Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Scenes from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I was excited to spend a day/night in Malaysia. Even though my dad is Malaysian and we used to spend Chinese New Years in Klang, a town just 20 miles from Kuala Lumpur where my dad grew up, I haven’t been back in 20 years and was curious to see how much the city has changed. When we landed in Malaysia, we dropped our bags off at the Grand Millennium Hotel located in Bukit Bintang area and went for a stroll around the neighborhood.

Bukit Bintang is a great place to stay because there is something for everyone in the area - there are shops nearby (good for tourists) but there are also a lot of bars and restaurants.

Some of the food that we ate in our short time there:

Chicken rice ~ This is the traditional chicken rice - plain boiled chicken (instead of the soy sauce version that I had in Singapore), served with a bowl of chicken broth, fragrant rice infused with chicken bones, and an array of condiments including dark soy sauce, chili and ginger garlic sauce.

Laksa is also another traditional dish that you can find in Singapore or Malaysia. A spicy coconut curry soup is filled with noodles, fish balls, fried tofu, fish cakes, shrimp, bean sprouts, and if you are lucky, cockles. 

After our meal, we headed to my favorite street Changkat Bukit Bintang that was lined with bars. So many to choose from.  Mainly westernized bars but they seem to attract tourists, expats as well as locals.

Post bar street food is the best thing ever, especially when you only need to walk over to the next street, Jalan Alor.

On our way to Jalan Alor, we stopped by a street food vendor that was grilling up corn on the sidewalk.

The corn smelt amazing and was dipped in a a savory spicy coconut sauce.

Over at Jalan Alor, the street is lined with many food stalls. Because it was 2am, I chose not to scarf down a big plate of food - just a little bite.

Soy sauce chicken wings

Satay ~ chicken and pork, with spicy peanut dipping sauce and served with cucumbers and raw onions. There is something about the chicken in Asia because their satay is always so juicy while the skewers sold in the States tend to be dry (even the dark meat).

Even though we were only in KL for a night, it definitely whet our appetite for the city and can't wait to come back again.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Singapore isn't just all about food - Hitting up the Nightlife

Truth is, the SO and I spend every weekend at the bars when we are home in LA. Santa Monica, Hermosa, Huntington, you name it. We’re that kind of a couple. Singapore has changed so much since I moved to LA 20 years ago so it was fun to discover all the nightlife areas that have flourished in the last couple decades. Here is a quick guide (for my alchi readers) of some of the spots that I enjoyed during my trip:

Clarke Quay

Clarke Quay is a vibrant riverside establishment. Yes, this is still a very touristy area, but it’s touristy for a reason – there are so many bar options either outside along the river or inside as well. In the day, there are lots of tourist but at night, it caters to the younger crowd. It is mellower on a weeknight but Saturdays are a zoo.

Picks: Crazy Elephant, Beer Market, Alegro Spanish Bar, Octopas (riverside seating)

Emerald Hill
Met up with an old school friend. There are only a few bars on this short street but I love the feel of it, it’s a short tiny lane of historical colorful shophouses that is lined with trees, you would not even have guessed you were in the center of the bustling shopping district. It is quite an expat spot. Grab a seat outside and people watch.

Picks: Que Pasa (tapas wine bar), Ice Cold Beer, No. 5 Emerald Hill (get the chicken wings)

Ann Siang Hill 

A relatively new area in Chinatown that came about in the last 5 years. We walked around and turned into a hidden street and was faced with a vast selection of shophouses with bars along a narrow street. I love love love this area! It's so charming and has lots of character. There are so many good bar options, many of them rooftops. We hung out there for one night only and barely scratched the surface. Super trendy spot.

Picks: Screening Room (rooftop cinema), Ying Yang, Beaujolais Wine Bar, Gem

Holland Village
I use to party here in this area in my teens. Holland V is a short street lined with bars and restaurants and attracts lots of expats and young local folks. Gosh, memories – I had my first date here. In the early days, the village only had a handful of bars, now there are too many to keep track of. It’s good to know that the oldies such as Wala Wala (where I worked one summer) and Cha Cha Cha have survived the years and are still as packed as ever.

Picks: Wala Wala, Barosa, Siem Reap, Tango's, Three Crowns Booze & Grub

Sentosa Island

Sentosa is an island just off the main island of Singapore. You can either walk over on foot, take a shuttle or ride the cable car from Mount Faber or Vivo City. 

We shelled out SGD$29pp for a cable car ride so that we could enjoy the view

Sentosa is pretty family friendly in the day but at night, some of their bars kick up. I remember back in the days, we went to the full moon beach parties at Sentosa, when foam parties weren’t even all that popular yet. There aren’t a plethora of bars but the few bars that we hung out at sufficed. They were all beach bars so it was super casual, but fun to sit by the beach with a cocktail. 

Picks: Bikini bar, Coastes, Tanjong Beach Club

Dempsey Hill
Home to the popular local Jumbo Seafood (think chili crab!!!) and Samy's Curry House, this renovated old lush green British army barracks is is now a popular dining scene, on the pricier side. All the restaurants are standalone and perched on top of a hill and you have to drive through windy narrow streets to get to them.

Picks: PS Cafe (great desserts and awesome patio), Bacchus German restaurant, Tippling Club (molecular gastronomy cuisine), The Disgruntled Chef, The White Rabbit


This was probably the “mellowest” area we hit during our trip, but I wanted to show the SO the architecture. Chimjes is a restored catholic high school and church, which now houses restaurants. I love the restoration, this is definitely more of a restaurant than bar scene, but it’s great to just grab drinks at their outdoor patios in the courtyard amidst the skyscrapers. Popular with the young professionals.

Picks: Bobby’s, Harry's Bar

Don’t be shocked, we hit all these spots in 4 days (while also being able to carve out some time for my dad and our old family friends). Singapore isn’t just all about food, we like to party too.

Singapore ~ Imperial Treasure

On our last day in Singapore, we met up with my dad’s friends who took us out to dinner at a Cantonese restaurant called Imperial Treasure located at Great World City. A. We were led into a private room where we proceeded to have a sort of tasting menu with a variety of dishes but that were served in small portions instead of the huge platter of food that you normally get at most Chinese restaurants.

First course ~ Appetizers that included shrimp toast, char siu/barbeque pork, crispy suckling pig and some unidentified fried vegetable. I really enjoyed the deep fried crispy shrimp toast which comprised of minced shrimp on top of a crispy toast that melted in your mouth.
Second course ~ braised fried tofu
Delicious morsel that was bursting with flavor when you bit into it- the SO was shocked that this was actually tofu because it was anything but bland.

Third course ~ razor clams
The clams were so fresh and went down your throat smoothly. They had a sweetness to it, and was cooked so simply in soy sauce and lots of garlic - so tasty!
Fourth course ~ Peking duck
Many locals say that Imperial Treasure has the best peking duck in the city, and I kindda agree. The duck looks so elegant on the plate with its long neck. The duck was presented to the table and carved tableside. 

The duck skin was perfectly crispy & crackling, with a thin layer of fat - we sprinkled a bit of sugar on it which was such a nice combination. The meat that the server carved out was lean yet very juicy. I appreciated that the duck was served in a thin crepe instead of a thick bun - when you are eating peking duck, you definitely don't want to fill up on carbs - it's all about that crispy skin.

Fifth course ~ dessert was mango pudding with sago/tapioca pearls. Not overly sweet.

Cantonese cuisine to me is typically rather heavy - usually I walk out of a Cantonese restaurant feeling stuffed and ODing on MSG. I liked that the food here was served in smaller portions and elegantly prepared. I enjoyed the peking duck - with the skin and meat served separately, it was like getting two dishes from one. Imperial Treasure apparently has a good dim sum luncheon as well.

Imperial Treasure
Great World City
1 Kim Seng Promenade
Singapore 237994
+65 6738 1238

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Singapore ~ Amazing spread of Penang food at Copthorne Hotel's buffet

Singapore cuisine is heavily influenced by all the countries around the tiny island country and Penang food is wildly popular and one of my favorites. When I was in Singapore last year, my mom and her friends took me to a buffet lunch at Penang Place which was outstanding. Unfortunately the restaurant is closed on Sundays so we went to the next best option at the Copthorne Kings Hotel which has been serving their buffet since the 70’s. The restaurant is nothing fancy, in fact it’s a little dated in decor, but the buffet has kept many Singaporeans coming back.

The impressive thing about this buffet is that in addition to the pre-made array of dishes, there are many cooked-to-order and do-it-yourself stations. They had a section that served freshly prepared local dishes such as kway teow, penang laksa, hae mee (prawn noodles), ak twee mee sua (duck leg noodle soup) - this is definitely where you want to spend most of your stomach space on.

The rojak station offers all the ingredients you need (boiled potatoes, cucumbers, fried been curd, boiled eggs, jicama, pineapples) and a mixing bowl for you to combine the fruits & vegetables with the crushed peanuts and a spicy dressing of chili, lime, and prawn paste.

Satay with peanut dipping sauce (chicken, mutton, beef) and the staple sides of cucumber and raw sliced onions. The meats were very juicy and flavorful.           

Porridge with deep fried onions for crunch and fried fish and fried you tiao (deep fried crullers).

Popiah is fresh spring roll with lots of vegetables. The popiah wrapper is a thin crepe that bundles in lettuce, carrots, bean sprouts,cucumbers, shrimp and grated steamed turnip. Popiah is served with a sweet hoisin sauce mixed with sambal.

I definitely overdid it on this plate-  fried chicken, char kway teow (fried noodles with shrimp, Chinese sausage, cockles and bean sprouts), braised pork knuckle (in a vinegar soy sauce), otak (steamed fish cake mixed with shrimp paste, coconut milk, lemongrass and shallots), chicken satay topped with spicy peanut sauce.
Another serving of char kway teow (cuz it's that good), chicken curry with diced potatoes (soooo good) and Kueh Pie tee (crispy mini pastry shell stuffed with a mixture of sauteed jijama, carrot, diced shrimp and shredded omelet).
Deep fried shrimp, chee cheong fun, sambal squid (which was very spicy).
Pigs stomach soup with ginko nut. Even though I was stuffed by then, I discovered this Hokkien soup hiding in the corner and had to grab some. This soup is commonly fed to women post-birth in order to help replenish nutrients- don't worry, not me! The broth was loaded with lots of flavors and the large pieces of pigs stomach gave off that distinct intense ofally flavor - so pungent yet so delicious.

I definitely filled up on my fair share of savory items, but do remember to save room for their comprehensive dessert selections.

Ice kachang is a Singaporean dessert of shaved ice with red beans, palm seed, corn and topped with carnation milk and syrup. There were also other local desserts including a DIY chendol (green grass jelly infused with pandan with creamed corn, red beans and in coconut milk).

There was also an assortment of handmade Nonya kueh, apom bokwa (rice pancake with banana sauce, pulut tai tai (glutinous rice cake with kaya sauce).

The Penang buffet at the Copthorne Hotel is such a great way to sample all the local dishes in one meal. The food is authentic as evidenced by the hoards of local people dining there. Singaporeans take their food seriously so you know it's a good thing when they all flock over.

Princess Terrance Cafe at Copthorne Kings Hotel
403 Havelock Road
+65 6733 0011

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Singapore ~ Dining Out and About

For the next 4 days, we roamed around Singapore. Here are some random shots of the delectable Singapore food that I sampled over the course of 4 days.
Chinatown was a cool spot that we checked out, with lots of casual food stands and shops.

We had buckets of beer for the hot humid days at an outdoor restaurant in Chinatown. Alcohol is generally quite expensive here (because the Govt levies a large tax), compared to the neighboring countries.

Singapore is known for its chili crab but since we had dinner plans, we opted for a snack.

Chili sauce with roti (bread). Freshly toasted bread is dipped into the sauce which is thick and had a glutinous nature to it. It’s called chili sauce but it is not overly spicy and in fact has a sweetness to it.

One of my favorite streetside items is the roti ice cream. There are guys with a refrigerated cart on sidewalks who will make up your ice cream sandwich to your preference (kind of like CoolHaus truck).  
The key is to always get the multi-colored pandan roti although you can also opt for the wafer. My all time favorite is the yam ice cream on roti. The fresh soft bread was slightly sweet with a coconutty flavoring, and soaked in all the ice cream – great snack in the humid city. My other favorite flavors are the sweet corn and durian. At SGD$1 (US$0.80) a piece, you can definitely afford a couple.
Pigs feet with wonton noodles We had this dish for breakfast which is more of a Chinese dish than traditional Singaporean. It's definitely puzzling to my Caucasian travel partners when they see us eat full-on meals of noodles or rice for breakfast. The pigs feet was fatty, gelatinous and had lots of bones. The fiancĂ© watched as I sucked off every last fat and cartilage off the bone. He’s definitely a keeper for wanting to still get married to me!
Not only is Singapore clean, but they put a lot of effort into building the flora and fauna aspect of the environment. For example, the Singapore Changi Airport has a cactus garden which is lush and gorgeous.
The food in Singapore is amazing, even airport food is top notch. Nasi lemak is a Malay dish and was served in a sturdy to-go box with a huge fried chicken leg (ayam goreng) that was marinated in spices, deep fried fish, hard boiled egg, cucumbers, a large dollop of spicy sambal sauce and rice infused with coconut.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Singapore: Some key homecooked dishes

This summer, I spent 10 days vacationing around Southeast Asia. Growing up in Singapore, I have had the opportunity to visit many countries in the area (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia) but two countries are still left on my to-do list. Laos and Myanmar. Seeing that the latter only just recently opened up its borders, we decided it was best to wait a year until things settle down and for infrastructure to be developed before visiting Myanmar, so Laos it was. As part of our trip, we decided to spend a couple days in Singapore to visit my dad & get my fill of all the old familiar Singaporean foods that I enjoyed as a kid.

Most people have heard about how amazing Singaporean cuisine is: diverse, spicy & flavorful. There are so many must-have dishes that I was unable to sample all of them over the 4 days that I spent in the city. Singaporeans really take our food seriously. It's all we think and talk about.
Some of the best food that I had was homecooked food - I was spoiled with some great local food, made by our awesome Indonesian housekeeper: 

Laksa is one of my favorite Singapore dishes. Thick noodles are served in a spicy coconut soup with shrimp, fish cakes, boiled eggs, fried tofu, bean sprouts.. and if you want an authentic version you have to add cockles.

Chicken rice is a Singapore staple. Boiled chicken is served with fragrant rice and condiments. This is the soy sauce version.

Chicken feet, marinated in the same soy sauce as the chicken rice.

Gado gado is an Indonesian salad with loads of boiled veggies. The typical ingredients include cubed boiled potatoes, fried tofu, water spinach (kang kong), bean sprouts, hard boiled eggs, but you can also add cabbage and young jackfruit. The best part of the salad is the spicy peanut sauce. This sauce makes any vegetable taste good.
Chee cheong fun / rice noodle roll
In Cantonese cuisine, this is typically stuffed with bbq pork or shrimp and doused with soy sauce. This Singaporean version is cooked with caramelized onions and topped with dark soy sauce and sesame seeds. The shrimp is served on top of the rice noodles instead of embedded inside the roll.

Chwee kueh is a great breakfast dish which comprises of steamed rice cake, topped with pickled radishes and spicy sambal. So good - love the savory and sour radish topping.
Indonesian chicken is marinated with lemongrass, garlic, honey, chili and baked in the oven. Served with a spicy sambal sauce. The chicken turned out real juicy and flavorful.