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Alhambra Padang Satay

threeshovelI’m trying not to talk about illness any more but one fascinating (well, if you’re like me and find malls enlightening) part of being told by a doctor to not spend time outdoors due to the heat and humidity aggravating your bronchitis, is that in Singapore you don’t have to spend much time in open air. You can walk for what feels like miles through malls connected to each other by passageways, underground tunnels and sky bridges.

Our goal was to get from Suntec City to Gluttons Bay at the Esplanade with as little outdoor exposure as possible. And with the exception of a single outdoor walkway and escalator, we accomplished this. The major problem, we were both aware of, is that Gluttons Bay is outdoors and that was a no go. It sounds like I’m being melodramatic but James literally couldn’t walk more than 10 feet outdoors without starting to wheeze and gasp for air. Frankly, it was a little irksome for a tropical vacation but I have a hard time mustering sympathy for sick people, which is probably why karma caught up and sickened me the following week. Satay probably isn’t worth your health but whatever, it had to be done. The plan was to grab food to go and catch a cab immediately, which was a touch unrealistic since there always seems to be woefully long taxi stand lines in Singapore. No street hailing allowed.

Carl's jr double cheeseburger
Along the way we found a Carl’s Jr. Not having any on the East Coast, James felt compelled to get two humongous Super Star with Cheeses for the road (neither of us allowed a little illness to hamper our vacation eating). One for later that night and one for the flight to Hong Kong the next day (when I was seriously hurling the entire plane ride–let’s just say that that monster burger inches from me didn’t help matters). The burger in the pic looks pathetic and squashed, but that has more to do with my photography.

Some may deride Makansutra’s Gluttons Bay as an overpriced marketing gimmick. I don’t know who specifically, not me, maybe I’ve been in NYC too long because I automatically assume people will have a problem with everything. The concept is a collection of hawkers in one spot that was organized by a popular food site. It would be like having a Chowhound-created Porkers Pier at South Street Seaport or some such.

Alhambra padang satay
We weren’t even hungry because we’d already eaten Indonesian food, prata and had two enormous cheeseburgers in a bag. But I’d made a fuss about coming so we had to get something, something small and snacky from Alhambra Padang Satay. Except James ended up getting suckered into some too-large combo deal with 20 sticks of mixed lamb, beef and chicken.

Mixed satay
Real satay is tiny, thankfully, no tough meat slabs awkwardly threaded onto a skewer. Three bites per stick. We were given enough sauce, in dangerous Asian-style plastic bags, to practically fill a sink. And most important to me, the accompaniments: lontong, pressed rice cubes, and chunky slices of cucumber and shallots. You could tell the lontong was made traditionally, steamed in banana leaves, because the curved edges had a pale green hue.

I think I made myself sick eating so much rice dipped in peanut sauce. I ate a bunch for breakfast before heading to the airport and I do wonder if that had some impact on the intestinal issues that plagued me that entire day. But no, I won’t put the blame on the poor satay.

Ah, it appears that Gluttons Bay is having a holiday promotion through Jan 1, 2009. I’m amused by the promise of “cool December” weather for dining when I was just there a few weeks ago and temperatures approached 90 degrees. Wow, eight hawker courses, “Rose Shandy, Roast Turkey with Fruit Chutney, a stinging BBQ stingray, Crispy Cereal Prawns and let’s not forget the Satay, White Fried Carrot Cake, Banana Tempura with Kaya sauce and a cool coconutty Chendol” for S$ 89 per couple. That’s $31 each (sure, spendy for Singapore) and you can BYOB. Now, I could get into that kind of New Year’s Eve festivity. I’d rather sit at home this evening than spend $100+ per person for the mediocre food and drink that’s the norm on December 31st in NYC. I’m officially old.

Alhambra Padang Satay at Gluttons Bay * 01-15 Esplanade Mall, Singapore


Before there was Food Republic there was BreadTalk (same company). I don’t have that many food obsessions but I can definitely count pick-a-mix sweet and savory bakery goods as one of them. I am so obsessed that I have given semi-serious thought to how I could come up with a New York interpretation. Sure, we have Fay Da, Taipan Bakery, Café Zaiya and their ilk thriving in Asian-heavy neighborhoods but what about a more universal equivalent that would appeal to Americans?

I was looking at BreadTalk’s franchising program. You need $500,000 and they only have locations in Asia and the Middle East. Not so doable, and it’s not like they have any name recognition in the U.S. anyway. I’d be better off starting from scratch—not that I have even a sliver of business sense.  Maybe if I had one of those The Apprentice type personalities.

Bread talk bacon floss bun

Bacon floss bun. I’ve mentioned floss already. It’s essentially finely shredded jerky and you find it in buns, mini egg rolls and sometimes in stir-fries. Crispy, salty and good.

Bread talk nacho cheese buns

I didn’t find nachos to all that pervasive in Singapore, so a nacho cheese bun was a little odd. Yet nothing can beat the nacho cheese-drizzled Cinnabon I once spied in the Petronas Towers.

Bread talk obunma

Obunma sums up why I like BreadTalk. They are not afraid of novelty and current events. Obama was also used as a marketing gimmick for Hip Diner USA.

Hawaiian pizza

There’s a lot of Hawaiian combos in S.E. Asia. Finally, a place where I don’t have to hide my love for ham and pineapple.

Frankfurter tortilla

Ok, this frankfurter craziness is not from BreadTalk but an upscale grocery chain, city’super, in Harbour City. Hong Kong malls are so chichi with their Prada, D&G, Versace, Vivienne Westwood and the like (maybe the Monchichi shop negates that). There’s nothing upscale about a weiner wrapped in a tortilla, though. I also picked up a classier camembert walnut bun.

BreadTalk * various locations, Singapore & Hong Kong


 Gone? Dammit, I never got to try their crab rangoon. (8/28/09)

I wouldn’t believe you if you told me I would be eating Filipino congee for my Christmas meal. Every year I have a holiday dinner date at an often random restaurant a few days before December 25th because I don’t do the going home with the boyfriend for Christmas thing (no, not even after nine Christmases). This year was Elettaria, primarily because I never paid a visit when it was new–and why not now?

I got the impression somewhere that the bar scene overshadows the dining. That wasn’t really the case. In fact, I still have no idea what kind of scene it is other than an all-encompassing one. Maybe the Monday before Christmas isn’t representative because the room really cleared out after 9pm (as opposed to Wilfie & Nell–where I showed restraint by only drinking and not ordering pork sliders–packed solid earlier this same evening. Maybe that’s the New York magazine review effect). All of the larger corner tables were taken by canoodlers, gay and straight. There was a primo banquette between the bar and dining room that seemed reserved for seniors only. Children were present, as well as twenty-something lawyers flirting with each other. Oh, and even a little person (who was not Peter Dinklage). Something for everyone.

Elettaria interior

Including me. The cuisine is Asian-inflected, I knew that. But I was still surprised when our waiter described the only appetizer special, “Lugaw, a Filipino rice porridge with beef torchon, quail egg and tripe.” Really? I had him repeat it later because his accent was thick and all I caught initially was Filipino and tripe. That’s all I needed to hear, though, and more than enough to sway me from my original choice of smoked duck.

Elettaria lugaw

I should’ve been eating congee my entire time in Hong Kong because it’s good sick person food. Now, I could make up for lost time. I don’t know that porridge makes for a compelling Manhattan starter though really it’s not any stranger than ordering soup as a first course. And it endeared me to the restaurant. The menu was otherwise winsome and filled with lots of ingredients that appealed to me but it was the lugaw that won me over.

I’m still not certain what a beef torchon is or if I even heard that correctly (you usually see that term in relation to foie gras). No matter, the flavors and textures worked. The meat, a bit chewy and gelatinous, melded well with the creaminess of the egg and ricey broth. Fried garlic and minced scallions added punch.

Elettaria quail

Normally, I would’ve been drawn to the fried quail. This looked like a decent-sized portion. Maybe I’ve lost my tolerance because the food even though mildly fussy, was very filling. Fussy isn’t the right word, what I mean is there were many components to each dish.

Elettaria guinea hen

Being overporked in 2008, I went for the guinea hen. I’d forgotten how wonderful a simple skin-crisped-to-perfection bird can be (though not simple in price—this was the most expensive thing on the menu at $30. It was early Christmas dinner, though, so no nickel-and-diming). The legs were surrounded by gnocchi, sliced chestnuts and a soft cabbagey squash relish. Maybe I’m just imaging the cabbage.

Elettaria sea bass

Sea bass, potatoes, fennel prosciutto and octopus? A little complex without being incongruous, and hearty for a fish-based course.

Elettaria pineapple upside down cake

That would’ve been plenty but you need dessert for a celebration so it was an unnecessary pineapple upside down cake and served with coconut gelato. At least it wasn’t molten despite its pucky looks.

Thumbs up on lugaw and hen skin. And here's to venturing beyond  pork products in 2009.

Elettaria * 33 W. Eighth St., New York, NY

Fox in the Snow


Gourmet has forsaken me during these chilly months. Instead of the wintry alfresco tableaus I crave, I’m getting cauliflower with rye crumbs served atop chipped-paint, artfully aged dressers that may as well be straight from an Anthropologie catalog.

Luckily, some old British men threw a black-tie snowfall party in a fancy tent (they like calling these “marquees” over there—when my sister was describing her Welsh wedding I half-imagined her name in lights) for their hunting dining club and wrote about it for The Telegraph. Who knows why the taxidermied animals are wearing glasses, and I won't even ask about the paper crowns. Just add foie gras brûlé, black pudding and er, brambles, and you’ve got yourself a festivity.

Toast Box & Ya Kun

1/2 The first meal I ever ate in Asia was kaya toast and soft boiled eggs at the original, air condition-less, non-mall Killiney Kopitiam way back in 2003.

I've since eaten a fair amount of kaya toast (I went through a phase here where I'd make my own version with kaya and peanut butter) and every time I fret a bit over the quarter-inch thick layer of butter. Never mind the sugar and fat in the coconut jam. White bread slathered with rich sweetness doesn't do much for me, but there's something about the crunchy warmth of toasted bread that melds everything together perfectly.

Toast box kaya toast

Before heading to our hotel, we stopped at Toast Box in Changi Airport. I always throw people off because I drink my coffee black. That's neither the standard kopi (coffee with evaporated milk and sugar) or kopi-o (coffee with sugar).

Toast box mee siam

I also tried a bowl of not-as-wretched-as-it-looks mee siam at the Changi Toast Box on our way to Hong Kong.

Ya kun kopi kaya toast and egg

At Ya Kun in Bugis Junction shopping center, we had the full combo complete with soft boiled egg. I mixed a little too much soy sauce in, I'm afraid. Dipping sweet toast into a salty eggy soup sounds odd but it works.

Toast Box & Ya Kun * various locations, Singapore

La Pampa

1/2 There always comes a point during a vacation when I want non-local food (all right, we already had German). Initially, I thought of FINDS (Finland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, amusingly enough) but they were closed for a private Finnish Independence Day party. What were the odds?

Earlier, we had been eyeballing La Pampa, which was directly across the street from the tiny Korean sports bar/fried chicken joint we were having a beer earlier. It was still closed around 6pm even though every place else in the neighborhood was already hopping. We suspected they were just being Argentine and conducted business on a later schedule.

La pampa exterior

That proved true. We came back a little later and the cozy, ok, cramped, little restaurant was packed, all prime tables reserved. We squeezed into an awkward two-seater near the door and wondered if the food would be even remotely authentic. The tiny room contained the most Americans (as well as Spanish speakers, all three of them, four including the owner) I had encountered in two weeks.

La pampa empanadas

I was reassured by the presence of sweetbreads, blood sausage, provoleta, milanesas and even Don Pedro for dessert. We probably didn't need an appetizer but wanted to try an empanada. No complaints about the ham and cheese.

La pampa bife de chorizo

There wasn't a lot of variety in cuts of beef, just bife de chorizo and bife de lomo. The rest of the mains consisted of meat skewers, chicken and strange for an Argentine restaurant, cod and salmon. I chose the smallest bife de chorizo, 250 grams, which sadly meat absolutely nothing to me because I have no concept of metrics. I was just hoping it wasn't prohibitively massive. But for HK$ 198 (about $25) I figured it would be substantial, and it was. I ate room temperature leftovers for breakfast the next day.

One thing I was curious about is where beef in Hong Kong might come from. Do they have farms in the region? It seemed like Australian beef was popular in the city. I only just now read that La Pampa's beef is imported from Argentina, which answers my question. I was going to say that the steak definitely didn't taste American, not corn fed, but also not nearly as tender and flavorful as what I had in Buenos Aires. The meat was a little tough and flat tasting, though not disappointingly so.

La pampa condiments

There were only a couple of quirks. One, the corn on the cob on the side. That felt strangely American not South American. And ketchup and two mustards as the default condiments brought with the steaks. We asked for chimichurri and were promptly brought a trio of vinegar-based sauces. Nice.

La Pampa * 32 Staunton St., Hong Kong

King Ludwig Beerhall

While I love Asian mall food, I also have a fascination with pockets of moderately upscale Western food. Clarke Quay in Singapore is overpriced and kind of obnoxious, plus I don't find sitting outdoors in 90 weather to be luxurious. Sure, I'll eat a bowl of laska in stifling humidity, but not a three-course meal with wine. They do have a Hooters, though.

Knutsford Terrace in Kowloon, however, kind of charmed me despite its veering toward tackiness. The collection of restaurants, including fare such as Spanish tapas, Russian I'm-not-sure-what, French bistro and Australian steak, is built onto a steep hill and painted in sunny pastels to evoke a Mediterranean plaza.

Knutsford terrace


We had to pay a visit, especially since it wasn't too far of a trudge from our hotel. Hong Kong is very walkable and the mild winter weather (you barely needed a light jacket) was energizing instead of the island's usual life-draining climate. It was hard to make up our minds where to stop and it's hard to focus when you're being constantly touted Sixth Street style. I was thinking tapas because I was curious about what cured meats and cheeses they would have, though I was also kind of wowed by Bahama Mama's and Que Pasa not so much for a potentially amazing meal but to see how Chinese might interpret Latin fare.

Then I remembered reading about a German beerhall and that was that. Even though we originally were looking for snacks not a full on meal, the siren song of the massive pork knuckle was too powerful ignore. But we couldn't find the restaurant anywhere. It turns out that King Ludwig is a chain affiliated with the same parent company, King Parrot, the Chinese B.R. Guest, as many of the Knutsford Terrace restaurants but wasn't on the premises. Even better, it was directly across the street from our hotel via an underground footpath. We hotfooted it back quickly as it was getting late for a Sunday.

King ludwig interior

The upstairs section was surprisingly full, and no, not with expats, but predominately Asian patrons, possibly tourists but definitely not horrible Westerners who can't bear to eat local food. These multi-culti restaurants are really geared towards Hong Kongers and I had no problem justifying bratwurst over lap cheong for a night. We were seated on the less populated main level near the long wooden tables, semi-open kitchen and stage, yes, stage. I had been surprised the entire vacation how Christmas decoration crazy they were in S.E. Asia, and King Ludwig's was no exception. I wouldn't have imagined anything less from a pseudo-German establishment.

And it wouldn't be Hong Kong without a live Filipino band (it's a known fact that they are the showmen of the continent). This group appeared to be made up of three sisters and a middle aged dude on a keyboard, for all I know he was their father. James was the only one in the entire restaurant who clapped after sassy renditions of Bette Davis Eyes, Daniel, and We Are Family.

King ludwig sausage

So, pork knuckle was a must. That would've been plenty for the two of us, combined with a pint of house brew. But James also ordered a spicy sausage that turned out to be an unusually long chile-flecked hot dog. I didn't sample any because frankfurters always give me a stomachache and I'd already suffered enough intestinal trauma that week.

King ludwig carving

You wouldn't think there was much affinity between German and Asian food but compared to Filipino lechon there is middle ground with the pork knuckle. I've also had a version in Hunan restaurants. And interestingly, we were sitting next to a Pinoy family who yep, had the meaty dish on their table. It was certainly large enough to feed a small group. And our santa hat-clad waitress even carved it tableside for us.

Our neighbors seemed surprised that we also ordered the pork knuckle and kept ogling us, which weirded out James because he's a grump and has childhood issues. When he was a kid Filipino relatives made a fuss over him liking rice, "oh, look he eats rice" like only Filipinos eat rice, when duh, the entire world enjoys the grain. This was similar to what appeared to be going on here, like only Filipinos eat pork knuckle and how could we know about it. Personally, I don't care who wants to claim what food. Like I said, issues.

(Speaking of the Philippines, at some point during this trip James mentioned possibly visiting Manila on business during 2009 because his company had acquired another in that city, and that maybe I could tag along and we'd schedule a side excursion to Thailand to make up for our disappointing vacation. When I brought this up later, he pretended like he hadn't said it so I am repeating it here so that it becomes public record. I've always wanted to go to the Philippines and just to be a pain he's vowed to never set foot in the country. We'll see.)

King ludwig pork knuckle

The pork was all I had hoped for, the right balance of crisp skin to fatty bits and juicy meat. Even the potatoes were winsome; I'm pretty sure because they were deep-fried. Why not Bavarian treats in the tropics?

King ludwig exterior

Strange solo alfresco table.

King Ludwig Beerhall * 32, KCR East TST Station, Hong Kong

MOS Burger

I’ve said it before but I’m no burger aficionado, either I like one or I don’t. MOS was more important to me for the foreign chain unavailable in the U.S. factor.  It’s the type of place that will randomly show up in NYC some day and there will be guaranteed lines out the door.

Mos spicy cheeseburger

Maybe I should’ve gone for one of the burgers that replaces the bun with rice patties but I was lured by the Spicy MOS Cheeseburger.

Initially, I freaked when I mistook the melty white cheese for mayonnaise (you never know with those Japanese). The spice comes from a mild sienna-hued sauce full of minced onion. There’s kind of a lot happening on this burger–look at that massive tomato slice–so much so that the meat barely registered. I’m just not a burger purist, I guess because it didn’t bother me.

Mos burger combo

It should be noted that this was very slow fast food. We waited about 15 minutes before having our food brought out (I do appreciate that fast food chains, Carl’s Jr. too, bring your order to you. They are also very obsessive about clearing tables and removing any loose napkins, fry bags and the like while you are still sitting). I don’t know if that’s part of the MOS concept or simply how things were done at Ngee Ann City in Singapore.

MOS Burger * Ngee Ann City, 391B Orchard Rd., Singapore


1/2 If Food Republic, a glorified food court, nearly made me crap myself with glee, then StraitsKitchen…um, I don’t like where this metaphor is going. Let’s just say that it is the most awesome buffet in the universe. Eating in malls and hotels isn’t shameful in Singapore and I must admit that the Hyatt knows what they’re doing. In Beijing, we tried Made in China, a similar concept that served Northern Chinese dishes. StraitsKitchen also brings local fare under one roof, and presents everything slickly yet with remarkable authenticity.

Straits kitchen interior

Different styles of food, including Indian, Malay, soups, Chinese roasted meats and chicken rice, desserts, tropical fruits and juices, and more, were featured at individual stations.

I only regret that 9pm reservations were the only time we could finagle same day. They have two seatings and the first was fully booked. The problem being that we eat way too slow and leisurely to cram enough food into an hour and a half. I felt half-frantic the whole time, wanting to sample as many things as possible without filling up (after my super power fantasy of being able to speak and understand all languages in the world, my number one grotesque desire would be to eat and never get full or absorb the calories). Just because I like to order lots of food doesn’t mean I can actually eat it all.

Straits kitchen popiah
My first interaction pissed me off but I quickly got over it. I walked up to the popiah station where the guy spreads out the crepe batter and makes the roll custom for you from scratch and as I was waiting a clueless Australian woman walked up and asked a million questions about what these were, then decided she wanted one so he started making ours at the same time. But then she made a fuss about not eating shrimp and not liking spice and next thing I knew he had made our two rolls exactly the same. Not all white women hate shrimp and chiles. The New Yorker in me would’ve made him re-make mine but I’m not a total bitch, and time was wasting. Instead, I brought it back to the table, sulked and unhappily picked at the half-assed popiah not made my way.

Straits kitchen chicken rice

No time for tears, though. I moved on quickly to Hainanese chicken rice. I couldn’t fill up on all that rice, nice and chicken brothy as it was. I didn’t think I was going to have time to fit in this Singaporean classic during my week in town so I was happy for this quickie.

Straits kitchen indian food

James picked out some Indian food for us to share. That’s fish head curry on the left and I think tandoori chicken, biryani and something orange on the right. Bok choy and char kway teow are hiding in the background.

Straits kitchen malay food

Malay, my favorite. James is not so crazy about the belachan-based cuisine but I can’t get enough of the strong flavors. One of the things I appreciated about this restaurant was not dumbing down or simplifying and the offering of appropriate condiments. This plate includes beef rendang, sayur lodeh (vegetables in coconut curry), kari ayam (chicken curry) and sambal prawn.

Straits kitchen malay station

The Malay station, conveniently located closest to our table, had those tiny olive-sized limes, numerous sambals, a pineapple-cucumber achar, and more that I’m forgetting. I think that wooden bucket that looks to be filled with rocks actually contains buah keluak, a toxic nut used in Peranakan cooking. Yep, definitely going for authenticity and atmospherics.

Straits kitchen chile crab and satay

Moving on to Singapore with chile crab and the necessary fried mantou. Also, a few sticks of satay.

Straits kitchen laksa

My capacity was dwindling but James brought over a bowl of super lemak laksa and I couldn’t let it go uneaten. I think he went a little wild with the garnishes.

Straits kitchen sweets

A melting pot of desserts. I’m a freak who doesn’t like fruit even fresh beautiful tropical fruit, so just the foreign sweets for me. I had a hard time narrowing it down to just these five. Clockwise from far left: Indonesian lapis legit, Nonya ang koo, Hong Kong egg tart, Nonya kueh dadar (my favorite—I love the color green and hate that any American dessert that color is minty. I prefer my green goodies flavored with pandan) and Chinese peanut pancake.

StraitsKitchen * Grand Hyatt, 10 Scotts Rd., Singapore

House of Sundanese Food

1/2 We got this idea that we needed to eat Indonesian fried chicken, I think it was based on this amazing glistening, crisp-skinned photo accompanying a recipe we stumbled on while browsing at a bookstore. But Singapore is not Indonesia.

House of sundanese

And we took our chances at House of Sundanese Food at Suntec City, right next to a Kenny Rogers Roasters (the chain only exists in S.E. Asia). The setup was strange. Most of the sit down mall restaurants were flashy and hyper-stylized, this place was raggedy and makeshift. There were plenty of a la carte options but the waitress who also seemed to be the owner kept pushing combo meals, which were considerably cheaper. And one happened to feature fried chicken. James went with that and I picked a rendang version not really knowing what other bits and bobs would come with the featured entrée.

A drink also came with the set meal, but we weren’t offered choices but had grass jelly nearly forced on us. I discovered that grass jelly is one of the few things on earth that I can’t stand the taste of. The brown squiggles taste like bitter gelatinous dirt. As the room began to fill up I peeked at everyone else’s beverages and no one was drinking grass jelly, just lime juice. I would’ve killed for a sweet, citrusy lime juice.

House of sundanese rendang combo

Anyway, the food turned out to be average, nothing to get excited about. The chicken (not pictured) wasn’t as crackly as it could be. My beef rendang was fine, super rich and falling apart. There was also a soupy vegetable curry and a very tasty, most likely terribly unhealthy bean curd ring that had been fried into lacy crispness and drenched in a creamy, spicy peanut sauce.
The dinner was adequate but we were both left feeling unsatisfied. I ended up eating satay and prata later to compensate and James stopped at Carl’s Jr.

House of Sundanese Food * Suntec City, 3 Temasek Blvd., Singapore