Monday, June 24, 2013

Beef with Red Wine & Rosemary Ragù

I am sorry I have been remiss in my blogging this year - moved to a new country and started a new job. Since I came into possession of a smartphone with a half-decent camera last year, I have also neglected to use the proper camera to photograph my food - and it shows. Now that things have settled down a bit, I resolve to do better - starting today, after the outcome of this recipe left me feeling chuffed enough to get out the good camera and write about it this very night.

I had been missing the Beef with Red Wine and Rosemary on Rigatoni from Zucchini Bros, which sadly, I have not written about. I scoured the web for likely recipes but could not quite find one that would have produced a copy of the Zucchini Bros dish. Nevertheless, there were a few that looked promisingly meaty and rich, so they made the shortlist. I consulted M, as I do with all things Italian, and he picked this one. I had my doubts when it was cooking, because I, as usual, hadn't quite followed the recipe to the T. Luckily, it was forgiving.

Now to me, a ragù is a sauce with meat so tender, it falls into shreds when pressed. According to Wikipedia, however, a sauce with minced meat could also qualify, and though a ragù is in some ways similar to the French ragout, they are not the same thing. Someone out there will know the detailed culinary differences as, alas, I cannot enlighten you here today.

Despite my numerous failures, this ragù turned out beautifully rich, velvety and packed with flavour. The first hurdle was finding that I did not have enough wine, even though I was quite sure that I left half a bottle in the fridge specifically for this dish (but underestimated my brother's unquenchable thirst). Then I thought I must have used a bit too much tomato paste because I could taste its harsh metallic acidity in the sauce for the better part of the cooking process - so I threw in some sugar. After that I realised I had to switch to the smaller burner because the sauce was reducing far too quickly. It had only been cooking for an hour and because of that mistake, there wasn't enough liquid for it to continue simmering for another hour. To rectify that, and because I am slightly obsessive (the thought of a partial box of stock in the fridge was irritating me), I poured the rest of the 1 litre box of stock into the pot. And finally, for the garnish, I had thoughtlessly purchased Chinese parsley (i.e. coriander/cilantro) instead of European parsley (although this had next to no impact on the dish). All in all, I don't think these things really changed how it was supposed to turn out (had I adhered to the recipe) - I only did what I did to fix my mistakes, not improve the recipe. The one thing I intentionally changed was to substitute the canned peeled tomatoes, which I can't abide, with tomato puree. So I'll share the recipe as it is for now and adjust accordingly, if needed, the next time I make this - and there will be next time.

Beef and Red Wine Ragù

500g chuck steak, cut into 3cm pieces
200g pancetta, diced (I used streaky bacon)
1 onion
2 carrots
2 celery sticks
5 cloves garlic
4 sprigs rosemary
¼ cup tomato paste
250ml red wine
400g can peeled tomatoes (I used tomato puree)
300ml beef stock
1 pkt dried pappardelle (I used penne)
Shaved parmesan
½ bunch parsley, chopped

1. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and fry beef pieces in two separate batches until beef is well-browned. Remove from pan. Add pancetta and a little more olive oil and fry on medium heat until golden.

2. Meanwhile, cut vegetables into 2cm dice. Add vegetables and garlic to pancetta and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the rosemary, tomato paste and red wine and simmer for 2 minutes.

3. Return beef to pan with tinned tomato, stock, salt and pepper, and bring to the boil. Turn down heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer on the lowest heat for 2 hours. Stir every half hour.

4. When beef is soft, use a fork to tear into shreds. Cook pasta until al dente, drain and toss with olive oil. Serve in large bowls with ragu spooned on top. Garnish with parmesan and parsley.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Pork Satay @Sun May Hiong Satay House, Malacca

Whenever I happen to be in Malacca, I make it a point to have the pork satay at Sun May Hiong Satay House. It's something I grew up having only in Malacca, during our visits to the grandparents and so the city and this pork satay are inextricably linked in my mind. For non-Malaysians, satay is a traditionally Malay dish, most Malays are Muslim and abstain from pork, so pork satay is rarely found outside Malacca. Therefore, even though this satay house (calling it a restaurant feels like a bit of a stretch) moved to different locations around the city throughout the years, we faithfully tracked them down to sate our appetites for this delicious local treat. Without a doubt, it is my favourite type of satay and sauce. 

I was told throughout my childhood that the satay sauce at Sun May's is made with 'belimbing', giving it a bright, sourish, tanginess that sets it apart from the traditional sweet peanut satay sauces. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you whether this refers to starfruit (which is 'belimbing' in Malay) or its cousin the Averrhoa bilimbi. Whenever I referred to it as starfruit, as a child, I was corrected by my parents who insisted that the 'belimbing' in the sauce was not the plain ol' starfruit I was used to. My search on Google yielded the Averrhoa bilimbi as the closest possible alternative but I have never seen the sauce being made, so I have never been able to verify this.  

The combination of a coat of this delicious, tangy sauce on the properly charred, tasty, salty pieces of skewered pork is bliss, even in the blistering tropical heat that usually accompanies our trips to Malacca. The best part about this type of dining is that you don't have to order your food. As soon as you sit down, you are automatically given little pots of the satay sauce, ketupat (cubed, packed rice), cucumber and onion slices (that are all best enjoyed slathered in the sauce) and then various types of satay (pork, chicken, intestines, etc. - you can specify your preferences if you want), hot off the barbecue, are delivered to your table. We used to be able to devour 40 sticks each, but can now only manage 20 on a good day - ah, the appetites of teenagers. The only thing that isn't ideal (especially if you are hungry) is the occasional long wait between satay servings - but I suppose that is the price of getting them fresh off the coals, so you'd best allay your hunger and impatience with those cucumbers and ketupats.

Sun May Hiong Satay House
50/50A Jalan Kota Laksamana 1/1
Taman Kota Laksamana
75200 Melaka 
+606 281 7281

Monday, April 1, 2013

Hong Kong 2013 Part I: Chau Tau Foo and Other Adventures

Thanks to my aunt's generosity, I end up visiting Hong Kong again this year. The following are the events that transpired (and the food that was eaten):

On our first night, Aunt's friends (T & L) took us to Temple Street, where fortune tellers, random 'karaoke' singers and other assorted 'entrepreneurs' lined their tent stalls for the night's trade. I was most amused at the 'singers', who were simply standing by themselves, at the side of the road, singing (neither poorly nor well) over recorded music piping out of old fashioned stereos - is there really a living to be made of this or do they do it for their own pleasure? And apparently you can make song requests! I imagine that you would have to pay them something for that, but I can't imagine anyone paying to hear a bad cover of a song they (presumably) like, in a back-alley, among hawkers. It has been quite a while since I last entertained a notion that I found so equally baffling and entertaining.

After Aunt got her rather unimpressive palm reading, we ended up in Mongkok where I had my very first 'chau tau foo' (smelly tofu). Actually we (Pa, Bro and I) came across the same stall last year but had just consumed a rather large roast goose lunch, so I couldn't quite manage anything else at the time. We were ambling along when Pa stopped in his tracks, raised a finger in mid air, indicating to the atmosphere, and amusedly asked, "Aha! Can you smell that? Do you know what it is?". I took a whiff and smelt the odour of my beloved salted fish, but since we were in Hong Kong, I guessed that it was chau tau foo. I thought it smelt fantastic! Pa then, chortling, proclaimed that I was "a real Chinese" and the first person he knew who loved the smell of chau tau foo. The smell comes from the fermented brine that the tofu is marinated in, which apparently smells like garbage to most others. Quite the manifestation of 'one man's garbage...'

This time, the conditions were perfect - it was cool, close to midnight and there was a fantastic, more relaxed, market atmosphere with lots of people eating and walking around, unwinding after a long day's work (in contrast to the busy, restless, work day crowd Pa, Bro and I encountered during the lunch rush last year). T & L very kindly got us some chau tau foo, slathered with all the appropriate sauces, and initiated us on the intricacies of CTF appreciation. Aunt had to be convinced to simply try a bite, but not I. The skin was wonderfully crispy and savoury and all the lovely intense sauces (sorry, no idea what they were) that were smoky, spicy, sweet, salty and bean-y made it quite a delicious treat. Without the skin and the sauces (i.e. the insides), it tasted just like regular tofu.

We then moved on to Yuet Hing Yuen (33 Soy Street, Mongkok) where we had Vietnamese noodles with the most potent, intoxicating broth and ended the night at Lucky Dessert (25-27 Soy Street, Mongkok) with some pretty decent tong sui - I had my favourite 'pak gor yee mai' (gingko & barley), with a twist, i.e. the addition of 'tau foo fa' (soy bean curd).

When we got back to the hotel, I realised that my phone wasn't detecting Aunt's internet hotspot so I resigned myself to internet deprivation until Monday. The significance of this will be explained later.

To be continued...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Food Wishes' Smothered Pork Chops & Romano Bean Salad

This smothered pork chops recipe from FoodWishes was immediately added to my "Must Make" list when it was published in 2010 - the year I was busy reviewing restaurants, testing recipes (through S) and writing for the food column in Critic. I don't know why, but it took us almost exactly two years (recipe published 27 Feb 2010, chops made 18 Feb 2012) to get around to cooking this! Tsk tsk.

We paired it with another of Chef John's recipes - the cold romano bean salad. The smothered chops were deliciously rich, with the blended flavours of mildy sweet caramelised onions, savoury seasoned meat and stock and tangy buttermilk. I remember being surprised at the sauce's sourish note, but that was because S did the cooking and I had forgotten the details of the recipe (i.e. the buttermilk). Against advice, we did not leave the beans to marinate overnight, so the flavours were quite subtle. Still its acidity, minty freshness and mild bite of garlic made it a very good accompaniment to the saucy, rich chops. Because it is so easy to throw together, I have made this delicious salad many times since, with green beans, lashings of grated garlic, salt, a good douse of olive oil and some white wine vinegar, intensifying the flavour to my liking. I love this salad freshly made, with the blanched beans still warm. Irresistibly good.

You may have noticed that I can rarely be bothered to make anything that is going to take longer than an hour to be ready (which is partly why these beans have never made it to the fridge for an overnighter). I am also very slowly (because I don't cook very often) training myself to moderate my use of ingredients - I'm too impatient to wait for the flavours to develop and have a tendency to throw in too much.... (especially seasoning). My writing betrays this tendency when I use phrases like, "lashings of..." or "there's no such thing as too much...". Onwards and upwards as they say! Happy holidays. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012


The process of restoring all the photos on this blog is, as expected, tedious. Nevertheless, I will endeavour to restore them all before the end of the year. 

In the meantime, if you're in the mood for sandwiches, go to Fluid. There, in the humble opinion of a sandwich disbeliever, you will find the best of them. Pictured above is the Bacon & Brie - lovely chewy bread filled with beautifully fresh lettuce, delicious, savoury grilled bacon and mild, creamy brie, rounded off with a sweet, fruity spread/chutney. The mouth-watering, intoxicating aroma of bacon and bread that permeates the plastic wrap alone almost makes it worth it, but rest assured, it tastes just as fantastic as it smells. I really want to try all the other sandwiches, rolls, etc there, but I succumb to my weakness for the Bacon and Brie every time. The Chicken in Lemon Aioli is also good, but does not pack the same punch.

138 Union Street East
Dunedin 9016

Thursday, October 25, 2012


There has been a mishap with the photos on this blog - they were all inadvertently deleted off Picasa Web Albums. Will be uploading all the photos again, one by one, over the next few weeks. Sorry.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nice & Natural NUTricious

My new favourite snack - Nice & Natural NUTricious: for EnergyThe fruity sweetness of the dried cranberries and the lovely mellow dark chocolate flavour complement the raw nuts incredibly well. Delicious.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

S's Aunt Lil's Moist Chocolate (Cup)Cake

Once upon a time S baked a fantastic chocolate cake that became my absolute, hands-down, crazy-eyes, bonkers-for-it, favourite home made chocolate cake. This delicious, moist, soft cake covered with the silkiest, most luscious chocolatey frosting entered the gastronomy annals about the same time as Damien Pignolet's Serious Orange Cake, and has followed suit in it's evolution into a cupcake. The orange cake is equally amazing in both forms, but I think the chocolate is exceedingly more enjoyable, dressed as a cupcake. The cupcake version has better moistness throughout and, of course, my bias just might be related to the higher frosting to cake ratio. It is very unprofessional of me to share this recipe only now, when I have been enjoying this cake regularly (at S's charity) over the last six years. My bad.

Moist Chocolate Cake Recipe

275 g butter
300 g sugar
250 g flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking soda (sifted)
75 g cocoa powder
1 1/3  cups water + 25 g coffee powder
4 eggs + 2 yolks

1) Cream butter and sugar till soft and fluffy
2) Add eggs one at a time
3) Pour in coffee mixture, alternating with the sifted flour + cocoa powder
4) Bake at 170 degrees Celsius for 1 hour

Chocolate Frosting Ingredients:
3 tbsp cocoa powder
3 tbsp cornflour
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 oz butter pinch of salt

1) Bring to boil above until smooth and thickens.
2) Pour over cooled cake.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Yung Kee

We had spent the day walking around Harbour City Mall, surrounding Tsim Sha Tsui area and Mong Kok. I wanted a bag and a jacket but found nothing suitable. I must be the only person who went to Hong Kong and couldn't find anything to buy. After a long day of fruitless "shopping", we repaired to the hotel for some respite. We had a reservation at Yung Kee that night - a place I picked after referring to the Miele Guide - and I was looking forward to it. Before dinner, we managed to squeeze in an amusing cab ride up to Victoria Peak, some photo ops with "my" restaurant and of the view, a quick cab ride down the mountain and a wander around Lan Kwai Fong, which landed us at Hong Kong Brew House where I had the best mojito, ever.

Best Mojito Ever! - Hong Kong Brew House
Take this from someone who rarely drinks, but enjoys her cocktails. It was dangerously potent, refreshing and altogether delightfully delicious. I especially liked sucking up and chewing on the partially dissolved sugar crystals from the bottom of the glass - don't know if that's how it's supposed to be, but I liked it. It was the only drink I had (and I am admittedly a lightweight drinker), but it was sufficiently intoxicating for me that I had to concentrate very hard on walking properly when it was time to go, and was compelled to commend the bartender on the drink. I hope he understood what I was saying because I had to repeat myself (my self-consciousness was heightened by the presence of an observing patron sitting at the bar), but I swear I wasn't slurring and the music was very loud! In my defence, my brother and Pa were just as "happy" (it just took them more than one drink) and this is evidenced in the photos I took of some very jovial looking people shortly after our being seated at Yung Kee.

Roast Goose

Bro had been to Yung Kee before and highly recommended the perserved (century) eggs with ginger, so we started with that. I have never been a fan of century eggs, but I have to agree with Bro that these were in a class of their own. Softer and far more refined in flavour than the average century egg, I actually enjoyed the piece that I had, with a bit of pickled ginger. Of course, we also had their famous roast goose, which was outstanding. The flavours were rich and complex, the meat most tender and succulent and the skin, beautifully thin and crisp.

Deep Fried Prawns

We also ordered seafood, which, we later discovered, is something people who are more familiar with Yung Kee and Hong Kong, advise against. The fried prawns and steamed fish were undoubtedly excellent, but there are many other places in Hong Kong where you can get comparable seafood at a fraction of the price. From this menu, it looks like the prawns we had was one of their award winning dishes. And even though the fish was exquisitely delicate both in texture and flavour and we thoroughly enjoyed every last scrap of it, paying about NZ$700.00 for a meal for three isn't something we would do very often, especially when there are cheaper alternatives that are almost as, if not equally good.

Steamed Fish

We didn't particularly enjoy the braised vegetable (can't remember the type) dish that was recommended to us, which was perfectly cooked, but far too subtle in flavour, nor the complimentary "fried flour" dessert, which was dense, boring and too sweet. Those two dishes, however, did not really affect my enjoyment or perception of the meal as a whole. Perhaps it was the impeccable service we received from the incredibly attentive assistant captain, Joyce.

Braised Vegetables with Scallops

After discussing my trip and the meal with friends, I am determined to return to Yung Kee for a taste of their barbecue pork, as well as more of that divine roast goose. And now that I know better, next time I will be armed with the knowledge of specific dishes recommended by my more experienced friends, and perhaps if I'm lucky, one of them! It will be good.

Sticky, Sweet Fried Flour Dessert Thing

Yung Kee
32-40 Wellington Street
Hong Kong

Friday, August 31, 2012

Guava & Asamboi

Eating a good green guava with asamboi (salted plums) is, for me, one of life's greatest pleasures. Yes, I am talking about a simple fruit. The taste of a deliciously sweet, fragrant guava that is at just the right firmness/tenderness is already so good that I'm often torn between eating it as it is and embellishing the flavour with salted plums. I often succumb to the latter because I have always had a great weakness for the intense sourness, sweetness and saltiness of salted plums and, for me, having one without the other is like having burgers without fries. Why resist a marriage made in gastronomic heaven? I OD on these whenever I'm in KL.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Latest Discovery: Pete's Natural

I discovered this lovely, refreshing, quirky and very tasty drink on Tuesday, while having another fabulous meal at No. 7 Balmac. There I had the currant crush, and today I bought a bottle of the lemonade. Both were great. I can't quite put my finger on it but there was a distinct flavour in both that set them apart from other sparkling juices (hence the 'quirky'). Slurp. Might just have to wander over to the supermarket for another bottle of Pete's Natural.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wayne's Lamb Stew

This was a dish that E and I had almost weekly when we were in varsity and I've wanted to share the recipe for years. We used to frequent a little hole-in-a-wall Chinese 'restaurant' (using the word very loosely) called Wayne's Food Bar. The food wasn't particularly great, but it was one of the first places that we tried when we arrived in town and we just kept going back because it was familiar and cheap - we were students then after all, and weren't quite as free to explore and indulge our gastronomic tendencies as we are now. When I think back, I find it quite amusing that I don't recall being quite as fussy or critical about food then, as I am now. It's a definitely a full blown, chronic affliction now - and they say people mellow with age. 

Anyway, I always had the teriyaki beef at Wayne's, until one day, E ordered the lamb stew. What a revelation. I'd never had anything like that before. It had great warmth and was earthy, rich, complex, hearty and comforting - the perfect antidote to a winter's evening here. E and I had many a lamb stew at Wayne's until one sad day in our second year here, when we discovered that Wayne's had closed for good. We didn't know they were closing. We should have been better customers. The next few weeks (maybe months) were spent lamenting the fact that we missed having one last, good stew, for the road. 

A few years later, after E had moved away, I received a very excited email from E proclaiming that she had discovered the secret ingredient to recreate Wayne's Lamb Stew. Okay, so maybe it wasn't a secret to others, but neither of us (up till then) had been able to identify the source of the stew's base flavour - probably because it wasn't something that either of our mothers or grandmothers used in their cooking. The lamb was marinated in preserved bean curd! E, being the magical cooking fairy that she is, managed to figure out the rest of the ingredients and successfully recreated the lamb stew that we had been missing. Of course, I immediately got the recipe from E and went straight to my other cooking fairy godmother with it. S wasted no time whipping it up, and it was good. 

S has since tweaked E's original recipe, to achieve the right flavour with the sauces and ingredients that we have here. And it's probably not exactly the same as the stew we had at Wayne's all those years ago.  But it's still delicious and an excellent dish to cook in the winter, which is partly why I am only writing about it now. The aroma that fills the kitchen as it is cooking is as mouth-watering as the dish itself. Don't be put off by the ingredients. Just try it.

Wayne's Lamb Stew Recipe (recreated by E, modified by S)

About 1kg of lamb, cubed 

2 big cubes (1big cube = about 1 tbsp) preserved bean curd 
1 tbsp cornflour 
2 tbsp minced ginger 
3 tbsp thick dark soy sauce 
salt & pepper 

Herbs & Spices:
1/2 tsp cumin seed 
1/4 tsp coriander seed 
1 star anise 
1 cinnamon quill 
5-7 cloves 
3-4 large dried chillies, de-seeded & halved, soaked in warm water 
2 tsp minced ginger 
7 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped 
Another 2 big cubes preserved bean curd 

1/2 cup of soy sauce (use 1/4 cup first and add more if required) 
1/2 cup water 
1-2 tbsp sugar (add more if too salty or spicy) 
1 (full) tsp of chilli black bean (Lee Kum Kee) 
1/2 cup chinese wine (add just before turning heat down to simmer)

1-2 tsp dried chilli flakes 
1 bunch of glass noodles (a.k.a. Suun or Tang Hoon
Chinese cabbage 

1. Marinate the lamb with the Marinade. I usually leave it over night in the fridge and take it out 1/2 hour before cooking it. 
2. Heat up some oil in a med high pan and fry the Herbs & Spices, except ginger and garlic, till fragrant. Usually around 3-5 mins. 
3. Put in smashed garlic and remaining ginger. Saute till fragrant. 
4. Add the marinated meat, and stir fry till the meat changes color. Add the additional preserved bean curd and fry till the meat looks semi-cooked. 
5. Add the Sauce ingredients, except wine, and turn up heat to bring to boil. Add chili flakes if not spicy enough. 
6. Boil for 10-15 mins, and then turn heat down to med low and let it simmer, adding the wine once stew has stopped boiling (this ensures that the wine does not evaporate too much). 
7. Just before serving, add in chinese cabbage (if you want to, or serve separately) and cook it till the stems are soft.
8. Serve with steamed rice.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bluff Oyster & Food Festival: Saturday, 26th May 2012

S, K, D, M & I drove down to Bluff for the annual Bluff Oyster & Food Festival a couple of weeks ago. On the whole, I think we all had a relatively good time, even though the experience was marred by some seemingly minor, but in my opinion, significantly detracting faults - I will expound on these at the end of this post.

S and K got their fill of fresh oysters, and the rest of us non-oyster-loving-philistines also found several tasty treats to gorge ourselves on. As always, it wasn't the food, but the hanging out and laughing hard with people whose company you enjoy, that made the trip worthwhile and memorable.

We, as a group, ate most of the following (the names of the stalls are italicised):

Barnes Oysters
Oysters: S & K looked pretty happy chowing down on these. I never liked oysters. S made me try one last year and that was enough. M had one and wasn't converted either.

Titi O Rakiura
Salmon Kebabs: Everyone thought this was the best thing they had at the festival. I thought it was perfectly cooked, but just slightly too sweet for my taste. I would have liked to crack some pepper and salt and drizzle some lemon juice on it.

Stella's in Bluff
Oyster Pie: K had this. I think the verdict was, "OK".

A Divine Dish
Prawn Skewers: My favourite. Was served with either the Thai-something-or-the-other sauce or aioli. The zesty, sweetish, sourish, acidic Thai sauce was infinitely better. Absolutely delicious! We got about four lots of these.

Heaven - Decadent Chocolate Tarte with praline: By the time we wanted to have these, they were all sold out. But they were so good when we had them last year that we had at least 2-3 of these velvety, chocolatey bad boys.

Finestkind Scallops
Chili Macadamia Scallops: Pretty tasty. I was impressed by how they managed to cook these scallops in very large batches, without compromising the flavour or texture much, if at all.

Stewart Island Smoked Salmon
Smoked Salmon with cream cheese & salad, on rye: D got this and I took a bite. Meh.

Druken Sailor
Battered Oysters: Not bad. Couldn't really taste the oysters, which is exactly how I like it. 

Paua Patties: D & M had these and did not comment, which means "OK".

Ngai Tahu Seafood
Mussels in Garlic Butter: K, S & M had these and looked like they were enjoying them.

Battered Blue Cod Nuggets: OK.

Stewart Island Promotions
Marinated Blue Cod: (a.k.a. ceviche?) I thought that these should have been made to order instead of being "plated" in advance and left sitting on table, cooking in the acid. Still pretty tasty.

Hot Chili Squid: Tasty. Good marinade. The texture would have been better if the squid were charred.

Cando Fishing
Kina Shots: K, M & D all get points for trying these (while I videoed their reactions). S made me try a small piece last year and all I can say is, it tastes and smells worse than it looks. M, D and K's cringing, groaning, screwed up faces and M's request to chase it with S's ginger preserves (which he tried for the first time on the ride to Bluff and could not stomach) were priceless.

Last year, S & I got to the festival at around noon, it was very, very crowded and things were already beginning to sell out. We learnt from that (disappointing) experience and got there at 11am this year, but again, some things were sold out by 1pm. This isn't something that is being organised for the first time. It is a food festival! People are charged up to $20 per ticket (including service fees) and the food (the good stuff of course) runs out by lunch time. This is an event that only started at 11-ish and was supposed to go on until the late afternoon. Unacceptable.

Once again the stage, drinks tent and tables were placed right in the middle of the only thoroughfare to the food tents. Inevitably, as they did last year, a large crowd gathered in front of the stage and around the tables and people had to fight their way through the crowd every time they wanted to get drinks or food. At least last year, all the food was on one end. This year there were food tents on either side of the stage, which meant that people had to struggle through the crowd even more frequently. Whatever the reasoning was for this set up, surely it can be improved upon? It just seems to be unnecessarily disorganised and uncomfortable, when just a few adjustments could make this event truly enjoyable in every respect (like this).

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Penang Trip: Nov 2011

Three of my closest friends' families are from Penang, so over the years, I have listened to many a rave about the food. Penang-ites always (I am sure that others will attest to this) insist that Penang has the best food in Malaysia. I was intrigued, but always remained skeptical, as is my nature. I had visited Penang once many years ago, but simply cannot recall anything about the trip. So I had to wait patiently until November 2011, when an opportunity (reason) to travel to Penang presented itself. 

I always prefer being shown around a new place by a local (or at least someone who has lived there like a local). Unfortunately, none of my Penang-rooted friends were travelling with me on this trip, but luckily, J, who was, had been to Penang often enough to know her way around to some decent eats.

After the long drive from KL to Penang and a short stop at the Snake Temple, we went to Joo Hooi Cafe and ended up having (in retrospect) the best meal that we had in Penang.

Cendol: Excellent. Exactly the right combination of flavours and textures - green, pandan flavoured jelly noodles and sweet, soft, red beans covered with shaved ice, doused in mild, creamy coconut milk, and palm sugar syrup. Slurping mouthfuls of this delicious icy "dessert" in the cool, dark, old-fashioned kopitiam was the perfect relief from the sweltering tropical, midday heat.

Nasi Lemak: A very traditional preparation of a local favourite. These packets were left on the tables for people to help themselves - just the they were in the old days (and still are in this place!). Pretty good - especially the all-important sambal.

Char Kuay Teow: Delicious. Well charred. Nice smokey flavour. Lots of tasty chinese sausages, prawns and chunks of fried egg. Brilliant and oh-so-satisfying.

Asam Laksa: Best asam laksa. Ever. Never seen/had asam laksa with broth this thick with fish. Packed a helluva flavour punch. 'Piquant' must have been invented just to describe asam laksa. Words would not do this dish justice - it's just one of those things you have to taste.

Joo Hooi Cafe
457 Jalan Penang

S gave me a long list of things that I had to try in Penang, but alas there was just more food than I had the time or capacity to eat. Thus, I did not get to sample the two things that I was really looking foward to: nasi kandar and kuay chap (Wikipedia: "a Teochew dish of flat, broad rice sheets in a soup made with dark soy sauce, served with pig offal, braised duck meat, various kinds of beancurd, preserved salted vegetables, and braised hard-boiled eggs"). Next time.

Penang is also supposed to be known for its prawn noodles, which is my absolute favourite. Since I'd always been told that the prawn mee in Penang is outstanding, and that nothing in KL ever measured up, I was curious. How much better can it be? My family had been going to the same prawn noodle stall in Setapak since I was a child and I have never had better prawn noodles anywhere else. The broth was dark, rich, spicy and deliciously "prawny", the pork ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and the prawns were large and meaty (albeit overcooked). I loved this place and had to get my fix whenever I was back home. Sadly, the stall was closed for the duration of my last two trips home, and I fear that something has happened to the old lady who ran the stall - who incidentally also reminded me very much of my grandmother. 

So, of course I asked my Penang-ite friends to direct me to what they thought were the best prawn noodles places. One told me that (in Penang), "they are all good". I defied her and managed to find putrid, bland, watery, pathetic excuses for this dish at two different locations; once at the hawker centre near Holiday Inn at Batu Ferringhi, where the heads of the completely peeled, grainy, stale prawns were stuck back on for presentation, and once at Gurney Drive. I was peeved, to say the least, especially since my go-to prawn noodle place in KL for 20 years is no more and I don't know if I will ever have prawn noodles like that again.

The following day, we took our food quest to the market (near Joo Hooi Cafe). J's theory is that 'market food' is always the best, and I think she may be right. Pictured above (clockwise from the top left corner) are the very tasty chai tau kuay, blah curry noodle thing and surprisingly delicate and well flavoured chee cheong fun that we had (you may remember more refined versions of these dishes from my post about having dim sum in Hong Kong).

Pictured below is another of my favourite Malaysian goodies. The anglicised name for it these days is "butterfly" because it is often shaped in two strips and looks like a most inelegant butterfly. I call it 'beh huay zhee' because that's what my parents called it in Hokkien. For the uninitiated, it hails from the same 'fried dough' family as the 'yew cha kway' and they are often sold together. This 'beh huay zhee' was without a doubt the best that I'd ever tasted. Beautifully stiff, crisp, sweet, nutty flavoured exterior, with a nice, light, chewy centre. Also smelt almost as blissful as it tasted!

PS: On the drive back from Penang to KL, we paused at the rest stop at Sungai Perak that is apparently famous for fruits. Indeed, I'd never seen a rest stop with as many fruit stalls. I found my elusive perfect mango (another weakness of mine) at a random stall here. Perfect firmness, sweet and slightly sourish, just the way I like it. It was delicious and possibly worth the 3 hour drive from KL, if I could be assured that I would always get them like that. I ate a whole mango right in front of the stall (the nice lady peeled and sliced them for me) and bought another (maybe two...) for the road. They disappeared in about 10 minutes. Ah, mango amour...

R and R Sg Perak

Sunday, April 22, 2012

M's Italian Feast

M is Italian-American and makes great Italian food. After talking about it for the longest time (during cook-offs and mystery box challenges with S, parties, etc), in December last year, we finally organised ourselves and were treated to a spectacular Italian feast by M. M cooked some of the most exquisite, simple, beautifully executed food that I've ever had. Even though seven dishes for four people may not necessarily constitute a feast to some, the bellies of those of us present that night will beg to differ. M outdid himself and delivered a most unforgettable dinner. Above all, he introduced us to what (I imagine)  classic Italian dining is like. Thank you!

Grilled peppers & zucchinis: Deliciously sweet, soft peppers and smokey, charred, tender zucchini strips drizzled with olive oil. I think the olive oil imparts a subtle nutty flavour which adds warmth to the dish and complements the sweet and mellow flavours of the peppers and zucchinis. Simple, yet exquisite.

Foccacia: Beautifully crispy, salty exterior with a chewy centre. This was the best foccacia that M's made (by his own admission). We piled the grilled peppers and zucchinis on these and the result was a perfect combination of flavours and textures. Bliss!

Salad with ham, halloumi, olives, feta and peperoni (I think): I can't remember how M made the dressing, except that it was relatively straightforward. Classic flavours.

Grilled bread (placed at the bottom of the soup bowl): Beautifully charred, smokey and chewy. Brillant addition of the bottom of the soup bowl as it retained it's flavour and structure despite being completely soaked with the fish soup below. Bellissima.

Fish soup: A surprisingly delightful, well flavoured, clear seafood soup. M loves telling his guests that he's serving "Fish Soup" because it sounds completely unappealing, and then observing their surprise and relief when they taste it and it's actually really good.

Gnocchi: M's (and his assistant S's) freshly made gnocchi.

In goes the pesto...

Gnocchi & pesto: M's gnocchi was light and airy and I'm sure, exactly as good gnocchi should be, and S's absolutely loved it. I loved the tasty, herby pesto but I have to admit that gnocchi just isn't for me. I have never been partial to the thicker, spongy or more solid variety of carbs like penne or tong yuen. I prefer more texture.

Grilled chicken: This was a revelation. All M did was grill pieces of flattened, tenderised chicken breast with olive oil, rosemary, salt and when they were cooked, sprinkled chopped parsley and squeezed lemon juice over them. Apparently you have to be careful not to overcook the chicken, but other than that, it is probably the simplest recipe for cooking chicken that I've come across, and it produced one of the most delectable pieces of chicken that I've ever had. At this point I truly understood all those references I've heard about the simplicity and beauty of Italian cooking and food.

Risotto: Texturally, the risotto was great. M intended to use the "low salt" stock to cook the risotto but inadvertently got the normal kind, so it was a tad too salty. Otherwise it was pretty good and had an interesting flavour - I've never had risotto flavoured with saffron before. 

Tiramisu (whole): M's "free-form" tiramisu. 

Tiramisu (served): I used to think the recipe S and I had for tiramisu was pretty good, but M's wins hands down. Ours is like the kid-friendly version compared to his. Rich, decadent, alcoholic, infused with the bittersweetness of coffee and topped with the acidity and sweetness of strawberries tossed with icing sugar. After all that food, we were pushing it but still had to make some room for this divine dessert. No regrets.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dim Sum @ Super Star

The first morning in Hong Kong, we went to Super Star for dim sum. Some friends of my brother's took him there on a previous trip and he was sufficiently impressed with the food that he wanted us to try it too. We were hoping that someone would be able to recommend the house specialties and/or best sellers but ended up with a waitress who wasn't very communicative. Nevertheless, we had some excellent dim sum. Then the bill came, and I was taken aback by how cheap the meal was - about HKD 200 (NZD 40), total. It was their "dim sum happy hour" because it was early on a weekday, but still a hearty meal like that with those huge prawns would cost at least NZD 100 in New Zealand, if not more. Did I mention that I LOVE Hong Kong?

It doesn't look like we ordered much, but each dumpling/wonton was densely filled with good seafood and/or meat and the servings were large. We were all stuffed at the end of the meal.

Steamed Prawn Rice Rolls (Chee Cheong Fun): The best version of this dish that I've had. The prawns were huge (about 1.5 inches in diametre) and the rice rolls were slippery smooth, delicate and stretchy. It was served with soy sauce on the side, so we could control how much sauce we wanted and it also prevented the rice rolls from absorbing too much sauce and becoming soggy. Delicious.

Prawn Dumplings (Har Gow): Again, huge, tasty, fresh, delectable prawns encased in a thin, stretchy dumpling skin. I've never had such a satisfyingly solid (yet still tender and springy) ball of prawns before!

Wontons in Chilli Oil & Soy Sauce: I was expecting this to be strong tasting because the sauce was quite dark, but actually it was surprisingly subtle and well balanced. The wontons were packed with an incredibly tasty combination of minced pork and prawns (I think). Every time I've looked at this picture since, I've craved this dish, so last week S made this from scratch (including the wonton skins!) just to shut me up.

Pork Dumplings (Siu Mai): These were very good, but I don't recall anything distinctive about them, compared to the other dishes.

Pork Ribs in Black Bean Sauce: Best version of this dish that I've had. The ribs were a good size, perfectly cooked, deliciously juicy and tender. 

Fried Radish Cake (a posh version of this and this): Best (refined) version of this dish that I've had. The cubes of radish cake were considerably larger than what I've had in the past, but were all pan fried and seasoned to perfection. The larger pieces also better featured the base flavour and delicate texture of the radish cake, as these are normally muffled by the strong, savoury flavours of the crust and topping. A truly elegant version of a common street stall dish.

1005, 10/F, Food Forum Times Square 
1 Matheson Street 
Causeway Bay 
Hong Kong

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Café de Coral

Incidentally, the first thing that I am going to write about the trip to Hong Kong in January was the last thing I ate there. I had seen this place all over the city and it's essentially 'the' Hong Kong fast-food chain. It piqued my interest because we don't really have Chinese 'fast-food' where I come from. We can get Chinese food fast, but Café de Coral was the first chain that I had encountered that was comparable to the likes of Mc D's. 

Of course I didn't even consider eating at a fast-food outlet while we were in the city - we were in Hong Kong after all and there were only so many things we could eat in 4 days! On the last day that we were there, we spent the morning walking around North Point and Pa, who had lived in Hong Kong for a few years, made it a point to take me into a Café de Coral outlet just to show me the kind of food that they offered. The curry "ngau lam" (beef brisket) is his favourite, but they have many other popular, classic 'Hong Kong dishes' like roast meats on rice and baked rice dishes.

The great thing about fast-food chains is that you can reliably expect to find an outlet wherever there's high traffic, like an airport for example (NZ airports are an exception to this rule). So when we were looking for something to eat at the airport before catching the flight home, we were both quite pleased to see the (by then) familiar Café de Coral signboard. I queued for the food and Pa found us a seat - unfortunately for poor Pa, that meant that he didn't get his curry 'ngau lam' because it wasn't on the 'specials' menu where I started queuing and so we thought it wasn't available there. When I got to the counter, I spotted it on the overhead menu behind the counter and ordered it for myself, not realising that Pa would have wanted that in lieu of the roast goose on rice, if he had known that it was available.

And he was right, it was good. Tender pieces of beef brisket in rich, tasty curry, with steamed beans and some pineapple chunks for that bit of sweetness and acidity to offset the curry's unctuousness. I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. It turned out to be a really good, archetypal 'Hong Kong meal' to have to mark the end of what was a truly great trip with Pa and Piggo (my brother).

I fell in love with Hong Kong and will definitely visit again, and again, and again....and maybe even live there for a while one day, if ever there's an opportunity.


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