Chinese New Year!

This Chinese New Year we welcomed the Year of the Dragon!

There were lots of sweets 🙂

And Pineapple Tarts :P~

We gave and received red packets.

And Mandarin Oranges too!

We cooked and ate delicious steamboat on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

We also went shopping for plants and sold our laziness. This is Steve. Say “Hi!” Steve.

We watched Lion Dance performances.

And tossed Yu Sheng.

It was so much fun and I can’t wait til next year to do it all over again 🙂

Apologies and Best Wishes!

Apologies first, as some of you may know I got married in December, and the effort required to finish organising and preparing for the big day kept me a little bit too occupied to make any posts. Now that it’s all over and done with and I am enjoying married life, I will do my best to make more time to eat and post (especially the eat part :P).

Best wishes to all my readers for the new year ahead. May 2012 bring you health, wealth, happiness, travel and many meals that are Damn Shiok!

Popiah!

I’m a big fan of popiah, and I’ll even admit that when there was a good popiah stall near my work, I would often have it for dinner several nights a week. Sadly that stall closed down, but I still often eat popiah when I find a good stall, or my wife and I will share one popiah as a side dish to our main dishes at some of our local foodcourts.

Popiah means “thin wafer” and this refers to the thin, crepe-like skin which is spread with a sweet sauce and chili and is wrapped around the delicious filling. The filling is mainly made up finely grated turnip, which has been cooked with other ingredients such as bean sprouts, french beans and lettuce leaves and sometimes grated carrots. Often hard-boiled egg or sliced omelette is added to this filling, as well as finely chopped peanut before the whole thing is rolled up tight like a fresh spring roll, and then sliced before serving.

The same or a very similar filling to that used in popiah is also used in Kueh Pie Tee, a small crispy pastry cup which is then stuffed with filling. As such, it is common for popiah stalls to also sell kueh pie tee.

Two freshly made popiah rolls packaged to take-away (da bao).

Popiah is of Fujian/Teochew origins and so it is commonly eaten in those areas of China, as well as in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. It is quite common in Singapore for people to have Popiah Parties, in which all the popiah ingredients are provided and guests are able to make their own popiah if they like.

While popiah perhaps isn’t as common as some of the other foods I have mentioned, there are still many stalls that sell popiah. And for as little as $1.50 per roll I definitely recommend you give this sweet, tasty delicacy a try.

Yong Tau Foo!

Yong Tau Foo is another very common dish found in foodcourts all over Singapore. Like most Singaporean food, there is a variety of styles and many different ways to have it, however this dish is even more variable than most due to the way in which you buy it. The name Yong Tau Foo means ‘stuffed bean curd’ and this relates to the origin of the dish which began as tofu stuffed with a meat paste of fish and pork but has since expanded to included a wide range of options.

Basic Yong Tau Foo is essentially a clear soup served with a variety of vegetables and other foods, along with a choice of noodles in the soup, or rice alongside it and it is generally eaten with chopsticks and a spoon.

Your usual Yong Tau Foo stall will somewhat resemble the salad bar at an all you can eat buffet, there will be several shelves displaying many bowls and platters containing some seafood, fishballs, tofu, hard-boiled eggs, and a variety of fresh vegetables, some of which are stuffed with meat paste. There is usually a stack of bowls and tongs handy, so all you need to do is select the food you would like (6 or 7 items are usually included in the standard price), put them in your bowl and hand them over to the aunty or uncle doing the cooking. You will also need to let them know whether you want rice or noodles, and what type of noodles, and whether you would like it wet or dry (with or without soup).  They will then chop up any bigger pieces of food, boil up the food and noodles, throw it back in the bowl and cover it with soup. Make sure you to grab yourself some chilli and brown sauce to go with it.

A steaming hot bowl of Yong Tau Foo with carrot, tomato, tofu, fried hard-boiled egg, brinjal, kang kong, and bee hoon noodles, topped with beans and spring onion.

Because there are so many options with Yong Tau Foo, it is not uncommon for two bowls two look very different depending on your choice of ingredients. The bowl below contains broccoli, chinese cabbage, tofu, hard-boiled egg, okra (ladies fingers), a green chili and bee hoon noodles.

As well as the standard soup or dry option, many stalls will also give you the choice to have your Yong Tau Foo in a laksa soup, a curry gravy or Ampang style, which originates in Ampang Malaysia and is served in a brown gravy-like sauce. For good Ampang Yong Tau Foo I recommend Ngee Fou Restaurant on Upper Thomson Road.

While Yong Tau Foo is not entirely a vegetarian dish, as some of the soups may contain meat stock, and some of the food choices do include fish/meat paste, one can make this dish vegetarian by choosing only non-meat ingredients and by having it dry with rice.

Hor Fun!

‘Hor Fun’ refers to a broad flat Chinese noodle made from rice. It is generally white in color, broad, and somewhat slippery with a slightly elastic chewy texture. In Singapore Hor Fun is served in a variety of different ways, and while it is not as common as other dishes I have introduced it is still found in many food courts across the country.

Hor Fun is most commonly served in a light coloured gravy or a similar looking egg sauce (though this varies from stall to stall) and is usually accompanied by vegetables such as cabbage, chye sim and mushrooms as well as either beef, fish or other seafood. The gravy has a sweet salty flavour which goes well with the noodles, and many people will enjoy this dish with sliced green chili to add some sour spice. Below is a photo of the vegetarian Hor Fun served at the great vegetarian food stall at Coffee City, Block 728, Ang Mo Kio Ave 6.

Fried Hor Fun (Dry) is less common, perhaps due to its similarity to Char Kway Teow, but I’m still going to mention it because I really enjoy this dish. Its ingredients are similar to the wet Hor Fun shown above, but it is lightly fried in oil rather than served in sauce and I feel this gives it a fresher lighter taste, and making a great dish for those who don’t like heavy sauces. Below is a photo of the Fried Hor Fun from the same vegetarian stall.

Another way in which hor fun noodles are served in Singapore is in a dish known as Ipoh Hor Fun. As you can expect from the name, this dish originated in the city of Ipoh, Malaysia. In this dish the hor fun noodles are often thinner and softer and are served in either soup or a brown gravy and topped with shredded chicken and prawns.  Below is a photo of the vegetarian Ipoh Hor Fun from Mai Zhi Su Vegetarian, which serves the brown sauce version of the dish.

If my friends in Perth develop a liking for Ipoh style Hor Fun, there is actually a very good restaurant on Canning Hwy in Applecross named Ipoh Garden, where they serve an authentic Ipoh Hor Fun, as well as a delicious sticky date pudding.

MOS Burger

If you’re going to have junk food while you’re in Singapore, then this is one place you should definitely check out. MOS Burger is a Japanese burger chain, which offers a range of Japanese and Western style burgers and hot dogs, as well as fries, sides, and drinks.

If you are keen to try something different, you actually have two options other than a standard bread burger bun. If you are looking for a lighter, healthier option you can have a ‘Natsume Burgers’ which is essentially the regular burger insides, but wrapped up in fresh lettuce rather than being sandwiched between bread. The other option  is the rice burger, which simply uses two round slices of compacted sticky rice as bread instead of your regular burger bun.

There are many flavours of burgers including teriyaki chicken, yakiniku beef, ebi (crumbed prawn), fish, kakiage, and for vegetarians like myself there are Kinpira Rice Burgers or Korokke (croquette) Burgers which come in regular and curry flavour. Their signature burger is probably the MOS Cheeseburger or Spicy MOS Cheeseburger, which is a beef patty topped with a slice of tomato, a slice of cheese and a tasty minced meat sauce, similar to a bolognese sauce. While this burger can get a little messy when you are trying to eat it, is worth the effort.

The burgers are perhaps on the small size by Western standards, though McDonalds burgers seems to be getting smaller and smaller every year, so who knows these days. Keeping that in mind, a MOS Burger meals may not completely fill up a bigger eater, but it definitely makes a great afternoon tea, or a nice light lunch after a big breakfast.

Below is one of my regular meals at MOS Burger; a curry korokke burger, large fries, medium milk tea and a delicious apple pie.

When it comes to beverages, I recommend you try the milk tea as it is very refreshing, and the milk is served on the side so you can add more or less to taste. If tea is not your thing then I try a sugary grape soda, or a MOS thick shake (however these are only served in certain outlets).

The first MOS Burger store opened in Tokyo in 1972, and since then they have established a strong presence across south-east asia. If you are wondering how MOS Burger got its name;

‘M’ stands for Mountain – dignified and noble.

‘O’ stands for Ocean – wide and vast.

‘S’ stands for sun – vibrant and life-giving.

For a look at more of their delicious menu, please see http://www.mosburger.com.sg/mos_menu.php

So if you’re keen to try a decidedly Japanese take on the traditional fast food burger joint, you should definitely drop into MOS Burger while you are in Singapore. With almost 30 outlets across the country, you should have no trouble finding one.

Mee Siam

Mee Siam is a delicious dish and one that has a unique spicy, sweet and sour flavour all of its own. It is a Nonya dish and its name means ‘Noodles of Siam’. Nonya is a term used to describe descendants of Chinese immigrants who settled in this region of South East Asia during the 15th and 16th century.

Mee Siam is a dish of thin rice noodles (vermicelli also known locally as bee hoon) served in a spicy, sweet and sour light gravy. It is commonly served with fresh bean sprouts, dried bean curd, tamarind, a sliced hard-boiled egg, and garnished with spring onions and Chinese chives. You should always add some chilli (if you can take it) and a squeeze of fresh lime juice for a little more zesty sourness.

Mee Siam is not essentially a vegetarian dish as there is often prawn paste used in the making of the gravy, but for those vegetarians who are willing to overlook this I am sure you will enjoy this delicious dish. In many food courts you will find hawker stalls that serve this dish, and for $2.50 to $3.00 per bowl, it is hard to say no.

So Many Desserts, So Little Time.

When it comes to dessert in Singapore there are so many options, that it’s surprising I’m not a fatty boomba already. Between the many local options, including Chinese, Malay and Indian desserts, to the variety of western desserts available, there is surely something for everyone. Today I will be looking at two of my local favourites, the good old ice cream sandwich which is available on street corners everywhere, and the classic Ice Kachang, which comes in many varieties and is a perfect treat on a hot day.

Now my friends in Australia, may be familiar with the ice cream sandwich their, as a serve of ice cream smooshed between two soft chocolate biscuit pieces, but in Singapore it can be a little bit closer to a real sandwich than what you might expect.

An ice cream sandwich, made of a slice of Raspberry Ripple (Stroberi) ice cream served in a piece of Rainbow coloured bread. This delicious dessert is sold on street corners everywhere in Singapore, by smiling Uncles and Aunties who usually have a large ice chest attached to the side car or a motorcycle or bicycle, filled with a variety of flavours of ice cream. The ice cream is cut from big rectangular blocks by a knife or cleaver and comes in a variety of flavours ranging from your standard chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, to more interesting options such as sweetcorn, durian and redbean. The bread is coloured to make it more appealing as a dessert but for those who aren’t keen on bread and ice cream together, you are able to have it served in a cup or between two wafer pieces.  The most you should pay for this wonderful treat is $1.

Ais Kacang is another local dessert found in food courts throughout Singapore and Malaysia, the name literally means Ice Beans, and in its regular form this dessert is a bowl of red beans, attap chee (delicious palm seeds) and agar-agar (jelly cubes) covered in a mountain of shaved ice, then drizzled with three colours of syrup and finally topped with sweetened condensed milk.  Different stalls will include different ingredients and so sometimes you may find sweetcorn, cendol,  grass jelly, nata de coco or aloe vera also in the mix.  A basic Ice Kachang will cost you a $1.50 – $2.00, but there are many alternatives which may cost up to $3 or $4 such as Durian Ice Kachang (shown below), Peanut Ice Kachang or even Ice Cream Ice Kachang.

This bowl of Durian Ice Kachang was from a dessert stall in Ang Mo Kio, and came topped with a serving of sweetened Durian Custard. If you’re not already aware of Durian, it is a sweet but extremely pungent fruit sold throughout S.E. Asia, and in fact its smell is so strong that it is illegal to carry it in many places in Singapore including taxis, public transport, and indoors in many buildings. Durian is a fruit with no middle ground, people either love or hate it with a passion, and once you taste it you will know about it for hours afterwards. This is one is definitely only for the very brave, so if you’re a little unsure I recommend you stick to a regular Ice Kachang instead.

Roti Prata!

Roti Prata is one of my favourite meals in Singapore and I can eat it any time of day, breakfast, lunch, dinner or supper. Roti Prata is a flour based bread that is fried on a flat grill. It is flat like a pancake and it can be prepared with a variety of different fillings including such things as egg, cheese, sausage, chilli, floss, pineapple, mushroom, garlic, onion and also sweet ingredients such as chocolate, banana, milo, or sweetened condensed milk.  Of course you can combine several of these ingredients in one prata to make delicious combinations, pineapple cheese is one of my favourites. The filling is usually stuffed inside the prata before it is fried, though there are other variants such as a plaster, where a prata is fried inside a wrapping of egg.

Prata is served with curry which you can either dip your prata in or you can ladle large spoonfuls over your prata, the latter is generally preferred when eating with company. The curry itself comes in different flavours include chicken, fish and a vegetarian option. The combination of a cheese prata coated in delicious curry is something you must experience. The curry is more flavoursome than spicy, but for those who can’t take much spice, you can do as many Singaporean kids do, and sprinkle a nice helping of sugar over your prata making it more like a sweet pancake. In fact roti prata is often referred to as Indian Pancakes and as such you will rarely hear the phrase ‘flat as a pancake in Singapore’ because people will often say ‘flat like roti prata’ instead.

My apologies that the photo below is not of a full meal, but our passion for prata means that we rarely remember to take a photo until we are halfway through our food. The photo shows (from top to bottom) the remains of an egg cheese prata, a plate of mee goreng with chilli sauce, a bowl of delicious curry gravy, two kosongs (plain prata) and half a cheese prata.

Prata can be found all over Singapore, and as always people will have their opinion on which store makes the best prata, though this is greatly affected by whether you prefer your prata crispy and hard like a biscuit or with a softer texture.

Our favourite place to go for Roti Prata is Casuarina Curry (not to be confused with Casuarina Prison in Perth) located at 136 Casuarina Road (Off Upper Thomson). We go to this restaurant on a regular basis, in fact at one point we were going so often, and I was eating so much cheese prata, that one of the staff began referring to me as the ‘Cheese Ambassador’. The staff in this place have amazing memories and depsite never using notepads, they can correctly take an order for a table of ten people, and still recite the order an hour later, if there is any question about the bill. It really is ridiculous how well they remember orders.

No matter how often we go, we never tire of the food here, especially due to the large variety of options available. As well as prata, you can try Murtabak, crispier prata filled with denser fillings such as vegetables or meat; Thosai a soft bread with a pancake like texture that is folded in a triangle around delicious fillings like potato masala. If you’re not in the mood for bread, there is also a variety of fried noodles and fried rice such as Mee Goreng, Maggi Goreng, Bee Hoon Goreng and Nasi Goreng, or you can also have a Briyani set, the vegetarian briyani set is a delicious pile of fresh steamed rice served with several different curries and vegetable dishes.

The photo of the menu below will show just how wide the range is, and also just how happy I am when I go out to eat prata.

The reverse side of the menu is covered with drinks, including everything from soft drinks, tea and coffee, to flavoured Lassi and lime or coconut juice. If you’re feeling adventurous I recommend the Teh Halia, a spicy and sweet ginger tea which will also aid your digestion. Though you also can’t go wrong with a Teh Tarik, a pulled tea, whereby the tea maker pours the tea between two mugs from increasing distances until the tea is frothy and light.

Dessert prata are also quite common, such as those filled with sweetened condensed milk, or banana and caramel, as well as tissue or paper prata which is cooked in a cone or bridge shape and covered with sweet syrups such as the chocolate paper prata I am peering through in the next photo.

If you’d like to see a prata man in action as he stretches out the dough for two plain prata you can check out the Youtube link attached:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5W_5ZVHNpQ

No matter how long or short your stay in Singapore, you should definitely make the time to try this delicious piece of the Singaporean food puzzle.

Forget coffee, it’s all about the Kopi!

Kopi! I will do a full post on beverages later, but I really thought that Singaporean Coffee (Kopi) deserved a post all to itself.

The standard Kopi is a strongly brewed dark, thick coffee and rather than using fresh milk and sugar, a few teaspoons of sweetened condensed milk is added, which makes for a lovely dark, milky brown mixture with enough sweetness and no bitterness at all.

In foodcourts and kopitiams (coffeeshops) it is usually served in a glass mug, though if you want to take it with you (da bao) it will be handed to you in a clear plastic bag with strings on top. If you really don’t think you can manage drinking hot coffee with a straw a lot of shops will make it in a styrofoam cup for you these days.

Kopi in Singapore has a language of its own, made up of parts of the locals dialects as well as short-forms, so learning to order a coffee the way you like it is like deciphering a cold-war secret code. Here is a rough guide to help you out.

  • Kopi = Standard rich coffee with sweetened condensed milk
  • Kopi C = Kopi with evaporated milk and normal sugar add. The C is for Carnation a common brand of evaporated milk. This is probably the closest to your standard “white with one sugar”.
  • Kopi O = Black coffee with sugar added.

Now there are a number of further adjectives you can add to further adapt your coffee.

  • Bing or Ice = Adds ice to your coffee, a kopi-bing is definitely a must try when you’re sweating in the warm weather.
  • Kosong = The Malay word for zero, this means no sugar, as coffees will always come sweetened unless you ask.
  • Gau = Rhymes with cow, this means you want a stronger brew of coffee.
  • Po = Will get you a weaker brew of coffee.
  • Siu Dai = Essentially less sweet, this will mean they add less sweetened condensed milk or sugar to your kopi.
  • Gah Dai = Is more sweet and will get you an extra dose of sweetness and put you on the road to diabetes.
  • Da Bao = Rhymes with Da Cow 🙂 This means you want it in a packet, so this is the same as take-away or to-go.

So if you want a white coffee with no sugar take-away you’ll end up with something like this “kopi-c-kosong-da bao.” Don’t worry if you’re still lost it takes a while to get used to.  All of the above can be used to order a tea as well, just replace the word kopi with teh (pronounced almost like tay) and you can do the same thing. Now see if you can figure out what I’ll end up with if I order a teh-o-kosong-bing.

If your not a coffee or tea person, don’t worry there is such a wide variety of drinks in Singapore that I am sure there will be something you will love, and I’ll talk about them all when I tackle beverages again soon.