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Posts from the ‘Singaporean’ Category

Banana Leaf Apolo

Who knew that a humble fish head could be so tasty? I inadvertently bypassed Little India on my last visit to Singapore, so fish head curry was a must on this trip even though I wasnt super excited in comparison to other classic local dishes like chile crab. I wanted to have at least one banana leaf meal (where the rectangular frond serves as placemat and plate). Maybe hands-as-utensils is tradition, but everyone seemed to be using spoons and forks. And I'm not one to buck a trend.

s usual, we over ordered. Partly because everything sounded so good and partly because its hard to gauge portions. Here, I usually know what to expect and choose accordingly (its usually going to be big). We had a chicken biryani, which came with two vegetable sides, one a daal concoction, the other spiced tomato-y green beans. That, with naan and the small fish head (small wasnt that small) wouldve been plenty. But we also ordered a vindaloo just to see how its done in Singapore.

The fish head curry was much hotter than the vindaloo, and came in a broth dotted with okra or lady's fingers, as they call them. For some reason I'd envisioned the curry as being more chili-sweet, not chili-sour and unexpectedly bracing. The extra hot spice combination and soupy quality reminded me of Thai yellow curries more than typical Indian food (which isnt surprising since yellow curry paste uses dried spices typical to Indian food where most Thai curry pastes use fresh herbs) Fish head curry is really a Singaporean-Indian invention so the mish-mash comes with the territory.

Banana Leaf Apolo * 54-58 Race Course Rd., Singapore

The Blue Ginger

No, not Ming Tsai's place. This was nearly our last official meal in Asia. It wasn't planned. If I'd had my way, it would've been Sunday tea in our hotel, The Fullerton, that we only had one inadequate night in. But we hadn't made reservations. I didn't know tea was such a popular thing, but being a former British colony, I should've known better.

At the last minute, our luggage being held at the desk until our 11pm Sunday night departure, we asked to use the phone for a last minute (literally) reservation at Blue Ginger. It was 1pm and we were out of luck with brunch, so we needed a 2pm lunch date. Singapore seemed to be all about the rules, even if you were only going a few subway stops to eat in a few minutes, reservations were in order.

After a sweaty excursion (what other kind of short trip is there in S.E. Asia?), we settled in to a nice starter of bean curd skin spring rolls with pork, shrimp filling. Not popiah, I don't think, but close, and kalamansi juice (I never know if that's with a K or a C). We also tried a tamarind shrimp dish and the Ayam Buah Keluak, braised chicken served with these black nuts from Indonesia that I've since heard are poisonous, but I don't really think so. I should have savored it more because it's the sort of thing you might not get your hands on for quite some time. I'm totally irked because the chicken came with two tiny spoons and I didn't understand their purpose. I guess you're supposed to scoop the insides of the nut and it's all wonderful and rich and like a S.E. Asian mole. So stupid for not knowing, and when am I going to ever get to try them again? I hate condescending waitstaff, but obviously I need to be informed of obvious practices every now and then.

Actually I found these nuts at the best Hong Kong Supermarket in the chain, in S. Plainfield, NJ. Whether they're the real deal or hopelessly rancid is yet to be determined. (8/24/03)

Re-visiting Blue Ginger wasnt on my itinerary, but became a spur of the moment Saturday night choice because it was walking distance to our hotel and I was fretting over being so close yet so far away from the black nuts we messed up last time. I'm referring to ayam buah keluak, a stewy Nonya dish of chicken and buah keluak. Youre supposed to scoop out the innards of the black nuts with tiny spoons and savor them.

We did this time, and discovered that they're kind of earthy and funky. Peranakan cooking is pungent, heavy on the shrimp paste and strong flavors. I dont think James was super fond of the style (nor the bill. We didnt order that much but still spent around $100 American). I agree that its not as immediately accessible as Chinese or Malaysian food, which are wholly "grubbing," to use a horrible expression. Nonya cuisine isnt grubbing. He wouldnt touch the otak otak either, which was surprising since he ate it last time we were in town. Fortunately, the udang masak assam gulai, shrimp in a spicy tamarind broth, and ngo heong, minced pork and prawn wrapped in bean curd and deep-fried, were bigger hits. I wouldve gone for the durian chendol, but James wouldve killed me. (9/3/05)


the elusive
ayam buah keluak

Azteca * ? Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Katong Laksa

My first Singpore laksa in Singapore. So not like the crazy
I initially got hooked on. Though Taste of Bali (clearly
wrong by using a touristy Indonesian city in their name) prepared the dish
non-traditionally, they did set my preference for the rich, coconut milk
based Singapore style. I'm totally ruined for the sour assam version you'll
find in Malaysia. My laksa love started as a near novelty, who knew that
half a decade later I'd have a full blown Malaysian/Singaporean food

I heard talk of, or at least had read of the "laksa wars of 1999."
Seriously. They're serious about this stuff and I don't blame them. And East
Coast Rd. is home to a row of laksa shops. But that's not where I went.
Accompanied by someone in the know, James's coworker Alvin, and short on
time (though he was low on workload due to the NYC blackout and subsequent
shortage of email directives) we tried the Katong Laksa, not in Katong, but
in cute, suburbanesque Holland Village. Alvin claimed it reminded him of New
Jersey where he grew up. If only I could just skip across the Hudson for
food like this.

Overly-vigilant, Alvin ordered the soup without the cockles. My stomach
could've handled it, I swear. The laksa "gravy" (it weirds me out that they
call the broth gravy) is thick, curryish, spicy, yellow, with rice noodles,
hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts, shrimp and bean curd. I was told this stall's
trademark was that the noodles are cut up for easy eating. For a chopstick
bungler, that was a selling point. We also had otak otak, and fresh lime
juice, most likely from those adorable mini limes everyone seems to use over

The nice thing about Singapore stalls is that almost always you can
choose from a variety of sizes. Unlike NYC where everything is huge and you
want more for your money, in Singapore it's actually wise to order small
(which are never actually small) to save room for "second lunch" or "second
dinner" (as James and I took to calling our many food courses that didn't
fit into a traditional three square meals) This isn't an actual tradition
(that I'm aware of), we just invented the double meal on the fly.

Katong Laksa * Holland Village, Singapore

Killiney Kopitiam

My first meal in Asia, and appropriately traditional. Coffee filled with
condensed milk, kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs, of course. It was one of
those protocol experiences, like how do you eat the eggs without making a
mess (it seemed like everyone else was eating them from a bowl with soy
sauce)? Do you dip the toast in the eggs? Do you sit and wait for service or
order at the counter-and when do you pay? I was quickly initiated into the
fact that napkins are not provided at most restaurants in Singapore. Mini
tissue packs were purchased rapidly thereafter. The toasted bread filled
with thick, melting butter and coconut jam was a near obscene treat. I've
since taken to eating kaya and peanut butter sandwiches.

Killiney Kopitiam * 67 Killiney Road, Singapore

Singapore Cafe

I've been all obsessed with Singapore lately so I really wanted to try out
this new Chinatown restaurant and I really wanted to like it. But it was
just one of those bad Friday nights where time gets away, no one can decide
what to do and moods sour. By the time I met James for dinner it was already
10:30pm, fine for some places, but not this particular one. A serious pet
peeve of mine is going to a restaurant that's closing in half an hour. If
possible, I'd prefer to be seated at least one hour before closing. But this
isn't James's way so he doesn't understand my annoyance with being the last
ones in an establishment. Not to get all Meyers-Briggs on you, but it's a J
vs. P thing.

The first strike came when I was told it was too late to order the
laksa, the one thing on the menu I definitely wanted. Fine. The roti canai,
chow kueh teow and jumbo hot & spicy shrimp sufficed, but the overall vibe
was dour. And when the waitress asked for a different $20 bill because the
print was too pale, James nearly lost his shit. I'd be willing to give the
place another try, possibly during lunch time, but there's no way I'll be
able to convince James to accompany me. (12/8/01)

When staff at an Asian restaurant tries steering you away from menu
items, you usually suspect it's a rare delicacy they're afraid to offer to
fussy Americans. At least I used to believe so. I also used to proclaim my
love of laksa. I know there's two breeds: Singapore (which I like) and Asam
(which apparently I'd never had). This was Asam, I was warned and I paid the
price. I have an extremely high tolerance for pungent, strong flavors, but
this was too much. It was like murky swamp water filled with twigs, stiff
leaves, fish bits, beef? and an underlying liver taste offset with sour,
minty notes. I hate to admit defeat, but my stomach honestly couldn't handle
it. I took half home to try the next night, and could only down a few
spoonfuls. The only other flavor I haven't been able to deal with is malta.
Those beverages are completely intolerable.

SingaporeCafe * 69 Mott St., New York, NY