Sunday, June 25, 2006

Yanqing’s Shanghai Kitchen

Yanqing’s Shanghai Kitchen
791 Bukit Timah Road #01-01
Tel: 64632989

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Traditional stewed meat in earthen pot with steam buns

First and foremost, I have never been to Shanghai so I don’t know how authentic Shanghainese food taste like. The common response I receive when I ask about the food from people who have been to Shanghai is, “oh it’s very oily and very salty.” Even the owner, Yangqing, agrees to this fact and has set out to dish out tasty home-styled Shanghainese food that both reminisce of her home city with a modern and healthier-reduced oil and salt approach.

Other than the husband and wife team of Wang Yanqing and Wang Li, head chef Jin Hao used to cook at Ye Shanghai, lending some weighty credibility of authenticity. The prominent taste in Shanghainese cuisine as I found out through my meal, however, is still an overtone of saltiness. Not an over powering saltiness, but a rather distinctive savoury taste that is bold and complex. This distinctive taste is achieved through the delicate balance of soy sauce and sugar, and the cooking methods such as “red cooking”, where meats are braised in a combination of soy sauce, sugar, spices and wine.

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crispy radish

We started off with a few cold nibbles of cold drunken chicken, crispy radish and cold tofu with century eggs, which were all well executed. The most surprising of the three would be the crispy radish that might be more accurately termed as crunchy radish, was crunchy and had a good savoury feel, which is what I guess you can term as umami.

Following that, our onslaught of dishes included some house specialities such as bean curd with fresh crab meat, traditional stewed meat in earthen pot and steam buns, traditional Shanghainese fish soup with snow vegetables and bean skin and stir-fried Shanghai mustard greens. The traditional dish of stewed meat was “red-cooked”, breaking down any form of tough muscle tissue and infusing flavour into the alternating layers of sweet flesh and fat and the fish soup was milky and scented with Shao Xing wine.

And to finish off, like the Shanghainese, we had our dim sum--the ubiquitous xiao long bao of steam pork dumplings with fresh prawns and fragrant sesame pancake with meat floss--at the end of the meal.

All in all, the food is good though a little pricey and the service unfortunately is almost a disaster. The service was rather pushy about their specials, caused us to over order and left us with an assembly of dirty plates around our table.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Heritage Wok

As I have gradually honed my cooking skills and sharpened my knives over the years, I confess that I have turned into quite a kitchen monster as well. My mother, who used to cook, has hung up her apron and passed the cooking baton to me because she has decided that firstly there can never really be two cooks in the kitchen and secondly she was never going to tame the kitchen monster in me. So now she is content to help rather than instruct. However, sometimes experience and wisdom is something that comes with age, something that I as a young and brash 20 something might not have for a while.

Yesterday, for one night only, my mother and I (the kitchen monster took a night off) met over a frying wok of Chap Chai. The problem with learning how to cook from the generation is that more often than not they provide you with an ingredient list rather than directions. My called my aunt for her recipe, where she provided me with an ingredient list, with no quantities, leaving me to "eyeball" quantities and to go by instinct, so needless to say, I did what I used to do as a kid, I said, "help mommy help!" My chap chai cooking experience is zero, and my mothers is years numbering more than my fingers and so I was content to have her look over my shoulder all evening as I followed my aunt's ingredient list, my own instinct and my mother's advice. After last night, I'm inspired to tame the monster in me and to take a few more pages from the experienced.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Pork Chop!

Tian Tian Hainanese Curry Rice
Hock Lian Hin Eating House
Blk 116 Bukit Merah View #01-253
Closed on Alternate Tuesdays

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Hainanese pork chops. Dusted with a fluffy coat of breadcrumbs, the end result is a crisp casing that protects a succulent slice of pork inside. Straight out of the hot oil, the crunchy pieces of pork of first cut into thin strips and then dressed with a mixture of savoury sauces such as curry sauce and a soy sauce based sauce.

I think fusion food has taken place longer than we have figured. The Hainanese chefs that served the British the past were masters at marrying local and foreign flavours and created a range of Chinese-styled western food. One creation in particular that I really like is the Hainanese pork chops.

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What better way to enjoy this locally concocted dish than at a kopitiam (coffee shop), with plates of lavishly multi-curry covered rice. This stall take their curries seriously, I watched them as they plated out rice. The lady in charge of the rice and curry station first scoops out the rice then lowers her ladles into all the different pots of curries in front of her in varying proportions. How the curries differ, the proportions or the sequence that they should be ladled on, still eludes me. I reckon I would have to dine here everyday for a month before they would be willing to share with me some Hainanese family secrets, or they might simply remained tight-lipped. Although we ordered a whole load of dishes alongside the pork chops, the pork chops are the superstar, it was the only thing I remembered eating from that meal. It is so good that I got tired of simultaneously eating and keeping my eye on the rapidly depleting slices of pork chops on our communal plate of that I went back to the stall and ordered another plate. When they asked me what size I wanted, “small or large?” needless to say I promptly said, “large, please”.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

How Important Are Stars?

Restaurant reviews are a relatively strong social force in Singapore today. I personally have often followed the directions of our local Sunday food reviews to the latest feature eatery only to find myself part of the herd, which mulled over the local paper in the morning and decided on having lunch at the recommended location. More often than not, other than the recommended dishes, the only other piece of information that I would be able to remember from the write-up would be the number of stars it was awarded. I recently wondered about how accurate this star system, which we use as common baseline to measure our restaurants, when I read two very diverse restaurant reviews about the same place within the span of a week—one that found the food problematic on a couple of occasions and the other that found it almost flawless and heavenly. Having being confused by the media, I decided to investigate the matter myself.

Whether in search of nostalgia, good food or just curious the newest places, local foodies and non-foodies alike have been flocking down to this place. I’m just the next one to join the grazing crowd at this beautiful old colonial house at Rochester Park. How was my grazing experience? Well, I think it would depend on your end purpose. When I dine out, food is primary. I can tolerate or overlook bossy service ladies that bark instructions at me, waiting for a good 15-20 minutes for my order to be taken simply because he is cooking and other things service staff who mill around the room but never seem to see me, if the food is absolutely to die for. So this is my position, the most important thing is what is on my plate.

Salt and Pepper Grilled Sea Scallops, Sliced Mango, Lime, Vanilla, Syrup and Fresh Herbs

The menu is very large, and caters to every eating type of customer from the herbivores with a vegetarian section to the carnivores with a barbecue meat section. Asia and more specifically Thailand is where the menu finds its greatest influence, mainly because the cuisine suits our hot hot hot weather. Items on the menu that we tried include Roasted Sweetbreads, Lyonnaise Tart with Peppered Onion Sauce, Salt and Pepper Grilled Sea Scallops, Sliced Mango, Lime, Vanilla, Syrup and Fresh Herbs, King Prawns 3 Ways, Tempura, Chilled Pan-tossed with Coconut Coriander Sorbet, Wrapped Roasted Chicken with a Warm Salad of Potato, Garlic, Red Nam Jim Dressing, Coriander and Thai Basil, Roasted Barramundi, Pumpkin and Goat’s Cheese Ravioli, Chilli Plum Salsa with Chive Oil and the Dessert Platter, which were average but nothing quite hit the spot. The flavour philosophy (as I gather) is to go big and brash, as demonstrated in the house specialities of Crispy Hand-Rolled Pork Hock, Red and Black Plum Salsa with Redcurrant Chilli Caramel and Soy Lacquered Wagyu Ox Cheek, Coconut Rice, Green Papaya and Pomelo Salad, Fried Shallots with Tamarind Dressing, but these were seemingly over flavoured in one sense of the other, the former being a sweet dish with sweet meat and the latter being salty.

Having earlier stated my position, to me, here at Graze, at the moment, style has seems to have taken precedence over food substance. My take on this issue on restaurant reviewing business based on this case study is that maybe sometimes it might be matter of individual taste.

4 Rochester Park
Singapore 139215
Tel: 6775-9000


Monday, June 05, 2006

Posh Nosh

UE Square, #01-22
Tel: 6235-1778

I’ve always liked sandwiches for its simplicity and potential for its endless possibilities. Stacked and stuffed with multiple ingredients or a clean clear taste of cheese on crusty bread, I’ll eat them all. So it is needless to say I was thrilled when I found another sandwich shop option in our predominately rice eating culture city state.

At Delicatessen, the food philosophy is concise and clear: we are dedicated to quality ingredients and food. This gourmet deli has a small selection of sandwiches and salads that have been designed by the owner, with the end purpose of taste and textural experience. The sandwiches, a country bread with parma ham, parmesan cheese, diced tomatoes, char grilled mushrooms, rocket, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a brioche, with foie gras, apples and truffles, we had did incite such a reaction--a crunch/squish (depending on your bread) and mmm…yummy! Its one of those places that I feel I could have lunch here almost every other day.

Lionel Textier’s, the proprietor, passion for fine foods is endless. His sandwiches are a good place to start, but once you’ve moved beyond the first page of his menu, the other pages of his menu exposes more culinary gems such as artisanal cheeses by Ceneri (a family-owned cheese producer) and exquisite Balik Salmon (exquisite smoked salmon, which recipe originates from the court of the Russian Tsar) and quality Valrhona hot chocolate. I’m slowly trying to taste my way through the menu and to learn about these intriguing products.

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Friday, June 02, 2006


Risotto, my latest obsession. For the past 2 weeks, it has been the only thing that I want to cook in my kitchen and talk to people about, with one conversation leading to dinner plans with a mutual risotto-lover friend at an Italian restaurant all in the name of tasting research! In search of that perfect al dente, creamy bowl of rice, I decided to conduct some technical research: firstly read, re-read and cross-referenced various sources that explained the technique of making the perfect risotto and compare recipes and the proportion of rice to stock.

This is what I’ve learnt from my self-thought risotto cooking lesson. Surprisingly, risotto is not that too difficult to make. I’m not sure if you should stir vigourously or not. I think at the moment I’m going to the “stir occasionally” school of thought. Logically through observation, stirring the rice too often might disturb it from absorbing the hot stock and not stirring at all might be prejudicing the grains at the bottom and might have the risk of burning the bottom.

As with most things, stock forms the basis of cooking. Sometimes I cheat and use ready to use stock that comes in a tetra pack, but I often find that my sauces, soups or whatever end product I’m trying to achieve usually turns out too salty. So for my risotto experiment, I was not prepared to muck about, so I collected my chicken carcasses and mire poix and did some diligent simmering.

The first risotto attempted: wild mushroom risotto. Flavour was my number one issue with the risotto, so I had a variety of wild mushrooms and decided to finish off with my terribly delicious tetsuya’s truffle butter. I’m rather pleased with the way the first attempt turned out, more tweaking needs to be done, but I think I did pretty well to put my risotto obsessed mind at rest for a while.

Wild mushroom risotto
Serves 4

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock, hot
300 g mixed wild mushrooms
4 tablespoons truffle butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano + extra


1. Heat olive oil in a 12 to 14-inch heavy bottom pot or dutch oven over medium heat.
2. Add onion and fry for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon or silicon spoon, or until softened and translucent but not browned
3. Add rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque.
4. Add wine to the toasting rice and 2/3 cup of stock and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed.
5. Continue adding 2/3 cup at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Just before adding the last 2/3 cup of stock, add mushrooms. Cook until the rice is tender and creamy and yet still a little al dente, about 15 minutes.
6. Remove from heat, add butter and cheese and cover pot and leave for 2 minutes. Remove lid and stir and mix well.
7. Divide risotto into 4 portions and serve with extra cheese.

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