Thursday, April 22, 2004

Road Side Stall Hot Pot Restaurant

Hot Pot, or steamboat, is a communal dish beloved of Chinese people all over the world. A pot of hot soup is placed in the middle of the table. Ingredients are dipped into the simmering soup and eaten as it is cooked. My father tells me that in the old days of China, people would eat hot pot in winter, the simmering soup full of good ingredients provided much comfort and warmth against the bitter cold. Of course nowadays we eat it anytime we like, there is no winters here.

In typical Singapore fashion, we have moved on somewhat from the simple home-style hot pot of a clear stock made from pork or chicken bones. Nowadays, the soup base comes in more exotic variations like tom yam or Chinese herbal brews. And at the Road Side Stall Hot Pot Restaurant this evening, where our group of dedicated foodies gathered for our monthly dinner, we revisited two of our most favourite versions. A fiery ma-la soup that renders lips, palate and tongue numb (ma) and hot (la) on one side of the pot, and a comforting and nourishing brew of country chicken and hua-tiao wine on the other side. Great for people who cannot make up their minds.


The mala soup came to Singapore about 6-7 years ago. Chongqing Restaurant still exists today at Tanglin Shopping Centre, and they first introduced this love-it-or-hate-it dish. It originates in China, and the main ingredient that causes the ma-la effect is the Szechuan peppercorn. Husband loves mala while I have learnt to tolerate it. It is not spicy as my tastebud's impression of spicy, still, it can be painfully hot. The numbness and pungency is another issue for me. But as they say, one man's meat .....Mala is ambrosia for others, such as my husband. And also my friend Andrew Wong, who is so passionate about this dish he opened his own hot pot restaurant. Andrew informed me that his recipe is typical of the style usually found in China, although the heat factor is lowered many notches to suit local taste buds. Mainlander Chinese prefer their soup a dark red sea of chilli oil. Still the recipe here uses more than 30 different types of spices!

The chicken in hua-tiao wine is no slouch either. This is a robust soup with clear chicken and wine flavours and is not easy to find in restaurants. Because of the vast quantities of wine and ginger, it is commonly used as a "confinement" food, i.e. food for mothers who have just delivered their babies. The Chinese believe that childbirth causes a lot of "wind" in the body which is bad, because wind can cause health problems like arthritis and rheumatism. Confinement food would contain those ingredients like wine and ginger as these are believed to help expel wind. Although none of us have given birth recently, we still enjoyed the tasty goodness of this soup.

To accompany a hot pot, the ingredients have to be as fresh and of as good quality as possible, since they are handled as little as possible (no marinading etc) and cooked briefly and simply. Here as usual, the meats, vegetables and other ingredients are impeccable. The sotong(octopus) balls and fish raviolis are the best I've tried in Singapore- and I've been around. And who knew that luncheon meat would taste soooo good with mala soup? The oily meatiness is the perfect sponge to complement the complexity of mala, and although I hardly eat luncheon meat at home, I never miss having it here.


And it does not stop here. Andrew is constantly testing and innovating, and eating here is never boring. Today we had 5 types of appetisers: Aspic luncheon meat, Pork Belly with Garlic Sauce, Chilled Beef Shin, Chicken rolled with Century Egg and Mala fried pork..... I am in love with the Pork Belly, so meltingly tender and tasty. There was also a bowl of dumplings in chilli oil to pass around, reminding me so much of those dumplings we queued up for ages to buy at Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai.



And there was even more goodies midway through the meal. So far, I've been good, and controlling my carbo intake, only nibbling on some grains of rice. Then the servers came round bearing plates of fried man-tous (buns, like char-siew bun without char-siew) which when dipped into some condensed milk is one of the most unlikely yet marvelous foods on earth.


I have forgotten about those...... I had one piece, and thought the danger was over....but no, uh uh, not yet anyway. Andrew had come up with a new snack, a sweet nian gao (sticky rice cake) stuffed with red bean paste and dusted with sesame seeds. His version was just about perfect, with a toothsome texture and a subtly sweet paste, without that cloying fake osmanthus smell that many places use as flavourings. These little babies killed my resolution completely, and I ended up eating 4 pieces!!



And here is the picture of mala evangelist Andrew Wong. Cheers!


Road Side Stall Hot Pot Restaurant
31 Marina Park (Marina South) #01-04/02-04 Planet Marina (Car Park A)
Tel : 6220 0178

Bonus picture: What the staff had for dinner: Mala stir fried pork I think. Looks appetising even to a non-mala fan.


Friday, April 02, 2004

Squid is good........

Squid is good........................for catching rats. Don't believe me?

Last week, I discovered we have rats in the storeroom at my workplace. Big, black, scary critters. Rats are not a common sight here, when I saw one, my scream was so loud and ringing it made my colleagues drop everything and rush to the scene immediately. It seems there are 2 ways to tackle rats. The first is rat poison, but if they end up dead in some unreachable corner, the stink would be unbearable. The alternative is to trap them. A mousetrap was purchased from a hardware store. It is a long metal cage with a spring loaded gate. A small morsel of food is hung inside the cage, the idea being that the rat will bite it and trigger the spring which shuts the gate, thus trapping it inside. And lo and behold, we did catch a rat. It just could not resist the wonderful pungent smell of the dried squid we used as bait. Dried squid, not cheese. I have never heard of people here using cheese as bait. Here we have stronger smelling stuff like dried seafood. This is what dried squid looks like. Of course I only snipped a strip of it for bait.


Even though she came from a fishing village, Wati has never seen dried squid before. I decided to cook Fried Pork with Dried Squid for dinner tonight. Two squid pieces are first soaked in cold water for about 3-4 hours, washed, cartilaginous backbone removed, and then cut into slices. Some pork slices are marinated with whisky and white pepper. Aromatics like chopped garlic, onions and dried chillies are sauteed in the wok first. The pork and squid are added next and tossed for a while before water and dark soya sauce is added. After simmering for about 5 minutes, the dish is ready. It went really well with rice.


For dessert, an Orange and Pecan Cupcake from Cedele / Bakery Depot. Love the orange frosting.


What happened to the rat? My colleague took it "Somewhere Far Away" and released it. He could not bear to kill it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Sunday Lunch

It was not quite a Sunday Roast lunch, but meats figured a lot at lunch last Sunday. We woke up at 7 am to drive up to see my family in KL. 4th Sister is back from London for a holiday, and everyone got together for lunch. 3rd Sister is the cook of the family, in fact she runs a small catering business, so lunch was entirely cooked by her. Here are some chicken steaks before they went into the grilling monster.


Grilled beef steaks
Grilled pork ribs
Grilled chicken steaks
Antipasto of marinated grilled aubergines and tomatoes
Potato salad with ebiko topping


The lettuce may have been an afterthought, but it's refreshing crispness was a good foil to all that meaty splendour. I did not figure out the marinade for the beef, but the chicken steaks were marinated with chopped coriander, garlic, lime juice and pepper, while the pork ribs had worcester sauce, honey and pepper and probably other ingredients, but I had no time to take notes. My favourite was the pork ribs, certainly a lot more tender and juicy than the bak kut teh I had the day before.