Sunday, June 21, 2009

We Came, We Ate, We Did Not Conquer

For those going to Singapore, several things come to mind – the shopping, the climate, the wealth, and the hawker stalls! The culinary scene of Singapore consist of some of the best selection of food courts we have ever seen. And yes, we do mean food courts as in mall food, but in Singapore not only are the malls mega sized, so are the food courts. First up was the food court in the basement of the Takashimaya mall on Orchards Road.We literally stumbled upon this food court while making our way out of one of the best books stores around - Books Kinokuniya, and coming from the land of Powell’s Books that is quite a statement. We were bowled over by the volume and variety of food available, but not in a “oh they have a little of everything” kind of way. We had to slowly stroll each and every vendor because the offerings were so unique and different from what we think of as food court food.Unlike hawker stalls and street vendors where you can see everything being made, food courts reel you in with the beautiful glass displays and the sheer volume of food available.Deciding what we wanted was difficult enough, especially when it came to determining what sweet item we wanted to balance out the savory lunch we had. Will it be French desserts like ├ęclairs and cream puffs?
or will it be Italian gelato or Japanese griddle cakes?or some candy?
We couldn’t come to Singapore and not eat at a proper hawkers’ stall. Being the highly governed country Singapore is, the hawker stalls are also highly governed, making them clean, well managed, and even more efficient. We decided to meet the cousins for lunch at one the busiest hawker stalls in the city-state: Lau Pa Sat.Located in the heart of the business district, the lunchtime crowd was heavy, but we were up for the craziness the minute we stepped in the all iron Victorian era building with one of the best selections of “food court” food around.This place was huge and with multiple “streets” or halls that spread out from a circular interior.Finding a seat in this massive place was difficult at first with hungry downtowners laying claim to any available seat, but we soon found a table and ventured down each of the 9 halls to gawk at the offerings.Thankfully the vendor signs down each of the “streets” were different making remembering where we are sitting easier.Some stalls had fantastic menu boards making deciding even more difficult.As much as we were drawn to the Ultimate Burger stall, we opted for Japanese.Besides sushi, we hadn’t had much Japanese food and was instantly drawn to katsu-curry-noodle pictures. We ordered a kimchi raman noodle bowl
a curry wheat noodle soupsome fried gyozasand chicken katsu
Everything was flavorful, fresh, satisfying, and ready in a flash, the way lunch should always be!We even heard that in the evenings they shut down the busy street infront of Lau Pa Sat Market and grills are brought out for a massive outdoor bbq food court! Wow - we love you Singapore.
We soon headed out to some sightseeing. Singapore is a great tourist town with its great public transportation system, museums, historical buildings, and even an island. We later met up with the cousins for dinner, at you guessed it, a food court! This one was located in the mini-mall right in their apartment complex! Imagine our utter surprise this place even existed! Singapore’s skyline doesn't just consist of towering office buildings.
Massive residential complexes are everywhere.
We had seen the little shopping area that is situated next to the bus stop at the front of the complex next to the road. We noticed there was a Chinese restaurant and a 7-11, but what we didn’t know was the fairly large shopping area on the ground floor and a basement with a large grocery store and a food court!We were psyched! This food court was definitely geared towards the large number of families living in the complex with pizzas, pastas, fresh salad bar, a dessert bar, and numerous other “western” foods. We were immediately drawn to the Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Japanese food vendors.
We got a papaya salada curry laksasome Japanese fried chicken or kara age
and a caesar salad. That’s the beauty of food courts you can eat your favorites from anywhere and everywhere in one sitting.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dim Sum Surgery

Anne’s cousin recently moved to Singapore from Paris, France with her husband and baby girl Sarah about 6 months before we made our way to Singapore. They graciously offered us their spare bedroom and we were thankful. Being expatriates working for a financial institution from France meant long hours during the week and the occasional Saturday, but we managed to squeeze one day of exploring local style. Being cousins, we agreed the only way to start a leisurely day of sightseeing in Singapore was with a slow, tasty, and quick to serve Dim Sum breakfast.We made our way to a mega-mall called Suntec City Mall, which is a massive link of four towers mixing offices, convention center, entertainment area, a Carrefour store, a galleria, shopping, dining, and all centered around the world’s largest fountain called the “Fountain of Wealth”.Similar to Malaysia, Singapore’s Chinese influence can been seen everywhere and after our limited selection of basic dim sum we had in Kuala Lumpur we were ready for a banging breakfast and we were not disappointed.As we made our way through the massive, but welcomed air conditioned mall we ended up in the basement area where the restaurants could be found and immediately we began to see what other restaurants were available, but never did we once stray from our goal of dim sum. Highly recommended by Peggy and Phillip we knew we were in for a treat. As we came upon the restaurant and noticed the chic, modern, and very busy dining room we knew we had hit paydirt!We found out there would be no dim sum carts and we ordered off a list sheet, similar to ordering sushi; listing out how many pieces per order and categorized by steamed, fried, rice, noodles, etc. Being the dim sum fanatics that we are, we were immediately excited by the creative and unique items of dim sum available. Unique takes on our favorites and we quickly marked up the sheet and had it all filled out before we were even seated. Yes, we are serious when it comes to dim sum! Much like the traditional cart way of serving dim sum our items came in a steady pace with one or two items appearing at a time. First was the shrimp pancakes.This shrimp patty was meaty and crispy. Formed into a long flat disc that was cut into strips, perfect for Sarah to snack on until her fried rice came.On a side note, it was so refreshing to meet a child who not only liked to eat, but was very curious about food and loved taste, texture, and quality. Sarah is not allowed to have sugar, which may have explained how well seasoned her palate was. Something we found most Asian children had, food is the center of all life in Asia and it was odd to be dueling it out with a child over the last piece of squid. But this time Sarah was very happy with her fried rice and shrimp cakes and boy were we glad because this was the shit dim sum! We ordered pickled cucumbers in dark sweet soy sauce – tangy, refreshing, crunchy, and finally a vegetable item other than bok choy or Chinese broccoli!Soon the main dumplings started to appear, hot straight from the steamer. Beautifully shaped, perfect little pockets of minced pork and chives topped with a whole shrimp. One order came with 10 dumplings which were quickly divided up because no one wanted to miss out on their fair share of these fantastic version of Har Gau.Another notable Har Gau inspired dumpling was the minced shrimp and pork dumplings served in a spicy thick soy and chili sauce.It would be tough to declare a favorite between the beautifully presented whole shrimp har gau and the spicy soy-chili sauce dumplings. Both were phenomenal and exactly what were hoping to find in food heaven Singapore.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Republic of Singapore

Officially known as the Republic of Singapore. The world’s 5th wealthiest country declared self-government in 1965 and split from Malaysia to form the smallest nation in SE Asia. Singapore is wealthy, chic, orderly, cosmopolitan, clean, hot, tropical, and highly governed.Bordering Malaysia to the north and Indonesia to the south, it is surprising that a majority of the population is Chinese, with large populations of Malays, Indians, and Indonesians.Singapore is an export-driven, highly developed market-based economy, imagine if the founders of your country were still alive. It is where the business wealthy and elite come to wheel & deal and live on a tropical island at the same time. We saw more sports vehicles in the small island nation than anywhere else we’ve been, and to have a vehicle, let alone purchase one in Singapore means big bucks. As we traveled further south and closer to the equator we never paid much attention to daylight and time, but in Singapore being almost directly on the equator we were aware of the fact that the sun rises and sets everyday at the same time.
So on our first day we took advantage of the extremely well organized bus and monorail system
to go have a peep around Little IndiaFirst up was the Tekka Market
A large open-air market selling fresh food and produce, traditional Indian clothing, and a large food court area.We purchased a few souvenirs and headed into the district officially known as Little India. The Little India district in Singapore was very similar to the Little India district in Penang and Melacca, Malaysia with similar temples and temple ornamentationSingapore's Little India had the same shopping boulevard with music shops blaring the latest Bollywood tunes, beauty shops offering such services as facial jewelry application, spice shops with shelves and shelves of shining aluminum cooking utensils, and men on the sidewalks braiding large floral garlands.Let’s be honest, the main reason we were in Little India was to eat and we had heard of a great banana leaf restaurant.
Tucked among the cute little colonial buildings, he hit vegetarian heaven
With such a diverse population, our waiter was Indian, but the Chinese staff kept bringing us food we didn’t order. We ended up with two full banana leaf set lunches, but we insisted on getting the crispy vegetables we ordered as an appetizer, but cancelled our initial order, which in the end was fine by us. We ordered two appetizers - crispy vegetable and tandori cauliflower.The crispy vegetables consisted of chucky and mostly whole vegetables mixed with lentle flour and fried. Crispy and nearly greaseless the crispy vegetables were surprisingly hardy and filling for an appetizer.The second appetizer we titled “tandori cauliflower” an item we had in Penang at another banana leaf restaurant and we had been dreaming about it since. The cauliflower provides a soft and creamy consistency with a tangy thick coating of spices that stays crispy and tart after frying – delicious!In the end the meal was completely too much for us to finish, but as our first meal of many in Singapore it was a sign of the good eats to come!