Archive | September, 2013

Katong Sin Chew Cake Shop | Singapore | Aug ’13 | “old-fashioned bakery”

7 Sep

Address: 416 Bedok North Ave 2 Singapore 460416

Telephone: 6444 2578

Katong Sin Chew Cake Shop is a rarely written up old-fashioned bakery in Singapore, in spite of its popularity with residents in Bedok North. (I’ve only found one previous write-up on it, by Singaporean food blogger Camemberu) There is only one rule to this shop – get here at 2-3pm, when the first buns come out, because that’s when the most popular buns sold out. (The bread is fantastic here, and has a unique sweet fragrance – perhaps it is corn bread.)

I’ve been patronising this shop since my early childhood to this very day, so I have many good memories of eating the tausar (red bean paste) and coconut buns here. I remember often waiting in anticipation for the 2pm batch of buns, so that I could taste the magic of their freshly-baked corn-bread.

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3pm on a Sunday afternoon.

The buns are fluffy and airy, and when hot are some of the best buns in the island. Witness the long queues by local residents (distinguished by their very casual attire).

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Coconut Buns: Fresh out of the oven (5/5)

My favourite buns from Katong Cake Shop are the coconut buns (marked with a green candied cherry cube on top), which are have a moist and hot sweet coconut interior, and an airy (corn?)bread outside.

Other stuff that I like from Katong Cake Shop:

  1. Red bean paste (豆沙) buns
  2. Kaya Cake
  3. Plain baked bread

The Cake Shop experiments with quite a range of flavours, and it can be hit-and-miss. I’m not a fan of their savory buns (curry and vegetarian), nor their red bean bread sticks, but their big individual sweet buns tend to be very good.


Memory: Coconut buns

Noteworthy Istanbul Eats | Istanbul | August ’12 | “The Istanbul round-up”

6 Sep

Places featured on this round-up:

  1. Karaköy Güllüoğlu [Istanbul Eats]
  2. Karaköy Lokantası
  3. Sabırtaşı
  4. Lades 2
  5. Vefa Bozacısı [Istanbul Eats]
  6. Doyuran Lokantası
  7. Balıkçı Sabahattin
  8. Şimşek Karadeniz Pide Salonu
  9. Mandabatmaz [Istanbul Eats]
  10. Canım Ciğerim
  11. A Day Trip around Istanbul

Istanbul is a terrific food city, second to none. While on my first day in Istanbul, I was browsing in the museum shop of the Topkapı Palace, when a book called Istanbul Eats caught my eye. It promised me local intelligence from similarly demanding individuals, and I spent the rest of my trip in Istanbul mining the guide for its suggestions, to my great pleasure. For any tourist, I would recommend at least getting a copy of the guide, but there are also walking tours organised by the writers of the guide, which I will definitely do the next time I’m in Istanbul.

The following is a round-up of major food in Istanbul I tried:

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Istanbul from the Galata Kulesi


Karaköy Güllüoğlu

In Istanbul, Karaköy Güllüoğlu is one of our favorite places for that kind of pure baklava experience. Located a stone’s throw from the Bosphorus, this baklava emporium has been catering to Istanbul sweet tooths since 1949. Done up in borderline tacky décor that looks like it is meant to evoke late Ottoman splendor, the place serves more than a dozen different kinds of phyllo-based sweets, none of them resembling the cardboard-like, past-its-prime version of baklava that is often dished out outside the Middle East. Along with its excellent classic baklava, made with either pistachios or walnuts, we are also fans of Güllüoğlu’s şöbiyet, a gooey, triangular-shaped phyllo pastry filled with pistachios and cream, and of a specialty called sutlu Nuriye, made of flaky layers of pastry drenched in a sweet, milky sauce. After you pick out what you want from the display cases holding large trays of baklava, you can either eat your sweets standing up at one of several high tables inside, surrounded by an unmistakably buttery aroma, or sit down at a table outside and catch the Bosphorus breeze. – Istanbul Eats

2012-08-24 11.29.17 2012-08-24 11.38.34 2012-08-24 11.46.38 The şöbiyet (4.75/5) and sutlu Nuriye were indeed very good, the sutlu Nuriye (4.5/5) being the bottom goo-ey baklava in the last picture. The sutlu Nuriye was incredibly sweet, a great sugar rush. This very popular baklava shop also apparently has an NYC branch!


Karaköy Lokantası

(Lokantası means restaurant.)

Karaköy Lokantası is best known as a power lunch spot, with the midday star of the menu being hünkar beğendi. A leftover from the Ottoman imperial kitchen, this dish is one of the specialties on the menu that is not to be missed. It starts with eggplants charred whole on a charcoal grill, then peeled, mashed and thickened with milk and cheese. On this bed of rich creamy eggplant beğendi, tender morsels of slow-cooked beef are drizzled with the thin red gravy they were stewed in. The smoky taste from the grill lingers long after the immediate flavors from the stewpot have passed. Make no mistake, beautifully roasted meat is always welcome, but it’s the beğendi experience that keeps us coming back come for more. Unfortunately, this dish is only served at lunch, but the dinner menu has a few star attractions of its own. – IE

2012-08-24 12.04.57hünkar beğendi (4.5/5)

Creamy eggplant with well-roasted vegetables. This was a satisfying milky mash. Slightly let down by the toughness of the meat though, which was otherwise well-spiced.



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İçli Köfte (3.5/5)

Very similar to Italian arancini I had in Palermo, Sicily. Comforting after a long day’s walk. Oily.


Lades 2

Of course, no visit to Lades 2 would be complete without a taste of their excellent “chicken” pudding, called tavuk göğsü (literally “chicken breast”). You won’t be biting into chunks of bird in your pudding. Rather, the meat is poached and then pounded until it is nothing but wispy fibers, adding texture and the subtlest flavoring to the white pudding, which is served with a dusting of cinnamon. Don’t be scared about ordering it. After all, you know what they do to chickens in Lades 2. – IE

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tavuk göğsü (2.5/5)

I am known to have an adventurous palette, but I think the tavuk göğsü defeated me. It was quite weird to taste strands of chicken in a milk pudding.


Vefa Bozacısı

Fermented cereal flour -generally millet- drinks have been produced by native Anatolians and Mesopotamians since the 9th or 8th millennia BC and Xenophon mentioned in the 4th century BC how the locals preserved and cooled the preparations in earthen pots that were buried.[3] There are references mentioning boza-like “fermented (ground) millet drink” in Akkadian and Sumerian texts : the beverage is said to be respectively arsikku and ar-zig.[4] It wasn’t until the 10th century that the drink was coined Boza and begun to be a common drink amongst Central Asian Turks . Later on, it spread to the Caucasus and the Balkans. It enjoyed its golden age under the Ottomans, and boza making became one of the principal trades in towns and cities from the early Ottoman period. Until the 16th century boza was drunk freely everywhere, but the custom of making the so-called Tartar boza laced with opium brought the wrath of the authorities down on the drink, and it was prohibited by Sultan Selim II (1566–1574).  – Wikipedia

It’s a taste all its own, bearing the sour mark of fermented millet grain and the sweetness of the sugar added during the fermentation process. The consistency is that of a milkshake that can’t decide if it wants to be thick or thin, while the texture is all Gerber’s. It is served in a glass with a spoon, a layer of sprinkled cinnamon and roasted chickpeas floating at the top. The first few spoons are beguiling, the palate fooled by the cinnamon dusting and utterly sidetracked by the crunchy chickpeas. The contrast of the cinnamon makes the boza seem sour at first, while soon after a subtle sweetness emerges in the chilled unadulterated boza below. – Istanbul Eats

I loved this drink. I would return to have this in Istanbul.  This was the culinary star of the trip.

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Boza (5/5)

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Doyuran Lokantası

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Turkish cooked food. Good eggplant dish. (4.5/5)


Balıkçı Sabahattin

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A delightful array of mezes. Of especial note was the melon (one of the sweetest I have tasted).  The olives, and the octopus were also good.


Şimşek Karadeniz Pide Salonu

Turkey’s take on the pizza comes in two distinct varieties. There’s the Arabesque lahmacun, a round, ultra thin-crusted snack topped with a shmear of finely ground meat and seasoning. Then there’s pide, a more substantial canoe-shaped creation that’s a specialty of Turkey’s Black Sea region. In Istanbul, pide joints are almost as common as blaring carhorns, but Şimşek Pide Salonu won our loyalty for its consistently outstanding made-to-order pide and convenient location. Passing the time at one of Şimşek’s outdoor tables on this quiet, sunny side street just off of Taksim Square is a pleasure in itself. Add to that a few pide and you’ve got a party. – IE

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pide (3.75/5)

Very pizza-esque, except without cheese and tomato and greased with A LOT of butter.



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Very thick Turkish coffee.

On a recent afternoon, Pilik was busy making cup after cup of his excellent brew, thick to the point of almost being chocolaty, each demitasse holding only a few sips worth of strong coffee before you hit a rich deposit of dark brown grounds. “Not everybody can do this,” Pilik says, as he holds a well-worn copper coffee pot to a blue gas flame that shoots out like a jet from a small, two-burner range. “It’s all in the hand,” he adds, making a twisting motion with his wrist. “The hand is very important.” – IE

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a kind stranger’s recommendations: next time in Istanbul?


Canım Ciğerim

At Canım Ciğerim, the lively restaurant’s namesake dish (“canım ciğerim” is actually a Turkish expression that translates into “my liver, my dear,” and is used as a term of affection) is made from tiny cubes of tender lamb’s liver that are grilled over hardwood coals on long, thin skewers. The kebab is still unmistakably liver, but its taste and texture are much more delicate and simply less “liverish” than what you’ve probably had before. (If you want, ask your waiter for a “yarım porsiyon” – a half portion – of liver, just to give it a try.) Fortunately, for those not interested in taking the liver plunge, Canım Ciğerim’s “meat” (or et, in Turkish) option is an extremely fine one. In this case, small morsels of tender beef are skewered and grilled.

Either way, the real fun here is in what comes along with your kebabs. Before the skewers even arrive, your low table is piled high with plates of parsley, mint, arugula and slightly charred grilled onions and peppers dusted with red pepper. Along with those comes a serving of the restaurant’s superb ezme salad – a mix of extremely finely diced tomatoes, onion and parsley flavored with tart pomegranate molasses – which is made by a knife-wielding usta, or master, who lords over a well-worn cutting board near the grill. – IE

I generally am quite partial to well-prepared offal. And I had some great barbecued ones at Canim Cigerim.

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This roasted tomato sauce was excellent.

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Lovely liver. (4.75/5)


A Day Trip around Istanbul

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Kokorec (4.75/5)

A sublime lamb-intestine sandwich. All in the seasoning.

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A savory crepe-like pastry (…)

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Mussels with rice, and a wedge of lemon (3.5/5)

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A sweet dessert, in the Nisantasi area.

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To die for – kaymak (4.75/5)


Istanbul is blessed with amazing food. In the course of nearly a week there, I felt I had barely scratched the surface of what Turkish food had to offer, not even mentioning regional differences in food that can be found outside Istanbul.

Memory: Boza, kaymak, kokorec sandwiches, grilled liver and tomato sauce from canim cigerim, hunkar begendi, baklava, Turkish delight, Turkish kahve from Mandabatmaz, melon from Balikci, and most of all – the company, Z & E.

Jiang-nan Chun | Singapore | Aug ’13 | “Cantonese fine-dining”

5 Sep

In 3 years living in the States, I have not come across a single Chinese fine-dining restaurant on her shores.  Since I have not been long enough to Beijing or Shanghai to really understand their Chinese fine-dining scenes, I shall confine the following speculations to just Cantonese fine-dining. Classic Chinese fine-dining seems to be concentrated in the Cantonese cuisine, which is geographically in South China. This explains the numbers of Chinese fine-dining restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore, and to lesser extent Malaysia and Indonesia.

My 4 hypotheses for why Cantonese fine-dining doesn’t exist in the US (correct me if I am wrong please!) are the following:

  1. Ingredient Conservatism. Cantonese fine-dining restaurants prize ingredient quality, and they have been reluctant to experiment with North American ingredients, or indeed most European ingredients in general until the Michelin Guide came to Hong Kong and gave Lung King Heen three stars for experimenting with foie gras and truffles.
  2. Existing fine-dining institutions are Western. Many talented Asian chefs (e.g. David Chang of Momofuku Ko) tend to apprentice in French/Italian kitchens, due to the existing global prestige of these kitchens (again, the Michelin Guide, and Top 50 Restaurant List).
  3. More subtle to appreciate. Cantonese fine-dining involves a dizzying array of soups, in which the skill involved is more subtle to appreciate than a fatty slab of foie gras blowtorched to perfection.
  4. Where the Money is. Fine dining concepts spread by the international travels of a moneyed class, and a restaurant is sustained by a stable base of moneyed regulars. The large number of French and Italian restaurants in the world reflect the travels of international financiers in the post-WWII reconstruction era. As a corollary, the emergence of New American fine-dining restaurants is concentrated geographically in California and the Northeast US, which are the two richest regions in the US today. Similarly, the regular clientele for Chinese fine-dining is almost exclusively Chinese tycoons, which tended to be concentrated in Hong Kong and to a lesser extent Singapore up to the 80s (when mainland China was still modernising under Deng Xiaoping from almost 3 decades of Mao rule). These HK and Singapore tycoons, having found their economic base in the region often on networks of patronage and influence, almost never emigrated to the US. This is why Chinese fine-dining today still seems to be an East Asian phenomenon, from the eastern seaboard of China to the heart of Southeast Asia.


Address: 190 Orchard Boulevard, Singapore 248646, Four Seasons Hotel

Tel: 6734 1110

It is pleasant to benefit from close proximity to old towkay money in Singapore, since that means the occasional urge to splurge on Cantonese cuisine is easily gratified. Singapore has a number of Chinese (Cantonese) restaurants gunning for 3* Michelin in the Singapore guide, whenever it comes. Chief among those is Tong Le, which is Tung Lok group’s signature restaurant in OUE building, where dinner goes for 500++ a pop (comparable to Robuchon’s 16 course tasting menu on Sentosa for 530++). One can get dishes from Shinji (Tokyo’s 2* Michelin Sushi Kanesaka’s Singapore branch) to provide a sashimi complement to dishes from every Tung Lok restaurant in Singapore.

One of the pretenders to the throne of best Chinese in Singapore, is Jiang-nan Chun (translated as “South of the Yangtze River during springtime”) at the Four Seasons Singapore, helmed by their new chef Alan Chan.

Chef Alan Chan is a Hong Kong native who has lived in Singapore since 2001. He joins Jiang-Nan Chun from Crystal Jade Dining IN at Vivocity where he was Master Chef. Alan recently collaborated with his counterparts at three-Michelin star Lung King Heen (Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong) and the two-Michelin star Zi Yat Heen (Four Seasons Macao), so he’s reinforced his direction and benchmark for Jiang-Nan Chun here.


The restaurant specialises in Peking duck, a Singaporean favorite, and is generally a refined chapalang (Singlish for grab-bag) of every Chinese cooking style, befitting Alan’s status as a former Crystal Jade master chef. The Crystal Jade group is a famous Chinese restaurant chain in Singapore (and soon San Francisco!) that has restaurants for all manners of Chinese cooking, from Cantonese, to La-Mian, to Xiao-Long-Bao, to Sichuan, Shanghainese, and Peking-style dishes.

In recent years, I have noticed that Chinese fine-dining restaurants in Singapore have tended to go from the banquet, multi-dish style format, to a French Nouvelle Cuisine, multi-course, one-dish-one-person format. I consider this ample evidence of the influence of the Michelin guide, casting a long shadow from the erstwhile East Asian dining mecca of Hong Kong, which received their guide in 2009. Our meal had both individual and communal plate formats,  because we chose to go ala-carte for our dinner.


2013-08-31 08.14.42Amuse-bouche: Pineapple infused with lychee juice.

Syrupy sweet, from the lychee.

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Roast Meat: Traditional Charcoal-roasted, Glazed Pork ‘Char Siew’ (4.75/5)

A sweet sauce coating juicy belly pork bits (which tend to be moist from fat). Strong pork flavour, the only feature of the charcoal-roast was the burnt end at the tip.

[Comparable to my dad’s char siew (which is the best)! My dad thought this was better, but let’s not kid ourselves dad – yours is the best.]

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Roast Meat: Roasted Crispy Pork Belly (5/5)

Fantastic juiciness in the pork belly, it was accentuated by a great mustard mix. Usually the horseradish in the sauce is overpowering, but this house mix had a delicate sourness that may be a gentle lemon mixed in with a mild horseradish taste. I hypothesise it is Dijon mustard based.

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I see the light!
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Peking Duck (5/5)

Peking duck is best prepared when there is no fat on the underside of the skin. This takes patience and skill from the carver, who must earn his/her service charge carving the duck. It is excellently prepared, with wafer-thin crispness and a great sweetbread skin, garnished with cucumber and flower-carved onions dunked in cold water, and sauce.

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Soup: Double-boiled Fish Cartilage Soup with Superior Fish Maw and Bamboo Pith (5/5)

This is a thick soup, which is full of the gelatin of fish cartillage, and made thicker with fish maw and a textural contrast of springy-spongey bamboo pith. The soup was well prepared without an overt smell of fish.

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Baked Cod Fillet with Miso Sauce (4.5/5)

A clean follow-up to the thick soup, this featured the very Japanese touches of tofu, miso and fish eggs.

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Simmered Sea Perch with Beancurd Skin and Wolfberry in Carrot Broth (3.5/5)

This was a bit tasteless, and while the beancurd skin had an interesting texture with the fish, it felt like a soup had been drizzled on a fish and I was eating two dishes at the same time.

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Crispy Noodles with Morel Mushrooms, Shaved Summer Truffle (3.5/5)

The value-add here was the morel mushrooms, which provided an interesting mace-like shape and texture to the dish. A crispy biscuit of noodles had the morel sauce poured on top of it, which was a more refined take of drowned-crispy noodles one sometimes finds in Vietnamese restaurants. The truffle shavings had no smell and no taste, and added little to the dish.

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Wok-fried Lobster with Spanish Chorizo, Minced Pork and Eggplant served in Claypot (5/5)

An old Crystal Jade favorite of eggplant and minced pork, is spiced up with lobster and Spanish chorizo. The combination combines soft texture of eggplant with chewy bits of mince, perked up by spiciness of chorizo, and the sweetness of lobster meat and the ridiculous decadence of deshelled lobster claws.

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Poached Young Spinach with Fresh Beancurd Skin and Japanese Black Garlic (4/5)

A herbal soup poached bed of spinach had bits of black garlic on it as a value-add. How does black garlic taste? Like wolfsberry (goji), actually. The garlicky taste was subdued.

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Second Preparation of Peking Duck: Duck Fried Rice (4.75/5)

An excellent fragrant fried rice that smelled wonderfully of duck meat.

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Pre-dessert: Calamansi Juice

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Double-boiled Superior Bird’s Nest with Rock Sugar (5/5)

Well-prepared. The magnificent soft-hard texture of birds-nest is highlighted simply.

Double-boiling refers to putting a pot of X inside a bed of boiling water – this ensures that there is no fluctuation in the water content of the stew of X one is making. It is very similar to sous-vide, and actually making double-boiled soups is relatively easy nowadays, one just needs the automated Chinese double-boiler, and set it off at the start of the day and one has a nice soup at the end of it.

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Post-Dessert: Osmanthus Jelly and Pineapple Tart


Much of the night’s cooking was technically expert, and I especially enjoyed the roasts and soups. Singapore has an embarrassment of riches on the Chinese fine-dining scene, and I am quite interest in seeing what happens if and when the powder-keg of Michelin rankings in thrown into their midst. I do hope that Cantonese cuisine will wend its way into the US and reach a wider audience sometime (maybe 3-5 years down the line?). Until then, happy Chinese dining in Singapore & HK!

Verdict: 15.5/20

Memory: Peking Duck, Lobster Chorizo Eggplant, Bird’s Nest, Roast Pork Belly, Fish Cartilage Soup