Peranakan again

We decided to come here again for the other foods. This time we ordered the ayam goreng rempah (spiced fried chicken), bayam (spinach) with garlic (again), ngoh hiang (vegetables and minced meat wrapped in beancurd roll and fried) and otah (fish paste wrapped in banana leaf and grilled). For dessert, we had the sago gula melaka (again) and pulut inti (glutinous rice topped with coconut shavings that have been dipped in gula melaka. The whole meal was wonderful, except for the ngoh hiang which we could have done without as it was too dry and did not taste authentic. In fact, it tasted a little commercialised.

The prices here are really affordable and one can have dinner and dessert as well.

Ivins, Heartland Mall, 2nd floor, Kovan, Singapore. The more well-known outlet is at Binjai Park, Bukit Timah.

Ayam goreng rempah (Spiced fried chicken). This was seriously good.

Bayam (spinach) with garlic. This was as good as when we had it the last time.

Otah which we had not had before. It would have been nice if we could taste the fish bits in it a little more but this was a decent piece, nevertheless.

Ngohiang which turned out to be a disappointment. I think if they had fried the whole thing as a roll and then sliced it, instead of slicing it and frying them individually, it would have been less dry and taste better.

Pulut inti is glutinous rice, steamed in coconut milk, and eaten with shredded coconut that has been mixed with gula melaka. The pulut (glutinous rice) is also lightly coloured with bunga telang or blue pea flower, which gives it a nice natural blue colour. It is then wrapped in banana leaves. I used to eat this growing up and I still like it now.

The pulut inti with the banana leaf removed. The blue colour from the blue pea flower is just noticeable.

Sago gula melaka which consists of coconut cream and gula melaka poured over boiled sago and ice shavings.

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Sawadee in the heartlands

This was another affordable place we came to for dinner. Located as a coffee shop below a HDB flat with no air-conditioning, we waited our turn in the short queue. There is always a queue here and they will take your order as you are waiting. By the time it is your turn, the food comes rather quickly.

We ordered a green chicken curry, minced beef with basil leaves, stir-fried kailan and mushroom and rice. The green curry was creamy without being too spicy while the stir-fried vegetables still had a slight crunch in them. I’ve come here before and had their tom yum. Definitely a good place to come to for reasonable Thai food, but come early. Next time, I’ll try their desserts.

This is a no frills eating place so don’t expect the service to be great. They expect you to order, eat and leave (preferably quickly as there are always people eyeing your seat or table though they won’t ask you to leave though).

Nakhon Thai, 212 Hougang Street 21, #01-341, Singapore 530212. Tel: 6286 8785.

Stir-fried kailan and mushroom

Green curry with chicken and brinjal. This was sufficently thick without being overly spicy.

Beef with basil leaves. A very fragrant dish because of the basil leaves. This one seemed a little salty though.

Prime food

I was in the mood for a good chunk of meat and decided to come here for affordable western food. They serve hearty steaks, chicken chops and others at very affordable prices indeed.

I decided to order lamb chops. They had a special that day where they gave me free entree and dessert when I ordered a main meal. So I was given tomato soup which tasted like it was from a packet or can, smoked duck breast which was nice and longan dessert which was from the can but nice. The lamb chops were nicely done, as were the steamed vegetables and french fries. If only they served mint sauce as well.

The decor in this place borders on spartan and it is also a bar as they serve alcohol. The service is basic but adequate. This is my haunt for a good piece of steak, chicken or lamb, without paying too much.

Prime Cut, 2 Kovan Road, #01-11 Simon Plaza, Kovan. Tel: 62854468.

Longan dessert

Smoked duck meat with a piece of toast and a cup of tomato soup

Lamb chops, french fries, steamed vegetables and mushroom gravy. It would have been perfect if mint sauce was available as an option.

Heartlanders’ Sushi

I recall when this chain of restaurants was first opened, I refused to eat here. The food was ‘not to expectations’ by Japanese standards. But a friend would come here often and eventually I got used to the place. The price and location were the main draws then. One would very likely not find a Japanese in here. Over the years, the place decided to go a little more upmarket, in line with the trend for such restaurants. Their strategy was to bring affordable Japanese food to the masses in the heartlands and they succeeded in doing that. In time, their menu and food quality improved as well. This is one local chain (not started by a Japanese) that has withstood the test of time and gained market share through accessibility and affordability. Kudos to them indeed!

When I am craving for a good salad, I usually come here. My usual orders are the Sakae salad (which costs under $10), salmon karaage (salmon fish deep-fried) and salmon sashimi. They now have pumpkin croquette which is new to the menu and I decided to try it. It was nice and crunchy and one could taste the pumpkin on the inside. I also usually order their edamame and I’ve also tried their salmon with ramen and yuzu sauce before. This chain has come a long way, from one outlet to about 37 outlets as of time of writing. They also serve upmarket Japanese food (Hibiki) as well as halal Japanese food (Hei Sushi) and have made forays internationally. Food quality and service differs from outlet to outlet as this is a franchise.

Sakae Sushi, Heartland Mall, #01-133, 205 Hougang Street 21, Singapore 530205. Tel: (+65) 63836127

Pumpkin croquette

Sakae salad. This is served with crab meat and salmon sashimi as well. The yuzu salad dressing is on the side.

Salmon karaage – Fin of salmon that is deep fried.

This is a new addition to the menu — Salmon Oyako Gunkan. There are ongoing promotions under Sakae Signatures. This picture was added on 20 April 2013.

Love is sweet

Chinta Manis, which means ‘sweet love’ in Malay, caught my attention. I was curious to know if the food here was as good as love is sweet. One could certainly smell the fragrance of their food, especially their shrimp paste based, curries. We had dinner at this peranakan restaurant. We ordered one of their house specialties — peranakan set which consisted of curry chicken, beef rendang, serunding (fried grated coconut) and achar (pickled vegetables). This came with a choice of tea or coffee and dessert, which was a kueh.

I ordered another house specialty, laksa. It was rice noodles in a spicy shrimp paste, curry sauce with prawns, hard-boiled egg and dried tofu.

Verdict? Good enough to come back to again. Next time, I’ll try their peranakan pattiserie and kuehs.

Sometime ago I reviewed another peranakan food place. That place had a wider range of food choices which this one did not have. But their sets are certainly value for money.

Chinta Manis, 02-43/45, 238 Thomson Road Singapore 307683. Tel: 6254 1727.

This peranakan set was a hearty meal and really worth it!

Laksa. The gravy was rich without being overly spicy. Just nice.

So so ramen

I am now at a ramen dining place at Serangoon Gardens. I chose to sit outside so the photos would come out nicer under natural light.

I ordered their edamame which they had pan-fried with garlic and added salt. Usually, such beans are steamed as is for a lot less, price-wise. Frying them had made them a little more soggy than the usual steaming and because the beans are on the inside of their pods, the flavours from the salt and garlic ended up more on the fingers — one had to pop open the pods with fingers in order to get to the beans — than on the beans. But the price for these flavoured beans were almost double what you would get at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, and fresher there too.

I also ordered the vegetable ramen, mini-sized, cooked in salt as well. It tasted better than it looked. Perhaps I am used to tonkotsu (pork-based) soup, miso and shoyu (soy based) soups which looked like they had more stock in them. A mini portion was going for $10 before the extra charges and there wasn’t much in it; I ordered mini, not kid size. They could have value added to the dish as Japanese restaurants in Japan are known to do. Even ramen restaurants in Singapore value-add to their dishes as it is such a competitive market. They do so by giving customers free flow of bean sprouts or fried garlic flakes or other things; whether or not the customers actually load up their bowls with them is secondary, the restaurant is at least perceived to be generous.

The tempura egg looked a lot nicer in the menu than when it was served. It tasted fine, but again the presentation could have been better.

This place may seem to serve affordable Japanese ramen and other side dishes but there are nicer ramen places around. However, this place seems to attract customers mainly by location and if one is looking for Japanese food without going too far away, then this might be a good place to come to. It does have the usual favourites like karaage (fried chicken) and gyoza (minced meat dumplings) on the menu. There are three outlets in Singapore, out of which two are located in Orchard and the city area where traffic may be higher. Perhaps the food there may be of better quality. The service was fine — no complaints there.

Daikokuya, Serangoon Gardens, 1 Maju Avenue #01-01, myVillage, Singapore 556679. Tel: 6509 1690.

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Naan and more

It’s been a while since I’ve had naan or Indian bread. This place was filled with people for lunch, from locals to Caucasians. There were also a few cyclists who turned up on their bicycles, adding to the different kinds of people who come here. I figured this would be a good place to have lunch. There was a large group of us and we could order more.

I ordered the Naan Keema (Indian bread with minced lamb) as the Naan Kashmir was already sold out. To accompany the naan, I ordered the Kerala fish curry — a beautiful, thick fish curry. I loved it as the gravy was nice and thick, compared to the more watery curries that I am normally served when I order prata or thosai. This eating place was not an Indian air-conditioned restaurant which meant that it was not as expensive as an Indian restaurant. The variety on their menu was pretty amazing for both the food and drinks. Their service was average. I was a little worried that they would get our orders wrong so we repeated them sufficiently. Wrong orders are not refunded even when the error is theirs. It’s the nature of this place. The moral of the story is NOT to get the orders wrong!

It has also been a really long time since I last had a mango lassi (mango yoghurt drink) and so I ordered one, which was nice. My simple meal of a drink, a curry and one naan must have come up to about $15 or $16 and to me, that was rather pricey but having the reputation that this place has, it probably could afford to charge a little more. But the food was nice and the last time I had naan was at a restaurant so it wasn’t too bad.

A friend had Thai Pattaya fried rice which is a Malaysian dish and very popular in Malay restaurants. Pattaya may be a Thai name but this dish has nothing to do with Thailand. The Japanese have a similar dish called omu rice, short for omelette rice. The Japanese version has tomato sauce rice on the inside while the Pattaya fried rice does not, though I’ve seen some fried in tomato sauce as well. Instead tomato and chilli sauce are placed on the rice itself, along with slices of cucumber. Another friend had ayam penyet (smashed fried chicken) which was not at all smashed. Chicken which is smashed to pieces properly is easier to eat. The chicken is smashed after it has been cooked so the meat is still nice and moist usually, which is the whole point of this dish. The chilli sauce is also different from normal chicken rice chilli sauce and spicier.

This place is halal. There are many food shops here and it is like a food street — Chinese, Indian, Thai, Korean food are all found here — quite a variety for such a short street.

Al-Azhar Eating Restaurant, 11/11A Cheong Chin Nam Road. Tel: 64665052.

Mango lassi (mango and yoghurt drink). This was nice.

Milo dinosaur — iced chocolate drink that is made of Milo

Thosai with a variety of sauces and curry. The thosai was a little sour though fluffy.

Rice with fried chicken

Pattaya Fried Rice. This dish is usually served with chilli sauce at the top and I am always amazed at how artificial the colour looks each time. The rice tasted nice but oily and the chilli sauce overwhelmed everything else.

Naan Keema — bread with minced lamb. The brown bits are the minced lamb that has been stuffed into the naan

Kerala Fish Curry — this was nice and thick. I really liked it as it was a nice change from the watery curries that I had become accustomed to.

Egg prata was chewy and soft. There was supposed to be cheese in it as well but there wasn’t a lot of it.

Nuts about rice?

I’m not sure if it was my last trip that triggered my search for good Malaysian food — going back to my roots kind of thing. I ended up looking for good local food instead as good Malaysian food is more easily found, well, across the Causeway. Recently, I seem to have taken a fancy to coconut rice and after my second visit to nasi lemak kukus, I found myself trying nasi lemak at different places to see how differently coconut rice tastes in different places.

The place I went to tonight always has a long queue (I guess I don’t really go to food places with no queue unless it is one of their less busy days). They open from 6pm to 5am — for the owls and fowls. There is obviously a demand for such food at nocturnal hours, minus the legitimate dinner time.

I must have visited this place about four times before but I’ve not really visited it with a view to review the food until now. I’ve also visited the branch at Katong. I have to say that the coconut rice there was better than the one here at Upper Serangoon Road. I don’t know why there is a difference though. If I compare the coconut rice at nasi lemak kukus, this one did not seem well cooked at all. There wasn’t much coconut fragrance to begin with. While I am happy that they always have a queue of customers waiting to buy their food, I was not too happy with their production-line mentality. I guess they are just trying to minimise the queuing time for the next customer. I was fortunate as I got there before the queue got really long. In fact after I paid for my order, the queue really started getting long.

What I like about this place is their vegetables — achar and french beans. I love the pineapple in their achar and I usually get two portions of their vegetables because there is not a lot in one serving. Achar is vegetables preserved in vinegar and chilli, with added sesame seeds. Err… that’s it. Just their vegetables. I usually also get their otah but it was not homemade and I could not taste any real fish in it. However, it was still decent and did not cost as much as the homemade otah at nasi lemak kukus though.

I’ve never had their fried chicken before though I am told that that is the reason why people go there. So tonight, I decided to be big and brave and try their fried chicken wing. I usually don’t take deep fried stuff when I eat out as I do not like the fact that they fry stuff repeatedly in the same oil. This one was no different. On top of that, they had coated it with something which I suspect has prawn paste in it and when they fry it at very high temperatures, the heat is retained such that even though I ate the meat last, it was still slightly hot when I bit into it. The chicken was well cooked on the inside and did not taste oily. I would probably eat this sparingly though.

After my dinner, I decided to have dessert. Instead of going to the ever popular soya bean store across the street, I decided to go to Serangoon Soya Bean which is located at a hawker centre near the Serangoon Gardens market. Why? Well, the gula melaka and the soya bean there is a lot more authentic and frankly, less commercialised. The lady there cooks the soya bean herself, with her husband, and the gula melaka always has the same fragrance and consistency. There are other types of soya bean desserts and drinks there as well.

Punggol Nasi Lemak, 965 Upper Serangoon Road. Tel: 6281 0020. If one drives, do not park along the road as there are happy LTA summoners on motorbikes who are only too happy to oblige. Park at the public carpark on the opposite side of the road and walk a little or turn left and keep your fingers crossed for a parking space there.

Serangoon Soya Bean, 49A Serangoon Garden Way, #01-24 Serangoon Garden Market and Food Centre.

Nasi lemak. One could hardly taste the fragrance of the coconut in the rice. This nasi lemak is made by the Chinese (as opposed to Malay nasi lemak). The sambal sauce was spicy and savoury. I prefer the sweet one.

Another picture with the otah removed from the banana leaf.

Soya bean curd with gula melaka

Light, heavy, cracker good

This is the first time I am visiting this place. The concept is actually brilliant — low carbohydrate, good food which predominantly yuppy customers are willing to pay for. Who would have thought that eating until one is sufficiently full, something which our parents’ generation really believed in, may be a thing of the past and in our weight- and health-conscious society, eating well has become more important than eating until one is full, and people are willing to pay more to eat less.

We ordered macadamia, roasted pumpkin pizza. The base was not just thin crust but cracker-thin. It was crunchy and delicious. We could taste all the flavours in the food and not feel overly full. We also ordered a Thai beef salad. To be honest, I almost wanted to call it Thai beef jerky salad as the beef was cooked in such a way that it was dry and chewy, though not as hard as jerky. It was quite tasty but the meat texture was a surprise. I did not expect the beef to be overcooked in this manner.

For dessert, we ordered a pandan jelly dessert and a chocolate orange scookie. The scookie was a cross between a scone and a cookie. The pandan jelly was very pretty — almost too pretty to eat. It was also light, with black pulut (black glutinous rice) on the inside. Delightful and not at all heavy despite the black rice! The scookie was quite nice as well, with a slightly nutty crunchy outer layer, while crumbly on the inside. This was also when we felt really full, and the scookie was to blame, being more carbo-laden.

Then there was the red tea latte which was rooibos tea with milk and honey on the side. It was wholesome and looked like teh tarik minus the caffeine.

Conclusion? The food here is light on the belly, good and wholesome to the tastebuds and heavy on the wallet. For two people, we paid about $58, including 10% service charge and 7% GST. The place also serves alcohol. Judging by the number of outlets that have sprung up in the past two years or so — there are now five outlets — this concept has worked for them. It was actually nice not waking up bloated and full the next day. Now to find some crackers so I can do this at home…

Skinny Pizza, 68 Orchard Road Plaza Singapura #03-79/83, Singapore 238839. Tel: 65 68848381.

Macadamia nut and roasted pumpkin pizza

Thai beef salad

Pandan jelly

The inside of the pandan jelly

Chocolate orange scookie

Red tea latte with honey on the side

Lessons from the prata man

It was a dripping wet morning when we tried to look for this place. When we finally got there, I could not find a place to park nearby. After going around a few times, I decided to leave as my food-tasting accomplice had to go to work and risked being late. So we left — a case of so near and yet so far. Today was when I realised that Singaporeans REALLY love their food if they can get out of bed on a cold wet Saturday morning to eat out instead of eating at home. Many have nothing at home to eat — such is life here, where good food at affordable prices can be found not far away.

We returned again the next day, it was less wet and less crowded. I found out later that most of the lunch crowd had already left. It was not even 1p.m. yet. In fact both the stalls we patronised had already sold out on their key items. The nasi lemak stall had sold out on their nasi lemak. They only had white rice left. The prata stall had also sold out their pratas. They were into their second batch of pratas and had to make some more fish curry.

I had looked up this place to try their pratas. They were slightly crispy (I like my pratas crispy) and not oily even though they had been fried in oil. I have eaten crispier prata elsewhere and frankly, couldn’t really tell the difference between this prata and some of the other crispy pratas sold elsewhere. The fish curry was made from sardines but I was surprised that I couldn’t really taste the canned sardine smell which I don’t really like, in it. We actually tried the nasi lemak first (from the stall next to the prata stall) and that was when we realised the rice had no lemak in it. It was just plain rice. The beef rendang, peanuts and anchovies were good. I do not usually eat brinjal but they did not have any other vegetables and claimed that their brinjals were nice. I decided to have them. It was soft and tasty. I still don’t like the soft texture of brinjal but at least it was not mushy soft.

As the lady who served us our prata was going about serving and clearing plates, I decided to strike up a conversation with her. That was when I realised that this prata stall IS different. The man and his wife (the lady was his wife) both run the stall with the help of a helper. The man does the actual kneading of the dough and cooking. The wife serves and collects the money. She also clears the plates. They have been at this outlet for five years and the man has been making prata for 30 years! They are both rather polite folks, unlike the many other prata stalls that I’ve been to where the person serving barely speaks English and one wonders whether the order has even been recorded correctly in the first place. When I told her this was my second attempt at coming, she thanked me for the support! The prata may not be crispier but the service was certainly better.

Then I had a lesson in life from the prata man. He only makes and sells prata. And he only makes them in three versions — kosong, egg and bawang(with onions). He doesn’t make thosai, murtabak or other pratas with fancy toppings like chocolate or strawberries, or innings like cheese, banana, mushrooms, etc. He doesn’t do tissue or boms either. He only makes good ole prata!

A dear friend of mine once told me that in the US, they learn a skill, become good at it and then use that skill to make a living. That was how she had grown up and how she made her living. Here was the prata man, perfecting his art of prata-making for 30 years and using that skill to feed many and making a living out of it. There were no credentials or paper accolades. His stall was very basic with only the main ingredients. His publicity were the queues of people buying his prata for the past five years and counting, and sharing their experience via word-of-mouth. Here was a lesson in hard work, doggedness and consistency, from a simple man. Thank you.

Oh, and before I forget, the tea from the coffeeshop was not very good. One could hardly taste the tea in it. And no, it’s not from the prata stall.

Mr Mohgan’s Prata Stall, Poh Ho Restaurant, 7 Crane Road, Singapore. The nasi lemak stall is just next to the prata stall. They sell out by about lunch. There is also a Chinese noodle stall here that looked good and value for money but it was not open. I’ll visit them another time.

Nasi lemak. The rendang was good, as was the sweet sambal.

Closer shot of the rendang and peanuts and anchovies.

Prata dough before it is kneaded flat and fried.

One prata kosong and one with egg, with curry on the side.

Two prata kosong.