Saturday, August 23, 2008

Steamy Delicious Noodles

Flat rice noodles, steamed fresh and rolled by hand, were one of Hong Kong's many highlights. They were so great that I actually had breakfast at this corner shop twice! (during my visit, of course...did you really think I ate all of this in one day?) The orange place features noodles wrapped around freshly fried donuts. Yes, decadence.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Stormy Weather

My aunt called yesterday and said that with the typhoon approaching, we might want to prepare for no restaurants being open the next day. No food? I was mildly panicked.

As it turns out, the city was pretty much closed up today. It was a strange thing to cross the street without watching for cars. They canceled the buses, taxis and streetcars. The ferries closed for the day too. Even the subway was running a limited scheduled. It was blissfully windy and almost cool. I was hungry.

Happily, after a very windy walk around the neighborhood, we found a shop still open for lunch. Inside, they were serving up steaming dishes of curried ribs on rice. Guests continually streamed into the shop and ordered up fried eggs and milk tea. When all fifteen seats inside were taken, patrons sat at the outdoor tables though the wind was howling. At out table, a kid was playing with his food and reveling in having a day off from school, his parents happier still to have a day off from work. Before leaving, we asked if they would be open for dinner. The reply - we'll be out of food by then.

Dinnertime. By now the wind had really picked up. I sat in the hotel lobby for a few minutes watching people's umbrellas flip inside out. The lampposts swayed, and overhead signs swung in a menacing fashion. I had a raincoat, but by the time I'd crossed the street I was soaked, right down to my sneakers. At least I wore sneakers this time. An afternoon coffee run in my flip flops had proven a bit trying. We walked, well, ran by restaurant after restaurant, fooled by bright neon signs into thinking that the shops were open. They weren't. At last, a lone restaurant, open and serving soup and other warm dishes. It was loud inside, and the service so harried, that I found myself shoveling food in an almost involuntary manner. I don't know why I felt so rushed. Perhaps so I could run around in the rain again?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I love McDonald's

Not only is the McCafe latte surprisingly good, but the air conditioning is up to US standards - icy and wonderful. And, they give you napkins!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How to Eat When Illiterate

Internet access has been pretty spotty, so I'll have to do some gap filling on the travels.

In the meantime, I arrived in Hong Kong this morning, hungry since I missed all the meals on my flight and too early to check into my hotel. Took a walk around the neighborhood and passed a few cafes with all sorts of Chinese scribbled in the windows, but not a stitch of English. And no pictures, which have been helpful when I can't read. It became increasingly apparent that my only alternatives were a McCafe or I could take my chances with mystery menus. Of course, I had to go for the mystery menu.

Did I fit in? Not really. In fact, people openly stared. Possibly because I was holding a fleece jacket and it was a steamy 90 degrees out. Possibly because the first words out of my mouth were, "I can't read Chinese." So I asked what they had for breakfast, tried to remember what one eats for breakfast, and eventually settled on noodles and a coffee. Noodles were good. Coffee was terrible. I even put a packet of sugar in, but it didn't help. Making matters worse, I am apparently in possession of very, very old currency. When I went to pay, the woman said she couldn't accept the bill. And yes, it was cash only. Happily, was able to scrounge around for some coins (they have $5 coins!) to pay for my brekkie. Disaster averted.

And for lunch, I found a place with pictures on the menu. :)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Morning Run

Grandma serves serious breakfasts. Cookies (no cake this year), sandwiches, tea, fruit, more cookies, and moon cake (new addition this year). In my effort to skip breakfast one morning during my stay with Grandma, and perhaps in an effort to combat the copious amounts of eating I'd being been doing for some time, I decided to go for a run (by which I mean jog) this morning. I timed it perfectly. I slept in until 9:30, which meant an hour's run would leave me with just enough time to get ready for lunch. Therefore, no breakfast.

I jogged for all of three blocks before I realized it was an impossible task. And that what I really wanted was a coffee. So I had my coffee, and walked (briskly since I'd spent too long reading the newspaper) back to Grandma's, where I found her waiting for me with breakfast still on the table. I tried to reason that were were going out for lunch soon. That didn't work. Apparently there's no way to outrun a meal.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Laksa Trail

Despite planning my Singapore trip mostly on the basis of my love for laksa, I'd eaten very little of this lovely dish during my visit, so on my last day in town, before the chili crab adventure, I decided it was time to get serious about laksa. I stopped by the front desk with my guidebook and asked where some of the food courts mentioned were located. My first choice was 20 minutes away by taxi, but he helpfully pointed out that Katong Road, a closer destination, is where there was a high density of laksa shops. Perfect. Most opened at 9:30 AM. I didn't want to be late. To the taxi stand and to the mall.

Some minutes later, I was at the Parkway Parade Shopping Center. I paced the stalls and was saddened to find that Good N Jolly was closed for the day. Not a very good start. I bought myself a pandan pastry to console myself. The filling was a creepy green hue. It certainly wasn't a dish of noodles submerged in spicy coconut broth. When I got outside, it started to rain.

Wearing flip flops and sans umbrella, I scrambled up a flight of stairs to reach the above-ground walkway. And that's when I spotted those fateful words...Roxy Square...home of the Original Katong Spoon Laksa (yes, you only get a spoon for the noodles). It's in a older mall which is sort of depressing at moments. The food court was more like a food alley, with plastic red and white tablecloths set against a decor of mustard yellow. But the laksa...savory and more spicy than I'd had before, fragrant and hot, and served up by a charmingly helpful woman I'd not call friendly, but who nonetheless helped me find the tea tarek that I'd been wanting to try and who put me on to having an otah with the laksa. Just what were these fine items?

Tea tarek is pulled tea, literally milk tea pulled from one cup to another to create a light froth on top and smooth drink in one. It didn't really go with the laksa, but it was barely 10AM and I'd not had any coffee.

As for the otah - it's fish mince with lots of spices, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled. She was right, it complemented the laksa beautifully. Soon my bowl was empty and it was onto another stop...328 Katong Laksa, a stand on the corner with tables on the sidewalk, nearly in the street. This was a spicier version than the one I'd sampled just minutes before. Hints of ginger and other spices made me forget that a car was trying to park mere feet from me. An utterly delightful breakfast.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Chili Crab

When reading up on Singapore eats, I learned that chilli crab is one of the island's signature dishes. What is it? Crab braised in a sweet chili sauce with eggy goodness mixed in. It's sweet, but with a surprisingly sharp bite that catches in one's throat at unexpected moments. I suppose it's part of the dish's charm. Mopping up the sauce with steamed rolls adds to the experience.

On my last night in town, I decided that a visit to No Signboard Seafood was in order. The name sounds pretty non-descript. I was expecting a casual spot. Contrary to my other hawker center meals, it turns out No Signboard is an air conditioned restaurant that seats about 100 people. There's even silverware a.k.a. fancy digs! So imagine my mortification when I sat down to discover that an order of chili crab is, well, a crab. An entire kilo's worth. The waitress assured me that such a dish was suitable for one. I had my doubts, but wasn't about to leave the island without tasting the dish.

Soon enough, a platter of crab arrived. They had kindly cracked the crab, but it was still buried in the sauce. The table of four people next to me was having the same dish. They stared at me. I smiled. I tried to use chopsticks, but soon realized the difficulty of shellfish and sticks, so gave-in to using my hands. Did I mention they provided me with exactly one napkin? It seemed that in my battle with this sweet, spicy, buttery, succulent crab, I was the loser. The waitresses stopped making eye contact with me. The people next door stole glances at my progress. Every time I poured myself a cup of tea, I left orange hand prints on the teapot. I was embarrassed to be seen with myself. But the chili crab, it was tasty.

Monday, August 11, 2008

It's Colonial Day!

I didn't intend it to be so, but my day just unfolded that way.

First up, a visit to the Botanical Gardens and the National Orchid Garden. At 8:30 AM it was bearable if I stayed out of the sun. The orchids were colorful and exotic. I'm glad I went, but really, I was just killing time before lunch. Gardens are nice, but they just don't excite me the way random stalls of street food do. Two hours later, I was ready to make my 10 minute walk to Dempsey Hill for some curry. Ten minutes has never felt longer. As I walked, I wished it would rain. But it didn't. Instead, the cheerful sun kept beating down on me. I told myself I would treat myself to a soda with lunch and kept walking.

Somehow, I dragged myself to Samy's Kitchen at last. There, I was treated to some delectable Indian food, served at round tables on a veranda overlooking a grassy hill. The waiter brought my selections over in buckets, and ladled wonderful dal and lamb curry on the banana leaf. I even had green beans, my first veg in a day! The food was intensely flavored, fiery, and seemingly innocuous, until I wanted to cry from the heat. Was is the humidity or the spice that made me want to cry? I'm still not sure. But I loved it! A good meal, worth the punishing walk.

Later in the day, to high tea at the Raffles Hotel. I had high expectations. Iconic hotel in Asia, where people appreciate teatime. A three-tiered tray of goodies arrived when I sat down. Sandwiches, scones and pastries, none of which were notable, except for the chocolate eclair with the chocolate custard. The food was disappointing to say the least. There was also a Singaporean buffet to accompany the tea, featuring dim sum and other Asian desserts like tofu in a lackluster syrup (I think they forgot the sugar), a nice curry puff, and a bland, though not terrible popiah. As I ate, I kept thinking, "these are wasted calories." The setting was beautiful, all whitewashed and sparkly and dramatic high-arches. The tea in the cute silver pot was piping hot. During my two hour stay I narrowly missed knocking over my table, dropped my silverware to the floor, and generally made a mess. It's a wonder they didn't try to rush me out of the elegant surrounds. I dallied in the dining room and people watched while plotting my next meal. Tomorrow: no more colonial meals!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

You Are What You Eat

I guess that makes me a dumpling. I'm in Singapore and I've started a new diet. It's called the all-carb diet. Seriously, I did not eat a vegetable all day today. I'm not proud of myself. Well, maybe just a little.

To start off my day, a packet of rice. Two, actually, since I had to try both the savory and sweet versions from the famous glutinous rice stand in the Chinatown Complex. I feel like I earned my breakfast. This hawker center is on the second floor and features no air conditioning. It's about 90 degrees out and super humid. How people wear jeans and aren't melting totally mystifies me.

When I got to the rice station at 9AM, I spotted a line of 20 people. They close when they sell out. Yesterday, they were already closed when I got there. It was 10AM. I was nervous. And hungry. The rice was divine. Supposedly sticky rice, but not sticky at all, the savory version featured peanuts and a generous sprinkling of fried shallots on top. I pretty much inhaled my breakfast. And then to the sweet version, which really was sticky rice, but also with the shallots. I don't usually care for sweet rice dishes, but this was was great. I don't even know what's in it. I just ate, and ate some more.

Then I went to the porridge stand. But first, a short rest interval during which I wandered the food court and consulted my trusty Mankansutra guide that I'd picked up upon my arrival. It's like a Zagat guide, but for street food. The top rating, three chopsticks, means "Die, die must try!" They take their food seriously here.

The porridge was great. Savory, hot, and totally delicious. I chatted up some little old ladies sitting nearby and they put me onto a good place to get myself a Chinese donut - a fritter that I watched the guy make in a wok full of bubbling oil. Fried item of the day - check.

Then I had a long break from eating. I got trapped in a very posh shopping center during a rainstorm, but managed to kill time by browsing cookbooks. Hours later, it was dumpling time.

As I was planning my trip, someone alerted me to the fact that Din Tai Fung, the Taiwanese dumpling outlet, has shops in town. I arrived to find a very efficient dumpling circus. Grateful that they spoke English and that the menu was in English too, I checked off my selections and waited for them to call my number. Ten minutes later, I handed my order to the hostess, who read my order into her little microphone to the kitchen. By the time I got to my table, my Coke was on ice and soon enough, a guy with a tower of steamer trays appeared. Oh dumplings! How I love them. Soup dumplings are so hard to come by at home and I was so enthused for their appearance here that I ordered two orders. The plain pork, and the pork and crab. Yum yum. The wrappers were thin so you could see the soup, but they didn't break until you bit into them. I ate them all, an even had a little room left for the steamed sesame buns. By then I was laughing at myself, all alone at my table, surrounded by lunchtime wreckage. The waitress didn't even smirk when she saw all that I'd ordered.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Hong Kong: Food Desert?

My flight arrived early which was nice, but I had to take a good long wander through the airport before I came upon My Nosh, a cafe that serves US (or was it American) Baked Potatoes, burgers, pizza, tandoori wraps, pancakes, and basically nothing like the bowl of noodles I was craving. I settled upon the net best thing...spaghetti chicken soup with a chicken cutlet. Yes, it was 7AM, but I was hungry, and I'm not yet adjusted to the time. Bonus: free Internet access, newspapers, and a nice strong cup of coffee.

Monday, August 04, 2008

PB is the greatest

But I'm sort of excited about a break from it for a while. Even I'm a bit shocked at how much PB I consumed this summer. Currently in the pantry are a jar of Adams %100 Natural Peanut Butter (smooth) and Whole Foods Peanut Butter (crunchy). I opted to skip the organic this time and can't really taste the difference, which makes the Whole Foods sale price a good one, and the product good enough for a repeat purchase.