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TABLE FOR THREE

Three friends and the food they love

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Travel

An Immigrant to the World of Food.

More than a decade ago, when circumstances brought me to the city of Singapore, all I knew was that it was a clean, efficient gateway to the world with glitzy malls and a superb airport. The years have flown by and as I have my eaten my way through the passage of time, Singapore has rewarded me with food experiences that will remain an integral part of my life for a very long time. Along the way, my food horizons have expanded significantly.

Sitting on a Singapore Airlines flight in 2003, I may have predicted a few events and gotten them mostly wrong. But I would not have predicted craving a morning breakfast of Kaya Toast (Kaya is a local jam made with coconut, eggs, pandan and love) dipped in runny soft boiled eggs, spiced up with pepper and soy sauce and washed down with Kopi (the local coffee with its own set of alphabetical suffixes, Kopi – C, Kopi –O. Almost like vitamins, only more nourishing). I would not have thought that poached chicken with rice prepared in chicken broth with dollops of garlic and chilli sauce could set right a hectic morning at work. And not in my wildest imagination would I have thought that craving for late supper would mean Ba Kut Teh (a peppery pork rib soup that is accompanied with salted vegetables, rice and chilies) on Balestier Road.

Yes, the city is a global ‘hub’ of anything and everything. That reflects even in the sheer variety of cuisine available in the restaurants ranging in affordability from astonishing value for money to eye-wateringly expensive. But if you are the sort who loves a local meal, Singapore could reward you with a different meal every day of the year and have a fair bit to spare. In a city of immigrants, what is local is difficult to define. But there is something unique about being an immigrant in Singapore. You feel like a local not by what you do or how you speak. You feel local by how you eat. The day you stand in queue at a hawker centre and order your first plate of prawn noodles, have it served to you in minutes, help yourself to the sambal in the sauce pot, queue again to order a fresh fruit juice or a cold barley, and then train your eyes to spot an empty seat –you’ve settled in. You start having favourite hawker stalls, because the prawns are good, because the aunty gives you a familiar smile and knows your preference, you think nothing of selecting dried tofu skin and extra fish balls for your yong tau fu as if you have done it all your life. There is no easier way to settling in. It helps if you are ready to eat anything. It helps if anything is mostly delicious local food that is an amalgamation of centuries of different cultures, carried to its shores by commerce and conquest.

I used to be a regular at the Serangoon Gardens Hawker centre in Singapore. It’s a large, bright hawker centre that offers a wide variety of fare. Lunch hour brings out office workers in droves to sample the many delights dotted all over Serangoon Gardens. As I walked around, I would contemplate my choices. I could opt for a plate of fried Ipoh Hor Fun (flat rice noodles with some greens and fried dumplings), or maybe some Nasi Lemak (Malay-style rice served with a selection of meat, vegetables and dried anchovies). Ultimately, I may settle for a Black Carrot Cake (made entirely of radish and eggs with chilies and dark soy sauce) and washed it down with a glass of fresh sugarcane juice.

Continue reading “An Immigrant to the World of Food.”

I Dreamt. I Ate. I am Dreaming.

‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ is one of those must watch documentaries that explains the passion of one man to his craft. We know the strict codes that apply to guests who are lucky to find a seat at the high temple of sushi. There is a moment in the film where the father encourages the son to take wings and fly. A perhaps lesser known fact that is that they operate as two branches of the same establishment. The fish is sourced each morning by the two sons together.

Knowing that we had no chance of landing at the original in Ginza, we were lucky to score reservations at the Roppongi branch. So the inevitable question – was it worth it? How good can sushi get? My answer – never has my tongue felt like it was simultaneously in a temple and a decadent geisha house.

The set up is stark and immaculate. The service is quick. It is omakase. Around 15 pieces of sushi (please notify in advance if you want some sashimi). Each piece is customised so that the clientele can eat comfortably, not struggle with the size of the bite, feel full but not stuffed while alternating between silence, sighs and blabber.

Sukiyabashi Jiro in Roppongi is also foreigner friendly with English conversation, explanations around each fish, the rationale behind the flavouring or the cut.

When you leave with your heart filled with joy, your mind processing the incredible experience you’ve just had, you whole being feeling elevated at having experienced one of the great dining privileges on this planet, your watch will show that you were there for a mere 45 minutes. But time stops still at Jiro’s.

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The Master. And his craftsmen. 

The Perfect Pint

The pleasures of a beer in Japan are many. It’s a tradition to start any evening with Namma Birru, or the Japanese version of a draught. No matter where you are, the pour is perfect. It could be skill, or it could be one of the greatest inventions ever. In a list of birthday/retirement/house-warming/any other reason gifts, this would rank pretty much in the TOP 5 for me. Thank you in advance.

 

Five reasons to move to San Francisco

  1. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana – Where the chef has won awards in Italy for his pizza, where the bartenders can guide you to the finest eating establishments around the city and your fellow diners squabble about your holiday itinerary having not known you 5 minutes ago. Order the Pizza Margherita, but the real surprise star of the show was an appetiser –  The Chorizo Mussels. Toasted bread, tomato chorizo sauce, fresh mussels, cheese. Tony's
  2. Kokkari – Recommended at Tony’s. What food! Divine sole, grilled octopus to die for. Fine dining, but a lively vibe. Go with an appetite.
  3. Hog Island Oyster Company – Recommended at Kokkari. It’s a great way to eat through a city. Happy with a meal? Ask the staff where to dine next! This is an institution attracting tourists and locals in droves. The name says it all. Fresh oysters, amazing fish soup, views of the wharf. Slurp the sea.
    Continue reading “Five reasons to move to San Francisco”

Chinese Pizzas and Hamburgers

There is something about trade. And the ancient trade routes. Proof that humanity has always needed something from somewhere else. Proof that we, as a species, are where are because our ancestors journeyed for days and years to find the things that are now found in neat ordered boxes in modern supermarkets. Proof that we decided that their food was pretty alright too, and while we were at it, it may taste better if put some of our own food and created something new.
Yunnan brings all of this alive. Like the other trading hotspots of the medieval ages. Cape Town, Cochin, Xian…think of the food, think of the influences. To this conversation, I bring you the Chinese Pizza and the Chinese Hamburger. Very modern names for Chinese flavored fillings in to flat breads that are distinctly Central Asian in shape, origin and texture.

Continue reading “Chinese Pizzas and Hamburgers”

The Island with the Not-so-secret Sauce

 

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Sun, Sea, Sand and Skewers

We imagine tropical islands to have most of the following boxes checked to create the sauce for a great getaway. Blue seas, swaying coconut trees, markets full of fresh seafood and vegetables, welcoming locals, good food and great options to spend a day or a week tuning off from the world we know. In South East Asia, the names roll off the tongue easily – Bali, Phuket, Koh Samui, Langkawi. Destinations that have built their names over decades of weary travelers checking most of those boxes as they seek their own piece of paradise. To that list I add Phu Quoc. Some of you with bases in this part of the world may regard it as old hat, but it is relatively new territory for most. Checks all the boxes and adds the unique Vietnamese touches of robust coffee, herbs and a judicious use of fish sauce.

Continue reading “The Island with the Not-so-secret Sauce”

The Snow Dragon Tofu

 

Apparently the horsemen who traveled the Southern Silk Route through Yunnan would make extended pitstops in Li Jiang. What remains of the ancient trading towns are beautifully preserved, UNESCO recognized tourist traps. But it’s hard to ignore the scale of the these towns that are more than a thousand years old. In the month of December, the weather is beautiful, the air is ripe for eating and the Snow Dragon Mountain plays hide and seek with the clouds. On this particular day, it mostly hid.

But there we were walking the familiar unfamiliar streets of Shuhe old town on Day 2 of our Yunnan adventure. Starting with a late lunch of a hotpot of free-range black chicken and eight kinds of edible mushrooms, we had picked our way through a ‘Chinese pizza’, a sesame ‘Chinese shortbread’ and a macchiato that was a poorly disguised Cappuccino.  More on all of that in another post.

Continue reading “The Snow Dragon Tofu”

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