Zhuge Liang Restaurant

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We were in the Jalan Besar area and decided to check out Zhuge Liang Restaurant, specialising in Sichuanese kaoyu (literally, barbecued fish). The difference here is that the fish is cooked in two steps: barbecued first, then simmered in a spicy broth at the table. It’s quite unlike the usual idea of a barbecue. Here, it’s done fairly well and in a pretty mild broth compared to its competitors in other parts of town. We ordered the patin fish ($38) and had it done pao jiao (literally, soaked peppers) style and wondered how spicy it’d be. Not that much, because it turned out that pao jiao meant brined peppers, which mellowed the spice a great deal. The fish was smooth textured and tasty, and the broth was full of leek, cucumber and celery. We added some tang oh vegetables ($2) to complete the dish.

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We also ordered some chicken ($18) to complete the meal. This one is called the tao yuan xiong di lian (literally, peach garden brotherhood), which was skewers of chicken and soft bone in a far spicier sauce than the fish. It too came in a hotpot of sorts, this time not in a broth but a spicy sauce. If only the fish had been in this sauce, I’d’ve liked it so much better! Still, the chicken was done very nicely, the soft bone gave a surprisingly moreish texture to the skewers, half-chewy and half-crunchy, which I liked.

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To wash everything down, we had a very light Harbin beer ($6) that came ice cold and rounded off the meal nicely.

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Be warned, though, that this restaurant has no English menu and the (very attentive and lovely) wait staff are from PRC, I doubt they speak English. Ask for the menu with pictures if your Chinese isn’t up to scratch. The staff were super sweet and accommodating in trying to make sure the food was to our taste and the standard of service was one of the best I’ve had in a long time, notwithstanding the feeling that we were in China. I say that eating in a place that reminds me of China restaurants isn’t a bad thing at all.

Zhuge Liang Restaurant
27 Foch Road #01-02 Hoa Nam Building
Tel: +65 6396 8858

A Quick Meal of Xi’an-Inspired Lamb

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I was dreaming of Xi’an lamb skewers but didn’t have the time to find a better alternative to the version at Yang Gui Fei. My take is very much a fusion version of this and is far from the original. Plus, it being nigh impossible to buy good-tasting, deep-flavoured lamb here, I had to stick with the usual supermarket New Zealand lamb. It was passable but not the same. Make sure that you buy a fattier piece of lamb, the fat here is essential, otherwise you won’t get succulent yet charred bits. While this is hardly gourmet food, the beauty of it is that it’s incredibly fast. If you time it right, you could get dinner in 15 minutes.

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Ingredients:
200g lamb leg
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 chilli, chopped
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
4 mushrooms, sliced

¼ cup couscous
¼ cup water
1 tsp vegetable stock powder

Method:

  1. Preheat the grill to the highest setting.
  2. Slice the lamb thinly, being careful that each slice gets a fair share of fat.
  3. Mix the lamb and spices together, toss carefully and grill together with the mushrooms (or whatever other vegetable you like) till just about charred on each side, about 5 minutes each.
  4. In the mean time, measure out the couscous, pour in the water and mix in the stock powder. Microwave for 3 minutes and cover for another 3 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  5. To serve, pour the lamb and juices over the couscous and serve with side vegetables.

Serves 1, with leftover meat.

Chongqing Grilled Fish

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DC found out about Chongqing Grilled Fish on Facebook when he noticed that a friend was a fan. Intrigued, he looked it up and found that it had quite a following. So there we were on a Sunday night to try it out, this time with my parents. It’s a typically China-type place run by PRCs and the menu reminded me quite a bit of the casual little places that dot Shanghai. We started with the cold cucumber with garlic, which I thought was quite decent. Mum’s used to much finer stuff in China, so she wasn’t too impressed by this rendition. My standards are obviously lower, so I ate most of it.

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It was the kou shui ji (saliva chicken) that didn’t come up to my standards this time. I’d spent a little while in Chengdu and Chongqing, and had really good Sichuan cuisine in Shanghai, and this version is but a pale imitation. By Singapore standards, however, it’s passable. It’s got a fairly fiery sauce atop tender chicken. What was missing was the numbing sensation from Sichuan peppercorns. A pity as it could’ve been much nicer!

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I thought the dongpo rou (braised pork belly) was pretty good. Dad showed his concurrence by walloping so much of it that DC hardly had a chance. Yes, China makes better, but this comes close. They used leaner pork than the norm in China, which is always a good thing, and braised it nicely so the meat fell apart easily in the mouth. Yum.

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Next was the three-egg spinach, again quite decent but nothing particularly special. It’s not a hard dish to get right.

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And now the piece de resistance! The preceding dishes on their own wouldn’t quite have made it to this blog, but the fish just blew me out of the water. It came piping hot over a charcoal brazier, fish already grilled and cooked through. It was covered in the xiang la (fragrant and spicy) sauce and accompanied by beansprouts and celery. We ordered some extra vegetables to cook in the gravy and boy was it excellent. First, the fish somehow never got rough-textured from being overcooked. It was tender to the end. The sauce, true to its name, was spicy and fragrant and the teeniest bit numbing, which I miss a lot from that few days I spent in Sichuan. The charcoal kept the dish warm and cooked the extra vegetables gently so all the flavour from the sauce permeated through. I also liked how there was enough oil in the dish to give the classic Sichuanese slow burn of heat. At first I thought the dish wasn’t quite as spicy as I expected and I made a mental note to order one level up the next time (we ordered the least spicy version). But as I ate and ate (and ate) and slurped up the gravy, I found my mouth getting hotter and hotter, until at the end I was sniffing and almost gasping from the heat. This is a definite must-eat. I’m coming back again soon!

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Chongqing Grilled Fish
18 Mosque Street #01-01
Tel: 6225 0087

August in China: Food in Chengdu

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The first pit stop for food was at Mr Bunglez favourite noodle place opposite his building. It has a rather impressive steamer at the front of the shop selling bao and other steamed goodies to supplement the noodles.

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The star of this little place surely had to be the noodles. There were three types: the regular thin lamian type, the flat type like meepok or fettucine, and the large flat sheets like ravioli sheets or mee hoon kway. They were served according to weight, so you could order one, two or three jin of the good stuff. For us two Singaporeans embracing the low-carb craze, we opted for one jin servings. I worked my way through the various flavours and on several occasions out-ate Mr Bunglez by ordering seconds. I did, however, concur with him that the best variation was the lajiang mian (hot sauce noodle) with minced pork and the best chilli sauce ever. It was complexly savoury, with slow burn chilli and the almost menthol kick of huajiao (Szechuan peppercorns). This stuff was so addictive I ate a portion practically every day there.

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Not all Sichuan food is spicy, case in point being the tomato-egg noodles at this famous joint further away from the town centre. Here, it’s a simple affair of noodles in a tomato broth topped with a fried egg. There’s something about the combination of sweet-savoury tomato and oily fried egg that really hits the spot after a night of clubbing.

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Of course there’s also the street food. Here’s me with a stick of barbecued tofu coated with chilli powder and msg. It probably pickled half my insides and made me lose a handful of hair with the amount of sodium on it, but what’s street food if not satisfying and unhealthy?

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And of course Mr Bunglez took me to an upmarket place for authentic Sichuan food. Oh my, mapo tofu and shuizhu yu are such revelations done the right way! Authentic mapo tofu is done without minced meat and has liberal lashings of chilli powder and huajiao. I don’t know how they do it, but the depth of flavour and contrast with the soft smooth tofu was simply awesome.

Shuizhu yu (literally: water-cooked fish) is a complete misnomer. Don’t be fooled by the innocuous-sounding name. Fish slices come in a vat of boiling chilli oil. It’s so covered with dried chillis and huajiao that it’s hard to spot the fish under it all. Again, the combination of chilli oil and numbing huajiao practically anaesthesized my tongue, but you know what they say about painkillers and addiction!

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Finally, there’s the mala huoguo (spicy numbing hot pot) which most people would translate as steamboat. I grew up eating steamboat Cantonese style in which the thinly sliced morsels were cooked in light broth made with chicken and pork bones. Here in Chengdu, mala huoguo is more a pot of chilli oil with a small ladleful of broth in it rather than broth with a bit of oil on it. This way, the raw morsels are pretty much boiled in chilli oil. After boiling each slice of meat in the numbing hot chilli oil (of course there are huajiao inside, this is Sichuan food!), I dipped it into my bowl of xiangyou (fragrant oil), a concoction of sesame oil, chopped coriander and a good dose of rich black vinegar. Of course, the wimpier you are the more vinegar you add. At first the morsels aren’t spicy at all, since the xiangyou washes off most of the spice. As I ate, I found the food getting spicier and spicier. The xiangyou was obviously soaking up the chilli and huajiao. Shortly, I felt the familiar addictive anaesthesized sensation on my tongue. Then I started sweating and soon after, I was gasping and pleading for peanut milk to soothe the spice. Needless to say, it was a fantastic meal. Sorry no pictures this time. I was too distracted to take pictures of the food!

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).