Tag Archives: noodles

A very short trip to Hong Kong

Crispy skin chicken

My mum, sister and I have been planning a girls weekend together for a while now.  With them living in Sydney and me in Singapore it was always going to be a bit of a challenge but a random opportunity meant that it managed to happen much sooner than we thought.  Destination: Hong Kong.

In between the manic shopping, being in Hong Kong, of course, we ate.

I grew up with Cantonese food in Sydney – it being the predominant Asian cuisine before Thai, Malaysia, Beijing and Shanghainese restaurants started to spring up around ten years ago.

In Singapore, Cantonese cuisine is either very good and high-end, or average and cheap.  I miss the rowdiness at the likes of East Ocean or Golden Century in Sydney where it’s casual and the food top-notch.  Here good Cantonese food (including yum cha) is ordered from the menu rather than just going in and ordering what you like or what is recommended.  It’s just so…formal.  Maybe that’s actually a good thing, but old habits die hard for me.

Problem is, with only 2 1/2 days, it’s hard to visit all the places you want to, with popular restaurants fully booked days ahead, and the appeal of somewhere local where we can refuel before heading back out to the dizzying array of shops was sometimes too great to travel far (or at all).

Won ton noodles “kon loh”

We ate “kon loh” wonton noodles, where the noodles are thinner than you can get here in Singapore and cooked perfectly al dente, simply served with some oyster sauce and the most tender kailan, accompanied with a delicious soup with soft pillowy wontons, topped with fried onions and fresh shallots.

Other typically Cantonese cafe food was one which I used to eat regularly for lunch with my friends back in Sydney.  It’s a calorie-buster – and takes a while to make – fried rice, topped with a deep fried pork chop, covered in a tomato-based sauce with fresh tomatoes, then baked.  I don’t know why it works so much better than ordering a plate of fried rice served with sweet and sour-like pork but when that casserole dish turned up, a big smile was on my face, not just happy that I was going to eat something yummy, but the fond memories of the three girls I used to eat this dish with.

Both of these were at a very busy, popular-with-the-locals, typical Hong Kong cafe in Causeway Bay – Tsui Wah.  Be prepared to wait a while for a free table during peak times, but it’s worth it.

Tsui Wah Restaurant
G/F, 493-495 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay

Steamed whole garoupa with soya sauce

For dinner we went  just across the road from our hotel, on the 12th floor of the World Trade Centre, at the Dragon King Restaurant.  The evening we went we were treated to a less-hazy day, so we had a spectacular view of Kowloon (specifically Tsim Tsa Tsui) from our window seat.  We had wanted to go to Tsui Hang Village Restaurant for roast meats, but they were fully booked the entire time we were in Hong Kong.  Dragon King luckily still managed to hit the spot nicely.  Unfortunately we did go slightly later – 8.30pm – and the suckling pig AND the roasted pork had both sold out.  We ended up ordering crispy skin chicken – something we probably haven’t eaten in years, bean sprouts with egg and dried compoy, and steamed whole garoupa with soya sauce, a classic dish.

All three dishes were perfectly executed – not overly seasoned, MSG-free, the chicken skin crispy while the meat was moist, and the fish fresh and firm.  We even got chatting to the maitre-D who very kindly offered us a course of double-boiled soup to start the meal, and a jelly-dessert to end the meal.  All this surrounded by Cantonese families all having their Sunday dinners.  It’s not fancy for them – I guess because space is such a luxury in Hong Kong, small apartments mean that once a week the family get together to eat in restaurants.  So the vibe is friendly and happy with a good amount of chatter in the background.

Dragon King Restaurant
12/F, World Trade Center, 280 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
Tel: 2895 2288

Espresso custard tart from Lord Stow’s bakery

As Hong Kong is a bit of a late starter, we were often up and ready before anything was open.  Luckily for us, on the ground floor of our hotel was cafe EXpresso, that is the exclusive distributor for Lord Stow’s patisseries in Hong Kong.  You can read the history of his bakeries in Asia from the link.  Delicious classics like croissants and portuguese custard tarts were enjoyed on the first morning, and the next we went for wholemeal croissant and the best best best one, espresso custard tarts.  The custard not too sweet with a strong punchy coffee flavour and the tart pastry didn’t completely fall apart and crumble like a butter pastry.  It had layers with substance yet managed to be light as air.  The wholemeal croissant tasted surprisingly almost just like a normal croissant – delicious.

EXpresso Cafe
The Excelsior Hotel
281 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

All in all, the trip managed to satisfy most of my Cantonese food cravings, although I am looking forward to yum cha with friends on Sunday and on a mission to get some good three layer roast pork.  Any good recommendations in Singapore ?


Our gastronomic trip to Japan – second stop Kyoto…

First course at Kikunoi

After a precisely 2 hour 20 minute shinkansen train ride from Tokyo (all trains in Japan are super punctual with a margin for error of only 1 minute), we arrived in picturesque Kyoto.  Having only ten days in Japan we decided to focus our trip on two cities, and we picked Kyoto because it seemed to be the polar opposite to Tokyo in terms of modern vs traditional.

We had arrived just as the sun was beginning to set – around 5pm so we decided to take a walk to Gion by the Kamo River. The weather was really showing off Kyoto in all its glory – we actually only had one day of rain in the entire ten days (the rest of our time in both Tokyo and Kyoto the sky was a brilliant shade of azure, with a slightly chilly wind – our absolute dream weather). The willow trees lining the banks of the river along with the cool late afternoon breeze certainly set the scene for a very romantic city.

Although we had a map, we thought we’d just walk in the general direction of the main street in Gion and just see where that took us. We ended up finding ourselves at the gorgeous Shirakawa canal where we could admire the restaurants by the canal, with their shopfronts on Shijo Ave.

Takuma restaurant from the inside, facing the canal

As a consequence of the legacy of taxes in Kyoto, that used to be based upon street frontage, houses were built with narrow facades only five to six meters wide, but extend up to twenty meters in from the street, and it took us a while to find the restaurant we had chosen from the canal view.

Sashimi with whipped soya sauce with duck liver pate

A few false entries into neighbouring restaurants later, we found Takuma – a kaiseki restaurant which basically consisted of one long counter. Kaiseki ryori is a traditional multi-course dinner that is a Kyoto specialty and type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food.  The idea is that only fresh seasonal and preferably local ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavor.

Grilled shishamo

Dishes included a range of bite-sized appetisers (sushi, tofu, omelette) fresh sashimi with whipped soya sauce and fresh wasabi, a fresh and light fish broth, grilled shishamo, a seasonal vegetable hotpot, a rich sliced beef sukiyaki, peanut and mushroom rice and dessert.

Fresh fruit dessert plate with passionfruit icecream fruit compote and date cake

There was a bit of a language barrier as the chef tried to explain what he was serving, I hope our photos provide a good indication of the presentation, I can only vouch for the wonderful flavours of each dish.

Hyakumanben kosaten seihokukado, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, 606-8225.
Tel: +8175 781 3486

For dinner that night we treated ourselves to dinner at the recently awarded three Michelin-starred Kikunoi.  Yoshihiro Murata is the third-generation chef-owner and his restaurant is situated near Maruyama Park in the heart of Gion.  Once you enter the gardens around the restaurant, you are transported into another world.  You begin your journey with your own private room (be warned you need to be comfortable sitting on the floor for a few hours at low tables, so if you are not very flexible or have knee injuries like D, it might detract from your enjoyment of the evening.  And you don’t want to rush this dinner) where your 8 courses are served.

Each course is a feast for the eyes as well as the palette.  Food is served in simple tableware, and I read that chef Murata is involved in preserving Kyoto’s traditional crafts and is a champion of struggling shokunin (craftspeople), both young and old.  He works directly with artisans when ordering his tableware, to ensure they complement the restaurant and of course, the food.

First course at Kikunoi

The menu changes monthly.  We were served the menu for the month of frost (November) and we started with some chilled sake as an aperitif while the first course was served.  Presented to us intriguingly wrapped in paper held together by a leaf clip, which, once opened, revealed an assortment of autumnal appetisers.  We ate our way around poached anglerfish liver, mibuna (Kyoto arugula) and shumeki mushrooms, karasumi (dried mullet roe), chestnut and arrowhead root chips, duck liver pate with white poppy seeds, maple leaf-shaped cuttlefish coated with egg yolk and sea urchin, pine needle-shaped tea noodles, sake glazed gingko nuts and an edible konbu basket.

Sashimi of red sea bream and prawns

bluefin tuna sashimi with soy-marinaded egg yolk sauce

The next course was sashimi of red sea bream and prawns, followed by young bluefin tuna sashimi with a soy-marinated egg yolk sauce.  Hamo (conga eel) was next, served in an light mitsuba herb infused fish broth where you are encouraged to “refresh” the broth with just a few drops of sudachi lime. This was followed by salt-grilled roe-bearing ayu with potatoes,  then a salad of persimmon, daikon radish, carrot, chrysanthemum petals and mutsuba herb with vinegared mackerel, ginko leaf-shaped ginger and yuzu.  Next course was a simmered Densuke anago eel with poached turnip and baby field greens.  Final dish was Matsutake mushroom rice with turnip soup and seven-spice powder, picked raddish and kombu seaweed.

Grilled roe-bearing ayu

Grilled roe bearing ayu

The evening ended with Hojicha (roasted green tea) ice-cream with a chestnut rum-raisin fig cake.

The food was exquisite.  The flavours and textures all complemented each other perfectly and the experience unique and utterly enjoyable.  We only wished that the food wasn’t served quite as quickly at the start so that we could leisurely savour and enjoy each course.

We left full, content and happy, and enjoyed our stroll back to our hotel through Gion.

Kikunoi (main restaurant)
459 Shimokawara-cho, Yasakatoriimae-sagaru, Shimokawara-dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Tel: +81-75 561-0015 (reservations highly recommended as there are only ten private rooms)
Lunch: 12:00pm to 2:00pm (last entry)
Dinner: 5:00pm to 8:00pm (last entry)

kamaage udon at Honke Orawiya

The next day we lunched at Honke Orawiya, the oldest Japanese noodle shop in Kyoto, that has been around since 1465.  In a quiet street just south of the Imperial Palace, they hand make udon and soba noodles and I tried both – the kamaage udon where the udon is served in a communal hot-pot with hot water, and accompanied by a hot dipping sauce of dashi and soy sauce, and zaru soba where the cooked soba is served chilled and accompanied by a cold dipping sauce.  Both were delicious and it’s no wonder Owariya has served emperors and shoguns as well as the monks of many of the temples of Kyoto.  The shop started by selling soba confectioneries, which they still also sell.

Honke Owariya
322 Kurumayacho, Nijo-Sagaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Tel: 075-231-3446
Hours: 11:00 – 19:00
Closed Wednesdays

We had decided earlier on that our final dinner in Kyoto was going to be teppanyaki.  We had walked past a steak house in the heart of Gion – Yoshida Steak House – that weirdly displayed the papers of the cow that they had bought (and we assumed would be serving in the restaurant).  Right down to the name of the cow (Matsuka)…and its noseprint.  It seemed to be the only teppanyaki restaurant that at least said it served food on the teppan – although we probably walked past many, just that we didn’t recognise the Japanese signage.

We were a little apprehensive when we entered the restaurant and there was just two other people in there, but we also didn’t realise that it was a public holiday that day (we should have realised this when we found the Imperial Palace closed for the day).  Our worries were completely unfounded and this turned out to be another mindblowing meal.

Omi wagyu steak

The menu is limited – basically your choices were grade A5 Omi wagyu steak – in three sizes.  The only other choice you had was your sides.  I ordered the 100g steak, D the 150g.

Omi wagyu cows come from the neighbouring Shiga prefecture, and rank amongst the top three types of wagyu – the other two being the famous Kobe wagyu and Matsuzaka.

Omi wagyu steak

We were shown our steaks before they were cooked, and I have never seen wagyu so beautifully marbled.  Unlike the tacky teppanyaki restaurants in the West, the chefs in Japan do not “perform” by throwing food around and at you (which I admit also requires skill).  The chef came and showed us our steaks, asked how we would like them done, then proceeded to almost solemnly cook the vegetables and the steak before presenting it to us, bowing and then disappearing.  This was serious stuff.  We only got a smile out of him at the end of the meal when we chatted with him about the meat he served.  We even got a copy of Matsuka’s papers !

Yoshida Steak House
1F, Minami Grand Kaikan 2-5-19 Higashi Shinsaibashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0083
Hours:  Mon~Sat 17:00~24:30(L.O.23:00), Holidays 17:00~23:30(L.O.22:00)

We dined in Kyoto based on recommendations from research, but also we took a few chances, and maybe we just got lucky, but I truly think that it’s the Japanese obsession with perfection in everything they do, especially food, that led us to leave Kyoto with the fondest memories of absolutely amazing food.

Ho Chi Minh in a few days…

Why isn’t there more good Vietnamese cuisine found outside of Vietnam ?  It’s so similar to the ubiquitous Thai but it is full of fresh herbs and uses a lot less sugar which surely must be better for you… ?

I digress from my rant to say that I was lucky enough to go to Ho Chi Minh City on a work trip where I managed to squeeze in some local food not served in a high-end restaurant and/or hotel.  Certainly not enough, but enough to satisfy my love of pho for a while, anyway.

We stayed at the Sheraton, which is smack bang in the tourist area of what is a relatively small city where on the 23rd floor there is a rooftop bar which boasts the “best view of the city” according to the Lonely Planet Guide.

Being on a work trip, we basically ate at and around the hotel, which wasn’t bad, for sure, but the surroundings were so high end that it lacked a lot of authenticity that I like to experience when I am travelling to new places.

During one of the activity sessions we had to scour the Ben Thanh market for trinkets and while my teammates were furiously trying to get the best deal in the shortest amount of time, I got to stare longingly at the little noodle stalls surrounding us where locals slurped.

We did get to eat at what isn’t authentically Vietnamese, but at strikingly beautiful Cham Charm, in District 7.  A restaurant/gallery devoted to Champa ancient arts and culture,  you dine buffet style surrounded by Champa artifacts and sculptural works, in a chilled ambiance, with perfect mood lighting and music piped throughout.

The dessert station at Cham Charm

The cuisine is what they call “world cuisine”,  what I would call Asian cuisine, as they serve a vast variety of specialty dishes from India, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan at different stations around the large restaurant.  There seemed to be a new section that someone from our group discovered each time they looked.  Food-wise, I wouldn’t say that it was bad, it’s just that it wasn’t great.  After eating at the likes of the Raffles Bar & Billiard Room Sunday buffet, my standards are pretty high, but for first impressions, the 30 minute ride out of the main part of Ho Chi Minh is worth it.

Cham Charm
02 Phan Van Chuong, Dist. 7
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
PHONE: (84-8) 5410 9999

Oh for a simple breakfast

It’s amazing how a difference of just 3 blocks can dramatically change the breakfast options you have.

When I was working closer to Chinatown, little coffee shops abounded with offers of simple good food – freshly fried beehoon noodles with srumptious sambal, gooey sweet sticky peanut butter spread on to thickly cut and freshly toasted bread, or my personal favourite, nasi lemak with a squid curry and an egg with crispy sweet and salty fried anchovies- a throwback from my days working in KL.

So my new role has me right next door to Lau Pa Sat – “the Festival Market” – the hawker centre that had locals in an uproar when it was even suggested that the prime location, in the middle of the business district, on which it stood be replaced by commercial office space.

I was a little confused at the variety of food that you could get at 8.30am – I did a few sneaky rounds around the tables to see what other people were eating and was amazed that you can get Indian dosai for breakfast ! Anyway, I ended up with fried glass noodles, with fried beehoon noodles and some vegetables and my confusion led to me having the oddest and most dissatifying breakfast I have had since i tried to eat a bowl of muesli for breakfast.

But I’m not giving up ! I’m going back there for lunch today so that the Festival Market can redeem itself in my eyes…