The Penang Food Trip: third Day (part 2)

After the non-stop eating binge in the morning, we decided to do the touristy thing again and visit Penang Hill. We figured it would do us good to explore the place so that our tummies were ready for the next bout of food tasting. (To be honest, I lost count of the number of meals we had that day.)

Penang Hill is located 6km from the center of Georgetown, and was used as a retreat during the British colonial days. Now it’s a major tourist attraction, with a hotel, nature reserve, museum, gardens and restaurants/cafes. It’s not very tall, only 833 metres high. To get up there, you can take the train from the base station located at its foot.

It’s quite pleasant to be up in the hill, and I can understand why it was used as a retreat as the weather is not scorching hot despite it being a sunny day. For those who don’t want to walk and explore, you can opt to rent a buggy with a driver. But we would rather walk since we had so much food earlier; and Buddy was delighted to see wild monkeys along the road. While strolling around, we kept hearing an animal roaring; and Buddy wondered if there was a tiger somewhere. Of course, judging from the nonchalant attitude of the people there, it didn’t seem like a dangerous beast was on the loose.

It turned out the sound came from the Dinosaur and Aviary Garden. Buddy was excited when he saw the big dino figures and went straight into the garden while I was still wondering if it was worth paying for the entry fee. It turns out there is an admission fee for adults but not kids, which is not surprising. This place is using the kids to get the adults in, because Buddy couldn’t wait to climb onto the T-Rex.

The garden is really no big deal, at least to me, since other than the fake dinos, the birds are mostly made up of peasants, peacocks and some parrots though they are real. Buddy was more interested in the Dinos of course. If you do get pulled in by a kid, be prepared to feed the hoard of hungry mosquitoes in there. You will need DEET to protect yourself from those bloodsuckers.

My husband wanted to check out a colonial restaurant with a beautiful view that comes with an “atas” name of David Brown. We had to climb up a flight of steps to reach it, and it touts itself to be the highest restaurant in Penang.

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I have to say the place is rather serene, and there is a beautiful garden next to the alfresco dining area with a pond in the middle. We decided to have a short break here, and ordered drinks and a dessert of bread and pudding. We would have ordered lunch if not for the fact that we promised my father-in-law that we would take him to this Teochew restaurant for lunch. (He kept talking about this restaurant that we had to oblige.) My husband and Buddy gave the dessert the thumbs up. We should return in our next trip to try the proper food.

At David Brown restaurant, there is an added bonus of a spectacular view of Penang city.

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Now, for that Teochew Restaurant, Goh Swee Kee, located at 5, Jalan Sri Bahari, at George Town. To be honest, we had never heard of this restaurant and didn’t see it being recommended on TripAdvisor unlike Tek Seng. But my father-in-law insisted that the food was very good. Apparently it was the favourite restaurant of my husband’s Uncle who had introduced it to his dad. On the way there, I did a quick research to find out what the signature dishes are. It turns out to be quite popular among the locals.

In Teochew cuisine, the braised duck is a quintessential dish and naturally we had to try it, Besides, I love duck.

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Other dishes included the stir fried egg plants with sambal, the fried Loh-Bak (five-spiced pork roll), and braised cabbage with mushroom.

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I have to say the food was better than what I expected; very tasty and balanced flavors. Like the egg plants, they were cooked to the right texture, not too soggy nor chewy.

The highlight of the meal was the oyster noodle with fresh sambal. Once the sambal was mixed into the noodle, the aroma was amazing! The noodle, soaked in the sauce, and the juicy oysters was so good that we had to order a second plate as my husband was trying hard not to devour everything and would have ended up in a fight with me.

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Even in Singapore, we can only find the oyster noodle in Teochew restaurants though I haven’t tried any. But a related dish that is commonly available is the Fried Hokkien prawn noodle, where basically the prawn replaces the oyster. (On a side note, we discovered a stall that offers fabulous fried prawn noodle, after we returned to Singapore, that would have been even better than this oyster noodle dish in Penang, if it is paired with the fresh sambal. In fact it would have been a dish made in heaven.)

To round off the meal, we had Orh Nee (yam paste with sesame seed, gingko nuts and dried orange peel). Knowing that this dessert is very satiating and the yam paste is really thick, a large spoonful is served on a sauce plate to each guest.

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Our verdict on Goh Swee Kee? It’s two thumbs up! A must-visit restaurant for anyone who visits Penang for its fabulous teochew cuisine.

That evening, which was also the last night in Penang, we wanted to go to the Pulau Tikus Market Hawker Center for hawker food, which is quite close to the coffee shops that we went this morning. However, among checking Google, my husband found out that it was closed. We tried another so-called night hawker street but it turned out to be a pathetic couple of stores. My father-in-law suggested a Hainanese resturant but it was not opened until 7.00PM, and it was not even 6.00PM then. At the end, all roads lead back to Tek Sen, which turns out to be just round the corner.

In addition to my favorite Sambal Kachang Botol, we tried a few new dishes, like this fried tofu with egg white sauce, the bitter-gourd with salted egg, and the prawn paste chicken wings.

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When all else failed, Tek Sen will not disappoint. Indeed, these dishes are just as tasty as expected. Though simple food but very yummy. At least, we had a very satisfying dinner to round off the trip.

Well, I guess you noticed that I didn’t mention anything about the famous Penang Assam Laksa and the Char Kway Teow. It’s not that we did not want to try them, and we did include them in our food tour. The problem is that, because we stayed at Bayan Lebas, which is about 30 minutes’ drive to Georgetown, it was quite a hassle for us to follow through. Plus we had to take into consideration Buddy’s nap, and even my father-in-law wants his nap. The constant to-and-fro travelling was very exhausting for us, and we had to pare down the trips. In fact, both my husband and I suffered from headaches from the exhaustion. We decided that, for the next trip, we should rent an airBnB apartment in Georgetown. We had a car and driver who brought us around, though we also discovered it’s quite easy to Uber around and the fares are pretty cheap (for Singapore standard).

So, if you are planning a food tour in Penang, stay in Georgetown where the best food is, and go for Uber.

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The Penang Food Trip – third day (part 1 updated)

I have to divide day 3 post into two parts because we went to so many places, and naturally so much to write about. Anyway as I was uploading the pictures of the food we had in the morning, I couldn’t stop myself from drooling! In fact, my husband, who walked past the PC then, remarked, “Don’t show them to me! That’s food porn!” I guess it’s obvious how fantastic we think the food was.

That morning, we got up early to go for breakfast at Georgetown, aiming for the coffee shop / hawker fares. We found out that the area around Burmah road and Moulmein Close is where the food gems are, and the coffee shops are located within a stone’s throw of each other. Our first stop is Kedai Kopi Swee Kong, a coffee shop recommended by Niki for its famous claypot sweet Apom and Penang prawn noodle.

Swee Kong, like the other coffee shops at Georgetown, tend to be rather run down, in fact the description “hole in a wall” is an apt one. I didn’t dare go to the toilet there, but my husband’s aunt did. When I asked her, she said it was a squatting toilet. So if that is scary for you, you’d better make sure you empty your bladder before the trip.

Before coming to Penang, I had never heard of Apom. I saw some pictures on the net, and it didn’t look familiar. It was only at Swee Kong that I realized Apom is a paper-thin Crepe that is filled with sugar and desiccated coconut. At this particular stall, Pulau Tikus Claypot Apom, it is made in a claypot as its name implies, which I found out is rather rare in this day and age. Because of this, the apom smells especially good.

An online reviewer mentioned that the apoms sell out quickly and it’s best to be there early. We took the advice to heart and arrived at 8AM. Around the apom stall, I noticed that the tables and chairs were covered with white flakes and wondered why the shop was so dusty. I later realized they are actually desiccated coconut. So the clean freak in me took out anti-bacterial wipes and started cleaning our table and chairs, while my husband lost no time in ordering the food; the apoms, the fishball kway Teow soup and the prawn noodle. (Yes I know, the locals had spotted a Singaporean in the midst.)

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We like the apoms, slightly crispy and yet chewy and smells really good! Actually the adults love it, but strangely Buddy wasn’t a fan. By the way, the Indian sellers can speak Hokkien! Unfortunately I forgot to take picture of the claypot Apom stall.

Turns out Buddy prefers the fishball kway teow, and I can understand why. Notice the dish comes with sliced chicken! The fishball noodle is cooked in a tasty chicken broth, though I find it a tad too saltish. But the kway teow (flat rice noodle) is so smooth and lip-smacking good.

One thing that is available in many food in Penang but missing in Singapore is fresh sambal. Check out the prawn noodle below. This is the secret ingredient that makes the food in Penang tastes so damn good! As my husband described it, it is the “piece de resistance” of any dish. In Singapore, unfortunately, only dried sambal is available. This soup base is a rich prawn broth. With fried shallot added and mixed with the smoky and spicy flavor of the fresh sambal, it is one hell of a combination! Possibly the best prawn noodle ever!

Across the narrow road from Swee Kong is another highly recommended coffee shop, 77 Food Yard, quite a strange name if you ask me. Unlike Swee Kong, other than the stalls within, there are food trucks stationed outside. This was our next stop.

My husband immediately ordered the curry mee.

He was also quick to spot the seafood char Koay kak truck, which he placed an order.

He saw the “Min Chang Kueh” truck, but he didn’t get any. Instead he asked me to do so.

So here we have the seafood char koay kak on the left and curry mee on the right. I first knew about Koay Kak at the Malaysian Food Street food court at Resort World Sentosa. My husband explained that it was similar to the fried carrot cake in Singapore but not quite. (This is a misnomer as it’s really diced radish.) The Malaysian Koay Kak is multi-dimensional because it has bean spout, squid, prawns and sliced fish cake; whereas the Singapore version is kinda plain with only fried egg and cubed radish, and a sprinkle of spring onion which is optional.

Firstly, the koay kak is very tasty; the mix of crunchy texture from the bean sprout and soft texture from the radish is lightly flavored, with the seafood adding different layer of depth to it.

As for the curry mee, the base is white curry like Hot Bowl and comes with clotted pig’s blood as well. But the similarity stops there, this one has prawns added instead of cuttlefish, and is garnished with mint leaves. My husband mixed the curry with the fresh sambal, and after we tried it we went “wow!” The curry is rich and subtle in flavors. In fact the taste is sublime because it is so well balanced! It’s much better than hot bowl, and I seriously think this curry mee is worthy of a Michelin star. In fact, of all the food I tried in Penang, this dish left the deepest impression on me, and I would make a trip there just for this as well as the Min Chiang Kueh.

MCK, also known as Ban Chang Kueh, is peanut pancake; although there can be other types of fillings. But the most popular is peanut with sugar filling. In Penang or Malaysia, sweet corn is added as well, which my husband loves, but you don’t get that in Singapore. This food truck, operated like a relatively young guy, allows customers to choose the fillings, and there is a great variety available, including chocolate, egg, kaya, banana etc.

(Update: my husband reminded me that the MCK was so good because the vendor makes it to order. This is unlike in Singapore, where we can hardly find any that is freshly made.)

Anyway, as instructed by my husband I bought a couple to try. Goddamn! This is the best MCK I’ve ever had! Crispy on the outside, chewy inside, and it has the right thickness! I’ve never had such amazing MCK in Singapore; it’s either the pancake is too thick, or too crispy, or that it is of the right thickness but it is chewy throughout. I don’t know how the hell this guy made such fantastic MCK. I told Niki about this, and strangely he was nonchalant about it, remarking, “this is the standard in Penang.” Really?? But I did not encounter other MCK stalls though.

Next to the coffee shops is a market, where we checked out the fresh fruits and vegetables.

This is what the winged bean or Kachang Botol looks like, the vege that I love.

Though we are not very big on dessert, we wanted to try the ice kachang and chendol in Penang, since they have different versions there. There is a famous ice kachang shop called Kek Seng at 383 Jalan Penang which is not far from our breakfast joints. Kek Seng is more like a coffee shop with different stalls selling hawker food such as Char Kway Teow, Popiah and Assam laksa etc.

The shop also touted having home-made durian ice cream, and naturally buddy wanted it since he loves that flavor. It’s probably the best in Penang, but inferior to what is available in Singapore. The taste is more like durian-flavored vanilla ice cream.

Till then, we still hadn’t had the famous Penang Char Kway Teow. Since it’s available in the shop, my husband suggested I ordered a plate to try. Unlike the Singapore version, you can request for salted duck egg to be added. We didn’t know what to expect since this shop is not one of the listed best CKT in Penang, but we must say it is quite tasty. It has “wok Hei” and a distinct salted egg flavor which I love.

And now for the signature ice kachang! We ordered it with ice cream and it comes with jelly as well. The ice kachang in Penang has peanuts added, which is missing in the Singapore version. The verdict? Nothing special, and the ice is not as fine as we like it. We’re not sure what is the big deal with the ice kachang here since it is not better than those we get in Singapore.

We ordered the popiah at Kek Seng as well, but it was horrible! There is so much turnip gravy that it causes the popiah skin to become soggy. We couldn’t bring ourselves to finish even one roll.

If you ask me, forget about Kek Seng. The hype is not worth checking out. There are other much better food options.

We had also tried the Penang Road Famous Teochew chendol at its original stall at Lebuh Keng Kwee, though I don’t have any pictures on this. (It has become so famous that it has opened several outlets throughout Malaysia and there is even one at Tang food court in Singapore.) It started off as a small stall along an alley, and there is even a rival right across from it called “Penang Road Famous Chendol”. But the former is more popular with many tourists crowding around it. I bought one each from both stalls for a taste test. Buddy, again, strangely doesn’t like the taste of chendol.

Comparing both desserts, my husband and I prefer the one from the less popular stall, Penang Road Famous Chendol, which is less sweet and has a distinct smoky flavor of the gula melaka. The famous Teochew Chendol is basically sugared water, nothing special. Perhaps people are generally addicted to sugar, and prefer the sweeter version. Despite not taking much sweets, we come to the conclusion that the dessert standard in Penang is lower compare to Singapore. If you have a sweet tooth, Singapore is the place to go.

The Penang food trip – the second day

On the second day, we pigged out! Literally!

On the recommendation of my friend, Niki, we went to try Hot Bowl White Curry Mee, located at 58 Jalan Rangoon, for breakfast. (It’s opened from 8AM to 3PM, and is closed on Mondays.) If not for the large signage outside the restaurant, it’s easy to miss it because of its nondescript appearance and the fact that it’s situated along a narrow road,  lined both sides by a mix of shops and houses.

It’s a small eatery but still spacious nonetheless, and clean and bright as well.

I didn’t do any ordering, and basically left it to my husband and his dad since I was unfamiliar with the food. Seriously, I didn’t know what was white curry and never had it before. I’m not even sure if it’s available in Singapore.

I finally get to see for myself what it is, and it’s really white in color! To be honest, the dish doesn’t look exactly appetising with the clotted pig’s blood. It’s also served with dried bean curd skin, cockles, cuttlefish and yellow egg noodle. My husband told me it had to be eaten with sambal mixed into the curry, and the taste turns out to be better than its look. But it’s not something I am crazy about, because I don’t like the pig’s blood nor cockles.

Luckily there were other dishes available, like the meatball kway teow soup, the steamed chicken as well as a unique Malaysian dish called “Chai Boey”.

I like the meatball broth with kway teow (flat rice noodle). The soup is clear and has a well balanced flavour; whereas the hand-made meatball is soft and soaked in the tasty broth. The steamed chicken is quite good as well, but not a big deal since we have better  chicken rice in Singapore.

As for Chai Boey, now this is an interesting dish with mustard greens, leftover meat, sliced carrots and dried Chili in an oily stew. In fact, I found out that the name “Chai Boey” actually means “leftovers”. It’s my first time trying it; and yes, we don’t get this in Singapore as well. The stew is tangy and all the ingredients are cooked to a soft texture. Again, it does taste better than it looks. But not something I would deliberately order. It is definitely an acquired taste.

So what do I think of Hot Bowl White Curry Mee restaurant? The food is not bad, generally tasty, but I don’t think it’s a must-visit place, unlike Tek Sen. In fact, we found a hawker stall that serves fabulous curry and at a cheaper price. More on that later.

Now, the Penang trip wasn’t just about food, we also did the touristy thing of visiting attractions. After all we had to walk off the food, and so, after breakfast, we went to Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (aka the Blue Mansion), an UNESCO world heritage site, which has been turned into a museum cum hotel. It’s quite a sight to behold, a large Chinese mansion surrounded by modern buildings. But once you enter into the garden/car park/driveway, it feels rather serene.

I really like the beautiful indigo color of the mansion wall, which is so unique. This is also the color of the juice of blue pea flowers, grown outside the wall, that is used for the blue colouring in Peranakan kueh.

The museum has guided tours in English and the guide is a feisty and sprightly lady who looks to be in her 60’s. She is a pretty engaging story teller, who related the fascinating tale of the original owner of the mansion, a mega rich tycoon by the name of Cheong Fatt Tze, who was also known as the last Mandarin.

The magnificent mansion was built in the late 19th century, and is huge at 56,000 sq ft! However, over the years, since CFT’s death in 1916, the mansion gradually suffered from disrepairs. In fact when a group of private individuals bought the place from CFT’s descendants in 1989, the mansion was seriously in a decrepit state. A lot of money was poured in to restore it to its former glory. Most of the furnishing inside and outside the museum is really not the original. Which is why, I suspect, the house was likely to be even more spectacular in its hey day because CFT wanted a super grand mansion and spared no expenses to make it so.

This is the main courtyard right behind the main hall. There is an air well on the roof that allows rain water to fall into the courtyard, as well as sunlight to brighten the place. CFT instructed the builders to construct an elaborate water drainage system within the house, in accordance to the fengshui master’s advice to keep and grow the wealth.

Another courtyard that separates the public area of the mansion from the hotel area. (There are not many rooms, only 16; so this is really a boutique hotel.)

The picture of the 7th wife of CFT below, who was also his favorite. We were told he had 8 wives!! Though the other 7 were married for the sake of business connections. The 7th wife and their only son were given the privilege of a room where the main courtyard is. The lesser relatives and not-so important people had to live in the other wings of the mansion. (I wonder if the other wives were accorded less favorable treatment.)

When CFT died, he left a will stating that the house and an annual maintenance fee of straits currency of 200,000 to be given to the 7th wife and their son. Unfortunately that didn’t turn out to be a wise move, as my husband said CFT didn’t even take into account inflation, which is unsurprising considering he wasn’t educated. And CFT left the running of the business to his various older sons (who were said to be adopted), typical of Asian family business, instead of bringing in professional management. Not surprisingly the businesses would eventually go south since the sons and their offsprings turned out not to be commercially savvy. Worse, there were so many hanger-on staying in the house, and the expenses inevitably rose. So, it is no wonder there was not enough money to fund the maintenance of the mansion, and CFT’s favored son and his family had to lease out the rooms to the poor, and the house became literally a slum.

This picture taken from the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion website showed how crappy the place was before restoration.

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Do check out the CFT mansion and the guided tour when you are in Penang. The story of the man and the house is a mesmerizing one. In fact I’m interested in staying at the hotel in future trip.

After the historical tour, we proceeded for lunch with a couple of my husband’s relatives and opted for Peranakan food. We went to Mum’s Nyonya Cuisine (previously known as Mama’s Nyonya Cuisine), located at 31-D, Lorong Abu Siti, George Town, pretty close to the mansion. It’s one of the recommended Peranakan restaurants in Time Out and Tripadvisor. So, naturally, we have some expectations.

I wanted a Chinchalok omelette (omelette fried with dried baby shrimp or krill), and unfortunately when I requested for it, I missed out “omelette” as I thought that was how it was usually done. When it arrived, it was totally not what I expected. Turned out it was Chinchalok fried with prawn, petai (stinky bean) and sambal. I didn’t like it, the flavor was too heavy and salty for my liking; and I wasn’t the only one who rejected the dish.

We ordered a lot of food (see pictures below), regrettably so.

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Loh Bak (deep fried bean curd skin filled with minced meat flavored with the Chinese five-spice powder)

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Inchi Kabin (Nyonya Fried Chicken)

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Sayur Rumi (Stir-fried prawn with vege)

Assam fish curry

Chicken Curry Kapitan

Top – Stir Fried Long Beans with Anchovies; Bottom – Pork Belly Stew

All I can say about the food at Mum’s is that it’s nothing great and doesn’t deserve any accolade. The only dishes that were tasty were the Assam fish curry and the Curry Chicken, and even then, they were not fantastic. If this standard is considered one of the best Peranakan cuisines in Penang, I suggest you forget about it and focus on other food. This is definitely one of the food disappointments we had there.

After lunch, we went to Straits Quay to check out Monica Quen’s cheongsams that I wrote about in an earlier posts prior to Chinese New Year. When that was done, we continued with our food trip and this time it was afternoon tea at 1885 Restaurant located at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (10, Lebuh Farquhar, George Town), another UNESCO Heritage site. Yes, we were very gung-ho with our mouths and tummies.

The restaurant was named after the year the hotel was established, and it’s similar to Raffles Hotel in Singapore. This is not surprising because both hotels were founded by the Sarkies brothers.

Pardon for the lack of pictures of the hotel or the restaurant; I didn’t find the place that interesting unlike the Blue Mansion. In fact, I thought the restaurant had a musty smell, and the ornate and heavy English furniture doesn’t impress me.

When we arrived, the restaurant was quite full, though there was a long table available close to the entrance. But there was no staff at the counter; they were either serving some table or standing at some corner and we had to wave to one of them to get attention. She didn’t give us the empty table immediately, and instead had to discuss with a guy, who looked like the Maitre’d’hotel, before finally deciding on that table for us.

The afternoon tea costs MYR65.30 nett per person (Buddy ate for free), and consists of savory finger food, scones, cakes and choice of tea for each paying customer.

Before we went to Penang, I had checked out the reviews of the 1885 afternoon tea, and one of them was written by some English lady who took offense that the tea was not served in bone china teapot and cup. So when I was there, I checked and true enough, that was the case. (You can see from the picture above.) I’m afraid I’ve to agree with her that this cannot be  touted as “the finest colonial style dining” when ordinary porcelain tea set is used.

So, how did we find the food? It was alright, nothing to shout about. The pastries and cake are not as refined as some of the afternoon teas I had taken in Singapore and even in Thailand. Like the one offered by Goodwood Park Hotel (Singapore) is of better quality and spread, though the price is more than double what 1885 is charging, but that is because the Goodwood offering is actually that of a buffet. Anyway we went to 1885 for the experience, and once is enough for us.

That evening, we didn’t have dinner. Well, we did in a way, we had fruits instead. Our verdict, at the end of the second day, was that the food didn’t seem so impressive, however we understood that it was likely due to the type of food we had, and we hadn’t even tried the hawker food yet. That was reserved for day 3.

The Penang food trip – first daylight

We went to Penang for a vacation last month. It has been several years since I was there, which was to attend a wedding dinner of a relative. Then, we didn’t even bother to stay for an extra day to do the touristy thing; it was basically a quick trip. My husband and I were not keen to visit the island despite the recommendations from many Singaporeans about how good the food was. Though for him, who was born there, he had fond memories of his grandpa taking him to eateries where he still remember the wonderful food he had. Still, he hardly went back since his family moved away, and at the end he is as much of a stranger there as me.

This time, we made the trip with Buddy to visit my father-in-law who has moved back to Penang. And we decided to make full use of it and do proper research on why it is such a popular food destination. To do that, we decided on a 4D3N vacation to allow us time to explore the food scene. Lucky for me, I have a pogo friend, Niki, who was from Penang and is pretty familiar with the place. He forwarded me a list of locations for the famous hawker food, which I will write about in this and following posts. Since there are so much details to mention, I am breaking up the post by the day we were there.

We took the Malaysian budget airline, AirAsia, to Penang and booked the flights way in advance, a month in fact, and were able to get cheaper tickets at a total of about S$300. To be honest, the majority of the cost is actually made up of miscellaneous charges like security tax, admin fee, baggage check-in fee, and what nots, which is typical of budget airline to jack up the price.

We decided to book the hotel in advance as well, and my husband suggested we stay close to his dad’s apartment to make it easier for us to visit him. It is located at Bayan Lepas, which is pretty close to the airport and an industrial estate. We picked Olive Tree which, expectedly, is a business hotel, and throughout our entire stay, Buddy was the only kid spotted.

It’s a functional hotel, with even a gym and a pool available as well as 2 restaurants. We booked it through hotel.com as, strangely, the hotel website indicated no availability for the standard room despite otherwise. Anyway hotel.com offered pretty good rate at S$81 a night inclusive of wifi.

First thing Buddy did, when we got into the room, was to check out if the TV worked. (If you are wondering, there is cable tv available.) Our room was rather clean and there was enough space for the 3 of us. Seriously, you can’t really expect a lot for a business hotel at this rate and I thought it was pretty good for the money we paid. My husband used the gym during our stay there and he was pretty satisfied with it. Unfortunately we didn’t get to use the pool.

So, how is Penang like? It reminds me of Singapore in the 1990’s, or even 1980’s. The pace is slower there, and not as many entertainment options. Most people I know go there for food anyway. We were brought to a mall, after we checked in, for a late lunch. Of course I did wonder why we ended up in a food court when we were supposed to search for hawker food.

Anyway the mall is pretty new, looks upmarket, and it even has a Singapore feel to it. We later found out it is really run by a Singapore company. We went to the supermarket to get some stuff, and looking at the prices of the goods, after exchange rate conversion, they are similar to what we see at home. But I can’t imagine the locals paying for them. The Sing dollar is about 3 times the value of the Malaysian ringgit, and the Penangites are earning the same amount as Singaporeans, and some even less, but in their currency. Like I bought this Korean chocolate pretzel stick for Buddy which is close to MYR5, whereas I pay S$1.70 in Singapore.

Alright, enough of the less important stuff, now comes the main focus. My husband and I had planned the food trip like it was for the D-day invasion. Since we arrived in the early afternoon of a Monday, we thought we would take it easy for the rest of the day before settling down for a good dinner. We decided on Chinese cuisine, and found Tek Sen listed as one of the top five Chinese restaurants in Penang (Add: 18 Lebuh Carnarvon, Georgetown). It was not known to my father-in-law and the relatives, but to be honest they are not foodies and they hardly venture out of their neighbourhood.

There were many reviews mentioning long lines at the restaurant, and so we preempted that by arriving early, at 5.45pm. It is along a narrow street that is reminiscent of Chinatown, and there is even a shop selling pork right across it, with pig carcasses hanging right in front of the doorway.

The restaurant was filling up fast then, and we were lucky to get one of the available tables quickly. The eatery is actually quite large; the fact that it is quickly occupied for dinner is an indication of its fame. There was a mix of both locals and tourists, and the setting is typical of one of those “Zhi Char” eateries AKA “Dai-Pai Dong” (food outlet that provides stir fried dishes) in Singapore. But the place is clean though.

My husband looked through the extensive menu, and was pleasantly surprised to discover a vegetable dish that he hasn’t seen in Singapore: the kachang botol or winged bean (四角豆).

I haven’t seen anything like this before. The beans are fried with sambal sauce (chili paste made with shrimp paste and is indigenous to the southeast Asian cuisine) and prawn. When I tried it, it was love at first bite! The combination of the crunchy beans with the spicy and savoury flavour is amazing and even addictive! Why can’t we get this in Singapore?

For buddy, we ordered a non-spicy potato leaves dish, which is done well but nothing special compared to what we usually get. In fact it pales in comparison to the kachang botol.

Naturally we have to order the signature dish, which is raved in all reviews: double roasted pork with Chili padi. This is diced pork belly fried with the small spicy Chili for extra kick, and it certainly lives up to its reputation for its tastiness. Even Buddy gave it a thumbs up.

We ordered the pork trotter with vinegar as well (a dish that is commonly given to nursing mothers but also popular with those not having that responsibility), a water cress soup, and the Assam Tumis with black pomfret.

My husband reminisced, as he had the pork trotter, that it reminded him so much of what his mom used to make. For me, I’m not a fan of it and so didn’t bother to try. Even after I had Buddy, I would politely decline it. I know it does look scary to those unfamiliar with the dish: a mess of dark brown stuff in some dark thick sauce. But there are many Chinese who love it, like my husband.

The Assam curry is fabulous; the various flavours of spicy, tart, savoury and sweetness are blended perfectly. But I have a beef with the pomfret fish, which doesn’t seem to soak up the curry flavour into its flesh, and I find it a little bland. This dish can be served with sting ray instead of fish, which my husband thinks will absorb the flavour better. Too bad my father in law doesn’t like sting ray.

All in all, we enjoyed the food tremendously, and it was a good start to the food trip. Some tourists said the prices at Tek Sen are not cheap compared to hawker food. (Like our dinner came up to about S$70 in total.) But that is like comparing apple to orange. To us, it is cheap for restaurant eat because this was the price for 4 adults and a kid, and we had a fish dish as well. It would have cost well over S$100 if we had something similar in Singapore.

This is it for the first day; more to come!

Lunch at Bar-Roque Grill

Last week, I celebrated my belated birthday with husband and Buddy at BR Grill, a French restaurant that is recommended by TripAdvisor members for its steak.  We were initially deciding where to go, and my husband even checked out the review for Wolfgang Steakhouse at Robertson Quay (the restaurant opened by Wolfgang Puck). But I wanted a place that serves a more varied menu, and we also had to consider Buddy’s liking for pizza and pasta as well. So I looked around and found BR.  It offers a very reasonably-priced 3-course set lunch at S$38++, though for the steak there is an additional S$18. My husband was attracted by the positive reviews on the steak. There are many compliments on the excellent service as well. Then there is the cheesy flambé on the ala carte menu, which we marketed to Buddy as pizza. So, I booked a table for lunch for the three of us.

The restaurant is located on the first level of Amara Hotel facing Tanjong Pagar road. The interior has a dim warm lighting, with a bar close to the entrance. There were a few tables at the side, and more tables at the lower level, where the kitchen is located. The feel is that of a high-end bistro. We were given a corner table at one end of the small dining room.

For the appetiser, I ordered a baby spinach salad with pine nuts and goat cheese while my husband requested for the tomato salad with mozzarella and rocket. I managed to take a picture of my salad, below. My husband, who tried both appetisers, felt mine was more tasty. Personally I thought it was alright, nothing amazing.

When the flambé arrived, it smell good, and my husband and Buddy started reaching out for a slice. So there is a missing corner by the time I took a photo. The crust is rather crispy, and it does taste like an Italian pizza minus the tomato paste. Buddy likes it, but kids love pizza anyway. Thought it is tasty, it still pales in comparison to the pizzas in a good Italian restaurants like Etna or Bruno. Perhaps this is not an Apple to Apple comparison.

For the main, I had the roasted snapper with root vegetables. It comes with a slice of rye bread, baby octopus and a couple of mussels. Unfortunately the fish was a little over cooked though the rest of the dish was fine, but of course the fish is what should matter.

My husband loves the steak, which is one of the best he had eaten. It was done medium rare as requested and cooked to perfection.

For dessert, I ordered a raspberry sorbet for Buddy, and a separate chocolate fondant for myself. Yes I know I am allergic to gluten, but I decided to throw caution to the wind since I hardly have any cakes, even gluten-free ones. As you can see from the picture below, the cake comes with a couple of fruits and a raspberry sorbet too. The slightly tart sorbet cuts away the sweetness of the fondant. But I gave Buddy my sorbet since he slurped down his in double quick time. He really loves sorbet! As for the fondant, it was alright, doesn’t blow my mind away because it doesn’t seem any different from the one offers by Beard Papa’s, a Japanese puff pastry specialist.

My husband had initially wanted the lemon tart, but the restaurant changed its menu that day and the tart was no longer available and so he had the cheesecake instead. He thought it was not bad, but a little too subtle for his taste.

So, would we return? Maybe not since the food didn’t wow us. Besides the service was not as excellent as what I read in the reviews. I had to ask for refill of water. Maybe because there was only one guy serving the lower area. We had a much more fabulous dining experience at Etna Italian restaurant. My husband thought that perhaps it was because we went for the lunch special and so the food was nothing to shout about.

Deserving of gold

Last Friday I volunteered to get some food for a mini farewell party in the office. A colleague suggested dim sum from Imperial Treasure Shanghai Cuisine. At the mention of the name, my interest was piqued as I had heard on the radio that morning it won the Gold award at the inaugural Best Asian Restaurant Award. Since I was there, I also bought a couple of noodle dishes for dinner. Thar evening, despite the food had been reheated, we were bowled over by it.. I told my husband we should check the restaurant and try the food onsite. So, we made a trip to town specially for it last Sunday. 

The restaurant is located on the 4th level of Ngee Ann City mall, where Coca steamboat restaurant used to occupy. (Coca has moved to a smaller premise on the same level.)

We arrived shortly after 10.30am, which is the opening hour for the day, and were the first guests. The staff led us to a booth table; I hesitated because I had read a review that those booth seats were warm despite being more comfortable than the regular ones. The staff assured me that the building management had since installed aircon on the ceiling above the booth tables, and we won’t suffer a warm fate like previous diners. 

Like any high end restaurants, the table arrangement has white table cloth with white porcelain utensils. There is even a warm towel for each guest. In fact the classy interior reminds me of a western restaurant in that dark wood and soft lighting are used.


My husband did the ordering.  We had two appetisers: shredded mix vegetables salad (top picture) and fungus marinated in vinegar. 

The salad (otherwise known in Chinese as “小菜”) is more refined than the one offered by Din Tai Fung. It has a slight crunchy texture and is lightly seasoned. The subtle flavoring results in a refreshing dish. As for the fungus, it is also superior to the one serves at the Paradise restaurants. Compared to the latter where the dish has an overpowering vinegar flavor, the one here is much more subtle, and doesn’t overwhelm the taste buds. The pieces are also proportionally curated. 

I must say that moderation and subtlety is the calling of the day when it comes to the cuisine here. The Chef  has learned this important skill which the best chefs of the world have mastered. 

A dish that surprises us is the deep fried sesame bun stuffed with scallion, which is amazingly yummy. The pastry is slightly chewy and combined with the slight crunchy texture of the scallion and sesame seeds, it is simply freaking delicious!

Another fabulous and a must-have dish is the noodle with diced chicken and chopped vegetable in thick soup. I had this for the takeaway dinner, and already it wowed me. I had it again, freshly cooked, and I slurped down all the soup Buddy absolutely loves the dish, and kept asking for more.  The soup is made using chicken stock, and the noodle is covered in its sweetness, and it feels so comforting that I can feel the love in it. This is truly chicken noodle soup that nourishes the soul!

My husband also order a stir fried noodle with shredded pork and vegetable. Again, tasty and right balance of flavorz, but I still prefer the noodle soup.

As expected, the restaurant also offers dumplings (“小笼包”), the ubequitous dim sum found in any self respecting shanghaines restaurant. And boy, does this blow us off our feet! 

The dumplings have got to be the best we have ever eaten. It is superior to those from Din Tai Fung or the Paradise restaurant. Until we had this, we didn’t realize that dumplings with thicker skin can taste so amazing. Well, the skin is only slightly thicker than those found at DTF, but the thickness actually adds to the chewy texture, as well as to hold sufficient soup inside the dumpling to make it very satisfying.  There is also no porky taste that I dislike. We like the dumplings so much that we ordered another portion.

For dessert, we had the fried red bean pancake. Again, better than the competition! The right crispy texture, the right level of sweetness. 

Seriously, the food at IT Shanghai Cuisine is so good that till now, I’m still thinking about it. It deserves a Michelin star, just on the food alone. Whoever the Chef is, that guy or woman is a master!

Michelin or no Michelin?

Last December, during my vacation, we decided to check out a couple of eateries that have been awarded the Michelin stars in Singapore. The first to catch our interest is the one-michelin star Putien restaurant at Kitchener Road. For those unfamiliar, the name, Putien, is taken from its namesake coastal city located in the Fujian province, which naturally serves cuisine from that locale. This Singapore-based restaurant not only has many outlets here, it has also expanded regionally. However, only the one at Kitchener road, which is also where it started, is awarded the star. 

We have tried the food at its other outlets, which we thoroughly enjoyed, but never been to the original restaurant. We were curious if it would serve any special items  and if the quality would be a notch better than the other outlets, and so the taste test. 

Braised pork intestines

Marinated seaweed with mini shrimps

Fried pork knuckles

Braised bitter gourd in special sauce

Fried tenggiri fish fillets

Chinese spinach in century egg and salted egg stock

Puréed sweet potato in pumpkin cream

Rice cake stuffed with crushed peanuts

 

Some of the food we had were ordered by my Father-in-law and so there was some focus on pork dishes. Now, I have to admit I didn’t try them as I don’t take pork. But my father in law and husband thought they were pretty tasty. Like the intestines were well prepared with no porky smell, and the pork knuckles were crispy on the outside and moist inside.

The vegetable dishes are also cooked to expectataions, with a good  balance of seasonings and texture. The fried tenggiri fish is one of my favorites, very tasty, not oily, and smells really good.  As for the desserts, I like the sweet potato purée, perhaps because I like creamy texture. But I am not impressed with the rice cake which I found to be a little too chewy and dry. 

All in all, a good lunch. But if you wonder if it is worth going all the way to Kitchener road just because this outlet has a Michelin star, we don’t think so. The food is not significantly better than its sister outlets (we have tried the ones at Parkway Parade, Tampines Mall and VivoCity when it used to have a small eatery at Food Republic foodcourt). In fact, we couldn’t taste any difference. So, we will stick to those outlets convenient for us. Besides, traffic is a little crazy around the Kitchener road area, though valet parking is available if you drive.

From restaurant cuisine, we went to the cheapest Michelin food available in the world: Liao Fan Hong Kong Soy Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle. The guide has included street food in its rating. Even though Liao Fan’s fare does not technically considered as street food (since this is not available in Singapore) and it is not a hole in a wall eatery,  it is located in a hawker center where prices are generally low. Specifically, it is located at Chinatown Complex Market and Food Centre.

Check out the Michelin award story by the side of the corner stall.

Liao Fan is an unassuming stall. Hanging at the glass display are the beautifully roasted chickens in golden brown color with glistening skin and juicy-looking char Siew. I read that the owner, Chef Chan, only prepare 180 chickens a day to ensure quality of his food. He had also opened a restaurant, after the award, that is located just across the street from the hawker centre. He is mostly based at the restaurant, though he does pop by the hawker stall to check on things, while his wife and an apprentice prepare the food at the original stall. Of course we went for the food here instead of the restaurant. 


    Before coming, we had done some research and read about the horrendously long line. So we decided to be there when it opens at 10.30AM, and hoping the queue was tolerable. But it turned out others had the same idea too. So if you are in the area and want to try the food, look for a long snaking line shown in the picture below. You just have to go to the back of the queue and join the wait.

    There were some people, whom I don’t know if they were acting ignorant or what, tried to place order with the assistant at the stall without joining the queue, but was directed to it. They then turned and walked away. The assistant is pretty diligent in asking only the customer at the head of the line to step forward. 

    Finally, after nearly an hour wait, I managed to place our order and get the food.  We had a plate of roast chicken with rice, a plate with noodle, two vegetable dishes of kailan with oyster sauce and broiled bean sprout. The chicken rice is S$2, the chicken noodle is S$2.50, Kailan at S$3, and bean sprout at S$2. A meal with sufficient food for two persons at less than S$10. I also ordered a takeaway pack with chicken and Char Siew for Buddy.

    To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations of the food  despite it being awarded one Michelin star. Firstly because I had never heard of this place, and I guess I was a little skeptical that it would wow people. Secondly, I am really not a fan of soy sauce chicken. In fact during the queue, I thought to myself, “this has better be damn good for such a long wait!”

    So, how does the chicken taste? Well, I’ve to say, it does deserve the award. It is amazingly moist, the skin has a bit of crisp to it, the soy sauce marinade is not coyingly sweet like what mosr tend to taste, and instead it has a well balanced flavor. The flat rice noodle is tasty, however my husband feels the chicken goes better with the rice. The vegetables are standard fare, but they are not the main cast anyway. My husband loved the chicken so much that he regretted not ordering half a chicken for dinner. 

    By the time we finished the lunch, the line was longer than the one we joined earlier. So we decided to quickly pop over to the restaurant, hoping the queue would be shorter and we could get dinner. But it was wistful thinking that there would be a shorter line there. 

    Is it worth the long wait for the chicken? Yes, it is really very tasty, probably the best chicken rice we ever had. Admittedly the long line can be a dampener, so we haven’t returned for another tasting. But I’m looking out a day when I have time to wait in line.

    A divine food tour at Ann Siang Hill

    Last week, my husband planned a food tour for both of us, when we finally have some time off  for ourselves while Buddy is ensconced in daycare. He picked two restaurants located at Ann Siang Hill, with very good reviews. Well, actually he found about the first one from a FB post by our Prime Minister, who took the visiting President of the Philippines to a famous Nasi Lemak eatery known as The Coconut Club. To be honest, we didn’t know about this restaurant until the post appeared. It is said to serve one of the best Nasi Lemak (“coconut flavored rice” in literal translation) in town, and also one of the most expensive. 

    My husband did some research and found out that the popular eatery generates long lines everyday, and informed me that we have to be there when the restaurant opens at 11.00AM so that we won’t have to wait too long. And so we arrived at 10.50AM, hoping to beat the queue. The restaurant was opened by then, there was no line and  only one occupied table inside.

    Ann Siang Hill is known for its pre-war conserved shop houses, and The Coconut Club is housed in one of them. Because of the high ceiling, despite the scorching heat outside, the eatery is rather cool even with the door wide open. (Yes it does have A/C, and yet it keeps its doors open.) The restaurant mostly caters to groups of 2 diners, with a long table in the middle for large groups. There is not a lot of seating capacity, though there are a few tables outside the restaurant. 

    When we entered the restaurant, we were told we could have a seat and order our drinks, but the kitchen would not be ready until 11.00AM.

    The menu is very simple, there is only Nasi Lemak with side orders of either Otak (fish paste marinated with coconut milk and Chili), fried fish or fried egg. Since we were on a food tour, we couldn’t fill out stomach at TCC, so we only ordered one set of Nasi Lemak, an Otak, and a chendol (coconut milk dessert). Yes, death by coconut milk is a real possibility here!

     

    Here we have the famous dish, which comes with fried chicken, a fried egg, fried ikan bilis (anchovies), fried peanuts, cucumber and the all-important sambal Chili. However the first thing I tried was the grilled Otak, wrapped in banana leaf. Sure, I love Otak, but my husband was busy digging into the Nasi Lemak, while saying, “while stock last!” and “this is sooo… good!” 

    So let me review the Otak first, which is $8.50 per piece and possibly the most expensive Otak in Singapore. I have to say it is really good! I could see the fish meat in it and  taste its texture. It also has no fishy taste, unlike the mass produced ones and is marinated with the right amount of spices and a hint of smokiness. 

    As for the main course itself, I have to say it is the best Nasi Lemak I’ve ever had! Yes, it is quite steep at S$12.80 a plate, but it is truly amazing! The rice is perfectly cooked with a subtle coconut milk flavor, unlike most where it can be overpowering. The fried chicken is so yummy, crispy on outside and moist inside,  and the rest of the condiments are done well. My husband loves the sambal Chili which is vital to a good plate of Nasi Lemak. 

    Ending the meal is the chendol, which is lightly sweetened with Gula Melaka in very fine ice, and I have to say it is a sweet conclusion. Though I am a little disappointed that there is no red bean added into the dessert. My husband, however, thinks otherwise as this is how the original chendol is. 

    So, what do I think? I will definitely come back for the Nasi Lemak, even at $12.80 a plate because it’s truly the best I have ever had! There is one famous local food blogger who is a little dismissive of the food, saying that he couldn’t taste the difference compared to other prominent Nasi Lemak sellers. Well, he is entitled to his views but I strongly beg to differ. In fact, I would have returned to the restaurant if not for it being closed currently for the year end break. But I do think the Otak at $8.50 is a little steep, even though it is pretty good and I might not order the chendol (S$3.80) again.  

    As we were savoring our meals, the restaurant was filling up fast. When we left at 11.45AM, it was full and a line was starting to form. My advice is to come here before 11AM if possible. 

    Our next stop is located a stone’s throw away at 22 Ann Siang Road, Lolla. I had not heard of this restaurant until my husband told me he had made a reservation for our food tour, but that’s because I have not been following the food scene here. And it is only until now that I am writing this review post and doing a little research on its background that I found out it was featured in the New York Times, and was one of the  top 10 hottest restaurants in the world in the 2013 Zagat list. Since I have tried the food, I can say it deserves the hype!

    As mentioned, I went to Lolla without any idea of what to expect though my husband told me the restaurant offers food in tapas style. (I found out from research that that is not how the owner wants the food to be known.) Well, it is only similar to tapas in the sense that the food comes in small plates. The influence comes from the Mediterranean. 

    Lolla is a small eatery with a 13-seater bar counter surrounding an open kitchen, similar to a sushi counter restaurant. I understand that there is more seating available in the basement but we did not venture there. We were the first customers that day, and a whimsy menu lies on the counter in front of each seat. (It’s also available on its website.) 

    There is a special menu if you want to order something different, and the dessert menu on the chalk board.

    The chefs in the kitchen, where you get to view their culinary skills. 

    Looks at all these spices and ingredients! Under the counter top, there are a few fridges that are set to different temperatures. I noticed the Chef taking out a potted basil plant from one of them. It’s like having a mini herb garden right in the kitchen!

    First to serve is toasted Maison Kayser bread with Konbu butter. Though I am sensitive to wheat, but I decided to have a small piece of bread so that I could try the butter. What can I say? I went for second helping of bread and more. To hell with bloated tummy! 

    Like what my husband said, there is something about the combination of konbu (dried edible kelp used by Japanese in their cooking) and butter that makes a divine spread. Creaminess with an umami taste! 

    The simple but delectable tomato salad, marinated with olive oil and chopped basil. 

    Another starter: the fabulous bread with duck rillettes. On its own, the latter is not something amazing. But when I followed my husband’s lead in spreading the butter with duck rillettes on the bread and topping with tomatoes to make an open face sandwich, it’s drool-inducing good!

    We ordered the grilled avocado for more vege. The avocadoes are topped with pine nuts and pickled cabbage with some sort of creamy sauce on the base. The combination is amazing! The pine nuts and cabbage add crunch to the creamy texture of the avocadoes which are enhanced by the sauce.

    The piece de resistance of the meal is the lamb rack, which is amazingly tender and tasty, with none of the smell that put some people off lamb. If not for me wanting to have dessert, I would have had both racks. I gave one to my husband who was eyeing it longingly despite having had most of the Nasi Lemak earlier. 

    For dessert, I tried the smoky chocolate ice cream. Upon tasting it, I realized that the ice cream was like gelato, not frozen but with a creamy texture. The smoky taste enhances the chocolate flavor like salt does. But I understand the steamed dark chocolate pudding is a hit with many customers; I will try that at my next visit.

    I guess it is obvious from my review that I have fallen in love with Lolla food. It is one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and even now I’m still thinking about it! I’ve suggested to my husband for a return, but he feels that there are other good restaurants we have not tried and we should check them out instead of going back to the tried and tested. That is true, considering that we didn’t know Lolla is so good until we had the food. So, do make a trip to Lolla for the fabulous cuisine, and make reservation for lunch, which is easier to get a seat. 

    Uncovering the culinary gems

    I should have started on this post earlier, but like many, I was caught up in the latest Pokemon Go craze! As Singapore didn’t get to download the app until last Saturday, I thought my initial enthusiasm would have waned. But after I did it at the suggestion of my husband, so that Buddy and I can catch the Pokemons together, it has been an itch that I cannot stop scratching! I am rather pleased that I am now a level 12 player (or trainer in Pokemon speak). And I am also rather excited that I managed to catch quite a few pokemons with high CP (combat point). There is still a lot to learn about how to train my pokemons to fight in the gyms, though I did try my luck at it. But that’s a post for another day. Let’s focus on food for now.

    Last month, the Michelin Guide finally featured Singapore food, including street fare, or what is known as hawker food here. Whether expected or not, there were much questionings and even sneering at the choices. (These “Gwai-Lo/Angmoh” don’t know what good local food is! How can this restaurant/stall be included? The food is only average!!)  On the other hand, we are also relieved that our favorite food is not in the list because we don’t want the wait time to get even longer. 

    Anyway, over the past couple of weeks, we have been checking out the food at Fengshan Hawker Center. It’s only now that we finally understand why this is the oyster omelette hub of Singapore! There are so many hawkers selling the famous dish. But here lies the problem: which one to order from. We didn’t do any research before coming here, and so it was really trial and error.

    I ordered the omelette from one stall which seems quite popular, and unknowingly agreed to having Chili added. Strangely, despite the stall taking many orders we didn’t have to wait long for ours. The omelette turned out to be ultra spicy and totally overwhelmed the dish. I then walked around to see what are the other stalls that I could try my luck, and chanced upon stall number 85 with the signage ‘Traditional Kampung Oyster Omelette’. 


    There are a couple of pictures of the Chef owner posing on a Chinese TV program. So I thought perhaps it might be ok. There were only a couple of customers waiting around, which meant I wouldn’t  have to wait long. 

    As I stood around, I realized that there were a lot of back orders for takeaways. The Chef owner works alone and there is no one else to assist him, and so he has to cook big batches each time. It also turned out that my presumption of a short line was wrong; before I knew it, a queue started forming behind me. The food was more popular than I thought. 

    As I watched the Chef, I realized that he is one who puts a lot of care in his cooking. The egg mixture is pan-fried to the right timing before he added the oysters, with the resulting omelette looking really good and very tasty too. Best of all, it’s not as oily as what many other stalls serve. On a separate occasion, after  my husband placed his order at the stall and paid for it, he left the line thinking he could return to collect it later. When he did, the Chef told him he wouldn’t cook his order when he was not around to collect it immediately. He refused to serve the dish cold. This shows pride and how much he cares for his food.


    That evening, we also tried the porridge from Chai Chee Pork Porridge stall. The name may be misleading as it doesn’t just sell pork porridge but also sliced chicken, sliced fish porridge, etc. Look at the line below!


    We went for the chicken porridge, and I have to say it’s really good!


    It’s smooth but not overly so, unlike the one from Imperial Treasures which can taste like baby food, and allows you to taste the rice grains in your mouth. The sliced chicken pieces are cooked to the right texture. The porridge is also slightly seasoned, not saltish unlike many. Though it was a simple fare, it gave so much comfort to my tummy.

    My husband ordered the minced (pork) meat noodle soup (known as “Bak Chor Mee” locally). There are a few popular ones and he opted for Xing Ji, which advertised that its recipe is passed down over the generations. There is no apparent line, but that is because the stall serves the noodle to the customers at their tables.


    The soft but springy noodles swim in a sea of clear and subtly flavourful broth, with little oil. I had half expected it to have a porky taste but there was none. I didn’t try the meatballs, but my husband love them as well. He said that this was likely the best Bak Chor Mee he has ever had, the handmade meatballs were really tasty.


    The thing about the Hawker food is that different fares are served at different times of the day. Like in the morning, you don’t expect the oyster omelette stalls to be opened. Instead breakfast food such as carrot cake (which is actually pan-fried radish cubes or “Chai Tow Kueh”) is available instead. 

    One morning, we decided to give that a try. I spotted two stalls, side by side, and wondering which to go for. One has a stream of customers (Ming Ji, on the left) whereas the other (middle stall in picture below) has media exposure plastered all over. Against my better judgement, I went for the publicity.

    When my husband saw the plate of carrot cake, he groaned. After tasting it, he took me to get a plate  from Ming Ji. Here are the two carrot cakes with Ming Ji on the left in green plate. 

    Presentation-wise, MJ’s carrot cake looks pretty appetising. In terms of taste, I have to say it must be the best carrot cake I have ever tried! Like the above amazing food, it is not overly seasoned, and you can actually taste the texture of the eggs, and the radish cubes are cut small so that they are cooked through nicely. 

    We left the right plate almost untouched, while we wiped clean the carrot cake from MJ. I then went up to the stall, which is manned by an old couple, and told the old lady, doing the cooking of the carrot cake, in Chinese, “Aunty, I want to let you know that your carrot cake is really good! It’s the best I’ve ever had!” She was a little taken aback by my compliment and replied that she thought I wanted to say that it sucks. Maybe she doesn’t get much compliments because she was rather appreciative after that. Still, it should be pretty obvious that folks around love her food because she was cooking almost non-stop.

    Even when it comes to tea and coffee, not all stalls are equal. I bought ice tea and coffee from a drinks stall and they are so weak! My husband then went on a hunt and discovered “The Blend Inc” which focuses on tea and coffee. Check out the foam on the drinks! They have the right amount of oomph and lightly sweetened as requested. 

    Now Fengshan hawker center has become a favorite street food source for us, and there are also good seafood BBQ available as well. The only downsides are there is no good satay stalls and no fruit stall available, unlike Bedok centre hawker center. In fact, though there is only one satay stall at the latter, the food is still better than what we tried at Feng Shan. 

    Of course, other than Feng Shan, there are other Hawker centres in Bedok that have culinary gems available. Like there is a “Kway Chap” (pork innards and trotter) stall at one hawker centre which is hailed as “gourmet food” by a US relative. My Husband is insistent that those people from the Michelin guide must not know about this place. 

    The Spanish Place that leaves much to be desired

    A few weeks ago, my new boss bought lunch for my colleague and I at this Spanish Restaurant, My Little Spanish Place, at Boat Quay. It was my colleague who selected the venue after gotten to know about it from others in the office.

    I had no expectations of the place since it was my first time there, and honestly I had not even heard of it before. (But I have to admit I have not been following the food scene since Buddy came along.) So I went along with an open mind, and of course, was keen to have some tapas.

    My Little Spanish Place (MLSP) is located in the middle of the Boat Quay stretch of restaurant/bar joints. It was a relief to enter the cool and dim eatery from the scorching sun outside. We arrived shortly after noon, and the place was rather quiet, with only  one diner in there. So, despite not making any reservation, we had no problem getting a table.

    I have not been to Spain, but the menu looks like the restaurant serves some authentic fare. There are the usual Gazpacho, a selection of tapas, jamon ham and sausages, and of course the ubiquitous paella. 


    We decided to order some tapas to share among the three of us. My boss and colleague each also ordered a paella, but I was not very hungry and opted for the Gazpacho instead. 

    The cold tomato soup wasn’t anything special. The flavor was rather one note and there was no oomph factor, it was like having a can of tomato purée. Seriously, I can make a better Gazpacho than this, and in fact, my husband and I used to make the soup when we cooked at home BB (before Buddy). 

    As for tapas, here are what we ordered:

    Ham stuffed creamy croquettes

    Prawns cooked in olive oil, chili, garlic and secret sauce

    Potatoes with spicy sauvce and manchego cheese

    Flat coca bread with chorizo, pepper, onion and aragula

    White clams cooked in chorizo broth

    The tapas were a mix bag. There were some tasty ones like the croquettes and potatoes, but the rest were plain average. In fact the prawns and clams were tasteless, and the sauces were flat. I don’t know what kind of secret sauce the restaurant claimed, but I suggest they should really go back to the drawing board. 

    As for the paella, which my colleagues allowed me to have a taste test, I had it much better at  Providore, even a cold one. The paella at MLSP is just bland! I don’t know if the Chef forgot to add broth to the rice but seriously, it was rather crappy.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t return to MLSP, nor would I recommend it to anyone. I don’t know if other outlets would be better, but I rather check out other Spanish restaurants. I don’t have to dine in Spain to tell that the quality is not up to scratch.