Thursday, November 30, 2006

Feast of the Seven Fishes

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Food binds people. I recently read Feast of the Seven Fishes, which is quirky and uncommon cookbook. Instead of it being filled with glossy pages of stunning mouth watering photography, it contains a simple story of American-Italian family life and tradition that is told through the medium of comic strips and recipes, and best of all, it is celebration of the good things in life: tradition, family, friendship and food.

What I liked most about this book was the subtext of friendship between the creators: the author and the illustrator, that are told through the snippets about how they worked together to put together the book. It is a book with sincerity and soul, and after taking a peek into the traditions and Italian Christmas feast, you would probably want to get an invite to one, I know I want one!

For information on how to get the book click here, for more Italian stories by them, this is their blog, and lastly, if you have invites to an Italian Christmas feast for me, please email.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Fish Head Curry!

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Fish Head Curry at Banana Apollo Leaf

Nothing quite clears my nasal passage like fish head curry. After chuffing down some curry soaked rice, picking at flesh off the bones and sneakily scooping out the coveted soft sweet cheek flesh, there is nothing like a good blow of my nose into a Kleenex and feeling that my system has been purged.

Like most delicious foods like tripe, liver, feet and seemingly unsavoury animal parts that have characterised a lot of the global culinary history, the fish head is also one that might have been overlooked. Fortunately for us, creative cooks have found ways of turning around these parts for various reasons of survival or thrift, and once in a while, such dishes make history. The fish head curry is loved by all, from scan across the large dining hall in Banana Leaf, although it is an Indian restaurant, the cliental on the other hand is multiracial and a good mix of locals and tourist with their Uniquely Singapore guides. I like to think fish head curry is like haggis (I haven’t tried this yet), a national dish that is heavily spiced and a sign of assimilation if you are able to stomach it. In our case, it is being able to enjoy fish head curry, is a proof of an ability to relish hot and spicy food and to eat odd animal parts and of course desire to eat the fish’s eye.

Race course road is often a place we head to when we are looking sweat over a tasty bowl of fish head curry. We recently found ourselves at Banana Apollo Leaf, accompanied by the customary banana leaf, mountain of rice, vegetables of the day and free-flow of papadums, the fish head curry was a decent rendition, reasonably fresh but seemingly strangely over spiced with start anise, and one of my super unhealthy favourite dishes of fish roe was soggy leaving us a little unsatisfied from lunch.

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Fish Head Curry at Karu's Indian Banana Leaf

That then got me thinking of all the other places that come to mind when I think about fish head curry, the ones that come to mind are the common heavy weights such as Muthu’s Curry, which is just down the road from Banana Apollo Leaf and now available in a slightly more central area in the basement in Suntec and super spicy Samy’s curry. One, however, that often does not come to mind since it is slightly off the beaten path, which I went to earlier in the year and I think deserves more publicity is Karu’s. Karu’s is located in West and seemingly quite out of the way but worth the distance. It is spicy and creamy like most Indian-styled fish head curries but it has a slightly more tangy flavour, fish is fresh and the vegetables were not soggy. Whichever fish head curry place you choose to make your own, there are slight probably slight flavour nuances that appeal to various palates, but frankly, I personally like them all.

Banana Leaf Apollo
54/56/58 Race Course Road,
Tel : 6293-8682

Karu’s Indian Banana Leaf Restaurant
808/810 Upper Bukit Timah Road
Tel: 6762 7284

Muthu’s Curry
138 Race Course Road
Tel: 6392 1722

Samy’s Curry Restaurant
Block 25 Dempsey Rd
Civil Service Club


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Akane: Omakase Magic

120 Adam Road,
4th StoreyThe Japanese Association,
Singapore 289899
Tel: 6467 2768

I recently went to meet the sushi guru at Akane.

The members of the Japanese Association chose to name the restaurant Akane, which means sunset, after the natural wonder of a beautiful sunset that you can soak in from the restaurant.

We unfortunately missed the sunset, but went there with a greedy purpose to indulge from a sushi counter stock full of fresh fish that is flown in about four times a week and deftly sliced by the sushi master Yoshio Nogawa, whom is more or less the grandfather of all the sushi masters in Singapore, Ronnie of Tatsuya, Yoshida of Sushi Yoshida and such.

We were fortunate because for a Friday night, the restaurant was surprisingly quiet that we were personally attended to at the sushi counter by the man himself. The evening was a fun, with free flowing conversation with this benevolent, funny and charming Japanese man, who speaks Japanese, English and Singlish that found himself in Singapore 32 years ago. Interestingly, he said the main reason for coming to Singapore was because he wanted to leave Japan after training as a sushi chef because he thought it was too small and too cramp!

He welcomed us with open arms, inviting us to sit in front of him and as we stared blankly at the Japanese-only menu at the counter, he asked, “Sashimi?”

“Omakase”, and with that we established some level of trust with him and marked the beginning of a magical culinary journey for the night.

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Nogawa nodded and started working on the sashimi platter, while the waitresses presented us with an appetizer of anglerfish liver. Nogawa looked up and smileed cheekily, “Japanese foie gras, but natural…” The anglerfish liver was marinated with a ponzu, a rather seemingly rich way to start a meal, but the ponzu helped to whet my appetite. After which we readily dived into our sashimi platter that was presented before us containing: toro, tai topped with uni, fan clam, hamachi belly, baby scallop, clams and botan ebi. I used to think a sashimi platter was just a platter of raw fish, but I realised that night that there is a certain craft to this art of slicing fish. Various decisions have to be made—what type of fish and how thick and how to enhance it, and how to place a group of raw fish together that will work together with contrasting flavours and textures—all of which predicates a real understanding of fish.

Despite running multiple restaurants, Nogawa still cooks, or still slices and dices behind his own counter. Just as he finished serving us our platter, he disappeared and I was a tad disappointed, assuming that he had gone to oversee the other parts of the kitchen and that we would be hosted by his other sushi chefs that lined behind the counter, but along with a refreshing watercress salad that they served us, Nogawa reappeared behind the counter and handed each of us a stick of grilled geoduck.

Next up, he served us different soups, a foie gras soup and a toro soup. As we slurped down the delicious consommé-based soups that were richly flavoured with the foie gras and toro repectively, to different effects where the former had a more full on powerful flavour hit, while the latter had slight more subtle with mushrooms, we conversed freely about frivolous topics such as Iron Chefs, where we learnt that Nogawa is a friend of Iron Chef Michiba, who is known to be a master with his stocks, now isn’t that something.

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Following a rough traditional structure of a kaiseki styled dinner, he proceeded to served us a nimono (simmered dish) of tai with ginseng followed by a mushimono (steamed course), which was grated yam topped with a thick consommé and garnished with uni. After presenting us with this course, we peered at it curiously and asked, what is this, to which he replied, “try and see if you know it”, and only after about 5 bites did we guess, “yam?” making the connection between an appetiser of grated yam and maguro that we onced sampled, only to be corrected by Nogawa san, where he clicked his clogs and walked into his kitchen, to return with two different types of yam to demonstrate the differences.

Next came the agemono (fried course), “try my new creation” beckoned Nogawa, which was a croquette, stuffed with seafood and mayonnaise, delicious and piping hot, where I nearly burnt my tongue.


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“Yes!” and as we agreed, that was the cue where then they laid before us, crunchy pickles and matching blue and white plates with picked ginger. As we watched him work with his hands, a little rice, a rub of freshly grated wasabi, a slice of fish and the final stroke of sauce before he presented it on the plates before us. We worked through a piece of toro, hamachi belly, fan clam, sea eel, ikura and fugu, before we stopped and he asked us if we wanted anything and to scan his glass counter for anything that catches our eye, then he recommended the sea prawns, which were just coming into season, followed by octopus roe,another piece of sushi and Kyoto daikon, then washed it with a clam miso soup. And with that and absolutely filled bellies, we ended our dinner and lovely evening with a serving of fruit and tea, a warm handshake, happy smiles, pleasantries and us promising ourselves that we would go back.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Munch Munch Lunch Bunch Munch at Iggy's

I have been a terribly ill disciplined blogger but I had good reason … and now that my charity dinner is over, I have no more excuses. So its time for me to play catch-up, here’s my little report from my point of view about the Lunch at Iggy’s with the Lunch Lucullans / The Lunch Bunch.

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I am mainly reminded about this lunch because of the events last night. As I stood in the room and watched him and a handful of chefs work over 222 plates of Carpaccio of Wagyu Striploin with Truffle Mayonnaise, Rocket and Aged Parmesan Cheese that Chef Dorin from Iggy’s plated for our event last night, and later him stress about having to expedite the food, my main memory of that moment was the smell of truffles that enveloped me in the plating room.

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As I moved through sniffed my way through the room, I poked around and tried to make myself invisible and a non-obstacle to the many bodies and then just as I got to the end of the room, I spotted plated grilled watermelon rectangles that danced in my mouth at our lunch, which was juicy and sweet. And I remembered the sweet memories of lunch.

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I elected for most of the lighter courses that afternoon of the grilled watermelon and the creatively presented bellini, with the exception of their signature burger than I couldn’t bring myself to say "no" to. The company was great (lazy lunch lasted too long for a normal office day), the new food menu is still good, my only tiny tiny complaint is that, I was looking forward to having the scampi oil capellini, which has been tragically taken off the menu.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

When you fail, try again

After my spectacular failure with foie gras, I was never sure if I dared to attempt it again. But I recently attempted to overcome my fear of cooking the huge lob of fatty liver, bit by bit: slices rather than a whole liver and a simpler recipe. I also recently spent some time talking to a chef who spent a long time mastering the art of cooking foie gras, who explained to me, the some important basics: it needs to be sliced not too thin or thick, and use butter and oil to raise the temperature. Also, after working through numerous recipes with him, I more or less concluded that one minute on each side would give me my golden brown crust and my creamy soft centre. I cooked with one eye on the liver and the other fixed on the second hand on my watch, scrambled to flip it after a minute and I succeeded! I’ve bounced back from my spectacular failure, I can now cook foie gras! For that evening’s experiment, I used Tetsuya’s recipe of pan-fried duck foie gras with rice, honey and soy.

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Pan-fried Duck Foie Gras with Rice, Honey and Soy
This makes 4 servings

4 pieces of 30 g slices of duck foie gras
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
8 tablespoons of steamed short-grain rice
1/4 avocado, finely diced

Avocado Puree
1/2 avocado, peeled and sectioned
100 ml milk
salt and cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped chives

1/2 tablespoon honey
50 ml soy sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
To make the sauce, bring the ingredients to a boil.

Toasted sesame seeds

1. Prepare avocado puree. Blend together the avocado and the milk. Add salt and black pepper to taste, and then add in the chives.
2. To make sauce, bring all the ingredients to the boil.
3. Mix the rice with the diced avocado.
4. Heat butter and oil in the pan until nearly smoking, sear foie gras slices on both sides.
5. To serve, place about 2 tablespoons of the rice and avocado mixture in the base of each serving plate. Spoon on a little avocado puree and add the foie gras. Spoon over some sauce, then garnish with sesame seeds and chives.

Recipe taken from: Tetsuya by Tetsuya Wakuda, Ten Speed Press

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Over the hill and not so far away …

Seleta hill restaurant
16 Jalan Selaseh
Tel:6483 0348

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ma po tofu

Over the hill and not so far away in the Seleta Hill neighbourhood lies a well loved and established restaurant. Run by a couple who are well seasoned in the restaurant business having worked in Szechuan restaurants in America, the food is good and the steady flow of customers that night was testimony.

This place has character. The pink walls and several chinese themed art pieces that hang on them seem rather random, but gives it a cosy unpretentious feel, and when you look around, there is even a sign that apologises that you have to pay $0.60 for plain water! And if you have ever wondered what the origins of some dishes are, the stories of three Chef's specials—Tung-po pork, General Tso's Chicken and Ma po Tofu—are explained.

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szechuan dry-sauteed stringbeans

From the menu, we mainly lingered and ordered from the Chef’s specialties: szechuan camphor and tea smoked duck, dan dan mian, ma po tofu, general tso's chicken (fried crispy then sauteed with dried chilli and house special sauce prepared from homemade vinegar, fermented broad bean in chilli, onion, garlic and ginger. Crispy on the outside, tender and juicy inside), szechuan dry-sauteed stringbeans with chopped mustard pickle, fermented broad bean paste sauteed until dry and tender, claypot sea cucumber hunan style (with herbs, fermented bean paste, spices, gravy extracted from scallop and duck).

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general tso's chicken

Between the two poultry dishes, the duck was a little chewy, but general tso’s chicken was like it described, crispy on the outside, tender and juicy inside and coated with a sweetish sauce, it was very addictive. I liked almost everything we ordered… the ma po tofu was silky smooth and the stringbeans was savoury and cruncy…except the dan dan mian, and with the food we ordered, rice was the natural and better accompaniment.

Although it is Szechuan food, I think it is rather child-friendly Szechuan food, I broke a small sweat during the meal, but the chilli factor in the food here is not too hot to handle. Many do bring their families here, so make a reservation if you come, that is absolutely essential.

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