Archives for category: food

I like to think I’m quite adventurous about what I eat but actually, I’m not. So far I’ve had some wonderful food and I’ve avoided what is possibly still wonderful food, I just have no intention of eating it. Ever.

The first – Yes, it’s the fish head curry. I’m sure it’s delicious and it’s a local speciality. This place is always packed and I keep telling myself to go and experience it but then that little voice in my head sings…. Pop goes the eyeballs.

fish head curry

The second is another speciality restaurant that we see as we stroll to the shops. There are two tanks outside – one is full of live crabs (Chill crab, don’t mind if I do!), the other is full of frogs. The kids think these are pets and Ned is quite keen to keep one in the shower. I don’t have the heart to tell him they are the key ingredient in Frog Porridge. It almost sounds like you’d eat it in a michelin starred restaurant as a taste sensation and not in a backstreet cafe for breakfast. Either way I’m going to complete my time in Singapore without consuming a frog or keeping one as a pet.

When I was in Japan I was taken out by one of my lovely group of ladies that lunch (and study English conversation really half-heartedly) and they insisted I ate a live sea urchin as part of a posh lunch. I’ve never quite recovered. I definitely remember drinking barrels of beer to wash it down, and then singing a lot of karaoke and after that it all fades into a distant hazy fishy drunken memory.

On the flipside

One of the best things I’ve eaten here is at a chain of restaurants called Din Tai Fung. (This chain is also in New York and Australia making it less exotic as I write). It serves Taiwanese steamed buns amongst other things called xiaolongbao. I was taken here by Aly from Thailand and her gorgeous mother when she visited Singapore from Chiang Mai. There are some people in life that are real ‘ladies’, proper ladies, and Aly’s mother is one of them. When we entered the restaurant you can see the chefs preparing these tiny buns ready to steam. Our conversation went roughly like this.

Aly’s mum: I wish someone had told me how to eat these when I first came here as I totally didn’t know what to do!
Me: (Feeling very suspicious that there was going to be a sea urchin involved) What’s the deal?
Aly’s mum: Well I was hungry and popped the whole thing in my mouth and bit it. And you know they very cleverly insert soup in to it so I scalded my mouth and ran around the restaurant screaming. We’ll get Aly to show you how to eat them as I’m a bit clumsy at it.
Me: Aly, how do I eat the soupy bun without squirting it over your mum?

So it transpires that you lift it delicately out of the steamer into your spoon where you then carefully insert your chopstick into it piercing the bun. The soup then streams onto your spoon. You then sip the soup and eat the bun. Delicious! And in all the countries I’ve visited no one has ever told me how not to make a total arse of myself in public so beautifully.

dai tai fung

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It’s been a quiet week after the swamps last week. There is sports day, clubs starting, friends to play with and friends to be made.

I have also had my first foray into the world of asian cooking. The lovely Aly from Bangkok has been my teacher. There is nothing like learning to cook from a real-life person. One of the things I love about food is being able to conjure up events, times and people in my head as I eat. Minx makes her chilli with baked beans and bacon (it’s amazing), Dom makes the best guacamole. Every time I eat them I am with that person, even when I’m not. Aly completely understands this. She was brought up in Bangkok and when she was small her parents would often travel or entertain. Her nanny came from the ‘countryside’ in Thailand so would cook simple regional food for herself and Aly. Food is a comfort blanket the world over.

When I go home I am going to start Food Story Night. You take it in turns for a friend to teach you how to cook a meal their way, a recipe that means something to them. Food and a story, my two favourite things.

So we went to Aly’s favourite place to eat Thai food. If you are in Singapore, I’m talking about the Golden Mile shopping complex off the Nicoll Highway.

Aly orders a selection of dishes for us to try – roast chicken, papaya salad with prawns and another vermicelli noodle salad dish and sticky rice. Before the food comes, the lady running the place puts down a tray of raw cabbage and two small plastic bags. Okaaaay. The plastic bag contained the sticky rice – it wasn’t so much sticky as welded. You prise pieces of rice out of the bag and dunk it in the sauce. After the first mouthful I discovered what the raw cabbage is for. It takes the heat out of your mouth if the food is too spicy. That really works and I ate a fair old bit of raw cabbage with this meal. Aly said that she would order her favourite childhood meal – black spider crabs – but she could guarantee I wouldn’t like it. She’s right, it was a spicy, salty, fishy burn-your-tongue-off-why-would-you-eat-this kind of a taste.

Thai meal with Aly

Then it was time to do ingredients. I got carried away in the supermarket and bought this…

Thai food shopping

I had pandan leaves, thai basil, baby aubergines, thai curry paste, fish sauce, chilli sauce and other stuff….and I should have labelled the bottles in English as now I’m a bit unsure…

I’m still trialling recipes so will share some later but here’s my discovery so far. Chinese food has a trinity of flavours as a base note for most of the food – garlic, ginger and soy. The Thai food that Aly is teaching me to cook has a different base note – garlic, lemongrass and chilli. Fresh and sour. Chalk and cheese.

I’m learning a whole different approach to food. When examining the coriander our conversation went like this:

Aly: …The roots of the coriander are used to flavour Tom Yum Soup.

Me: You mean the stalks.

Aly: No, the roots. Why would you eat the stalks, they’re bitter.

Me: Because Jamie Oliver told me to.

Aly: No, just… No.

And so, I discovered in that moment why in Singapore you always buy your coriander looking like this..

coriander

Love it.

I honestly never know what to cook these days. I love cooking but in Singapore I walk into a supermarket and go blank, really blank. I’m faced with an array of beautiful fruit and veg I’ve never seen before in my life and ingredients I can barely pronounce. I have no idea how to prepare and cook them in a way the kids would not clasp their throats and claim I was ‘poisoning’ them, again.

I am calling this phenomenon ‘menu amnesia’.

We had this phenomenon when I lived in Japan too and my friend Alice famously went grocery shopping for lunch and returned with a lettuce and a loaf of bread.

So, I am on a mission to get to grips with this. I am going to be helped by a very lovely Thai lady who lives on our condo. She doesn’t know it yet, but she is going to give me SE Asian cooking lessons. She invited me for lunch and it was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. When I asked what she had cooked the chicken in she said ‘pandan leaves’. Righty ho.

So, in the supermarket Dom and I decided to buy something completely at random and cook it. We chose these…

choyoto 1

A little bit of googling later I discovered that my vegetable is in fact a fruit (though used as a vegetable) and is known as a choyote, choko, merliton, vegetable pear and a bangalore brinjal. Excellent, I have managed to buy a fruit with an identity crisis.

Later that day I was browsing through my number 1 guilty pleasure – Expat Living Magazine. Sssh, but I love it. It couldn’t be further removed from my expat life but if I ever need some botox while the kids do yoga I know EXACTLY where to go. But then, hold the phone, look what I found…

choyoto2

Now I will forgive Expat Living for its lack of fine-tuned editing and the fact that the list of ingredients didn’t quite match the recipe because it turned out like this and do you know what? It was rather good….

choyoto3

Menu Amnesia 0; Me 1

You can substitute my confused fruit for cucumber.

Choyote Som Tam Salad

Choyote or cucumber
Handful of cherry toms halved
3 spring onions sliced on the diaganol
handful of fresh coriander
1 red chilli (remove the seeds if you know what’s good for you)
12 cooked prawns
Some iceburg lettuce and french beans (tho I used sugar snap peas).

Dressing

1 tablespoon of fish sauce (nam pla)
2 tablespoons of groundnut or plain oil
3 tablespoons of lime
2 teaspoons of light brown sugar

Slice it all finely, throw on the dressing and serve. Yum.

We’re super spoilt here for eating out. Honestly, if I wasn’t (as you know) now best friends with the treadmill and the pool I would seriously need to elasticate all my waist bands.

This is the weekend so far…

Friday night. We meet up with some friends at The Trenchard Arms. Now here’s an oddity – an English style pub that manages not to be ridiculous alongside all the street cafes but stands its ground. The craft beers are all brewed in Singapore and apparently you need the ice to dilute the gin in the gin and (dash of) tonic – always a good sign.

Then we fancied a curry (as you do.) Zaffron Kitchen is further down the East Coast Road. It specializes in North and South indian cuisine. Blimey I thought, that’s an entire sub-continent worth of specials! When we sat down the very efficient manager said ‘we don’t do South Indian food.’ So, that solved that one. North indian food here we come. Chicken tikka wrapped in spinach, chana masala and roti bread. No idea if that is a north indian speciality but it was so good. And spicy. So spicy Dom got hiccups and my eyes watered.

Today, in need of a restorative tonic I wandered to my favourite juice bar in Parkway Parade. Slighty revived by a watermelon, apple and ginger juice. Nearly had to put my sunglasses on to approach the counter but got by with just squinting.

juice

Hmmm peckish now and shopping is hard boring work. On the Joo Chiat Road is the best Vietnamese cafe. I ordered a light nibble – these prawns are wrapped with vermicelli noodles, shredded lettuce and centred around a strip of salad onion. You dunk it in a peanutty chilli sauce. God, it’s amazing.

fat angel

Later on, I suggest cooking some supper. Greeted with a general raspberry from well, the whole family, so noodles it is. Off we go to a backstreet noodle cafe. Fei Fei Wanton Noodles. God the kids love it here. It’s been going since Grandad Fei Fei started it in 1949 and it’s still in the family. Wanton Mee is what they do and it’s always packed. 24 hours a day.

millie at fei fei

Oh lordy, I’ve just realised it’s only Saturday! That is half-a-weekend. I am going for a little lie down…

rambutan

This first appeared on my facebook page when we first arrived. It is now here by popular demand. (Excuse me Facebook people for the repitition!)

So, the kids and I make a solo flight to do a ‘big’ shop. Go to Giant (aptly named) – think Asda, definitely not Waitrose. I am minding my own business yelling at the children, as you do, when an octogenarian Chinese Singaporean Granny accosts me. After much hand waving and shrugging, I work out that she wants my stamps from the check out (think co-op green stamps of old). I don’t believe I said yes, but she joins us anyway. She then waves her arms at me which translates loosely as ‘why are you buying that, you should have rambutan’. I wave furiously back that if she wants to come home with me and make them eat it, great, but I’d rather have my original choice of kiwi fruit. And so it continues.. She then mimes to the children that if they eat all the crap in the trolley they will have teeth like hers. Ned is by now completely sold on the ancient granny with no teeth. I decide to leave them with the trolley and our hijacker while I run around and grab some stuff. I come back to the trolley to see her loudly applauding Millie’s choice of Hello Kitty toilet paper and into the trolley it goes. I then hear much tutting and sharp intakes of breath as I put the beer in, thinking shit, I want gin too. I give up. I will save you the turmoil that was the checkout but our granny got 10 stamps for her pain. As Ned and Millie wave goodbye I point out that I don’t know why they are laughing as they are having rambutan on hello kitty loo roll for lunch………….

Tapas

We had a babysitter, I was wearing lipstick, so it can only mean one thing – a night out! On a recommendation from a family on our condo who actually have a social life we were told to go to mooch around Duxton Hill and particularly to go to a certain tapas bar.

Now, as we know, Dom has had 9 months here as a bachelor boy before the kids and I arrived to cramp his style so he begins to tell me about another place near Duxton Hill.

Dom “You go into a bookshop and get a password and then go into another part of the bookshop and have to give a password, they press a book in the wall and a secret door opens and lets you into a bar.”

Me “A speakeasy! OHMYGOD – LET’S GO!

Dom “It’s only 8pm, we are sober and hungry and have to be home by 11pm”

Me “Dammit”

So we go to the coolest tapas bar. And it was full of very fragrant, beautiful people. Whenever someone wafted past you, you were hit by a sniff of expensive perfume and Elnett. A glass of bubbles later and we ordered a few plates. Tapas are great for the rich and eternally thin as you can get away with clearing your plate with one mouthful, declaring you are full and still pay the same price as a full blown meal. Saying that, the evening was worth every one of our hard earned pennies. Recommend it for people-watching/lovely ambience. For those in Singapore it was Sabio.

Afterward we went to a bar for a last drink which will remain nameless because it was oh so awful in how hard it was trying; and then headed back home. On the way we decided we were hungry – alas the downside of tapas – so we did a quick pitstop on the Joo Chiat Road for a bowl of noodles and a Tiger Beer in our favourite street cafe and watched our local nightlife – more on that later….

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