Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pince & Pints

The latest hip joint in town that for once, I'm curious about- Pince and Pints. Forget the mediocre sides of soggy tasteless shoestring fries and sad mesclun salads with average balsamic dressing. Lobsters are the stars here. If you want fresh lobsters, this venue rocks. Decent alcohol selection.

Pince and Pints totally resembles London's Burger & Lobster, right down to presentation of food, not taking reservations and the seriously-long queues for seats. We're still fans of Burger & Lobster. Heh. Happy to have a version of it in Singapore. £20 to our S$48 to 600g for one whole lobster or a lobster roll. Works for us. No we didn't queue. At 5pm, there was a table available for a group of six. Got in fresh from a work trip, left the suitcase in the car and joined the friends who had easily gotten seats. We preferred sitting at the counter though. Don't bring big bags. It's a casual diner, not a restaurant, i.e no bag chairs and no space to leave huge totes anywhere except hanging off the back of your chair.

When a venue keeps airflown live lobsters from USA and Canada in pre-adjusted salinity and temperature-regulated tanks in its factory and the kitchen, it makes it easier to control the quality and the taste or texture of the dishes served to the table. It was a short and most acceptable wait for our food. Relieved to see their logistics ironed out. We like our lobsters steamed, never grilled. The brioche for the generous S$48 lobster roll was good. The butter-soaked toasted bun was nicely done. Yum. A super satisfying meal. Nobody at the table bothered with its local style chilli lobster and fried mantou tonight. Wouldn't mind trying that next time.

You know what's surprisingly pleasant? Its wait staff. The servers we had- two of them, were situationally aware, warm and absolutely efficient. That's not an easy achievement nowadays. Short of grabbing a live lobster home and making a roll yourself, this is probably the best version of a New England lobster roll we have in town for now. If the queues aren't crazy, I'd stroll by again for a bite.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Itek Tim :: 咸菜鸭汤

Asam gelugor.

All that talk about SALTED VEGETABLES AND DUCK SOUP. Apparently this is a great summer soup in Chinese culture. Not that I care. I'd be drinking nothing else but gazpacho in the humidity and heat.

Anyway, it's itek tim to me. Something the kitchen churns up regularly whenever we have leftover Peking duck from the restaurants. As it happened, we have two Peking ducks in the freezer. Took one out to boil it up for dinner. It's not my favorite soup. But I'll have a tiny bowl for taste and memories. The others at the dining table would polish off the whole pot.

If this soup has to be done with a raw duck, I don't quite like just blanching it. Don't like handling raw meats. If I have to, then the duck will be first lightly roasted with vegetables. Easier to remove fats then. When leftover Peking duck is available, it saves so much time. Duck can stink quite badly and takes a combination of ingredients and a few hours of simmering on the stove to rid it of that underlying stench. Would need the soup to be tangy and sourish in order to contrast beautifully with the salted mustard greens. Be generous with the sour plums and pieces of dried asam gelugor (also asam keping). Tomatoes work. You could add tofu too. I like adding one chilli padi for a bit of bite. Adding a drop of brandy before serving is optional.

The man isn't too interested in boiling Chinese soups. Hahaha. Yes, I don't really cook, but I do like clear soups ALOT. I dislike eating the contents after. Quite familiar with how to boil soups. Easiest thing to do. One pot, all ingredients in. Don't think there's a written recipe. It's one of those instances when we close our eyes and remember what our grandmothers used to do in the kitchen.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Chicken Rice & Salted Vegetables and Duck Soup

I enjoy Math Paper Press' anthology of food in its 'Twenty-Four Flavors'. Picked up Issue 4 'Salted Vegetables and Duck Soup' and Issue 5 'Chicken Rice'. 24 stories of 250 words each, written by 24 writers.

The broadsheets are an easy flip. Thoroughly enjoyable. The stories are mostly humorous, sometimes dark, and very compact. Bought these issues as gifts for visitors in town as well. Can't quite extract quotes from each story without giving away the details. Will quote from their forewords written by Kenny Leck, co-founder and publisher of Math Paper Press.

I usually drink soup without eating any of the contents used in the boil. In Issue 4 'Salted Vegetables and Duck Soup', I know it as 'itek tim'. I've no problems with the soup, but I won't touch the duck or the salted vegetables. Always thought it tasted weird.

Comfort food. Cholesterol food. Homecooked food. Heart attack food. Whatever one calls it, the dish SALTED VEGETABLES AND DUCK SOUP is no longer as commonly available as say Black Chicken Soup. Even the art of cooking a good bowl of soup can no longer be taken for granted. 
This dish is generally not considered a health tonic, but one served in a family setting. The soup sits in the centre of the table, and portions of duck, SALTED VEGETABLES, and soup are re-distributed into smaller bowls and given to each member of the family seated around the table.

Avoiding chicken nowadays, I indulge in the occasional steamed white chicken skin and sometimes, the rice. But mostly, I can do without them. If I've to sit down at a chicken rice stall, I'd like it to be Five Star or Pow Sing, or somewhere that has other types of food on the menu besides chicken. Issue 5 'Chicken Rice' discusses this much revered almost-national dish. It's really one of those national dishes that are inoffensive and hard to find a terrible version of it. Had to buy this for a visitor because he was completely obsessed with chicken rice, and ate it almost daily in the three weeks he was in town.

Chicken Rice can even be a National Bonding dish. It is enjoyed by all four races - and more - in Singapore, and it can be eaten 365 days throughout the year. How delightful it would be if there was an Annual Open House for 'Eat All You Can Chicken Rice' at the Istana during the National Day weekend. At least, President Tony Tan wouldn't be stereotyped as Colonel Sanders that often. 
During the monthly Meet-the-People sessions, complimentary packets of Chicken Rice could be given out too. It would get everybody in a lighter mood, and the common man, together with the politicians, even trade recipes to help improve the standard of Chicken Rice across the country.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chilli Crabs!

Whenever visitors come through Singapore, we can't let them go without many authentic local meals. The friends found a common date and rounded everyone up for a zi char dinner at Ban Leong Wah Hoe Seafood (萬隆華和海鮮餐館), an apparently established and popular group makan venue that neither the man or I have heard of, much less visited. We were as clueless as our out-of-town-from-the-other-side-of-the-world friends.

We turned up at 9.15pm to a fully-packed eatery. Luckily we had reservations and the first round of diners were leaving and it was a short wait for a clean table. I love seafood, but am always wary on the matter of histamines. No prawns or fish tonight. We were a party of 10 and decided not to overdo it on the dishes. Stuck to clams, oyster omelette, some meats and plenty of vegetables and tofu. The food on our table was as fantastic as what everyone said. Our visitors were pretty used to Asian food and by stereotypical American standards, had rather adventurous tastebuds. When they said they "eat anything and everything", they meant it. Mexican peppers trained them well- they loved our type of spices and lapped up all the sambal kangkong and whatnots.

Of course there must be crabs. We couldn't let visitors go away without at least tasting those huge Sri Lankan crabs. Ordered crabs done in two styles- chilli and pepper. Gigantic crabs with plenty of roe-thingies. You know it's a good meal when all of us got down to using fingers and three of us accidentally flung gravy into our own eyes. Heh. Chalked up S$320 for 12 dishes in two hours. Best.

Ban Leong Wah Hoe Seafood (萬隆華和海鮮餐館)
122 Casuarina Road Singapore 579510 (no air-conditioning)
T: +65 6452 2824 (Reservations necessary)

Friday, July 25, 2014

An Afternoon with the BFF

Even though the bff has technically moved back to Singapore, she's not in town half the time. She's flying around loads more than I am, a combination of vacations and even crazier work trips. We gotta figure out a date to take a holiday together. Haven't done so this year! Even when we were in the same cities, we keeping missing each other by a day or two. Gaah.

Managed to grab her out for an afternoon for lunch at Open Door Policy. Took it slow and hung out late. Plenty to catch up on. Our mutual friends and all. She also had loads of gyokuro and kabusecha to pass to me. I had asked her for a favor to fulfil a shopping list when she was in Tokyo, and she obliged.

Then went book-shopping. That was the main task of the day. As much as we like e-readers, we still like hard copies and the pleasure of flipping through a couple of pages to decide whether to plough through the whole book. It's like, the Kindle follows us on trips, but we'll have one hard copy in the suitcase. Of course we found some titles to buy.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Stalin's Games

Spotted a unread book in the pile. How could I have missed it?! It's the exact kind of book I pounce on. It was Simon Sebag Montefiore's 'One Night In Winter'.

Written in 2013, the book was set in Moscow 1945, during the terrifying times of Stalin's final paranoid decade of power. The story drew upon real-life characters of the Soviet elite, and their presumed 18-year-old children. The author cleverly weaved real historical figures and fictional names into the plot, making it vividly eerie. (Reviews herehere, here and here.)

At the exclusive School 801, among the children of the who's who of the Politburo and the Kremlin leaders, there was a new boy Andrei Kurbsky who was a son of "the enemy of the people". He had been granted permission to return to Moscow. He quoted Alexander Puskin, and seemed to stand for all the lost romance of Russia. There was an initiation and a Game reenacting the duel scene in Eugene Onegin. In any Game, contemporary readers will know that there will be deaths. (Not referencing 'The Hunger Games') Two such deaths occurred in the Game, shot each other with real guns that had replaced the fakes. The deaths brought in the dreaded venue of Lubianka, headquarters of the KGB. Something about unwanted "bourgeois sentimentalism". No parents dared to defend their children. The Kremlin got involved because Stalin didn't stand for any whiff of an anti-Stalin plot and everybody wanted to keep their secrets. Games within games within the Game.

Plenty of power play. There's a list of Characters right at the start of the book before Acknowledgments and Prologue. I kept going back to the list to be sure who's doing what. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read in all its twists and turns. Plenty of love stories going on. It came to pass that the main two characters seemed to be Andrei Kurbsky and Serafima Romashkina, the daughter of a famous actress and a film writer, she harboured a secret which was a boyfriend-then-fiance who was an American diplomat. But politics intervened. Cold War. Happy that the book concluded after the death of Stalin onward to 1970s, and gave us a peek into the characters that survived and how their lives turned out. I was curious enough to google the song that was referenced to in the story more than twice- 'Katyusha' ('Катюша', or Ekaterina or Catherine). It's a 1938 wartime song written by Mikhail Isakovsky and composed by Matvei Blanter.

Later, when she gives her testimony, she wishes she had seen less, knew less. 'These aren't just any dead children,' slurs one of the half-drunk policemen in charge of the scene. When these policemen inspect the IDs of the victims and their friends, their eyes blink as they try to measure the danger - and then they pass on the case as fast as they can. So it's not the police but the Organs, the secret police, who investigate: 'Is it murder, suicide or conspiracy?' they will ask. 
What to tell? What to hide? Get it wrong and you can lose your head. And not just you but your family and friends, anyone linked to you. Like a party of mountaineers, when one falls, all fall. 
Yet Serafima has a stake even higher than life and death: she's eighteen and in love. As she stares at her two friends who had been alive just seconds earlier, she senses this is the least of it and she is right: every event in Serafima's life will now be defined as Before or After the Shootings.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Third Time :: Russian Circles

Third time I see Russian Circles play in Singapore. They're fantastic live and this round was just as great.  Have I already mentioned that next to Dave Grohl, one of my favorite drummers is Dave Turncrantz? Their latest album 'Memorial' was released last December. Love their sounds. Something old, something new and all familiar. I definitely have something for bands whose brand of music doesn't contain vocals.

Giggled slightly as I hung out at Zouk. All about the nightspot closing down end of the year without relocation plans and all. Honestly, I don't particularly care. Yeah, I literally grew up at Zouk, stumbled around, puked all over its grounds and all that. But it's just another venue. There're the memories to hold. Went to like three ZoukOuts and gave up. Beach parties aren't quite my scene. At some point when I turned 32, the Velvet card that has a permanent slot in my purse meant nothing anymore. Meanwhile tonight, I enjoyed the fantastic acoustics that were arranged by KittyWu Records.

Quite a turnout for a Sunday night. Great vibes. Lovely to see many friends out and about. It also meant that the gig started early enough at 8.20pm and concluded by 9.45pm. Best. I was just happy to tumble back into town in time for the gig. Couldn't take my eyes off the C&C drum set. Three musicians filled the entire Zouk with gigantic sound. Woah. To the moon and back. Didn't matter that the next day began with a 7am meeting.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fruits For Meals

On work trips, I miss the convenience of eating fruits, peeled and cut. Vacations are easier- I could hunt down fruits anytime at the markets. Berries are generally easy to pop and chew. It's the slicing of the other fruits that I don't quite fancy. Been completely spoilt as a kid- I don't eat apples unless they're sliced. The hotels that are familiar with my preferences or schedule do take the extra mile to send up fruits already peeled and sliced instead of greeting me with the usual fruit basket.

I'm one of those who can just gobble fruits for a meal. (Yes, that explains the 25 apricots and kernels ingested last week. Uggh. Never again.) I don't do that often though, since the sugars are not fantastic as consecutive meals. Not partial to dessert, fruits are the only kind of sweets I could bear. 

Some airline lounges in certain airports provide a great source of fruit vitamins and fibre. I love the variety available. Bleary eyed early in the morning at Sydney airport, I didn't want like...real food, but needed to eat something before the next meeting. Airplane food works for me, but often, I'd very much rather sleep through a flight. In the new-world hierarchy of needs, sleep and stable wifi rank high above food. Heh. Piled the plate high with colors. Avoided all forms of caffeine. Gobbled milk and juices too. Didn't want to have carbs since I would be stepping off the plane and straight into a boardroom to uhhh tactfully scold people. Carbs make me sluggish. :P