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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hong Nian Vegetarian Food - Hougang

To say that this modest stall has a considerable reputation would be an understatement. Hong Nian has developed a huge following, and is famed for having the best vegetarian bee hoon in Singapore. This place came to my attention from a reader named Shu. It is within walking distance of Hougang MRT, and there are also direct buses from places like Sengkang. Although almost everyone orders the bee hoon, there are also other dishes, such as hor fun and chicken rice. On a side note, this place had one of the largest queues I have ever seen for a vegetarian stall. I was waiting for a long time, but was it worth it?

Hong Nian Vegetarian Food
Location: Block 327, Hougang Avenue 5, #01-156

Contact: 94131730
Opening Hours: Daily until 3pm
So here it is, the notorious Bee Hoon. For this dishes, I opted for the mock luncheon meat, a spring roll and mock shrimp. Before we get to the bee hoon, lets talk about the side dishes - The spring roll was beautifully light and flaky, and was probably the best thing on the plate. The mock shrimp was quite unique and had a good crunchy granule style texture. However, the mock shrimp certainly isn't shy on spice, and therefore might be too overwhelming for some. The luncheon meat was tasty also. Price wise, for such a simple dish it is certainly not cheap. But, due to the bee hoon's huge reputation, I suppose the owners are in the enviable position of being able to charge whatever they like.

Price: $3.40. 7/10

So was the Bee Hoon really as spectacular as everyone has been saying? In my eyes, it was certainly a light and fluffy bee hoon, which without question was pleasurable to eat. However, I didn't finding it anything stunningly amazing, and flawed in the sense that it wasn't packed with flavour like I imagined prior to eating. Texture wise, it was a success. But flavour wise it didn't do anything to woo me. For this second plate of bee hoon, I went for the char siew, which looked visually great. Sadly, the char siew was again lacking a little flavour, and had a doughy texture to it. The salted vegetables were cooked well.

Price: $3.00. 6/10

Although the bee hoon was my main reason for venturing to Hong Nian, while I was there, I thought I might as well try another of their dishes. Therefore, I went with the Chicken Rice. The dish is certainly value for money, coming with a generous portion of rice, segmented mock chicken, char siew and cucumber. The standout was the mock chicken, which was made from beancurd sheets. The outer layer of the mock chicken gave a nice 'chicken skin' texture. I would have liked to have tasted a little more flavour in the rice, but overall it was a good dish.

Price: $2.50. 7/10

Conclusion - The middle-aged couple that run this stall have certainly not let the success of their stall get to their heads. They are very friendly and welcoming to all the customers, even though they are incredibly busy all the time. Everyone who has heard of Hong Nian and makes the journey to visit this humble stall will be going for one reason - The bee hoon. Personally, for me it was not something that struck me as tasting amazing. Moreover, for the price, I couldn't foresee myself ordering the bee hoon again. In fact, oddly enough, the chicken rice turned out to be the dish I enjoyed the most during the meal.

Overall Rating
Food - 7/10
Ambiance- 6/10
Service - 8/10
Value - 7/10

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Indian Cuisine - Tandoori Without A Tandoor!

One of the aspects of Indian cuisine that is most universally popular is the infamous Tandoori cooked dishes. A tandoor is a giant clay oven, which is set at incredibly high temperatures (up to 480 °c/900 °f). It is these extreme temperatures, coupled with the delicious marinate, that makes the tandoori style of cooking so delicious.

Most famously in the West, tandoori chicken is the dish everyone associates with tandoori cooking. However, true authentic Indian tandoor cooking can produce wonderful vegetarian alternatives also. Potato (aloo), cauliflower (gobi) and cheese (paneer) are the most popular vegetarian tandoori dishes.

Most people go to Indian restaurant specifically for tandoori food, due to the fact they consider it impossible to cook this style of food at home. Hopefully my recipe today will show you that great tasting tandoori style food (with just a basic oven) is possible. So let us begin:-

Whether you cook tandoori dishes with meat or vegetarian, the marinate comprises of the same things. The foundation of this marinate is plain unsweetened yoghurt (Greek yoghurt would work aptly). To this yoghurt you add various spice and lime juice.

Marinate Recipe
unsweetened yoghurt
salt (1.5tsp)

lime juice (half a medium sized lime or lemon)

coriander powder (2Tsp)

cumin powder (1.5Tsp
turmeric (1tsp
kastori methi leaves (2Tsp)

red chili powder (3Tsp) - this adds colour to the marinate, so be generous!

ginger garlic paste (1.5Tsp
garam masala powder (2Tsp)

black pepper (2tsp)

As you can note, my marinate is dark orange in colour. Many may be used to tandoori food being bright red - This is not attainable by using natural ingredients, if you want that colour, you will need to use red food colouring.

Now that our marinate is complete, let's coat the ingredients:-

For this example I am using baby potatoes (boiled prior, I didn't remove the skin, but you can if you want) and paneer, but you can use whatever you wish. Coat the ingredients with the marinate that you made and place them on an oven tray. Crank up your oven as high as it will possibly go (for my oven it is 225°c). Add the marinated ingredients only when the oven has reached this heat. Once the oven is ready, add them on the top/highest shelf and cook for approximately 8-10 minutes.

When the ingredients are cooking in the oven, they release that beautiful tandoori smell, which I naturally associate with Indian restaurants. Here (pictured) is how my delicious 'tandoori' paneer and potato looked when finished. Tandoori food is loved by all nationalities and races, so why not give it a go at home? As this recipe has proved, it is fast and simple - But most importantly, delicious!

Bhojan ka anand!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Yuan Su Vegetarian Restaurant - Farrer Park

The Farrer Park area is without a doubt the pinnacle for those looking for the best vegetarian Indian food in Singapore. However, due to the abundance of Indian food in the area, the Chinese vegetarian delights often get overlooked. Yuan Su is a stall inside Lavender Food Square. This establishment is in the middle of Farrer Park MRT and Lavender MRT. Therefore, it is possible to walk from either station. I chose Farrer Park, and it took me roughly 8 minutes to walk there. I must admit, it is a personal struggle for me to visit Farrer Park and not eat Indian food.

Yuan Su Vegetarian Restaurant
Location: Lavender Food Square, 380 Jalan Besar, #01-34

Contact: 62972848
Opening Hours: Daily 11am -10pm

CLOSED DOWN - As of 07/06/2013

Although this is merely a stall, it does offer a restaurant style menu, with both cheaper dish and more lavish dishes. Some of the more extravagant dishes include - mock fish with preserved radish, spicy mock chicken in a spicy sauce and vegetarian herbal mock chicken. The latter costs $20, and is only available upon special request. Yuan Su does have a few tables that are reserved at all times for this restaurant, so finding a seat won't be an issue.

First dish of the evening was the Veg. Sum Lor Hor Fun. It was an easy choice for me to make, as I seldom see this dish in other stalls or restaurants, so I had to try it here. Starting with the negatives first, I was disappointed to see that fried fish arrived with this dish. Although the mock fish had good flavour and texture, I found that it was straying away from the authenticity of the dish, as the original should have steamed fish. Also the sauce was too gluey and starchy in texture, to the point where it felt like I'm drinking a bowl of my own saliva. On the brighter side I like how the vegetables and noodles were cooked. However, those unaccustomed to subtlety of Chinese cooking will probably find this dish too bland.

Price: $5.00. 5/10

Sticking with the theme of noodles, the next dish ordered was the Hong Kong Noodles. A small lime accompanies this dish, and when squeezed on the noodles it adds a key acidic element to the food. What is immediately obvious is these noodles are packed with flavour, which I applaud. One important pot hole which the chef at Yuan Su managed to avoid was the texture of the noodles. This variety of noodles are often too soft for my liking. These noodles were cooked to perfection, having that bouncy/springy texture to them. Great tasting dish overall.

Price: $4.00. 8/10

Finally, I decided to order one of the more elaborate dishes from the menu. This is the Vegetarian Roasted Duck. Colour wise it looked fantastic, but for the price, I would have liked to have seen some vegetables laying around the edges of the plate. Without those, the plate did look a bit bare. This mock duck is made with bean curd sheets, inside the layers of these sheets are diced carrots and mushrooms. Flavour wise, these components work very well together. Particularly the 'skin' (outer layer) replicated the authentic roasted duck skin perfectly. The sauce was caramelized well, giving a nice sweet contrast. However, I would have liked the sauce to have different levels of flavour, more specifically, having some acidic/tangy element to it.

Price: $10.00. 7/10

Conclusion - Yuan Su offers good variety for the customer, depending on if you're looking for an extravagant meal, or merely looking for a cheap bowl of noodles. Food quality wise, nothing presented to me failed miserably, but there were areas for improvement. One noticeable aspect is the pictures on the menu look vastly different to what you actually receive. This may leave diners feeling misled or shortchanged. The Hong Kong noodles were the highlight for me, the flavours and textures were spot on.

Overall Rating
Food - 7/10
Ambiance- 6/10
Service - 7/10
Value - 7/10

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Indian Cuisine - Gutti Vankaya Kura Recipe

With this being my second addition of the Indian Cuisine series - I wanted to share a recipe which is fun to make and will be a new experience for those cooking it.

Gutti vankaya kura is a notorious dish from Andhra state in India. To summarize the dish in just a few words, it is baby eggplants that are stuffed and then cooked in a curry. Although typically gutti vankaya is a dry dish, I have made it within a curry. I have also differed from tradition by using aloo masala stuffing, instead of the authentic Andhra spice stuffing.

Firstly, to make my stuffing, I combined mashed potatoes with a Indian spice mix. This spice mixture is several dry spices (I will list below) merged together with water until it forms a thick paste. The light brown powder on top is hing, I added this separately to show exactly how little to use. Hing has a very strong pungent smell, if you add too much, it will ruin the flavour of the stuffing.

Spice Mixture
coriander powder
cumin powder
garam masala powder
hing/asafoetida (pinch)
red chili powder
ginger garlic paste
kastoori methi

Once you have added your spice paste in with your mashed potatoes, then merge them together. As with any cooking, it is important to continuously taste as you go along. Make sure to taste the potatoes once mixed together, to see if spice and salt levels are sufficient.

Once your stuffing has been made, you then need to slice your eggplants. It is essential that you buy the small baby eggplants for this dish, no other variety will work. Slice cross shapes through the eggplant, taking the incision all the way until the stem. Do not remove the stem. For those unsure where to purchase these eggplants, they are in great abundance in the Little India area, especially in the newly designed Mustafa Centre.

Now it is time to combine the stuffing with the eggplants. The eggplant itself is quite flexible, so you don't need to be too concerned about breaking it. Stuff each of the eggplants generously with the filling. Once that arduous process is complete, it is now time to cook them.

Once the eggplants have been made, they are traditionally meant to be fried. I have opted for a different cooking method, in order to make this dish a little more healthy (by using less oil). I cooked the eggplants in the oven, for approximately 20 minutes. This is a tricky point of the dish - Cooking it too little will give you raw eggplant, which I personally hate the texture of. On the other end, cook it too much and the eggplants structure will be too soft/weak, and ultimately the stuffing may fall out.

Once they have come out of the oven, you can place them into your curry (alternatively you can just eat them without the curry). If at this stage you are a little concerned for eggplant aren't fully cooked, then you can always leave them inside the curry to cook for longer.

Gutti Vankaya Kura
Here we have the finished dish, I have sprinkled some fresh coriander leaves on top for an extra layer of flavour. Although its quite a time consuming dish, the rewards are worth it. Try it out!

Bhojan ka anand!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Udipi Ganesh Vilas Pure Vegetarian - Marine Parade

One of my regular readers (and reliable Indian food informant) Shankar kindly recommended this vegetarian eatery to me. One might envisage Marine Parade to be a hip, happening and trendy spot in Singapore - But for Ganesh Vilas, it sits at the back of Roxy Square, where everything has a slower pace and a more olden time feel to it. In mid-July Ganesh Vilas will be undergoing a renovation, which will see it closed for a few weeks, perhaps after this overhauling has taken place, I will do a second visit. I must say, I was feverishly excited about my visit to this eatery, lets find out if my exuberance was justified...

Udipi Ganesh Vilas Pure Vegetarian
10 Ceylon Road
Contact: 63454405/63487708
Opening Hours: Daily 7.30am - 9.30pm

The menu presented offers the usual North and South Indian delights, as well as a few dishes previously unknown to me. What is most striking about this menu though, is the incredibly low prices. I've been trampling up and down Little India to find the cheapest and best quality Indian food in Singapore, little did I know the cheapest was actually in Marine Parade. I can't say enough about what great value this eatery is, inevitably the upcoming renovation may result in these prices becoming steeper though - I am praying it won't.

Dosai can be quite a contentious topic with Indians. Some prefer it thick and pale in colour, others prefer it thinner and golden brown. I am definitely part of the latter group. Subsequently, this Rava Dosai is not the texture that is going to get me excited. To me, its too soft and lacking flavour that the golden brown charring would create. An additional qualm I have with this dosai is only curry leaves and cumin seeds are clinging to the crepe. For rava dosai I expect a wider diversity of ingredients such as peppercorns, carrots, onions. Perhaps this is indeed how an authentic rava dosai should look and taste, therefore I am cautious of damning this too heavily. In summary, it's not the style of dosai I prefer, price wise it's great though.

Price: $1.50. 5/10

After discovering naan was unavailable that evening, my second choice was Aloo Paratha. Paratha is, in many ways, the ancestor of the notorious roti prata, this thick tava cooked flat bread was spawned in the Punjab, but now is known worldwide. What I loved about this version was the potato masala inside. Typically the masala inside is dense and dry - The approach which Ganesh Vilas took was making the masala much more moist, this approach worked well. The potato masala had some sharp spice, but it was balanced enough not to ruin the bread. The texture and taste both hit the right buttons.

Price: $2.00. 8/10

This Bisebele Bath came as a new experience for my taste buds. This dish, which originates from Karnataka state, is almost like a porridge in texture, but with the flavour complexities one would expect from Indian food. I imagine this is a dish that can easily be prepared with whatever is remaining in the fridge, as it can potentially have anything inside. The core ingredients are daal (urad and chenna) and vegetables (carrots, radish). The dish title 'bisi bele bhaath' translates to 'hot lentil rice'. Not only is it incredibly delicious, but it is a rare Indian dish that is quite healthy. With there being little oil or salt inside, and lots of protein rich lentils. Those visiting must order this cheap and exquisite treat.

Price: $2.50. 9/10

Curry time! Regular readers will know that I was most likely a North Indian in a former life - Curry and naan is culinary ecstasy to me. First curry of this feast was the Shami Kofta. Recently I made kofta as part of my malai kofta recipe, which you can view to learn more about the essence of what a kofta is. In this dish, the aroma of fennel power was shimmering throughout the sauce, this gives the dish a flowery flavour, verging on sweet. The curry is mild, and contains little salt or oil. The kofta is soft, and practically melts in the mouth. Portion wise, the curries from Ganesh Vilas are on the small side. However, the prices are incredibly low, so I think they are good value overall.

Price: $4.00. 8/10

My curry experience continued, next was the Kheema Paneer. Flavour wise, the sauce for this curry was certainly my favourite. It had a rich texture and buttery flavour. Once again, this curry had a pleasingly limited amount of oil and salt, which meant I felt myself being able to eat more and more, without being parched for water or queasy. Instead of whole cubes of paneer, this dish had scrambled paneer, which worked harmoniously with the buttery curry. Another mild curry, which would have universal appeal, in my opinion.

Price: $4.00. 8/10

The final curry of the evening was the Stuffed Capsicum (Gravy). This did end the meal on a bit of a sour note, as the capsicum inside was a little underwhelming. The major let down is that the green capsicum is completely raw (bitter tasting), and thus not only gives an unwelcome texture, but also lacks that delicious cooked capsicum flavour. Inside the capsicum there is dry potato masala. The curry sauce is actually identical to the shami kofta, therefore it has a nice fennel flavour throughout. However, what makes or breaks this dish is the capsicum centerpiece, and regrettably it was a bit of a let down.

Price: $4.00. 6/10

After a highly satisfying meal, I rounded the evening off with a couple of Gulab Jamun. They may look simple, but making gulab jamun is difficult to master, so I always appreciate eating this incredibly sweet dessert. Unfortunately, where this dish fails is the texture of the balls. Upon penetrating them with my spoon, they offered too much resistance. The texture was a little too dense. Instead the balls should have been lighter, so that they melt in the mouth when eating. The syrup was good, and not overly sweet, and price wise they were reasonable. I recommend you limit yourself to one piece.

Price: $1.00 (per piece). 7/10

Conclusion - 'How didn't I discover this place soon?'. That is what I am asking myself. Ganesh Vilas is the cheapest Indian eatery that you will find in Singapore by far. This is an air conditioned establishment, with no GST or service charge also. What I enjoyed most was the food had a home cooked authentic feel about it, which is a refreshing change from the expensive high end Indian restaurants in Little India. I can't recommend this place enough, I will be going again this weekend!

Overall Rating
Food - 7/10
Ambiance- 8/10
Service - 8/10
Value - 10/10

Monday, July 4, 2011

Madras New Woodlands Restaurant - Little India

Those with the memory of an elephant will know I reviewed one of the previous Woodlands restaurants (Woodlands Ganga) over a year ago. Contrary to Ganga, this restaurant has a huge following, and is extremely busy most of the day - Even notoriously visited by ministers and other important folk. Not only do locals frequent this eatery, it is also well known amongst visitors, as it is often feature in the Lonely Planet Singapore publications. The restaurant also sits on the same road (directly opposite, in fact) to Gokul, which serves the best vegetarian Indian food you are likely to find in Singapore.

Madras New Woodlands Restaurant
Location: 14 Upper Dickinson Road
Contact: 62971594
Opening Hours: Daily: 7.30am – 11.30pm

This restaurant has a wealth of history, dating back many decades. From what I have been told, the interior design, the vibe and the staff have not changed much at all over the years. Therefore, upon stepping inside, you do have a feeling of stepping back in time a little. This nostalgic feeling is increasingly rare in a country that has no memory and is constantly wanting to develop, more places that trap the past culture of Singapore should be protected - Such as this restaurant. As I eluded to at the beginning, this restaurant had a surprisingly diverse customer base. With a reasonable number of ang mo and Chinese dining here.

On the plate, this Chloe Bhatura looks like a giant deep fried puffer fish. Bhatura is a soft and thin deep fried bread, which is completely hollow on the inside. This dish must be eaten with the right hand, as it would be extremely difficult to eat with cutlery. The curries that accompany this oval shaped bread was chickpea curry and a vegetable korma. Both curries were exceptionally rich, which doesn't really fit well with the bread, it would have made more sense for sambar to replace the vegetable korma. The bread itself is slightly sweet and delicious, but extremely oily.

Price: $4.20. 7/10

One of the special meals they were offering on that day was the Mock Meat with Briyani Rice. Immediately when this arrived, I felt a little hard done by, as content wise there was not much. Not only that, the rice and curry were both incredibly spicy. Indian food is a delicate balance between amount of oil, salt and spice used, if one of those elements is in excess, then it ruins the dish. Unfortunately for this dish it was too spicy, and rendered me gasping for water.

Price: $7.50. 3/10

When I saw the name VIP Thali on the menu, in my mind I imagined a huge luxurious thali fit for a king. To be fair, when it arrive it did look big and grand. However upon inspection, it is clear a lot of the sauces and curries are replicated. Moreover, as I delved deeper into this thali, I found that all the components were quite forgettable, nothing leaped out from this dish as being memorable. The rice was cooked poorly and many of the curries were too spicy and salty for my palate. Visually it looked nice on the banana leaf, but I was far from impressed by the flavours.

Price: $8.50. 5/10

Conclusion - Inevitably, the problem with restaurants that have such a popular and large following, is they usually allow their standard to drop. For me, the food is nothing special at New Woodlands. If it was a new restaurant, without a paragraph in Lonely Planet or a generous local following, then it wouldn't survive. I think New Woodlands would have been a must-visit place a decade or so ago. But for 2011, my experience is their hay-day is over, and their food is now merely average. Still a worthy dining experience, but if you want real quality Indian food, then walk a little further to Syed Alwi Road, or better yet, just cross the road and visit Gokul.

Overall Rating
Food - 5/10
Ambiance- 7/10
Service - 6/10
Value - 5/10
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