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Restaurante Litoral

1/2I knew little to nothing about Macanese food before setting out for the little island, and my knowledge is now merely slightly broader. We only got to eat one meal due to transportation woes, language difficulties and a general inhospitable vibe from the city. I'm sure its a fun place if you know what youre doing, which we apparently did not.

My original plan was a beachy sunset suckling pig at Fernandos but we couldnt figure out how to get to Coloane. Buses were confusing, a taxi took nearly an hour to track down and refused to take us, I wasnt about to hop on the back of a motorbike as locals were doing (very Thai, its easy to judge the wealth of a country by the motorbike to car ratio. Malaysia had plenty, Hong Kong and Singapore not at all). We were screwed. Getting a cab back to the ferry so we could get the hell out of Macau was tough enough.


But the afternoon started out well with an easy jaunt to Restaurante Litoral. I'd never given it much thought, but the Chinese-Portuguese crisscross cuisine is kind of Filipino in ways. I'm pretty sure our waitresses were speaking Tagalog, too. The décor was Spanish with whitewashed walls, dark wood beams, a tropical hacienda.

We were accidentally served a dried sausage and olive appetizer that belonged to someone else. By the time the error was discovered wed both taken bites and were happy to keep it for ourselves. We tried a pretty Portuguese dish of bacalao with potatoes and massive amounts of garlic and olive oil.


African chicken was my pick since it seemed like a good example of the natural Latin-Asian fusion (the African part, I'm not sure about). Lush orange oil pooled around the chicken and was perfect for soaking up with the fried potato rounds served alongside, and crusty Portuguese rolls. The overall taste is sweet, spicy and incredibly rich (I didnt think fat content once while on vacation) which isn't surprising considering the coconut milk, peanut butter and chicken skin had all been simmering and gathering goodness. African chicken also often contains five-spice powder, rosemary, and as you can see in the photo, sweet pickles.

[I had the urge to revise history after  randomly re-reading this post. I researched African chicken and found a great Wall St. Journal article on the dish that strangely was published today, February 29, 2008.]

We had enough food for an entire family and I felt guilty not being able to eat much of it (we were still saving our appetites for suckling pig later–if I'd only known) so we took it to go, which was kind of weird. I carted the bag around all day and night and ultimately we left it in our hotel, which I'm sure pleased the cleaning staff. Still, salt cod is less stinky than durian.

Restaurante Litoral * 261A Rua do Almirante Sérgio, Macau

Tuk Tuk

Whether this place is better or worse than the Tuk Tuk in our neighborhood, Ill never know because I refuse to patronize Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill Thai restaurants out of principle (well, I tried 9D once because its the nearest restaurant walking distance from our apartment). I dont know what it is, Ill eat mediocre Chinese, Mexican, oh, and slew of other cuisines, but anything less than great Thai food seems like a waste of calories.

We found it impossible to believe that Singapore, Hong Kong and particularly Malaysia (since they share a border) wouldnt have better Thai food than the U.S., but the general local consensus was “dont bother.” From what I'd read, from what our waiter at a Sichuan restaurant across the street from Tuk Tuk told us, and was evidenced by the table of Chinese regulars sitting behind us who ordered “not too spicy,” Hong Kongers dont care for hot food.

So no, the food wasnt spicy, it was blander than Lemongrass Grill, our benchmark for Thai blahness. But at least we found out and had our fears confirmed. We had set lunch specials and both chose papaya salad that was completely sweet and sour, I dont think there was a single chile note in the entire dish. My green curry was adequate, as were James chile basil noodles, but once again were lacking punch. The cook and staff were Thai, which only made me wonder what kind of food they made themselves.

Tuk Tuk Thai * 30 Graham St., Hong Kong

Da Ping Huo

See, I'm not a foodie, fixated on ingredients, provenance, preparation, minutiae. Eating is fun, but I'm more about the experience. I regret not being able to recall details from every dish at this meal, but there were so many items, and not in tasting portions either. While I got over my public food photography phobia, I didnt feel this was an appropriate venue for geeking out (though I dont think anyone wouldve minded, after all, we were the only diners).

Si fang cai, a.k.a. speakeasies or unlicensed restaurants, seemed to be the rage in Hong Kong a few years ago, and still carry on. I'm not sure if Da Ping Huo still fits into this secret code, hidden door, word of mouth category, but it still feels worlds away from an established restaurant. It's not someones cozy home, but an austere concrete, metal and wood affair. Minimalist, chic-stark, but hardly soulless.

I knew the routine, primarily because I like to over plan and never leave anything to chance. It's like this: you must call ahead, there are seatings at 6:30 and 9:30, the menu is set and costs HK 250 ($32, which is a serious bargain) per person, and the eatery is owned by a couple. The husband, an artist with paintings adorning the walls, plays host, while his wife stays mostly behind the scenes as cook. Shes also a former opera singer, and I knew that she serenades diners at the end of the meal. Um, but I left this tiny detail out when originally explaining the concept to James, which was wise because it predictably freaked him out when brought up at dinner.

We were treated to (or traumatized by, depending on how much attention you crave) an unintentional private dining experience. My original worries about getting reservations were unfounded, and made me worry and wonder how they stay afloat (we were told they had four parties the night before). By this point during our vacation we were slightly more accustomed to the notion of being catered to in an unfilled room, and accordingly felt more relaxed than during our other foray into near solo dining at Frangipani.

We ordered a not too expensive Sauvignon Blanc (their corkage fee was surprisingly high, about $20, but I'm so not the oenophile—I'd never tote in my own bottle anyway) and waited for the food parade to begin. And once it started, there was no letting up. There are only so many synonyms for spicy and chile oil so allow me some slack because theres going to be some repetition.

First out were three cold appetizers in small saucers: shredded jellyfish in spicy oil, sweet and sour cucumber spears and bean curd rolls filled with tofu and mushrooms. Then there were impossibly slippery and chopstick-unfriendly transparent wide noodles bathed in yes, chile oil (I love chile oil, but I can see how its copious use might freak some folks out) and topped with something unexpectedly crunchy. After checking with the cook, we were able to deduce from our young waiter that they were deep-fried soybeans. The owners spoke next to no English and the waiter had a so-so command of the language, but didnt necessarily know food words and translations such as soybean. That was ok, it was kind of like a puzzle. We had cold poached chicken in chile oil, as well as a chicken and cabbage soup.

This was plenty of food and satisfying, but only the beginning. I realized we didnt have any rice, which would be a nice foil for all the chile spiked sauces, but perhaps its an appetizer/entrée thing because we were then informed that main dishes would be coming. Our plates were changed, rice was brought, and the big guns started appearing. A bowl of stewy, chile laden beef was brought out. At first I thought it was tripe, which I love, the meat was so chewy, but it was just a fatty cut. But good fatty (though gross seeming, I ate the remnants right out of our mini fridge before heading to airport two days later—it wasnt half bad cold) and tender. Classic ma po tofu arrived almost simultaneously and was crazy hot. It was at this moment that we realized that maybe youre not supposed to eat all of the food presented to you. I had no idea how many items were ultimately coming so it was hard to pace myself. We ended up “taking away” two dishes, both of these only at the owners suggestion. Normally I'd feel weird about this because I couldnt get a grip on doggie bag culture in Asia, which James and I are both unashamedly fond of.

The ma po tofu came with a preface that it would be spicy, which I was only half inclined to believe because I'm so used to restaurateurs saying items are hot when they are not, especially to Americans. Wow, the owner wasnt lying. The dish was tongue tingling in that front of the mouth hot way that you can even feel in your ears, not deep and creeping like Thai hot. On top of the burn Sichuan pepper conducted a background mouth buzz. The ground pork was firm and rich, the silky tofu like atomic white sponges. Breathing in or out merely fanned the flames. Our waiter seemed surprised that we could handle so much and admitted that he didnt like hot food (something we noticed common to many Hong Kongers). Maybe our taste buds have been dulled from smoking.

When new plates and a metal cracking implement were presented we got excited. A chile and garlic laden crab came hacked into large chunks. I'm not so good with extracting the meat since I didnt grow up eating crustaceans, but it was still fun. Seafood was followed by a dish of pork and yams, two flavors I adore but was too full to appreciate. Rich, almost gooey pork belly had melded into sweet tuber slices like a casserole. A peppery palate cleansing broth teeming with pea shoots buffered between the next and final savory course of pork dumplings. Two long slender skins were filled with smooth pate-like meat and sitting in a pool of what looked like red hot chile oil, but turned out to be mild and sweet. Dessert came in the form of tofu drizzled with a ginger syrup, which is very much in the Chinese sweets canon, and totally un-American. Refreshing rather than filling.

James posited that perhaps the cook wouldnt sing since we were the only diners. Ha, no such luck. Being serenaded can put pressure on you (do you smile, stay neutral, make eye contact?) and this was no strolling violinist or dinner theatre contralto. These were ear-piercing notes of Chinese opera. Which one, we didnt know, only that it was a “love song.” We were waiting for our wine glasses to shatter. It was definitely other worldly, at least other country-ish.

Somewhere during the middle of the meal there was a surprise interrupting incident when a large British group, ranging in age from maybe six to 76 randomly showed up asking “Sichuan?” They mustve had an inkling of what they were doing since they found the place and knew the style of cuisine, but thats where their knowledge ended. They then demanded to be served despite being walk-ins. The severe language barrier made it impossible for the owner to explain himself and the normal procedure. I could totally see a comedy of errors ensuing, but severely lacking in the comedy. I almost felt like I should say something helpful because it was going to end badly, but didnt think that was my place.

The waiter set the table, seated them and ran into the kitchen, likely telling the cook that six diners had popped in without notice. Mandarin shrieking commenced. Meanwhile the patriarch of the clueless crew was having a shit fit because there wasnt a menu. He just couldnt get the omakase (I know thats Japanese, but I dont know a better term) concept. “What do you mean, theres no menu. Ive never heard of such a thing.” Which turned into “Well, if theres no menu then well have to leave.” Completely offended and put out, the group were total preposterous British stereotypes, “well, I never…”

I was quietly busting a gut, but felt bad for the proprietors. And they apologized to us after the family left in a huff. And people think Americans are gauche. The fact that we “got” the meal and appreciated the efforts and graciousness of the hosts, made the evening feel more exclusive, like we really were members of some secret club. It's not that often that I feel more like a connoisseur and less like a clod.

Da Ping Huo * 49 Hollywood Rd., Hong Kong

Spring Deer

1/2I'm sorry to have missed the famous roast goose at Yung Kee, but at least I got a dose of Peking duck (and plenty more roasted meats in between). If James had it his way we wouldve had peking duck every night in Hong Kong.

Duckcarver I'm sure there are fancier spots, but Spring Deer provided all that a peking duck meal should be: fun, mildly theatrical and fat-filled. We accidentally upped the cholesterol quotient by ordering a "vegetable." At least bamboo shoots and scallops sounded semi-healthy. Our charmingly intimidating mobster-esque waiter did warn "its fried," which didnt make sense at the time. What arrived was a massive tangle of shredded deep-fried greens speckled with deep-fried bamboo shoots and dried scallop floss. I had no idea how this dish was supposed to be eaten–in small quantities, as an accompaniment to something? We just plowed into it, and well, it was good, especially since were already fried greens converts thanks to Sripraphais watercress salad, which is deep-fried and battered.

Finally, the duck arrived. It took some time, but allowed us to snoop at the proceedings at nearby private dinner parties (we were seated in a weird back room, which was our own fault for showing up over an hour early. On the train ride from the airport James called and made reservations for 9pm, which made the host seem to freak out, so me being a nervous person about being the only diner in an empty room decided we should just show up at 8pm, especially since the whole reservations craze in Asia seemed like a joke half the time as wed end up in near vacant rooms. But this restaurant was crowded and they had a little name plate Mr. James made up for us for 9pm. We totally threw things off). There was lots of cognac and what looked to be sweet and sour prawns we were envious of. Springdeer One party was wheeled over a salt baked chicken, which was ceremoniously cracked open with a wooden mallet wielded by a drunk and/or goofy member of the group.

We were carved a lot of duck, really too much for two people, and on vacation getting food to go isnt terribly practical. But the duck was perfectly crispy and fatty, the flesh a different stronger better flavor than we were used to. The pancakes were also thicker and floury, almost tortilla-like. My only complaint would be that the cucumbers and scallions were cut too thick and stubby, making the roll ups too chunky. But thats a minor source of contention in the scheme of things.

Spring Deer * 42 Mody Rd., Hong Kong

Newton Food Centre

I had big plans for our sixth (dating) anniversary. Originally, No Signboard Seafood, which isnt fancy fancy, but eating crab feels special. Then I was leaning towards a belated celebratory meal the following night at Opia, the new sleek "Australian freestyle" in the JIA. But we'd already splurged a bit, so we opted for low key. I didnt imagine quite as low key as a hawker center, but it just kind of happened.

This was the only hawker center where we were really hawked at. And aggressively. I'd avoided Newton on the last vacation because I was aware it was touristy and pricier than others, but it was sort of on the way from the Night Safari and certain to be open.

I had chicken murtabak, James the chicken rice. I later ordered char kway teow (from a woman who appeared to be falling asleep at a table, which made me wonder if cooks get really bored during down time) just to sample the Singapore style. We fended off attacks from all the pushy seafood vendors, but after seeing a young couple gorging on chile squid, mussels and grilled fish, I kind of wished we tried some, after all. I was just afraid of getting gouged by inflated prices.

I also made a sourpuss stray cat hang out with me. He didnt take much coaxing to come over to our table, especially since no one else seemed terribly fond of him. Loose non-pet animals just dont evoke much sympathy from locals, which I can understand. But I was fascinated by S.E. Asian cats, which tend to be tinier than American felines and almost always have short kinked tails that look like theyve been chopped off or broken (I'm assuming theyre all distantly related and not hacking victims). The Newton cat wouldnt eat the satay tidbit we handed him, though he munched a few bean sprouts from our char kway teow. Maybe he was a halal cat.

Newton Food Centre * Newton Circus, Singapore

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

No Signboard Seafood

We tried Jumbo's chile (I know they spell it chili, but I'm trying to be consistent) crab during our last visit, so this time 'round, pepper crab, a close competitor for Singapore classic status, was a must. I already had my sights set on No Signboard, and the Esplanade location, too. Not because its the new, classy branch, but primarily because it is centrally located. My plans were cemented when Jamess coworker, Alvin, who lives in Singapore, said hed show us around Friday night. When we mentioned pepper crab, he immediately suggested No Signboard. It was a go.

I had anticipated ordering the aforementioned pepper crab, cereal prawns that I'd heard about and sambal kankung. But Alvin was a total enabler (hes a sales guy and you can tell hes experienced at wining and dining clients–most interestingly, he doesnt seem to drink) and encouraged ordering practically everything we showed an interest in. We went wild and had small crabs prepared both ways: chile and white pepper with fried mantou on the side. James preferred the dry spice of the pepper crabs, while I'm still sticking with the original sweet, hot, sour and soupy rendition. Ill admit the dish is a peculiar invention, considering it contains ketchup and scrambled eggs, a gruesome twosome if there ever were one.

The cereal prawns were sweet and crunchy, possibly honeyed and rolled in oats, which I hadnt imagined. For some reason, I was envisioning Rice Krispies. At Alvins suggestion we had seafood served in a lacy yam (taro) basket, and if that werent enough we also had a little something called you tiao salad, which was most definitely not my idea. You tiao, I like, theyre fried dough sticks, Chinese crullers. It's the salad component thats tricky. If something says salad in S.E. Asia, in my experience that means mayonnaise. I'm guessing it has something to do with British ties and their fondness for salad cream. So, you tiao salad was fried bean curd wrapped crullers with a side of mayo for dipping. Eek.

There was food and Tiger Beer a plenty, and only the beginning. Luckily, it ended up expensed as a business dinner. As a librarian, its fair to say that I dont experience many expense account meals, free Monday morning bagels are as good as it gets. We (well, I) continued on with chendol at a nearby food court, then we headed up for drinks and a 70-story panorama at City View, the cigar bar atop the Swissotel, which wasnt terribly trendy but still commanded a cover charge and wait for seating (lists, waits, entry fees were rampant. I guess the same is true in NYC, I just don't frequent those places).









basket, you tiao salad in background


pepper crab


chile crab

No Signboard Seafood * 8 Raffles Ave., Singapore


It had to be done. James became fascinated by this mall A&W with semi chic design, not fast food style at all. I liked the idea that Malaysia was teeming with forgotten American brands–Orange Julius, Long John Silvers and Body Glove, too (and actually not that forgotten, I had no idea there was a combo Long John Silvers/A&W in Canarsie).

Having been put off root beer floats for life after a childhood stomach sick experience, I refrained from their signature beverage, which seemed to be popular with fellow diners. We ordered a double cheeseburger meal with curly fries and plain root beer. Not bad and perfect for an American food craving (even being S.E. Asian food crazy I still had urges for things like bagels, tacos and pizza).


A&W * Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Malaysia was an odd duck when it came to dining. Maybe its just the New Yorker in us, but were accustomed to crowds, especially for restaurants that come highly recommended, and especially for dim sum, which is always a mob scene here. Once again, our early rising (thanks to trouble with the twelve-hour time difference) caused problems.

Xin didnt open until 11:30am and we showed up half an hour too soon. The restaurant happened to be in our hotel, which was kind of cool, especially in comparison to the Hard Rock Café, which was also downstairs. We killed time until quarter to twelve, figuring a lunch crowd would be showing up by them. But we were the first and only diners for quite a spell.

It's unnerving and unappetizing to have five staff members corralled around your table, every bite watched, every tea sip replenished. We ordered lightly, as to make an escape as sooner rather than later. What we find fun about dim sum is the selection, the commotion, the excess, and this was anything but. Perhaps the quality is higher, creations more innovative, but those nuances are kind of lost on me.

Quite clearly, because I'm hazy on what we even ate. Post traumatic stress will do that to an eater. I know we had egg tarts, probably pork buns, chee chong fun stuffed with scallops, er, and thats it. Recovering repressed memories is painful.

Xin * 2 Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Madam Kwan’s

I can't think of a New York equivalent off hand. Madam Kwan's isnt touristy because locals eat there too. I guess it's overpriced if you compare its menu to hawker equivalents, but its not expensive. $3 for a bowl of laksa is still a bargain to me. Madam Kwans is the kind of restaurant where youd take out-of-towners for Malaysian classics without folding tables and plastic chairs.

James wanted rendang (as he did all trip long) and I figured they'd have it here. They did in a nasi lemak platter. I had high end curry laksa with unorthodox add ins like eggplant and curlicued chayote(?). A young Malaysian couple whod been on the elevator with us, were seated nearby and ordered exactly the same two dishes, he the nasi lemak, she the laksa. Who knows if that's any testament to our brilliant ordering skills, but I like to think so.

Madam Kwan's * Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia