Skip to content

Archive for



My final meal in Asia, appropriately untraditional. Well, maybe not for
Singpaore–malls seem ingrained in their culture-why not eat your last
supper wedged between Top Shop and Boots. I'm not even 100% sure it was City
Link Mall we dined in. After spending our entire last afternoon and evening
going up and down escalators, we lost track between Raffles Place and Suntec
City. I could've sworn there was an exact restaurant chain in Bangkok called
Noodi, but can't seem to find any evidence of it.

Nooch is a colorful, plastic-y youthful noodle bar with a menu split
between Thai and Japanese dishes. Not even very hungry (but wanting to eat
at the mall), I was intimidated by a giant steaming bowl of tom yam, but did
my best to slurp it down. I was stuffed on the plane.

Nooch* City Link Mall, 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

Takashimaya Food Court

I seriously can't even begin to describe the wonder that is the Takashimaya
food court. First off, I was overwhelmed by the mooncake paradise, as it was
the mid-autumn festival season (on our way back through Singapore a week
later, there was a huge area outside the food court set up with mooncake
stalls. Every bakery in the city must've been there handing out little
samples on toothpicks and flyers.). There was a stall for everything, and I
can't even remember it all. Not much Western food, despite the presence of
Harrod's. But plenty of Asian purveyors and great chains I'd never heard of.
Places like Bengawan Solo,
which is a Malaysian kueh baker (with the most interesting mooncake
flavors), Tio Glutton, a Japanese cheesecake stand, and Beard Papa, a place
for filled puffs, also Japanese (duh, who else would name a store after a
gluttonous uncle and illustrate Beard Papa with a cartoon image of what
looked like a grunge Santa Claus). Of course there was Thai, Vietnamese,
Indonesian, various Chinese, and lots of bakeries. My favorite was a place
with a French name I can't remember (they had a place just like it in
Bangkok, but with a different French name that I also can't remember) where
you get to pick out all your goodies with tongs and put them on a tray. It's
not only sweets and pastries, there are curry puffs and buns with octopus,
corn and mayonnaise. I loved it. Anyway, I never got a chance to actually
sit and eat a meal because it was always so crowded. But I got plenty of
snacks to go.

This reminds me that I've never been to the Takashimaya in NYC because I
know it's not the same, and I'll be disappointed. I bought the cutest
umbrella in the world at the Singapore location, a tiny, apple green,
gingham number that barely stands up to rain-maybe it's for the sun? (They
seem to like using umbrellas as shade in Asia.) and it's doubtful they would
have such a sweet accessory here. I'm pretty sure the NYC Takashimaya is
priced beyond my means and houses a fancy teahouse in the basement.

TakashimayaFood Court * 391 Orchard Rd., Singapore

Lau Pa Sat

It was round two in Singapore. Thanks to my bad planning we did the country
in two short chunks. This was our second, only a little more than 24 hours
before returning home to NYC. On our last full night in town we tried satay,
my second version of laksa and carrot cake, which doesn't contain carrot at
all. I think it's also been described as radish cake, radish like what they
use in turnip cakes. I don't know why carrots, turnips and radishes are so
confusing. It's really a spicy, sweet soy omelet. Good and fried.

Lau Pa Sat * 18 Raffles Quay, Singapore


No one told me that Hua Hin was a German enclave. Or for that matter that like 85% of the foreigners in Thailand are German. Why? What's this about? But then, why ponder such questions when seeing Thai waitstaff in lederhosen and dirndls make you forget. 

We tried Sunshine for breakfast. The offerings were pretty basic: simple omelets and Museli. No gut-busting plates of bacon, hashbrowns, buttered toast and pancakes here. There was an abundance of Maggi sauce, which I don't get. Is it for Asians or Europeans? It's soy based, correct? I definitely know it's not for Americans. 

The open-air restaurant also housed a bakery and internet café. The bakery was doing a brisk business, selling heavy brown breads, cheese and sausages. So seemingly incompatible for the sweltering S.E. Asian climate, yet so amazingly popular. Most of these Austrian, Germanic joints also do Thai food, which I was too chicken to try. What there ought to be are Thai-German fusion restaurants. Yeah, it'll be the big food trend in 2004.

Sunshine Restaurant & Bakery * 130 Naresdamri Rd., Hua Hin, Thailand

Hua Hin Brewing Company


So, we spent more on a few pints of beer and novelty buffalo wings than we
had on our entire dinner. Technically, this was "second dinner" as we'd
taken to calling our excess of meals in S.E. Asia. A part of the Hilton, but
on the main drag, this new-ish place was next to outdoor bars with lesser
food and 95 baht drinks. We just wanted to try the Buffalo wings, that's
all. They came all precious and lollipopped, and instead of blue cheese
dressing they were served with a marinara they deemed barbecue sauce. The
whole shebang, coupled with bad cover bands doing that Julio Iglesias Jr.'s
song where he warbles and cries about being your hero, was top notch Thai
for tourists. I mean that in the best way possible. It was fun.

Hua Hin Brewing Company * 33 Naresdamri Rd., HuaHin,

Bella Roma

Pizza seems so wrong for the tropics, but when in Rome, as they say. Due to the inexplicable volume of pizza places in Hua Hin, our curiosity got the better of us. There were a bunch of similar seeming pizza joints in the touristy area, if one was better than another we couldn't tell. We were seated in an air-conditioned room with British (or possibly Australian–I'm bad at deciphering eavesdropped accents) families who seemed to be having a good time. Not that I take that as an accurate judgment of the food. We split a Hawaiian, I mean if you're going to do pizza in such an unorthodox setting you may as well go blasphemous with the toppings (at least pineapple is a crime in pizza-centric NYC). I can't say the pizza was anything to write home about (literally) but the experience definitely was. Novelty goes a long way with me. Used to big city portions, we were still totally hungry after eating our not so large, large pie. We headed out for equally misguided (yet beguiling) buffalo wings at a nearby bar.

Bella Roma * Hua Hin, Thailand

Chao Lay

Our first Hua Hin meal, at the outermost edge of pier, more balmy than
sticky, was a wonderful respite from Bangkok. We should've done this sooner.
I wasn't sure about James's choice of curry powder crab, which sounded gross
because I kept thinking of blah grocery store bottled curry, but the crab
wasn't bad at all. It was really akin to Singapore chili crab, in that it
was spiced and saucy and cooked in the shell. This rendition had the crab
hacked into large pieces. We also ordered southern fried rice, absolutely
not knowing what southern style meant, except that here in NYC there's a
dish called southern curry, which is the hottest, craziest dish I've ever
had. This was not spicy like that. It was just really good rice with an
astonishing amount of prawns and squid tossed in.

We were still acclimating to the spooky, tropical beach climate where
lizards seem to roam freely. At one point, what I thought was a bat starting
flapping right near James's head and scared the shit out of both of us. It
was a massive moth. Now I get how the Japanese could fathom the concept of
Mothra. We also got a jarring surprise from a cat that jumped up on the pier
next to us. Seeing a cat wasn't a surprise, but we couldn't figure how it
came from under the pier since we were suspended over water.

The meal was satisfying and leisurely, that's why I hate to admit that
this was the only evening in S.E. Asia that I got stomach sick. Later that
evening I was laying on the bed, delirious and queasy. I say delirious
because when James asked, "do you want some Tums?" I thought he said, "do
you want som tam" and I was like yeah (I could always go for a little papaya
salad) if I wasn't so ill. I started to laugh, but had to suck it back in as
to not barf. Ah…memories.

Chao Lay * 15
Naresdamri Rd., Hua Hin, Thailand



I think we overdid it on the upscale restaurants in Bangkok. I got sucked in
because I'm so poor in NYC that the prospect of being able to eat at lots of
expensive places got me excited. Celadon and Blue Elephant were the two I
seemed to hear the most about, so we went for it.

The setting was very pretty. Salas, as they call them, above lotus
ponds. Of course we went for the air conditioning, but as it was the coolest
night in S.E. Asia (though still in the 80s) and the air conditioning was
actually freezing (I never though I'd hear myself say that about Bangkok) we
could've done the open-air seating. But we were hate-the-heat-and-humidity
tourists like everyone else in the room. What separated us from the rest of
the room, however, was our desire for authentic and hot, hot food.

And I'm afraid that's also what created the most amusement during our
meal. An older gentleman at a table of bossy Middle Eastern gentlemen in the
back of the room, started wheezing and choking and making a huge scene. A
younger man started yelling for water. The older guy had tears running down
his face. I was like is he having a seizure or something? As it turned out
the food was just too spicy. This was completely baffling, and only made me
wonder what he must have ordered. Even more so, when we asked the waitress
about the guy and the food, us commenting that it wasn't really very hot.
She agreed, saying "it's not really Thai food, it's for tourists."

We tried a tasting menu that I think was seven courses, though I can
only seem to recall six, and even those are hazy. We started with pie tee
cups filled with something I can't even remember, followed by a large,
filling serving of tom gai ka. The mains came together: greens with
scallops, penang pork curry, and steamed prawns with herbs. The meal was
finished with one of those icy, black rice, jelly and coconut milk desserts.
We specifically wanted to try the penang curry because we'd made the exact
same dish earlier in the day during our cooking class. There's was certainly
more refined, though I don't think ours was any less tasty.

I enjoyed the experience (I also like in S.E. Asia how there's no
emphasis on wine whatsoever. They don't even ask if you want a drink. I
mean, I like wine, but I always feel pressured when dining in higher price
range restaurants) but I wasn't bowled over. Later, I thought we might've
been better off ordering from the menu because I've heard good things about
particular dishes. But now I know about hotel restaurants and will be able
to resist their appeal the next time I'm in Bangkok, whenever that may be.

Celadon * 13/3
South Sathorn Rd., Bangkok, Thailand

Hua Lamphong Food Station


It was this dining experience that made it abundantly clear that despite
what people will tell you, language barriers can be a major stumbling block
in Bangkok. Or maybe it was cultural differences, I'm not sure. Despite
raves about this place, the experience was intimidating and mildly
exasperating. Thailand was tough because I think we overdid it on high end
cuisine geared towards foreigners and I hate to be that kind of tourist, but
being on our own with little guidance and command of the language, pointing
and smiling only gets you so far. We did street food, but the typical
makeshift street side dining was sort of out of bounds. Not that Hua
Lamphong was that sort of restaurant.

I knew getting there would be a little tricky, I didn't even bother
trying with taxis, already having experienced garbled, getting lost traumas.
With a restaurant sharing the same name as the train station, nowhere
nearby, it would just be asking for trouble. Instead we skytrained it,
knowing full well, it would be a meandering trek to the restaurant. How
winding and confusing in the pitch black, we didn't know. There weren't any
streetlights, or sidewalks (duh, that should've been a given by this point
in the trip) and lots of blind corners. I was scared to death we were going
to get run over head-on by either barreling car or motorbike. I was a little
alarmed when we finally found the place (no thanks to directions or maps I'd
read, it was totally on raw instinct) and discovered it was an open-air,
non-air conditioned affair. Our little journey had me dripping buckets. To
their credit, the fans did make it adequately breezy.

The concept of letting someone leisurely peruse a menu or having a
little breathing room while filling out the credit card slip have yet to be
adopted in Thailand. I think they are trying to provide good service, but
it's almost overboard service. I don't know if it was because we were there
in off season, but often we were one of the only customers and the waitstaff
to patron ratio is like eight to one. The menu Hua Lamphong Food Station is
quite large, and I couldn't even tell you about 1/10 of it because we
weren't allowed to glance at it for more than about 60 seconds. Perhaps the
idea is that they suggest items for you, but I like doing things on my own.
We rapidly picked out som tam, gai yang, a frog dish and something else that
I can't recall. We did not get the frog dish, but received a mixed mushroom
entre instead (it was surprisingly tasty for how simple it looked).
Everything we asked for was met with a blank faced stare. All the dishes
we'd mention seemed to be ignored, instead other items were called out to
us. I'm not sure if the waiter didn't like our choices or didn't understand
our mangled Thai. The biggest mistake James made was pointing at his watch
and trying to indicate that we needed more time. To me, watch-pointing would
seem universally to indicate hurry.

I had wanted to try Northern style Thai cooking so I was excited, but
the food almost started seemed inconsequential after the stressful ordering
and dining experience (there's always staff standing behind or next to you
watching all your moves). I will say the som tam (which was the Thai style,
not the Laotian rendition, which uses fermented fish sauce nam pla raa and
field crabs, which I only know from researching ahead of time–I didn't get
a chance to find it on the menu) was the spiciest, and quite possibly the
best I've ever had. I was mildly confused about how to eat the overflowing
plate of herbs that comes with assorted nam prik. Do you dip them and eat
them like crudites or mix them with the meal? I felt like a loser for
leaving so much herb behind. I also felt like a loser for being so lost,
like I was missing out on some ordering secret. It was a total white person
clientele and no one else seemed to be having problems, though from
eavesdropping I was able to deduce that each table appeared to have a
requisite Thai-speaking orderer that seemed to enjoy showing off to family
and friends. I'm not a fan of show boaters, but in this case a show off
companion might've been useful.

Hua Lamphong Food Station * 92/1 Sukhumvit 34,Bangkok,