Surprising Horizons

The Joy of Travel. The Realities of New Experiences.

Bite Size Review: Sanpoutei Ramen

A number of years ago if you mentioned ramen to me I would initially muster up visions of lid peeling and add-boiling-water-to-sachet-contents endeavours. Followed, naturally, by the depressing and soul sapping wait for all the processed ramen things and dried up sachet contents to congeal together to form a cheap and instant artificial flavour buzz to keep you going.

Perhaps those instant ramen cups are one of the worst slights ever bestowed upon a cultural dish in the world. Ever. If we are to point fingers we have to point them at Japan as not only did they invent the insanely delicious fresh and flavourful traditional ramen dishes but they also kicked off the instant ramen industry too. You can even visit the Instant Ramen museum in Yokohama if you so wish.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that ramen in its traditional form and actually created fresh and from scratch with no artificial flavours or cellophane is an amazingly flavourful and filling eating experience.

Sanpoutei Ramen sits underneath the bustling and busy Shaw Plaza on Orchard Road. It’s quite Japanese looking on first impressions, and we managed to get into a booth near the back past the more open front of house. The decor brought me back to being in Japan. Well done interior designers.

So basically ramen is delicious. Good ramen is better than mediocre ramen. Most ramen will hit the spot regardless. But good ramen is what you want. Obviously. And Sanpoutei Ramen has good ramen, in my opinion. Specifically the Tonkotsu ramen variety with which I am most familiar with. I fell in love with this type in Fukuoka and I don’t see why I would try any other types! I will but it will take a lot to deter me from ordering Tonkotsu.

What is Tonkotsu ramen then? Primarily the main difference is the broth which is made of pork bones (tonkotsu actually means “pork bones” in Japanese). It transpires into a creamy, soupy broth which is rich and highly flavourful. Plopped into this amazing base is a heap of noodles (Sanpoutei Ramen uses a beautifully soft noodle), some strips of pork, hard boiled egg, mushrooms, and some green onions. Filling? Yes Tasty, yes? Filling? Yes.

After my 10 years in Asia and as I look forward to my impending move back to Europe I will always endeavour to hit up a ramen place from time to time to refresh my love for this dish that never fails to delight me.

You can find Sanpoutei Ramen here:

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Singapore Food Staples: Roti Prata

On a gloomy, overcast Saturday morning I uberred (soon to be Grabbed) my way to Roti Prata House on Upper Thomson road for some…roti prata.

Roti prata is….a kind of flatbread/pancake which can come with many different fillings. Inspired by south-Indian cuisine it’s found in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia.
Roti means ‘bread’, and prata or paratha means ‘flat’ in the Hindi language. So there. Flat bread.

Roti prata can be served with a myriad of fillings (or toppings) which speaks volumes about the versatility of the dough/butter combination of the bread that they use. I opted for the popular egg and onion combo which comes in at a paltry $2.

All roti prata dishes come with a side bowl of curry to dip merrily away. And merrily away I dipped.

The dough is light and crispy and with the egg and onion combo it makes for a pleasing forkfull. With a slathering of curry on the roti another layer of taste is added on to the whole shindig.

I would probably order the egg, onion, and garlic roti next time to add a little bit more flavour. I found myself wanting a little extra kick of something. The curry, although tasty, was a little lacking or a little thin and the egg and onion combo needs something to help them get over the finish line. Garlic could be the answer. For a day starter roti prata is definitely a cheap and cheerful option to get the day off on the right footing.

The service was prompt and efficient and the food is really cheap. I was going for seconds but some fine workers started grinding boulders in the construction site next door. Next time. Next time. Find The Roti Prata House here:

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Singapore Food Staples: Mee Siam

I meandered towards Robert Mee Siam recently to try out a quite underwhelming (visually) dish called Mee Siam. It was perhaps one of the weirdest (but not in a bad sense) taste experiences so far. “What even is it?” I asked as I experienced the various tastes with each chopstickfull? Let me ask the internet…

Ok, so Mee Siam mean Siamese Noodles in Malay. It’s a bunch of vermicelli noodles (bee hoon) plunged into a shallow bowl of sour sweet gravy accompanied with a boiled egg, chives, and little crunchy airy fried bean curd things. Added to it, is a dollop of sambal chili paste which I found to be more sweet than spicy. Prior to serving some generous squeezing of lime took place.

I accompanied mine with some sugar cane with lemon drink thing. Was nice.

The elderly couple who run the Robert Mee Siam stall were very friendly and the wife half of the partnership was curious about me as I waited for the husband to serve up their pride and joy. And laughed at me when I asked for chopsticks as opposed to the old fork and knife.

The gravy definitely has the most influence in this dish. Made up of (or as the internet tell me) a concoction of rempah spice paste, tamarind and taucheo (salted soy bean) it has a gritty but light texture. It definitely leans towards a sweet sector of the taste spectrum with tart undertones. You can see a few chili flakes floating around in the gravy but it certainly is not spicy (or I’m becoming immune like a hawker centre super hero).

The vermicelli noodles are soft and when eaten with a few crunchy bean curd cubes, some chives, and a bit of egg it actually is a pleasing taste mixture of flavours.

Mixing the sambal chili paste all through the dish makes the most sense and getting everything all mashed around gets the myriad of flavours clambering over each other throughout the meal.

All in all, an interesting and unique dish with some very unexpected and unusual flavours. I think I liked it. But it was weird. I would try it again. I think.
At $3 a serving, it’s a perfect introduction to a dish you may not go out of your way to try.

Find Robert Mee Siam here (the car park outside the Whampoa Food Centre also houses some Blue-crowned hanging parrots at random times):

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Singapore Food Staples: Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak is probably the most boring looking plate you might get in Singapore but it packs a huge amount of flavour in its different elements. Trust me.
Originating in Malaysia, this dish brings together fried chicken, coconut rice, fried egg, dried/fried anchovies, and sambal (a sweet and sometimes slightly spicy sauce). If you’re lucky the odd cucumber slice might be tossed in for good measure.

I found my way to Changi Village (it’s out there Jerry) and queued up at the popular Mizzy Corner to grab my Nasi Lemak. They have a couple of different versions but I just went with the original fried chicken one at $3.50. You can see the different options beside each yellow letter on their stall display.

The fried chicken was succulent and the fried skin gave way into the juicy white meat underneath perfectly. I found that mixing up the different food types led to the best results taste-wise. A little chicken, a little rice, a little sambal? Lovely. A little rice, a little egg, a little anchovies, a little sambal? Beautiful. A bit of cucumber, some chicken, a little egg, and sambal? Not bad at all. The sambal binded a lot of the different foods together into cohesive taste bundles. The anchovies acted as a french fry of sorts with a hint of fishiness but mainly added some nice crunch to a mostly soft dish (even the fried chicken skin had a softness to it).

I just ended up blending everything together with my fork just to get all Forrest Gump on the dish (you never know what you gonna gid). Nasi Lemak is a great stop-gap dish to keep you going during the day as the different elements make up one satisfying but not overly filling dish and you’ll be ready to tackle dinner in a couple (or 5) hours. I recommend!

Changi Village is also a place that is pretty cool and steeped in history. I’ll let you read the small print. Click for bigger below.

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Singapore Food Staples: Fish Head Curry

One of the ones I was not looking forward to on my Singapore Food Staples list was Fish Head Curry. I don’t deal well with seeing the once living creature on a plate. I have a very precise set of skills in disassociating live animals with dead meat. It’s how I survive. And now with my daily diet leaning heavily towards vegetarian/vegan and the seldom meaty splurges I dive into are the ones on this list, the disassociation is waning somewhat and I am feeling more guilty with every meat dish I try.

Onwards, though, I am still enjoying meat so onwards into the breach! And with Fish Head Curry I was Mariana Trenching this thang. We loped along to Samy’s Curry restaurant on Dempsey Hill to hit this thing…head on.

The dish is commonly found in Singapore and Malaysia but steeped in Indian and Chinese cuisine. The fish head is served in a curry which is quite spicy (but not overly so) with a strong tomato taste throughout. Some ochre and eggplant are floating around in curry. When the bowl arrives the fish head is nicely camouflaged in its own meatiness and it’s only when you start dishing out the meat that the true head form takes shape. There is no hiding from the fact that this dude was once living.

Served on a banana leaf at Samy’s, the obvious accompaniment for a curry style dish is some naan bread. Gathering fish, vegetable, and a slathering of curry within a pillowy cushion of naan gives you the perfect bite. The fish (white snapper so we were told) was more akin to chicken in mild mannered taste and not at all fishy; quite light and refreshing. Chicken of the sea?

Going, going…..

Gone. At least this fish was not wasted in any way.

The small Fish Head Curry at Samy’s goes for $21 and it was good as a starter for three people sharing. We did binge on some biryani dishes after this to fulfill all dinner expectations that were had.

Samy’s itself is an interesting place, hidden amongst the foliage and amongst some other eateries. It has a good reputation and for a reason; the food was solid, tasty, and of a good quality. The service was little so-so with English a little rusty on their behalf (and maybe ours) but nothing to stop going back to (although they did charge us for something that wasn’t delivered but it was easily taken off our bill). The interior is 1980s school cafeteria in, oooh let’s say,….Ireland?! But you aren’t going for the interior you are going for their menu contents. And the menu contents are something you will come back for.

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Singapore from Marina Barrage

Click for biggy!

There’s a little place snuggled into a far corner of Gardens By The Bay where people go to find an elusive patch of grass and feel free. And fly kites.

Marina Barrage makes Marina Bay. The water slowly lapping at the feet of downtown skyscrapers and the Merlion is a man-made reservoir created by the dam at Marina Barrage. Also worth noting is that it is a freshwater reservoir. Another Lee Kuan Yew vision ticked and in working order. Water supply, flood prevention, and another place for residents to chillaxe. Result.

The wall that makes it all

So instead of having another gray, montone building blotting the landscape some clever people created the building into an arching, swirling, grass roofed structure where people like you and me can run around, play ball, fly kites, and lounge around. One can marvel at downtown Singapore on one side and a slice of the seemingly permanent armade of cargo ships waiting to dock at the Port of Singapore.

It’s worth the extra walk away from the touristic happenings at Gardens By The Bay. It’s quiet, chill, and a nice relaxing viewpoint of Singapore which differs from other vantage points around the island. Of course, there are rules. It’s Singapore afterall. Check out last picture below (from a design point of view, the red lines go behind all the icons which could signify they are all unstoppable!). You can still have fun, don’t worry!

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Singapore Food Staples: Kaya Toast

It’s probably up there with other Singapore food staples like Chili Pepper Crab. Kaya Toast. A simple yet unique little breakfast/brunch dish that can be found throughout the island. Killiney Kopitiam is a well established franchised eatery…place which was founded back in 1919 in its original building on Killiney Road. Hence…the name. Right? Nowadays Killiney Kopitiam can be found in around 30 different locations around Singapore. They can also be found around different Asian countries including Malaysia, Myanmar, and Hong Kong.
We waddled along to the Siglap outlet to meet a passing friend. It’s quite small but seats outside were available and acquired.

If you’re going for Kaya Toast you need to get the set. $5 will get you the toast, tea, and two soft boiled eggs. The tea is sweeeeetttt. I’m not trying to be hip there, fellow kids. It’s sweet. It’s made with condensed milk so as you stir it up it gets even sweeter.  When you let the tea drop off your spoon it drips slowly and with a thick mindset. I had a few sips as tea is not in my daily intake radar and I can confirm its sweetness. The cup and saucer felt so nicely quaint though; memories of train station cafes and more substantial breakfasts of the past. The Starbucks age has ruined me.

All together it doesn’t look like much and, yes, the Kaya Toast disappears way too quickly due to my sweet tooth urges. But it was comfortable. Just right. Crack the two eggs into the bowl underneath and you have some dipping sauce for your toast. Result.

The kaya. What is it? It’s pretty much coconut jam. It’s nice. Too nice. Each slice of toast has also got a stow-away chunk of butter just to notch up the calorie count a little bit more – suggesting a long walk home is in order. Each bite is sweet and coconutty, if you get a chunk of butter in a bite this is balanced out with a salty buttery taste which creates the age-old salty-sweet battle over your taste buds. A war with only winners. Apart from the fat accumulating in the areas you don’t want it.

Listen, I don’t know if the soft boiled eggs are for dipping your kaya toast into. But I did it and it was great. So the egg flavour piled on top of the sweet kaya and the salty butter just ramped up each bite to another level. I enjoyed it immensely.

Yes, a recommended Singapore dish for sure. You can’t go wrong with Killiney Kopitiam for your Kaya Toast experience (or for any of their other Singapore staples either) due to their reputation and history.

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Singapore Food Staples: Biryani

What comes into your mind when you hear and see the word “Bismillah”? I’ll wait. Yeah, I thought so. Will not let you go.

Anyway, Bismillah translates from Arabic into “In the name of God” so plop it before Biryani and place it above a restaurant and you expect heavenly things. And, actually, the biryani at Bismillah Biryani is good. Tasty and very very filling. We swam to Bismillah on a very rainy day on the outskirts of Little India.

Bismillah opens every day at 6pm. At 6:01pm we arrived with umbrellas in tatters. Perfect time to be there with both the timing and inclement weather meaning the service was in existence purely for us. On first impressions the interior of Bismillah is quite…red. A little run down looking with the upholstery on the chairs needing a good nuclear decontamination. Hazmat suits and power hoses would be good.

A little starter of some vegetable samosas ($1 each, good value) and some spicy dipping sauce. These were hearty, hot, and welcoming. The pastry was quite thick and the filling was a nice mixture of vegetables blended together for a pleasing bite. Or two.

The biryani that is dished up at Bismillah is of Pakistani and North Indian origin. More traditionally labelled Dum Biryani the main difference, so it seems, is that in Dum Biryani everything is steamed together over coals whereas in normal Biryani the meat is added separately later. The main difference to the diner is that the dish is mainly dry with no oily-ness with the gravies you find on normal Biryanis. Perhaps healthier? Who knows.

So what do you end up getting in a chicken biryani dish? A pile of basmati rice with two pieces of chicken (bones n all), a hard boiled egg, and fried onions. Obviously the chicken is marinated in a bunch of herbs and spices which adds another layer of complexity and deliciousness. You do get a bowl of yogurt based sauce to add a little bit of moistness to proceedings. If that floats your boat. It was nice to add it from time to time but not totally necessary if you had a nice mix of egg, chicken, onion, and rice balanced on your fork.

Having tasted the goat (it’s written as kid goat on the menu which is a little bit more ghoulish) biryani I would probably go for that next time as it seemed a little bit more flavorful. Chicken goes for $9 and goat for $15. You can get “double” versions of these which I find find crazy as I side-stepped through the open front of the restaurant and set off walking home to try and work off the fullness I was feeling.

All in all, a very tasty take on a biryani in a no fuss yet no frills restaurant.

 

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Checking out the Singapore Airshow 2018 For Free!

Well not exactly, but if all you want is to check out the fly-bys and performances that happen for a few hours each day of the air show you can do no wrong than to plonk yourself down on nearby Changi Beach and get some good ear-splitting angles of the various planes. Map below for the exact spot I got my snaps from.

The Singapore Air Show is both a trade and public exhibition where a number of “deals” go down behind the scenes between airplane manufacturers and airlines although this year these deals were slim (ie. non existent) pickings.

I don’t know enough about military planes to talk about their mach performances and the amount of GEES that the pilots were undergoing. Just peruse the pics instead.  It was pretty cool!

 

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Bite Size Review: Veganburg

You ever just step into a place and you’re immediately not happy? I’m not talking prisons here..merely restaurants.

That was Veganburg for me. And not just because it served all vegan; I’ve been dabbling in that black art for a while now. The minute you step into Veganburg you lose all sense of hearing. There is music but it’s not very loud. It’s just that it seems to reverberate off the walls creating a swirl of noise around you. Throw in a low talking service dude and you’ve got immediate issues straight off the bat.

When you walk into Veganburg the queue hits you in the face. If it’s busy the queue leaves the front door. Mistake number one restaurant floor planner. When we got to order our fake meat, we did so but the low talker had many questions. I usually can answer these questions as they are usually not hard. I need to be able to hear them though. Passed that test finally and I pay. The total was $23.70 or something and I give a nice bunch of 3 $10 notes. “Have you got 30c?” “No”. So he has to dig into his own wallet to get me exact change. Wth?! This was before the lunch hour rush too.

Anyway, food-wise I ordered the Char-Grilled Satay burger and Mrs. Horizons the Avocado Beetroot burger. Their arrival was harked via one of those buzzing disc things and I went up to the counter to see the two burgers waiting with people leaning over them getting change and things. Not good. Nobody acknowledged me taking them; I could have walked in off the street like a vegan loving hobo and snatched them up.

The food was blah. The pattys were nondescript and if it was a real animal it would have been even more sad that something had to die to create it. I think their modus operandi is to slather stuff over their patties to try to create different tastes. It doesn’t work. Boring. Whilst we were slothing our way through the meal the queue got longer and started encroaching on the sitting space and the place got louder. And I got more annoyed. We left before I renounced veganism forever.

The moral of the story? Just because it’s a fast food-esque vegan joint doesn’t necessarily take the fast-food crappy experience out of the whole equation. If it wasn’t vegan Veganburg wouldn’t exist. Having said that…people rave about it. My thinking is these are the same people who think going to Veganburg once a week is a healthier choice than their usual KFC run.

Where it at yo?

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