Quick Eats: Teochew at Havelock

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DC and I ducked into Mu Liang Zai Liang Kee Restaurant for a quick lunch one hot day. We needed something quick and not too heaty, ordering an oyster omelette and stir-fried baby spinach to accompany some porridge. The oyster omelette was perfectly cooked, crisp at the edges and very fluffy on the inside. The oysters were lightly cooked and coated with a very moreish sambal sauce. It was ambrosial with the porridge, I’d eat that in a flash anytime!

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The stir-fried baby spinach was expertly done with just the right tenderness and a light touch of wok hei. We asked for less oil to make it a slightly healthier meal and they obliged. It’s not the kind of place where food only tastes good if done with too much oil. The only issue was that the porridge was a bit too mushy, definitely not the clean tasting Teochew style porridge with intact rice grains. This was just run-of-the-mill. Maybe we’ll order rice next time.

Mu Liang Zai Liang Kee Restaurant
719 Havelock Road
Tel: 6272 3182

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

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

Pek Kio Market Yummies

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It was about time we tried Pek Kio Market after hearing from Hypodermically how good the prawn noodles were. The minute we got there we fanned out, each having separate missions. DC was despatched to queue for the legendary prawn noodles, while others got other stuff to fill our stomachs for the long wait ahead. Forgettable:   Hokkien mee; decent: kway chap.

The chwee kueh from Pin Le was worth a mention because it’s just so darn huge! Each goes for $0.80 and is almost as big as the plate. It’s generously filled with chai poh and the chilli has kick. I’d have it again as a stomach filler even though it doesn’t quite make my love list.

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Taking things a notch up was the oyster omelette from Tong Siew. I know the picture looks awful, like someone had puked over the omellete, but do not be deceived by looks! It was one of the best oyster omelettes I’ve had. This is different from the usual orh luak, it’s call orn neng instead because it doesn’t have distracting starchy goo. Here, it’s just egg and oyster. The egg was fluffy and the oyster fresh and yummy. Together with the chilli sauce and the coriander topping, it was egg and oyster heaven for me.

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When DC finally bore the prawn noodles triumphantly to our table, we oohed and aahed at how big the prawns in the $15 version were. C&S had a bowl each of the regular ones and they were impressed already. After all the preamble, DC and I settled for sharing one $15 portion, divvying up the 3 prawns in our usual democratic fashion: he got the head of the last one and I the body. DC adored the soup, though I was sure at first. It wasn’t as punchy and in your face as expected, but after a few sips, I realised that the clear soup had a very clear taste of prawn with no distractions. The jumbo prawns were great too, plenty of coral and the flesh was firm and sweet. Excellent.

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The noodles were done very well too. I enjoyed it much more than expected as the chilli was very flavourful, plus it was augmented by crispy lard bits and plenty of crunchy veg. Thumbs up!

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Pin Wei (#25)
Tong Siew(#23)
Wah Kee Prawn Noodles (#15)
Blk 41A Cambridge Road Hawker Centre (Pek Kio)

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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A Very Decadent Breakfast Omelette

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I was a little tired of having the usual cheese or peanut butter in my breakfast sandwich. Inspiration hit when I looked at eggs and cheese sitting around in my fridge.  I wasn’t happy with just a plain cheese omelette. There was some aging  garlic and shallots in a corner of my kitchen, so that went into my recipe, as did some defrosted chopped spinach. I went slightly overboard with the butter for my omelette but that made it extra special and flavourful to perk up my breakfast. I suppose it also helped keep the omelette from sticking to the pan. DC insists that I add this line: he thinks it was very nice.

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Ingredients:

big knob butter
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
3 shallots, sliced thinly
4 nuggets of thawed frozen spinach (about a small handful)
1 small handful grated mature cheddar cheese
4 eggs
generous splash of milk

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a frying pan on medium heat, then add the garlic and shallots. Fry till the shallots are soft and start smelling wonderful.
  2. Fish the garlicky shallots out into a large bowl and mix in the spinach and cheese. Season with sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Stir till well combined.
  3. Put the still-buttery pan back on medium, then briskly beat the eggs and milk together. Pour into pan and let set. If bubbles form, burst them with a wooden spatula to help it cook faster. When the omelette has just about set, smear the spinach and cheese mixture gently onto one half.
  4. Carefully fold the omelette over and wait for the cheese to melt. Serve as soon as you can, though it tastes gorgeous cold too.

Makes 2 giant portions or 4 regular ones