Sunday, February 20, 2011

Nanxiang Steamed Bun: More Than Just XLBs!

This is an invited session

If you go Shanghai with a tour group, chances are that you will be brought to 城隍庙's Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant (南翔馒头店) for their xiaolongbaos, because that is one of the oldest and most reputatable place to have your fix of authenthic XLBs!

But when the Singapore franchise opened in Bugis Junction years ago, I did not manage to eat there due to a kitchen malfunction on my day of visit and somehow never thought of going back again, partially due to a widespread of respectable XLBs found elsewhere in Singapore.

So when LeRoy invited me for a session at their latest outlet in Plaza Singapura, it once again aroused my interest of how close they are to the grand ol dame!

Going along the line of a casual eatery, the decor is clean and simple with the bamboo basket as a recurring theme. The menu is also interesting in a sense that it rarely overlapped with what places like Crystal Jade and Imperial Treasure are serving, but instead presenting dishes that are more simple and homecooked-like found in typical Shanghainese households.

In the PS branch, there's even this platform-like space that resembled the inside of a bamboo basket, so LeRoy and I were joking how they should probably make steam emitting from the floor until we realised its kind of sadistic, no?

Icy Water Cress Honey ($2.50)

While I had plenty of watercress (西洋菜) soup in my life, I don't quite remember it being in a beverage form! I was delighted that the honey did not overwhelm the watercress taste, being quite an interesting drink to cool you down!

Yuan Yang Duck Tongue ($8.00), Jelly Fish with Spicy Vinegar ($6.80)

I guess the crunchy texture of duck tongues is still quite exotic among Singaporeans, but I really think people should give it a try when we have been so comfortable with chicken feet! With duo flavours of braised and alcohol-fermented (酒糟), I prefer the latter for its stronger taste.

I was told that the jelly fish here used the only the head portion, accounting for the extra crunch. The sourish, spicy sauce also whetted my appetite nicely!

King Sized Nanxiang Crab Roe Steamed Soup Bun ($6.80)

Essentially a superior stock encasted in a giant bao skin, the original version actually demanded the usage of creamy hairy crab, which is subjected to seasonal supplies and a cost price that will shoot through the roof. Honestly, the substitute of Sri Lankn crab roe couldn't quite replicate the original, but it is nonetheless the next best alternative.

And oh, please please please bear this in mind. The skin is NOT meant for consumption. I have heard on several occasions that the skin is way too tough and chewy to bite. Of course, it was never meant to be eaten so just leave it alone!

Xiao Long Baos: Crab Roe & Pork Filling, ($11.80/6 pieces) Fresh Pork Filling ($6.00/6 pieces), Shrimp & Pork Filling ($7.80/6 pieces), Spicy Crabmeat & Pork Filling ($11.80/6 pieces)

How can I not try what's on my number 1 hitlist? I am pleased to find that the XLBs here are pretty good all-rounders, scoring well in the thickness, texture and meat juice tests.

Besides the trusty original, the other one that stood out was the spicy variant, catching me by surprise and was somewhat addictive with its prominent spiced herbs flavour. No fanciful colours or too-exotic fillings, this was one new innovation that I really liked!

"Hua Niang" Steamed Cod Fish ($13.00), Steamed Egg with Clams ($6.00)

For more sharing dishes, the fresh cod fish slices were just melting, simply prepared with a light, floral-like sauce. The steamed egg was another homecooked favourite, much like a smooth Japanese chawanmushi.

Vermicelli with Crab Roe ($12.80)

Ending the meal high on carbs, I again lamented the fact that hairy crabs weren't used, which made the dish much less magical. With a texture similar to Taiwanese mee sua, the golden mix still filled me up real well!

Prices here are really reasonable given their standards, good for those initially venturing into Shanghainese cuisine. I guess that the casual settings will be great for get-togethers too. For myself, I'm glad that I finally tried the place and will definitely be returning for my fix of good ol XLBs!

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant
#02-01 Plaza Singapura (Also available at Bugis Junction and City Square Mall)
Tel: 6337 7446
Click here for their online menu!

Special thanks to LeRoy of FoodNews for the invite!

Taken with Nikon D70
Saturday, February 19, 2011

Notice: Off to Korea!

Photo Credit: Photobucket, user davidcallen07

I have said that this half of the year will be filled with plenty of travelling, and so I embark on the 3rd trip in 2 months, a 10 days cultural exchange to Daegu, Korea!

In essence, the ASEAN University Network is holding its first Asian Cross-Cultural Exploration (ACCE) programme with Korea this year, with the theme being "The Sound and Taste of Asia". See the taste in the theme? That's apparently where I come in, representing NTU in the food category!

Photo Credit:

For 10 days, I will be interacting with 48 other AUN students and 10 Korean student representatives, getting to know each country's culture better through plenty of team-bonding games and workshops. And since we are there, there will be thematic tours around Korea's 3rd largest city, well known for its historical sites!

I hope Internet connection will be stable to continue updating this space, if not that will mean even more backlogs for the year. Korean Airline beckons at 11pm later, cya!
Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fika: Charming Swedish Cafe!

My Muslim friend was complaining to me that most places I wrote looked delicious, but out of his reach due to religious reasons. Admittedly, I never ventured much into halal eateries, with my experience limited to the likes of ayam penyet and nasi padang. But now I'm not only going to talk about a halal eatery, but also one with a Scandinavian touch!

Besides having rich historical value, Arab Street is also fascinating in terms of the little cafes and restaurants mushrooming around the area. One of them is Fika, which has attracted my attention with its Swedish menu. With simple white decor and wooden furnishing, it gave a home-like vibe that made me want to laze off the afternoon by a window seat.

Coffee, part of breakfast set

In fact, its exactly the kind of place I want to be in on a rainy day with a hot cup of coffee in hand. Though the place can get pretty noisy and packed during lunchtime, the otherwise quiet hours would be perfect for a long chat, or just me and my trusty laptop, writing entries without a rush for the world.

Fika Breakfast Set (With Coffee) ($14.90)

Don't brush off its plain looks, as it turned out to be one of the best breakfast sets I had in a while! Buttery baby potatoes, tasty chicken cocktails, juicy grilled tomatoes, olive-oiled greens and two pretty sunny-side up with creamy hollandaise sauce. Very simple ingredients by itself but flawlessly put together for a satisfying experience. Available till 6pm, this is one breakfast that I can enjoy waking up late!

Smoked Salmon Crepe ($15.90)

I was pleasantly surprised by the size of it when served. The two huge rolls of savoury crepe were generously stuffed with the chilled fish, as mayonnaise mustard added a refreshing, creamy touch. Loving every bite of it!

Apple Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream ($7.90)

Ending it on a sweet note, it was disappointingly average after the awesome mains, which I suspected was perhaps outsourced. A tad pricey for its size too.

Bill for two was $43.12 after taxes, with warm water served at 50cents per cup. Though my experience with Swedish cuisine has so far been limited to the furniture store, Fika impressed me much with their food standards and cosy surroundings. Spying the neighbouring tables with yummy-looking pasta and main courses, I know a return won't be very far off!

Fika Swedish Cafe & Bistro
257 Beach Road
Tel: 6396 9096

Taken with Nikon D70
Monday, February 14, 2011

Scoopz@NTU: My Avocado Addiction!

This is in support of a fellow NTU undergraduate

When school semester reopened a couple of week ago, there was a small buzz that the newly-renovated Canteen One welcomed a new tenant. An ice cream parlour, that is. Hopping down for dinner one evening, I need to blink a couple of times to finally register the fact (and joy) that Scoopz has made its way to NTU!

I guess East-siders will be more familiar with the Scoopz brand, which had been serving delicious fruit-based ice cream at the basement of Parkway Parade since my secondary school days. In fact, it was the only place that showcased an ice cream fryer and handmade fresh batches of ice cream right before your eyes!

And here's surprise number 2: The store is not opened by just any franchisee, but is an entrepreneuring effort by a fellow Nanyang Business School undergraduate! Jaeden, the 小老板娘 of Scoopz@NTU, beat many other competitors to win the store tender and despite the hectic schoolwork (I agree with hands and feet on this), had been pouring plenty of time and effort into her little venture.

So when she approached me for an invited session, there was no way to reject her remarkable feat and write on something that I had already been a fan of long ago!

Due to equipment constraints, Scoopz@NTU is unable to make ice cream batches in-house. But rest assure that Jaeden makes her way down to the central kitchen weekly for the freshest supplies possible and to rotate new flavours! And trust me, some of the flavours are so popular that they get sold out midway into the week!

Double Scoops: Cookies and Cream, Avocado ($3.90 for public, $3.70 for students)

For me, the undisputed number 1 at Scoopz is no doubt the avocado. Smooth and buttery, the unassuming fruit is simply one-of-its-kind and gotten me hooked on years back. Now its so conveniently within my reach? Perfect!

Fans of durian won't be disappointed with their rendition of the pungent fruit either! Brimming with rich flavour, just don't burp in your prof's face after this!

Clockwise from left: Charming Chocolate, Tango Mango, Chocolate Mint, Peach

While I would say that Scoopz's strength lies in fruits, such as the refreshing mango and peach, the non-fruit creations are also pretty well done with creamy consistency in the likes of Cookies & Cream, Chocolate and Mint. Their Rum & Raisin left an even better impression for being alcoholic-ly strong and yet not overwhelming the taste of raisin. Good stuff!

Banana with Belgian Waffle ($4.20)

Now this is what you can't find in the Parkway kiosk! Drizzled with chocolate and maple syrup, waffles here are made-to-order with a crispy exterior and fluffy centre. Excellent to go with that scoop of ice cream!

Single Scoop @ $2.90 for public, $2.70 for students

Now given that it is in a school canteen, a single scoop seemed slightly costly to me but perfectly reasonable, if not underpriced outside of Pulau NTU. And if you take a closer look at the menu, the Giant 5 at $6.50 is absolutely a steal!

So grab a few friends (if not, take it on by yourself la) down to Canteen One and feast on that sugar rush! Just be considerate not to have a Avocado Giant 5 so that you won't hear i-screaming when its gone!

21 Nanyang Circle, Canteen One
Join their facebook page here!

Special thanks to Jaeden for inviting and enthusiastically asking me, "Wanna try this?!" when I really had eaten almost every flavour before!

Taken with Nikon D70
Saturday, February 12, 2011

Restaurant Ten: A Herbalicious Dinner!

First thing first, this post is about 2 and a half month late when the girlfriend and I celebrated our 4th anniversary, so I probably won't live till the 5th if I drag it further..

Anyway, Valentine's Day is really round the corner! Guys, got your roses and teddies yet? Well if you are tired of all the usual fanciful Italian/French dinners with prices magically adjusted upwards, why not consider bringing the lady to a slightly different place for dinner? A Chinese dinner at Restaurant Ten, to be exact!

Located in one of the shophouses along Purvis Street, Restaurant Ten is not your typical Chinese restaurant as it emphasize heavily on wellness (养生) for the body, using Chinese herbs and natural ingredients for its dishes. With clean, white furnishing, I wouldn't exactly call the ambience romantic, but I find it really nice for a quiet dinner for two, as the friendly Ms Doris attended to our every needs.

We decided to go with two different set dinners for the night, the Abalone Stone Pot Set (ASP)($38.00++) and Cod Fish Mini Abalone Set (CFMA)($48.00++) so that we could try a variety of their signature dishes!

Hawthrone Juice Shooter, Marinated Pumpkin Slices ($3.00)

Served as general starters, drinking the sourish juice felt like eating a stack of the sliced round snack at one go, while Doris told us that the pumpkin slices were mixed with passionfruit for a sweet aftertaste, modified from a Taiwanese dish that used papaya instead of pumpkin. Both whetted our appetite for dinner proper!

Chilled Abalone Braised with Dang Gui (CFMA), Egg White with Dried Scallop in Potato Nest (ASP, CFMA)

Sitting aloof on an icebed, the mini one was very heavily infused with the Chinese herb and could be too bitter for some. I guess abalones are still better off in soups for me.

The warm egg white was wonderfully light and fluffy, with the bits of dried scallops adding a savoury touch. Taken with a bite of the crunchy nest and a zest of apple cider, the combination was just amazing!

Double-Boiled Duck with Pear Soup (ASP), Double-Boiled Hashima with Chicken Soup (CFMA)

Full-bodied and hearty, generous amount of quality ingredients were put into the two tiny pots and made us lap up every single drop! Though if I had to choose, the duck soup came out slightly on top with its pear sweetness.

Apple Lotus with Fresh Cabbage (ASP)

Tasting like a Chinese version of Waldorf Salad, this felt even more healthy by adding lotus bits and wolfberry. Deserves an encore!

Crispy Tofu with Mushroom and Golden Bamboo (CFMA)

Shaped like a fried yam ball, the crispy skin gave way to tofu with bits of mushroom. This was paired with juicy dragonfruit and a sauce which I apologise that I completely cannot recall what it was.

Abalone and Shark’s Fins Fragrant Rice in Stone Pot (ASP)

Served bubbling hot, I liked how they used a fried rice base for this, very comforting to eat with the sticky, rich stock. Abalone and fins? They were really just secondary to the pot of yummy mui fan!

Braised Cod Fish with Fermented Rice Wine and Fresh Lily Bulbs

I was anticipating this after seeing it in a friend's pictures (you know who you are!) and boy, was it good! Fresh, tender chunks of cod fish in a fragrant alcoholic sauce, mopping it all up with a steamed bun served in a cute little bamboo steamer. I could order a full portion of this!

Double-Boiled Aloe Vera with Honey (ASP), Double Combination Dessert (CFMA)

Unfortunately, we had to close with rather flat-tasting desserts. The icy drink was a little diluted, while there was nothing special about the strawberry coconut mousse and pear juice combi.

Including towel and water, bill for two was $114.17 after taxes. A little pricey as the portions here could be inadequate for big eaters, though I was satisfied with the amount of variety, comfortable settings and welcoming service. Forget about the usual candlelit dinners, give Valentine's a healthy, Chinese twist!

Restaurant Ten
7 Purvis Street #01-01
Tel: 6333 9901
Click here for website

Taken with Nikon D70