Borderline Adventure

This week has been a big one for travel foodism at the whare. The newest addition to Kai Ora’s team Kieran Nash barely had time to sample the buttery magic of kaya toast and kopi at our local joint before he was whisked North to Kuala Lumpur for some crunchy, slurpy, spicy and oh-so-comforting MEE GORENG. This, we found at a gem of a hawker called Instant Restaurant run by a most charismatic and hospitable lady named Ping and her elderly mother….

Then we soaked up some five star opulence.

We are pretty confident that in just 24 hours we managed to scout out the best, worst, cheapest and most extravagant feasts in the city.

Splurging on a night at the Shangri La, KL (made possible through agoda.com) meant that we were treated to a luxury leisure complex (above) and the best darned buffet breakfast we had ever tried (below: round one = roti + best darned chicken and mushroom curries in the universe). Thanks to a few travel junkets in our former lives as journalists in New Zealand, we had both sampled some of the most celebrated hotel buffets in Australia, America and China. Perhaps it was because we were paying for ourselves this time that it was all the more exciting, but with everything from delicate curries to hearty soups to European pastries and cheeses to tropical fruits and juices, the spread left our eyes watering with desire and our digestive organs working in overdrive.



Thank goodness for the tennis court.

Anyway, we felt it more than made up for our average-to-poor dinner the night before, which looked like this…

(clay pot with dubious meat and a raw egg)

…bought from a hawker in the back streets of KL’s Chinatown.

Feeling a little bloated and less-adventurous after the ridiculous buffet breakfast we decided to return to Ping in the afternoon for a spot of this…

(that would be the most refreshingly delicious watermelon juice in the universe).

…before boarding our bus back to our new home (is)land.

A fleeting holiday, but we meant it when we told Ping we would be seeing her again soon. In our absence, we suggest you pay her a visit. She’s the very friendly lady in the hawker opposite the main entrance of the crazy six storey electronics mall Low Yat Plaza, near Jalan Bukit Bintang. Instant Satisfaction, Guaranteed (with none of the awkwardness of five star finery).

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Let Me Eat Cake

So I’m supposed to be laying off the sugar…five weeks of eating my way around Singapore and the pants aren’t quite as loose as they once were. Anywho, my willpower failed me today when, while out shopping for washing powder, I walked past a stack of fresh pandan cakes.

Now I’m not usually a fan of cakes in general, and sponges would sit among my least favourite sweet treats, but there’s something about this melt-in-your-mouth, fluffy green sponge with well-baked edges and gooey-iced center that I simply can not get enough of. It’s not too sweet, but not laced with salt or soy or any other rogue SE Asian flavourings either.

I’m not sure how authentic my street-bought pandan (above) was (I suspect it was largely artificially coloured), but it originally gets its colouring from the chorophyl in the leaf juice of the Pandanus amaryllifolius plant, otherwise known as pandan. As a bit of trivia, the leaves are also used as a repellent against cockroaches…how useful, thanks wikipedia.org. I like to think my feast will protect “the whare” (our apartment) from a nasty infestation. Nom nom nom.

Acquired Taste

I walk through a vibrant market place located under this very distinctive building, People’s Park Complex, almost every day.

I like to try one new thing each time. Grass jelly (which deserves its own post one day soon. I. am. obsessed), pandan cake, red bean pastie…

I usually hover at the durian pancake vendor and then walk on. Durian, for readers outside Asia, is a very large, very heavy, very spiky, very stringy, very stinky fruit that looks like this:Like guns, it can not be taken on trains. Like cheese, it is very expensive.

I’ve seen the stinky, sticky delicacy in icecream and smoothies, but, never, until now, as a stinky, sticky pikelet. Today, curiosity got the better of me. I had to try. And while I was at it, I grabbed myself a cup of “antioxidant rich” red bean milk from the same vendor.

Behold, my mini feast.

Verdict? Well, like many things that are oh, so very good for you, such as wheatgrass and puer tea, red bean milk doesn’t exactly ravish your senses. I like soy bean drinks, but I figure the ones I usually drink have more sugar than bean in them. This tasted kind of like a cross between warm tofu soup and bean salad. I couldn’t get through the whole thing, but I’m sure it did wonders for at least a patch of my liver and skin. I definitely needed the mouth-puckering tangy/sweetness of the durian pancakes afterwards. And while I probably won’t develop a craving for the gooey treats either, I can appreciate why there is a stall dedicated to them. Now I can walk past in peace, and move on to the store selling dried pig parts. Oink.

My big bad breakfasts.

I am “officially freelance”. Or “technically unemployed”. Lonely, lazy, sad, come to any conclusion you want. The fact is, most mornings, I don’t actually HAVE to be anywhere. But I tell myself I do. So I get up early, meditate (more on this phenomenon later), throw on some comfy threads and walk Rebecca down to the MRT. This serves five purposes. One, I am forced to get dressed. Two, I feel like I have a job as I walk purposefully with all the commuters down to the train. Three, I get some quality time with Becca. Four, I can feel the weather, rather than just see it through the window. Five, I can sit and eat breakfast with all the retired men of Pearl Bank Hill.

For $1.60, I get a delicious spread that awakens my senses, fills me up and, I am pretty sure, is making me fat. Fast.

Singaporean coffee, or kopi, is similar to Vietnamese in that it is black as night, served with a generous lashing of condensed milk and sipped with the teaspoon still in the glass.  YUM, and made all the more so when teamed with Kaya toast. This is buttery, sugary toast that is often smeared with a thick layer of even more sugary, coconut spread. And if I pay a little more, I get a couple of runny eggs to dip it in. Sounds weird for cereal/jam-on-toast types, but it has become a tradition for a reason. And it’s a deliciously, sweet, friendly tradition that I am loath to give up, despite some of its less desirable effects.

*note reading material. The New Paper. Today (26/09/11) I read about an expat wife who threw herself out her window and exactly what was left at the murder scene in another apartment. Singapore is a gritty place I tell you.

Peri peri yummy

Sometimes when you have a lot of something, you get sick of it.

Not if it involves peri peri chicken, and you are my friend Lauren. She would eat Nandos every single Sunday, but her boyfriend does not really like going to Nandos every single Sunday. Thankfully, she now has her own bottle of the chain’s special spicy sauce, and can replicate the famous chicken recipe at home whenever she jolly well wants to, Sunday or not. In this case, it was Monday. I was guest of honour.

Shaking Nandos peri peri sauce and spices sourced from Sri Lanka into a hot pan, Lauren set out to recreate her favourite fast food. Hot hot hot chicken + crunchy imported salad + warm wrap + golden, crisp lemon-peppered potato wedges. My taste-buds flushed and my heart exploded.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s fair to say that Lauren knows how to romance a lady friend. Earlier, she took me bike riding along the East Coast at dusk. We drank from coconuts and watched people learn to windsurf. We dodged the muscly lycra-d men on rollerblades. And we survived a taxi ride with a driver who did not use his rear vision mirrors. We ended the evening curled up watching a couple of episodes of Go Girls, the best series in the whole of New Zealand ever, which I dutifully brought over for her in my suitcase.

Then she sent me home on the MRT with hokey pokey icecream in a cone. That’s right, Lauren found the New Zealand delicacy in Giant and she keeps it locked away in her fridge for hot dates such as these.

I will never get sick of evenings with you, Lauren. Thank you. And thank you for your tireless campaign to move me to Singapore. No regrets.

HANKERING FOR HOME

For weeks, the whare has largely been a caffeine-free zone. While this is largely a ripple on effect of Rebecca’s health kick, on Wednesday this week, it was just a case of not having any milk in the fridge.

The supermarket seemed so very far away, and Joseph and Jacqueline became convinced the one thing preventing them from becoming ensconced in their “freelance” writing assignments was a lack of caffeine. They started dreaming of the creamy, powerful flat whites of home, and then Joseph remembered a fellow Kiwi’s rave about a “Melbourne” style café in Chinatown. Melbourne is famous for fashion, music and fantastic coffee, and Auckland is not far behind. While Singapore has plenty of Starbucks and Coffee Beans around, Melbournites and Aucklanders know sugary chain coffee is just not the same as a perfect espresso topped with aerated soy milk. So, armed with their laptops, they set off in search of the perfect c’office (café office). It took a while to find, as The plain hides behind minimalistic signage, but it was worth the effort.

Not only were the flat whites flat whites, but the eggs were eggs, the Vegemite Vegemite (a thick salty spread commonly eaten on toast in Australia and New Zealand which is not nearly as good as New Zealand Marmite – NOT THE SAME AS SINGAPOREAN MARMITE) and their bircher muesli amongst the best Jacqueline has tried. And she eats a lot of bircher muesli.

Every Wednesday night The Plain holds “hump night” night (which probably alludes to the sign in the window, “coffee drinkers make better lovers”),  where they sell Australian beer Little Creatures and puts on a spread of surprise snacks that even the staff don’t know about until they are serving them. Kai Ora plans to head along next week, or possibly the week after. Stay tuned.

The Plain, 50 Craig Rd (off Neil Rd), Singapore. Espressos $2.80, flat whites $3.50 – $4.50 (depending on whether or not you take soy); bircher $5.50 (small); no more than $11.50.

In the mood for cocktails


Jacqueline, being the newest member of the whare, still has a lot of sight seeing to do. Last night, she was whisked around the Arab quarter where, after buying a glittery dress from a new designer named Joe Tham on Haji Lane, she discovered one of the trendiest cocktail bars in town. Bar Stories is tucked up above a fashionable furniture shop, the seats and tables in the bar are also for sale. Dapper waiters take orders by asking if patrons are in the mood for something sweet, savoury, refreshing or sour, and if they have a favourite fruit. The information is seemingly filtered through a mind reader and psychologist and the result is delectably medicinal.

Pictured. Jacqueline’s refreshing honey dew and sake and Lauren’s sour grapes. Incredible, and worth the $25 (each) price tag.