July in Vietnam: Eating My Way Through Hoi An

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Back in Hoi An, a great deal of colour and eating beckoned. The colourful Chinese lanterns dotting the streets and the relaxed way of life really charmed me. Here, there were few motorcycles and a lot of people got around either on foot or by bicycle.

00169

I spotted some amusing sights on the way, like this couple trying very hard to relax for their wedding photo shoot…

00175

… while their costumed wedding party awaited.

00176

And just before dinner I spotted this restaurateur picking his nose outside his very empty joint. I wonder why no one patronised his cafe.

00178

I headed on towards the market where lots of yummy sights and smells awaited. The sheer variety of fruit, vegetables and herbs made me yearn for a kitchen to whip up some food inspired by the local produce.

00180

I settled with having their local snacks instead. First, there were these odd little pancakes, reminiscent of the Indian appom. The tiny cakes were small enough to pop into the mouth whole and were crispy. The greasiness was countered by the shredded vegetables and herbs and the whole ensemble completed with a spamstick and a mystery-meat ball. It was a very satisfying starter.

00170

A short wander away was this version of bun. The thick rice noodles were bespattered with thick sweet sauce a bit like the stuff at home that’s put on yong tau fu, just quite a bit more savoury. It was much nicer with the hot sauce and the hotter yellow chillis.

00172

Yet another odd dish was this plate of assorted steamed dumplings. I wasn’t particularly impressed even though the guide book said something about “white rose” which was supposed to be shrimp encased in rice paper of sorts and steamed. It was more like soon kueh with slightly drier skin. Not bad when hot but not much more than not bad.

00173

Wandering away from the market, I ducked into an alley along the quaint streets…

00214

… and found myself in a little porch with a bowl of cau lau in front of me. This is a Hoi An specialty that involves flat yellow noodles being smothered with braised pork and topped with lime juice and the usual herbage. It’s finished off with crispy fried rice paper bits and tastes really yummy, though very much reminding of what I do at home with leftover braised pork.

00164

The best dish I had in Hoi An was the chicken rice, thankfully not featured in the guide but chanced upon on the street. The rice was cooked with chicken stock, just like Hainanese chicken rice at home. Unlike the stuff at home, it was topped with a whole variety of oddities like boiled pork, beansprouts and herbs. Not to mention, the chicken was just the shredded type torn apart with fingers. The flavour was amazing. It was an epiphany to have incredibly aromatic, chickeny rice matched with herbs like coriander and laksa leaves. It was definitely a step up from Hainanese chicken rice.

00227

I’m sure some of you must be wondering why I hadn’t mentioned Vietnam’s national drink yet. The coffee here is thick, strong and incredibly sweet and milky with added condensed milk. And that’s the only way you should have it. Ask for ca phe sua da and you get a tall glass of ice to cool it all down with. It’s wonderful on a hot day. When you’re done, chase it down with the green tea provided gratis.

00224

I first noticed this coffee place because of the many men perched on red plastic chairs watching TV in the morning. They disappeared by midday and I only ventured there in the afternoon to get a mobile plan top up card and a glass of coffee. After the first sip, I was hooked. I spent every afternoon there enjoying my ca phe sua da, playing with the very cute puppy called Remain, and chatting with the proprietress about Hoi An, Vietnam and Singapore.

00226

June in Thailand: The Stir-Fry Fireball and Other Cooking Adventures

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

The highlight of Chiang Mai was something I hadn’t planned: cooking classes. I was intrigued by the large number of courses on offer at the various guesthouses. Cooking classes seemed as popular as day treks to the hilltribe villages. Tom and I decided that we just had to go for one. We chose The Best Thai Cookery School, run by the inimitable Permpoon “call me Perm” Nabnian, not just because of the price but also because of the almost shameless self-promotion on the brochure.

The morning started off from the back of his pickup truck, a nicely converted vehicle with fairly comfy seats at the back. He picked us all up personally, squeezed us all in the truck, and took us on a tour of a little local market. Here, he took us through the entire encyclopedia of Thai vegetables and herbs. Being Southeast Asian, I thought I’d be familiar with all he’d show us, but I was surprised when he showed us another version of ginger I didn’t know. Of course there was the regular ginger, there was blue ginger (galangal) and yellow ginger (turmeric). But there was also something called lesser or finger ginger, which he’s holding up on the left hand side of the picture. I also learned that Thai basil and holy basil were different plants, both also quite different from the sweet basil used in Mediterranean cooking.

00398

Aside from that, it was lovely to see the great variety of herbs and vegetables available in the Thai market. Seeing the cute rotund green brinjals made me want to set up kitchen there straight away. Along the way, Perm dispensed little tips like don’t be crazy like the Westerners and go for the largest eggs: buy only small eggs because they’re much tastier.

00399

And the mushrooms! I don’t know why, but fresh straw mushrooms just aren’t available in Singapore. I love this stuff in soup, especially tom yam. It really is just too bad that so far I’ve only found this good stuff in Thailand and China.

00400

Whirl round market over, we bundled back into the pickup and went to his house in the suburbs for the cooking lessons proper. First, we learned how to make mango sticky rice. I was surprised that it was made by steaming instead of the typical boiling my Chinese heritage is familiar with. I’ll share the recipe once I get round to making it at home.

00401

After a round of demonstrations, we were all obviously itching to go. We weren’t issued the aprons and dish cloths for nothing! We’d each chosen a stir-fry dish: I wanted the minced pork fried with holy basil and Tom went for the fried morning glory. The ingredients were all prepared for us and all we needed to do was a bit of minor chopping.

00402

After getting the food prep out of the way, we were ready for the most exciting part of the course! We took turns with our partners to do our respective dishes, for safety and also to make sure that there was a photographer to document the momentous occasion. First, we got our ingredients ready and stood by the hot woks. Perm came round adding the oil and checking our work stations.

00403

At his signal, it was time! With a great roar, the flames leapt up together with lots of smoke and exclamations from the more timid of the lot.

00405

It’s just too bad that the pictures didn’t really do it justice because the flames really went pretty high.

00406

They only truly died down when I added in the sauce ingredients.

00407

And there was my minced pork with holy basil replete with plenty of wok hei. Now this is how you do it!

00409

Next, Perm taught us how to make papaya salad (which I’d already learned by observing the people at the street stand in Laos!) and deep fried banana spring rolls.

00410

The fun tip I learned here was to use a cut up banana like a glue stick to seal the spring roll wrappers. In my greed, I later forgot to take pictures of them, so no you can’t see the finished product. However, what you can see is me grinning maniacally while making my spring roll.

00411

We proceeded on to making our own curries and carb dish. I made jungle curry and khao tom. Didn’t quite like the jungle curry but loved the khao tom. And I realise now that khao tom is all about the right kind of soy sauce and also the sprinkling of chinese parsley on top. Tom made a very yummy massaman curry and pad thai. Look at his pleased expression cooking it up! He had rather a short-lived (5 minutes to be exact) of going back to Wales to set up a Thai restaurant.

00412

As a bonus, Perm also very generously taught Tom and me to make coconut and banana soup. It’s pretty much the same as the soup we make further south in Malaysia and Singapore, just that I think our version is slightly better because we use the more fragrant gula melaka rather than white sugar. Nonetheless, we assembled all our cooking out in the patio and shared the food. It was all very very good, especially since many of my classmates were cooking for the first time. Just goes to show how good Perm is!

00416

Of course I had to have a parting shot with the chef himself. He was industriously preparing for the evening class already and I had to catch him at the back before he drove us back to town!

00417

June in Thailand: Food Festival and Other Sukhothai Eats

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Tom and I pulled into Sukhothai in the evening and we settled into a charming guesthouse (that would later steal money from the stash we put in safekeeping with them, unfortunately). We wandered out onto the street looking for food and chanced upon a banner advertising the Sukhothai Food Festival. It was just on the opposite side of the river from our guesthouse and nicely within walking distance. The place was bustling but not too crowded, just right for soaking in the atmosphere yet getting our food with no problem.

00297

There was loads of stuff on offer, from salads and fish cakes to rice with dishes and plenty of fruit and desserts. Here was where I introduced Tom to the joys of rambutan and my favourite, mangosteen. But let me show you just the highlights. I particularly liked the salt grilled river fish. The tilapia-like fish was coated generously in salt and grilled over a charcoal fire. When it’s on the plate, just lift off the skin, scales and salt and all. The interior is steaming hot and incredibly juicy, heavenly with the spicy lime and chilli dipping sauce.

00351

Then there were the grilled jumbo-sized prawns. Oh my, how fresh and succulent and good these babies were. It was Tom’s first time eating proper prawns, so I taught him how: grab and pull off the head, being careful not to let the juices dribble out, then quickly suck out the brains; peel carapace off body section by section, dip in sauce and devour. There’s something just so magical about charred crustacean. Like my prawns, I lost my head and blew my daily budget getting more. I’d just have to eat less the next day. (As if.)

00294

The most fascinating thing I saw of the festival was this dessert stand. It made gossamer-thin pancakes, even thinner than paper-thin, somewhat like Singaporean popiah skins. With the pancakes came a bundle of coloured spun sugar, a bit like cotton candy. Eat by rolling sugar in pancake then popping in mouth. It was a great dessert and we stood for ages at the stand, mesmerised by the deft twirlings of the chef slapping dough ball on hot slab to make perfectly round pancakes in perfect timing.

The food festival was so good we went there two nights in a row, but of course that’s not all we saw of Sukhothai cuisine. I read in the guidebook of a place that specialised in Sukhothai kway tiew noodles. It took little coercion to get Tom in on the hunt and after one failed attempt (it was closed), we sat down to two variations of the exceptionally thin flat rice noodles. The first was a bowl of scalded noodles with toppings, somewhat like the Vietnamese noodle salad bun thit nuong. It had bits of boiled pork, deep fried wanton skin, chai poh (preserved turnip), grated peanut, beans and herbs, all topped with lime and fish sauce. The medley of flavours was refreshing and a delicious change from the usual soup noodles or fried noodles.

00354

Speaking of which, the fried version was very yummy too, thanks to the generous sprinkling of deep fried lard over it. It was somewhat like pad thai minus the ketchup and shrimp. While both were delicious, I think the unfried version was slightly more unique.

00357

Stomachs sated, we were satisfied enough to head out to the attractions of Sukhothai.

Blueberry Pancakes

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Occasionally I like to make a decadent breakfast chockful of expensive ingredients. This time I made blueberry pancakes, putting a good two punnets of the stuff in it. I made the fluffier thick American-style pancakes, which typically uses buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda. I replaced the buttermilk with a mixture of yogurt and milk and it worked out just fine. You can make the batter minus the bicarbonate of soda in advance and stir it in just before cooking. Be sure to sift the bicarb. If you’re lazy like me, you’ll end up with lumps that turn parts of the pancake disappointingly salty-bitter. Top it either with the traditional maple syrup and butter/whipped cream or go healthier like me and dollop with thick yogurt and manuka honey.

IMG_0027

Ingredients:
170g plain flour
1 egg
½ cup yogurt
¾ cup milk
40g sugar
50g melted butter
pinch salt
¾ tsp cream of tartar
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp melted butter, for frying
2 punnets blueberries

Method:

  1. Mix all the ingredients from flour to bicarbonate of soda in a blender or mixer till smooth. (If making in advance, leave out the bicarbonate of soda: stir it in only when ready to make pancakes.)
  2. Heat a heavy frying pan and coat lightly with melted butter. Pour the batter into the pan in spoonfuls till it runs to the edges of the pan. Turn heat to low and sprinkle blueberries generously over the uncooked and bubbling side.
  3. When the pancake turns almost solid on the uncooked side, loosen gently and flip the pancake. It’s all in the wrist action. (Tip: use a non-stick pan, it helps a great deal!) Cook till brown on the other side, then transfer to a plate and cook the rest of the pancakes.
  4. Serve with butter, thick yogurt and honey.

Makes 8 pancakes.

Mimolette

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

We were casting out for a brunch place and Riders Cafe wasn’t open, so we settled for Mimolette next door. I’d heard that the standard had gone down but decided to try it anyway. We started with the lemon pancakes which were competently executed. They were done with lemon zest in the batter and served with honey and strawberries. I liked how they served real cream, whipped to just the right consistency. However, I didn’t like how the strawberries were the regular bland undderipe kind and I felt that the pancakes could have been taken a notch higher if they’d served it with lemon curd or French crepe-style sprinkled with lemon juice and icing sugar.

DSCF5509

DC highly recommended the steak and eggs and he was right. The steak was very well flavoured and done just right for breakfast – medium rare. We normally go for rare steak but this time went with the restaurant’s recommendation. It was perfect for the first meal of the day. The scrambled eggs were on the edge of runny – just right and the sundried tomato with bacon made a great counterpoint to both egg and steak. It was a good though heavy start to the day.

DSCF5506

Judging from the website, it seems like they’ve changed the menu. Try your luck anyway!

Mimolette
55 Fairways Drive
Tel: 6467 7748

Vanishing Food: Maxwell Oyster Pancake

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

While I ate a disappointing curry puff at Maxwell Hawker Centre’s Tanglin Curry Puff, I spotted the friendly aunties at Hong Jia Oyster Pancake chatting animately with a customer. Such friendly people had to make good food, so I asked for a $2 pancake (with oyster). I got chatting with them and the younger auntie has been making this for over 20 years after taking over from her mother’s itinerant stall.

These little babies are pretty expensive considering that it’s just a snack, but you pay for the labour involved. It’s basically crispy batter studded with crunchy peanuts encasing a filling of chopped vegetables, minced pork and prawn. That’s the $1.50 version. If you shell out for the $2 version, you get an oyster inside too.

dscf4054

It’s quite special and yummy with lots of contrasting texture and taste. The older auntie who helps out likes it so much she eats at least one a day! Just be warned, it’s a tad on the oily side.

dscf4052

Hong Jia Oyster Pancake
Same row as Tian Tian, next to Tanglin Curry Puff
Maxwell Hawker Centre

A Civilised Lunch at The Marmalade Pantry

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

The Marmalade Pantry is one of those places to go to when I need a civilised lunch where the food and service are consistent, one of those days when I don’t want any surprises yet want the option of being a bit adventurous.

Having woken up late from a night of whisky, I thought I’d skip breakfast and go straight for lunch then shopping. I went for The Ultimate Beef Burger, medium done. It was a substantial burger, made from scratch not one of those pre-made frozen patties. It had charred cherry tomatoes, pickle and a generous spread of mayonnaise on the soft toasted bun. The french fries were well made, crisp on the outside and softly grainy on the inside. They were soaked in salted water before frying. I prefer them as is so I can sprinkle salt on top instead as I like the little bursts of salt on the tongue better.

dscf3713

The burger itself was alright, though I felt that it was slightly too done for medium. Even though there were plenty of juices  oozing out as I cut into the patty, it was somehow rather dry in the mouth. The beef was probably too lean. I also found it too salty and there wasn’t a lot of flavour to it. It tasted rather generic, nothing special.

dscf3719

My mum had the Pan Roasted Red Snapper with Almonds [sic] Herb Crust & Chickpea Salad. She liked it a lot. It’s a perfect light lunch, healthy from the fish and vegetables. It was also great that the complex carbs came from chickpea, a better source of protein and fibre than most grains. The fresh fish went well with the mustard in the  herb crust and the squeaky-crunchy sweet peas.

dscf3716

For dessert, we had Basil Crepes with Caramelized Bananas. The crepe itself was an almost luminous green from the basil, reminding me of kueh dadar. I was surprised that despite the many flecks of basil in the pancake, there was hardly any basil flavour at all. Nonetheless, the banana and the caramel worked. You can’t go far wrong with soft banana pulp and sweet buttery caramel. The rich vanilla bean ice cream helped a lot too.

dscf3726

We rounded off the meal with coffee. Check out the cool fern pattern on my caffe latte. I sipped at it carefully, keeping the pattern until about halfway into the cup. The hot coffee flavoured milk was a nice end to the meal.

dscf3722

The bill came up to $82.85. It’s pricey but that’s what you pay for the decent food, genteel ambience and the Orchard road location.


The Marmalade Pantry

Unit B1-08 to 11
Palais Renaissance
390 Orchard Road
Singapore 238871
Tel: 6734 2700