July in Vietnam: The Madcap Motorbiking Adventure

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Maybe my hide had been toughened by the experiences of the last week, maybe my sense of reckless adventure got the better of me, but still I don’t know what got into me. After being harangued for my previous experience, the travel agent suggested I take a motorbike ride down to my next stop, the Cuc Phuong National Park, where I was up to more monkey business. He assured me that the motorbike driver, Hu, was absolutely proper and wouldn’t even try to touch me. Excellent that we got that sorted out and we were off.

Our route took us past the spectacular Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall) where I spent ages gawking and trying to figure out whether the water droplets falling on me were from the drizzle or the splash of the waterfall.

00056

It was a steep but very scenic walk up to the top…

00058

… and the views were nothing short of spectacular.

00060

We went past Tram Ton Pass which, according to Lonely Planet, divided the warmest and coldest places in Vietnam, Lai Chau and Sapa. As expected, when hot and cold met, you really could see air. It was mistily beautiful and mysterious, one of those places that has to be seen while you’re there. I couldn’t get any pictures because my camera was hopelessly fogged up. As we headed downslope, the mist cleared up slightly and I managed to catch some of the amazing scenery in pixels.

00062

Some parts of the hills gave way to little pockets of land flat enough for padi. It was the first harvest season and villagers were working hard to dry their harvest along the road, …

00065

… and subsequently thresh it by hand.

00064

It was tough work in the fields and it was also tough work staying on the bike. It was my first time for long at the back of the bike. Astride behind Hu, I had to hold myself straight and not grab onto him for propriety’s sake. It meant a mean day-long workout for my abs and thighs. When my abs were tired, I stood up slightly on my knees and when my knees were going to give way, I held my abs in to straighten up. The only alternative to this tough workout was to slump with my face against Hu’s back and I wasn’t about to let that happen. Boy was it tough going. I was so glad to get off the motorbike when we came up to a river crossing.

00066

Here, there were geese on the banks waiting for us. They must have thrived on the grass growing along the muddy banks.

00067

After waiting for enough customers at a little shop/tea-shack and chatting with the proprietor to pass the time, we got on board the little boat to get across.

00069

And after a short two-hour ride more, we were at a village homestay where the pigs very enthusiastically greeted us in the dusk.

00072

It was also where I very enthusiastically tackled my food (yes, the portion in the picture is only for two!) after a long day’s workout and passed out in the roomy common room of the stilt house.

00073

More next post.

Au Naturel at Zi Yean

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Zi Yean is one of those newfangled zichar places that serves up rather imaginative dishes. Its name means “natural” in Cantonese and we were rather amused by the very fitting “au naturel” chopstick holders.

IMG_0691

They’re specially printed with the restaurant name on the back even!

IMG_0692

Dinner started off with a very yummy double boiled soup with sea whelk, cordyceps and Sakura chicken. The special was tasty and full of chickeny goodness and umami flavour from the seafood. This is excellent for chasing away a cold. One problem though is that the quality varies from visit to visit. We went there for dinner two nights in a row and on the first night, the soup was perfect. The next night, however, the soup was oversalted, which kinda ruined the flavours. Pity.

IMG_0694

Next up was the spinach in superior broth. I liked how they added century egg and topped it with a sprinkling of crispy silver fish. With smooth, non-gritty spinach, earthy century egg and salty crunchy fish, this made for a killer combination that beats most other places hands down.

IMG_0696

I felt that the honey pork ribs were a bit of a weak link. It was your typical deboned pork rib in sweet sauce, tender enough but nothing in particular to rave about. Perhaps I just don’t particularly fancy sweet savouries.

IMG_0700

The final main dish was the most interesting: crab meat fried with egg white and topped with a raw egg yolk. The dish arrived piping hot and the idea was to quickly stir in the egg yolk so the gooey stuff coated the crab-egg white pieces. I liked the texture a lot as it had varying bits of chewy from the crab pieces and the dried scallop, that  coupled with the softness of the egg white was a winner. I like egg, I like crab, this is dish is kinda hard to beat.

IMG_0698

We had orh nee for dessert. The yam paste here is very nicely made though it doesn’t quite beat the grandmaster at Ah Orh. The paste is fairly smooth with little bits of yam embedded inside. It’s topped with soft pumpkin pieces and has very little oil. Avoid the accompanying coconut milk because they use the stuff from a carton. Less than fresh coconut milk mars the taste terribly. I like this version quite a bit because it’s good enough and it’s less oily than other versions.

IMG_0701

Other things worth eating are the home made tofu topped with bonito flakes and any of their basic stir-fry dishes. Go there with family or lots of good friends so you can try more dishes!

Zi Yean
Blk 56 Lengkok Bahru #01-443
Tel: 6474 0911 (Air-Con) / 6471 0253 (Non Air-Con)

A Rather Impressive Roast Beef Lunch

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I had a joint of beef sitting in the freezer that was crying out to be turned into a lovely Sunday lunch. It’d been a long time since I’d last entertained, so I thought I’d make it slightly more elaborate than normal. I started off with bacon and watercress soup, then served the beef with mushrooms in red wine, roast pumpkin (DC’s helper made it so I don’t have the recipe), green salad and horseradish garlic cream sauce. To top it all off, I served a very successful tropical plate trifle. It was boozy, it had pineapple and passionfruit in it, it had cream, it was amazing.

So let’s start from the beginning. DC and I headed out to Choa Chu Kang the day before in search of fresh ingredients. Too bad about the poor selection at the farmer’s market, as we ended getting most of the stuff from Cold Storage at Jelita in the end. I made the soup, mushrooms and cake base the night before so that there wasn’t much work to do in the morning, just the beef and assembly work.

Here’s the beef just out of the oven, adorned by an afterthought of DC’s Irish breakfast sausages. (The sausages were from Cold Storage, we’re not yet so hardcore that we make our own sausages!)

DSCF5388

We reluctantly let it rest till our guests arrived and got on to reheating the soup and checking the flavourings of the sauces. Eeyore, Wei and WW arrived first and we got on with the soup. To our surprise, watercress and bacon soup went incredibly well with some homemade prawn-flavoured keropok lying around. We couldn’t help but mop up jade liquid with coral crisps, proclaiming all the way that there wouldn’t be space for the beef at the rate we were going through the bucket of keropok. By the time Shinta and KK arrived, the bucket had dwindled to half its original.

As KK and Shinta tucked into their soup, the rest of us went ahead with the main course. It was so good we almost didn’t leave enough for the latecomers. Luckily, those two eat fast and soon caught up with us as they bagged their share of the good stuff.

And then came dessert. Oh my was it good. There was the tang of lime and passionfruit, the fragrance of Silver Valley pineapple, soft voluptuous cream and a generous shot of booziness. No one uttered the customary complaint of how fattening dessert was. In fact, Eeyore protested when I suggested waiting a while to digest first before serving dessert.

A testimony to how good it was? There was hardly any talking at the table, only chomping and semi-civilised requests to pass dishes around, followed by satisfied grunts and sighs. We finished lunch in a record half hour, including a Bordeaux and a Spanish dessert wine to round it all off. Then we proceeded upstairs to fall asleep while Shinta and Eeyore battled it out on Wii Super Smash Bros.

Hungry yet? Now for the recipes.

Roast Beef

Ingredients:

1.5 kg joint of ribeye
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
4 good quality sausages (optional)

Method:

  1. Slather the thawed beef generously with black pepper and leave to marinate overnight.
  2. Remove joint from fridge at least 2 hours before cooking. Preheat the oven to 210 ºC.
  3. Rub the outside generously with olive oil and salt, place in a foiled roasting tin. Surround with sausages.
  4. Roast for 30 minutes at 210 ºC then turn down to 160 ºC for another 30 minutes. Like this, you’ll get it medium. (See picture.)
  5. Remove from oven and allow joint to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. Serve with the other yummy stuff.

DSCF5390

Mushrooms in Red Wine

Ingredients:

80 g butter
6 onions or shallots, sliced
2 punnets brown mushrooms, sliced
200 ml dry red wine

Method:

  1. Melt the butter and cook the onions gently till soft.
  2. Add the mushrooms and on slightly higher heat, cook till most of the butter is absorbed.
  3. Turn up the heat and pour in the red wine.
  4. Allow to bubble for about 10 minutes or till mushrooms are nicely tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Horseradish Garlic Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

2 heads of garlic
1 pot cream
1 tbsp horseradish powder

Method:

  1. Roast the garlic in a pre-heated oven at 120 ºC for an hour or till soft.
  2. Cut the base of the garlic head and squeeze out the pulp into a mortar and pestle. Mash till smooth.
  3. In a pot, combine the garlic and cream and warm gently. Do not let boil.
  4. Mix in the horseradish powder and season to taste.

DSCF5394

Tropical Plate Trifle

[syrup-soaked cake]

Bake the cake here using lime zest instead of tangerine. Use the juice from 5 limes and 100 g of icing sugar for the syrup. Add a touch more icing sugar if you like it less sour.

[cream]

Whip the i small tub whipping cream with 2 tbsp icing sugar and 50 ml dark rum till you get soft peaks. Chill in the fridge immediately.

[fruit topping]

Add 2 tbsp of dark brown sugar to 3 pulped passionfruit, stir and chill in the fridge. Chop Silver Valley pineapple into smaller chunks than the photo (I was too lazy to cut them smaller) and chill.

[assembly]

Arrange thick slices of the cake on a suitable plate, scatter with a couple tbsp of dark rum, then dollop the rum cream lavishly over. Pour over sugared passionfruit pulp then sprinkle with pineapple pieces. Serve to oohs and aahs.

All recipes serve 7, with leftovers.

Singapore-Style Farmer’s Market

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

There’s this place in Choa Chu Kang called Farmart that bills itself as a farmer’s showcase of sorts. DC and I went there to check out the fresh produce as I was going to cook Sunday lunch for the usual suspects. It wasn’t quite the fruit and veg bonanza I expected as only one measly store sold sweet potato leaves and another one sold two types of fruit. The rest of the stores sold eggs, fresh fish, honey, quail and quail eggs, local pastries and wheat grass juice. There wasn’t a huge selection but the offerings were all very fresh, particularly the live fish on sale.

We stumbled across a small stand selling incredibly sweet Silver Valley pineapple and excellent mangosteen. The pineapple came from the same man selling pineapple at the goat farm in Lim Chu Kang and it’s sweet and aromatic, better than the Sarawak varietal. The mangosteen came in large net bags with the dark purple skin glistening brightly at us, beckoning us to buy. These were very good too. The seller claimed that they were so good only one in a hundred were bad. True enough, all of the ones I had were excellent, just the right balance of sweet and sour.

We then proceeded to Cheng’s Seafood Village within the same compound for lunch. DC’s idea of a simple lunch was horfun, stir-fried vegetables and a large heap of butter prawns. The cooking here is good. They use good stock liberally in the food. The vegetables were fragrant with lots of yummy stock and the horfun noodles were pre-fried so that each ribbon of noodle was slightly charred. Very well done. I also quite liked how there were  some little surprises such as the mussel in the horfun. What DC didn’t like was a mushy prawn. You win some you lose some I guess.

DSCF5380

DC claimed that it was good enough that he ordered butter prawns as the unhealthy alternative would be the oat prawns. I think I can safely say that DC is rather insatiable, perhaps more so than me. The moreish prawns were coated in an almost sweet butter crisp and were fried till just right. They were excellent even eaten shell on.

DSCF5386

Cheng’s Seafood Village
67 Sungei Tengah Road Unit 43
Tel 6892 5590