Crab Biriyani at Heritage Bites

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DC and I took his parents out for Indian. We’d heard about the crab biriyani at Heritage Bites and were very eager to try it out. The restaurant itself has a very understated decor – modern with Indian touches. Its simple layout adds to the spaciousness and helps in getting the attention of the waitstaff. DC started off with a jaljeera, a drink with mint, lime, cumin and chilli. I liked the crispy bits floating at the top, they stayed crispy throughout, which is quite amazing considering it’s soaking in the drink. What I didn’t like was the drink itself. It tasted like watered down green chilli sauce to me. Pass.

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We had some starters to begin the meal, a combination platter of chicken tikka, tandoori chicken, prawn and fish. The morsels were tender and well-marinated, though ultimately not as memorable as the mains.

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For mains, we had the Punjabi mutton dhabewala ($15), which was very tender pieces of goat simmered in a thick tomato-based curry. I didn’t get much of it because DC and his dad slurped most of it up! No great loss to me because I was most enamoured of the palak paneer ($15). It was incredibly smooth and creamy without being heavy, and had a tart tang that made it taste almost like tomato (green tomato?). The paneer (mild yogurt cheese) cubes were just the right consistency of yielding yet chewy to the bite. It was really excellent when wiped up with plain naan ($3), probably the best naan I’ve had in recent memory. It was quite thin and amazingly crisp, yet despite its thinness had a soft, slightly al dente centre. If not for the crab biriyani ($25) that followed, we’d probably have ordered one each. Oh yes, there was another dish with okra – I can’t remember what it was exactly, except that it was decent. Too bad that the other dishes completely stole the show.

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And then the piece de resistance! The crab biriyani is da bomb. It is such a great idea: cleanly shelled crab (no nasty jaw-jarring bits at all!) layered with fragrant basmati rice and cooked to a beautifully spiced finish. Add some curry gravy to moisten the thing and you wouldn’t even miss the raita that they forgot (they later included it in the portion we took home). There was a lot of moist, fresh crab in the biriyani, each spoonful had plenty of crab to feel its texture on the tongue and fully taste the yummy crustaceousness of it. It’s such a great idea for a lighter biriyani. I’m definitely coming back for this.

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We were so stuffed that we had to take back a portion of our crab biriyani. But that didn’t stop us from ordering the jalebies ($8). These little fried dough coils soaked in fragrant syrup were quite special: crisp throughout and not tooth-achingly sweet, the syrup was spiked with some lemon juice to round off our dinner on a yummy sweet-sour note. Be warned that each jalebie is quite small, so it may not be the value you’re looking for.

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Nonetheless, we had a very good deal because the place was running a 40% discount promotion on all orders made between 6-8pm. Get there for your crab biriyani fix!

Heritage Bites
#B1-012 Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6837 0858

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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

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

Quick Eats: Tekka Market

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I like going to Tekka Market. Both the market and the hawker sections have such great stalls. The market side always has stuff open all the way into the afternoon on Sundays, making it ideal to catch some fantastic lunch and then buy groceries for dinner. The vegetable stalls have such a variety of ingredients that each time I go I find something I haven’t seen before. It’s a great place to get ingredients for Vietnamese or Thai food. It’s so easy to find Thai basil and other herby leaves here.

Now the hawker side is chock-full of nasi briyani stalls. Yakader is the place I go to. This was the place I had my briyani epiphany. Before this, I never understood why one would cook nuts and raisins with savoury rice. The nuts would just be soft and the raisins pulpy and sweet, which I don’t fancy in savoury food. It all became clear when I had my first spoonful of their rice. The cashews, though not crunchy, gave a lovely fragrance to the rice, and the not-too-sweet raisin gave it extra interest and texture. Now let’s get on to the mutton. It is amazing how tender this stuff is. At first, it seemed deceptively unyielding to the fork, but once a morsel was hacked off, it fairly melted in the mouth. Spiced just right, this stuff is briyani heaven.

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DC spotted some sup tulang at Hanifa’s nearby and ordered some mutton bone soup. It was very peppery and quite nice to gnaw at. I’m not super keen on chewy tendon (I like mine soft and melting), but the soup was nicely flavoured, though a bit of a shock to the system with the amount of pepper in it. It was so good that the family at the next table asked us where we got it and happily slurped up their order. I’d go back to try the mutton and tongue next time.

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Yakader
#01-324

Hanifa’s
#01-256

A Melange of Regional Chinese Cuisine

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Eeyore and I were wandering around the Geylang area for want of anything better to do (!). We were waiting for lunch to be digested before tackling dinner. Eeyore was going to take me to his favourite or luak (oyster omelette) place in Geylang. After taking a long stroll up and down Geylang Road, we stumbled upon the restaurant at 666 Geylang Road that served regional Chinese cuisine. I apologise for not taking down the restaurant name and address. It’s actually on the odd number side of Geylang nearer the MRT track, but I do remember the 666 number. I’m sure you can find it yourself!

Being fresh from my travels in China, I was intrigued by the promise of Hunan cuisine, among others. I miss very much the fiery dish of fermented long beans fried with minced pork. Too bad this place didn’t serve it.

What they did have was che mian (stretched noodles), which is a specialty of Shaanxi province. Typical of food in China, the presentation wasn’t the best. Look at the mess below!

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But when mixed together, the noodles, garlic, chilli, beansprouts, cai xin and vinegar blended together into a sublime whole. The wide noodle (note singular) was very chewy and moreish. It had great mouthfeel and was very satisfying. Our entire bowl was filled with just one noodle. Eeyore was under strict instructions to find the end and failing that, to count the number of ends there were. We had a lively, though extremely geeky, discussion about the number of ends produced with each bite and whether it was an arithmetic or geometric progression.

Here I am showing off the noodle!

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We had the kou shui ji (literally: saliva chicken) as a cold dish. The name is so because it’s so tasty people start to salivate immediately. This dish was a pretty watered down version of the fiery Sichuan original. It’s a basic but very tasty dish of plain boiled chicken dressed with soy sauce and chilli oil. Here, it was decent if you’re far away from Sichuan and have no idea what to expect. Only one way to put it: for the chilli-wimps.

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Another dish we had was the zi ran mutton. Fatty strips of mutton were fried with chilli, leek and lots of fennel. It gave a Central Asian touch and was utterly delicious. I particularly enjoyed the bursts of fennel exploding on the palate. Again, it wasn’t as good as the ones I’ve had in China, but it’ll do.

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Before you run out to this place, ask yourself if you’re squeamish. I found a little extra in our fried vegetables towards the end of the meal. I’m not sure whether that was a good or bad thing. No, we didn’t see the point of complaining as the place felt like a little slice of China and no, we weren’t sick after that.

Verdict? Eat at your own risk. The che mian is fantastic and the food is reasonably priced ($28 for two meat dishes, one vegetable dish and one noodle).

Mutton Stew and Sincere Service

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I like Jacob’s Cafe for the great laid-back atmosphere, the chicken curry and the fab Hainanese mutton stew. The last time I was there with a friend, we almost came to blows over ownership rights of the mutton stew. This time, I learned my lesson and brought my mum instead. She hates mutton.

Before I go on about the food, I want to tell you how much I love the service here. I had the sincerest service ever. Our servers were all incredibly smiley and attentive. Water was topped up before we realised it, special requests were obliging accommodated. Sure, there were small glitches, but you know what? I felt so much that they just wanted to please that there was nothing to forgive. Call me a sucker for good service but where they serve you with love,  surely they also cook with great love.

Knowing that the mutton stew would be full of meat, I ordered a small garden salad to balance it off. It was a just-right portion of lettuce variations, pea shoots, carrot, red and green peppers, Japanese cucumber, tomato, cherry tomato, sundried tomato and onion rings, topped with vinaigrette dressing. (I’d asked for the dressing to be on the side, but the salad came dressed and with extra on the side instead!) With so many and such fresh ingredients, it was  all good. You can’t go far wrong with a fresh salad.

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Next came my mutton stew. True to the homespun cooking style, there wasn’t much to recommend it for its looks. It was simply mutton slow-cooked with black fungus, tau kee (dried tofu skin) and bamboo shoots. The mutton was  tender the way you can only get by cooking the right cut and the right way. It reminded me again of how stewed mutton really beats the more expensive beef in terms of texture and taste so often. The fungus, tau kee and bamboo shoots added lots of texture to the stew: gelatinous, chewy, crunchy. I sopped up the thin flavourful juices with the crispy baguette pieces. It was all fantastic with the homemade garlic chilli sauce. As there was way too much meat by my standards, I took away half my portion. Had it with mee sua for breakfast a couple of days later. Still good.

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My mutton-hating mum steered clear of the stew and went for the Europa sausage plate because they didn’t have chicken curry that day. The Europa plate had two sausages, the nurnberger and a veal sausage, with french fries and a side salad. The sausages were decent though I felt that the veal one had too much flour in it. I wasn’t too keen on the too-soft texture. Mum liked it all though, especially the french fries.

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The damage was $37.60. Pretty expensive considering the location, but go for the specialty dishes like the mutton stew and the chicken curry and you’ll be happy.

Jacob’s Cafe
Blk 5 Changi Village Road #01-2049 S500005
Tel: 6543 1106