Izakaya-Style Dining: Minato Yakitori, Bandar Puteri Puchong

In Japan, izakayas are popular after-work haunts that serve alcoholic drinks and snacks, such as grilled items on skewers and small appetiser plates, finished off with a more filling portion of rice or noodles. Unlike traditional restaurants that serve course-meals, you order as you eat and the chefs prepare it a la minute – so expect to spend a substantial amount of time when dining in.

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Japanese restos are a dime a dozen in the Klang Valley, but izakaya-style eateries that serve food on skewers are rare. In Puchong, there’s Minato Yakitori, a cosy establishment located above a steamboat restaurant. I’ve only been to an authentic izakaya once (in Nagoya), and Minato recreates the atmosphere well – the open kitchen where you can watch the chefs in action, the smoke, smells and sounds coming from the grill – even the bustle of diners chatting and enjoying their meals.

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Technically, though, Minato Yakitori is not a pure izakaya – as it also serves dishes like Ebi Tempura Don, Curry Rice, katsu and even sashimi. This is good news for big eaters, as the yakitori items aren’t really filling, and you can rack up a hefty bill if you’re only eating skewers.

For starters, we got a bowl of thinly sliced, cold marinated jellyfish. It was marinated well and had a salty, sour tang, with a crunchy texture.

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Pops had the Ebi Tempura (fried shrimp) set, which came with rice, miso soup and salad. Portions were generous for the price, as he had a good five pieces of largish shrimp, fried in a crispy batter with moist and springy insides. The Bro had a Chicken Katsu Don.

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Moo and I ordered skewers and steamed rice. They took a pretty long time to come since everything is grilled to order. The skewers average about RM3 – RM10, depending on what you’re ordering.

I was actually kinda disappointed with the size. I know they’re meant to be snacks, but the squid, for example, looked small and shriveled. Even the dollop of mayo that was served on the side was super tiny. Although, I can’t fault the flavour and the quality of the food – the squid tasted fresh, and I liked that it had a slight char on the edges.

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Moo’s Pork with Spring Onions. The meat had a nice sweet taste, like glazed soy sauce and sugar, which complemented the natural sweetness of the spring onions.

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I also ordered: bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms, scallops and chicken liver. The latter two were the best of the lot: the scallops were plump and juicy, while the chicken liver was intense and gamey – not for those who don’t like the taste of offal. The bacon-wrapped mushrooms were good too, just the portion was small and the bacon slice was so thin I could have used it as a ring around my finger lol.

Our bill for 4 came up to just under RM100. If you’re looking for a tasty, filling meal, go for the sets. If you want the izakaya experience, order the skewers. Expect a wait as they grill the items to order. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends.

MINATO YAKITORI 

First Floor, No. 49, 1, Jalan Puteri 2/3, Bandar Puteri Puchong, 47100 Puchong, Selangor (Above Harbour Steamboat) 

Opening hours: 11AM – 2.30PM, 5.30PM – 10.30PM  (closed Mondays)
Non-Halal

 

Graze @ Hilton Kuala Lumpur – 45-Minute 3-Course Express Lunch

Looking to entertain business clients, or just want a quick (but five-star!) lunch on the go?

Hilton Kuala Lumpur‘s modern European brasserie, Graze, is currently offering a 45-minute, 3-course express set with the busy work crowd in mind. Drawing emphasis on fresh and seasonal produce, the six concise menus comprises a variety of appetisers, mains and desserts to finish. Indulge in classics like Caesar Salad, Creamy Mushroom Soup, Graze Steak Sandwich, Napolitan Beef Ragout, Traditional Crème Brule, Caramel Banana Brownie and more. Available from 1 July – 31 August 2020 and for lunch only, the set meal is priced at RM95 nett per person inclusive of soft drink, juice or coffee and tea.

Graze_Day Time_Hilton Kuala Lumpur

Take a seat by the window and enjoy panoramic views of the lush greenery surrounding the KL city centre. Bright and flooded with natural light, the restaurant is nevertheless cosy and warm, immediately setting you at ease as you take a break from the day’s hectic schedule.

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To kick things off while waiting for our appetisers to arrive: complimentary bread with olive oil.

There were two sets to choose from for the day; G went for Set A, comprising a gazpacho soup starter, a steak sandwich as the main course, finishing off with a dessert of wild berries tart. I opted for Set B, which included a Salmon Gravlax salad, Napolitan Beef Ragout, and Warm Brioche bread and butter pudding.

SET A 

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Beautifully plated Gazpacho with Pulled Flower Crab, Avocado Mousse, Cucumber and Tomato, Virgin Olive Oil 

This popular cold soup with Andalusian origins is made of raw blended vegetables. The gazpacho on its own has a mild, refreshing taste, but is elevated when you combine all of the ingredients together – the creaminess of the avocado, the crunch of cucumber, the natural sweetness of the snow crab and tomatoes make for a wonderful combination.

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Graze Steak Sandwich with Caramelised Onions, Tomato Relish, Rocket Salad

This one’s for the meat lovers. Served in generous portions and a side of thin-cut fries, the meat is thick, juicy and well-seasoned, slathered in a sweet relish of tomato and caramelised onions and complemented by the peppery, nutty flavour of rocket salad. Bringing everything together are two buns, which are soft to the bite but slightly crispy on the outside.

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Wild Berries Tart and Mascarpone Chantilly is beautifully presented; the slight tartness of the berries balancing well with the sweet mascarpone chantilly for a refreshing end to the meal.

SET B 

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The Salmon Gravlax Garden Green Salad, Dill Creme Fraiche, Volkorn Bread is a wonderful blend of textures and flavours, featuring salmon rosettes on a bed of fresh greens. The Volkorn bread – A German recipe – contains healthy grains, and also gives the dish an added crunch, while the creamy dill creme fraiche binds all the different ingredients together in harmony.

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My personal favourite is the Napolitan Beef Ragoutthe price for the express lunch is worth it just for this! Generous portions aside, everything is cooked to perfection, from the firm but supple texture of the pasta to the mouthwatering flavours of the beef ragout, which is savoury with a delicious natural sweetness. It is obvious the meat has undergone a long and laborious cooking process, as the meat is so tender it literally melts in your mouth. Top it off with shredded cheese, and you’ll be guaranteed to leave the restaurant with a satisfied smile.

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The pasta’s hollow shape makes it ideal for soaking up the sauces.

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There’s always space for dessert, and the Warm Brioche Bread & Butter Pudding with Vanilla Ice Creamrounds off the meal on a high note. The pudding is actually quite light, and the mild sweetness of the vanilla lets you end the meal on a satisfying note.

GRAZE 

Graze Modern European Brasserie, Level 4,The Hilton Kuala Lumpur, 3 Jalan Stesen Sentral 50470 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Open for lunch daily from 12.30PM – 2.30PM

*Reservation is required. A standard discount is available for Hilton Dining APAC members and selected credit card holders. For further enquiries or reservations, call +603 2264 2264 or visit www.eatdrinkhilton.com.

Stinky Tofu, Durian & Insects: Would You Try These ‘Exotic’ Foods?

Hey, guys!

Been meaning to blog more, but like the stereotypical millennial, I’ve been making poor life choices lately (like staying up until 3am every day. To play Witcher 3.)

But I digress. 

This post was inspired by a recent hotpot dinner, where I ordered century eggs. Whenever I have them, I’m reminded of a good friend of mine and how horrified he was when I sent him a picture of my “rotten” dinner (century eggs with porridge). This coming from a Finn, who eats blood cakes for lunch and enjoys salmiakki as a treat lol.

Jokes aside, I can see how food in some cultures can be viewed as gross to others. Before sushi was popularised in the West, many considered the idea of eating raw fish downright unhygienic / disgusting. But as with everything else, cultures and attitudes can change – and I think people are much more adventurous these days when it comes to food. So without further ado: here’s a fun list of ‘bizarre’ foods (I love that show, by the way) that I’ve tried. Let me know what you think and if you’d be willing to try them!

CENTURY EGGS

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For those who have never seen a century egg, it’s understandable to think it’s rotten – especially since the yolk is completely black and the albumen takes on a translucent, jelly-like appearance. A traditional delicacy in China, they are typically made from duck, chicken or quail eggs preserved in a mix of ash, clay, salt, quicklime and rice hulls for up to several months. The eggs have a pungent odour of hydrogen sulfide/ammonia, which comes from the preservative mix.In Malaysia where there is a large Chinese diaspora, century eggs are pretty common, and you can get them at the local market or Chinese grocers.

How it tastes: The jellied part tastes just like regular hard boiled egg but saltier, while the yolk has a rich and creamy consistency that is almost like avocado. Traditionally, century eggs are eaten together with slices of ginger (to cut through the pungency), but I like having it chopped up in porridge or served with noodles.

STINKY TOFU 

If there’s one food that epitomises the saying ‘its bark is worse than its bite’, it would be stinky tofu – a popular snack at night markets in China, Taiwan and Chinese-centric areas in Malaysia. As the name suggests, stinky tofu is, well, stinky. The best way I can describe it is if you mixed unwashed socks with the smell of wet dog and sewage, lol. The odour is a result of the tofu’s fermentation: traditionally, the tofu is marinated in a brine made from fermented milk, veggies and meat (recipes vary), and left to soak for several days to months. It is then served in soups, steamed or deep fried.

How it tastes: If you can get over the vulgar odour, stinky tofu is actually quite tasty, with a crispy exterior and light, fluffy insides. Here in Malaysia, it is usually served deep fried with a topping of chilli and various seasonings like soy sauce, which helps to mask the smell a little. It also has a somewhat… addictive quality. You know like how stinky feet is stinky but you’re still sort of drawn to it against your will ? …. or is that just me?

FERMENTED BEANCURD

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Victor-boy / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Yes, yes, we Chinese do love our preserved/ fermented food stuffs – but you have to understand that most of these were created in a time before refrigeration existed, so people had to come up with all sorts of ways to keep food edible for months, sometimes years. Fermented beancurd is commonly used as a condiment in Chinese cuisine, and there are several varieties, most of which have strong, pungent flavours (see a pattern here?). They are also nutritious, since tofu is very high in protein and contains virtually no cholesterol. Think of it as Chinese cheese.

How it tastes : Tofu on its own has no taste, so the beancurd takes on the flavour of whatever it is brined in. The most common type is the white one which has sugar, salt, chilli and rice wine. If you think about the culturing, it’s not unlike kombucha. Personally, I prefer the red fermented beancurd (nam yu) which incorporates red yeast rice. It has a pleasant, thick and rich aroma – great for deep fried pork ribs!

FROG FALLOPIAN TUBES (?) 

Sometimes I think this is why people say the Chinese eat all sorts of sh*t, lol. Officially it is called hasma (in Cantonese, we call it ‘suet kap’) – basically dried fatty tissue from the fallopian tubes of certain types of frogs, typically the Asiatic Grass Frog. It is whitish in appearance, has a slimy texture, and is used as an ingredient in dessert soups. Back in the day, it was a luxurious item that would only be served to emperors and nobles. When I was a kid, my mom would boil these because in traditional Chinese medicine, suet kap is believed to have multiple health benefits, such as being good for the skin and respiratory system. I guess if I was an adult and someone told me I was eating frog fallopian tubes, I’d be hesitant but since I literally grew up eating this it doesn’t seem so gross.

How it tastes : Like birds nest, hasma is tasteless on its own, and is usually flavoured with rock sugar in dessert soups.

DURIAN

Ah, the king of fruits. I’m not a diehard fan as some of my fellow Malaysians are – if you served me durian I’d probably eat it – but I wouldn’t go out of my way to look for it. Malaysians love durian though: we even have ‘durian buffets’ where you can eat to your hearts fill.

Durian has an extremely pungent smell. There have even been cases where buildings were evacuated due to ‘suspected gas leaks’ – turns out someone brought some durians on-site. Personally I don’t find the texture or flavour intolerable. BUT. I have been told that durians that have been shipped overseas taste gross, because of how it has been shipped / the durians are way past their prime. Then again, Andrew Zimmerns had a freshly opened durian in Asia, and he described it as having a ‘taste like completely rotten mushy onions’. So, if you ever get to try it, I’ll let you be the judge.

How it tastes : Heaven … or hell. There is no in between. For me, it has a texture and taste similar to sweet custard, but with a much stronger flavour.

ESCARGOTS

How to eat escargots
DanceWithNyanko / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

Escargots are a good example of the powers of branding. How else can you explain why snails – something people usually see as slimy and icky – are considered a gourmet delicacy, served in fine dining restos and high-end establishments? Escargot is associated with French cuisine, but it is served in many parts of Europe. The snails are usually from the species Helix pomatia. Here in Malaysia, we have our own version, called balitong – small sea snails that are a pain to suck out of their shells and have a texture similar to a chewy clam, cooked in sambal/chilli.

How it tastes : I had escargot once, on my grad trip. It was cooked in garlic butter which made the dish very fragrant, and the snails had a bouncy texture which I enjoyed.

SALMIAKKI 

Halva - Väkevä Salmiakki
Tiia Monto / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

Weird as some of the items on this list may seem, I enjoy most of them – with the exception of salmiakki. Also called salty liquorice, it is a common confectionery in Nordic countries. The candy is flavoured with salmiak salt (ammonium chloride), giving it a strong astringent and salty taste. These days, you can find salmiakki flavoured ice cream, chewing gum and even alcoholic beverages.

How it tastes: My Finnish friend sent me a box of these. I love you bud, but by god. Our friendship was tested that day. It was not only extremely salty to the point of being bitter, for some reason it also reminded me of burnt rubber tyres – like if someone tried to make that into a flavour, it would taste like salmiakki.

Never again.

You know shit is real when Japs, known for their extreme politeness, react this way lol.

INSECTS 

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McKay Savage from London, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Eating insects is considered taboo in the West, but here’s a fun fact: insects are eaten by about 80 percent of the world’s population, a practice known as entomophagy. In recent times, companies are trying to introduce insects into the Western diet as part of the sustainability movement, since they are extremely high in protein and available in abundance – making insect-eating much more environmentally friendly. For some countries, eating insects stems from a history of poverty; people had to make do with whatever they could catch. Deep fried insects, such as crickets and grasshoppers, are common street food snacks in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

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How it tastes : I don’t really like insects – how they look, how they crawl, etc. so it was difficult to get over that mental barrier of eating them. Took the plunge on a trip to Phuket. They didn’t taste bad or anything – it was just like eating crispy whitebait (I had crickets). The silkworms had a chewy exterior and crumbly insides, which I actually liked more than the crickets.

BALUT

Inside a Balut - Embryo and Yolk
Marshall Astor from San Pedro, United States / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

The idea of eating a developing duck/chicken embryo sounds abhorrent. But if you think about it, balut is really just that – an egg. With a baby duck in it. And feathers. lol.

Commonly sold on the streets in the Philippines, balut eggs are boiled and eaten from the shell, with the eggs incubated for a period between 14 to 21 days. You crack it open and suck out the broth, dip it into some vinegar or salt, and eat the yolk and the chick.

How it tastes : I first tried balut in LA’s Filipinotown. I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater, but even I couldn’t stop the involuntary churning in my stomach as I cracked the shell open and saw the half-formed chick inside. When I finally summoned up enough courage to eat it, I was… surprised. It just tasted like egg / chicken (I mean, duh). Still, not something for the faint-hearted.

 

What are some dishes in your culture that other people might see as weird / exotic? Share them with me in the comments below! 🙂 

5 Must-Try Traditional Dishes In Selangor, Malaysia

Malaysia has 13 states and 2 Federal Territories, each with its own unique cuisine. Some are better known than others:  Penang for its assam laksa and char kuey teow, Negeri Sembilan for its Minang cuisine, Sarawak for its mee kolok, and Kuala Lumpur for its Kari Laksa. But despite being one of the country’s economic hubs and the gateway to Malaysia, Selangor food is often overlooked – which is a shame, as the state is home to a slew of gastronomical delights, drawn from the multicultural background of its inhabitants. The recipes for some of these dishes have been handed down through the centuries and perfected in modern times.

Whether you’re a native Selangor-ian or just visiting, here are five authentic Selangor dishes to indulge in for your next gastronomic adventure!

Pecal from www.maggi.com. my.v1

Pecal

Pecal is a common appetiser that can be found just about anywhere in Selangor. A traditional Javanese salad of sorts, it consists of vegetables topped with a mouth-watering peanut sauce that can also be served with Ketupat or Lontong (rice cubes). Pecal is easy to make, so you can try your hand at making it at home! Key ingredients include peanuts / groundnuts for the kuah (gravy), tofu, bean sprouts, long beans and cucumber.  

Nasi Ambeng

Nasi Ambeng by nona manis kitchen cyberjaya.v1.v1

Nasi Ambeng is made for sharing, as it is usually served on a platter for four to five people. It comes with side dishes such as chicken, fried noodles, long beans and sambal tempe accompanied by white rice. The dish is a common sight at festivals or large gatherings (kenduri).  

Sambal Taun

Sambal Tahun by salamisimon1 on blogspot.v1.v1

Another Selangor dish with Javanese roots is Sambal Taun or Sambal Tahun, which was brought over by early Javanese settlers. A copious amount of chilli is used to make sambal taun. Cow skin is often used as the main protein, but clams, cow lungs and anchovies can also be used, according to one’s preference. Other ingredients needed to complete the dish are red onions, garlic, shrimp paste, coconut milk, oil, tamarind paste and a pinch of salt and sugar.  

Wadai Kipeng

Wadai Kipeng by www. friedchillies.c om.v1

In the tongue of the Banjar people (who are originally from South Kalimantan in Indonesia), ‘Wadai’ means ‘Kuih’, while ‘Kipeng’ means pieces. Back in the day, the Banjar community traditionally served Wadai Kipeng as part of their Thanksgiving ceremony. This porridge-like dessert is made from glutinous rice flour, coconut, palm sugar, granulated sugar and pandan leaves – the perfect sweet ending to any meal.

Bahulu Kemboja by manis2012 on blogspot.v1.v1

Bahulu Kemboja

An all-time favourite snack, Bahulu Kemboja can be served for breakfast or tea. To maintain the moisture of the kuih, original pandan essence straight from the leaves has to be used, along with wheat flour, rice flour, coconut milk, eggs, sugar and salt, as well as a dash of sesame seeds as toppings.

For more interesting tidbits and tales about Selangor, visit www.selangor.travel. 

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Content courtesy of Tourism Selangor. Photos provided by Tourism Selangor, via friedchillies.com, salamisimon1, maggi.com.my, Nona Manis Kitchen Cyberjaya and Manis2012 on blogspot.

 

9 Must-Have Hari Raya Dishes For the Festive Season

Ramadan Kareem!

Last week marked the start of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islam, when Muslims around the world observe fasting from dawn until dusk. In Malaysia, this is usually a time for Ramadan bazaars – but these have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some states have come up with innovative ways to help traders, such as through delivery services – and while it may not come close to the festive atmosphere at an actual food bazaar, it’s the best option to ensure that we still get to enjoy some food, help out the traders and most importantly, keep safe and healthy.

After Ramadan comes Eid, known colloquially as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, on May 24. Just like Christmas is celebrated in Western countries as a time for family and togetherness, so is Hari Raya to Muslims. But with travel restrictions expected to be put into place to avoid an exodus of city folk returning to their hometowns (which might cause another wave of infections), members of the public are faced with a very bleak and lonely Hari Raya.

Not all is doom and gloom, however. An essential part of any celebration is food – and I’m pretty sure that we’ll still be able to enjoy some scrumptious Raya dishes: perhaps not at a friend’s open house or a family gathering, but from a restaurant, small-time traders (whom we should definitely support), or if you can make it at home – then all the better!

Rendang 

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Photo credit: Kyle Lam via Flickr

No Hari Raya celebration would be complete without rendang – a spicy slow-cooked meat dish braised in coconut milk and spices. There are many different ways to make it, depending on the state/region you’re from. (One thing it is not, however, is crispy.) Typically, a protein such as chicken, beef or lamb is used, but there are also versions made with seafood like fish, shrimp, crab, squid and cockles. The rendang that I am most familiar with is the regular rendang daging, which is drier than curry but still has plenty of gravy that is excellent with rice. A lot of work goes into making good rendang, with ingredients such as coconut milk (santan) and a paste of mixed ground spices such as ginger, galangal, turmeric leaves, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, chillies and more.

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The rendang from Negeri Sembilan – a state with a large Minangkabau diaspora – has a distinctively Padang influence, with heavy use of turmeric, chilli and santan which gives it a distinctively lighter colour. They also like to use smoked duck as the meat – another Negeri Sembilan specialty. Rendang Tok from the state of Perak, on the other hand, is very dry with little to no gravy, and uses a liberal amount of kerisik (pounded, toasted coconut) and larger chunks of meat that is slow-cooked until tender. My personal favourite? Rendang paru, made from cow lungs. Not very healthy, but t I only have it once a year. 😛

Lemang 

Lemang

Photo credit: zol m via Flickr 

A lot of Hari Raya dishes have strong flavours + gravy, and are made to be eaten with rice. So you definitely can’t miss out on lemang, essentially glutinous rice, salt and coconut milkin a hollowed-out piece of bamboo and grilled over an outdoor fire. You might think it’s easy to chuck rice into bamboo and grill it, but the ‘simplest’ things are often the hardest to execute. The bamboo can’t be too soft or it will break easily, but neither can it be too hard as it will take too long to cook the rice. Maintaining control of the fire and heat is essential, which can be challenging when you’re working with an open fire. The bamboo also has to be turned over constantly, to ensure the rice is cooked evenly and thoroughly. The final result? A slightly sticky, chewy rice with a smoky aftertaste – perfect to go with curry, rendang and serunding (meat floss). 

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Lemang periuk kera, which features rice stuffed into pitcher plants, has become very popular in the last couple of years – although naturalists discourage eating it due to fears that the plant will be over-collected in order to meet demands.

Ketupat 

Ketupat

Photo credit: Sham Hardy via Flickr 

Andddd we have the poster child for Hari Raya – ketupat, or compressed rice. The image of ketupat nasi, housed in iconic diamond-shaped containers woven out of palm leaves, is synonymous with Hari Raya in Malaysia. Like lemang, ketupat is meant to be eaten with all the savoury, curry and gravy-based dishes. Aside from ketupat nasi, there is also ketupat daun palas, which is triangular in shape and made with glutinous rice.  If you can’t get your fill of rice, look out for nasi impit which is basically rice compressed into squares – makes for easy eating! 

Masak Lemak 

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While it’s literally translated to ‘cooked in fat’, masak lemak actually refers to a style of cooking that incorporates coconut milk (yes, we use a lot of that here). The dish is usually prepared with meat such as chicken, beef, fish, seafood and even vegetables. Masak Lemak Cili Api is popular in Negeri Sembilan and has a vibrant yellow colour, with birds-eye chillies thrown in (they’re pretty spicy at 50,000 – 100,000 Scoville units!) alongside turmeric and other spices. For something milder on the palate, there’s Masak Lemak Putih, which is white in colour and often uses vegetables such as cabbage and pumpkin. 

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Masak lemak putih with pumpkin and spinach

Satay

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Satay may not be Hari Raya “exclusive”, but it is certainly part of any Hari Raya gathering worth its salt. And who doesn’t like smoky barbecued meat on skewers, grilled over a charcoal fire? Most common meats are chicken and beef, less common are lamb and seafood. Of course, you can’t miss out on the peanut sauce and nasi impit. Tone down the spice with some cucumber and onions.

Kambing Panggang 

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Again, not Raya exclusive, but you’ll often find it at major festivals in Malaysia celebrated by the Malay community. You’ll often find whole roasted lamb at Ramadan bazaars or at buka puasa/ Hari Raya buffets at hotels, served with black pepper or mushroom sauce.

Sambal based dishes

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Curry-based and masak lemak-based cooking form a large part of Malay and Indonesian cuisine. Rounding it off are sambal-based dishes, which are typically made from a sauce or paste featuring chilli, shrimp paste, garlic, ginger, shallots and other spices. Sambal dishes are very common during Hari Raya – my favourite being sambal sotong (squid), which comes in a spicy, rich and thick, sweet gravy.

Bubur 

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There’s something very hearty and comforting about the humble porridge – perhaps because it is easy to digest, tasty, and warms/fills the belly right up. There are both sweet and savoury variants. Bubur Lambuk, a spiced meat porridge, is a popular dish for breaking fast during Ramadan, and it is also served during Hari Raya. Again, like Rendang, different states have their own versions. The east coast of Peninsular Malaysia uses fish meat and fresh herbs such as fern and cassava leaves, while Bubur Lambuk Utara from the northern states of Malaysia contains egg, shredded chickens and nuts. Personally, I like dessert bubur that uses local fruits and ingredients, such as black sesame, mungbean, red bean and pengat pisang (banana porridge? although it’s more like a stew rather than a bubur per se).

Kuih-Muih 

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Ending this post on a sweet note, we have kuih muih. It’s hard to classify what kuih muih is as they come in all sorts of colours, shapes and flavours –  the best I can describe it is an assortment of cakes, sweets, cookies and snacks. Traditional favourites that are commonly seen during Raya include Kuih Koci – a glutinous rice dumpling with a palm sugar-filled centre, onde-onde (chewy glutinous rice balls with shredded coconut), kuih bakar (baked pandan cake), lepat pisang (steamed banana cake wrapped in banana leaves), talam ubi (tapioca cake) and kuih seri muka (a two layered white and green cake).

 

What are some of your Hari Raya favourites? If you celebrate Eid in other parts of the world, let me know in the comments about some of your traditional dishes!

 

 

 

 

 

Van Gogh is Bipolar, Maginhawa, Manila

I’m lucky.

I’ve traveled to a lot of places and eaten at many establishments…but none have rivaled my visit to Van Gogh is Bipolar. Dining here is not so much about the food as it is the experience. And believe me when I say it is truly a one-of-a-kind spot that will set the benchmark for all other dining experiences you’ll ever have.

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I first heard of the place after a friend posted a picture of herself within its chic and kitschy settings. It looked really cool, and the name piqued my interest.

Google told me the resto-cum-healing-space is run by Jetro Rafael, an artist who suffers from bipolar disorder. The restaurant is a culmination of his healing process; sort of an astute culinary therapy.

Tucked at a quiet end of the hipster-abode of Maginhawa Street, the place can be easy to miss, since it’s located within a courtyard accessible only through a (rather hidden) archway. Once through, there’s more hide and seek for the door, which sports a glass mirror on the front, just like a closet.

Stepping through and into the most outlandish (but in a positive way!) cafe I’ve ever seen in my life, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. The ceiling was covered in giant and colourful abstract paintings, while one side of the wall housed wooden counters filled with interesting clutter and paraphernalia. Christmas lights cast a magical yellow glow that was cosy and intimate.

The overall effect was haphazard and chaotic in a quaint, charming way.

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The space isn’t very big, but it should seat at least 20.

At VGIB, emphasis is placed on self-healing rituals – letting go of the stresses of everyday life and just immersing yourself in the good. This is reflected in everything, from the food and drinks to the ‘rituals’ you can perform. Once you’re seated, staff will hand you a beautiful guidebook with hand-drawn doodles, detailing instructions (!) on how to fully enjoy your experience.

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Various memorabilia you can fiddle and take pictures with.

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The section where I sat at had a red theme, with mirrors framed in gold, a chandelier-styled lamp, tall swiveling chairs and tables with clear glass tops slitted in with notes, coins and maps. The walls, done in red, white and black, were completely covered in writings, doodles and scribbles by previous guests. Spent some time reading the life stories and moments left behind by strangers, and yet feeling a strange closeness to them.

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I think the restaurant’s interior accurately describes the chaotic state of mind that many people with mental illness suffer from – but it also gives a message of hope and healing. There is beauty and magic underneath all that disorder and chaos.

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Sometimes we show different faces to the world, and it gets tiring and stressful. VGIB is a place where you can actually enjoy putting on masks (and hats, for that matter!). Escape into a fantasy world of being a British gentleman with a top hat, go crazy with a rainbow-coloured afro wig, or be a ship/plane captain, even if it’s just for the night.

PS also great for Instagram photos lol.

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Why have a standard teapot when you can have many? Pick your favourite from the teapot counter in the middle of the room – porcelain, china, clay, metal – in a variety of colours and designs.

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Then choose from a range of organic teas, each with a different property. There’s soothing, calming, happy/chill and more. Plastered on the wall is a helpful explanation of the enhancing effects, done in a colourful chart.

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There’s also a station with bottles of clear solution, used to help cleanse the palate and prepare you for the upcoming meal. You dip a dropper into the liquid and drip it into your mouth xD

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At VGIB, there are no set ‘menus’. Instead, there are ‘experiences’ – usually consisting of an appetiser, soup, a main course and dessert. The ingredients are organic and picked for their healing/calming/stress-relieving or happiness-inducing properties. This is, according to their website, what helped the owner feel better where conventional medicines didn’t work after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

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Virginia Woolf – Vegetable soup with strips of cabbage and carrots. A little on the salty side but decent. The dishes are named after notable personalities with bipolar disorder.

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Appetiser of Axel Rose Shot – egg yolk, maple syrup, chilli flakes, cane vinegar, Jagermeister and iodized seat salt. Sound like an odd concoction? No doubt, but it was also interesting and the first time I’ve ever tried something like that. The way to drink it is one shot, while toasting your table mate in a foreign language.

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A staff member prepping the dish. She also gave our table the ‘toast’ word, which was in Zimbabwean.

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While looking for the toilet, I stumbled on the ‘dark room‘, a space where guests are encouraged to let go of their negative energies by writing or scribbling them in glow-in-the-dark ink. The small area was papered over with posters, writings, and a skeleton model. Despite the dark subject matter, it feels somehow… cathartic. Sometimes we have to let go of our anger and sadness in order to feel better. That’s one of the reasons why I like writing.

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Main: chicken penne pasta in a creamy brown sauce, served with dragon fruit, watermelon, pineapple and bananas. Generous portion of pasta was cooked al-dente. The sweet and savoury combination worked surprisingly well.

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Lamb with black rice, served with fresh greens, bananas, carrots and pineapple. Unlike regular white rice, which usually sticks together in a clump, the black rice’s individual grains were separated very clearly. The lamb, which was marinated well, tender and juicy had me gnawing it down to the bone.

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For dessert, a minty shot of absinthe with chocolate as a chaser. It was my first time trying it, and I was surprised to find it felt like liquid fire going down my throat, before cheerfully settling in my belly and sending waves of warm pleasure to my fingertips. Maybe this alcohol thing isn’t so bad after all. 😀 The chocolate was dark, rich and studded with crunchy nuts.

All in all, we spent over three hours at VGIB – but I hardly noticed the time because the entire experience was all about healing the body, mind and soul. I’d come back again in a heartbeat if I’m ever in Manila.

VAN GOGH IS BIPOLAR

154 Maginhawa, Diliman, Lungsod Quezon, Kalakhang Maynila, Philippines

Hours: 11-3PM, 6pm-11PM (Weds-Sats), dinner only (Sun-Mon), closed on Tuesdays

vangoghisbipolar.com

 

 

Fika Swedish Cafe and Bistro, Singapore

What are the odds of returning to the exact same restaurant, out of hundreds of similar outlets, on two different (and unrelated) occasions? When my recent media trip brought us to Fika Swedish Cafe and Bistro for lunch, I was like… wait a minute. This place looks awfully familiar. Then it hit me: I was here three years ago, when my Singaporean buddy Jaryl brought me here for meatballs.

As I said, what are the odds? 

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Housed in a quaint two-storey building, Fika is Swedish for (loosely translated) ‘break’, and can mean anything from having coffee with friends and family to taking a breather from work. No points for guessing what sort of cuisine they serve.

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The inside is cosy, with lots of white and wood. The ground floor can comfortably seat about 30 people, with more seats on the sidewalk outside. There is also a dining area on the first floor.

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Our orders were quick to arrive, and they looked absolutely scrumptious! Swedish cuisine is a beautiful blend of flavours, textures and colours – they got the sight, smell and taste down pat. Sorry my phone didn’t do the food justice.

The last time I was here it was just Jaryl and I, so we only got to eat meatballs. But since this was a group trip, there were more people so we got to try loads of different dishes.

(Above) Baked Almond Chicken Bites (SGD9) , made from marinated chicken breast coated with roasted almonds. It was fricking addictive. Crunchy on the outside but tender and juicy on the inside, the meat had a peppery flavour, a perfect marriage with the nutty sweetness of almond. Gone in the blink of an eye. Also, we were ravenous after a whole afternoon spent walking around Chinatown.

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The Pickled Herring Platter (SGD 14) was a delightful smorgasbord of pickled herring, hard rye crisp bread. boiled egg, potatoes, red onion, caviar spread and dill mayo. Again, great blend of textures – crispy from the rye bread, creamy from egg yolks and mayo, balanced out by the fresh leafy salad and crunchy onions. People who don’t like the ‘raw’ fishiness of the herring might want to skip it though.

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Everyone should know by now that I’m not a fan of greens, but the Fikasalad (SGD15) had me going for seconds. Mesclun salad, french beans, roasted pumpkin, sunflower seeds, rich feta cheese, radish, cherry tomatoes, and (more) eggs are drizzled over with an  appetising honey-lemon vinaigrette and tossed together for great effect. It is also served with a slice of hard rye bread.

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Don’t forget to try this item on their seasonal Autumn menu: the Warm Countryside Salad (SGD16). The centrepiece is a lingonberry poached pear, which is so soft it literally melts in your mouth. Surrounding it like a beautiful garden is rucola salad, plump, meaty mushrooms, walnuts and cheese. Being a fan of mushrooms I was a very happy camper.

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For the mains, I had Fisherman’s Pasta (SGD24): essentially linguine with mussels, white fish, squid and prawn, topped with fresh rocket leaves and cherry tomatoes in a buttery, lemon-garlic sauce. After the phenomenal salads, this was a little underwhelming as it lacked seasoning and taste. The seafood was mostly fresh, except the fish which was overcooked and soggy. Gotta commend their portion though, which was enough for a big eater.

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Filched Swedish Meatballs (SGD 19) from a fellow media member. The dish is served with baby potatoes, lingonberry jam and cream sauce. Bursting with meaty flavours and juices, it’s still as good as they were when I first had them three years ago. They also feel very home-made, like something a mom might churn out of the kitchen for guests.

FIKA SWEDISH CAFE AND BISTRO 

257 Beach Rd 199539 Singapore

Phone: +65 6396 9096

Opening hours: 11AM-11PM (Mon-Fri), 12PM-11PM (weekends)

HALAL 

fikacafe.com

Huo Lu Ai Korean BBQ, Setiawalk Puchong

Update: This restaurant is permanently closed. 

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Had an urge to go swimming over the weekend. Our National Aquatic Center is closed until 2017 (!?) in preparation for the Southeast Asian games. Boo, because that’s the closest public swimming pool to my house. Thankfully C was in the mood, so we went to her apartment at Koi Kinrara. They have an infinity pool that looks over the Puchong skyline. Pool was quiet in the evening and weather was perfect.

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We negated all the calories we burnt from swimming by having dinner at Huo Lu Ai, a Korean BBQ joint in Setiawalk, Puchong. Each table had an exhaust to suck up the smoke, and a grill for cooking. Guests can opt to have the food cooked in the kitchen, or have a server cook them at your table.

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Korean music played in the air. The wall was also papered over with posters of Korean boybands.

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I was in the mood for noodles, so I ordered the Korean Spicy Noodle. I’ve seen the Korean Spicy Noodle Challenge online, so I was worried as to how spicy the dish was gonna turn out…but it was fine. Had to down cold water a couple of times but the spice level was manageable.  Noodles were springy, well-flavoured and cooked with slices of carrot, chilli, onion, spring onion and garnished with a side of nori (seaweed).

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Also ordered the Kimchi Pancake. These are best eaten hot. They were not too oily, and I really liked the crispy edges.

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We got two grilled dishes, which come served with banchan (side dishes) like pickled radish, stir-fried spinach and potatoes.

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And the customary kimchi. This was fresh, well marinated and not too spicy.

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Salad with thousand island sauce.

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The Chinese style of cuisine (which I grew up with) often broils/stir-fries vegetables, leaving them limp and tasteless unless drenched with sesame oil/soy sauce etc. Which I don’t like. I really prefer fresh, crispy greens. K BBQ serves corral lettuce to go along with the grilled meats. Perfect.

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Spicy marinated octopus. The octopi was sizable and well flavoured with gochujang (hot pepper paste – made from red chilli, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. The taste is similar to the Japanese miso, but spicier.), although slimy and chewy in the middle.

20160131_194846-tile Wrapping a piece of octopi, topped with a piece of garlic and some sesame oil/more gochujang paste (I can’t get enough of it!) before popping the entire thing in my mouth. Divine

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Our second grilled dish was pork belly. It was kinda oily, but tasty. Good balance of lean and fat. Went the same way as the octopi – dip in sesame/gochujang, wrapped in lettuce leaf and nom.

The bill came up to RM80, which is reasonable since we ordered so many dishes. Good place for Korean food.

Huo Lu Ai Korean BBQ 
D3A, Ground Floor, Block D, Setia Walk Mall, SOHO, Persiaran Wawasan Pusat Bandar Puchong, 47100 Selangor
Tel: +6017 399 7142

PS: Ladies, did I mention that the servers here are all super cute? 😛

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Went over to have some rice wine at C’s house and to play with Genie. She is so light and small.