Surprising Horizons

The Joy of Travel. The Realities of New Experiences.

Month: January 2018

Singapore Food Staples: Wanton Mee

Wanton Mee. Me want. Wanton Mee is basically Dumpling Noodles. Wanton=Dumplings in Cantonese.
Mee=Noodles in Hokkien.
∴ Wanton Mee= Dumpling Noodles.

I waddled along to Parklane Zha Yun Tun Mee House to taste their Wanton Mee offering. Contrary to their naming, they are not in the Parklane Mall nearby (they used to be) but in the Sunshine Plaza. Confusing. It wasn’t sunny when I visited either.

They have two small eating areas with a few tables set outside in the corridor. We sat ourselves down on a messy table just to annoy them. But they weren’t annoyed and they cleaned up our table quickly and we ordered the staple Wanton Mee dish. All good.

The food came extraordinarily quickly. I don’t know how noodles can be boiled that quickly to order. Hmm. The clumpiness of the noodles were a little meh on first impression too. The noodle dish came with a little broth bowl which included a little pork dumpling swimming nicely around in it.

The dumplings at Parklane are fried in their particular Wanton Mee dish and the noodles are served relatively dry in the Malaysian fashion. I felt that the fried dumplings on my plate were a little more…destroyed…than the other dishes. The pork pieces (char siu) were quite small and pretty bland. The noodles themselves with the dark soy based sauce were a muddle of tastes that really didn’t hit home and stand out to be in any way spectacular.

The fried dumplings themselves were the most enjoyable part to eat in the dish with a pork flavour being faintly present throughout each crunch. I ended up finishing the dish (it’s not bad it’s just not fantastic) without projectile vomiting around the joint like a garden hose but I plan on hitting up some more Wanton Mee joints to compare and contrast. On paper Wanton Mee should be a tastier treat than what Parklane are offering up.

 

Singapore Food Staples: Tau Huay (Dou Hua 豆花) Beancurd

Consistency is key in every facet of life. People who drive cars need to consistently not crash. And food needs a consistency that your brain is suited to. So with an innocent western palate, tackling Tau Huay (beancurd) will be fighting the consistency from the start.

Rochor Original Beancurd is one of the most popular and established bean curd dessert places in Singapore. Founded in 1955 by a married couple when Singapore was, itself, finding its feet. So props to them.

It’s a simple dessert. At $1.20 it’s an affordable after meal refresher if you can get past the consistency. Served in Singapore with a simple sweet syrup in a small plastic cup, this beancurd dessert has a number of different variations throughout Asia.
For me, the problem wasn’t the consistency it was the blandness of the syrup. Tofu, in essence, is pretty tasteless so it relies on what accompanies it. The syrup was just not sweet enough and instead of syrup it just tasted of mildly sweet water. Like a cube of sugar was thrown in to a bucket. Perhaps other beancurd joints have more tasteful syrups…

Rochor Original Beancurd has a space upstairs if the few seats downstairs are taken. Apart from it looking like a prison cafeteria it was fine once lights are turned on and a few fans are whirred into action.

Tau Huay can be served both hot and cold and maybe the sweetness of the syrup permeates more with a little heat? I don’t know and I don’t think I will be trying it to find out. So, in summation, consistency might be a challenge (think phlegmy) but, in my opinion, Tau Huay is just too bland to register as a refreshing sidewalk side dish for me. I’ll stick with water.

Singapore Food Staples: Carrot Cake

No, you’re wrong. You just are. This is not the affable dessert that you have scoffed down at your grandmother’s on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. This is, in fact, a savoury omelette type concoction made primarily with diced up white radish, preserved radish, eggs, and garlic (or other seasoning). With a nice dollop of chili paste on the side if you so desire (or mixed through it if you so desire that). “But where are the aforementioned carrots!?” I hear you warble. There aren’t any. So there. It’s a lost in translation sort of thing with the Hokkien name of this dish Chai tow kway meaning radish or carrot (chai tow) cake (kway).

I went to He Zhong Carrot Cake stall in Bukit Timah Food Centre to taste this particular dish. It’s a busy place with a 30 minute wait for the dish. No hurry. Let’s do this. You give your table number and they deliver your carrot cake and grab your money when the food is served. And served it was.

On first appearance it looks all omelette-ly. Only when you start pranging and probing away with your chopsticks do you get the chunks of radish appearing. The light brown crust are the pieces that are top of the taste tree on this one as it adds a little crunch to this quite soft and gooey dish. Each mouthful is a mish-mash of radish and egg and is quite a low key taste; at first you wonder if it’s all that it’s supposed to be. After a few mouthfuls, though, you begin to appreciate the balance of tastes and the ease with which you can just, simply, eat. This is all good. And adding a little chilli paste to proceedings elevates the carrot cake to new levels; the sharpness and the little heat that the paste brings to each bite is a perfect balance to the undertones of radish and egg.

I think I would probably get the chilli paste on top or mixed through if I was getting it again. It completed the dish for me.

As you can see above the carrot cake gets prepared in one big wok. This looks like the start of another batch with the radish chunks and a bunch of seasoning kicking off proceedings. The man that served us was very friendly and was delighted to see us enjoying his food. I would hope I can make it back again before the end of times.
On a side note Bukit Timah Food Centre is also a place where I can see myself heading back to as it has a massive array of different stalls to try out.

007 in Concert

Gooooollllldddfinngaaaahhhhhh…

Bond. James Bond. The movies go hand in hand with the theme music. Maybe even, in some cases, the songs eclipse the actual movie. Oscar nominations and wins prove that point, actually!

Thus and therefore we have concerts and performances centered purely on the classic Bond music over the past five decades and further thusly 007 in Concert was performed in the Marina Bay Sands MasterCard Theatre on the 19 and 20th January. British conductor, Pete Harrison, led his 28 piece orchestra accompanied by two vocalists (Laura Tebbutt and Tim Howar) for the more…vocal…of numbers

It was an excellent night all around and musically a treat for sore ears which are bombarded by a mish-mash of fake music vomited out of taxi radios and Uber Food scooters on a daily basis.

The concert was done (thankfully) chronologically which means starting off with the “we all know it” James Bond theme from Dr. No. Continuing through, one would argue, probably the most richest and charismatic suite of songs from the Sean Connery era. From Russia With Love (Matt Monro), Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey), and Thunderball (Tom Jones) are absolute belters of songs. Vocally exploding at various times they are a magical trio of theme songs that befit the era and ooze secret service and danger. You Only Live Twice takes the James Bond theme in another brilliant direction. More swinging and soothing vocals by Nancy Sinatra which still exudes Bondism; intrigue, dangerous romance, and secrecy. Amazing. Diamonds Are Forever wraps up the (real) Connery era with Shirley Bassey annunciating the words as only she can. The song perfectly portrays the major roles women have in the Bond universe.
All songs were delivered perfectly by Tebutt and Howar who both did an amazing job all night.

Let’s not forget On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with George Lazenby. It actually had two amazing songs; both the instrumental theme music of the same music (a masterfully Barry composed spy-laden swooping musical number) and the sentimental Louis Armstrong We Have All The Time In The World. Sung, on the night, by a local guest singer it was well sung but a bit smarmy; like a drunk wannabe Bond waiting to leech on a couple of nuns.

On to Roger Moore; my era’s bond. Live and Let Die was done as an encore (which I missed as Mrs. Horizons was falling asleep). I’m sure it was great and rocking! This era was one of female lead vocalists and a general theme of slow-paced reflective pieces. Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better is a classic; a melancholic nod to Bond’s trail of influence he leaves behind him. Radiohead (who will pop up later) covered this at some point; check it out. Shirley Bassey’s Moonraker was skipped over for some reason with an instrumental from that movie played. Sheena Easton’s For Your Eyes Only keeps up the Moore era theme of the female perspective; a little schmalzy for me but still a strong song. All Time High  (originally sung by Rita Coolidge) from Octopussy was sung by a local singer whose dress almost passed her butt cheeks. Great voice but, yeah…Also probably the weakest song of the night. Tebutt did a great job on all the other songs.

Moore and Dalton overlap thematically for me with two songs/movies. And the conductor agreed as they played them together. A View To A Kill (Moore) by Duran Duran and The Living Daylights (Dalton) by A-Ha are both quite a dramatic synth-pop turn after all the female driven thematic era of Moore Bond music. I like them both though and they are also songs I remember from the time. Both performed well by Howar on the night. Dalton’s final movie as Bond License To Kill I actually don’t remember if they played it….(Gladys Knight sung the original)…Hmmm. I’m sure I would have remembered….odd..

Pierce Brosnan time, to be sure. A pretty weak run of songs here in my opinion with Tina Turner’s Goldeneye being the only powerful Bond song from the era. On the night they bundled them altogether too as they really don’t warrant any major time separately. Sheryl Crow’s Tomorrow Never Dies is okay if not a paint by numbers run through of a Bond song. The World is Not Enough by Garbage (how the hell did they get that gig?!) is pretty…garbage to be honest. Die Another Day by Madonna is up there with the worst of the Bond songs ever. All sung admirably well on the night by Tebutt again.

Finally the Daniel Craig era. Howar took on Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name from Casino Royale (with a very nice “this one’s for you Chris” before singing) and did it justice. It’s hard to do Cornell. Some instrumental from Quantum of Solace followed (I think) before the final two recent Bond songs. Adele’s Skyfall is a hark back to classic Bond songs whilst Sam Smith’s Writing On The Wall from Spectre will always be a little too..weird for me as a Bond song. It doesn’t help knowing Radiohead’s Spectre was booted for Smith’s cracking-glass-high-pitch effort. Rejected for being dark?! It should be and it suited Spectre a million times more than Smith’s song. Smith won an Oscar though…maybe I’m out of touch with reality.
Both Tebutt and Howar did well (with Howar doing his utmost with Smith’s crazy high vocals) with these show enders.

Also played during the set was The Pink Panther theme and a medley of American cop shows; most notably Police Squad! Welcomed.

I’ll leave you with what could have been…

That’s it. Surprisinghorizons will return in….Another Blog Post.

Singapore Food Staples: Bak Kut Teh 肉骨茶

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I have a mission and I have chosen to accept it. 30 dishes that are quintessentially Singaporean. To be eaten before July 2018.

The first dish Bak Kut Teh 肉骨茶, thankfully, wasn’t that displeasing when described on paper. It basically means meat bone tea. It’s not really tea but you can drink tea with it so stop worrying.

We headed to Song Fa Bak Kut Teh at 17 New Bridge Road.

They also have an outlet a few doors down on the corner at 11 New Bridge Road. I think they channel people to whichever one is less busy.

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Song Fa’s menu has a number of offerings but the first dish on their menu is their most famous and the one we were there for. You can order the Bak Kut Teh classic meat (pork) bone tea with two or four bones. The four bones were the order of the day as it was unseasonably cold (23c!) in Singapore and we needed some sustenance.

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So the Bak Kut Teh as a bowl in front of your face is quite plain visually but it packs a deliciously peppery broth which the pork bones lounge in. The meat on the bones can be pulled off quite easily with your chopsticks and the pork itself is flavourful and tasty. It’s the broth that wins in this dish though and the service staff come around and refill you a couple of times to keep the heat going. The broth, it is said, has a mixture of herbs and spices including cinnamon, garlic, and cloves. The garlic part is quite obvious as there were two whole cloves were present and were a nice textural contrast to the pork and broth. I felt that the overall taste was of pepper but there was a definite complexity behind it and every mouthful was tasty.

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Other side entertainment we ordered were a side dish of greens; fine. Some dough fritters which were amazing dipped into the broth and the ubiquitous bowl of white rice. A small pot of tea was ritualistically made for us by the service staff which was nice of them when they saw our deer in the headlights faces when presented with the tools to make it with.

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The decor at Song Fa (at least at 17 New Bridge Road) is made to be ye olde timey Chinese village eatery and it is cosy and welcoming. Service was attentive and friendly. Prices, below, weren’t too crazy and I would recommend it as a place to take visitors to Singapore as the food on offer isn’t unpalatable to noobish non-Asian stomachs.

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New Doc 2018-01-14

Visiting Haw Par Villa in Singapore

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You want to see some weird sh…tuff in Singapore? Sick of the pristine sidewalks and effective transportation systems? Sick of the amazing food? Want to see what Singaporeans will create when they let their imagination run wild and allow all their weird sick fantasies out into the open? Proceed to Haw Par Villa. It even has its own MRT station. Uh-huh.


If you’ve used Tiger Balm at all in your life then you have contributed to this…strange…place. You see the creator of Tiger Balm, Ah Boon Haw, created Haw Par Willa in 1937 based on old Asian stories and myths.

It’s also free to enter so you probably want to pop along to give your wallets a brief respite in Singapore. Let’s take a look.

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Best to head early in the morning and head for the 10 Courts of Hell area as that’s where the weirder stuff is. You pass an epic fight between rabbits and rats on the way. Naturally.

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The Ten Courts of Hell is based on Chinese mythology. It’s not pretty. I guess it was intended to put people off being naughty. Above you see what happens when you jaywalk in Singapore.

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The crime for the above court of torture? Graffiti. With permanent marker. Ooohhh.

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Getting sawn in half with a big cleaver. This happens if you don’t finish all your food at a hawker centre. Actually I’m not even joking; one of the reasons for this torture is “wasting food”.

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Judge Judy didn’t take any prisoners in a previous life. Getting cut in half vertically was the antidote to rumour mongering. Our next door neighbours fight a lot; that’s not a rumour, that’s fact. What do I get?

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After you leave the 10 Courts of Hell you can apply some Tiger Balm to your wounds by a friendly tiger. Sorted.

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Some turtles bring you back to a sense of zen and peace.

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And then all is forgotten by the fat jolly Buddha.

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There are a couple of monuments to the creator’s family dotted around.

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Thankfully the only monkeys were mythological monkey god ones.

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“He who can climb well shall not be dragged into caves by wolves.”

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The Titanic recreation was a bit more dramatic; we see Rose after dropping Jack off the front here straight into a shark’s snappers. Nice. Would have added some spice to the movie. Cameron take note.

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The work put into the stories is quite impressive but wear and tear is apparent.

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Finally, near the top of the park a nice serene Guanyin the “Goddess of Mercy” to allay all our fears that the world is going to eat us up.

Yes, so it’s an interesting little attraction to go visit. Your reaction to the different displays will range from “what the hell…?” (literally), “that’s gotta hurt”, and “huh, that’s weird”.

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