Quick Eats: Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh

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I was in the Sin Ming area for car servicing, so I had to check out the famous bak kut teh stall there. Rong Cheng has excellent clear, peppery soup. The flavour is probably one of the best I’ve had. Too bad that the ribs themselves were a bit tough. I also liked that they had fresh vegetables (tang oh AKA garland chrysanthemum)  as a side dish in addition to their decent rendition of salted vegetables. The braised ter kah (pork trotters) were tender and yummy, though nothing mindblowing. A good place to go if you’re in the area.

Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh
Blk 22 Sin Ming Road (the coffee shop right at the corner)

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Quick(ish) Eats: Burger Shack

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We weren’t expecting to go to Burger Shack. Really, we wanted to have something a bit lighter, like the duck bak kut teh at Penang Kitchen. But we passed by and were really hungry. So we did. We went easy by skipping the fries and having a vaguely virtuous salad to compensate.

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Mine was the lamb burger. It was pretty decent with a fairly juicy patty that was spiced just right so that I could still taste the lamb. I quite liked the large juicy slices of portobello mushroom in it too. Next time if I wasn’t too famished, I’d pick out half of the chunky slices of onion. Thankfully, both our burgers had lots of onion, so we ponged each other to happy death the rest of the afternoon. (Oh yes, DC had the black pepper beef burger. I thought it was OK. The sauce was quite run of the mill pepper sauce, not that I was expecting anything really special anyway.)

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They tried to do the shake-shake thing with the salad, which is a good idea since you decide how much dressing to go in. It’s quite a nice Japanese-influenced one with plenty of soy sauce in it. As for the greens themselves, just take a look at the picture below and judge for yourself whether you’d like that kind of salad. It was passable for me in a pinch, but if I’m in my normal fussy mode, my response’d be NO ICEBERG PLEASE KTHXBAI. But I wasn’t, so it passed as my serving of greens for the meal. That, and the pongy onion.

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It’s a great place for a fairly quick burger. Try the spaghetti meatball next time, so many people were having it, maybe it’s good. Oh yes, and the lemonade was quite decent. This place is quite decent and the wait isn’t too long.

Burger Shack
559 Bukit Timah Road #01-01 King’s Arcade
Tel: 6466 3477

Candlenut Kitchen

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Misa and I were overdue for a catchup and we chose Candlenut Kitchen for that. We were sad that Trish and Adele couldn’t join us, maybe a little because we missed their company, but mainly because we were severely limited in how much we could eat! It was very gutting (pun intended) that we only had space for two mains and a dessert. We had to choose our dishes wisely and started with Misa’s perennial favourite: assam fish ($16.80). I thought it a very good version, though not quite as rich in flavour as I’d like. While flavourful from the assam and laksa leaves, I found the gravy a little watered down. It would not go well in DC’s house (he’s Peranakan). Still, a decent rendition – good for desperate times when you can’t get the home-cooked version.

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I read good reviews about yeye’s curry ($12.80), a white curry made with white pepper instead of the usual chilli rempah. On first chew, I thought it very similar to a mild version of Thai green curry and was a bit let down. The texture of the gravy certainly was very similar as it was very thick and lemak. It went really well with the chunks of chicken thigh. After a few more bites, the subtlety of the dish starts to come through and the magic of the pepper starts to weave its spell. It’s spicy yet gentle in its kick, with a level of complexity that’s hard to describe. I’ve been remiss in my posts and this dinner was had slightly more than a month ago before Christmas. My mouth still waters as I write this, it’s worth the trip just for this one dish.

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For dessert, we had the Christmas special dessert which is sadly off the menu now. It was a bombe Alaska of sorts, with chestnut, banana and chocolate. While we both thought it a bit too sweet with the honey drizzled on top, the banana and chestnut combination was pretty addictive.

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This is a restaurant with very good potential. I’m already plotting my next trip back!

Candlenut Kitchen
25 Neil Road
Tel: 6226 2506

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

Crab of My Childhood

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I’ve been eating at Hua Yu Wee for years. My parents love this place and it was a natural place to have a birthday celebration for my father (yes, a second time, we always find excuses to eat good food).

We started off with the deep fried baby squid. Here, it’s done to perfection because it’s incredibly crispy even after sitting for a while. It’s the right blend of sweet, spicy and peppery. ‘Nuff said.

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The sambal dua tao are one of the few good renditions on the market. Here the sambal is spicy and not overly sweet with plenty of dried shrimp in the mix. I liked how the plump mussels were incredibly fresh and full of clean flavour. Thumbs up.

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The chicken was probably the weak link for the dinner. While the chicken was nicely browned and crisp, it wasn’t particularly flavourful and the green chilli sauce didn’t do much to lift it. Definitely not a re-order.

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Fish at this place was faultless as usual. The live seabass was steamed till just done and lightly seasoned with soy sauce and coriander. The smooth texture and good flavour of the fish was excellent as usual. Good with rice.

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Then came the stars of the show: the crab. Note how they’ve changed the presentation so people get to the good bits quick instead of having to turn over the shell first. The crab here is always sweet and meaty, and the chilli crab sauce is thick and spicy. I’m not such a big fan of chilli crab but the sauce is great with the deep fried mantou.

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My favourite type of crab here is the pepper crab. I like how it’s deeply spicy without being overwhelmed by peppery-ness. It’s got plenty of the depth of flavour of pepper and the top notes that quickly fade when pepper gets stale. This version is my favourite, I guess it’s hard to describe it well when the taste is so familiar. Just go have some and tell me what you think!

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Hua Yu Wee
462 Upper East Coast Road
Tel: 6241 1709

Restaurant Prices at a Coffee Shop Stall: Big D’s

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I’d probably be lynched by fans of Big D’s (including the friend who told me about it) when I say that I think the food is expensive. It could well be that the chef buys nothing but the best cuts and uses the best ingredients. It could also be that the chef doesn’t have enough bulk to warrant good prices from his suppliers. I found it a little disconcerting to pay restaurant prices for something at a coffee shop stall.

Nonetheless, the food was very good. DC and I shared a kurobuta pork chop ($28) and an anchovy pasta ($17). I liked how the pork was charred outside and just about done on the inside, with a smidgen of pink right in the centre of the cut. It was strangely difficult to cut (no steak knives here) but was just the right firmness I expected – slight give from the marbling of fat and good heft in the mouth. Plus, it had good porky flavour. The accompaniments were passable. I liked the slow-cooked peppers and surprisingly, also the baked beans. They were quite different from the canned version and are something like American Southern beans. Pretty yummy.  I’m on the fence on the strange sweet accompanying sauce (pineapple?) but DC didn’t mind it at all. I didn’t like the overly starchy mashed potatoes, and DC didn’t appreciate the stall telling him that he couldn’t change the mash to french fries because they “wouldn’t go.” Well, overly starchy mash doesn’t go with anything in my books.

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I liked the anchovy pasta. The spaghetti was on the verge of soft that was still acceptable, though I’d have preferred it more al dente. I suppose they cater more to the popular taste for soft noodles. The anchovy sauce was punchy, robust and of course redolent of anchovies. A bit of chilli added some kick to it. However, I think it’s not quite worth the price as anchovies aren’t that expensive. My plate only had a smallish heap of sauced pasta on it and nothing else. Sure, I’d only ordered just that but it’s a tad pricey no? Plus, I really ought to banish the thought but seeing as I could tweak the idea further at home and add all sorts of lovelies to it for half the price, I was slightly dismayed. It was still good though!

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Big D’s Grill
Blk 46 Holland Drive
#01-359

Poor Woman’s Bolognaise

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This is a rather cheap and comforting dish that freezes very well. It’s great to defrost one of these for a quick pasta dinner when really busy. I normally make a huge batch of this and freeze them in little baggies. The ingredients aren’t expensive at all, especially if you use frozen beef. Not being a fan of mystery meat, I skipped the beef mince and bought frozen beef cubes which I then minced with my food processor.

Please note that this is hardly authentic at all. I doubt it’s anywhere close to what an Italian mama would make and I make no apologies for it. I like this recipe and I’m sharing it. A warning to carnivores: it’s not very meaty because it’s bulked up by the onion, carrot and celery. To me, it’s a good thing because I don’t have to worry about including veggies, though I normally do if I’m not pressed for time. If you’re in for a meat fest, easy! Just add more meat. Cooking is that simple. Uh huh.

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Ingredients:
1 head garlic
4 large onions
3 large carrots
5 sticks celery
2 tbsp oil
2 punnets button mushrooms, quartered
500 g minced beef
2 tbsp dried oregano or mixed herbs
1 tsp cinnamon powder
2 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
½ cup red/white wine
2 cans stewed tomatoes, chopped

macaroni
cheese

Method:

  1. Peel and chop the garlic, onions, carrots and celery into tiny bits. For goodness sake, please use a food processor of some sort. I salute you if you manage to chop it all by hand.
  2. In a large pot, sweat the onions and garlic in the oil, followed by the carrot and celery. Don’t let any of it brown. Stir in the mushrooms.
  3. Turn up the heat and add the beef, stirring till coloured.
  4. Now add the herbs and spices, followed by the wine.
  5. Allow to bubble before adding the chopped tomatoes.
  6. Turn down the flame and simmer on low for one hour. Alternatively, put it in a slow cooker or thermopot for a couple of hours.
  7. To freeze, allow to cool and then pack into plastic baggies.
  8. To eat, cook macaroni till al dente, toss it in the pasta and season to taste.
  9. Top with cheese and then put under a grill to allow the cheese to melt.

Makes about 10 servings.