fought DC for seconds! This yam paste found that sweet spot of silky yet with the occasional little chunk of yam to remind you that it’s made from real yam and not powder. It wasn’t overly oily or lemak either and while I was sceptical that there wasn’t pumpkin (and very little gingko nut, to DC’s dismay) but mainly red date, the paste did fine on its own. You have to save some space in your stomach for this dessert!

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Ah Orh Seafood Restaurant
Blk 115, Jalan Bukit Merah, #01-1627
Tel: 6275 7575

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March in Laos: Exciting Eats at a Sleepy Town

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Siamesecat and I certainly weren’t going to stay idle as we cooled our heels in Huay Xai. We immediately set off to eat. The first thing we saw was a little stand selling tam som AKA papaya salad. It’s not commonly known, but Thai papaya salad (som tam) really originated in Laos. It’s made by pounding green papaya shreds into, among other things, cherry tomato, cucumber, dried river prawns and fermented river crab paste. The river crab paste made me slightly worried as I peered into the container full of tiny crab carcasses in gloopy brown goo. My venerable guide book cautioned that food made from such fermented pastes, especially in this area, could give one liver fluke.

Nevertheless, the tam som was made by such friendly people Siamesecat and I just had to pull up a chair at the stall. It was reassuring how locals in mopeds kept pulling up for their tam som fix but not so when they took over the mortar and pestle and tasted the salad as they made it (double-dipping as usual). Of course the mortar and pestle wasn’t washed in between salads. We resolutely ignored hygiene concerns and plucked up the courage for our own order. Like most Lao food, it looked awful but tasted really awesome. We slurped it up in double-quick time as more people DIY-ed their salads, then tried to pay the man who made our salad. He gave us a puzzled look and then it dawned on us that he was another customer and was doing us a favour to make the tam som! He called out and a young girl appeared from nowhere. She accepted money from us but put it down somewhere behind the containers of ingredients, then scuttled off somewhere else. The funny thing was that we never found out who the owner really was. In case you’re wondering, we never got sick eating Lao food. Having said that, I haven’t specifically checked if I’ve got liver fluke!

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Salad obviously wasn’t going to fill us up for long. A stroll to the edge of town (not very far away) took us to a rickety makeshift stand with quite a few people having their share of some kind of spicy noodle. We did our usual mime of sitting down, looking pointedly at the other noodle bowls on the table, then grinning expectantly at the proprietress. She smiled back, pointed at the same noodle bowls and then starting scooping out broth of some sort for us. Contentedly, we sat back, expecting something like this to appear in front of us:

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We were shocked to find that all she placed in front of us was tomato pulp in plain water. First I sniffed at it, then took a little taste (it was slightly sweet and tomato-y), looked up in horror at Siamesecat and then arched a quizzical eyebrow at the proprietress. She apologetically pointed out a large container full of a sambal chilli paste on the table and gestured at the toppings. It was the usual DIY till you get the perfect personalised taste approach so common in Laos. We added some of the incredibly lethal chilli paste, probably about a tenth of what the locals added, some shredded coriander and spring onion, then salt, sugar and msg. The proprietress kept signalling to us that we needed to add more of the msg and was rather puzzled when we demurred. “Crazy tourists,” she must have thought.

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Only after we’d mix-mix-mixed to our (her?) satisfaction did the proprietress retrieve our bowls from us and add in the noodles. The result was cold and a very refreshing burst of hot, spicy and salty with hints of sweet and ferment. The noodles were probably made by shaving a block of steamed rice flour (think something along the lines of Singaporean chwee kuey). They were so good that Siamesecat and I decided to try another bowl of a variation: not shaved noodles but the same cut into cubes. The best part? It cost us next to nothing for each bowl (about SGD0.10, I kid you not).

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We were so pleased with our good cheap eat that we asked for a photo with the proprietress and here we are below. She wrote down her address in Lao for me to send her a copy. I hope she got it.

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As we wandered back into town, Siamesecat spied this lady making egg omelettes on a bamboo fire. Despite Siamesecat’s egg allergy, we went ahead and had one each (bad girl!).

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This omelette was filled with kang kong (some kind of water spinach) and bean sprouts, and eaten with a dipping sauce of fish sauce and garlic. Simple but gratifying.

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We didn’t spend all day eating. My intermezzo was heading to the local Red Cross where for about SGD5, I had a massage and a session in a traditional steam room. The wooden stilt house was built such that a massive wood fire under the house heated a vat of water steeped with local herbs. I don’t know how they managed not to burn the house down. The herbal steam was shunted into a steam room. In a provided sarong, I sat there for as long as I could, apeing the locals by rubbing the condensed steam (and sweat??) onto my arms and legs. Then I sat outside for a while, sipping hot herbal tea, before going in again. Repeat three times and I was relaxed, zenned out and ready for dinner.

With such a name, we couldn’t resist going to Nutpop for dinner. The English menu was a nice change from our usual order-by-gesticulation routine.

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We celebrated making the 15-hour journey in one piece with some local ginger whisky.  I don’t know how it was made, neither do I want to find out. It didn’t taste as good as it looked in the swanky wine glass. We both had difficulty finishing it!

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Thankfully, the food was far better. In our usual greed, we ordered enough for a family. The food was really good as was standard in Laos. What stood out was the pork larp, a meat salad of minced pork, fish sauce and green beans finished off with lime juice; and the steamed river fish. The fish was a lovely departure from the norm of saltwater fish and was done “Thai-style” (whatever that meant). It helped that the lime and lemongrass made it refreshing and thus easier for us to eat more than we should have!

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The Art of Stir-Fry

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Stir-frying is actually quite simple, as long as you’re quite brave too! Most home cooks only do it on medium heat, resulting in food that’s more steamed than fried. Stir-frying requires a very hot wok and all the ingredients, in small quantities, on the ready. This makes sure that the food is fried quickly and you get that barely charred taste.

Here’s how to do it. First, heat a dry wok till very hot. Then add the oil, swirling to coat most of the wok. Wait till the oil starts to shimmer and barely smoke. Make sure the ingredients are ready. Add the aromatics, like chopped garlic, and stir like mad. When it’s fragrant, add the rest of your ingredients according to how long they take to cook, and keep stirring. Turn off the flame and then season.

Here are some ideas:

Almost Sambal Kang Kong

Ingredients:

2 tsp belachan (about thumb-size)
1 tbsp oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 chilli padi, finely chopped
1 bunch kang kong

Method:

  1. Toast the belachan in a dry wok until brown on both sides. Crush using a mortar and pestle.
  2. Add oil to the hot wok and when oil is shimmering, add the shallots and fry till fragrant.
  3. Toss in the chilli padi, belachan and kang kong and fry till kang kong turns deep green.

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Watercress and Tau Kwa Stir-Fried in Tau Cheow

Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 cake tau kwa, cut into squares
1 bunch watercress, torn to small sections
1 tbsp tau cheow, crushed

Method:

  1. Heat the wok and the oil till oil shimmers, then add the garlic. Fry till fragrant.
  2. Add the tau kwa and fry till tau kwa is browned but not burnt.
  3. Add the watercress and tau cheow and fry till the veg turns deep green.

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Chicken, Mushroom and Bean Fry

Ingredients:
1 tbsp oil
as many mushrooms as you like, cut into strips
1 chicken breast, cut into small chunks
handful fine french beans, cut into sticks
2 tbsp shaoxing wine

Method:

  1. Heat the wok and the oil till shimmering. Add the mushrooms and fry till browned.
  2. Add the chicken and fry till browned slightly on all sides.
  3. Now add the french beans and fry for a few seconds.
  4. Add the shaoxing wine and stir till it stops bubbling, then turn off the heat. Add salt to taste.

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All recipes serve two. (Or one greedy person.)

August in China: Food in Yangshuo and Guilin

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The first night in Yangshuo was my first time in a less developed part of China. Tortoise and I thought we’d eat at one of the bustling local restaurants. I was so amused when our crockery arrived pre-sterilised in a vacuum pack. There was no need for the usual rinsing with a splash of hot water. No pictures of the dinner we had because we were too hungry and forgot to take pictures. We had beer duck (pi jiu ya) which was quite spicy but had no trace of beer in it. We had difficulty finding the meat as all the pieces seemed to be nothing but bone and gristle. I suppose that’s the consequence of being in the countryside.

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The next morning we staggered out for breakfast at this makeshift stall selling Guilin mifen (rice noodles). The lady would hand over a bowl of noodles topped with minced meat and black fungus, and then it’s up to the customer to add the ingredients to taste. There was piping hot pork stock (of course fortified with msg), several kinds of pickles and boiled soy beans.

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It was a delicious combination. I particularly liked the kang kong and long bean pickles and developed a taste for them from then on. The combination of ferment, sour and spicy was so addictive that for the rest of the trip I’d often seek out Guilin noodles or anything with long bean pickle in them.

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Stopping for lunch, we also had horse noodles (ma rou fen). It’s been a long time since I last had horse (that was in sandwiches in Germany). It tasted a bit like venison and was quite robust and pleasingly chewy. I liked it, but Guilin noodles are still better.

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