How to find food for your trip

foodresearch

For me, and, i suspect, for many people, food is a very important part of travelling. Many will wander weary miles just to satisfy their taste buds, myself no less. In fact, to me, the food part has an equal weight to the rest of the sightseeing experience, so i spare no effort to make sure that every meal on a trip will be good, and i mean EVERY meal (other than breakfast provided by the hotel). That means i will do prior research on where and even what i will have for my meals. Since I started doing this, my trips have become much more satisfying than those times when I left everything to chance. The best restaurant may be right under your nose without your knowing it and what a pity that would be.

What i think most people will do is to check TripAdvisor. I do too, though it’s not always the most reliable source for food reviews. I think the best reviews are those by the locals themselves, which is usually not the case on TripAdvisor (sorry to say this but I would trust a review on, say, Japanese food by an Asian more than I would someone from the western world). The results on TripAdvisor are often skewed in favour of restaurants nearer to tourist attractions and those that have an English menu. So, in addition to referencing TripAdvisor, I would go on to check if there are native food review websites.

In the case of Japan (where I’m going very soon), I found tabelog.com, which basically made TripAdvisor redundant. The restaurants recommended on TripAdvisor were not always as highly rated, according to the Japanese reviewers on tabelog.com. Also, there are many more restaurants reviewed, and the store information available is much more comprehensive and accurate (especially the name of the restaurant in Japanese characters which you may need for identifying the restaurant, and the pinpoint location on a map). The entire website is in Japanese of course, but with Google translate, there is no problem for anyone to be able to understand.

For North America, I found yelp to be useful. For Australia and New Zealand, urbanspoon did the job. For Singapore, hungrygowhere is the go to website. Often times, blogs provide the best information on where to find good food. For Hong Kong, I basically followed the recommendation of a single blogger and it worked well. Ultimately, you should base your decision on multiple sources and don’t just count on TripAdvisor.

By the way, if you’re curious about the food in the photos above, in clockwise direction from the top left:

  • Goose liver at Erhardt, Szeged, Hungary
  • Tapas (grilled cheese and mushroom that tasted heavenly) at El Majuelo, Salamanca, Spain
  • Beef steak at Dom Beisl (one star Michelin), Vienna, Austria
  • Seafood casserole (with rice at the bottom, very tasty and filling) at Restaurante Regional de Sintra, Portugal

Amazon product recommendation – Mason jar food sealer

masonjar

Ball Mason Jars are canning jars, intended for home canning of food. To do that, the traditional method was to heat the jar and allowing it to cool. Due to steam escaping from the jar, a vacuum is created when it cools down and this keeps the lid tightly sealed over the jar. The removal of air and thus oxygen in the jar prevents mold and some bacteria (which causes food to spoil) to live, allowing the food to last longer.

jarsealerziplockstarterkit

There is now an easier way to remove air from the jar. The FoodSaver Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer is an attachment that fits on top of the Mason Jars. It is a simple device that allows you to suck air out of the jar, and you don’t actually have to use the FoodSaver System (quite costly) to do that. I learned this from Salad in a Jar. You just need to get the Ziploc Vacuum Starter Kit.

foodmasonjar

I use the jars to store salad (keeps it fresh for a week instead of lasting just 2 days), honey lemon preserve (vacuum optional), sliced ham, evaporated filled milk, sauces, coffee beans and so on. They are almost infinitely reusable and will save you a lot of money in the long run.

I cannot understand why retailers don’t bring in Mason Jars to sell at mass market prices. A quick check on the internet shows that online sellers generally sell each Mason Jar at S$8! That is A LOT more expensive than the price on Amazon (US$17.90 for 12 jars which is only about S$2 per jar). Unfortunately Amazon no longer offers the free shipping to Singapore on this item. Thank goodness i managed to get the free shipping, but the 12 jars i have are barely enough to go around now. You still do get free shipping with the Jar Sealer and Ziplock Vacuum Starter Kit. By the way, the Mason Jars come in regular and wide-mouth versions. Get the wide-mouth version, which obviously has a wider mouth that makes filling or removing food from the jar easier.

Update 25/3/2016: i recommend getting this suction pump from Taobao instead of the Ziploc Vacuum Starter Kit.

Here are the links for your convenience:
Wide-Mouth Mason Jars

Wide Mouth Jar Sealer

Ziplock Vacuum Starter Kit

iHerb product recommendation – flour and baking needs

Believe it or not, i often ship flour from iHerb.com. They carry flour mostly from 3 brands – King Arthur Flour, Bob’s Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills. If you’re into baking, you would have come across the acronym KAF when you browse forums on baking. After a while you’d realize that KAF stands for King Arthur Flour, a highly regarded brand for flour. Naturally, you pay a premium for this branded flour, and unfortunately iHerb only offers the much-more-expensive organic variant (US$9.20 per 5 pound/2.27kg bag). The Market Place supermarket, and sometimes Cold Storage sells the non-organic 5 pound bag of Unbleached flour at S$10.30, so if you swear by KAF, the Market Place supermarket is your best bet (just for comparison sake, it’s only US$3.98 ~S$5.45 on Walmart).

BobsAP

Any self-respecting baker will recommend the use of unbleached flour. While i can’t confirm this, i presume that most, if not all the local branded non-organic flour are chemically bleached (since they do not state otherwise) Update: they now label their flour as unbleached. If you care about eating non-chemically treated flour, you could, again, buy from the Market Place/Cold Storage supermarket, or iHerb. The Market Place/Cold Storage sells Pillsbury Best (from USA) Unbleached All-Purpose (S$7.40 S$8.05 for 5 pounds) and Waitrose branded (from UK) range of flour. Update 4/3/2016: Fairprice Xtra or Finest also sell Pillsbury Best Unbleached, for only S$7.20. On the other hand, the cheapest unbleached All-Purpose flour on iHerb is this one – Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached All-Purpose White Flour (US$5.64 ~S$7.75 for 5 pounds). These unbleached flour are just slightly more expensive than the local branded flour, definitely recommended.

iHerb offers a very extensive range of Bob’s Red Mill products. While they are also sold at Cold Storage, iHerb’s is probably more comprehensive. You can have fun trying them out – whole wheat pastry flour, kamut, spelt, flax seed meal etc.

buttermilk walnutoil shortening

Other items you might be interested to get from iHerb for baking are buttermilk powder (saves you a lot of hassle from having to buy the fresh ones from the supermarket which you may not be able to use up each time), oilshortening (don’t use Crisco!), vital wheat gluten and baking powder (i find that the local brand Bake King Baking Powder has a tart taste, and more importantly, it does not state that it contains no aluminium, which poses a health risk).

Update: it appears iHerb may not ship Bob’s Red Mill’s unbleached all purpose flour anymore. It is forever out of stock, but when you check the stock availability with your location set to the US, you will discover that it is available. I suspect it is due to exclusive distributorship agreements, whereby iHerb is no longer allowed to ship to Singapore. Anyway, since unbleached all purpose flour is now readily available from local supermarkets, and the price is reasonable, there is no need to buy from iHerb.

Update 24/3/2016: I managed to ship Bob’s Red Mill’s unbleached all purpose flour from iHerb again. I find that it smells and taste better than the Pillsbury flour sold in local supermarkets, which is also imported from the US.

Update 16/8/2016: I think my shipment of Bob’s Red Mill’s unbleached all purpose flour in July was the very last one. iHerb has discontinued the product, as well as most other flour products for Singapore customers.

Update 2 Mar 2017: My current favourite flour is CJ Beksul, which is sold for S$2.10 per 1kg at NTUC Fairprice. I have no idea whether it is unbleached, but it tastes pretty good to me and is actually cheaper than those local branded flour. Anyway, here’s an interesting experiment on comparing KAF and Beksul.

CJ Beksul

Check out iHerb.com now for more products you will be using from day to day.

iHerb product recommendation – spices and foodstuff

If you’re ordering stuff on iHerb.com and have spare capacity for the shipment (up to 6.3kg), you might want to consider getting herbs and seasoning. There are plenty for you to choose from. Even if you don’t have anything in mind to get, you could try searching for the best rated or best selling herbs to see if anything piques your interest. That was how i ended up getting the Drogheria & Alimentari Organic Provence Herbs Mill which is made up of some of the commonly used herbs in French and Italian cooking. It works great in pasta. The pricing on iHerb is competitive (or cheaper in some cases) with what is found in local supermarkets, so if you want to try products from a different brand than those commonly found here, you can do so through iHerb.

A sample of other herbs i have gotten from iHerb:

chives
Frontier Natural Chopped Chives US$3.87 (4g), tastes close to fresh chives, handy and probably a lot cheaper to have it in dried form.

nutmeg

Drogheria & Alimentari Nutmeg Mill US$3.29 (40g), cheaper than what is found in the supermarket. Going to try making steak marinade with this.

taco

Frontier Natural Taco Seasoning, Salt-Free Blend US$2.93 (66g), for a Mexican/Spanish taste occasionally.

If you’re a health freak (i’m somewhat one), try Himalayan Pink Salt. The pricing on iHerb doesn’t compare favourably with what you find on Amazon (still within reasonable range though), but Amazon doesn’t ship Himalayan Pink Salt to Singapore, so iHerb is still your best bet (definitely cheaper than what’s available in Singapore). The best value Himalayan Pink Salt are Aloha Bay Himalayan Crystal Salt, Coarse US$5.90 (510g), which requires the use of a salt mill, and Fun Fresh Foods Himalayan Pink Sea Salt US$10.70 (909g) which comes in fine crystal form.

alohabayhimalayan funfreshhimalayan

Or try Celtic Sea Salt, which is “Doctor Recommended Since 1976”. I buy the ‘Light Grey Celtic’ version which is coarse and i grind it directly onto food for seasoning. You do have to bake the crystals to dry it before use because it comes in a slightly moist form.

celticseasalt

The other food product i recommend getting is Y.S. Eco Bee Farms Raw Honey US$17.86 (1.36kg). This is an organic, true raw honey. It isn’t the best honey available out there, but it is probably the best value. It is super thick and creamy, doesn’t smell nor taste so good on its own actually, but great when made into a drink, with lemon for example. Once you’ve gotten used to this you may not want to go back to those processed and watery honey.

rawhoney

These are just a small sample of herbs and foodstuff on iHerb. Check out iHerb.com now for more products you will be using from day to day.

Eat/Drink

Food is obviously one of the most blogged about topics on the internet. I’m sure everyday there are new, young bloggers starting their new blogs on food review. I’m not going to be one of those (though I am young) who focus on reviewing food in overpriced, fancy restaurants. On my blog I aim to share with you about food that deliver a high level of satisfaction without costing you an arm and a leg. This does not necessarily mean it’s always about cheap food, it’s about value-for-money food experience. This includes home cooked food, which gives you the highest bang for the buck (and sense of accomplishment).

DIY Water Filtration

hcp1

We normally take for granted that the tap water we use for drinking is safe. It should be, but risks remain in the possibility of contamination as water flows through the water distribution system. While boiling water kills the microorganisms in the water that presents the greatest danger, it does not remove sediments and metals such as lead. In fact, boiling water will increase the concentration of harmful elements should they be present, since part of the water has been vapourized. This is where water filtration comes into the picture. For practical reasons, for the home, it usually comes down to choosing between Ceramic Carbon and Reverse Osmosis water filters.

Factors to consider when choosing between Ceramic Carbon and Reverse Osmosis (RO) water filters:

– RO produces unmatched pure water given that it has extremely small membrane pore size compared to those found on Ceramic Carbon filters

– Carbon Ceramic water filters do have very good performance even though it trails behind RO

– RO produces water that is lacking in mineral and possibly slightly acidic, both of which are not of great concern since the minerals can be obtained from food and the human body regulates acidity extremely well

– The RO filtration process produces more waste water than it does drinkable water. However, the waste water can typically be used for household cleaning chores

– The initial setup cost of RO is very high compared to Ceramic Carbon water filters, and maintenance cost is probably also higher (Ceramic Carbon filter candles are easily washed and changed whereas maintaining the RO membranes probably require professional servicing)

In view of these considerations, i settled on the Ceramic Carbon water filter, since they are good enough for me, and they are extremely good for the price. The product i picked was through referral – Doulton. The performance claims (in particular >99.99% bacteria and cyst removal which should make boiling water redundant) look very convincing. Here’s what it costs:

– Water filter housing: £48.65 (S$95.95 at time of writing)

– Filter Candle: £16.27 (S$32.09 at time of writing)

Each candle is said to last 6 months, but can probably be used for longer, depending on the household water consumption. All well and good, but there is one problem. The diverter valve (for switching between filtered or non-filtered water) may not fit your kitchen tap faucet, as was my case. I suspect the majority of the kitchen faucets installed here do not conform to standard sizes (the diverter valve would fit onto a 55/64″ male threaded spout but the commonly used Taiwan or China made kitchen faucets here are smaller). To fix this problem, you can get a universal tap adaptor (3rd item on the list – note that the inner rubber ring, meant to fit onto a tube or a much smaller spout, can and should be removed, then it can be fitted onto the kitchen faucet).

So there you have it, DIY water filtration at no more than S$200 with shipping cost included. It’s so easy to install that you don’t need to contract anyone to do it for you. Don’t be duped into paying more for a similar system (very likely a lesser system). The Doulton Ultracarb candle can fit into other housing units as well, but i doubt they will be cheaper than what Doulton themselves produce which is of high quality. Don’t buy a water filter that doesn’t tell you exactly what it filters!