Lombok: Rice Fields and Hindu Temples (and Good Food)

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Traffic in Mataram town itself could be rather alarming for a first-timer as there are so many different types of traffic here! Aside from the usual  seemingly blind pedestrians, careening motorbikes and SUVs of all shapes and sizes, there were also horse-drawn carts!

IMG_3415

If there was a sudden slowdown along the way, it was sure to be because the traffic was piling up behind one of these carts being pulled manfully along by a blinkered pony. Such were the traffic snarls we had to get past when travelling across town.

IMG_3414

Out of town, however, was far more peaceful. It was almost surprising how close the padi fields were, they started immediately at the suburbs of Mataram town and when we visited in December 2010, the fields were green with new growth.

IMG_3438

There’s something ineffably tranquil and calming about the sight of coconut trees dotting the padi and kangkung fields. To me, it was a symbol of escape from city life and a return to the bucolic past.

IMG_3440

Hidden in the farm area was Pura Lingsar, one of the few Hindu temples in Muslim-dominated Lombok.

IMG_3434

In the past, the Balinese attempted to colonise part of Lombok and extended its influence fairly deep inland. Near the coast, however, was where most of the Hindu temples remain. Pura Lingsar is believed to be one of the most major Hindu centres in Lombok and its

IMG_3435

A tout approached and asked for a bit too much money than we thought was necessary. He wanted to take us inside to see the inner chamber and pool where an albino eel resided. I read from our guidebook that visitors could buy hardboiled eggs to lure it out from its hiding place. Cute as that could be, the tout was a bit too pushy for our taste and we ended up taking pictures of the outside instead.

IMG_3436

It was enough for me to look at the beautiful carvings on the outer perimeter, like this gracefully etched guardian. Having said that, we were glad that we had a car and could zip in and out quickly. It wouldn’t be worth the hassle to get all the way out there on a special half day trip.

IMG_3437

That evening, we headed back into town to Mataram Mall for some dinner. Again, Ibu Rosa at Villa Sayang recommended the place and it was excellent food as usual. I apologise that I can’t remember the name of the place. It serves Indonesian food, is on the ground floor, towards the centre of Mataram Mall and is opposite Istana Gadgets. Have a look at me tucking into our sweet-sour gurame to have a feel of the place.

IMG_3448

This was probably DC’s favourite dish of the night. It was a whole deep-fried gurame topped with sweet and sour sauce. Gurame is a freshwater fish and the flesh is very succulent, never getting stringy like other types of fish when overcooked. I enjoyed the especially juicy bits of the cheeks and also the crunchy fins.

IMG_3449

True to our style, we had lots of side dishes. I felt that the tempeh and squid were rather ho-hum compared to what we’d had before, but the kangkung cha (stir-fried  local kangkong) was a welcome familiar dish.

IMG_3444

We also had the ayam penyet (or deep-fried “smashed” chicken) accompanied by a very spicy chilli sauce. It must’ve been very good because DC ate most of it. He also ate most of the chilli sauce with the tempeh while I was still gnawing on my deep-fried fish fins.

IMG_3445

And as usual, we staggered out of the restaurant stuffed to the gills.

Again, please check in with Ibu Rosa at Villa Sayang for directions (and the restaurant name!). It’s at the ground floor of Mataram Mall, towards the centre of the place and opposite Istana Gadgets.

Modern Thai at Kha

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Hort Park is a special place for DC and me. We go there regularly but never quite during dinner time till this one time we went to Kha, a modern Thai restaurant. It’s run by the same person who does boutique hotels, one of them being Jia in Hong Kong. It’s cute how the names of the two places are linked: “jia” means “home” in Mandarin while in Cantonese, it’s pronounced “ka”. In Thai, kha is a modifier word for females to use at the end of a sentence to make it polite. (The equivalent for males is “khup”.) What a clever way to name the restaurant. I like!

I was pleasantly surprised already when they served the complimentary appetiser. Instead of the typical prawn crackers with sweet chilli sauce, they gave us popped rice biscuits with red curry sauce. It made for a zingy start to the meal.

IMG_3245

We ordered two appetisers and a main so that there’d be space for dessert. First was the crispy catfish with sweet pork and mango salad. It was very good – tangy and slightly spicy with plenty of texture. I’ve always liked the crispy floss-like texture of catfish done this way. They did right not to mess with the classic combination of catfish and young mango strips. I also liked the extra crunch of the peanuts but felt that the pork wasn’t necessary.

IMG_3246

Our second appetiser was banana flower salad with young coconut and chilli. I didn’t like this one as much. It still had the classic sweet-sour-spicy combination so characteristic of Thai salads, but I felt that the texture of banana flower didn’t lend itself well to a salad as it was too “siap siap” – you know that nasty tannic texture, a bit too sappy? The young coconut helped a little but didn’t help much to give interest for flavour. Interesting idea that flopped.

IMG_3248

The main we shared was very good! It was baked half sticky chicken stuffed with coriander and lemongrass, paired with stir fried pineapple rice. The sticky chicken was marinated in some kind of sweet dark sauce hence the stickiness from all that sugar. It tasted Asian but not quite vehemently Thai. The meltingly tender chicken paired nicely with the pineapple rice for a very safe, crowd-pleasing main. I liked how they used some unpolished rice to add flavour and texture. Good call.

IMG_3251

For dessert, we went for the baked pumpkin custard with coconut ice cream. The pumpkin custard is very typically Thai. This version was very nicely made, with smooth silky and not too sweet custard. It went very well with the rich coconut ice cream, a very nice end to the meal.

IMG_3255

Too bad the drinks weren’t as good. We wanted to enjoy the view outside and had our post-dinner drinks there. They tasted as bad as they looked. Don’t drink the aromatic pear mojito – the pear was somehow oxidised and brown; it left a very grainy feel in the mouth. The khao lao rum looked less bad and tasted OK. It was just another sweet drink. Both were very weak, so Kha is not a place for getting smashed.

IMG_3261IMG_3262

My verdict? A nice place for a romantic meal, just skip the drinks. I hear that they are moving soon. It’s a pity as the space is really quite lovely. Check it out soon!

Kha Restaurant
33 Hyderabad Rd
Tel: 6476 9000

Quick Eats: Fei Zhai Pork Rib Prawn Noodles

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I got this tip off from a taxi driver who waxed lyrical that these prawn noodles were better than the one at Pek Kio Market. DC and I had a hard time tracking it down because he called it “Ah Bui” prawn noodles in the Alexandra area. After some extensive googling, I found a place call Fei Zhai Pork Rib Prawn Noodles on a tech forum. Turns out that it’s at the junction of Pasir Panjang Road and Pepys Road, where we go fairly often to have E-Sarn Thai food. We’d not seen it before because it only opens in the morning and is supposedly shut by 2pm. Motivated by love of food and the thrill of a new find, we woke up early one Saturday morning and made our way there. There was only a very short queue and the very friendly owner soon despatched our orders. No pig tail nor big prawns as recommended by the taxi driver though, only pork ribs and regular prawns.

IMG_0676

But the ribs and regular prawns were good enough! The prawns were firm and extremely fresh and the pork ribs tender and full of good flavour both from good meat and from the herbs delicately scenting the soup. I enjoyed the soup a lot, there was a lot of briny sea in there from the prawns and also sweetness from the pork. DC felt that it was quite prawn nirvana though, he felt that the Pek Kio one was far superior. Noodles-wise, it was decent with good bite to the noodles. Not sure why, but the crunchy fresh beansprouts really added to this dish they were that good. I wasn’t sure about the chilli because I felt it too sweet. However, the sweetness gelled with the breakfast aspect of the noodles. I wouldn’t want to have too in-your-face a chilli so early in the morning. I’m glad to report that Fei Zhai is generous on the lard and those lard bits are pretty darn heavenly too. He probably uses superior pork cuts. Next time, we’re going in for the kill for pig tail. Stay tuned.

Fei Zhai Pork Rib Prawn Noodles
Junction of Pepys Road and Pasir Panjang Road
Open only in the morning

Minang Nasi Padang: Best Beef Rendang Ever

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Shinta and I were in the Arab Street area so we had to drop by Minang Nasi Padang for lunch. DC had raved about it before (he’s now raving about another place, but more about that in a later post). As usual, we ordered too much. Between the two of us we had beef rendang, curry chicken, squid in its own ink, begedil and sweet potato leaves cooked in coconut milk.

It was all very good quality, with the tender, well-spiced chicken and the richly gravied potato leaves being above average. The  dry-style beef rendang, however, stole the show. Its incredibly depth of flavour and smokiness blew me away. They spiced the dish incredibly well and toasted the spices so well that the slightly tough texture of the meat actually added to its allure. Upon further chewing, the meat yielded more flavour. Despite the lack of tenderness, it’s my favourite beef rendang thus far.

IMG_1609

Minang Nasi Padang
18 & 18A Kandahar St
Tel: 9457 7384

April in The Philippines: Eats

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

After Malapascua, Omar and I ended up at SM City Mall at Cebu City. Having seen so many Jollibee branches along the way, we couldn’t help but try out the Filipino answer to McDonald’s. My Palabok Fiesta with Chicken Joy was such a joy for the carb lover, it had so many different types of starch! There was the Palabok Fiesta, some kind of bihon (thin rice) noodles topped with a gloopy salty sauce, egg, shrimp and crispy bits; then there was the patty of rice wrapped in burger paper; and the mashed potato; plus don’t forget that corn and carrot have loads of carbs too. The fried chicken was very good, much better than KFC. I pretty much gave up at the brownie (more carb anyone?) at the end and only managed a couple of sips of my seemingly extra sweet iced tea. What an experience!

00367

The next day, we did enough walking around Cebu City’s Carbon Market to work up an appetite.  No pictures of this place partly because it was crowded and I was afraid of getting anything stolen and partly because when I felt safe enough to take pictures, I felt like I was intruding on the friendly locals. It was a strange dichotomy I know, but that’s the strange charm of Carbon Market. The place is one of those messy markets that makes it clear that on no uncertain terms that it was not built for tourists and would never be. There were stalls of all kinds selling things from clothes to cooking pots and hardware, to cooked food, to grain, to vegetables, to meat. There were queues snaking all over at the grain stores. Yet strangely there was no problem at all getting a spot on a bench to grab a quick bite of lunch. There the local food was unbelievably cheap and also very good, and the lady boss delighted that two very foreign looking people would pull up to her stall for sustenance.

Yet there was another side to Carbon Market. There was debris strewn all over most parts and the more deserted areas were more than slightly dodgy. The ground was covered in a thick layer of grey muck from all the crap built up over the years. I suppose that’s where the “carbon” bit of the name arose. (After exiting the market we doused our feet in bottled water before proceeding.)

Some other bits of the market were slums packed with squatters. We didn’t realise this till we wandered down one alleyway again in search of food. There was a lady frying a whole load of springrolls. Assuming that she was selling them, we asked how much one was. She simply gave us each a crispy lovely parcel of goodness to try and it suddenly dawned on us that she wasn’t selling them! It was her daughter’s seventh birthday and they were celebrating with the entire neighbourhood. Before we knew it, she stuffed a good dozen perhaps of them in a plastic bag and pressed it on us, of course refusing payment. Such generosity and hospitality was almost too unbelievable. It was beautiful.

By the time we left Carbon Market it was time to eat again. We tried out Chow King’s halo halo, one of those uniquely Filipino concoctions with everything and the kitchen sink in it. Think ice kachang and an ice cream sundae cross-bed in a bizarre Frankensteinian way. This one had lurid purple yam ice cream, various types of radioactive hued starch balls, comparatively normal red beans, oat bits, jelly, creme caramel and even some kind of tapioca cake in it. The fruit in the mix was candied banana and candied jackfruit, plus some coconut shavings (if you call coconut a fruit). It was, well, very sweet from being drenched in so much syrup.

00388

Here I am doing my darndest impression of enjoying it. We ended up eating most of the shaved ice and then headed outside to get some mango from a street-side hawker.

00389

Last up in the series is this tea time set I had. It was in a fairly chi-looking cafe. Needless to say, everything had carb in it and everything was faintly sweet. It was very good though. There was one of tapioca strips studded with prawn and then fried to a crisp, then there was more of that Palabok bihon stuff, there was also a purple version of kueh dadah (coconut pancakes rolled up and stuffed with coconut sugar) and there was a kind of sweet, moist donutty batter with an salted egg wedge in it. Very yummy and lovely.

00395

Quick Eats: Cheng Tng at Tanjong Pagar Hawker Centre

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Tanjong Pagar Hawker Centre is most famous for its peanut ice kachang. As I’m not the biggest fan of that and have already tried it before, I went for the cheng tng at the stall behind Annie’s.

This is one of the better and more unique cheng tngs I’ve had. I liked how only old-fashioned ingredients were used, so there was none of that weird QQ ball stuff or strange food colourings. It was also good that the shaved ice dessert it wasn’t overly sugary. The sweet potato was cooked plain and didn’t need the help of syrup to make it taste right. There were the usual toppings: barley, big sago balls and agar agar strips.

I liked how they made mundane ingredients special. For one, they used jumbo red beans instead of the usual tiny ones. That made a big difference to this erstwhile red bean hater. The reconstituted dried longan was quite special too. I don’t know how they did it, but it was done so that the longan was juicy but still retained that slightly earthy dried flavour. The gilding of the lily came with the splash of gula melaka on top.

DSCF5441

For $1.50, this blend of flavours and textures on ice was a real winner for me.

Huat Kee
#02-53 Tanjong Pagar Hawker Centre

Seafood and an Unexpected Find at Alexandra Village

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I try to make sure I don’t get too fat by running three times a week. Unfortunately, running is almost always negated by dinner. After a good run at Labrador Park, we headed to Alexandra Village. We got there a bit too late as most of the famous stalls were closed. The good thing was that Rong Guang BBQ Seafood was not. We ordered sotong kia (deep fried baby squid in black sauce) and sambal sting ray. I managed to head off disaster by persuading DC that we really shouldn’t go for the deep fried you tiao.

DC decided that the sotong kia was one of the best he had, very similar to the memories of his childhood. I liked the crisp crunch of the squid especially while still piping hot, but I thought it was a bit too sweet for my liking. The best I’ve had in recent memory is the one at Pulau Ubin still.

DSCF5241

I adore sting ray and can never get enough of the moist smooth flesh. Grilled with sambal and eaten with onion-soaked chinchalok, it really is heaven in a mouthful. Here, the sambal was spicy with good kick and the fish fresh and firm.

DSCF5245

We had been rather, um, restrained in our ordering as DC wanted avocado ice cream. He was buying our very fresh and sweet pineapple and starfruit juice when he spied the avocado ice cream sign. Apparently Seng Hong Fruit Juice specialises in avocados. They make a mean avocado juice/milkshake too. (We had to go back another day to try it!)

DSCF5248

It’s the avocado ice cream that takes the cake. At first look, it’s a small tub costing $1. The pale green stuff was frozen solid and needed a while on the tongue to start yielding up some taste. I was dubious at first, but then started whining at DC for eating faster than me. The ice cream was very creamy and had a lot of avocado pieces swirled into the jade goodness. It’s definitely better and probably cheaper than the stuff you get at the local ice creameries. A definite win!

DSCF5250

Rong Guang Seafood BBQ and Seng Hong Fruit Juice are pretty much side by side, at the far corner of Alexandra Village hawker centre.

Ethereal Lemon or Passionfruit Custard Pudding

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

It’s not as if everything that comes out from my kitchen is tasty. I only post recipes to stuff that comes out good and reviews of places that have good food. If not, what’s the point?

Last night, I made a “double lemon pudding” from my Good Housekeeping Baking book. (Despite its gauche title, it’s got a few gems although true to its British roots, it’s a tad heavy on the butter and sugar.) Even though it’s not very good to downsize baking recipes too much, I took the plunge by quartering this recipe and reduced the sugar for it. It came out pretty decent, although too oily despite the small amount of butter.

dscf4278

I decided to make it again this morning, this time with passionfruit and orange, and no butter. It was much better this time round, although a bit too sweet. I forgot to cut down the sugar according to the sweetness of the fruit. This is a surprisingly light dessert that separates slightly on baking to have ethereal sponge on top and a thick custard below. Try it, it’s quite easy.

dscf4292

Lemon Custard Pudding

Ingredients:

juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tbsp sugar
1 egg, separated
2 tbsp flour
50 ml milk
1 tsp poppyseeds

Method:one

  1. Preheat the oven to 150 °C.
  2. Dissolve the sugar into the lemon juice.and
  3. Whisk the egg yolk and flour together, then pour in the sugary lemon juice, rind, milk and poppyseeds. Mix well.
  4. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg white till soft peaks form. (You should be able to invert the bowl without them falling out.)
  5. Fold the egg white gently into the lemon mixture and turn into a deep baking dish.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes till the top turns brown.
  7. Serve warm.

Serves 1 or 2.

Note: For passionfruit and orange pudding, replace the lemon and poppyseed with pulp from 1 passionfruit and the juice and rind of ½ an orange. Reduce to 1 tbsp sugar.

Quick Eats: Putu Piring

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

This is the only putu piring place I know that still exists and boy it is still so good. It’d been a while since I passed by the Geylang area and I insisted on trekking out of our way to get here. I was surprised that the Banquet food court had closed and the stall moved to Mr Teh Tarik Eating House up at Onan Road.

They still had the human production line going on as usual. We happily watched them make the outrageously simple delicacy: gula melaka was enclosed in rice flour and steamed for a few minutes, then knocked out of the mould onto shredded coconut and pandan leaves. Three were wrapped in a packet for $1 and deposited into a plastic bag. Watching the four helpers at work was pretty mesmerising.

It’s best to leave the putu piring in the packet for a few minutes so that the pandan fragrance permeates the steam, making it extra nice when you finally get to it. Mine was perfection. The crumb was meltingly soft and the gula melaka oozed out unctuously, making a lovely contrast with the slightly salty coconut. Add the gentle pandan aroma and it was putu piring-gasm for me. If not for the fact that it was dinner time, I would have gone straight for seconds.

dscf4158

Mr Teh Tarik Eating House
Corner of Onan Road and Changi Road

Heavenly and Incredibly Easy Poached Pears in Red Wine

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Pear poached in red wine is one of those chi-chi restaurant desserts that’s actually quite a no-brainer to make at home. It’s so much easier yet somehow more impressive than baking a cake. I made some the other night and it was such a revelation!

Here’s where all the leftover red wine stashed in the freezer comes in useful. Or you could just use any cheap not-too-sweet red. Use as many or as few of the spices as you like. I think the poaching liquid ends up like mulled wine with all the spices!

For dessert, I reduced some poaching liquid to make a sauce.  I left the pears soaking in the rest of the poaching liquid overnight. The next morning the pears deepened to the darkest purple ever. This time, I didn’t bother with a reduction and just had them cold as a fancy fruit compote with my thick yogurt. Both were very yummy.

dscf4102

dscf4134

Ingredients:
½ bottle red wine
4 black peppercorns
4 green cardamom pods
½ stick cinnamon
1 star anise
4 cloves
lemon peel from ½ lemon
½ cup sugar
2 pears

Method:

  1. Combine wine with spices, lemon peel and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer on low heat.
  2. Get on with peeling and coring the pears. Cut each pear into eight.
  3. By now the poaching liquid should be at least warm. Lower pears into poaching liquid and keep on a low simmer for 20 minutes or till pears are soft.
  4. For serving immediately, fish out the pears and boil the poaching liquid till the resulting syrup coats the back of a spoon. Drizzle the sauce over the pears and serve with Greek yogurt, crème fraîche or ice cream.
  5. Alternatively, leave the pears in the poaching liquid overnight to steep. Eat with yogurt for a decadent breakfast.

Serves 2-4.