Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kuala Lumpur Eats - Bovine Bites

Just returned from a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur, during which I overindulged, overate and had an overall great time catching up with old friends.

Ngau Kee Beef Noodles in Jalan Tengkat Tong Shin is a well known establishment that serves up its simple but very tasty fare - beef noodles. Choose from a wide array of beef cuts (tripe, brisket, tendon, meatballs) in a very tasty clear beef broth (that the owner constantly tastes throughout the day to ensure consistency) to go with al dente thin egg noodles topped with an addictive meat sauce. This isn't fancy - but it definitely hits the spot as far as bovine bites go.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A toast to my father

$4,600. That’s how much was offered for my dad’s confusing collection of liquor since the 1980s. Not being a drinker himself, he was nevertheless showered with gifts from friends and business associates who thought it was the right gift to give. But these bottles, which consisted of cognac, rare whiskey and other hard liquor that have names I can only pretend to pronounce, have always been scattered in the bar area in our apartment like white elephants - grazing on our helplessness at what to do with them.

But the time had come – since dad’s passing and our recent decision to move to a new apartment at the end of the year, we started thinking of ways to hush this herd of beverages to new pastures. But of course, not knowing a thing about prices for liquor (or white elephants for that matter), we scoured the papers for interested buyers that might find them a new home. And so, one by one, the potential buyers came into the wilderness - patting, inspecting and scrutinising every detail on these placid creatures. We discovered that some of these were gems – you could tell from the way they were handled - accompanied by common pauses and clearing of throats. Others turned out to be worthless – these were often tossed casually aside without a second glance. I realised that we never once looked at the collection as individuals, each with their own unique value and story.

Then came the bidding. Prices ranged quite dramatically and proved that one man’s treasure may not necessarily be viewed (or priced) as another’s. We were offended at some of the offers - almost as if they had insulted what we had unconsciously watched over as part of the family for so many years.

And so – we settled on the highest bidder. As the thick wad of cash was handed over… I couldn’t help but feel a little saddened at the crates of bottles being carted out of our apartment. Afterall, these bottles, no matter how seemingly pointless, had been with us since we were kids and represented a small part of my dad.

The day after the exodus of the white elephants, mum and I decided it was best that we donate the proceeds from their exit to a worthwhile cause. Whilst it was tempting to go out and splurge it on new designer furniture for the new apartment, we decided that this was the right thing to do. After all... its comforting to know that just like my dad, the bottles have gone to a better place... and left the world a better place than when they first arrived.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

South Korea Part 2: Seoul Searching

Seoul intrigues me. The capital of South Korea is a constantly a case of extremes... tradition and fierce patriotism trying to remain relevant in a modern society thriving on capitalism and a fascination for the West. An urban sprawl of skyscrapers sprouting amongst the fertile crop of century old buildings. Impossibly expensive high end shopping proving just as popular as underground markets selling knock offs of their counterparts. And so it is with the food.

During my two days there - I was able to sample the most amazing and affordable street food which koreans simply adore - dok bokki (spicy korean rice cakes) and odeng (korean fish cakes) were just some examples of the widely available morsels, particularly at nightfall when the streets really come alive. We also had bi bim bap - probably the most popular korean dish outside of korea. But the mixed rice in a sizzling earthenware pot with the most colourful of vegetables topped with a raw egg was unlike any that I've tasted prior to this visit. The delicate balance and unique taste and textures of the assortment of vegetables and kim chee are quite a contrast to the often uniform, sweet tasting versions that you get outside of Korea.

On the other extreme, we also had the pleasure of the most decadent (and expensive of meals), courtesy of our extremely generous hosts. This was a once in a lifetime experience - a 10 course meal of the finest seafood you'll probably be able to get (some say even better) outside of Japan. From the sweetest lobster sashimi, to US$10 a serve of ottoro maki sushi. Run by an ex-trawler (pictured above) who is infectiously passionate about his craft, we are patiently told about how to appreciate each dish and its origins. The climax of the meal however was a sight to behold - the most incredibly marbled sashimi platter of the best tuna you will probably ever taste. Arranged in sections on the platter to represent the various parts of the fish, each mouthful was just pure bliss with the delightfully oily fish melting in your mouth with a touch of freshly grated wasabi root. Awesome.

And so - my two days in Seoul was without a doubt a sensory overload - the constant rush of extremes in this intriguing city was in itself a direct contrast to the quiet and simple experience in Jeju-do just 48 hours before... but that is exactly what makes South Korea an unforgettable destination.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

South Korea Part One: Jeju-Do

"Anyong Haseyo!"
Our guide beams enthusiastically as we stumble into Gimpo airport, Jeju-Do, after a 10 hour trip from Singapore. I was tired, grumpy and in desperate need of a toothbrush and did my best to work up a polite smile.
But all was forgotten as we drove along the coastline of Jeju-do. This is one beautiful island and probably the reason why it has played the backdrop to many a Korean films that have proven all the rage in Asia in recent years.
Being the only self governing province in South Korea, Jeju-do relies heavily on tourism and the abundant seafood it is blessed with as its main exports. In particular, the island is well known for its abalone that is featured in many dishes that are native to the island. The locals are also fiercely proud of their heritage - a really cool example is a group of women divers, the Haenyo, who dive regularly in very deep and often harsh conditions for shellfish, despite most of them being in their 70s (some even older). Their passion for the sea is inspiring and made me appreciate the seafood that I had on the island all the more.

Two food highlights for me while I was on Jeju-do, not surprisingly, featured abalone. The first was abalone stewed rice porridge. Deceptively simple (and not particularly photogenic), this very light tasting porridge is heartwarming and features chunks of very tender abalone pieces.
The second was an out of this world Sam Gae Tang (Korean ginseng chicken soup). A small free range chicken stuffed with glutinous rice, dates and korean ginseng simmered for hours in a very tasty broth. The Jeju-do version includes whole abalone pieces which are again extremely fresh and tender to the bite. I love how this is a one bowl meal with your meat, seafood, rice and soup all harmoniously combined in an earthenware pot.

I have always believed that food acts as a mirror for the people that create it. In Jeju-do, the simple, down to earth food does exactly that for the warm and hospitable locals who are so very proud of their produce and heritage. I think it is for this reason and everything that is this beautiful island that will keep people coming back for more.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Using your Noodle

I recently returned from a short trip to South Korea (which I'll blog about once I can be bothered to sieve through the million snaps that I took in my 4 days there), spending time in Jeju-do and Seoul. And whilst I sampled some fantastic dishes during this time, there was one dish that I never got a chance to taste due to that old problem of having too many cravings and too little time.

The dish? Ja Jang Myun - korean rice noodles with a dark, gooey, chewy sauce of black bean paste, pork and an assortment of diced vegetables. Scoring a big fat zero on the list of glamorous things to eat - you mix the noodles and the accompanying sauce into a pile of sticky mess and slurp up, not once caring about staining the white shirt you're wearing coz it just tastes so darn good.

In South Korea, Ja Jang Myun is the epitomy of fast food delivery - just call up the hotline and tell them where you'll be waiting (sitting by the third tree closest to the park entrance, or next to the guy that sells sports shoes in the heart of Dong Dae Mun) - and your noodles will arrive piping hot courtesy of a delivery guy on his motorbike in under 20 minutes. Incredible. It seems to me that the US government should really just hire a few Ja Jang Myun delivery guys to track down their most wanted.

But back to cravings... I returned from my trip strangely unfulfilled. Afterall, I had looked forward to slurping a bowl of Ja Jang Myun in the most random of places while I was in Seoul. I wanted to experience what it would be like for your meal to come looking for you rather than the other way round. And so - not one to leave cravings unfulfilled, I decided to cook up my own version today. A surprisingly quick and simple lunch of flat korean rice noodles topped with a gooey sauce of pork, diced vegetables (radish, cabbage, carrots, onions), korean black bean paste and toasted sesame seeds.

I happily tucked into my messy meal, thrilled at the sloppy deliciousness of it all. And while I knew that the noodle delivery guy didn't find me, I was still grateful for having found my own little bowl of Ja Jang Myun.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Burger Experiment - The Teritori Burger

Okay - cheesy name aside this was an awesome burger creation. The sweetness of the teriyaki (hence the "teri") grilled chicken (the "tori") fillet and the creaminess of the mayonnaise and avocado perfectly balanced against the zing of the grated daikon. Simply delectable.

"Teriyaki glazed chicken thigh fillet on a bed of shredded cabbage, topped with avocado, mayonnaise and freshly grated daikon, all happily sandwiched between a lightly toasted bun"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Burger Experiment - The GyuBurger

"Teriyaki, a term which refers to a special glaze applied to fish, meat, or fowl in the final stages of grilling or pan-frying. This glaze is sweet and is based on a trio of favorite Japanese ingredients: soy sauce, sake, and mirin. Teri means gloss and yaki...refers to griling or pan-frying." - Oxford Companion to Food

Hence - the GyuBurger is born.

"150g freshly ground chuck beef patty pan fried in a teriyaki glaze on a bed of mixed leaves and topped with spanish onion and mayonnaise, all sandwiched between a lightly toasted bun"

The GyuBurger is pictured above on its sexy profile next the MunchBurger... both very tasty and yes... both consumed ravenously by yours truly. Love it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Burger Experiment - The Tsunami Burger

Everybody loves a good serve of fish and chips. This is my take on a classic filled into a really satisfying burger with a great Japanese twist. The Tsunami is a massive oceanic burger worthy of its namesake.
"Crumbed dory fillet on potato croquette and salad leaves with wasabi mayonnaise sandwiched in a lightly toasted bun."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Burger Experiment - The MunchBurger

I adore burgers - such incredible comfort food and for me - the secret to a perfectly balanced meal if constructed properly. Where else can you get your daily intake of protein, carbohydrates, greens and God forbid, even fat, all in a hand held meal? And so - I am launching a series of burger creations which I will call - the Burger Experiment. Starting of is a delicious creation I call... the Munchburger.
"150g freshly ground chuck mince patty topped with melted cheddar cheese, secret tomato onion relish, the freshest tomato slice on a bed of mixed leaves, all sandwiched between a lightly toasted bun."
A real handful of decadent bliss - God I love science.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

For those who can't

Following on from the fantastic claypot rice I had in Melbourne recently, I was determined to recreate my version when I returned to Singapore. But sadly - my previous attempts at cooking rice in a claypot had failed miserably - I had ended up with overcooked, mushy rice at times and was unable to recreate the beautiful all important brown crust at the bottom of the claypot. And so, I fell back on my personal mantra - "Those who can, do... and those who can't, cheat".

The Cheat's Recipe to Claypot Chicken Rice

The Rice
3 cups Jasmine rice
Thumb sized ginger thinly sliced
1 tablespoon cooking oil

The Chicken
2 free range chicken breasts diced into chunks
1 clove garlic finely minced
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon soya sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour

The Accompaniments
5 dried mushrooms roughly diced
5 fresh shitake mushrooms left whole
2 tablespoons sake

The sauce
2 tablespoons dark soya sauce
2 tablespoons light soya sauce
Dash of white pepper
1 clove garlic finely minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon oyster sauce

The Garnish
3 hard boiled eggs quartered
Finely chopped spring onions
1 red chilli de-seeded and finely sliced
Half spanish onion finely sliced

1. Cook rice in an electric rice cooker with slightly less water than you would normally (ie. a smidgen under the marker for three cups of rice in the rice cooker). Once cooked, remove lid and leave to cool. This is to ensure that the rice is firm to bite and fully cooked when steamed in the claypot with the sauce.
2. Marinate the chicken for at least 20 minutes. Then, in a claypot over a medium flame, stir fry with mushrooms for about 2 minutes. Deglaze claypot with mirin. Once this has been reduced, remove chicken and mushrooms from the claypot and set aside.
3. Add oil to the claypot and reduce to a small flame. Add sliced ginger and sautee briefly. Then add half of the rice into the pot, pressing it lightly into the base of the pot with a spatula. Line half of the chicken and mushrooms on top of the rice (I do this to prevent too much of the sauce that is poured over the rice from getting to the base of the pot and burning due to its sugar content).
4. Add the remaining rice to sandwich the chicken. Top with remaining chicken and mushroom mixture. Scatter hard boiled eggs on top.
5. Pour 3/4 of the sauce over the rice. Then cover the claypot with its lid and reduce the flame to the lowest possible. Leave to cook for 20 minutes.
6. Remove lid and add remaining sauce and garnishing. You should achieve a beautiful brown crust using this method and rice that is not overly mushy. Another example of why cheaters aren't aways losers.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Melbourne Bites #10: It's all in the name

This fine dining restaurant makes no secret about what it serves with its choice of name. Straightforward, traditional Italian fare. The smart and elegant dining room is popular with the corporate types who work in the office building which it is housed in and has an air of understated intimacy.

We started with a classic – Parma ham wrapped around succulent rockmelon. Salty, sweet – superb. We then proceeded with oxtail ragu with hand made pici, slow cooked tripe served with creamy polenta and a wagyu tenderloin served with mixed mushrooms. For mains, our table had the swordfish, porterhouse and a Ligurian fish stew chockfull of fresh seafood. The food here is competent but we were let down on a few occasions by the service and attention to detail (we had to ask repeatedly for a dessert menu and were not offered more wine when our glasses were empty).

But all was forgiven with a sweet ending to the evening – the desserts here are pretty darn good. We had a magnificent tiramisu and a done just right panna cotta with mixed berries compote. All in all, the Italian will do its namesake proud if it smooths out a few service issues in the dining room.

The Italian
101 Collins Street
Melbourne Victoria

Monday, October 6, 2008

Melbourne Bites #9: Superstar Sides

Yes… it may seem a little overkill to dedicate an entry to a side dish… but the chips at Grill’d, a highly successful burger chain in Melbourne, are really good. Whilst I didn’t get a chance to taste their much loved burgers (which apparently are good for you… or less evil depending on your moral standpoint) due to a huge lunch – I had to try their chunky cut chips doused in a secret herb mix (with rosemary being the star seasoning).

Delightfully crispy on the outside and perfectly fluffy on the inside – these chips with the alternative seasonings are worth coming back for. Of course – its not that I need another excuse to visit Grill’d again to show my support for burgers with a conscience.


Melbourne Bites #8: Tasting Tokyo

Chinatown in Melbourne is a bit of a misnomer as it is home to more than just Chinese food. Instead, Little Bourke Street is filled with eateries offering a huge variety of Asian cuisines – you just have a wander along this bustling street with its hidden alleys and you’re likely to stumble into a little taste of Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan… and even Japan.

Lunch at Shoya is a pretty decent choice for Japanese food if you’re in the area. The lunch sets are good value and you get decent Japanese dishes served course by course in this quiet restaurant that sits in an alley off the main street. Sip on your ocha after your 8 course lunch and relax in the modern and sleek interiors to soak up a bit of Tokyo… right here in Melbourne.

25 Market Street
(Between Russell & Exhibition streets and Bourke & Little Bourke streets)
Melbourne, Victoria

Melbourne Bites #7: Deli-licious!

An unassuming Japanese deli in Hawthorn is the setting for surprisingly great takeaway. Shop from a wide range of Japanese groceries, including a great selection of Japanese beer and sake. Then, head to the adjoining room to select from freshly made maki sushi, inari and nigiri sushi. The fish here is very fresh and the sushi rice done just right. Pretty darn tasty stuff for a cornershop deli!

1025 Burke Road
Hawthorn, Victoria

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