Monday, August 31, 2015

Singapore Eats Part 2

August 20, 2015 - Singapore Eats, Part 2

Bless my coworkers because they took my desire to “eat local” to heart and lunch the next day was even more “local” than the day before. It wasn’t in a mall but was a busy restaurant nearby filled with other locals. They introduced me to “Chicken Rice” which is roast chicken in a light delicious soy-sauce-based sauce, almost like a teriyaki and a cup of rice. Not just any rice but really, really good rice. I don’t eat rice very often but if all rice was like the rice in Chicken Rice, I’d probably have it every day. They told me Chicken Rice is very Singaporean. I applaud them for their good taste. Oh and it isn't "Chicken and Rice" but "Chicken Rice". I know because I was politely corrected when I tried to add the "and" in there, lol.

We also had some kind of pork wrapped in a crispy skin, fried crisp and sliced into rounds from a log. I asked what it was called and they told me but neither my ears nor my tongue can do it justice so I won’t embarrass myself by trying to name it. Just trust me that it was delicious. We also had crispy, lightly bread shrimp. Can’t go wrong with that either. Plus a local dish of noodles, also quite good. My only issue with noodle dishes is they invariably come with bean sprouts. Back in the US, I always request the dishes be made without it but when in Asia, I didn’t want to be that American tourist insisting on how I want things so I just went with the flow, especially since all the dishes are shared and I’m sure my colleagues, unlike me, don’t consider bean sprouts the devil’s toothpicks.

Crispy Fried Shrimp
After work, I wandered back to the underground mall we had gone to for lunch the previous day.
It was the Raffles City Mall. I didn’t spend too much time on the bigger shops; they were just like what was available at home, literally. Instead, I poked around the little eateries and the local grocery store. I love walking the aisles of a grocery store when I travel. It sounds so simple but I like seeing what’s locally available. Sometimes you really have to look because it can be mostly global brands – Oreos, Kit Kats, Hershey bars, and Ritz crackers abound. But sometimes I discover different flavors I only see in other countries like Coconut Oreos and seaweed flavored chips. At least I assume we don’t have them in the US since I don’t shop Asian grocery stores when I’m at home.

I found a different bakery this time and picked out a couple of different bread rolls for dinner that night. It may seem like a humble meal and at less than $5 SGD, I’m not exactly padding the expense report but, hello, Asian bread. I’m there. I was staying in a really nice hotel but the cheapest room service entrée cost more than I spent eating local in a day. So no room service for me. Even if room service had been free, I still would’ve preferred wandering the underground malls and little eateries for sustenance.  That’s how I like to experience a country - through its food.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Singapore Eats Part 1

August 19, 2015 - Singapore

I recently returned from a work trip to Singapore. I’ll spare you descriptions of all the meetings I had with my APAC colleagues but I will freely share all the eats to be enjoyed in Singapore. I do this partly because I just like posting pictures of food (like that needs to be said – snort) but also as part of my travelogue to document what I enjoyed in case I ever go back or want to recommend it to someone going there in the future; I like having specifics to point to.
The bakery I found walking from the hotel to the office

First of all, if you’ve never been to Singapore, you should rectify that. It’s an interesting place and one of the few places in Asia where I see a very diverse group of people, not just Singaporeans but other Asians from the rest of the continent as well as Europeans, Australians and Americans amongst others. I’ve always thought of it as expat country since so many global companies have their Asia headquarters in Singapore and there’s a large expat population working out of Singapore for their respective companies.
Curry Pok

Second, if you like shopping and eating, Singapore is a must-see destination. It’s probably only rivaled by Hong Kong in the plethora of shops in its business district. What’s fascinating and tremendously convenient about Singapore’s shops is many are located underground in esplanades that connect high rise buildings and public transportation together. Think of it as an underground, air conditioned mall. This type of set up is more common in Asia and makes for convenient walking, especially when it’s hot and/or humid and outdoor walking is to be avoided.

And it’s not just shops in the underground esplanades but a number of eateries. Like a food court on steroids but with local, delicious food. My Singapore coworkers tell me the locals have high expectations for great food and from what I could tell in the brief time I spent there, those expectations are readily met and they’re right to have high standards.

On my first day, I walked through an underground esplanade on the way from my hotel to our office. Lo and behold, the path took me past a local bakery. I swear, I have an inner GPS that never steers me wrong on discovering local bakeries. It’s a typical Asian bakery that leans more towards breads and savory items than sweets and cakes, although they had some of the latter  too. What I love most about Asian bakeries? Bread! They’re soft and just unbearably good. My first breakfast was a simple bread roll with a sausage stuffed in it. The sausage was my concession to protein but it was the bread itself that was comforting goodness. I’ll never get tired of Asian-made bread.

Later that same morning, my coworkers introduced me to a typical Singapore coffee break: 3 types of coffees, mostly differentiated by whether you added evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk or no milk, curry pok which was like empanadas filled with potatoes and fried, and “Chinese roti” which is unlike the Indian roti of flaky flat bread. Instead it was soft white bread  - not Wonder white bread, mind you, this had flavor and texture – slathered with butter and a local jam, kaya, that was a cross between dulce de leche and coconut. It’s a typical Singapore breakfast and quite good.

Lunch with a couple of coworkers was in a different underground mall-type food court but food court is such a humble term for the plethora of little eateries and restaurant in this particular underground bevy of shops and food places. We went to a place called Teahouse, The Asian Kitchen and you order dishes family style to share.

Crispy Fried Garlic Ribs (boneless)

Roast Duck in plum sauce
We got the house specialty of roasted duck in plum sauce, noodles, fried rice, long beans (not pictured) and crispy fried ribs. OMG, everything was delicious. The plates were typical Asian size, meaning rather tiny so you’re forced to not be a pig – cough – at least, not all at once. Fortunately I know how to eat with chopsticks passably well so I could partake of the food with decent facility. Service was quick as it’s the type of place that has a limited number of tables, almost all of which were full when we arrived and turned over fairly quickly. Such a convenient place for lunch and delicious as well. I may have a hard time adjusting when I go back home and don’t have these kinds of variety of places to choose from in a compact, convenient location.

After lunch, we did a quick walkaround the underground floor of the mall and, of course, I found a dessert stand to patronize. It was called Awfully Chocolate and while there wasn't a huge variety on offer, what they did have looked delicious and I was hard pressed to limit myself to just one. But I did because lunch had been sufficient and I was only looking for an afternoon snack for later.

I settled on the Hazelnut Crumble and it turned out to be a slightly cakey brownie with hazelnut crumbles on top. It looked deceptively fudgy and dense but it actually wasn't. More like a baked mousse with an airy texture rather than the rich fudginess of an American brownie that I was used to. It was still good but if I had my way, I would probably remake it as a more traditional fudgy brownie, top it with a thin layer of nutella then sprinkle coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts on top. Hmm, maybe next time I bake brownies.... In any case, lunch was so satisfying that I ended up just eating half the hazelnut crumble and a bread roll for dinner.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Restaurant Review: Alexander's Steakhouse

Alexander's Steakhouse - dinner on August 3, 2015

I’ve been to Alexander’s several times over the years and they’ve all been for company functions. It’s a good steakhouse, a cut – haha – above some of the other ones I’ve gone to and where I’d recommend people go if they want a nicer, classier steakhouse experience. I’ve also only ever gone there for company-sponsored dinners because they’re expensive! They’re good but expensive. You know I don’t mind paying for good food but….did I mention they were expensive?

On my last visit, we were given a separate dining room and a large square table which was nicer than the standard rectangular table since that helped facilitate conversation when people aren’t spaced so far apart. Alexander’s is all about the impeccable service and the classy presentation. Everyone around me ordered either a salad or an appetizer. Having been to Alexander’s before and understanding the ease with which I could slip into a food coma if I made unwise choices, I opted for nothing prior to my entrée but in true classy Alexander form, one of the waiters brought me a demitasse of creamy carrot soup so I “wouldn’t feel left out” while the others enjoyed their pre-dinner nibbles. Such a classy place.
Tuna Tartare
Trio of Sliders appetizers
Shrimp cocktail shot
Carrot Soup taster
For my entrée, once again mindful of food coma potential, I opted for the halibut. I know, who gets fish at a steakhouse? Yeah, that would be me. But it came with cute little siu mai dumplings! A coworker and I split a side order of truffle mac and cheese but unfortunately our server got the order wrong and brought out truffle fries. When we reminded her about our correct order, she brought out the mac and cheese but it was barely lukewarm by then so I don’t know if it had been sitting neglected somewhere before it made its way to our table. It was good but both she and I thought the truffle mac and cheese from Fleming’s was better. That’s the only misstep I’ve ever experienced at Alexander’s.
Halibut with Siu Mai 
Truffle Mac and Cheese

20-ounce prime rib
There were several impressive orders for the 20-ounce prime rib. 20 ounces! That’s almost 7 servings of meat on one plate. I’m not going to judge since I’m a fellow carnivore myself but let’s just say I’m glad I stuck to the fish because by the end of the meal, I still had room for dessert (insert smugness here). I opted for a chocolate dome thing for dessert and my smugness only lasted a third of the way through the dome when I had to concede defeat and no more room in my waistband. It was delicious but I’d had enough.


Of course, no meal ends at Alexander’s until they bring out the cotton candy they’re known for topping off the meal. I have no idea on the history of it or why they do it but that’s what people come to expect when they go there. I’m not a fan of cotton candy myself; that’s one kid experience I never embraced and one my sweet tooth never hankered for. You either like cotton candy or you don’t. I was in the don’t column but fortunately, my coworkers balanced me out by embracing it with enthusiasm. So it’s a nice touch to end a classy meal with something that could appeal to everyone’s inner child. I have an old soul so maybe that’s why spun sugar didn’t do anything for me.
Cotton Candy
In any case, Alexander’s doesn’t disappoint if you want an elegant meal and have some extra pocket money to spring for it.