Monday, March 28, 2011

Singapore - Eating like a local

This was the view of the city we enjoyed every morning in Singapore. The first thing that went through our minds each morning after waking was "so much to eat with only so much time in the day and space in our bellies."

As you have probably learned about me, I enjoy eating local cuisines. Today instead of eating my favorite ramen (Ippudo) or amazing Peking duck, we wanted to track down some local Singapore meals we had never tried before.

The first thing we needed was a solid breakfast to start off the day. We went to the famous breakfast chain Ya Kun Kaya Toast. You can find one on every street corner, almost like a Singapore Starbucks, except they have Starbucks there too.... This little combo was about $10 for the two of us. It came with a strong, yet sweet coffee with sweetened condensed milk (no one really drinks black coffee, but after enjoying with sweetened condensed milk I could see why) and two poached, runny eggs. I love me a runny egg and this one was best enjoyed with white pepper and soy sauce.

The famous Kaya toast. What they did was toast the bread and cut it down the middle, so the outside was nicely toasted yet soft and warm on the inside. They spread the "kaya" spread which is a sweet coconut custard. My Kaya toast came with gooey warm peanut butter paired with the kaya spread and Emi's was the traditional butter kaya toast. Her toast literally had "pats" of butter, needless to say she loved it.

For lunch we met Carmen near her office at the Amoy Street Food Centre She wanted to share her favorite lunch spot with us that specialized in Nasi Lemak Briyani or fried chicken, chicken rice.

Probably one of my favorite meals of the whole trip, which says a lot for a trip where every meal was unique and amazing. However this was maybe the perfect meal. Fried chicken, fried rice, with a sweat inducing hot sauce poured over it. I'm sweating now just thinking about it, but you know my mouth is watering too. Seriously amazing and I probably looked like a madman eating it with the sweat dripping down my face. Good thing I had a cool refreshing lime juice to cool down my burning yet satisfied mouth. Also the broth on the side helped cool things down a little. The reason why you find spicy foods in so many hot climate countries is because it makes you sweat, which ultimately cools you down.

For dinner we went to the famous 328 Katong Laksa. It seems 328 Katong Laksa is like "Famous Ray's Pizza" in New York. No one knows which one is really the original or the famous location because each location claims to be it. We think this one was the famous one because they had photos of celebrities all over their walls enjoying their Katong Laksa; like Anthony Bourdain and Singapore culinary personalities.

What is Katong Laksa? BOOM, this amazing curry soup above. Basically it's a thick, coconut milk based curry like soup filled with noodles, shellfish (prawns and cockles), with a spicy kick to it.

Emi enjoying the soup. When it first came out I didn't think it would be enough, but this stuff is pretty rich and filling. The cockles (little clams) added a nice little seafood flavor to the sweet and spicy soup.

Again being a warm and humid night paired with another spicy dish, what did we order, of course more lime juice!

Since one of our hosts is allergic to coconut (doesn't always stop her from eating it) she went across the street to pick up some Filipino food, which was perfect for me because I wanted to knock another cuisine off the list. She came back with some delicious crispy pork belly.

The garlic fried rice that came with the pork belly. Not like I wasn't already full, but how can you say no to crispy fatty chunks of bacon?!

A common theme with our host Jamie; sweets. Here is with his assortment of desserts and pastries. He's like a little kid, when he sees anything sweet (as he did, while we were walking to the restaurant) nothing is stopping him.

This was a really fun day of eating for us and I'm sure if you've ever met anyone who has lived in Singapore they would recognize each and every one of the dishes we enjoyed on this food filled day.

- Kyle

Friday, March 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Hubby!

Just want to take a second away from our many Singapore blog posts to say Happy Birthday to my gastronomical partner in crime, Kyle. Becca, one of my best friends, said in our toast at our wedding that we made the perfect couple because she has never seen two people love food so much. I'm lucky to have found my match and someone who doesn't think I'm too crazy for wanting honey glazed chicken wings at 2AM (OK, he did think I was crazy and we nearly broke up over it, but that is all in the past....)

We are celebrating tonight with a hearty Italian meal at La Spiga which I am sure will eventually make the blog!

Happy Eating,

Singapore - IppuBOOM - The Best Ramen in the World Part 3

Ippudo, the world's best ramen. I've blogged about them many times and have enjoyed their tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen more times than I can count. Emi and I first fell in love with this magical place when we studied abroad in Japan. Over the years I've met and conversed with many Ippudo fanatics from around the world. Most recently we enjoyed Ippudo Singapore.

We met our friends for lunch at Ippudo, which was located in a nice shopping mall off Orchard Road basically the nicest street in Singapore, think Hermes, Louis Vuitton, etc.

The miso tonkotsu ramen.

The Akamaru Kasaneaji tonkotsu ramen with tender pork belly. The broth was exactly how we remembered it, but the portion wasn't as big as I was hoping. Still one of our favorite dishes of all time and now I can say I've had Ippudo in three different countries.

Emi's first taste of Ippudo's famed ramen in almost three years.

Do whatever you have to, to get out to Ippudo. Flying to New York is probably the easiest, but if I had to choose between the different locations, the ones in Tokyo are definitely still my favorite.

- Kyle

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Singapore - Heaven and Hell

Ever since returning from Singapore, things just don't taste the same. Maybe it's the fact that we spent a whole week gorging ourselves and my tastebuds got burnt out from the flavor explosions I experienced. Maybe it's that the food we have in Seattle is toned down compared to Singapore. Maybe it's just that I am now looking back at my meals, putting them on the highest pedestal, and with time, they will be so legendary in my mind that I will forever be on an elusive quest for a meal that lives up to them. Oh, the drama!

During the week, Kyle and I tried to do some touristy sight-seeing so that we could have a line of defense when his parents inevitably asked, "did you guys do anything besides eat?" This is the same comment they made when we were "studying" abroad in Japan, so we had to take a couple photos of us studying in class.

We wandered around Chinatown one day, which ended up being really interesting, especially since Singapore has a large Chinese population and much Chinese influence. You can see Kyle above in front of the main gate, trying to pretend he is a real Singaporean.

Hmmm...what do you know?! As soon as we entered Chinatown, we found some food. Durian season had just begun when we came to Singapore. We have never tried Durian and wanted to taste the popular fruit sometime during the trip. After traveling half way across the globe we ended up being served by a UW Biology graduate!

Here I am, looking so naive. Little do I know, that in about 4 seconds I will eat something that will nearly make me gag. There isn't a lot of food in this world that I have the urge to spit out, but durian just about made that list. Maybe my UW Biology friend made it funky, but I couldn't get over the rancid taste and the paste-like texture of the fruit that was stuffed inside a bland pancake. There were elements of it that tasted like passion fruit, but it was quickly overtaken by pure rotteness. The fruit also stinks, which is why all the stores in Chinatown have a "NO Durian" sign in addition to no pets, no smoking, etc...Now I see why.

Naturally, it was time to wash down that awful experience with something delicious. Good thing we found a little beverage shop with fresh coconuts that were ready for us to break open and suck the refreshing water out of. As we sat and relaxed, there were two blackbirds that were having a really good time dunking their heads into the extra coconuts that are in the background of the photo. It was really cute and I liked sharing a cold drink with the birdies.

In fact, I liked it so much that we decided to stay a bit longer for a cold beer. In Singapore, it is typical for a round of drinks to be equivalent to a week's paycheck; when we saw beer for $5, we couldn't pass up a good bargain. Tiger beer is like the Bud Light of Singapore and is perfect on a hot day.

Carmen and Jamie then took us to Altitude, the highest roof top bar in the World, for drinks and to watch the sunset. It was absolutely gorgeous and provided the perfect bird's eye view of the city.

Ahhh, how do you describe heaven? I don't even know where to start with the meal we had with Carmen, Jamie and their friends at Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck Restaurant. I mean, 'cmon, the name itself is says it all. It is a treasure, and it was super, and ohhhh....the peking duck!

Check out the chef, who comes out to the table to slice up your duck. You take the crispy slices of skin and dip them in a little hoisin sauce and sugar--that's right, I said sugar! What an incredibly genius idea! The crispy duck skin, which is salty and fatty tasting, absorbs the sweetness of the sugar and the flavor is amplified to create the perfect flavor profile in my world. It melted into my tastebuds, and I had to close my eyes for a minute to enjoy the full experience. I think I scared their friends.

Honestly. How can you look at this and not want to hop on the next flight to Singapore for some juicy peking duck???

Once I was done with my completely embarrassing worship of the duck skin, I managed to calm myself enough to roll up the duck with some cucumber and green onion in a thin crepe. I am not joking when I say my mouth is watering right now and I just might have to seek out duck for dinner tonight.

In addition to duck, we also had hot and sour soup, which was delicious.

We also had some type of tofu dish that was surprisingly amazing. It was rich and creamy and oh so flavorful. I had no idea tofu could be so sexy.

My life seems more complete after having this meal. On one end of the spectrum, I had some nasty durian and my tastebuds were shocked that I would assault them with such an offensive flavor; to make up for it, I gave those tastebuds the treat of their lifetime with that tasty, amazing slice of heavenly peking duck.

Happy Eating,

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Singapore - Hookah, Drinks, and Dinner on Arab Street

When I heard hookah and beer, I said "Sign me up!" Our friend told us she had planned drinks and hookah followed by dinner on Arab Street. For anyone not familiar with hookah, it's basically a Middle Eastern influenced water pipe used to smoke sugar/honey infused tobacco. The tobacco is very wet and sticky and comes in a variety of flavors from your more traditional apple to even combinations like orange, mango, mint. Not sure why a lot of people think it's illegal. So let me clear things up, there are no drugs involved, you just won't find them all that often in the US anymore because of the indoor smoking bans. If you've never tried it before you would probably be surprised by how smooth and flavorful the smoke is and it's the perfect accompaniment to a beer. Usually I like to smoke hookah after a big meal, but this time it was a pre-meal activity.

The hookah was off to the side of the table, not to be confused with the lantern on the table.

Emi with her Singapore Sling which we had to try since we were in....Singapore. It was super sweet. The drink originated at the Raffles Hotel back in the early 1900's, but to get one there would run you about $30 so we went with the cheaper version on Arab Street. It's made with gin, cherry liquor, grenadine, pineapple juice, lemon juice, and bitters.

For dinner we met a group of people at Alaturka, a Turkish restaurant off Arab Street. We were excited to try it out because we are planning our summer Mediterranean cruise that will stop off in Turkey.

Alcohol isn't served at most of the restaurants off Arab Street because of Islamic practices. Instead we enjoyed apple tea, which really was like hot, sweet apple cider.

Coban Salata - a traditional Turkish salad - diced cucumber, tomatoes and onions. Served with feta cheese and olives in olive oil and lemon dressing. Reminded me of a Greek salad, but I'm sure somewhere along the lines of history someone conquered one or the other so who knows if a Greek salad is really a Turkish salad?

Lavash bread - balloon bread with sesame seeds. When they bring this out it literally is filled with hot air and looks like a balloon. You break off pieces and dip it in all of the different mezes (cold appetizers).

Haydari - Middle Eastern home-made yoghurt, herb, and garlic dip. Great with the lavash bread.

Meze Tabagi - assorted platter of popular mezes (cold appetizers) - hummus, babakanus (roasted eggplant with yoghurt and garlic dip), saksuka (deep fried diced eggplant in tomato based sauce), patlican (mashed eggplant in garlic dip), ezme (spicy Turkish style tomato dip), potato salad and dolma (rice with traditional Turkish spices wrapped in vine leaves).

Tavuk Sis - the best chicken dish in the house! Grilled chicken chunks on skewer with a smokey flavor. I could have eaten ten of these skewers, the chicken was amazing. Moist, flavorful, and delicious. Chicken kebabs can come out dry, but these were the highlight of the main courses.


Lamb meat patties

Kanafeh - my new favorite dessert. I saw Sunny Anderson from the Food Network on "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" and she highlighted this sweet, unique, amazing dessert. When I saw it on the menu, I pounced. I think everyone was skeptical when it came out, but afterwards we were in love. My biggest regret from this trip was not ordering one for myself, instead of sharing it with everyone. Next time, I might stab a hand to protect this amazing dessert. It's hard to describe, but basically the crispy like cake is fried vermicelli (rice) noodles packed together. Then they pour over pistachios, sweet cheese, honey, and rose water. You've never had a sweeter, lick your plate clean dessert.

Next time I'm out in New York, I'm definitely hitting up Tanoreen which is the place Sunny Anderson recommended because that might be easier than hopping on a plane back to Singapore.

We had a fun evening checking walking around one of the more unique cultural areas of Singapore. They had everything from hand blown Turkish glass to carpets for sale. If you ever make it out to Singapore, definitely a must do.

- Kyle

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Singapore - We're Not in Seattle Anymore

If you've never been to Singapore we highly recommend the trip. Most Americans perceive Southeast Asia as crowded, dirty streets filled with locals riding their scooters. With the perception of the crowded cities also comes the images of secluded white sandy beaches on the outskirts of the cities overlooking crystal clear blue ocean seas. Singapore is neither.

In a nutshell Singapore is a wealthy, thriving city-state that has almost nothing to do with what you might think of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia. All are closely located, but couldn't be any different. You won't find a cleaner, more industrial, organized city in the world. Also there probably isn't an easier country for English speaking tourists to visit. Even though there are multiple cultures and people from all over the world living in Singapore, the common connecting language is English. Also the US dollar is equivalent to around 1.27 Singaporean dollars, so the exchange is pretty simple to figure out as well. However with the level of inflation in Singapore it all evens out as we soon learned.

Singapore felt very familiar because of the language, currency exchange, industrialization, and ease of public transportation use, but obviously had a lot of major differences to what Emi and I would consider the norm.

Since this is a food blog, we wanted to post a photo of the "doctor" fish that ate away the dead skin on our legs and feet. We found multiple Reflexology Fish spas in Singapore. These tiny fish are about an inch long and nibble on your legs and feet to eat off the dead skin which supposedly improves circulation while exfoliating your skin. Who knows if this really works, but it was pretty fun.

Something that we had never experienced before were the Singaporean "to go" bags. Instead of a cup with a lid, they give you drinks in these plastic bags with a straw and a string to carry it on. An old lady on a bike had hot tea in one of these bags and yelled at Emi to "get out of the way!" because she almost spilled her "to go" bag contents on her.

This is a dessert display at... McDonalds! I had to take a photo of this. It's always an interesting experience visiting McDonald's in foreign countries because they are all so unique. In Singapore we were told that they are similar to your local coffee shop or Starbucks. The place was packed with students, families, teens, etc who were plugged in and on their laptops hanging out or studying. It was a nice place too, not like our crappy McDonald's.

Being a very clean nation we didn't see any graffiti, homeless people, and maybe a few scraps of litter throughout our week there. They have also outlawed gum. I guess they look the other way if you chew it, but good luck buying it. People "smuggle" it in from the land connected and "lawless" Malaysia, but in Singapore you just can't find it. I heard it's because they didn't want people jamming up the elevator buttons in the city/state's numerous high rises. As you can see in the photo, mints are king in Singapore and especially Ricola...

Going to the grocery store was an interesting experience. The thing that stood out the most was the cost of alcohol. $125 for a fifth of Grey Goose! In the grocery store! It wasn't just their top shelf liquor either...

For anyone familiar with Carlo Rossi, you never pay more than $10 maybe less (I never drank the crap) because why pay that much for a headache? Also it usually comes in a classy jug... In Singapore a bottle goes for $21 which is outrageous, but it really helped us understand how expensive it is to drink there.

A fine bottle of Yellow Tail, straight from Australia or here in the States your local Costco for $25! Luckily this was one of our first days in Singapore, so we could prepare ourselves for a few nights out drinking on the town.

Other expensive items included dairy. I can buy this exact same milk here in Seattle and out in Singapore it would run you about $30 for a gallon of milk!

Some local Tillamook ice cream, BOOM $18.

We found it interesting that a lot of the processed foods for sale in Singapore were very expensive, but fruits, vegetables, fish, and poultry were super cheap. Probably a reason why everyone was so skinny in Singapore. When you don't have government subsidies lowering your Big Mac or Doritos costs you might change your spending habits a little too....

Emi and I had a fun time diving into the culture of Singapore and were so fortunate to have two gracious hosts to walk us through the experience. The differences we noted were a fun part of the trip, but the food was the focus. Much more to come related to our amazing gastronomical trip.

- Kyle