Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sin Swee Kee in Singapore -- Once More, with Feeling

When I started this blog in 2010 (gee, time flies), one of my early posts was about Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore.  
Sin Swee Kee in Seah Street was where I had my first encounter with chicken rice and where you could say I fell in love with the dish.  
I haven't had chicken rice in years because shortly after that time, I turned vegetarian.  
Recently though,  I have gone back to incorporating some meat in my diet -- but only when I am traveling and only if the experience is so iconic to the place.

On this last trip to Singapore a week ago, I decided it was time to go back to Sin Swee Kee and see how it had fared these past years.   I don't see it mentioned as a top chicken rice place, but this was where I had my first taste so I knew I had to try it again.
I wondered if it would be as good as I remembered it to be.

The place seemed to have been spruced up and an open kitchen is now on the premises.  There's a fresh coat of paint on the walls and even the logo has been modernised.

From where I sat,  I  looked out on Seah Street and people watched.  
There wasn't  much of a crowd on this weekday night --  it was almost 9 p.m. and Sin Swee Kee was just  about ready to close.

Naturally, I ordered the Hainanese chicken rice with a side order of my favourite prawn fritters.  Renovations and upgrades notwithstanding, the food looked, smelled and most importantly -- tasted pretty much the way it did four years ago -- when I declared it to be the best ever chicken rice in Singapore.  
Sin Swee Kee's unique crushed ginger sauce was as bright green and fresh as it used to be and I asked for an extra portion.

 Nothing can go better with Hainanese chicken rice than freshly made chili sauce -- mixed with a hint of lime,  some piquant grated ginger plus a finishing drop of salty-sweet thick soy sauce.
Once more with feeling ... Sin Swee Kee is still  SHIOK, lah!

11 Reasons why I agree that Changi Airport is the Number One Airport in the World

Although it's not my favourite airport (that would be Schiphol),  Changi Aiport in Singapore is ranked number one in the world.  Here are the reasons why I agree with that ranking:

1. There are live flowers and plants all over the place!  What can be more soothing to a tired traveler than a gorgeous garden,  growing right in the middle of an airport?

2. The decor are just impressive and amazing.  Each season, Changi takes the time, effort and yes, the expense -- to put up massive themed installations like this gigantic horse set up in time for the Chinese New Year.  

3. Every effort is done to provide travellers with a relaxing and soothing ambiance.  This mini oasis right in the middle Terminal 1 has potted trees, sofas and comfortable chairs on a gleaming hardwood floor.  Curl up and relax while you wait for your flight.

4.  Airport food is almost always dreadful but Changi has a 24 hour food court with kiosks from popular  hawker centres.  So, the nasi lemak, the wonton soup, fish ball noodles, Hainanese chicken rice, bah kut teh, prawn mee  are all authentic -- and yes, all are very good.

5. The food court has a branch of my favourite kopi house -- Killiney Kopi Tiam!  And here's the plus, it's manned by two friendly and efficient Filipinos.  

6. The nasi lemak from the food court is just perfect.  Kopi C and otah  care of Killiney Kopi Tiam!

7. The few times I catch an afternoon flight, I can sit and have a beer at the bar.

8. Aside from the 24 hour food court, there are many choices -- would you like a Burger King or how about some Peranakan cuisine?  You can even take those local delicacies to go.

9. Bee Cheng Hiang's gourmet bakwa and pork sheets are great for last minute pasalubong.

10.  Shopping is just so easy --  even during peak hours, you won't feel crowded or claustrophobic.

11. And finally, Changi has my favourite brands which makes it doubly hard not to shop every time I fly out.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nyonya & Baba -- Peranakan cuisine at Vivo City, Singapore

A quick trip to Singapore a week ago was all work with no time for sneaking out except for a visit to Vivo City on the evening I arrived.  Singapore malls are not the best places for finding good food but I had no choice.  It was dinnertime and I was hungry.

I wasn't about to eat at any chain restaurant and the huge food court was full and noisy.  What luck that this restaurant had empty tables!
Nyonya & Baba is a peranakan restaurant that serves old time cuisine of the Nonyas.  Peranakan food is a blend of Chinese, Malay and Indonesian influences and is very popular in Singapore.

 The meal started out with a complimentary basket of kropek and a dish of assorted spicy hot, tart pickles. The pickles were very flavourful.   The chili sauce came with half of a calamansi to add more zip and zest to the meal.

These spicy sweet sambal prawns were quite hot -- and needed more rice than usual.

I would have preferred what they serve at Banana Leaf Curry along Little India but this Assam Fish Head Curry was a more than passable substitute.  The hot curry had a hint of tangy tamarind which made for a nuanced spicy taste.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Brush with a Celebrity (Buffet) ... 1 Market by Chef Wan in Plaza Singapura, Singapore

Late November last year,  I found myself back in Singapore for the year end budget meeting.  These  annual events are bouts with high levels of stress and anxiety and the only antidote is a good meal right after.

A colleague from Singapore suggested that we recuperate from the rigours of budgeting with a buffet meal at 1 Market at Plaza Singapura. This is  the latest venture by TV personality and celebrity chef Redzuawan Ismail, more popularly known as Chef Wan.
I enjoy Chef Wan's shows on the Asian Food Channel so this was a good chance to try out his cooking (although I knew that as a celebrity chef, he was certainly not going to be in the kitchen, slaving over the hot stoves).

1 Market labels itself as the BIG Buffet but once inside, I realised it is definitely smaller vis a vis our local buffet standards.

This cut out of Chef Wan would be the closest I would get to him today!  

Prices are slightly higher for dinner and on week-ends.  These are not hawker centre prices but still seemed quite affordable, since it is a buffet after all.

The ambiance is very casual and despite the fact that it's a week night, the rather large restaurant is quite full.  Servers are a bit harried and not always up to speed in keeping up with diners' demands.
I see tables left uncleaned and  used dishes stacked up on top of each other.

Lest you forget that this is his restaurant, Chef Wan has his cookbooks, copies of newspaper reviews and photos spread out on the counters and shelves.  Talk about merchandising!

There are various stations for different kinds of dishes -- but mostly they seem to be heritage favourites from the main cuisines of Malaysia ...  Chinese, Indian and Malay. There is also a small station for a limited number of Japanese dishes but these are mostly shrimp and vegetable tempura.

I make a beeline for the appetiser section that has a lot of savouries like samosas, spring rolls, tofu, dumplings and fish balls.  How can you go wrong with anything that's deep fried?

The Indian station featured my favourite lentils and boneless chicken tandoori.  Sadly, the lentils had  been sitting out for too long and had turned cold and lumpy.

I glanced over at the hot dishes section where I saw rendang, satay and other meat dishes.  1 Market is a halal establishment so they do not serve nor do they cook with pork or pork by-products; there is just beef, lamb, chicken and seafood.

There are prawns, blue crabs (alimasag), clams and mussels on ice -- which you can have cooked, any way you want.

 This is what my plate looked like -- grilled prawns and squid on skewers,  roti chanai with cheese, fried noodles and vegetarian samosas.  While some of the dishes were quite good -- the grilled squid was perfectly cooked as were the samosas  -- most of the buffet items were not good examples of how these culinary classics are supposed to taste like.
Unfortunately, my celebrity buffet was a bust!
I dislike posting negative reviews on this blog but after experiencing 1 Market, I have 1 piece of advice for Chef Wan ... please spend more time in this kitchen!

New Life for New Year Leftovers - Duck Misua Soup

This is a much delayed New Year post but since we're still in the middle of Chinese New Year, it's still relevant. It's also my first recipe post for 2014 and hopefully, not the last!

We had chinese style roast duck for  noche buena last Dec. 31.  One duck was too big for the 5 of us so I still had quite a lot of it left in the fridge.  
Since everyone was still full from the richness of holiday meals, I decided to turn the left overs into a hearty one dish meal -- duck misua soup!
It's very easy to make -- use greens like baguio pechay or bok choy, scallions, ginger, garlic and good quality misua noodles.  I bought mine from a grocery in Chinatown.

To start, saute the garlic, scallions and ginger.

Next, add the chopped duck left overs and heat through.

Add some salt, chicken broth and let simmer.  Then, add the vegetables.

 The misua comes in last.  Give it a quick stir to separate the fine and delicate noodle strands and keep them from clumping together.  Don't overcook -- just a couple of minutes is enough.
My duck misua soup turned out to be quite good -- and made for a tasty, light and frugal New Year's day lunch -- certainly a good way to start the year.