Oranges are not the only fruit

I did not eat a single mandarin orange today. I had chok (thick Cantonese-style porridge), lasagna, pineapple tarts, bak kwa, kueh lapis, muruku, chocolates, nuts, and finally a very non-traditional dinner of lamb tagine, Moroccan mint tea and two bottles of Trappist beer to round off the day --- but not a sliver of mandarin orange.

However, I came home with eight oranges --- four for the remaining Chinese New Year visiting I have to do in the next few days, four to eat when I feel like it and because my mom thought she had too many and did her best to offload some on me. Maybe I'll toss some into the bag for tomorrow's Battle of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk.

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Traditionally speaking

What little tykes wear

When we gathered for the traditional Christmas family lunch yesterday, Packrat noted that he and Ondine had snagged the next-to-last French loaves at their neighbourhood bakery that morning. The shop owner had said to them, "Yesterday, this time, no more already." Then she had added, sagely, "Christmas, a lot of people eating curry."

I kind of miss having curry at Christmas. When I was a kid, for some reason the family lunch was crowned by large tubs of chicken and fish curry, which my parents would order from their Little India restaurant of choice for that year. At some point we transitioned to having turkey and ham as the centrepiece of the meal. Now that I sit and think about it, though, nothing says Christmas to me like neat slices of French loaves and copious amounts of brown curry sliding all over a disposable plastic plate.

Later, at a friend's gathering for strays-and-waifs (i.e. for friends who don't have family in Singapore to celebrate the holiday with), there was an attempt at pong pong croquet.

Houdini lurks

But I couldn't stay and play, because there was more Christmas food waiting elsewhere. And friends too, of course. We rang out Christmas with glasses of Choya (Japanese plum liqueur), which given its alliterative attributes, seems like a fine new tradition to spread around.

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To be a good guest

I'm not sure when it is that I developed the habit of not showing up empty-handed when I visit someone or show up at their dinner/party, but earlier this evening I was picking up some groceries and suddenly it dawned on me that I'd better stock up on wine, so that I can always grab something from the fridge when I'm on my way out to any number of social engagements that are coming up this Xmas weekend.

My mother is not the most custom-bound person, so this is not an upbringing thing. She's of the opinion that with close family and friends, you don't have to be so 客气 (scrupulously polite, to the point of standing on ceremony). Me --- maybe it's the fact that I'm not a good cook who can contribute anything to the dinner/party table. I feel a little shy if I show up to eat without proffering also at least some simple libations.

Last week, a friend and I were making a call on some older friends whom we don't know that well, and we fretted in Cold Storage about what to bring along. Eventually, we decided on fresh lilies and some chocolates. As it turns out, we lucked out on the latter and happened to select the very brand of chocolates that was the host's husband's favourite.

For this weekend's festivities, everyone is summarily getting wine, except for the party where I've volunteered to bring some food (from the delightful Garden Slug).

Speaking of parties, it's time for that immortal quote from Oz in season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Oz: We should figure out what kinda deal this is. I mean, is it a gathering, a shindig or a hootenanny?
Cordelia: What's the difference?
Oz: Well, a gathering is brie, mellow song stylings; shindig, dip, less mellow song stylings, perhaps a large amount of malt beverage; and hootenanny, well, it's chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny.
--- "Dead Man's Party"
I don't think there are any hootenannies awaiting me this week, but there most certainly will be gatherings (though probably sans brie) and perhaps if I'm lucky even a shindig or two.

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Space for thought

Friday night

The thing about putting together a collection like this, is that some days you find yourself having meeting after meeting, and while they are good meetings in and of themselves, and quite enjoyable in the moment, afterwards you are left feeling like your brain has left the building and why isn't there a little capsule hotel where you can crawl in and nap for an hour so.

Lucky for us, Cheng Tju came to the rescue with the suggestion of The Black Sheep Cafe, and it was very pleasant to clink glasses in an unexpected little country-style cafe on the periphery of Little India.

Speaking of Little India, the exhibition Migrant Tales has just opened at the Migrant Voices space at 65 Kerbau Road (map). It draws from the oral history archive that Migrant Voices is building up, of migrant workers in Singapore. The exhibition is evocative and provocative, and the short film Confluence of Lands is well worth the 20 minutes it asks for. Go and see!

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The quick Hoi An getaway

Vintage Hoi An

Oddly enough, it was only on our last day in Hoi An that we managed to track down a cafe giai khat in the Old Town, where we could park ourselves on child-sized chairs and dawdle over Vietnamese drip coffee. The cafe was less than two blocks from our hotel, yet we had never noticed it all this while.

Local-style cafes aren't easy to find in Hoi An's Old Town. You can't pass a street that doesn't have a tourist-friendly cafe --- you know the kind, occupying a restored Old Town house with street-facing bamboo chairs, free wi-fi and a menu that offers croissants alongside cau lau. But for local-style places, you usually have to head north away from the river, towards Hoi An's other market and into the neighbourhoods with com ga (chicken rice) stalls and karaoke joints.

I didn't do much of that traipsing this time. The restaurants I was writing about were all in the tourist-accessible Old Town, and the rest of the time I mostly lolled about in a cafe or a bar. If you missed my Facebook status updates, they were (in chronological order):
Wednesday, 4 November
[Tym] is in rainy Hoi An, where there's a starfruit tree outside her window and Christmasy lights at the restaurant across the street.

Thursday, 5 November
[Tym] is falling in love with Vietnamese salads all over again.
[Tym] is watching the river rise over shots of Vietnamese rice wine at the Sleepy Gecko.

Friday, 6 November

[Tym] is off to a 'death anniversary lunch' – I honestly have no idea what this will involve, besides Vietnamese food of some kind.

Saturday, 7 November
[Tym] is on a passionfruit binge in Hoi An. So far: chocolate chip semifredo, cheesecake and juice. (Not on the same day.)
[Tym] is going to a Vietnamese wedding. No idea who's getting married, but it seems there will be heaps of food, rice wine and extremely loud hip-hop music involved.

Sunday, 8 November
[Tym] has had Vietnamese coffee, Italian coffee, Vietnamese red sticky rice liqueur and heaps of passionfruit juice – and it's not even 3pm yet.

Monday, 9 November
[Tym] has had her last bite of banana flower salad, last gulp of Vietnamese coffee and Biere Larue, and last inhalation of scorching hot air in Hoi An. Next stop: Danang, then Singapore.
Yeah, I mostly drank passionfruit juice, Vietnamese coffee and Biere Larue, and stuffed myself silly with salads.

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Three days later

Washing the mud off

Been busy eating and drinking and catching up with friends. Hoi An is as charming as it was last year, despite the intermittent rain we've been having, and the food is even more splendid than I remember. I'm thinking I need to start running food tours here --- sign up in the comments if you're interested.

So far on this trip, in between restaurant visits and chilling out in cafes, I've attended a "death anniversary lunch" (i.e. commemorative feast for deceased ancestors) and a Vietnamese wedding (i.e. feast for the wedding couple). The home-cooked food has been great --- who knew that bun and beef stew could taste that good --- as has the exquisite restaurant fare, and I'm wondering why I don't just move here so I can have tip-top meals round the clock.

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Readers' poll #4: Chopsticks are lots of fun


I'm writing about Korean food right now, which begs the question of why Koreans use silver chopsticks, which got me thinking about how globalised Asian food has become and wondering how common it is for anyone --- not just Asians --- to know how to use chopsticks these days.

So here's my readers' poll: How old were you when you learned to use chopsticks? Feel free to embellish your answer with tragic tales of food dropped on the floor or being rapped on the knuckles by your elders, if any.

Also, I'm interested to see if anyone says, no, in fact they have not learned to use chopsticks.

My story: I don't remember exactly when I was taught to use chopsticks, but I grew up first using the fork and spoon --- to eat Asian meals, yes. Even today, at home I reach for a fork-and-spoon combination before I think about chopsticks, unless sushi is involved. I suspect I must have been six? seven? years old when I could use chopsticks competently in public (i.e. my parents didn't have to request for a fork and spoon if we were at a Chinese restaurant).

But my parents always lamented that my brother and I learned the wrong technique. To this day I can't control my chopsticks in the traditional fashion, where the chopstick closer to the body stays static while the thumb, index and middle finger lever the other one and keep it moving. I can still pick up most food and I did okay with those darn slippery silver Korean chopsticks for almost two months, but the occasional quail's egg or soft tofu still eludes me.

Oh, but the tearful tale of how I had to sit at the dinner table and learn to cut steak properly ... That's a story for another day.

So, do tell: when did you learn to use chopsticks and do you have a story to tell about it?



One gunkan to herald them all

Gunkan ganbatte!

I'm a week late to the party, but congratulations, Howard!

Is there a nicer thing to do with a good friend than to sample sushi and sip sake? No, not really.

  • It's in the basement of OUB Centre.
  • Try their versions of the tamago sushi, the tori kara-age and the enoki mushroom stir-fry.
  • Tell the cashier you're a fan of the Facebook page and get a 20% discount until August 28 (tomorrow).
  • Don't steal my bottle of sake.



All I wanted was plain-vanilla chocolate

When I found cheap strawberries at the supermarket this week, I immediately knew that I wanted chocolate ice cream to go with them. It used to be you could just waltz up to the ice cream freezer and scoop a tub off the top of the pile, but now that we have rucola, fresh peaches and couscous in our supermarkets, it turns out that it's harder than you think to rustle up a tub of plain, simple, ungarnished chocolate ice cream.

I wasn't about to pay $14 for Haagen-Dazs. Ben & Jerry's (almost as expensive) doesn't do a pure chocolate. Working my way down the price chain and through the ice cream freezer to the very cheapest brands of Walls, Magnolia and Kings, I was still left empty-handed. There was Rocky Road, plenty of Neapolitan and many other concoctions that ran along the lines of chocolate-chip-superfudge-chunky-chocolate-with-cookie-dough. But no plain chocolate.

Not at Cold Storage, not at NTUC. Not even the Haagen-Dazs brand.

I eventually settled for Wall's triple chocolate. As a point of comparison, it was 1.5 times the size and less than half the price of a pint of Haagen-Dazs. Admittedly it's also described on the packaging as a "chocolate and malt-flavoured ice confection".

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Not a fussy eater, really

This is the story behind the dessert options at yesterday's housewarming.

The day before
The Host: "I'm kinda really fixated on that orh nee [from Big D's] ..."
Me: "Count me out for orh nee. I really dislike it."

The afternoon of
Me: "Do you want me to bring anything for tonight? Dessert?"
The Host: "It's okay. I asked _____ to bring ice cream for the non-orh nee eaters."

Five minutes before
_____ : "Ya, I got ice cream. The usual flavours."
Me: "Which are ...?"
_____ : "Pulot [hitam] and coconut."
Me: "Guess I'm not having any dessert tonight."

Upon arrival
The Host: "G-man brought dessert too."
Me: "Oooooh, what?"
G-man: "Arctic Roll and Vienetta."
Me: "Arctic Roll!"

My first taste of the new Arctic Roll

It was a little disconcerting at first that the dominant colour in the Arctic Roll packaging is now a sickeningly sweet fuchsia, instead of the reassuring deep blue of the original (similar version here). I suppose this is what happens when companies try to funk it up to "appeal to a new generation of Britons".

Taste-wise, they got the ice cream about right, but the raspberry is too tart and the sponge cake not sweet enough. I had only one slice of it. Time was when I would eat half a roll for breakfast before school (my mother permitted a very wide-ranging choice of breakfast foods).

I wonder what other discontinued "retro" products will be resurrected by the recession ...


Day --- off

Dress --- worn.

Ideas --- scribbled down.

District 9 --- watched (well, as best as I could, given the motion sickness which led me to shut my eyes for a good half of the film).

Big D's dinner (ta pow) --- eaten, with gusto.

Arctic Roll --- eaten, but meh (didn't quite get the original formula right).

House --- warmed.



O Cedele

If you were wondering how to pronounce 'Cedele' (the name of a bakery/restaurant chain selling rather tasty eats in Singapore), here is the answer from deafknee (via Stripes and Butterflies), who wrote to them to find out. Now you know.

I wish there was a better story behind the name, but hey, I never got round to making up a good story about why I use "Tym" either.

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A crash-course tour of Singapore in less than 12 hours

Taking off

Start time: 1 p.m.

1. Meet at Raffles City.

2. Lunch at Yet Con along Purvis Street: old-school chicken rice, with some sambal kangkong for extra kick.

3. Hop on a bus to Chinatown, where Maxwell Hawker Centre serves as Exhibit A for introducing the concept of hawker centres. Interlude: sugar cane juice and deep-fried sweet potato dumplings. Marvel that at least 15 people are waiting in a very slow line for Tian Tian Chicken Rice.

4. Wander over to BooksActually, so I can pick up Concave Scream's new album. Peek into cool old clan association buildings on Ann Siang Road along the way.

5. Mosey further down Smith Street and the madly touristed-with-souvenir-stalls Trengganu Street. Puzzle over the juxtaposition of souvenir stalls with sex shops with eating places with traditional Chinese medical halls and a doctor's clinic that looks like it's permanently stuck in the 1950s. Admire Majestic Theatre from the pedestrian bridge linking Pagoda Street to People's Park Complex.

6. Hop on a bus to Tiong Bahru. Refresh spirits with ice cream ice kachang (that's not a typo), a cold bowl of cheng tng and a cup of ice-blended cappucino --- all from the same stall at Tiong Bahru market.

7. Maunder around Tiong Bahru, admiring Art Deco architecture.

8. Hop into a taxi to Beach Road market, so that the friend can get a Singapore flag cloth patch to add to his round-the-world collection.

9. Hie over to the Arab Street area and mooch around the food festival going on at the Malay Heritage Centre. Snack of the hour: prawn vadai.

10. Shuffle across the street, just in time to see the men coming out (or is that going in?) for evening prayers at Sultan Mosque. Finger fabrics at the cloth shops along Arab Street, peer at the indie-ish cafes and boutiques along Haji Lane, and nod approvingly at graffiti on the walls wherever you see it.

11. Pop into Parkview Square, 'cause it's the only crazy Gotham-like building we have in Singapore.

12. Nip into the National Library, so that I can use the toilet. Meanwhile my friend finds some kind of nifty touchscreen newspaper-browsing device.

13. Hop onto a train to Buona Vista. We're early for dinner and there are no tables available at the coffeeshop anyway, so poke around in the adjacent NTUC Fairprice supermarket and cool off in the air-conditioning.

14. Settle down at the coffeeshop for dinner.

15. Dawdle for a couple of hours over Peranakan food and Western fare, as one ought to at Big D's.

16. Adjourn to Udders for dessert, since the friend has declared, "I have a separate ice cream stomach."

17. Drop the friend off near his backpacker place at Little India, after helpfully pointing out Mustafa as a landmark and all-night shopping option.

End time: 10:45 p.m.

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CornWare you can eat off

At the buffet spreads for Friday night's art show opening and Saturday's one-month celebration for a friend's kid, I was delighted to find that both the caterers in question had provided CornWare, made-in-Singapore biodegradable disposable tableware. It's made of corn and yam, yet is a lot sturdier than most varieties of disposable tableware. When I was giddily pointing this out at the party on Saturday, one of my friends promptly asked, "So how long does it take to biodegrade?"

I said, "Er ... I don't know." Which was kind of embarrassing because I've known about CornWare for months, since ampulets used it at a potluck party.

So the friend --- who barely spends any time online but is always happy to suggest "projects" for my blog --- suggested that I take a (clean) plate home, hang it by the kitchen window and take a photo of it everyday to document its biodegradability.

I took the plate out of my bag last night, but before I did any stringing up today, I checked out the official website FAQ and wouldn't you know it:
4. What are the conditions necessary for CornWare to biodegrade?

It will need to be buried under a thin layer of earth and exposed to water and heat for at least 90 days prior to biodegradation.
Perfect for a landfill in Singapore, not so much for the conditions in my apartment, which completely lacks a thin layer of earth.

So much for that experiment idea. But still --- CornWare! You can find it at lots of local chain supermarkets, shelved and priced much like environmentally-unfriendly varieties (ampulets got theirs at an NTUC Fairprice supermarket, for instance). Stock up for your next party or harangue your caterer to get it.

PS: If you're in the US or Canada, you can check out biodegradable cutlery made from potato starch (via Smart People I Know).

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Where the week went

I meant to blog this week, but then it seemed like nothing much, er, happened. Work time --- and there was rather a lot of it --- was expended on tedious yet essential details such as endnotes, indexing and incidental proofreading. Non-work time was spent watching Kaki Bakar, checking out an art exhibition at Osage, and chowing down on tau huey (soya bean curd) at Selegie Road and luncheon meat fries at Wild Oats. Yes, first I feed my mind with the good stuff, then it's more plebeian fare for the stomach.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the sudden urge to book an air ticket, pack a bag and get the hell out of town --- not because there was anything I suddenly disliked about Singapore, but because I suddenly felt like, okay, I've had my dose of it, and it's time for something else now. I couldn't actually up and go, because of work commitments, but the urge, augmented by a recent conversation with Adri, has got me flipping through travel guidebooks and thinking about where to go next, even before I finish start my writing for Korea.

Tomorrow I get to play tour guide to a friend I made in Hoi An last year. He's from Australia-via-Vietnam-via-Kuala Lumpur and has done a round-the-world backpacking trip, so I'm not sure what I can show him in Singapore that could possibly surprise him. Maybe we'll just park ourselves at a kopitiam and drink a lot of beer.

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Not sick of Korean food at all

Watching the Seoul episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern makes me hungry for some doenjang jjigae (soybean stew). The mee pok ta I had for lunch didn't quite do the trick.

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Home again, home again, jiggety-jig

Spiky ceiling

Back in Singapore, where the air is still, the sky is a surprisingly glorious blue and the cats are wondrously indolent. Other than dealing with an allergic reaction I picked up in Seoul, things are peachy keen. I'm all unpacked and about to start triaging snailmail.

What you missed of my trip home, as told via Facebook status updates:
9:09 a.m., Seoul
... is off to spend the day at Incheon Airport.

2:40 p.m., Incheon International Airport
... thinks every airport should have a place like the Naver-sponsored internet lounge at Incheon Airport --- super-fast wi-fi and power points built into every seat.

6:57 p.m., Shanghai Pudong International Airport
... is in Shanghai Pudong Airport on a 6-hour layover, where there is decent free wi-fi but no power points.

8:34 p.m.
Found the power points.

10:32 p.m.
... finally finished uploading all her Korea pictures to Flickr (thank you, free wi-fi at Incheon and Pudong).

12:12 a.m.
My connecting flight from Shanghai's been delayed ...
In the end the delay lasted two hours --- the plane was coming in from Beijing, which was enduring apocalyptic thunderstorms. I whittled away the extra time Skyping my cousin in Paris, whining on Facebook and reading Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road.

Since I touched down, I've had roti prata, teh tarik, Peranakan food at Big D's, and chicken rice and Hainanese food at Chin Chin Chicken Rice. I'm not sick of Korean food at all, but I don't think it'll taste the same if I eat any in Singapore this month.

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Just call me an old-fashioned girl

I spent some of today working and watching Mad Men (my newest addiction), then after dinner I did something I hadn't done in a very, very long time: I curled up on the couch and read --- a book.

Sure, the TV was on for white noise, the laptop was on and my cell phone occasionally beeped with a text message that I answered. But for over three hours I sat and read that book, getting up only to refill my mug of tea (I'm trying to fight off an incipient sore throat) or go to the bathroom. I'd already read about one-third of the book and I finished the rest of it tonight.

This is not to say that I haven't been reading all year. I read online everyday, heaps and heaps of stuff. But when it comes to books, I usually read them to kill dead time while I'm on public transport, waiting for public transport, waiting in line at the post office or waiting for a friend at a cafe. In other words: as much as I love reading and books and words and ideas, I very rarely choose to read a book, when I could be doing something else.

Tonight I actually caught myself thinking something along the lines of, "Okay, so I've finished that episode of Mad Men and I don't have the next one. But I have the latest episode of Dollhouse. But after that I don't have anything else, so how will I fill up the evening ..."

And I think it was when "how will I fill up the evening" traipsed across my mind, that I knew there was something terribly, terribly amiss.

The book I finished was Jen Lin-Liu's Serve the People, which I stumbled across at the library last week while I was looking for books on Korean food. It's an account of Lin-Liu's journey to learn to cook Chinese food in China, from a cooking school for kitchen workers who need government-approved culinary qualifications to a hole-in-the-wall noodle shop to one of Shanghai's most chi-chi restaurants.

I have to admit that I picked up the book mostly because the friend who recently landed a book deal is going to write a memoir linked to Singapore food (see her spanking new blog, A Tiger in the Kitchen, which shares the title of the book), and there are other food-related ideas that are burbling at the back of my brain. At any rate, it was nice to take a walk through modern-day China through someone else's eyes, and the ease with which most of the Chinese terms and names made sense to me, made me wonder if I shouldn't indeed spend some time wandering around that vast and crazy land. If nothing else, as I told everyone when I got back from Shanghai last year, my spoken Mandarin would improve really quickly.

This book aside, everything else I've been reading has been related to the upcoming Korea trip. I'm still trying to find a good book on Korean food --- not a recipe book, not a glossary of definitions, but a proper look at the culture and the people. Recommendations welcome!

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Waiting for guests

Three friends. Two bottles of wine. Many barbecued chicken wings and sticks of satay. Heaps of sushi and spinach salad. Two cups of coffee. Five slivers of dessert from Indulgence.

Now that the friends have left, the dishes are done and I'm sitting on the couch to unwind --- Sisu has decided to go to sleep on my outstretched ankle.

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At 9:45 p.m., Deanna pinged me online: "Supper?" It turned out that neither of us had eaten dinner yet, so about half an hour later, we rendezvoused at the Tanjong Katong outlet of Ponggol Nasi Lemak, where a plethora of fried food and oily greens awaited us.

I was working late because I had taken the afternoon off to hang with the best friend. Her schedule had finally let up enough that she could come by to see my place. Like every other guest I've had, she was equal parts appreciative of the view and puzzled by my landlady's decision not to install any ceiling lights in the bedrooms (I have plenty of table and standing lamps to compensate).

Before I go to bed (even though it's only been two hours since I finished my meal of nasi lemak), I leave you with this: are you a Page Turner, a Slow Worm, a Serial Shelver or a Double Booker? I'm a Page Turner, for sure, as well as a reformed Serial Shelver, but I've never been a Double Booker and I can't imagine being a Slow Worm.

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The wind begins to howl

Sometimes I reread old blog posts, and I wonder why I don't write like that anymore.

I'm rereading those posts because of a related article I'm working on --- or ought to be working on (don't panic, Pin), but all I've got are half-formed thoughts scrawled in ballpoint pen across recycled paper and two old-but-well-written blog posts staring me accusatorily in the face. It's one thing to have an inferiority complex, it's quite something else to have an inferiority complex about one's younger self.

To avoid thinking about the article and other melancholy subjects tonight, I went for my weekly Pilates class, followed by a late dinner at Peperoni Pizzeria. Parma ham, rocket salad and mozzarella on a pizza make a surprisingly good diversion. Good conversation always helps too (thank you, Darren and melch and friend).

There would be a picture of the pizza here, but I ate it all.

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After a mediocre-to-average brunch at 7atenine, I needed to redeem my palate, so I rounded up a few friends for dinner at Azhang.

Waiting for dinner

I know I'm getting old and crotchety because so many new and trendy restaurants disappoint, and I keep crawling back to the ones that I know won't fail me. Fortunately, with friends, there are many old ones who haven't failed me, and also a number of new ones who haven't disappointed.

Via a friend's Facebook status update yesterday, I came across the best quote about Singaporeans and food yet, from Calvin Trillin in the New Yorker last year: "Culinarily, they are among the most homesick people I have ever met."





You know the evening's off to a good start when the host half-bellows at his wife, "You leave Lana cake where there might be ants?"

Don't worry, there was plenty of ant-free Lana cake when we cracked the box open a few hours later.

The good thing about buying a 1.5 kg Lana cake for just eight people to share, is that there'll be leftovers to bring home afterwards.

Related posts: The Lana virgin, Lana cake for lunch, I am a Hobbit



A weekend of mooching

No horsin' around

Good meals eaten: 3, at Picotin on Friday, La Petite Cuisine this afternoon and Canopy tonight.

Alcohol imbibed: 2 glasses of wine, 1 half-litre of German beer and 1 mediocre vodka 7-up (Night & Day really needs to get better bartenders).

New clothes acquired: 1 skirt --- finally, a denim skirt that I like.

Kilometres cycled: 4-5 today, although it would've helped if the cycling path at Bishan Park were not overrun by joggers and amblers.

Friends caught up with: 13. Whoopee!

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Inundated by coffee chains

Coffee good

Hot on the heels of learning that Tully's Coffee from Seattle has opened two outlets in Singapore, I just learned tonight that there's a Trung Nguyen as well (via The Travelling Hungryboy). And only yesterday I was whining on Facebook to a friend that I miss my daily dose of ca phe sua da.

Having said that, I don't think Singapore really needs more coffee chains when it already has Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Coffee Club, Gloria Jean's and TCC (I'm sure I've forgotten someone). And the fact that Trung Nguyen doesn't serve ca phe phin (drip coffee) kinda negates the whole point of ordering Vietnamese coffee.

As I was lamenting to Yan Wei last week, what Singapore needs are more indie cafes like Saigon's La Fenetre Soleil.

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"So what are you doing now?"

That's what a couple of people have asked me since I got back in circulation in Singapore. Some of them thought I'd finished my Lonely Planet writing while I was in Vietnam. To which I shake my head fervently and mention the 65,000 word count I've got to complete by January 9. Sure, some of it got written while I was there, but all the longer texts (i.e. anything longer than 50 words per block of text) still need to be done.

In between writing getting the writing started, I've also initiated the apartment-hunting process. I have until January 21 to relocate. Ideally, I'll be able to wrangle a new place with a move-in date in mid-January, thereby allowing me to complete the Lonely Planet work in peace.


The other thing I've been doing is sneezing regularly. The spates started in Saigon, where I had a slight itchy-eye/sneezy reaction, but it's become full-blown now that I'm home. I wonder if it's the cats or the general air quality. (It's definitely not a cold --- different type of sneezing.)

Tomorrow I'm going to my first Thanksgiving dinner in 11 years. There'll be a roast rack of lamb instead of roast turkey, Caesar salad instead of green beans, and potato au gratin instead of mashed potatoes --- but it's the spirit that counts. Besides, there will be pumpkin pie.

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Getting things sorted

Minh's Jazz Club

When friends at home saw me online this afternoon, all they wanted to know was a) how was everything in Hanoi, and b) what was I doing online instead of checking out the place I'm supposed to be writing about?

To the latter, the answer is: I'm not writing about Hanoi, I was chillaxing for the day and I was online only to finish up some prep work for tomorrow, which is the first real "working" day of my trip.

Today we wandered around Hanoi some to run errands --- buy train tickets and Vietnam SIM cards --- and I got to eat a lot more street food than I did the last time. No pho yet, but plenty of time for that (seven weeks, to be precise). Today we had bun cha, baby pineapples, some dumplings with, er, mystery meat, a salad-y thing with something that resembled beef jerky, and cha ca la vong. I was too busy eating to take pictures of anything.

Hanoi is still a fun place to get lost in, just don't let the motorbikes run you over, but I think the air quality has declined distinctly. The quality of light at night is just off, somehow.

Tomorrow we're off to Ninh Binh, and I don't know if the hotel we're checking into has wifi. So don't mind if there's silence around here for a few days ...

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My fridge smells faintly of durian

Durian delights

I haven't had any durian this season, so I treated myself to the next best thing today: durian puffs from Puteri Mas. The treat was for finishing all my Singapore-based work ahead of time, thereby giving myself one entire week to do last-minute prep and research for my trip. This includes:
  • Finalising my air ticket back to Singapore.
  • Buying a poncho or three.
  • Changing money.
  • Getting my second hepatitis jab.
  • Getting a haircut.
  • Buying Apple Care.
  • Seeing family and friends.
  • Backing up the laptop.
  • Packing and making sure I can heave the backpack around.
  • Avoiding the downtown area where the first! ever! Formula One night race! is majorly fucking up traffic.
I'm sure there's other things I've forgotten.

In other news, my landlord is selling the place where I live, so I have to wait and see if the buyer wants to let me renew the lease. Failing which, it's back to the classifieds after I get back from Vietnam.

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Random observations about food from the last few weeks

Having a flimsy memory is not remembering to drink the milk in the fridge unless I set a daily email reminder for it.

Sometimes I buy food from unlicensed street vendors, just because.

I have 40 39 pieces of vadai in my kitchen, fresh from Gordon's Katong Vadai, for tonight's party. Woot!

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What have you eaten lately?

I was wondering what to blog about today, then I came across this new meme at olduvai's monomania.

The Omnivore's Hundred (which originates at Very Good Taste)

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you've eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (I want to say I've eaten this, but I'm not sure)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat's milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth US$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S'mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs' legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (I think kway chap counts)
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe (I can't remember if I had this in Prague)
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef (I'm not sure if I've had this)
86. Hare (rabbit counts!)
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

I've had 55 of the items, excluding the three (crocodile, absinthe and Kobe beef) I'm not sure if I've eaten before. I guess my score isn't too surprising for someone who lives in a fairly international city.

I'd do better if I was more open to Mexican food or, you know, had more cash (see items #45 and #84 in particular). After all, the only thing I flatly won't eat is insects --- although now that I think about it, I must've inadvertently ingested a tiny black ant or two in my time.

Oddly enough, I haven't had a PB&J sandwich, despite the four years I spent in the US.

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Nom nom nom

Layer-layer cake

They were from Glory Catering and tasted just as good as they oughta.

However, I was stuffed after two, so I didn't eat them all in one sitting.



Pure heaven

I really like the "taste" of ice-cold water, but it tastes even better after a cup of rich black coffee.

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Yan Yan teaches you English

When I first started eating Yan Yan in the '80s, they came in two flavours --- chocolate or strawberry (feel free to say that in a "Okay Pocky" voice) --- and the biscuit sticks were plain and unadorned.

Now the biscuit sticks try to teach you English.

Yan Yan teaches you English

More accurately, they try to teach word association in English. This is what the sticks say (the animal name is on the top end of the stick, the rest of the words on the lower half):
  • Bat --- Only in the night
  • Stag beetle --- Love it
  • Rhinoceros --- Think big
  • Elephant --- Jumbo
  • Cow --- Muuuuu
  • Frog --- Amphibian
  • Rabbit --- Eat more carrots
  • Owl --- Active at night
  • Panda --- Go for more
  • Sheep --- Wool sweaters
Now what I want to know is: who gets to be the copywriter for the Yan Yan sticks, and where can I sign up?

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I have no tastebuds

I thought the Coke tasted a bit flat yesterday, but maybe the warm weather got to it. I thought the beef bourguignon didn't quite turn out right, but maybe I'm just a bad cook (plus the cousin had certain views on the recipe I followed).

But when today's green tea and sashimi left the same sensation of a missing taste over lunch, I knew my tastebuds were in revolt. So much for getting better. It's very frustrating to try and obtain a taste, any taste, when every successive attempt seems more futile. Besides the Japanese food, I tried mint tea, a mini Milky Way and a mini Mars bar, and some pizza. Only the pizza yielded some flavour because I sprinkled chilli flakes all over it. The only thing that tasted "right" today was water.

My mom says I should try to eat and drink stuff that is sourish, so maybe tomorrow will be all about tom yum soup and lime juice.



Instead of cooking

I had an inexplicable craving for delivery pizza tonight, so for the first time in over a year, I called Sarpino's and put in an order (with a friend standing by to help with the eating). The best part was that between us, we polished off the two 10" pizzas and side order of chicken wings, so there were no leftovers for the fridge, hurrah!

I would've cooked dinner but I've run into plumbing problems again: one of the pipes running from the kitchen sink has sprung a leak. A friend is gonna help seal it up this weekend, but meanwhile I'm avoiding any kitchen activities that would entail washing the dishes with soap. The hardest part is, predictably, not being able to make coffee in the morning.

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Strike three, but we got lucky

Because I am a freelancer who is --- for all intents and purposes --- surgically attached to her internet connection, Cowboy Caleb calls me on occasion for last-minute restaurant advice and I spend about five minutes helping him pick a place where he can fête a client or boss on his company's tab. The other typical condition is that it has to be a place that he knows how to get to in Singapore, which can be harder than it sounds.

Today he calls at about noon from Hong Kong and needs a place for dinner tonight. He can't expense the meal, but still needs it to be nice enough. Oh, and no Asian food.

We settle on Valentino's, because we've been there before and it's pretty damn good food. He asks me to get a reservation (yes, I am officially his entertainment secretary, didn't you know?) and SMS him when the table's booked. I call. Valentino's, it turns out, is fully booked for the night.

A little SMSing, another phone call. "How about Marmalade Pantry at Palais Renaissance?," I suggest, "because the air-conditioning at the Holland Village one isn't working [as I found out to my dismay on Monday night]."

"Where's Palais Renaissance?"

"Next to Orchard Towers, between Orchard Towers and the Thai embassy."

For reasons that cannot be reported here, Cowboy Caleb declines to go anywhere near Orchard Towers. We settle on Ember at Hotel 1929, another reliable choice that he knows how to get to.

I call and: "We regret to inform you that we will be closed for renovations from 30 April to ..." Cheebye. I hang up without bothering with the rest of the automated message.

"Strike two," I SMS Cowboy.

He calls back. By this point, I'm trawling through The Travelling Hungryboy for ideas. We confer. "Okay, Wild Rocket," he decides.

I call and I cannot believe my ears: "I'm sorry, but we're closed tonight for a private function."

Clearly, the moral of the story at this point is that it is not possible to get a dinner reservation at a decent place on the eve of a public holiday (it's May Day tomorrow), unless you planned your evening a week before and had time to work your way through an entire restaurant directory.

Cowboy cannot believe it; neither can I. James comes to the rescue on MSN: "Cork", he says, "63279169." Does Cowboy know where Capital Towers is? Why yes, he does. After which he SMSes: "I boarding the plane. You decide."

Meanwhile, I'm calling --- and miracle of miracles, they are open, they have tables available and they are pleased as punch to take Cowboy's reservation. I manage to sneak in a last confirmation SMS to Cowboy and the URL for Chubby Hubby's review of the place before he switches off his phone on the plane.

As far as I know, dinner went all right.

It seems Secretaries' Day has just passed us by, so Cowboy owes me a huge bonus next year. He should buy me dinner at a nice place.

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I have become a breakfast person

A good English breakfast

It used to be that I didn't eat breakfast at all, and it was a point of pride for me to declare as much. My mother was a little surprised by this, seeing as she'd faithfully fed me breakfast through most of my growing years, but I'd fallen out of the breakfast habit when I went away to university and didn't quite pick it back up when I moved back to Singapore.

Until now.

I blame it on all the good food easily available around me. Within a 5-10 minute walk from home are an excellent German bakery, a Cedele outlet and, if all that fails, two grocery stores. Within a 10-minute bus ride are a lovely Malay eatery with tip-top epok-epok and shops with various Peranakan kueh options. A 10-minute car ride away is Scruffy Murphy's at East Coast Park, home to the oily English breakfast (the photo above was taken last year; when G-man and I ate there yesterday, the grilled tomato and mash had been replaced by baked beans).

So eating breakfast has become quite a delightful way to start out the day, despite the fact that it's usually eaten while I'm doing work, and now I often find myself wondering, "Hm ... what else can I eat for breakfast tomorrow?"

Clearly, I need to start cooking my own breakfasts, especially on the weekends. I haven't made French toast in months, and after having a passable croque madame for lunch today (disguised on The Caffebar's menu as "ham and cheese sandwich with egg"), I'd like to try making that too. I also need to replicate the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon that James had earlier this week.

Breakfast today consisted of two epok-epok and two slightly overripe bananas. Breakfast tomorrow will be an orange cranberry muffin from Cedele. After that --- who knows?

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The Lana virgin

Yesterday, the best friend and I went to visit Ondine and the twins, and my mom was there too to help with the kidlets, so it was clearly an occasion that called for a Lana cake. 1.5 kg of it, in fact, a good hunk of which is still sitting in my fridge (yes, the sacrilege, but I couldn't eat it all in one day).

But that's not what I'm here to tell you about. No, no --- this is the story of the Lana virgin.

It seems that Lana Cakes, along with any number of other good cake stores, were featured in a recent newspaper article about the best cakes in Singapore. That's the only explanation why a woman ahead of me in the queue (who looked about my age, standing there patiently with her mother and her child) asked the counter staff very matter-of-factly, "Excuse me, do you have a brochure?"

A brochure? In my head, I was thinking, "What kind of place do you think this is --- a normal bakery? This is Lana. They don't have brochures. You come in, you get your cake, you go, that's it."

The counter staff was nicer. "No, I'm sorry, we don't have any brochure. We just have a few kinds of cake, or when you call and order, we can tell you."

"Ohhh ..." The woman seemed mystified, but conferred politely with her mother. Meanwhile, the counter staff went to retrieve my dutifully pre-ordered cake. By the time she had shown it to me and done it up in the trademark white box with a purple ribbon and was sliding it into an equally purple plastic bag, the woman had decided she wanted a 1-kg cake and asked for a slip of paper to write down the birthday message she wanted icing'ed on it.

The best friend and I walked out of the shop, shaking our heads. A brochure from Lana? We didn't cluck our tongues like old biddies, but I know I wanted to.


Related posts: Lana cake for lunch, I am a Hobbit

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A Saturday's adventures

For all that I rail about crowds on a regular day, I don't mind occasionally plunging myself into the thick of one when I don't have any particular objective in mind. Evidence, to wit: the Great Chinatown Walkabout of several years ago, which was followed by the Great Hari Raya Puasa Walkabout, Comex last September, and more recently the Singapore Air Show last month.

Yesterday's challenge: the Singapore IT Show.

Amidst the madding crowds

Part of me wanted to buy a terrabyte hard drive just so that I can say I have one --- but my 200 GB backup drive isn't even half full at the moment, so who am I kidding here? Nonetheless, my brain is still sufficiently new to the concept of a terrabyte that I kept referring to it as a "one-tetrabyte" drive. To which my friend enquired, "Is that like ---" beat "--- tetra pak?"

After a couple of hours in the crowd, it was time to get out of Suntec altogether.

The photo-taking impulse

At Food for Thought, I really like the brownies (Aunty Rubiah's, according to their website), but I can never finish one on my own. So I only order it if there's someone to eat the rest.

Fortified with caffeine and sugar, I was off to a hen night at Oohtique!.

Hello, Peter

At which I think I drank more than anyone else except the bride-to-be. It was only four drinks, but enough to earn me the following Truth or Dare question: What was your worst drunk experience?

(Tangent (TM Stellou): On a sort of related note, I once remarked that I have a couple of drinks, three or four times a week --- to which a medical professional at the table said, "You realise that's about the healthy limit, right?" Surely his maths is wrong?)

The story of my worst drunk experience, like the full details of what transpired last night, will stay only with those who were there to share it. Suffice to say that last night's activities ended around 1 am at Geylang Lorong 12, where a totally illegal pushcart vendor sells kick-ass carrot cake (chai tow kway).


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An unexpected taste

It's extremely disorienting when the pork chops from a Western food stall at a hawker centre taste like Twisties (chicken flavour).

Fortunately, it wasn't my dinner.


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The teh si that failed

Last night, Suzie and I were wandering Chinatown, looking for a breezy spot to enjoy a little night air and maybe some teh si (tea with evaporated milk). There were no availably breezy spots at Maxwell Hawker Centre, while there were no hot beverages to be had along Smith Street. So we deposited ourselves at the well-touristed corner of Trengganu and Pagoda Streets.

On hindsight, I should've known better. This is the yellow-chaired coffeeshop that is always full of tourists. But then, we just wanted a simple teh si --- we weren't asking them to whip up a mean char kway teow or anything.

First, the guy who makes the drinks wasn't available. When he got back, he brought us one drink instead of two. While he toddled off very good-naturedly to make us the second one, I had a sip of the first, which was suspiciously pale. Yuck --- far too much milk and water, hardly any tea. I went back to the counter to ask the guy to add more tea to the cup. Maybe he heard me wrongly, but he added a dollop of sugar instead. While I flailed my hands trying to explain my request, he said he would just make me a new one.

A couple of minutes later, we had two glasses of tea, as pale as the first had been, and were out two bucks for it. Sipping the tea gingerly confirmed that it was, again, mostly milk and water --- in fact, mostly water. I didn't bother to drink mine; Suzie persevered through most of hers.

Clearly, the worst teh si in all of Singapore, and given that every other drink stall here makes it, that's saying a lot. I had a merely mediocre one at lunch today, but after last night's experience, it didn't seem so bad.


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I survived Chinese New Year Eve shopping

Blue and bright

Hitting Parkway Parade on the eve of Chinese New Year may not seem like a smart thing to do, but if I hadn't, I wouldn't have a kati of bak kwa and a jar of prawn rolls to keep the love letters company in the kitchen. Also, I wouldn't have serendipitously run into first bee, then Olorin and had the chance to catch up with the latter over coffee --- during which we bumped into another ex-colleague. Olorin actually had three hits altogether, so clearly his Eastie karma is stronger than mine.

The queues weren't too bad, either. At Bee Cheng Hiang, I was about the fifth in line, but everyone was telling me how ridiculously long it was when they passed the shop. At Cold Storage, I managed to get through the checkout counter in about fifteen minutes.

So I count myself lucky, and now I'm gonna go eat some bak kwa before reunion dinner no. 2, where steak and salad awaits.


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I did not know that yesterday

Blog post title taken from the eponymous blog, which I read from time to time.

Last night, I left the Discovery Travel & Living channel on for white noise, which threw up a World Café: Asia episode on Singapore. Presenter Bobby Chinn went through the usual hawker favourites, then ended up on Pulau Ubin where an Indian woman cooked him nasi kerabu --- described on the show as a dish once common in Singapore that's all but forgotten now.

To which I say: nasi what? Turns out it's a synonym for nasi ulam, which I think I've seen listed at Malay food stalls before, though I've not tried it. Google actually turns up more entries related to the Kelantan variety, where the rice is apparently tinted a bright blue colour. Don't think I've seen that in Singapore.

Then today, while IMing with Suzie, she expressed a craving for kuih rose. To which I pretty much responded again with: kuih what? Once more Google threw up images of food I didn't recognise, though Suzie's well-acquainted with the snack. How did I miss this while growing up here?

All of which points to the fact that while we rave about how much great food we have in Singapore, there is always something else lurking in the next stall or shop that we haven't tasted yet.


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Recent happy food discoveries

I haven't been invited to any Xmas parties (yes, I confess, I'm a little distressed about that), but there's been a great deal of dinners out with friends to make up for it. Which has led to some rather delightful discoveries on the local food scene.

Crepe and coffee

Bella Pizza at Riverside View is so new that Googling it will come up with nothing except blogger Ermita's review (sounds like she was there the night before I was). The pizzas are fabulous, the fettucine carbonara was the best I've ever had in Singapore, and I'm glad Olorin and I went for the Nutella banana crepe for dessert, because man, did that hit the spot.

Breakfast at TCC

I don't usually eat fancypants breakfast during the workweek, but I was starving when I got to TCC for a meeting on Wednesday and all they had were elaborate repasts that must've taken at least 20 minutes to assemble on the plate. No such thing as a simple bagel or muffin on their menu.

Surprisingly (because TCC is a coffee chain not exactly known for its culinary finesse), the food looked as good as it had in the menu and then tasted as good too. For a start, the "on the vine tomatoes" were really served on the vine and were nice and corpulent. I'm going to remember the combination of scrambled eggs, sliced parmesan and smoked salmon when I want to make myself a good breakfast at home.

Dinner at 25 Degree Celsius

Tonight, Casey and I went to 25 Degree Celsius, which I've been meaning to check out since w wrote about it last month. Not only was it refreshingly uncrowded (though the packed MRT trains on the way to town damn near did me in), the service was delightful and the food was great: duck confit so tender one barely needs a knife, flavourful un-fishy barramundi fillet and a rice cake whose ingredients we couldn't identify but which we loved.

Plus they sell books! Cookbooks!Books about food! Plenty to browse and salivate over. I'm definitely coming back.


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It's not really Xmas till ...

I have fresh cupcakes from Baked Ideas in the house.

Pretty in pink

There were four boxes of them, but most are going away as gifts.

The cat, of course, immediately decided as I unwrapped this box for myself, that the pink ribbon was his new toy.


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Now why didn't I think of that?

So there are these two female architects in New York who make it a point of a) having lunch out of the office, b) documenting it religiously. Hence: LUNCH with Front Studio, which even has a handy-dandy map of all the places in their neighbourhood where they eat. They also keep track of their daily 4 pm espresso break snacks.

Saith the ladies:
We believe leaving the office everyday for lunch is an invaluable ritual. In a time and city where people are constantly rushing around, trying to accomplish three tasks at once, taking a moment to have a civilized meal becomes even more vital. Eating at your desk while reading emails, surfing the world wide web, snarfing down a bland turkey sandwich from the deli down the street is NOT lunch.
Amen, sisters. If I had a dollar for every time I've said that to myself, or tried to entice an overworked associate out to lunch with that logic ...

As karma would have it, today might be a day when I skip lunch because I have meetings that run 11:30 am - 1:30 pm, followed by many urgent errands thereafter. Poo.

(Via Popgadget.)


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A sole comparison

The last piece of lemon sole I had before last night was as delightfully light as its name suggests, served on a white plate with some sparse vegetables. It was at Le Chien Qui Fume, a seafood restaurant off Les Halles in Paris that my cousin brought us to for dinner, after a day at Versailles. She had a splendid platter of fresh seafood that she happily plucked off its mountain of ice, and later we shared a sublime sabayon, the first I'd ever sampled and what she assured me was a very good specimen thereof.

A big hunk of fish

Last night's lemon sole was a whole different matter. At Big Fish, the friend whose birthday it was wanted oysters and rainbow trout, then there was seafood chowder too, and I thought the lemon sole would be a nice light wrap-up to my meal. But how wrong I was because at Big Fish, they give you the whole lemon sole, slathered in a sauce that my tastebuds are too feeble to identify other than that it was tomato-based.

Needless to say, I couldn't eat dessert afterwards.


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A slow Sunday

Homemade breakfast

cour marly asked why there were no pictures on my previous cooking-related post, and I think this one proves why: I may be getting the hang of very basic cooking, but I am not getting the hang of making my meals look like anything anyone else might want to eat. Nevertheless: very tasty bacon and eggs, prefaced with a Cedele muffin.

Bacon is such a no-brainer to cook and not too expensive in the supermarket either, I fear I might be headed for more bacon in my diet than is healthy. For instance, I'm having bacon for dinner again tonight.

Today was one of those ridiculously sweltering afternoons where the stickiness of the air makes it impossible to concentrate on anything more cerebral than cutting-and-pasting or pressing "play" on the DVD player. Even the cat was cranky and whiny. Sitting in front of the fan helps (I was resisting the urge to switch on the air-conditioning), but I'm just glad my throat's recovered quickly enough from the last few days' wonkiness that I could go back to iced drinks again.


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Occasionally, I can cook

Nigella's How To Eat taught me how to marinate and pan-fry chicken breast. bowb taught me how to saute mushrooms to perfection (a lot of butter and garlic is involved). I took a risk by tossing some cherry tomatoes into the mix. Less risk was involved with the final sprinkling of oregano and parsley and salt.

And then there was dinner.


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On the go

Since 3:30 pm, I have consumed two black coffees, one iced tea (unsweetened) and one ice Milo (very much sweetened and loaded with Milo powder). This is what happens when one is roving between meetings and killing time slash clearing email at any wireless-friendly cafe in town.

I'm also peckish and dinner's not for another hour, so I'm now adding several mouthfuls of kaya toast to the mix. I'm sure I'll start feeling ill any minute now ...


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Dreaming of pancakes

Leafing through Nigella Lawson's How To Eat before sleeping leaves one dreaming of fresh pancakes and robust syrup from Australia.

I don't know if Australia makes remarkable syrup. Maybe my brain got confused and meant to say New Hampshire. As in,
LEO: It's a breakfast, Toby, it's a pancake breakfast. There's nothing in that memo that's important.
BARTLET: We're having Vermont maple syrup?
TOBY: Mr President, if you read item 4 you'll see that time at this breakfast will be spent discussing calling the Patient's Bill of Rights the Comprehensive Access and Responsibility Act.
BARTLET: I don't give a damn if they call it the Monroe doctrine. What the hell are we doing serving Vermont maple syrup? [a few lines later ...] New Hampshire syrup is what we serve in this White House.
--- "The Leadership Breakfast", The West Wing
I'm nowhere near ready to start whipping up my own pancake batter yet, so it'll be cereal and bananas, with no syrup of any kind, later this morning.


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The appetite strikes back

The thing about having a stomach ailment is that it makes you want to eat everything in sight, especially everything you're not supposed to be eating.

Like all the cheese at Cold Storage: Brie, Emmenthal, Gouda, Gruyère and Havarti. I also have Gouda in my fridge that I probably shouldn't try to eat till next week, but that didn't stop me from stopping by a bakery to see if they had any good bread that might go with it (they didn't).

The other thing I probably won't touch till next week is the Honey Bunches of Oats cereal that I bought last week when I had a craving. It doesn't taste the same without milk.

At Cold Storage today, I settled for minced beef, mushrooms and a tomato-based pasta sauce; chicken, asparagus and a basil pesto sauce; bananas, TimTams and a pack of frozen char siew baos. I am not planning to eat the last three items in conjunction with each other.




A hodge-podge of stories

I've been meaning to blog for the past four days at least, but whenever I've sat down with this blank Blogger screen in front of me, nothing's come to mind.

Japanese vending machine drinks - in Singapore

I mean, there was the story about the mango. My friend and I were walking along Upper East Coast Road when a) two bats dived out of the tree just in front of us, b) I spotted a huge mango on the road just beside the curb. "A mango!" I squeaked. My friend was nonplussed, although he stopped to look down at it. "Get it!" I squeaked." But then a taxi was coming down the road. "It'll squash the mango --- " "No, it won't. Get it!" And then we had a mango. It's in my friend's fridge, last I heard, so I can't report on how it tastes (you see why this makes a weak story?). I'm still amazed that it fell off the tree just as we were walking by --- thank you, fruit bats!

Then there's the story about wandering through a corner of Chinatown with Wahj on a too-hot Saturday afternoon, during which I introduced him to Global Sounds World Music Cafe, while interjecting every now and then about the Japanese prostitutes that used to inhabit Spring Street and the "death houses" (where the destitute went to die) that used to run down Sago Lane. That's what comes of spending a week reading about the seedy underbelly of 19th-century Singapore. Wahj said I should start running walking tours, but this being Singapore, one needs a pesky government licence for that, plus it's too hot to be walking around that much.

What other stories have I got for you? My uncle had quite a few when we all had dinner over the weekend. He'd just come in from Canada, but from the stories he told, you'd think he'd just returned from a round-the-world expedition. The best story was about taking a public bus between towns in Turkey --- only to have armed policemen muscle aboard with a handcuffed man that they were transporting to prison. Those were the days, I guess ...

Today's sad tale could be of how I had (as usual) too much work and had to (as usual) work after dinner. But instead, let's talk about coriander pesto and how it's totally different from basil pesto, which means that my pasta dinner didn't taste exactly as I'd expected (though it still tasted alright). Coriander always makes me expect a curry flavour. Guess I'll have to go look up a different recipe now ...


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On foot in Paris and London

"How are you going to blog about all this?" Stellou wondered towards the end of my vacation. Good question. She's done a better job of it so far than I have, with her accounts of my close(ish) encounter with the mouse, our visit to the Imperial War Museum (if not for working on the Army Museum of Singapore, I admit that I wouldn't know of the Imperial's existence), our practically nonstop chitter-chatter, and my last couple of days in London.

Across the Channel, my cousin records only the night of gay karaoke --- during which I did not sing, so you could rightly argue that I didn't earn even a mention in that blog entry.

Outside Notre Dame

How to blog this then, sixteen days spent six, then seven timezones away, listening to everyone whine about how they didn't get a real summer while I merrily danced between my choices of two jackets (one brown leather, one black cotton), four pairs of shoes (oh, alright, I only wore two most of the time) and countless combinations of sweater-over-long-sleeved-T-shirt. Some afternoons were warm enough to make me wish I'd snuck a tank-top along as well, and in London, Stellou was happy to loan me a pink-and-white striped one.

But I landed in Paris first, where I tried not to be the dork that describes everything as looking like a movie set, but sometimes it seemed that no matter down which little street I turned, there it was, a pretty movie set waiting for me to walk on. Must be nice, to live in a city where most buildings seem to be older than one's grandparents, if not their grandparents, and where so many neighbourhoods average at a comforting 4-5 storeys high. Plus there seemed to be a patisserie on every street corner (my daily walk to the Metro station took me past three, at least) and a balcony outside every window. How much more charming could it get?

Bicycles on Rue des Boulets

It was my first time in Paris, so I dutifully hit all the tourist stops: the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Versailles, Sacré Coeur, Moulin Rouge, Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe --- plus the final jackpot of three museums on my last day: Musée d'Orsay, Centre Pompidou and Musée Carnavalet. Not that this means I spent any time queuing up to climb to the top of the Eiffel or the Arc de Triomphe. More like, I passed by and checked out the tourist spectacle as spectacle in itself, then maundered off to see some art or have a coffee.

So I also saw the Musée d'Art Modérne, which cousin Nardac says no one ever goes to --- and indeed there were not more than ten people there (excluding the security people) when I visited. Nardac's Dacnar took us on his personalised tour of the Père Lachaise cemetery, where we saw the greatest hits like Jim Morrison and Frédéric Chopin and Abelard and Heloise. But we had to give Oscar Wilde a miss because the cemetery was closing and an eagle-eyed security guard on a scooter was trailing us to make sure we really left the place.

Even in as tourist-infested a location as Versailles, Nardac and I blithely walked through a doorway that happened to be open and found ourselves this:

In L'Orangerie

See what I mean about feeling like I was on a movie set?

Actually, the word that kept popping into my head as I flitted about Paris was "stupendous". My aunt, with whom I was travelling then, had used it to describe Notre Dame on our first day, and the word kept recurring whenever I saw something amazing. The Louvre --- stupendous. Musée d'Orsay --- stupendous. Versailles --- stupendous. The gardens of Versailles --- even more stupendous.

And the art ... You'd think I'd have been all art-ed out after the Louvre on the second day, but no, the secret, you see, is everything in moderation. A couple hours of one kind of art, then a break for tea or the toilet or to take photos of tourists, looking at art.

Gawking at the <I>Mona Lisa</I>

And then more of the art itself. Géricault, whom I'd forgotten I liked, and David, whom I'd never really looked at before, and old favourites Matisse and Picasso and new possibilities Robert Delaunay and countless others I've forgotten. Art I loved and art I didn't understand, and art I stumbled upon in the park at Le Jardin du Luxembourg.

And not just in Paris, but in London too: in Sir John Soane's and the Tate Modern and the British Museum and the V&A. We didn't make it to the Design Museum , although Stellou assured me --- as she did repeatedly with many museums, she's the museum cafe queen, that one --- that "it has a very nice cafe". I think I understood even less of the Tate than I did of the Pompidou, so we stepped out for a breather onto the little balcony on the third? fourth? level. Millennium Bridge looked great, but what was up with the clangingly modern piece of music being performed there?

The dome at the British Museum

At least in London the museums were mercifully free, although Naomi Klein wanted to charge me £12 to attend her book launch (pish-posh, is what I believe Mary Poppins would say to that). But what really got my goat is that Macbeth opened three days after I left with Patrick Stewart in the lead. Also, that by the time we discovered during London Open House what a great little theatre the Almeida is, there were no more tickets available for its shows (with Stockard Channing in the lead!) during the remaining days I was in town.

Patrick Stewart! As Macbeth!

I didn't see any Shakespeare this trip, because none of the plays at the Globe were particularly appealing to me. In fact, I didn't see any shows at all unless you count a BAFTA screening of Hula Girls or an Institute of Contemporary Art screening of Helvetica (both were priceless in their own ways). Instead, I burrowed my way through parks and markets: Hyde Park and the neverending Richmond Park in Kingston, Borough Market for cheese and pies and UpMarket for "bohemian/indie" wares.

Since I got back, people have been asking me which city I preferred and I don't know that one can make a choice. Paris was fresh and new (my first time there), the French (people and language) were not as fearsome as some anecdotes had led me to believe, and by the end of my week there, I was thinking that if I had a reason to hang out in the city long enough to get my French up to scratch, that wouldn't be such a bad thing.

London was a grey and grimy second city, but I got to stay with Stellou and Olive, and Stellou and I got to hang out and giggle a lot like we haven't done since we were in university together. How does one weigh the relative appeal of a fresh pain au chocolat from the corner patisserie with that of a fresh pot of homebrewed coffee and all sorts of breakfasty marvels (Cantal cheese, fresh walnut bread from the corner bakery, fig jam or blackcurrant yoghurt) coming out of the kitchen where one can comfortably sit with one leg up on the chair?

Mint tea

I remember the first time I met Olive in Singapore, I asked him how he was enjoying hanging out with Stellou and her sister, to which he responded, "You never know where you'll end up, but there will always be something tasty there." Which is true, because with Stellou and Olive in charge, there was gastro-pubbing at The Charles Lamb, okonomiyaki in Covent Garden (we were keeping in the spirit after seeing Hula Girls), Pieministers from Borough Market, the brunch spread at Otto Lenghi, and finally French food in The Fox Reformed. Sure, Canteen did disappoint, but it was more than compensated for by the home-cooked paella and beef compote that Stellou and Olive respectively whipped up (despite their misbehaving oven).

With all this on the menu, it should come as no surprise that I did not once taste either shepherd's pie or fish'n'chips during my visit.

Yet London's offerings paled in comparison to Paris's, about which I'm certain countless cultural treatises and newspaper commentaries have been written. I will only add that under Nardac's confident tutelage, we had very lovely seafood at Le Chien Qui Fume (the one near Les Halles), Bistro Chantefable off Gambetta and her favourite restaurant somewhere in Belleville. Plus I OD'd on freshly made chocolate eclairs and pain du chocolat almost every day. Good thing I only discovered Nutella crepes towards the end of the trip.


On one of our first days in Paris, Nardac mentioned offhandedly that we should let ourselves get lost in Paris, since even the natives do. I didn't --- deliberately, because I didn't want to have to ask for directions in my mangled French --- but there were times between museums when I wasn't so much following street signs as loosely heading in the general direction that I oughta be.

London actually proved to be more of a challenge in this regard, maybe because I rarely had a map with me when I was on my own. Somewhere after heading south from Oxford Street for Piccadilly Circus, I ended up on the Strand, then near Trafalgar Square instead and it was only the providential appearance of a mounted tourist map that saved me from circling the streets endlessly (sure, I could've asked for directions, but where would've been the fun in that?). Then there was the time I came out of the British Museum and again needed to mosey south to Piccadilly Circus --- except that I wound up going north by mistake and had to get my bearings by navigating by the setting sun. Who needs a map when one has heavenly bodies on your side?

I guess I didn't quite get lost enough, because at the end of the day, I still had to make my way home.

The Louvre


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