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)
ayam buah keluak
Azteca * ? Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, NY