Sunday, June 24, 2007

Father's Day at Princess Terrace

The King's Hotel (now Copthorne King's) has been THE place to eat Penang food for the longest time. Its legendary Penang buffet has been delighting me and my family (plus many many other Singaporeans) for years and years.

We came here on Father's Day because it is one of my father's favourite buffets. Also, he has a discount card for the place... hehehe. We heard from one of the restaurant captains that the original chefs for the restaurant had left to ply their skills in London. However, the hotel had continued to bring in new chefs from Penang to delight the tastebuds of Singaporeans here. It does seem to me sometimes that the quality of the food has changed slightly. But its still pretty good.

So what is so different about this buffet? Well, there are the Penang salads, or kerabu, characterised by their sambal belacan and lime dressing. Then there is the otak-otak. Simply sedap! The steamed otak-otak sets a very high bar for any grilled otak-otak to reach. Rich in flavour, yet melts in the mouth. Except for the chunks of fish of course! The otak-otak and the satay used to run out quickly. So it is important to get what you can, when you can. My uncle used to know one of the chefs at the restaurant. So when we had our extended family meals here, we would get sticks of freshly cooked satay brought to our table.

The main courses are excellent too. I had the lamb and fish gulai (curry) with the nasi kunyit (glutinous tumeric-coloured rice). And then of course there are Penang hawker delights - penang kway teow, prawn mee, and the absolutely unique Penang assam laksa.

Assam laksa is one fiddly dish to make. It was one of the signature dishes made by Ah Ling Zhe, the lady who used to look after my great-grandmother. When my great-grandmother died, she stayed on to maintain the family home. Every now and then, she would make vats of laksa for my father's extended, extended family. We would get a call one day to inform us that Ah Ling was making Penang laksa the next weekend. We would go down and find a vat of noodles and one of laksa gravy, side by side. On the table would be the array of toppings. My family members would fill their bowls with the noodles, pour over the assam gravy with the little chunks of ikan parang inside it. Then they would top off with the prawn paste (hae kor), cut red chilli, mint leaves, pineapple chunks, shredded cucumber, bunga kantan etc etc. I still remember one of my many granduncles telling me that this was the best Penang laksa in Singapore. Of course I, as a young child, was perhaps not fully able to appreciate it (in the first instance, not that good at taking chilli). Even so, I do recall eating my own small bowl of it.

My cousin tried to make Penang laksa once. It was a valiant attempt but alas, it did not quite meet Ah Ling Zhe's high standard. And (as mentioned earlier) this is a fiddly dish to make. So - when you find a place in Singapore (where lemak laksa is the norm) which sells a decent assam laksa, make a careful note of it. One place is Marine Parade (see last post), and another Princess Terrace.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Makciks Rock

Picture this: A Makcik, sunglasses perched firmly on her nose, legs astride her supersize tricycle, shopping baskets fore and aft, cycling between the row of shops in Marine Parade Central. I whipped out my cameraphone to take a shot. But thanks to the glaring sunshine, and the bike movement, this was all I got:

But Marine Parade Central is a veritable makcik paradise (and here I mean makciks of all races). My dear mother, for example, loves to explore the sundry shops here. All sorts of things are on sale here - containers of all shapes and sizes, plants, clothing and footwear (including these fun flip-flops) and even mahjong tables (guess where I got mine?). There is a small supermarket which is surprisingly busy considering that NTUC, its big competitor, is just 5 minutes walk away. I've patronised a pet shop here which has a good range of kitty litter. If you need kitty litter which clumps well and has odour control, by all means choose Fussie Cat.

The food is good too. There's a pretty decent hawker centre here (with stalls selling "Pontian" wantan noodles and one of my favourite comfort foods, beef noodles). But at the coffeeshop just at the end of the promenade is "Penang Delights", a little shop selling Penang hawker fare like Penang Kway Teow, Assam Laksa, Lor Mee etc. My father finds it great value for great Penang food. He once ate both the Kway Teow and Assam Laksa at one go (which he admitted was a little much) which just shows what a fan he is.

I'd eaten the Penang laksa before and enjoyed the assam stock and the generous flaked fish. The scent of the laksa broth was scenting the air when I came by today, tempting me to have another bowl. But I had decided to try out the Penang Kway Teow. And it was good - two fresh, nicely cooked prawns, well-fried noodles, but not exceptional.

What I really enjoyed, however, were the minced pork and chive dumplings! Not really a Penang specialty. But the skin was soft and transluscent, so we could see the juicy, meaty dumplings inside. They were served with a tasty chilli-garlic-vinegary sauce. I'll definitely come back for this and the Penang Laksa.

p.s. Now I have mentioned before that strictly speaking, Marine Parade is not Katong. I still stand by that. But sometimes its good to be flexible :-)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Another Gem of Joo Chiat

This is not supposed to be a food blog, but if you live in Katong you eat in Katong and so entries about food are inevitable. We went to a relatively new restaurant, Tasty Buds, the other night and had a really good meal! It has been reviewed by ieatishootipost - in fact the review had been printed out and put up outside the restaurant - but I found that there were so many other things to say about the place that I thought I would write it up too.

Tasty Buds is a clean, bright white restaurant, with the walls adorned by sprays of flowers alongside pictures of the food (by ieatishootipost). Service is pleasant and the food comes fairly quickly.

We had four dishes, the beef rendang, squid in special sauce, pork ribs and papaya curry and ladies' fingers with a hae bee (dried prawn) topping. Three of the four are captured in the photo collage - I've started using Picasa which has this rather handy feature. In brief:
  • Rendang - beef was tender, moist, in the tasty thick rendang curry gravy. However, it is not really that unique compared to the other three dishes.

  • Squid in special sauce - squid were cooked just right, no hint of rubberiness. Sauce was quite tasty, too.

  • Ladies fingers with hae bee topping - a winner here! The hae bee was pounded with shallots and sprinkled with lime juice. Pounded chilli was served on the side so you can add as much as you like.

  • Pork Rib and Papaya Curry - my favourite dish of the night. The curry gravy had the distinctive taste of laksa leaves, with a little hint of assam and lemon grass. The papaya was sweet and succulent and went surprisingly well with the curry. I'd absolutely want to eat this again.
The ladies' fingers and the pork rib curry are a little more unique and not quite the run-of-the-mill perankan food served in restaurants here. It certainly has the stamp of authenticity in the subtle blending of spices and flavours in the sauces and gravy of the food. I sense (but am not too sure) Penang influences? Certainly the slightly more assam/limey flavour of the last two dishes suggests it.

In short - Tasty Buds is certainly a welcome addition to the Joo Chiat food scene, especially since we now bereft of Peramakan which has moved to larger premises in Keppel Club. The best time to go to this restaurant is probably on weekdays. The car parking situation is terrible on weekends. It's situated near the cluster of foodie joints mentioned in an earlier post.


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