Monday, November 27, 2006

lei cha . traditional hakka cuisine

Jia Xiang He Po Lei Cha
Stall #3, Yu Yuan Eating House
130 Sims Ave (Junction of Geylang Lor 17)
Tel: 6742 0407
Opening Hours: 11am - 8pm; closed on Saturdays

I was inspired by Cheryl's recent entry to dig up some old pictures that I took a couple of months back to post this entry. I don't think many people know about this traditional food from my dialect group, much less tried it. I'm glad however, that Cheryl wrote an entry on Hakka Lei Cha so that more people will come to learn about it.

Lei Cha (擂茶), also known as Hum Cha, is a very popular food item in Malaysia. In Singapore however, there are only a few Lei Cha stalls located around the island. 2 famous ones include the ones at China Square Food Centre and Boon Lay. Apparently, another stall has set up at Vivocity's Food Republic. A lot of work goes into the preparation of this dish and not many people know how to make it properly these days. I don't know if the stalls will still exist when the next generation takes over. Whatever it is though, more stalls opening now can only be a good sign.

If you're familiar with Hakka cuisine, you'd know that they're famously known to be fatty and oily. Hakkas are also known to have a high propensity for salty food. Due to the environment that Hakkas used to live in where fresh produce was a luxury, Hakkas relied a lot on the preserving of vegetables which is used in dishes such as Mei Cai Kou Rou (梅菜扣肉). There's also the salt-baked chicken which I think most people are familiar with.

As far as Hakka cuisine is concerned, Lei Cha is probably the one of the healthiest dish ever made by the Hakkas. According to the Makansutra forum, it is said by Jia Xiang's owner to ease digestion, nourish the lungs and throat, and cleanse the blood and lower blood pressure. There are many sub-groups in the Hakka clan and Lei Cha belongs specifically to the Ho Po clan. In the past, Lei Cha was usually eaten during the Chinese New Year celebrations on the 7th day of the lunar new year. I read from somewhere that the reason it is called Lei Cha which translates to Thunder Tea in English could be because of the loud noises made during the cutting, pounding and grinding of tea leaves, vegetables and nuts while preparing this dish.

The Lei Cha that is served at Jia Xiang comes with a bowl of rice that has toppings of six different kinds of vegetables, including cai xin, cabbage, four-angled beans and long beans, and other important accompaniments such as ikan bilis, roasted peanuts, tau kwa, dried shrimp and chai poh. The star is the essential bowl of green-coloured soup, which has 10 ingredients including peppermint, basil, dill, tea leaves, green tea powder, sesame seeds and peanuts. All these ingredients are pounded in the mortar into a paste to form the base of the soup.

In Singapore, I've only tried the Lei Cha at China Square and in comparison, I prefer this one much better. The soup is thicker and more fragrant if my memory serves me correct. Another reason why I prefer this stall is cos of the Yong Tau Foo that they sell. Authentic Hakka Yong Tau Foo is stuffed with ground meat, unlike the fish paste which we usually get in food courts. At 80 cents a piece, it was generously stuffed with pork and made a tasty snack. I couldn't get enough of it then cos it sold off so quickly.

Some may be turned off by the colour of the soup or its smell. Vegetable haters will probably stay lengths away. I still want to encourage everyone to try this Hakka dish, just to keep old traditional foods around longer.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

what queue?

Come Daily Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee 天天来炒福建虾面
Block 127, Toa Payoh Lorong 1

Opening Hours: 9am - 9pm, closed on Mondays

Not sure if anyone managed to catch ‘Where the Queue Starts’ (排排站,查查看), a foodie programme hosted by Bryan Wong & Cavin Soh which recently ended its run on Channel U. The concept behind this show was rather interesting cos the hosts dressed up as patrol officers and went round to source for food stalls that have long snaking queues. I managed to catch a couple of their Sunday reruns and I think Bryan Wong is such a funny host but that of course, is not the point of this entry.

On one particular Sunday weeks ago, Sis, mum & I caught an episode where they were introducing this Hokkien Prawn Mee stall in Toa Payoh. We ended up at this stall for lunch that day cos sis is a sucker for Hokkien Prawn Mee with extra lime. The amount of lime she actually puts in the dish kills the prawn stock and makes it sour if you ask me. Anyways, there was no queue in sight although the noodles did take a while to arrive at our table.

Frankly, my family and I have visited this stall before. It’s supposed to be quite famous so the show definitely didn’t get it wrong on that part. However, I was sorely disappointed that day cos it didn’t taste like how I remembered it to be. The guests on the show were right. The noodles were infused with the flavour from the tasty prawn stock but were way too soggy. Pork lard was used to make the dish more fragrant and all the guests were raving about it. In my opinion though, I thought that they were too frivolous with it. I think its use is necessary for the flavour but I don’t think I like it much when every bite of noodle I take has bits of lard in it. I ended up picking out most of it.

The Hokkien Prawn Mee packs good flavour and makes a tasty meal but if Bryan Wong and Cavin Soh throw me the question of whether the Hokkien Mee’s worth queuing up for; I’d agree with Chew Chor Meng in saying… ‘it’s not worth it’.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

a hong kong visit . xi yan sweets

Xi Yan Sweets
Shop 1, G/F
8 Wing Fung Street
Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Tel: 852 2833 6299

It’s been slightly over a month since I’ve got back from Hong Kong. I mentioned in my previous entry that I had a fantastic lunch on one of my days there. I’m still thinking about it actually cos I truly enjoyed my dining experience, so much so that I’m trying to arrange a dinner at their sister restaurant, Xi Yan, this time in Singapore.

I read about Xi Yan Sweets from HK Foodie’s blog some time ago. When I decided to visit Hong Kong, I told myself that I HAD TO visit that place. It was more within reach anyway since Xi Yan Sweets operates like a café unlike its larger siblings. Moreover, I thought that D might like the place so Xi Yan Sweets became one of those ‘must-go’ highlights on the trip.

Xi Yan Sweets is located at the end of Wan Chai. For those who are not familiar with Hong Kong, Wan Chai is a pretty old town on its own. Xi Yan Sweets however, is located in a posh corner of Wan Chai where the landscape is totally different. D & I liked the décor in the restaurant quite a bit. Along with Xi Yan’s official colour of red, there were black and white pictures randomly placed against the wall and mosaic tiles on certain walls. It made the whole café look modern but at the same time, comfy.

At Xi Yan Sweets, a lot of their famous dishes are replicated but made into smaller portions. You’ll see their specialities such as the Japanese tomatoes with a sesame sauce, the ‘Saliva’ Chicken and Glutinous Rice Dumplings in Ginger Soup. Anyways, that’s almost what we ended up ordering anyways since we couldn’t leave without trying the food that people had been raving about.

Japanese Tomatoes with Wasabi Sesame Sauce
D & I loved this dish a whole lot. The tomatoes were crunchy and sweet (they tasted expensive by the way). The sesame sauce with a tinge of wasabi drizzled onto the chilled tomatoes made it a refreshing and truly enjoyable appetiser. I finally understood why this was a mainstay on Xi Yan’s menu and why people kept raving about something as simple as tomatoes. It was simply fantastic.

‘Saliva’ ‘Mouth-watering’ Chicken
Naming is ‘saliva’ chicken sounds a bit gross I know. It’s actually directly translated from the Chinese pharse ‘kou shui’. I have no idea how that name came about. If someone could enlighten me, please do. This dish originates from Szechuan and is usually served with century eggs, chunks of cucumber and la mian. Xi Yan Sweets does it a little differently by serving the usual suspects with fen pi instead. I’ve tried this dish at Crystal Jade in Singapore before but I much prefer it served with fen pi instead of la mian. You can choose between 3 levels of spiciness at Xi Yan Sweets. We chose the mild version but D was complaining that it was still too spicy for him. I thought it was ok though. This dish is also one of the mainstays on the regular Xi Yan menu and it was without saying that this was delicious as well.

Dan Dan Noodles
Dan Dan Noodles served at Xi Yan Sweets seems to have a modern twist to it. Although it was delicious, it tasted somewhat different from others I’ve tried. The good thing about it is that it’s not drowned in peanut sauce where you could feel sick after eating too much. I loved the minced meat and crunchy peanuts in the dish as well. A rather enjoyable dish.

Glutinous Rice Dumpling in a Ginger Soup and Banana Pudding
This is by far the most interesting rice dumpling that I’ve ever tasted. The filling totally blew me away. Unlike the usual black sesame or peanut filling, there were chopped peanuts, some custardy thing and sweet melon all wrapped up in a little ball. The sweet dumplings went well with the hot ginger soup. Got a feeling that my dad will love this dessert. The banana pudding was D’s choice. It was good but a tad too sweet for me because of the caramelized top.

Lime Soda & Pomelo Soda
Refreshing and delicious. Pomelo Soda scored with the generous amount of pomelo sacs in the drink. Did I mention that pomelo’s one of my favourite fruits??

Just thinking of my coming dinner at Xi Yan next month (hopefully!) excites me although it received less than raving reviews from Ivan recently. Hopefully, I’d be leaving with a smiling face and a satisfied tummy, just as how it was in Hong Kong.

P/S: As it turns out, an anonymous reader just alerted me that 'koushui' doesn't mean 'saliva' but means 'mouth-watering'! How come I didn't know that!! As you can tell, my Chinese ain't that good. Hope the anonymous reader didn't smack his or her head too hard when he found out about my atrocious lack of knowledge and the ignorance of the Chinese language. HA!

Monday, November 13, 2006

rosso . a japanese cafe

Café Rosso
17D Lorong Liput
Holland Village
Tel: 6466 8637

I recall writing about Café Rosso in my early food blogging days. That was in my now-defunct food blog by the way. When I first visited Café Rosso, I loved the environment and the concept of it so much that I visited the place rather often. Having said that though, it’s been some time since I had returned. Something sparked in D somehow for us to have tea there one day and so we did. Since then, we’ve been there for dinner and we’re even thinking of having breakfast there this Saturday!

Café Rosso is opened by a Japanese couple and the food served there is Western with Japanese influences. I was just raving about the Mentaiko Pasta I had at Te from my Hong Kong reviews and I had forgotten that Café Rosso was a place where I could find just the thing I was looking for. From what I know, Mentaiko Pasta could be one of the most unhealthy pastas out there with loads of mayonnaise and butter used to make the cream. In this case, healthiness is a small trade-off for delicious food. Anyways, I couldn’t resist a taste test to compare the Mentaiko Pasta from both places.

The Mentaiko Pasta served at both places taste totally different and frankly, I don’t have a clue which is the authentic one. Well, technically Te originated from Roppongi Hills in Tokyo so there was a better shot at authenticity there but then again, it lacked the spiciness that the mentaiko should have brought to the pasta so now, I’m doubtful. Café Rosso however, did well in this section. The spiciness of the mentaiko brought a lovely kick to the creamy pasta. Speaking of which, the cream used was totally different as well. Café Rosso’s version was drier but heavier; the cream taste was pretty strong. Te’s version however was much wetter, lighter but saltier. The only similarities they probably had were that they both used spaghetti and topped their pastas off with shredded seaweed. Not to mention that I wiped out both plates with swift hands and a hungry tummy too.

Mentaiko Spaghetti

D ordered the tomato seafood spaghetti which I thought looked really good. I liked the garlicky tomato sauce but D thought that the spaghetti wasn’t al dente and would have appreciated it better if it was slightly undercooked. Sis had a hearty beef stew, one of Rosso’s specials. It was rather heavy, creamy and a little miserly on the amount of meat in the stew but nonetheless delicious, especially with the chunks of stewed carrots in there.

Seafood Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce

Rosso Beef Stew

On a separate occasion when I had tea there, D had an Aglio Olio which was flavourful but again, the pasta was overcooked. The dessert I had that day was note-worthy. Café Rosso usually displays all their cakes for customers to choose. In typical Japanese fashion, every cake that’s displayed looks like so much effort has been put in to make it look pretty. Being attracted by the asthetics, I couldn’t decide what to have and D ended up choosing the Mont Blanc; a chestnut cake which I loved. You’d have to eat the chestnut paste with the cream within and the sweet biscuit base to realize that flavours have been well balanced and not overly sweet. Definitely worth a try…

Aglio Olio Spaghetti

Mont Blanc

I’m looking forward to breakfast this Saturday. That’ll be a good time for me to relax, take my time to read the papers and enjoy my Tuscan breakfast (which is yummy by the way) and scones. With good company of course.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

the end to a hectic week

I'm glad that the week is finally OVER! 'Tis the season for weddings and I've attended 4 in the past week. I've been telling my friends that I'd eaten roast chicken with prawn crackers 3 times in 5 days and before I went for the 4th wedding dinner, I told them that if I saw roast chicken with prawn crackers one more time, I was gonna puke. Thank goodness that the 4th dinner had almost totally different food. There was still roast chicken but at least it was done with a cardamon jus minus the prawn crackers. Why does every restaurant serve the same thing?? Anyways, that's said and done. I have about a month from now to recover before I dive into eating roast chicken with prawn crackers at another wedding in December.

For the final wedding dinner of the week, I took a coach up to KL to attend a good friend's wedding. She's basically relocated to be with her hubby and they held their wedding at the Westin over the weekend. Although the service was pretty lousy that day (wine spilling and all), certain dishes were pretty decent. Maybe it's cos being different stood out for me. The cold dish platter had smoked salmon and mushroom vol-au-vents instead of the usual shrimp cocktail and jellyfish. Abalone was braised in a foie gras sauce and dessert was mango pudding with lime sherbet. Quite an interesting twist I must say. Then again, if I attended 4 weddings in KL, I may have experienced the same as in Singapore who knows!

What I was more excited about was actually breakfast (more like brunch actually) the next day. J had to take the early coach home so I couldn't bring her to my favourite breakfast place in KL. Whenever I'm up in KL, my family and I try to make a point to visit that coffeeshop. I've tried almost everything there and I dare say that they're all delicious. It was actually a bit depressing that morning cos I was alone and I could only order ONE thing. Usually when my family's there, the whole table will be filled with food. I couldn't decide initially but finally settled on the fishball noodles.

The special thing about this stall is that the fishballs are home made thus explaining the odd shape. It's also very pure so you get fish paste and not a majority of flour. In the soup with the fishballs is also home made lup cheong (chinese sausage) which is yummy but sinful. I love the noodles with the minced meat and black soya sauce. I can't find any shop in Singapore that serves their noodles as simple as that. The toss up was between this and the char kway teow which I love there as well. That would just have to wait 'til next time.

Greedy me thought that I might be hungry before I headed back home on the coach so I decided to 'da bao' some chee cheong fun with yong tau foo. In Malaysia, chee cheong fun is usually eaten with yong tau foo. The sauce that's served here is not the typical reddish sweet sauce type you get back home. Needless to say it was yummy and I loved that they still wrap it traditionally in newspapers.

The coffeeshop also has a small stall selling mini egg tarts which is a hit with customers. It's usually baked fresh and sells out fast cos people usually come by and buy in large quantities. I couldn't resist the flaky pastry egg tarts since I've been on this egg tart frenzy lately so I bought some to bring home.

One of the other stalls I missed out on was the goreng pisang stall. My mum loves the goreng pisang there. Not exactly the fried banana but they have this item where nian gao is sandwiched between a slice of sweet potato and yam. Absolutely heavenly when it's eaten hot. The sticky nian gao just gels everything together so well. Recently many stalls in Singapore have been adding lime to their sugar cane instead of lemon. Long before Singapore sugarcane sellers realised that lime made the drink taste better, I'd been having my lime sugarcane fix at the stall next to the coffeeshop. Not that it's anything special now but it just brings back memories for me.

My whole family's definitely coming along with me the next time I'm in KL. For sure.

P/S: This entry is dedicated specially to my dear brother... happy?? now now.. don't cry anymore..