Quick Eats: Just Greens

DC and I don’t eat only meat. We do like our veg and we have the occasional fit of deceiving ourselves that any kind of vegetarian food is healthy. Thankfully our excesses are curbed slightly when eating vegetarian and we only ordered a few dishes when we went to Just Greens in Joo Chiat. The deep fried golden mushrooms were lovely. They were incredibly well-fried, being crisp and light and flavoured just right with salt and pepper. My favourite bit? They stayed crispy and non-greasy till the end. 10 out of 10!

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The kailan they did very well too, substituting the usual garlic and onion (not allowed for Buddhist zai vegetarians) with lily bulb. The vegetables were crisp and fresh, with good contrast between the sweet red peppers, delicately crisp lily bud and robustly crunchy kailan.

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I liked the sang meen the best. I think they made the brown sauce with lots of mushrooms because it sure was flavourful. The crispy noodles and crunchy vegetable topping really hit the spot for the vegetable lover in me!

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Just Greens
51 Joo Chiat Place
Tel: +65 6345 0069

Quick Eats: 7th Storey Steamboat

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DC and I met up after work to go for a run at Marina Barrage but we got rained out. What better to do than the next best thing there: eat. 7th Storey Steamboat moved here from the now-demolished site at Bugis. It still serves the same charcoal steamboat and we opted for the pomfret set ($48). They gave us a rather large and very fresh half pomfret all sliced up, with a separate plate of fresh vegetables and two raw eggs.

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Into the charcoal steamboat it all went, the spout shooting fire for the first 10 minutes of cooking. We enjoyed the freshness of the ingredients and the tasty soup. There was more than plenty for two and it was very healthy too… until you factor in the chicken rice that we ordered. The restaurant also sells chicken rice and we opted for that instead of plain white rice. The rice, having been cooked in chicken stock and fat, was aromatic and went exceedingly well with the steamboat.

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In summary, fresh food, yummy chicken rice and an authentic charcoal steamboat on a rainy evening by the barrage made for a very satisfying meal indeed.

7th Storey Live Seafood and Charcoal Steamboat
Marina Barrage, 8 Marina Gardens Drive, #01-05/06
Tel: +65 6222 7887 / +65 6222 9880
Email: 7thstorey@sunrestaurant.com

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)

July in Vietnam: Boats on the Mekong

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A tour of the Delta was incomplete without a look at the boats populating the Mekong. There were lots of boats filled with junk (rather than real junks like the tourist ones up-country at Ha Long Bay.

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But a far cry from the North, here the inhabitants were incredibly friendly, waving warmly at the tourists passing by.

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Seeing as the river was so full of traffic, there were plenty of signs governing boat movements.

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Good luck in trying to decipher them all though!

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Here, there were bona fide floating markets that were there for true commerce rather than purely tourist commerce as in other more famous floating markets. Here, goods seemed to be traded in bulk as heavily laden boats plied up and down the river. How to figure out what each boat sold? Easy, just look at what was displayed on the poles.

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This boat was selling all sorts of vegetables and fruit.

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Another sold yet another mind boggling array of local produce.

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And here the boat sold an assortment of melons and pumpkins. I wonder what would happen if a boat wanted to sell pork or beef though.

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To make a sale, the boat owner had to catch the attention of the derelict little sampans and row the produce out to the buyer, whether on shore or on another boat.

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Some of the more enterprising boats sold banh mi (baguette sandwiches) from their floating stalls. Life here, it seemed, could be lived exclusively on the water.

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Even colourful wardrobes of clothes were brought onto the boat. The owner was never too far from a clean change of clothes.

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And of course, they lazed in their hammocks in the setting sun, exactly the way to end a long day on the river.

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Quick Eats: Soup and Salad

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There’s a new salad place at Citylink Mall that’s both good and shockingly good value for money. I went for the $10 set lunch consisting of a soup of the day, a basic salad (the cheapest one on the board), and a small freshly squeezed juice. The juice wasn’t as small as I expected and they didn’t cheat by putting a huge lot of ice. My green apple juice was still sweet (I’m assuming no added sugar) and very refreshing. I went for a safe choice for the soup: mushroom. It was velvety and smooth and very flavourful – not your usual Campbells stuff.

The soup and nicely toasted bread were themselves quite filling, but the generous salad rounded off the meal so much that I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish the portion! I liked how they had nice leaves like rocket, mizuna and baby spinach leaves. The system works so that you can choose a few kinds of each category according to the price of your salad. I was quite happy with the basic one because I wanted to go vegetarian for that meal. For the more expensive salads, the extra price goes for added meat and seafood ingredients. They had quite a wide range of dressings, just that I can’t quite remember what sorts they had. I went for the Asian dressing, which I quite liked even though it was slightly too sweet.

Mescluns
Citylink Mall (opposite HMV)

Kitchen Sink Frittata

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I ran out of fresh vegetables one day and was too lazy to venture out for more. As usual, it was time to raid the freezer and find something fairly healthy for lunch. The freezer yielded my usual supply of chopped spinach, petit pois, minced shallots, minced garlic and bacon, and I also found some frozen (!) red chillis.  I had some spare eggs and always keep milk in the fridge, so I was pretty much set. There were parmesan cheese and brined green peppercorns in the fridge too, so that I also tossed in. As I put back the peppercorns, I noticed a bottle of anchovies lurking in one of the compartments, so no prizes for guessing what went in next. DC commented that it was a surprise he didn’t break his teeth nibbling on the kitchen sink.

This is a very useful recipe for coming up with something very delicious and fresh-looking and tasting without putting in too much of an effort. It’s also a bit like fried rice or pizza in that it uses up leftovers. Toss whatever that seems vaguely yummy in it and it should turn out fine. Other things I’d add if I had it would include boiled potato slices, peppers, cheese cubes, tomato, courgettes. Well, pretty much any vegetable really. Go easier on the meat, but if you’re anything like me I doubt you’ll have much leftover meat hanging around anyway. In my recipe I give approximate quantities, just feel free to make it up as you go along. Just make sure that there’s enough egg to barely cover the filling and you’re cool.

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Ingredients:

1 tbsp butter
2 rashers bacon, chopped
4 finely chopped garlic cloves
8 finely chopped shallots
cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed
a few tbsp petit pois, thawed
1 large red chilli, chopped coarsely
2 anchovies, coarsely chopped
1 generous tsp green peppercorns in brine
3 eggs
a good splash of milk (about 2 egg shells full)
good grating of parmesan cheese

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan and brown the bacon till the fat is rendered. Add the garlic and shallot and saute gently till just fragrant. Don’t allow it to colour.
  2. Add in the vegetables, anchovies and green peppercorns and saute till the mixture is hot. Set aside in a bowl.
  3. In another large bowl, beat the milk and eggs together, then pour it onto the hot pan. Quickly spoon the hot spinach mixture over and spread gently. Stir very gently along the top of the frittata so that the egg and filling will mix. Turn the heat to low and cook till the middle is almost set, 5-10 minutes. Now’s a good time to preheat the broiler.
  4. When the top looks almost set, i.e. still wobbly but not liquid, transfer to the broiler and cook till set. Grate over a very generous layer of parmesan and return to the broiler. Cook till cheese is melted and brown. Remove from heat.
  5. Very carefully loosen the sides of the frittata with a spatula and invert onto a plate. Use kitchen gloves. Cut into wedges and serve with fresh brown bread.

Makes 8 generous wedges.

March in Laos: Eating in Luang Prabang

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Laos in general and Luang Prabang in particular had lots of great food. Siamesecat and I started off one misty morning with a glass of thick, sweet and strong coffee chased down with a glass of steaming hot tea. Sitting on a wooden bench watching the morning bustle while sipping hot robust coffee was one of those subliminal moments of the trip.

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After having our caffeine and sugar fix, we table hopped to the next stall and tucked into the typical breakfast of foe (yup, almost exactly like Vietnamese pho). I don’t know how they make it so tasty, but thin flat rice noodles with hot broth, topped with herbs and raw vegetables to your preference hit the spot for me every day.   This morning the noodles came with pork strips and tomato. I could have noodles three times a day and not get sick of it. The trick was to experiment with the toppings provided at the table. They typically have salt, sugar, msg and chilli powder but there’s normally lime, basil, coriander, mint, sweet chilli sauce, various types of belachan (fermented shrimp paste) and fish sauce. I especially liked trying out the pongy variations of belachan at the different places.

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Foe is normally served in really small portions, which was fine with us because it gave us all the more reason to snack along the street. Here I’m stuffing my face yet again at a barbecue stand selling grilled animal parts like spicy minced pork patties, water buffalo jerky and belly pork. It was all mmm good.

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For lunch, we again had noodles, the one here a beef version with popped rice cracker-cakes on the side. If you look carefully you’ll spot the two small tubs of belachan on the table. One was the typical shrimp one and the other made of tiny river crabs. We noticed a lot of Lao people take a chilli padi, dip it in belachan, take a chomp and double dip it while waiting for their noodles. I guess the heat from the chilli kills the germs.

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Heavily fortified by all this food, Siamesecat and I proceeded to wander the streets. It was evening when we came across this vampire-phobic cat lying on a bed of garlic. It was obviously bed time.

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It looked incredibly satisfied at the end of that yawn!

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As the sun began to set, Siamesecat and I decided that we really should have something quite special. While we both loved noodles and never got tired of them, we had to try the slightly fancier food too.

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We found a restaurant along the Mekong and enjoyed the view while waiting for our food.

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This place served mainly set menus catering to tourists. We figured that it was as good as any other. Not having any locals to take us to truly authentic places, at least this would allow us to try a bit of everything.

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The set dinner started with watercress salad, a fresh minty salad with sharp watercress and other herbs dressed in a type of mayonnaise. Then it progressed to dried pork sausage with very spicy buffalo skin dip. The pork sausage was like a slightly less fatty salami with lovely smoked overtones while the dip had strips of rather tough buffalo hide bound by a fiery chilli paste. Crispy sheets of dried riverweed with sesame seeds helped to balance out the fire but the extremely spicy beef stew didn’t help things out.

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Siamesecat and I then hit the night market for incredibly cheap buys like a beautiful silk and cotton mix pair of fisherman pants for about USD2.50. There were pretty handicrafts and all sorts of ethnic and hill tribe knick knacks on sale. Apparently a lot of these items were brought over the border to Thailand for sale in their own tourist markets.

I stopped to buy something that couldn’t be exported easily to Thai tourist markets: more food. Supper that night was baguette filled with ping kai (barbecued chicken) and lettuce. It was up to me to choose my sauces again. This time it was at least three kinds of chilli sauce, two of which had some kind of fermented seafood incorporated within, and two types of soya sauce. Amazing.

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Quick Meals: Black Bean Noodles

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I wanted to make something vegetarian and something quick. A pack of fermented black beans (tau si) had been sitting in my fridge for far too long, so I put two and two together and made these very satisfying noodles. The beans have such depth of flavour that it’s easy to forget that there’s no meat in it. For the noodles, use any dried wheat noodle. The packets are normally labelled la mian or some sort. I like to buy the bai yu (white jade) ones.

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Ingredients:

1 bundle dried wheat noodles
2 tsp oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tsp black beans, crushed
1 tsp sesame oil

Method:

  1. Boil the noodles in plenty of water till al dente.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan on medium and add the garlic and black beans. Fry till brown.
  3. Stir in the noodles and season to taste. Add soy sauce if you like.
  4. Top with sesame oil and serve with blanched vegetables on the side.

Serves 1.

August in China: Zhuang and Dong Food

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In the Zhuang village, one of the local specialties was bamboo sticky rice. Glutinous rice was soaked in water and mixed with corn, mushroom and carrot. The mixture was then stuffed into a bamboo section then roasted over a charcoal fire. The fragrant rice would swell to fill up the whole container and form a delicate layer of rice paper coating the entire length of bamboo. It was delicious.

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It’s probably one of the earliest convenience foods. Locals would take the prepared raw bamboo packets with them as they went into the forest to work. For lunch, they would build a fire and cook the bamboo packets. Et voila! Lunch on the go. The best part was that the packaging is biodegradable and left in the forest. Free hands to take timber back to the village.

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For the tourists’ bamboo rice, grills were put behind the restaurant. Check out the nifty built-in handle carved out of the bamboo.

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At the Dong village, we ducked into this little noodle shop for lunch.  It was the only food shop in the vicinity and it had only one dish on the menu. The best part was watching our noodles made before our eyes outside the little shack. This was mingling with the locals at its best.

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As we eagerly waited for our noodles, this group of boys happily slurped theirs down. They were eating with such gusto, it had to be good.

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And it was! This version was slightly lighter than the one in Yangshuo. It had far more fresh vegetables (pumpkin shoots, very yummy) in it and there was the option of adding extra chilli to taste. Wonderful. It cost all of ¥3 per bowl.

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