True Singapore Food: Fried Bee Hoon

Fried Bee Hoon (rice vermicelli) gets my vote as being the national dish of Singapore. The “official” national dish of Singapore is Hainanese Chicken Rice, but I think the popularity of chicken rice has slowly been eroded away over the years. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about Fried Bee Hoon that makes me want to eat it every time I see a stall selling it. There’s an instant sense of connection with it. It’s the food that needs the least convincing to choose for breakfast. Anyway, the ubiquity of the so called “Economic” Bee Hoon food stall says something about the popularity of Fried Bee Hoon in Singapore, and the same cannot be said about the neighbouring Malaysia.

Fried Bee Hoon is cheap, typically costing under S$2.50 if you order it with 2 simple sides of vege and egg. If you do it at home, it is even cheaper. Much cheaper. A 400gm pack of Bee Hoon costs under $1.50, and it is enough to serve 6 adults. I often buy Bee Hoon from Malaysia, where it costs less than RM3 per pack, which is under S$1.

It is very easy to prepare Fried Bee Hoon at home. I basically learnt to do it by trial and error, and it is more or less the same as how Kenneth Goh (Guaishushu) does it, so i won’t reiterate the recipe here. I love his recipes, by the way. The irony about Fried Bee Hoon is that it is actually more cooked than it is fried. It took me a long time to figure this out, because i always assumed that Fried Bee Hoon is as its name suggests, fried. If you only fried it, you will end up with very stiff Bee Hoon, likely inedible. It requires cooking for some time to soften the Bee Hoon. Anyway, to arrive at tasty Fried Bee Hoon, besides the regular seasoning – light and dark soya sauce and optionally oyster sauce, you could try adding a bit of cooking wine and even chicken stock.

The side dishes i love to have together with Fried Bee Hoon are fried eggs, stir fried cabbage, fried tofu and luncheon meat. These are pretty easy to prepare also. To reduce the oil used for frying the tofu, you can use the egg frying pan to do the frying. Use only as much oil as needed to cover up to half the height of the tofu. Thereafter, you just need to flip it over to fry the other side. Soaking the tofu in brine the night before helps to improve the flavour. Or if you’re lazy (you are), buy the pre-fried tofu, and just heat it up will do. Once you get enough practice, i would say it takes about 45 minutes to prepare the Fried Bee Hoon and all the side items. The logical order is to start with the stir fried cabbage, while frying the tofu at the same time. Next, cook the Fried Bee Hoon, then fry the luncheon meat. Finally, fry the eggs just before serving.

Stir fried cabbage
Stir fried cabbage
Fry Tofu on one side, then flip and fry the other side
Fry Tofu on one side, then flip and fry the other side
Luncheon meat
Luncheon meat

Not everyone will have the luxury of time to do this often, but as often as you can do it, you can enjoy a luxurious, true Singaporean breakfast, good for the entire family, for no more than S$7.50 (Luncheon meat $2.50, Bee Hoon $1.50, Cabbage $1.50, Tofu $1.00, Eggs $1.00).

Ngoh Hiang (meat roll and fritters) with Fried Bee Hoon. Best.
Ngoh Hiang (meat roll and fritters) with Fried Bee Hoon. Best.

4 things i love about Indonesian food

1. Beef

Indonesians don’t need to use Wagyu beef, or Angus beef, or any specific breed whatsoever to serve you a nice beef dish. I suspect you can just hand them any beef, any cut, and they can make it taste good. Indonesians are experts at marinating beef. You will not be able to find any beef that has a hint of raw odour. There are many different types of beef dishes in Indonesia, but the most popular ones are probably Dendeng (jerky), Iga (ribs) and Buntut (oxtail). I think Indonesian Beef Oxtail, whether Sop Buntut (soup) or Buntut Goreng (fried) are hard to beat – the best in the world!

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Buntut Goreng from Dapur Dahapati, Bandung
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Awesome Sop Buntut, also from Dapur Dahapati

2. Grilled food

Bakar or grilling is the mainstay of Indonesian cuisine. Fish, chicken and duck are the most popular grilled dishes. It takes some skill to grill to perfection – evenly and slightly charred but not burnt, and Indonesians have no lack of such skill. Equally important for grilled meat is the marinade, and Indonesians do this really well. The taste is not like the Indonesian food found in Singapore that is typically singularly sweet. It has the right and rich blend of sweet and saltiness.

Gurame Bakar
Gurame Bakar

3. Sambal

Sambal is an Indonesian creation, so naturally they make the best sambal. The sambal is usually good enough to even eat on its own, since, anyway, it will mask the taste of whatever you’re eating.

Various sambal and sauces
Various sambal and sauces

4. Bubur Sumsum

Bubur sumsum is a soft paste made of rice flour. It was love at first bite and i found myself wanting more of this smooth, fragrant and slightly salty tasting paste. It resembles the Chwee Kueh from Singapore, except that it is thinner and salty. It is usually taken together with other items, as in the case of Bubur Madura (pictured below), and it has the effect of balancing the sweet taste of the other items. Indonesian Cendol is made in a similar way – slightly salty, which, in my opinion, enhances the overall taste.

Bubur Sumsum is the white colour paste at the 3 o'clock position
Bubur Sumsum is the white colour paste at the 3 o’clock position

Surabaya trip highlights

The most “shiok” (enjoyable) part of the trip was being able to leave my kids to the care of my parents every night while me and my wife head over to the hotel pub or lounge for a drink. The pub experience at The Maj in Hotel Majapahit was one of the best. Unfortunately there was no live music on the night we were there (Sunday), but still, the atmosphere was great, and the price was a steal. A pitcher of Bintang draught beer was IDR 150k (S$15.80), while a plate of Nachos was only IDR 50k (S$5.30).

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There isn’t quite enough to see or do in Surabaya, other than shopping and eating, so I had to make the hotel stay an activity in itself. Hotel Majapahit and Hotel Tugu Malang both turned out go be great. Continue reading Surabaya trip highlights

Bangkok trip report card

Everything went as planned, except for improvements made on the itinerary. I was originally going to give Krua Apsorn a miss, but after reading various rave reviews by foodie bloggers, and since I didn’t think I would be in Bangkok so often, I decided I had to go this round. Also, i dropped Platinum Mall out of the itinerary as Central World alone satisfied all our shopping needs.

Summary of food/drink places visited over 4 days:
Chatuchak weekend market
Or Tor Kor market
Sao Ching Cha eateries – Roast pork rice, traditional coffee, grilled chicken and sticky rice with mango
Yaowarat street stalls
Eiah Sae coffee shop
T&K seafood
Hilton Millennium 360 rooftop bar
Chu chocolate bar and cafe
Mae Varee
Taling Pling
Coffee Beans by Dao
Boat noodles at Victory Monument
Krua Apsorn
BREW @ Asiatique
Pad Thai at Sala Daeng
After You
Somboon
Eathai

Of these places, I highly recommend going to Krua Apsorn (a must!), Taling Pling, T&K seafood, Mae Varee and After You. Continue reading Bangkok trip report card

6 things I love about Thai Food

1. Spice, Sauce and Soup

What can i say, Thais have perfect mastery over the spices they put in their food, the creation of sauces or gravy that really goes well with food, and the concoction of soup that are mind-boggling appetizing. I was never a fan of the “Thai sauce” that is commonly served in Singapore – it is usually too sweet and too thick. My trip to Bangkok has changed my perception of “Thai sauce”. The version served here has just the right balance of sweet, sour and spicy, at just the right thickness.

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Thai sauce over popiah, which, by the way, was AWESOME. This was sold at a street side-walk stall along Yaowarat road.

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A simple Asparagus in oyster sauce dish at Taling Pling. The sauce was surprisingly nice, without having a strong cooking-wine taste to it that is so common in typical Chinese Tze-Char dishes.

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Steamed White Snapper in garlic lemon grass gravy (more like soup), a popular dish at T&K Seafood. The dish was actually served cold, which put me off initially, but as the dish warmed up through the heat from the burner underneath, it became spectacularly flavourful. You just want to keep drinking the soup. Continue reading 6 things I love about Thai Food

Perfect weekend getaway in Johor

Pontian is about 1.5 hours from Singapore if there is no jam during border crossing. I initially wanted to go via Woodlands, but on learning there is heavy traffic at the causeway (through the LTA signboard), I immediately changed my route and headed towards the second link. I got my wife to verify via the webcams that the traffic was bad and indeed it was so. On the other hand, there was hardly any traffic at Tuas. Tuas is nearer to Pontian anyway.

I set my GPS to bring me to Kheng Guan Hiong, the Kopitiam that is a favourite among locals in Pontian. Unfortunately, the GPS coordinates didn’t seem accurate, so by the time I found my way there (with just a little bit of guessing) they were just closed (4pm). We went to another coffee shop (a modern looking one run by youngsters) and sad to say, we couldn’t tell the difference between the Kopi and Teh that was served. They were way too milky. The Kaya butter toast was cold and soggy. I think there’s no point for me to mention the name of this place. Continue reading Perfect weekend getaway in Johor

Best value ramen fix in Singapore

Ramen is expensive in Singapore, typically ranging from $12 to $18. In Japan, it is seldom more than 1000 yen ($11.80). It is hard to justify paying so much for a bowl of ramen in Singapore, and when I’m having a craving, nothing makes me feel more satisfied than the Tsukemen from Menya Musashi.

The Tsukemen costs $14.90 and comes with free noodle upsize of up to 5 times the normal portion (120g each). Sharing of the noodles with young kids is allowed, so that works well for us. Between the 4 of us, we normally have a total of 7 or 8 times the noodles.

I like the noodles – it is slightly on the harder side, which is my preference, and it never sticks to the teeth. The broth is inconsistent – it varies from branch to branch and could be different every visit. It is sometimes too salty, other times somewhat dilute, or sometimes lukewarm. Nevertheless, it is still good enough. At least, the use of MSG in the broth isn’t very obvious. I don’t fancy the char siew. It is undoubtedly made from frozen pork, tastes stale and on the dry side. The soft boiled egg – nothing special and I can do it better at home. Continue reading Best value ramen fix in Singapore

Hidden Gem: Taste of India

“Hidden gem” is one of the most over-used phrases that newbie food reviewers like to use. It sounds almost obnoxious to me, and because of that, I’m going to use it (well I’m a newbie food reviewer too).

I originally intended to write about my favourite Fried Bee Hoon and Prata stalls, the real hidden gems that i have been able to enjoy for 5 years when i stayed near these eateries. Alas, when i visited them again last week, things are not the same anymore. While the stalls are still around, the Indian stall no longer sells Prata but only rice and dishes. The Fried Bee Hoon stall has been passed down to the younger generation and the Bee Hoon tasted noticeably different (the passing of baton happened more than a year ago but the change in the taste has become more obvious now).

I learned a few lessons from this. Firstly, I should have blogged about them when I had the chance. Call me selfish, but I was hesitant to let others learn about these eateries for fear that too many people find out about them and the food quality deteriorates when they have difficulty coping with the surge in customer numbers. Ok I admit this is a far fetched idea since there are not enough readers of this blog (yet) to create that surge. Anyway, good food naturally attracts people on its own and both these stalls have their steady pool of loyal customers. It really pains me to find out the best prata in Singapore (to me at least) is no more. I have yet to find out what really happened but I will try to hunt down the uncle who makes the best prata ever when I have the chance. (Update: was told the prata uncle has gone on to doing another job partly due to health reasons, and also the stall could no longer manage the cost of employing a prata chef.) Continue reading Hidden Gem: Taste of India

A love affair with Wonton noodles

Even though the interest in Wonton noodles may have faded in this age where foreign food is considered more hip, Wonton noodles will make a comeback some day, I’m sure. Think about the whole Wonton noodles eating experience for a moment: stuffing the skinny and chewy noodles into your mouth and slurping the soup that gets picked up together with the noodles, scooping up more soup to wash down the noodles, then eating, at regular intervals, the Wontons that pack an explosive burst of tastiness. The 3 elements combined gives perfect satiation. I especially love the light and crisp taste of the soup.

The best Wonton noodles has to be that from where it originated, from the Pearl River Delta region. Well, I’ve really only sampled the ones from Hong Kong and I must say, it is hard to beat. To me, the stand out feature of the Wonton noodles from Hong Kong is the soup. It has a very sharp seafood taste to it that you don’t get elsewhere. The noodles are also very distinctive – very fine and chewy. Unfortunately I don’t quite remember the Wonton. The same applies to all Wonton noodles I’ve tried I guess. I’m not particular about the Wonton as long as the filling isn’t too small and it doesn’t contain funny ingredients like water chestnut.

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The Wonton noodles from Mak’s Noodle (麦奀云吞面世家)

I couldn’t make out which ingredients impart the seafood taste to the soup. I Googled and found out that dried fish is one of them. I was so curious about it that i went to Victoria Wholesale Centre and bought dried fish the very next day. Well, i probably didn’t get the proportion right, but the soup i made does resemble the HK Wonton noodles soup somewhat. I will definitely try making the soup again – i’m imagining it will go well with HK style luncheon meat and egg noodles (港式餐蛋面), perfect for breakfast.

The Malaysian version of Wonton noodles is quite different, with slightly thicker noodles, and coming in both dry (which is usually the preferred one) and soup variations. They are very popular in the Bentong and Raub regions in Pahang. The main dialect group of the Chinese population there is Cantonese, which explains why. I had the priviledge of sampling the most popular Wonton noodles stalls from Bentong and Raub respectively, and they were fantastic.

I like the presentation by 开记云吞面 at Bentong, which makes it look very appetizing. Once you begin eating the noodles, you just can’t stop!

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The soup had resemblance to the HK version, though it was a little too diluted. It was satisfying none the less.

The noodles at 佈记云吞面 were even more chewy (or ‘Q’), and i dare say it was about the best i’ve had in Malaysia. Unfortunately, they ran out of char siew, and chicken strips were the substitution (still pretty good). The sauce was very tasty – it was more of fragrance than saltiness, and so it does not distract one from the quality of the noodles.

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wpid-dsc_0086_wm_600x397.jpgThe soup version was less impressive. It was basically chicken soup, which was a little boring. I’d suggest skipping this altogether.

佈记云吞面 is no longer located near the market (pasar). They are now located at the new food centre, at GPS coordinates 3.798236, 101.857382.

While you’re there, you should also try the bean curd from one of the neighbouring stalls. It is so silky smooth and soft, and comes with very nice braised sauce.

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Now, my stance on Wonton noodles with ketchup? No offence, but no, and no.

5 must-go food places when i’m back in my hometown

I think everyone will agree with me on this: food is one of the first things that come to your mind when you are back to your hometown. There are too much good food at my hometown – SS2, Petaling Jaya and the surrounding region. Think SS2 and some food places will come to mind – SS2 durian, Restoran Murni and Wai Sek Gai (为食街). If i had to shortlist the 5 places i won’t miss each time i go home, this will be it:

1. Lok Mei Tong (六味汤) from SS2 Wai Sek Gai (为食街)

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The double boiled longan based soup is oh-so-soothing, WITHOUT any further addition of sugar syrup when the Lok Mei Tong is put together. The dried winter melon and persimmon strips provide something crunchy and sweet to chew on while drinking the soup. Trust me, you’ll be fishing for these crunchy bits and you’ll down the soup in no time, craving for more.

BTW, the fried fritters from stall no. 1 is very good too.

Address: stall no. 4

2. Chee Cheong Fun (猪肠粉) in curry gravy from Hong Seng Coffeeshop (鸿诚茶餐室)

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The stall is at the very front of the shop, operating only during breakfast hours I believe. I have been eating this since more than 2 decades ago. The curry is thick and soupy, which is necessary for soaking the Chee Cheong Fun (abbreviated as CCF henceforth). It has a very rich taste without an overwhelming coconut taste. Ever since the introduction of CCF with curry soup, I started to like eating CCF, which wasn’t the case before when it was commonly eaten with dark sweet sauce.

Along with the CCF, one must order the bean curd skin (豆皮), a squarish piece that seems like a cross between bean curd and fried gluten (面筋). The bean curd skin is addictive to chew on, and it becomes even more tasty as it soaks up the curry. I have ever encountered the situation where the person ahead of me took five or six pieces (basically everything) leaving me with no bean curd skin!

Address: Jalan 17/29, Seksyen 17

3. Chee Cheong Fun (猪肠粉) in Penang sauce and Yong Tau Fu (酿豆腐) from O&S Restaurant (海天茶餐室)

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Yes, Chee Cheong Fun again! This time it is in Penang style dark sweet shrimp paste sauce. Despite how I dislike CCF in sweet sauce, the Penang sauce works like magic when paired with the CCF. The shrimp paste lends a luring complexity to an otherwise monotonous sweet taste.

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There is a constant queue at the Yong Tau Fu stall. I think the success factor is in the fish paste, which is tasty and firm like minced pork, not the soft white colour and bouncy type which I don’t really like. Needless to say, the bean curd used is also firm and fresh. It is served in some soup, which is unusual for Yong Tau Fu, and it’s actually quite nice to eat the Yong Tau Fu along with some soup.

Address: Jalan 20/14, Taman Paramount, Petaling Jaya

4. Char Siew (叉烧) and Golden Lava Bun (the best translation IMO for 流沙包) from Hee Lai Ton Restaurant (喜来登)

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The char siew is available exclusively during Sunday brunch, and it sells out quickly. Slightly charred but not burnt on the outside, with just the right level of sweetness applied; salty, tender and juicy on the inside. The choice of meat used is more fatty than usual, but if one forgoes being health conscious for 10 minutes, it will be 10 minutes of true bliss with the best char siew ever.

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This remains THE BEST golden lava bun (流沙包) I’ve had, where the ‘lava’ is runny and rich beyond description, and will truly drip (流) as promised.

Address: Level 3, Shaw Parade, Pudu

5. Roti Tissue from Original Kayu SS2

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The claim to fame here must be the roti tissue, which looks like it takes quite a bit of skill to prepare, and no, it’s not just a gimmick, it actually tastes good – crispy, caramelized sugar coated, rich margarine taste and balanced with saltiness.

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The roti boom follows the same formula as the roti tissue and, along with the lentil curry, is very good too.

Address: No. 64, Jalan SS2/10, Petaling Jaya

Honourable mention:

1. SS2 durian

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Durian tastes just the same regardless of where it’s sold, but SS2 became famous for its durian stalls, so much so that there are now purpose-built stalls for selling durians, replacing the temporary tentage from before. The prices are reasonable, and they continue to attract a continuous stream of customers.

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Above: Sultan on the left and Grade AA Mao Shan Wang aka Huang Zhong Huang (皇中皇) on the right. Even though Sultan is already pretty good, it is still far inferior to the HZH.

2. Restoran Chuan Chiew 泉州肉骨茶

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Having been to both the shops in Klang where bak kut teh is said to have originated, this restaurant is the one which we go to instead to have bak kut teh, partly because it’s easier to get to. Along the row of shophouses where this shop is located, there must be at least 3 other shops also selling bak kut teh. We have not tried any of the other shops as we have always been quite satisfied with this one. They have a unique dry version of bak kut teh that comes with slightly sweet thick dark gravy which goes very well with the meat, and with dried octopus imparting a nice fragrance. The soup is refillable and you will really want to drink the soup as it is a very tasty blend of herbs in thick meat broth (like in Japanese Ramen), without any overpowering garlic taste, and it’s actually not salty.

Address: 18, Jalan SS 14/2, Subang Jaya