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Friday, June 28, 2013

Ah Seng Durian - Golden Phoenix, Green Bamboo, XO, Black Pearl

For those searching to find the best or most trustworthy durian seller in Singapore, it won't take you long before you hear the name Ah Seng.  Steven (Ah Seng) has been selling durians for over 30 years now, around the Ghim Moh area.  To avoid disappointment, it is better to call the number below and reserve the durians that you want.  Ah Seng's stall gets feverishly busy most days, and as a result, the more popular species will sell out in no time.  To keep up to date with what durians are in stock, Ah Seng has a frequently updated facebook page.


Ah Seng Durian
Location: Blk 20 Ghim Moh Market, #01-197
Contact: 94656160


Block 20 is where you will need to head, in order to locate Ah Seng.  It is conceivable to walk from Buona Vista MRT.  Otherwise, there are a number of buses that can drop you off outside the market.
Here is a collage of the four different species of durian that I purchased on this particular outing.  Ah Seng was kind enough to allow me to photograph in detail the entire process.
Once your deal is done with Ah Seng, he then passes the durians over to his younger brother, who proceeds to packet them for you.
After cutting the durian, and placing them in the styrofoam boxes, the seller kindly puts it in an air tight plastic bag.  But, the smell still gets out of these very easily...
As I don't have a car myself, I rely on getting to and from durian places by public transport.  As you may know, Singapore currently bans durians from being allowed on any public transport, due to their extremely potent smell.  However, I get around this problem by storing them in ziplock bags.  Even then, a little bit of the smell can seep out.  But it is not too noticeable.


As I mentioned in a previous durian post, if you want to get XO when they are at their absolute best, it is more towards end-July and August.  Many places do have XO during June, but the quality isn't quite up to standard.  The texture of this durian was a little clumpy and raw, but the flavour did have that desirable mild aftertaste of alcohol, and did have a noticeable bitter punch.  I am still looking forward to having XO when the season really peaks.

Price: $10.00/kg.     6/10


For those who want a conventionally fragrant bittersweet taste, the Black Pearl is definitely a durian you should consider.  The texture is without fibre, and is like eating extremely thick clotted cream - Heaven on earth!  Although pale in colour, this durian has very little bitterness, and a very small seed.  This is literally the creamiest durian I've ever eaten.  Definitely a durian I would order again.

Price: $10.00/kg.     8/10


Similarly to the black pearl, the Green Bamboo has a thick dense ultra-creamy flesh.  The main difference between bamboo and pearl is the flavour.  Black pearl is more on the milder side, whereas green bamboo has sweeter and more fruity flavour.  The flesh colour is distinctly more yellow, also.  Seed size again is quite small.  Green bamboo is a little like the 'gin and tonic' of durians - For those who want something mild, sweet and delicate.

Price: $10.00/kg.     8/10


Out of all the species I sampled, my personal favourite was the Golden Phoenix.  The texture of this durian is thick and slightly fibrous. But, it is the unique flavour which makes this durian a true superstar.  The flavour is like a mildly alcoholic blossoming flower, which is both fruity, zesty and sugary sweet.  The seed size is very small, so you're getting a decent amount of flesh for the price.  This was the most expensive species, but well worth the extra price, as the flavour of this durian is really something special.  I will be ordering this durian is ridiculous quantities this year!

Price: $15.00/kg.     10/10


Conclusion - Ah Seng surely ranks as the best place to buy durians in Singapore.  During the peak season, this small stall will become flooded with people (mostly aunties and uncles) all clamoring to get hold of his top quality durians.  I went to Ah Seng Durian with such high hopes, and I am pleased to say that I was not disappointed.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Indian Cuisine - Aloo Palak

Potato is one of the most versatile vegetables around, and for today's recipe I will highlight one of India's most ubiquitous potato dishes - Aloo Palak.

This is a pretty quick and easy dish to put together, but it is important to take note of a couple of things.  Firstly, this dish infamously needs a lot of oil (as you can see in my 'Ingredients'), if you wish to put less, that is fine - But the dishes is at its best when more oil is used.  Secondly, you must use Indian 'palak' spinach.  Definitely don't use any Chinese spinach, slippery spinach or varieties similar to those.




Ingredients
 
·         Spinach – Large Bunch (Indian style ‘palak’ spinach with large stems removed)
·         Boiled Potatoes – 1kg
·         Oil – ¼ Cup
·         Cumin Seeds – 1 TBS
·         Onion – 1 Large (diced)
·         Salt – To taste
·         Turmeric – 1 TSP
·         Ginger and Garlic Paste – 2 TSP
·         Coriander Powder – 1 TBS
·         Garam Masala Powder – 1 TBS
·         Red Chilli Powder – 1 TSP
·         Lime – Juice of two limes


Instructions
 
1.       Add oil into a pan.  Once the oil has reached its boiling point, add cumin seeds.
2.       Once the cumin seeds begin to sizzle, add diced onion.  Immediately afterwards, add salt (dry potato dishes tend to require a little more salt, so be generous).
3.       Once the onions start to become transparent, then add ginger garlic paste and turmeric powder.
4.       After around 1 minute, add the spinach.  This spinach should be finely chopped.  Cook this spinach on quite a high flame, without a lid covering the vessel. 
5.       After the spinach has reduced, it is time to add coriander powder, red chilli powder and garam masala powder.
6.       Add your potatoes into the pan.  The potatoes should already be 90% cooked when adding.  The size of the potatoes is up to you, but personally I prefer slightly smaller sized potatoes.
7.       Toss these potatoes around until they get evenly coated with the spinach masala mixture. 
8.       Finally sprinkled freshly squeezed lime over the dish.
9.       Done!



Monday, June 24, 2013

Kean Lye Fruit Trading 'XO'

Serangoon/Kovan is a hotspot for durian during the season.  Arguably the most well known is the Highland Centre's 717 Trading, which I will be covering in another post in the future.  Kean Lye Fruit Trading is located just below the overhead bridge, which takes you to Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre.  It is easy to spot, as it is located right underneath the Canadian Pizza sign.  This stall has seats, for those who prefer to eat your durian right there and then.


For this particular durian journey, I only had one species on my mind - XO.  However, this stall specialises in many varities of durian, including mao shang wang, hong xia, D13, D2, qing zhu.  Pictured left is the contact information of this stall.
What sets XO apart from most other durians is the unique alcoholic aftertaste that it gives.  It is because of this, that XO may well be my favourite durian species of all time.  As this was bought in the second week of June only, the XO have not reached their peak yet.  Therefore, this durian had a pretty weak alcohol flavour.  Although this is classified as a 'bitter' durian, it actually has a mild flavour, which is neither sweet nor bitter.  The flesh is nice and creamy, and the seeds quite small.  The other bad aspect of buying durian when the season has just started is the price.  If you're someone who doesn't want to pay lots of money for good durian, then wait for late July/August - When the durian price for all species drops significantly.

Price: $20.00.     6/10




Conclusion - Each species of durian has its unique blossoming time, when it is ideal to consume.  True durian connoisseurs know exactly when those times are, and select the species of durian accordingly - This is a skill that I am still working on.  The uncles running this stall are the typical sneaky durian uncles, that I wouldn't trust with a single cent.  Personally, when in Serangoon, I will always head to 717 Trading instead.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mavalli Tiffin Room - Farrer Park

Since 1924, Mavalli Tiffin Room (more commonly known as MTR) has steadily been developing an overwhelming cult following in Bangalore, India.  This region currently has seven thriving MTR outlets.  Finally, 90 years after initially opening, the MTR franchise is now testing its culinary talents overseas.  An outlet in Singapore is only the beginning, their next destination will be Dubai, and who knows where else in the future. 


Mavalli Tiffin Room
Location: 438 Serangoon Road
Contact: 62965800

Opening Hours: Tue-Sun 8am-11.30am, 12pm-3pm, 5pm-9pm.  Closed Monday
 

The MTR franchise has a reputation for immaculate cleanliness, which I can definitely vouch for.  As one would expect, as MTR originated from Bangalore, the menu will inevitably have a distinct Karnataka-style theme to it.  The menu is not vast, but the dishes are highly unique.  Their one-of-a-kind rava idli and chandrahara (dessert) dishes are known to be their specialities - I had to skip those though, as they had yoghurt and koya in respectively.  Almost all the dishes are ghee heavy, with MTR priding itself on serving the purest and freshest ghee (apparently from a farm in India) available.  Any vegans visiting this place, prepare to be frustrated.

One dish that vegans can order without too much stress, is the Bisibele Bhath.  I've eaten this popular South Indian rice dish several times before, but this is without question the best version I've yet to try.  The pure ghee is served separately in a small bowl on top.  If you're a vegan, you can just remove this.  If you're a ghee lover, pour it all over and go crazy.  The flavour of the dish was exceptional.  Spice wise, the level was just perfect.  There was slight sourness from taramind, a shimmer of nutmeg and an assortment of juicy vegetables.  On the side, there were aromatic mini-poppadoms, which were incredible when dipped into the sauce.

Price: $5.00.     8/10

At MTR, nothing is as it seems.  This Masala Dosa was very unique, compared to the thousands of dosas I have had in the past.  Firstly, the dosa batter is a special secret concoction.  As much as I pleaded, the restaurant owner would not reveal how it is made.  The dosa is thick, yet crispy and chewy at the same time - Sensational.  Once again, the flavour enhancer of this dish is the ghee, which the dosa is cooked in.  The dosai itself is definitely the highlight, with the masala filling almost seeming redundant. 

Price: $6.00.     8/10


The final dish of the evening was the Khara Bhath.  This special dish has a similar design and flavour to uppittu/uppma, but with a more enhanced flavour.  The dish may seem small, simple and not worth the price tag.  But for my experience, this dish was so rich and flavourful, that it was worth it.  Even the sliced tomato on top, had a burst of sweet and sour flavour (perhaps it was soaked in vinegar prior).  I was told when ordering that this dish is void of any ghee - However, upon tasting, I definitely detected the taste and aroma of ghee.  If you're a strict vegan, it would be best to be safe and not order this dish. 

Price: $4.00.     9/10


Conclusion - There is no doubt in my mind that the food from MTR is exceptional, and what an honour it is to have this brand now in Singapore.  If you're a connoisseur for good quality ghee, then this place will have you in a dream-like ecstasy.  Being a vegan myself, it was a tricky place to order food, but I would still definitely visit again.

Overall Rating
Food - 8/10
Ambiance- 9/10
Service - 7/10
Value - 6/10

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Indian Cuisine - Aam Kairas

Aam Kairas may be a name that sounds foreign to most.  But for those in the West, if you say 'mango chutney' peoples eyes will light up and mouths begin to salivate.  Aam kairas and mango chutney are essentially the same thing.  However, this recipe represents a more traditional and authentic way to make this pickle.  Whereas, the version you find in Western restaurants is overly sweet, to cater for Western tastebuds.




Ingredients

·         Raw Green Mango – 2 small sized mangoes
·         Urad Daal – ½ cup
·         White Sesame Seeds – ¼ cup
·         Fresh Grated Coconut – ¼ cup
·         Oil – 3 TBS
·         Red Chilli Whole – 2/3 pieces
·         Mustard Seeds – 1 TBS
·         Fenugreek Seeds – 1 TSP
·         Curry Leaves - Bunch
·         Hing – ½ TSP
·         Salt – to taste
·         Jaggery – 4-5 TBS
·         Tamarind – 3 TBS

Instructions

1.      To make this mango pickle, first dry roast the white sesame seeds and urad daal for about 5 minutes.  After that, add the fresh coconut and continue to dry roast.  Once the coconut has turned golden – Place all the ingredients into a blender and make a coarse powder/paste.
2.       In a pan, add oil and begin the tempering by adding red chilli whole and mustard seeds.  Once the mustard seeds crackle, add fenugreek seeds, hing and curry leaves.
3.       Immediately after adding the final tempering ingredients, add your raw mango (which should be cut into medium/small sized cubes).
4.       Once mangoes have been cooking for a few minutes, add salt and jaggery into the pan.  Then add half a cup of water and let it cook for roughly 10 minutes.
5.       Finally, add the powder/paste into the pan (which will thicken the pickle).  As well as adding tamarind for additional sourness.
6.       Cook for another 3-4 minutes, switch off the flame, allow the pickle to cool down, and serve.
7.       Done!
 
Green Raw Mango

Aam Kairas

Friday, June 14, 2013

Yu Hui Vegetarian - Whampoa

If you have a chance to visit one of the many smaller bus terminals in Singapore, you will likely find some of the older and more dilapidated coffee shops.  This coffee shop, located at St. Michael Bus Terminal has recently undergone renovation, and thus has a squeaky clean feel to it.  The purpose of these coffee shops are, of course, to appeal to bus drivers - Who linger around here during their many breaks during a typical day.  I have been to a few of these bus terminal coffee shops, and always enjoyed them, as not many of the general public sit down and eat here.  However, the bad news is that very few have a vegetarian stall.  This coffee shop was an exception, however.  So let's see how the vegetarian food was from here...





Yu Hui Vegetarian
Location: FC111A, St. Michael Bus Terminal, 10 Whampoa Road
Contact: Unknown

Opening Hours: Unknown

I visited this stall on a Saturday, and unfortunately most of the dishes were unavailable.  After a number of my requests were turned down, I finally got a nod of affirmation from the stall owner when I asked '今天没有炒饭?'.  This Vegetarian Fried Rice comes in two sizes (pictured is the small), which are a dollar different in price.  The rice is quite typical, with there being an assortment of finely chopped vegetables and char siew mixed into the rice.  Although the rice doesn't have much in way of aroma, I still found it to be a simple, yet decent version of fried rice.

Price: $3.00.     6/10


Conclusion - Whampoa is known as one of the best place in Singapore to find great food.  But little is known about the vegetarian options that this area has.  Therefore, this post marks only the beginning of my exploration into this area.  There are many more Whampoa vegetarian stalls that will be reviewed very soon.

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Vegan Scotch Pancakes

Many will know a few months ago I reviewed an exciting vegan fusion stall called TJ Vegan Fusion Party Foods, which is sadly no longer operating.  I was really impressed by the quality of the food on offer at this stall, and am delighted that the former stall owner Timothy Teng has agreed to share his great Vegan Scotch Pancakes recipe for this weeks 'Recipe Wednesday'.

Photo: http://mrandmrsvegan.wordpress.com/

By Timothy Teng (Timothy can be contacted at timerty@gmail.com)

I ate my first pancakes when I was 9 or 10 yrs old, when McDonald's first began to introduce them in Singapore. I can still remember visiting the nearest outlet with my mother on the weekends and eating the warm pancakes out of the styrofoam boxes. For the other rare moments, my mother would buy them home and I would eat them while watching my favourite Saturday morning cartoons.

Pancakes are undeniably the comfort food for many kids and adults alike. They are especially comforting to eat right after one has gotten out of bed and craving for something warm, sweet and spongy to prepare oneself for the rest of the day.

Good fluffy pancakes used to be only available in a dairy version, while the non-dairy homemade ones tend to be dense and gluey. But using my special vegan recipe, everyone can surely once again enjoy fluffy pancakes without any harmful dairy and shortening.

My version of pancakes is of the thick English style often referred to by the name of drop scones or Scotch pancakes. They are quite different from the larger and flatter American-style version.



Vegan Scotch Pancakes Recipe
Makes 2 to 3 servings

Ingredients: 
1 cup plain flour(use a finer type of flour for more cake-like texture)
2 tablespoons chickpea/garbanzo/besan/gram flour(you can use the type sold in Indian grocery shops)
1 tablespoon brown sugar(optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder(less than 6 mths old)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda(less than 6 mths old)
2/3 cup soy milk or any other non-dairy milk
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract(optional)
1 tablespoon oil
 2 tablespoons of a home-made egg substitute
(grind about 1 1/2 cups of flaxseeds in a food processor for 1 min(it's not possible to grind them too fine) or use ready-milled flaxseeds. Add about 3/4 cup water and process to form a slimy paste, then add about 1/3 cup chickpea flour and process again to form a yellowish 'eggy' paste)

Directions:
1. Mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
2. In a measuring cup, mix the water and the soy milk then add it to the dry mixture. 
3. Use a rubber spatula and stir to form a smooth batter.
4. Add 2 tablespoons of the egg substitute and a tablespoon of oil and mix until the batter turns 'eggy'.
5. Scoop or pour the batter onto a heated greased pan to form small round-sized pancakes. You can add fruits such as fresh blueberries to the top of the cooking pancakes at this time. Flip the pancakes over when bubbles have appeared and cook until the bottom is browned.

Variation:
For oatmeal pancakes, replace 1/4 cup of plain flour with oatmeal.

Serving Suggestions:
Serve with maple syrup or jam. Top with a scoop of vegan margarine(Olive Gold) for a salty flavor. Add fruits on the side such as caramelized bananas and peaches. You can also make a delicious caramel-like sauce with peanut butter, dark brown sugar and some water. Eat slowly and enjoy.


Photo: http://mrandmrsvegan.wordpress.com/

Friday, June 7, 2013

Where can I get that 1960's feeling in modern Singapore? (Zen Fut Sai Kai)

The four years that I have been living in Singapore have been a roller coaster ride of highs and lows.  I actually first came to Singapore with virtually no money at all to my name.  Making the decision to move to Singapore was a scary one - I was not lured here by some billion dollar MNC like most ang moh's, it was 100% my choice.  But, looking back retrospectively, I am sure coming to Singapore was a decision well made.

There was, however, one thing I have always regretted.  I have always longed to see what Singapore was like 40-50 years ago.  Before the mindless destruction of almost all natural land, before obsession with materialism and money swept the nation, before everyone submitted to the 'kiasu' fast paced lifestyle - That has now become the norm in this country.   The Singapore of the past was a more dirty, smelly, messy, disorganized and unhygienic place - Sounds like a bad thing?  Not at all, because when you conglomerate all these nuances together - It becomes a personality - The one thing Singapore lacks the most in 2013.

This post is in conjunction with the Singapore Blog Awards 2013.  Please take the time to Vote for Hungry Ang Mo!

Prior to Singapore gaining independence, hawkers were only found on the streets of Singapore.  Some stalls fixed in one location, and open all day.  Others opening only at night.  Back then, there was no such thing as a 'vegetarian' hawker stall.  These hawkers typically specialised in just one dish - Such as wanton mee, kway teow soup etc.  These food streets were notorious for selling dirt cheap food (a bowl of noodles was as low as 10 cents), which tasted fantastic - My idea of heaven.

The 1960s in Singapore marked a significant shift in the way people ate hawker food. The government launched a project that would scoop hawkers up off the streets and place them in less conjested areas - Such as carparks, back lanes and empty spaces of land.  This change, which happened in the late 1960's was a temporary solution.  Eventually, this led to the hawkers being permanently relocated to official hawker centres in the 1970s and 1980s - This incidentally is when the first 'Vegetarian' stalls were found.  Most the vegetarian restaurants from the 1960s have closed down.  Arguably the most famous olden style eatery was Loke Woh Yuen Vegetarian Restaurant (that had a history of over 80 years in Singapore), which sadly closed down in 2011.  There is one, however, that was running in the 1950s and 1960s and is still alive and strong in 2013.  That restaurants name is Zen Fut Sai Kai Vegetarian Restaurant.

Zen Fut Sai Kai Vegetarian Restaurant
Location: 147 Kitchener Road
Contact: 62912350
Opening Hours: Tue-Sat 10.00am - 9.30pm
The interior design remains almost entirely unchanged from 1953.  The only change being the installation of air con.  The central picture is Mdm Ko Oie Tim, the creator and founder of the restaurant.

The cover of the menu.
Hungry Ang Mo posing with the family staff and owner of Zen Fut Sai Kai.
 
After interviewing the staff and owners of this eatery, I found it amazing to discover how well the dishes available have been kept unchanged.  Every single dish on the menu is exactly the same as those from the 1950's and 1960's - There have been no changes.  This establishment has remained so preserved and unaltered, that it really feels like going back to the 1960s as soon as you step foot inside.



Every time I visit this establishment, I always like to kick my meal off with the Kum Loo Wantan.  Admittedly, I am not a fan of fried food.  Therefore, the fact that I crave for this dish should be seen as a testament to the quality of this dish.  The skin of the wantons don't have that icky greasy component, which typically deters me from choosing fried food.  Instead, the skin is light, crunchy and has a juicy stuffing in the center.  This stuffing is chiefly comprised of diced mushrooms.  Served on the side is a mild sweet and sour sauce, which the wantons can be dipped into.

The signature dish, which the owners pride themselves on the most, is the Kwai Hou Loo Mee.  On a visual level, this dish was expertly crafted and looked simply exquisite on the plate.  The top layer is beancurd sheets, which are chopped in a way which resembles mock chicken.  It has a golden brown outer skin, which was a little salty, but quite flavourful.  Below this is a mixture of beancurd and mushroom stem mock meat, which has been soaked in a thick and rich special sauce - Which in many ways resembles the sauce one typically gets with a good kway chap.  Excellent dish.

A dish that highlights the importance of quality and freshness of ingredients is the Vegetarian Egg Puffs with Asparagus.  Don't be fooled by the misleading English name - There are no eggs in any dishes served at this restaurant.  The 'puffs' can be more accurately described as beancurd dumplings, something that is quite unique.  The straw mushrooms are large in size and incredibly fresh.  The asparagus was cooked just perfectly.



Conclusion - There are several eateries in Singapore, such as Happy Realm and Miao Yi, which have been around for 25-30 years now.  However, if you want to step into a restaurant and truly feel like you have been transported back in time, to the 1960s, then there is only one place to visit - Zen Fut Sai Kai.  This brilliant restaurant allows us to take a glimpse into the history of vegetarian food in Singapore, which is a remarkable thing.


Note - Credit to http://www.myhawkers.sg for black & white images
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