Monday, January 19, 2009

Touristy Raffles Place and Traditional Eats at Chinatown

Remember my pledge at the end of the last post about how I'm gonna try and promote healthy living in this blog for the New Year? Well.. Today I started off bright and early (cos my body clock is totally not in the Singapore time zone I'm trying tard to tune it back) and I decided to do something different. I'm gonna take a morning stroll at Raffles Place and Boat Quay before I meet Kelly for lunch at Chinatown.
Yup so if you wanna zoom into the food (yes healthy living does involve eating) simply scroll down. It is truly lovely to feel like a tourist in your own country. Why should Japanese tourists obsess over taking scenic photos and posing with our dear Sir Stamford Raffles when we honestly, don't give a damn? Its a shame how our knowledge of history, or at least mine, is in shackles. Familiarity breeds contempt indeed, or is it the lack of national pride?
When I was stranded outside the Asian Civilisation Musuem at 9am along with some angmoh tourists,(it opens only at 1pm) I was staring at this installment of sticks outside Victoria Memorial Hall..sure doesnt look like scaffolding lol.
I can never forget the bust of Raffles greeting me at the entrance of RJC everyday at the foyer..I wonder if its around at the new campus..
The sunrays are quite gorgeous (funny coming from a nocturnal creature like me) and it will be such a luxury to have breakfast and sip tea at the courtyard at the Fullerton overlooking the river..shall try that one day. When I was inside the hotel, I read a notice saying there was a Japanese buffet at the restaurant! I must go and find out more...and attempt that lazy breakfast by the river.

Boat Quay has a long row of restaurants that is geting overpopulated with seafood places and thai restauratns.. but a few stand out places I want to try is The Penny Black for the Tandoori Chicken...
and the beer battered fish and chips at Molly Malone's Irish Pub that is right behind, along Circular Road..
And finally another pressing place to try is the Moomba Tuckshop at the Bank of China Building for its sandwiches...
Indeed it is a luxury checking into Starbucks for a cuppa browsing magazines (that particular branch opposite Macs has the latest magazines for Seventeen, Shape and Simply Her! All spanking new too, not icky and dog earred) whilst watching the rush through the financial district..on legs or wheels..
Then i zipped off to meet Kelly at Chinatown for our food trail..the original intention is actually to book our flight tickets at Chinatown Complex, but that seemed secondary to our mission to try out the yummies.
Everytime I eat with Kelly, the post becomes very long..she really has alot alot of stamina which is admirable for a girl! =) most of the entries are thanks to yourselves for what 2 very hungry girls will do when they are ravenous...
Food generally belongs to 2 categories - food you eat to fill yourselves (for some guys, only this category exist) and fun food - snacks and desserts that you crave for and keep you happy. Yet, there are some food that you just gotta have everyday, and for my dear friend this has got to be Kaya Toast and Cheese Pancake (from Mr Bean), or a peanut pancake (min jiang kueh)
And today, we found the best of each so these 2 foods will never taste the same again for poor Kelly...
Our first stop is Tong Ah Coffee shop (35 Keong Saik Road), this traditional old school coffee shop.
Haha of cos Tong Ah wasnt housed in 1929, a boutique hotel along Keong Saik Road.. Ember is! I'm gonna try that restaurant soon - the chilean sea bass and the miso cod sound really good.
The whole time we were sitting at Tong Ah we were facing 1929 so I cant help snapping s shot of the pretty hotel!
Kelly and I were lucky to get a table along the roads at around 12pm when the lunch crowd was filtering in..we were there for their kaya bread but the office people were there for the laksa and rice dishes..
Thin Kaya Toast
This is the super duper crispy kaya toast. It is said that if you just mention kaya toast you'd get the thick kaya toast but the thin one is the one to order. It is so crisp and crumbly that it tastes like a bready cracker! They achieve this by toasting and retoasting it to get that magical texture. And they manage to get the proportion of kaya and the cold slab of butter right. The kaya is homemade and is eggy and lumpy but tastes oh so good! This is a must try for kaya toast lovers!

Hoho the kopi here is really thick and bitter, but we really liked it! With some really sweet condensed milk this beats the cuppa of Starbucks (and nonfat milk lol) anytime.

Steamed Kaya Bread
And we ordered the steamed kaya bread..this is a very traditional snack - existed in my dads times. Here they put it into the steamer (that is used to store ready made Paus) - we waited very long for this and we thought they forgot our order so we hurried them abit. Maybe if we didnt chase them it could be softer and fluffier?

Still it was very good. It was so fluffy it felt like we were eating clouds. Nothing like the bready and synthetic hard outer coating of machine made khong guan paus..this was soft, fluffy and warm!

Do you see how lumpy and pale the kaya is? delicious!
Oh I have to say that even Tong Ah suffers from the dilution of the foreign workers..they thought that we were taking away TWICE - so our coffee was in an environmentally unfriendly styrofoam cup and our breads in equally unbiogradably ugly plastic bags..maybe its a subtle way of asking us to make way for their lunch crowd...
Yup indeed we specially walked all the way to Keong Saik Road to try that coveted toast..on the way back to Chinatown we passed by Maxwell Hawker Centre and we couldn't help dropping by to take a look...
well not exactly take a look..visual treats are obviously futile on us.. This is our second time at Maxwell..last year when we were here we tried the Zhen Zhen Fish Porridge, Jinghua Fish Soup, and the fried ondeh ondeh. Zhen Zhen's left a deep impression on us and we were back to eat it again.
But not before this famous stall selling fritters..first up: Lim Kee Banana Fritters.

The turnover rate here is rather high and the fritters on display here don't stay for long.
From the left, there is yam, tapioca, banana, cempedek, green bean and sweet potato.
We ordered the tapioca (Kelly's), cempedek (mine) and shared the banana.
After trying the cempedek fritter at Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre, I was quite hooked to this snack. The distinct sweet jackfruit taste complements the salty crisp fried batter and it tastes all the better fresh off the fryer. This one was a little oil logged though - I prefer the one at Bedok better.
Kelly's tapioca was not as scalding hot as mine - but the batter was still as crisp nonetheless.

The pisang was as good as pisang goreng can be - the banana nicely caramelised and the batter fresh and crisp. It wasn't too oily either.
And of cos to cleanse our oil logged palate, we zoomed to Zhen Zhen Porridge to get our raw fish fix!
While my very kind friend Kelly was queueing up (behind a very jittery auntie who chopped her seat with an umbrella no less and still scolded me for shifting her seat one seat down) I made friends with this friendly Australian tourist called Jess - she is from Sydney and has just graduated and is doing her post grad trip now - she is actually on her own after her group of friends split in Bangkok and this was her 5th and last day in Singapore.
I really admire her zest for travel and the guts to try new foods - when I was talking to her she was actually eating a bowl of laksa and liked it so much there was not a drop of gravy left in the bowl She tried kaya toast, banana fritter, loves durians - its amazing she even made it all the way to Maxwell! and that she booked her Singpapore trip so last minute and on a whim yet found an amazingly cheap hostel in Ajunied for 16 bucks a night! oh man its even cheaper than our meals in a day man.
Amongst the things we chatted about was couch surfing which she has tried in Copenhagen, and the way of living (ie eating!!) in Australia - eating out is much more expensive. We are very lucky in Singapore that we have hawker centres - each hawker spends half his lifetime cooking and preparing the same dish perfecting his craft at that particular dish and a hawker centre brings together such people. Such passion and dilligence is sorely lacking in the younger generations -and sigh with the dilution of foreign workers now, that personal touch and local flavour can gradually become extinct.
But the Australian babe shares the same passion of food (she took picture of her laksa!! thats why I got curious and we started talking) and friends so her recreation time does revolve around food, coffee and company - pretty much what my life revolves around too!

Luckily we didn't give Maxwell a miss (cos we had a long long list to try at Hong Lim and Smith Street) or else we wouldnt have made a friend from Sydney! Food does make for great bonding and it cretainly does create friendships and conversation instantaneously.

Ok that interlude was rather long but throughout this porridge we were truly enjoying the conversation..and the food of cos, it never slips my mind..
Raw Fish, $4
This is a 4 dollars portion and it is HUGE! This is the second time Kelly and I ate Zhen Zhen Porridge and the raw fish is as fresh and ever. It is laden with alot alot of ginger, shallots, spring onions and sesame seeds - with the tanginess from the lime, this dish is truly healthily indulgent.

beats sashimi flat in my books..
The porridge is really very smooth and tastes like a starchy-soup rather than a porridge. Still it is silky smooth and it is really tasty with the aroma and crunchiness of the sesame seeds(I love sesame seeds with anything) and shallots. This is ultimate comfort food. I could eat this everyday - this belongs to the fill me up category which I would be glad to have everyday.
After salty comes sweet again and we decided to try the Peanuts soup stall. Kelly was honestly quite stuffed at this point but she still had some of the sweet soup I ordered - goes to show that it must be quite good.
This stall sells only 3 types of dessert soup - peanuts, red bean with brown rice, and tau suan. You can choose to add glutinous rice balls too.
Red Bean Soup with Brown Rice - 90 cents
It wasn't too sweet- to the point of being slightly diluted but was chokeful of ingredients..
There is not only red bean and brown rice, but there was peanut, barley in the soup as well. It tastes really healthy and flavourful with crunchy ingredients in every spoonful.

Ooh this was Kelly's..Plum Juice. I have no affinity with most sour things and this was no exception. Kelly was very amused at my momentarily scrunched up face.

Kelly was beyond stuffed at this point (see thats why pregnant women love plum it curbs their nausea and cravings)..but I was still game to try the Peanut Pancake and Coconut Pancake from this Pancake stall...Kelly tried this the first time we were here but she still prefers the one at Ghim Moh Market..
From left: there is green bean,red bean, coconut and peanut. This is the type of pancake that are found in most stalls.. I still prefer the swiss roll type better because the ratio of the flour to filling is more even..
Peanut Pancake, 50 cents
The dough is pandan flavoured and was very chewy - I love the aroma of the peanuts which was very fresh and crumbly.
Coconut Pancake
The coconut flavour was not too strong though - rather flat, but it made eating the pancakes very interesting - one moment peanut, one moment coconut, I love the interplay of flavours! I was quite full but ate most of the two still - I couldnt really resist keeping it for later.
When we walked all the way to the last row, we were shocked to find it void of stalls - instead there was this row of people facing the wall to eat! Hoho so very neat, reminded us of school canteen and the days when we had to pai dui.
After that insane amount of food, of cos we tried to walk it off by scouting for our airline tickets at People's Park but it was not long before we got drawn by the buttery smell of another old school bakery..Bakery Delight Chinatown
You really cant help but step nearer the shop and whiff its buttery aroma - fresh bread from the oven smells heavenly.
There is a perpetual queue of people buying their bread and the turnover rate is pretty high. Do you see those post its on the right? They tell you what flavours are available at the moment.
Kaya bread $1.30
We tried the kaya bread - it was very soft and fluffy, but it cant beat the texture of the steamed kaya bread we had at Tong Ah Coffee shop. Kelly says that she has tried it when its fresh off the oven and it has this thin crisp exterior - which was missing today.
We then thronged the stalls along Smith Street and Chinatown - the queues for bak kwa is crazy!!
We were making our way to Mei Heong Yuen, a chinese desserts stall..
It has expanded and there are 2 stall was a Monday afternoon yet it was packed with peple (just like every other area in Chinatown)..its crazy!!

the rather comprehensive menu..
on the reverse side of the menu were the newer creations like the shaved ice(which comes in coffee, durian flavours)..actually we wanted to try the green tea shaved ice with red bean but it was freakin overpriced at 5 bucks!!!! Its even more ex than that stall in Heeren ! we would have ordered 3 desserts if this wasnt so overpriced..
so in the end we decided to try their renowned mango pomelo sago and their sesame/walnut paste..
Mango with Pomelo and Sago $3.50
This version was rather sour today, the mangoes were probably not that ripe. Still the tangy real pieces of mango complemented the mango puree and the bursting bits of bittersweet pomelo, making this dessert rather refreshing.
Sesame Paste and Walnut Paste $2.50
This paste was really smooth and flavourful. There was more walnut paste than sesame although we wished for the reverse..the sesame was rather intense!
We love the gradient of colours when we order a mixture of pastes. The different flavours make it really interesting to eat and swirl around with.
Today turned out to be an unxpectedly bread-y day (honestly, I don't think people associate bread with Chinatown) and Good Morning Nanyang Cafe was another kaya toast place we wanted to try out - specifically the ciabatta toast with kaya or orange marmalade. The coffee here is supposed to be quite good as well - but it was slightly too modern for our rather traditional day so we decided to recee Hong Lim Hawker Centre first. We will be back for sure, though. That ciabatta looks enticing.
We walked on and realised that our next pit stop was no less modern than Good Morning Nanyang Cafe - in fact, Barcook Bakery (Block 531, Upper Cross Street, 01-54 )is only a few months old, a new kid on the block. Again thre was a perpetual queue and the shelves were quite empty, save for the main display where the freshly baked buns do not stay for long..
This bakery is directly opposite Hong Lim Hawker Centre, just in case you'd get lost. Thank goodness for Kelly who is a walking compass, she has been the one steering me around throughout this entire food trail! =)
i read about Barcook Bakery in the newspapers some months back and couldnt recall the exact address of this place so thanks to soshiok I managed to locate it again. The articles here are archived from the newspapers - this particular article raved about the light, airy texture of the buns - possible because they are baked using the more time-consuming sponge-dough method.

'Barcook’s chief baker Sim Lih Cherng, 28, who previously worked for the BreadTalk chain, explains that for this method, a portion of the ingredients – yeast, flour and water – are first mixed together, then left to rise for four hours to make the sponge. The remaining ingredients are then incorporated into the sponge and mixed well to form a dough.The result is a bread that is moist, better flavoured and stays as soft even on the second day.' as quoted from the article.
I doubt it can remain uneaten for 2 days. It was every bit as good as it sounds, with all the technicality of the baking jargon.

The baker was rather friendly too, telling me all the names of the buns - yes they were so busy they had no time to label their buns so you do not see any in this picture. They do not even display their signature German Muesli Loafs - which was tempting me in the trays back in the kitchen. I shouldnt attempt to finish half a loaf of bread (just like in Twelve+ One where the jam was just too delicious) so Kelly and I ordered 2 buns first. Obviously they were so good we didnt stop there and in the end we went back to buy 2 more buns..
We took the 2 types left first - the raisin cream bun on the top row and the mexi cheese below...
Raisin Cream Bun was their popular ones, and the editor also raved about their coffee buns and coffee raisin buns - but too bad for us the coffee ones werent in stock today..

Mexi Cheese
But this has got to be our favourite - tearing apart the crisp sweet top exterior, the warm cheesy centre just oozed out.. this was FANTASTIC! We realised later on when we ordered the Bo-Lor-Pau that this is actually almost the same type except that it is stuffed with cheese - damn good cheese as well, it tasted like the salty Laughing Cow Cheese.
Raisin Cream Bun, $1.30
This was equally stellar, the bread was really soft and fluffy, and warm - but cant beat the warmness of the cheese as you chew into the soft bread..the bits of sweet raisin brings out the cheesiness even more- the contrast was amazing!
Bo-Lor Pau
The first 2 we tried were sooo good we had to try whatever newer buns they rolled out when we were greedily eating =P to our delight, there were new varieties! This is the traditional sweet bread - the exterior is crisp and sweet like the Mexicheese sans the cheese- so it was rather plain in contrast to Mexicheese, but still a good bun, no less. The Crystal Jade ones tend to have a harder sugary crust. Oh but this was perfect!

Pineapple Bread
This really looked like the Breadtalk's Applewerm! We expected it to taste like a pineapple tart in a bun version..but alas...
the filling was really clear and was so......unspecific.It was very sweet and could be any fruit puree you can imagine it to

nonetheless, the bread was very soft and the sugary crusted top made it a delight to eat..
Large Popcorn, $6
After the carbo loaded breakfast/lunch/tea/dinner/supper (who's counting) we were off to Vivocity to catch Australia..its possibly the only place left showing this cos its ending its was a real pleasant surprise to run into Weizhen and ShinYee, my SCGS friends whom I havent seen in a very very long time!
Do NOT eat the popcorn at the Golden Village at Vivocity.. it is really too lightly coated and too stale. Even the Golden Village at Great World's pop corn is terrible..and they are real misers about the student discounts - only the Golden Villages at heartland malls have that $6 promotion!! bummer... Cathy is the place to go for cheap tickets and fresher thickly coated sweet popcorn! (specifically the level 4 Cineleisure counter esp if you can catch it fresh from the popper or whatever machine its called)
Australia was honestly quite a bore at the start so I popped into others for awhile (one which ended and I almost couldnt escape!!) but luckily I went back and caught the rest of the show cos the scenery was honestly quite breathtaking - all the tribes and animals and gorgeous mountains and streams - sigh Singapore is honestly too built up!
Kelly was so moved by the movie but all I could think of was the FANTASTIC breads I had in the day....i totally spoilt the mood for the dear girl but honestly I was rather distracted!! I am really lousy company in wheepy emo movies..
Dinner was between the Korean food stall at Food Republic (where I had my first bibimbap and I was totally hooked onto Korean food) and the Japanese Gourmet Town(#01-157/158 Vivocity)..We decided to settle for the latter.
I first read about this placce on Camemberu's blog. Japanese Gourmet Town offers three different brands within one shop - Botejyu from Osaka, Yoshimi from Hokkaido, and Ajisen from Kyushu - central, north, and south of Japan. Hence the menu was HUGE!
We decided to try the Okonomiyaki from Botejyu.
Do you know the eatery's name, Botejyu actually describes the art of making okonomiyaki? Bote means to flip over, and Jyu is the sizzling sound of the okonomiyaki on the teppan grill.
And what is okonomiyaki? (it took me many many spelling errors to get the name right, its quite a tongue twister too, try saying it real quick)
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese dish consisting of a pan-fried batter cake and various ingredients. Okonomi means "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki means "grilled" or "cooked" (like yakitori); thus, the name of this dish means "cook what you like". Toppings and batters tend to vary according to regions in Japan.
Moonlight Okos $14.80
With squid and prawn, topped with sunny side up egg

This savoury pancake-omelette was quite a delight to eat, and made very delicious with the teriyaki sauce and the salty Bonito flakes. There were bits of crunchy cabbage inside the crispy and slightly charred batter, and a few fresh prawns and squid as well, and the runny egg was just coating every mouthful of batter. It feels like a Chinese carrot cake - sans the oiliness and the sweet dark sauce.
And we ended the night on a sweet convenient note: dessert was just next door! Awfully Chocolate, with its infamous minimalistic decor..

There are 2 couple sofa seats and I just realised there are another 2 bar seats at the counter.. however the only dine in item here was the Hei chocolate icecream scoop. The cakes are whole and unless you can find another partner to conquer it in house... you'd be the first, according to this very friendly lady, cos no one has attempted that feat before.
This lady is super duper nice, she gave us extra icecream (maybe cos we were the last customers already? or cos we were 2 big hungry looking girls heh) and had friendly conversation with us throughout our icecream feast. She did clarify that the Awfully Chocolate fudge cakes are made in a factory in Malaysia though there is a Singaporean baker there to QC =P cakes come in once every few days... Given how Awfully Chocolate is proliferating around the island, such cost cutting measures are needed I guess..its a business after all....somehow I miss the personal touch of family run places (even hawker stalls) or other stalls which fight to retain its Tom's Palette..
Chocolate Icecream, $3.80 per scoop
Still the dark chocolate icecream here is VERY GOOD! Because we like our icecream really dense - this was so dense that it hardly melted. Usually I like my icecream to be melted slightly and I will eat the melting parts first (thats why I love milkshakes)- this essentially frozen chocolate was so good I just ate it the way it was. It was dark and bitter and was a taste of cocoa heaven!

She couldnt tell me what kind of cocoa beans they used to make this..but she said if customers do ask its just some South American beans..a little too generic ya..


Fen said...

I'm so sorry to post my comments on the wrong post... Somehow or rather the comments end up in the Kyomomoyama entry...

The post is just too long...

Yeh, the sunrays are lovely on the picture... and the first part of your post is like a heritage posting... remind me of those social studies excursion when we are young...

I do like the contrast of modern restaurants vs. the preserved heritage buildings... and boy, that is alot of food eaten (on the same day).

Those steamed kaya bread (minus the kaya with only butter) has always been my childhood favourite... wow... looks so soft and springy...

Still remember my first visit to Maxwell Hawker Centre, those unsightly water taps, right smack in the middle of the hawker centres... Do miss those old sights of the hawker centre before the renovation... but of course, prefer to eat in the new one...

Wow, lucky you to have such impromptu friendships and conversations... It has been so rare in such a fast-paced society like Singapore.

Blame me for being paranoid but I am pretty skeptical about eating raw fish in hawker centre... but from your description, it seems to be a must-try... So the raw fish is not mixed in the porridge but eaten raw?

Plum juice is nice!!!

Talking about peanut pancake, I missed those thin and crispy ones with a chewy centre, made on the spot, with crunchy dry peanuts... Somehow or rather I don't seems to have them anymore...

Your coverage in the stalls of Chinatown reminds me of the good old days when I was working nearby, I do miss the Bakery Delight Chinatown and Mei Heong Yuan...

Wanted to try Barcook Bakery after Ice did a coverage on it... Nice description on their sponge-dough method.

Yeh, had the popcorn from GV (PS)recently and it tasted horrible... not as good as before...

I simply can't imagine the amount of food you have eaten... The amount of food in your post is simply amazing...

julie said...

hello fen! yup its actually quite an experience waking up real early and exploring Sentosa or Fullerton area cos it feels different when its not thronged with crowds..very very serene..i love it..

I love the steam bread!! I didnt know about this snack till i read ieatishootipost's entry on steamed kaya MUST try the Tong Ah Crispy Kaya Toast!!

The turnover rate at Zhen Zhen Fish Porridge is very fast - there is a perpetual long queue i guess it should be alright =) i think the fish is supposed to be placed deep inside the porridge to cook but I love to eat it on its own cos its loaded with so many condiments. i havent eaten such flavourful yusheng salad elsewhere..

i've only seen that thin crispy peanut pancake at Jollybean..are there more traditional ones around? im quite adverse to chain eateries now..heh.

i really dun like plum juice!! but then again just a few days back i tried this vitagen-plum ice blended drink at this new dessert cafe (which I'll write about soon) that is absolutely delicious..

i just read your entry on that german gonna comment about it should write more on savoury food i enjoy reading those! (although I must say those savoury places tend not to offer many nice sweet treats haha)

low said...

hey juls, i went mei heong yuan few days ago, tried the pumpkin cake and mango sago with pomelo. the pumpkin cake wasn't impressive, still prefer pumpkin in soup form. you would have liked the mango though, it wasn't particularly sour =P

i was thinking it would be great if i had zhen zhen's raw fish in my yusheng during lo hei! it's so much fresher i feel, minus the fishy taste cos of the potent ginger, lime juice etc. anyway i think the raw fish is meant to eat erm..raw? the porridge is an add-on.

to fen: yes the plum juice was quite nice. very sour initially with a sweet aftertaste. i crinch with every sip hah. but i feel that it really does help cleanse the palate before subsequent food tasting.

so juls, perhaps we should pack some plum juice for our uber long food trails. yes horror of horrors for you i'm sure. =P

i tried re-creating steamed kaya bread using grannie's traditional multilayered steamer. the bread came out real soft, but i didn't have good home-made kaya to go along with it. what a waste. it was quite palatable with peanut butter though.