Sunday, September 26, 2010

Made in China -- Beijing's Best Peking Duck

Well of course, you might think -- but in this case Made in China is not a description but the name of a restaurant in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Beijing.
We once spent (a very very cold) New Year in Beijing where the temperature was at a steady -3C but the duck dinner we had in Made in China warmed the very cockles of our hearts (not to mention, clogged our aortas and ventricles too).
I was looking for a special restaurant to celebrate the holidays in while in Beijing and came upon a lot of good reviews for Made in China in various blogs and travel sites.
I checked out the hotel website and learned that Made in China featured Beijing and northern Chinese cuisine and the specialties were Peking Duck and Beggar's Chicken. Since we would be visiting during the very busy holiday season, I sent off an e-mail for reservations a good month in advance. Response was swift and very polite -- they even offered to pre-order our duck so it would be waiting when we arrived.
When we finally got to Beijing, we were all looking forward to our Peking duck dinner(s) -- we had scheduled a few, along with Made in China at the Hyatt, we also made sure we would have duck in other, less high-end places.
The day of duck reckoning arrived. We were coming from a full day of sightseeing so we were famished. The windy and cold walk along Wangfujing to the Grand Hyatt was little discomfort to bear for the feasting we were anticipating.
And indeed what an experience it was! While Made in China is a very popular and busy restaurant in the hotel, both with locals, hotel guests and tourists, we were quickly led to our reserved table -- in a very prime spot overlooking the open kitchens where we could see the chefs slicing, cooking, roasting, wok-ing.
Since it was the holiday season, the restaurant was full but still very comfortable. Waitstaff were efficient and not once did we notice any delay in the service. The ambience was modern and minimalist and very contemporary.
The waiter recommended a light appetizer of vegetables with miso and steamed dumplings to go with the duck. Our Peking duck dinner would be served two ways -- sliced with pancakes and hoisin sauce and the bones would go into duck soup which would be served at the end of the meal.
Our duck was brought out within minutes after we finished our appetizers. Reddish brown, gleaming and glistening -- it was offered up for our admiration before the waiter started to very deftly slice it up.
What a duck it was -- crisp skin, not too much fat but just enough for a juicy mouthful. The duck was cooked perfectly and each slice practically melted in a pool of umami-goodness in your mouth.
The pancakes were freshly made, very light and soft. After the duck had been completely decimated, they brought it back to the kitchen and it came out reincarnated as piping hot soup in bamboo "mugs".
It was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal -- and the soup definitely kept us a little warmer in -7C weather as we walked back to our hotel.

Monday, September 13, 2010

NASI LEMAK ... Binalot by way of Singapore

I try to keep from eating too much rice but when traveling to Singapore, it's practically impossible.
All the yummy food involves rice ... hainanese chicken RICE, claypot RICE, NASI (indonesian for RICE) goreng and my personal rice meal favorite ... NASI LEMAK. Binalot ala Singapore!
Nasi lemak is rice that's been soaked in coconut cream before it's cooked. To add to the aroma, pandan is oftentimes used.
A scoop of this very flavorful rice is then put in the middle of a section of banana leaf -- it's topped with a sprinkling of dried ikan bilis or dilis along with some roasted peanuts. A small fried fish looking suspiciously like sapsap is also sometimes included.
A dollop of sambal sauce smeared on the banana leaf completes the equation. Everything is then wrapped up in a neat triangle, ready to be sold and eaten.
You'll find nasi lemak on most food kiosk counters in the morning, in coffee / kopi shops, in small eateries where busy Singaporeans drop before heading to the office.
Breakfast counters typically offer the banana leaf wrapped nasi lemak, trays of fried noodles (think pancit bihon), fried hotdogs or vienna sausage, fried eggs, luncheon meat and sometimes, crispy chicken wings.
For nasi lemak, my go-to side dish is otah, a brown paste made of fish meat, coconut milk and other spices. Otah is also wrapped in a thin sliver of banana leaf before it is roasted.
Otah is savory and the soft paste is a good counterpoint to the crunch of the peanuts and the ikan bilis. The sambal sauce is thoughtfully smeared on a small portion of the banana leaf so you can mix as much or as little of it with the rice, controlling the heat and spiciness of each mouthful.
Nasi lemak is a yummy and filling meal -- one that is perfect to eat while relaxing with a hot cup of kopi C and the day's edition of the Strait Times. I make sure I have my nasi lemak on the last day of a business trip so that its memory is something that I can take home.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Swooning over Mooncakes

I love the Mid Autumn Festival in Singapore because I love mooncakes. This year, the Mooncake Festival is on September 22 but mooncakes have been on sale since late August.
I am always lucky enough to be in town at the right time. Singapore has the traditional baked mooncake but a few years back, they introduced the heavenly snowskin mooncake.
Made of glutinous rice flour that is molded around the filling, snowskin mooncakes are chilled and not baked. Baked mooncake fillings are the usual red bean or white lotus paste with eggs and nuts. But snowskin mooncakes are filled with all sorts of decadently delicious stuff -- how about durian, mango, Bailey's, cappucino, Irish whiskey, passion fruit, dark chocolate, hazelnut -- you name your particular fancy and chances are, you'll find it inside the snowskin mooncake.
Bakeshops, hotels, restaurants in Singapore have both varieties available -- baked mooncakes for the traditionalists and snowskin mooncakes for those who want something different.
The basement hall of Takashimaya in Orchard Road was running its annual Mooncake Festival Sale this week-end. I walked through row upon row of stalls selling both mooncake versions. You could easily tell which stalls had the durian variety!
However, my personal favorite is the snowskin mooncake from the Raffles Hotel. It's not just the really pretty tin it comes in -- I can't resist the out of this world flavor varieties that they have.
The best seller is the Snowskin Mooncake with Champagne Truffle and Ganache. This year, they also featured the Hazel Choco mooncake, Cognac Truffle, Dark Chocolate Crunchy Pearl, Apricot with Popping Candy and the Tiger Lily Mooncake.
I always get a combination of flavors in a tin -- it comes out a bit more expensive but I get to try all the flavors. A tin of 8 of the same flavor is S$50 -- not much to pay for a taste trip to the moon and back!
Happy Mid Autumn Festival to all!