Celebrating Food! Celebrating Life!

Travel

Pierre Herme Aoyama @ Omotesando Tokyo

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When it comes to French pastry, Pierre Herme is almost like a household name. I’d mentioned him countless times on this blog and I’m sure some of you guys would already know that I am quite a fan of his works, especially the art of macaron making, which he revolutionised with innovative combinations of flavours and the use of exotic ingredients some totally unheard of, sometimes to the point of the unimaginable under his “Signature“, “Fetish” and in more recent years, his “Jardin” series. But during our most recent trip to Tokyo, we’d decided to go back to the traditions and “re-discover” the French classics. Read on to see how Pierre Herme fares!

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Patisserie À Tes Souhaits @ Kichijoji Tokyo

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Mention Japanese patissiers and names like Hideki Sugino and Sadaharu Aoki immediately comes to mind. No doubt they may be really good and/or popular but for me, there are many other talented Japanese pastry chefs awaiting to be discovered and getting to know. Hideki Kawamura 川村英樹 is one such pastry chef. I first gotten to know about him through his signature piece Acidule which one of my friends in Vancouver had recreated. Seeing how chic piece was, I was intrigued to find out more about him, which led me to visit his Patisserie a tes Souhaits in Kichijoji during one of our memorable trips to Tokyo.
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Vanilla Cafeteria @ EmQuartier Bangkok

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Last day in Bangkok and we were planning on where to go before hitting the airport. We have to get to EmQuartier located at Phrom Phong BTS station which was just two stops from our hotel at Nana to get Pierre Herme macarons for a friend so it made perfect sense to find a nice place there to dine at. Incidentally, an old friend Derek was up in Bangkok just a week before we did and recommended that we should try out the food at Vanilla Cafeteria, so here we are!

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Tiffin “Tok Panjang” Lunch @ Casa Del Rio Melaka

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Yes! I am back in Melaka again, barely a month since the last trip, only because there is still so much of this city that awaits to be explored and discovered. Despite the numerous trips I have made here over recent years, there is always something interesting, new and bizarre or old and nostalgic that continues to beckon me for a return to this beautiful city.

The only difference this time round is I am not travelling up alone but together with 4 other foodie-minded friends to experience what Malacca has to offer. The first stop upon getting off the coach is a welcome “tiffin lunch” set in the style of a Tok Panjang at the luxurious and idyllic Casa del Rio Melaka.

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Or Tor Kor Market @ Bangkok – A Photo Tour

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Bangkok, a city known for its unique street culture from pushcart noodle hawkers to souvenir peddlers, the walkways along the busy roads of the Thai capital are often flanked with these folks selling ware and trying to make ends meet. But like-minded foodies and Thai food lovers like me would often want to take it a step further, to scout for unique ingredients both fresh and dried and attempt to re-create when we are back home, all the piquant flavours Thai cuisine is so known for. There are now many gourmet supermarkets all over Bangkok now, often anchored at the basement of major departmental stores and shopping malls, but for the serious aficionados of Thai cuisine, a true culinary experience is never complete without trip to their local markets. For many, Or Tor Kor Market which lies slightly north of the city centre provides exactly just that. So let me take you on a virtual photo tour of Or Tor Kor Market now…
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Salon de Dessert Toshi Yoroizuka @ Tokyo Midtown

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It seems like a growing trend, that people are no longer satisfied with “just” being able to savour the desserts and pastries off their plates, but they’d also like to see how the desserts are being prepared right before their eyes. I see this as an extension of gastronomic experience which probably first stemmed from stepping into a sushi bar where a Jiro-like Japanese chef puts on a performance of, selecting a suitable cut, slicing the fish to precision, grasping the perfectly flavoured sushi rice so elegantly in one hand before clasping the two components together. It is a performance which many believe can invigorate the senses during the “omakase” as well as help one to gain a deeper understanding of the food in order to better appreciate what is being eaten. Such a dramatic show is a tradition is not unique to just Japanese of course, as a good crepe suzuette is often prepared from scratch right next one’s dining table, from the making of the lace-thin pancakes, to the final flambe of the orange juice and liqueur concoction. As such, “salons” or “ateliers” becomes an increasingly popular culinary concept which is replicated in many places now. During our most recent trip to Japan, we visited Salon de Dessert Toshi Yoroizuka in Tokyo Midtown , for a treat of not only their desserts but also the performance.
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Happy Thanksgiving! Easy Pilau Rice & Achar Puteh

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I don’t usually celebrate Thanksgiving. Was chatting with a good friend, Catherine on Tuesday about pineapples (yes, not the kinda thing you taught to your good friends about I know) and we went on talking about Thanksgiving two days later (which is today by the way!). Wanting to feel a bit more festive, I decide to deck out some of my Le Creuset dutch ovens for a simple Asian-themed Thanksgiving lunch!
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Big Ben’s Restaurant Cafe @ Portuguese Settlement, Melaka

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Mention Melaka and most, if not everyone would immediately think of it as one of the important enclaves of baba-nyonya culture. Indeed, it is exactly this trading post which bore roots to the unique community formed through what is commonly thought of as inter-communal matrimony between the local folk and those who came in search of opportunities or shelter. Legends and folklore about Cheng Ho’s massive fleet and even a Princess Hang Li Po from the Ming Dynasty echoed through the centuries, stories told and retold down the generations.

Lesser known and often cast in shadow however, was the colonisation of Melaka by the Portuguese around 500 years ago, from which yet another unique community emerged which is known to some as “Cristangs” owing to their embrace of the Catholic-Christian faith that spread to this part of the world with the missionaries that came, or otherwise, simply as “Portuguese Melakans” honouring the special bond forged between the earliest European settlers to this part of the world and the local folk. An extraordinary culture developed as a result of this interaction, and of course, a cuisine which conglomerates all the different elements that arise out of this remarkable exchange that spanned more than a century. On our recent trip to Melaka, we were given a good introduction of this interesting cuisine through dining at Big Ben’s Restaurant Cafe located in the Portuguese Settlement in Melaka, a luncheon which I would fondly remember for a long time to come.
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小茶栽堂 Zenique Le Salon @ Yongkang Street Taipei

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Yongkang Street 永康街 lies within the Da’an district 大安区 in Taipei, a semi-residential and business area. It is one of my favorite places in this bustling city as it is dotted with a variety of unique shops, restaurants, cafes and tea salons where one could simply hang out leisurely for a few hours amidst all the sight-seeing and shopping. It is symbolic of the kind of lifestyle which many younger Taiwanese now very much look forward to or are striving for, where one could afford the time to smell the flowers, admire changes of the seasons, rest the mind and tame the soul. Unfortunately over the last few years, no thanks to the opening up of tourism regulations for visitors from across the straits to visit Taiwan, Yongkang street is slowly being overrun by the Mainlanders, epitomised by the long queues outside 鼎泰豐 Ding Tai Fung and 永康牛肉麺館 Yong Kang Beef Noodles, not to mention the noise and rowdiness they bring along with them. However, as the Taiwanese locals strives to live out their own lives the way they’d wanted, it is still possible for find quaint spots of serenity in the vicinity of Yongkang Street where 慢活 “leisure life pacing” is still the abiding philosophy.

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Dimsum Memoirs – Tao Heung Pier 88 稻香超級漁港 Hong Kong

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Dimsum is one of those things which you would probably not wanna miss when you are in Hong Kong. It is one of those things which Cantonese cuisine is symbolically known for, amongst other dishes of course. In the past, dim sum was largely enjoyed as breakfast, i.e. a few bamboo baskets of steamy hot savory and sweet treats, alongside a pot of Chinese tea, not forgetting the daily papers and weekly gossips. This is still a common sight in many traditional Chinese restaurants for the regular Hong Konger. However, dimsum culture has extended its hours way beyond sunrise, right into the day. In fact, while many of the more traditional Chinese restaurants known for serving dimsum open really early in the morning, many of the newbies who sprung up over the last couple of years and rose to stardom as “dimsum specialists” start their daily operations only just before lunch-time!

For our recent trip, we stayed at a hotel which offered breakfast, serving croissants, scones and my favorite fruit conserves, which we have no reason to refuse. So our dimsum breakfast plans in our itinerary were conveniently shelved. But fate has it that we should be in the Mongkok area when it suddenly poured. Determined not to be deterred by the wet weather, we opted for a contingency plan, one which involves eating but of course! I remembered that there is a Tao Heung outlet near where we were and a quick navigation over GPS confirmed that we were in fact just steps away. So dimsum breakfast we were meant to have, nicely worked out to be dimsum lunch instead!
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Patisserie Platine by Waku Ghin @ MBS Singapore

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The pastry scene in Singapore seems to be getting more interesting over the past year or so, with quite a number of new outlets opening up, sometimes in places least expected. Many of them operate as cafes or coffee shops, the seeming craze in Singapore now, offering cakes and pastries in interesting flavours and combinations to woo the crowd. This was especially so with the SG50 jubilee celebrations going on this year, which brought innovative creations like pulot hitam cake, orh nee tart etc, to stay relevant to the theme. I very much hope this stream of creativity is not just a sudden spur, but instead would continue to encourage our local budding bakers and pastry chefs to work harder to create a pastry enjoyment culture which would be here to stay.

Patisserie Platine joins the scene as one of the latest kid on the block and arrives with much pomp and circumstance, launched by the haute dining Japanese cuisine establishment Waku Ghin, under the helmage of celebrity chef Tetsuya Wakuda. Some like-minded pastry loving friends and I made a date to come here, not only to sample the wide range of pastries Patisserie Platine provides, but also to soak in the ambience it has to offer.
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Portuguese Wine Pairing Degustation @ Casa Del Rio Melaka

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Melaka is a unique city and a melting pot of all sorts. Being strategically positioned along the Straits of Malacca which was named after the city, it attracted people from all over the world in search of opportunities for better living, trade and territorial occupancy. Like Singapore and Penang, Melaka was an important trading post and pit-stop for the Maritime Silk Road, promoting interaction and subsequently, the forging of blood ties between the folks of the Far East from China and Siam, with those from India and even as far as Europe. One of the earliest to have reached were the Portuguese, who colonised Melaka for more than a century from the 1500s. As a mark of commemoration to celebrate the long time establishment of the Portuguese heritage in this UNESCO historic city, Casa Del Rio Melaka is running a special feature called “A Taste of Portugal” at their River Cafe and River Grill restaurants, paying homage to the Portuguese influence on Melaka. For the first night upon our arrival, we were enthralled by a Portuguese Wine Pairing Degustation, specially created by Chef Micael Valentim who was flown in from Portugal precisely for the occasion. It was a wonderful night which celebrated authentic Portuguese cuisine with Portuguese wine.
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Water Library Brasserie @ Central Embassy, Bangkok

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We haven’t been back to Bangkok for more than 10 years but it is not like we’d totally forgotten about it all this while as we’d booked flights and planned itineraries over the years but the trip never did materialise. We love the city but just not the social unrest which troubles the city, either from the reds or the yellows which happened from time to time. But I’m glad we finally had a chance to come back to this interesting city but seriously, we didn’t know what to expect. 10 years could change a person, lest a city. This time round, we’d decided to skip much of the usual tourist circuit of cheap shopping and street food (yes sacrilegious for Bangkok I know!) but instead, opted to experience how the city had grown and matured in other aspects of its culinary endeavors. Curious we are, but at the same time we were lost. Thankfully we have friends who frequent the city and it was not difficult to get recommendations. One place we saw popping up quite frequently on our “intel” was Water Library Brasserie @ Central Embassy.
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Media Lunch @ River Cafe, Casa Del Rio Melaka

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Melaka is a city which lies close to my heart. I love it for many reasons, the food, the people, and the surprises abound, be it a new Peranakan dish which I’d not eaten before, or an interesting little street dotted with small quaint shops which I’d never been to previously. Despite being to this city which lies just 4 hours north of Singapore on numerous occasions, I’d not grown tired of it and I don’t think I ever will. Just last week, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit this beautiful place once again, with an entirely new holidaying experience that awaits…

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Luncheon with Baba Jolly Wee @ Concorde Hotel

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In conjunction with the ongoing festivities and jubilation to celebrate our 50 years of nation building, Concorde Hotel Singapore located right in the heart of the Orchard Road shopping belt has specially chosen and recreated a selection of Peranakan dishes as part of the spread for the buffet available at their Spices Cafe. Two weeks ago, the hotel specially invited Baba Jolly Wee, together with some of his family members and close friends, for a luncheon organised as a tribute and appreciation for putting together some of the Peranakan staples on the menu and coaching the chefs who helm the kitchen at the Spices Cafe during his stint as their culinary consultant. Baba Jolly, a doyen of Straits Chinese cuisine in Singapore who is now well into his eighties, is held in great esteem and highly regarded here for his work on promoting baba-nonya culinary culture to fellow Singaporeans, as well as the rest of the world.

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Lunch @ Nana’s Green Tea Cafe, Tokyo Skytree

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We woke up really early to beat the crowd at the Tokyo Skytree. Knowing how unpredictable the weather in Tokyo can sometimes be, we didn’t wanna be committed to buying our tickets in advance and end up going there on a rainy day. Thankfully, the weather throughout the whole time was quite pleasant and the visit went on rather smoothly. Time flies so quickly and before we knew it, it was time for lunch. the conjoining mall to the Tokyo Skytree has a good selection of eating joints from family restaurants to burger delis to choose from. We landed ourselves in a place which we’d always been wanting to visit, Nana’s Green Tea!
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Henri Charpentier @ Dempsey Hill – A Preview

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It has been several months since the news of the renowned Japanese patisserie Henri Charpentier (HC) has finally set up a dessert salon here in Singapore, making it their first overseas outlet outside Japan. Truth be told, that came as a surprise for me as most others would have made their presence in other Asia-Pacific regions, like Hong Kong or Taipei where the pastry scene is somewhat more vibrant than us here. Perhaps the pastry and dessert markets in these places are somewhat saturated already, making it more competitive to venture into. Perhaps HC saw the potential in establishing a joint or two here in this relatively untouched land. Whichever the case, a new player in the market is always welcomed. Hopefully the coming of HC signifies the escalation of our local pastry scene onto the next level. But that remains to be seen.
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Baker Bounce Gourmet Burgers @ Midtown Tokyo

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In the land of sushi and ramen, the last thing one would think of is to find a good burger joint here in Tokyo but we are wrong of course. The Japanese excels or attempts to excel in everything, even in making their yoshoku (foreign food) authentic. There are some hits and misses here and there of course but as far as gourmet burgers are concern, they are striving and doing very well over here. We’d shortlisted a couple of delis to visit during our recent trip to Tokyo and Baker Bounce which won quite a number of raves is top on the list.
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上海生煎包 – Shanghainese Pan Fried Steamed Buns

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上海生煎包 Shanghai Sheng Jian Bao Shanghainese Pan Fried Steamed Buns is a local snack that originated from Shanghai in the 1920s. The novel way of pan frying the mildly proofed buns before steaming them directly in the same flat pan over a stove became extremely popular as a street food and remains so in Shanghai today, alongside 小笼汤包 Xiao Long Steamed Dumplings and other delectables in Shanghainese cuisine also known as 沪菜 or 本帮菜. Cuisines from other places in China like the neighbouring Zhejiang (浙菜), stretching northwards to Shandong (鲁菜), or southwards to Guangdong and Hong Kong (粤菜) also have very similar versions, where these buns may also also known as 水煎包 Shui Jian Bao. The culture of eating these Pan Fried Steamed Buns spread to Taiwan during the mass exodus of Chiang Kai Shek’s KMT army from China to the island state in the late 1940s. A large portion of Chiang’s troops are from the Yangtze region, especially those from his hometown, 奉化 Fenghua in the Zhejiang Province 浙江省. These soldiers, together with those from Shandong, Szechuan and even Yunnan, forms up a large part of Taiwan’s migration population in the last century to become what the locals grew to call 外省人 Wai Sheng Ren. The influx of these soldiers and their families from Mainland China greatly diversified the social habits and culinary cultures in Taiwan. Many of these dishes brought along and introduced by these migrants became so deeply rooted, that they are now enjoyed by the tourists, as well as the Taiwanese, be it the locals 本省人 Ben Sheng Ren, or the 外省人 alike. 上海生煎包/水煎包 is one of those popular snacks.
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府城棺材板 – Tainan Coffin Toast Bread

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Long before the designation of Taipei 台北 as the capital city of Taiwan 台湾 by the Qing court in early 18th century, the southern city of Tainan 台南 was long regarded as the centre of administration, politics, as well as financial and economic development in this island state. Tainan was established as the base of Dutch Formosa when the Dutch East Indies company came in the early 1600s and used it as a trading post, which they’d named Fort Zeelandia at Anping 安平. This earned Tainan the name “hoo siah” 府城 in the local Min dialectal tongue, a place where the local folks in southern Taiwan, especially those in the neighbouring counties like Chiayi 嘉義, Pingtung 屏東, Kaohsiung 高雄 and Nantou 南投 looked upon as a site of social and cultural flourish back in the old days.

As the city prospered and grew, more and more people from surrounding rural regions moved into Tainan in search for a better livelihood and opportunities. As such, many aspects of Tainan also became more varied and diversified demographically, socially and culturally. Through the innovation of the locals, many Taiwanese snacks 台式小吃 and signature dishes in Taiwanese cuisine 台菜 we know today have their roots in Tainan. These include 擔仔麵 Dah-a Mee Soup Noodles with Braised Meat Sauce, 台式滷 Lor Mee Noodles in Thick Braising Sauce, 鳝 Sen-Hee Yee Mee Braised Eel Noodles, 碗粿 Wah Kueh Tainan Steamed Rice Cake in a Bowl, 蚵仔麵線 Oh-aa Mee Sua Oyster Meesua, 蚵仔煎 Oh-aa Tsen Fried Oyster Omelette  and of course, 棺材板 Gwa Tsah Pang Coffin Toast Bread.
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滷肉飯 Lor Bak Png – Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice Bowl

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Every country has a few signature dishes which can be deemed as their “national dish” . It is a natural correlation one would form between the culinary culture of a country and the dishes they are most closely associated with. It is like when one thinks of the UK, one immediately relates to Fish ‘n Chips but for tropical Singapore, one would salivate at the thought of Chili Crab or Hainanese Chicken Rice. When it comes to Malaysia, it has to be Nasi Lemak while Adobo Manok would represent the Philippines without doubt. Look to the east in Thailand and Som Tum, Tom Yum or Phad Thai comes instantly to mind while up in Japan, it has to be Ramen and Sushi as it is Samgyetang or Kimchi for Korea. The parallelism one draws is usually as apparent and agreeable as a variable y would map onto the function f(x).

For Taiwan, there are quite a few contenders for the title of a “national dish”. Some say it is 牛肉麵 beef noodles. It is so popular they even have a “festival” 臺北牛肉麵節 for it. Others would lobby for 珍珠奶茶 bubble tea, as it was the black tapioca pearls which brought Taiwan international fame, be it for the good or the bad. But to many, 滷肉飯 Lor Bak Png (Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice Bowl), otherwise known as Lu Rou Fan in Mandarin is a dish which resonates deep within their hearts. It is a dish which everyone would have eaten before, be it at the night markets, eateries or at home. For many, it is the easiest way one would settle a meal outside. For some, the appeal 滷肉飯 runs beyond the tastebuds,  tugging their heart-strings, awakening fond memories from their own grandmother’s or mother’s cooking, adding a tinge of nostalgia, on top of the wonderful flavours and aroma exuded by this simple but yummy dish.

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刈包 Gua Bao – Taiwanese Braised Pork Buns

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I love visiting night markets in Taiwan for a variety of reasons. There is always so much to see, smell,  eat and buy! A large part of Taiwan’s food culture is characterised by its night markets.They are so vibrant and constantly bustling with activity! For many, a visit to a night market in Taipei is often the last event on one’s tourist itinerary. And in the country’s capital city, there are indeed many to choose from. From the very popular ones which tourists flock to like Shi Lin Night Market 士林夜市 and Rao He Street Night Market 饶河街夜市, to the more 在地人 “known-only-by-locals” ones like Yan San Night Market 延三夜市 and Nan Ji Chang Night Market 南机场夜市, there are easily close to a dozen joints to choose from. Many of these night markets have their own “specialities” which draw crowds from near and far every night. Some go for deep fried chicken cutlets 炸鸡排, while others are there to feast on oyster mee sua 蚵仔麵線 or crispy steamed buns 生煎包. One of the foods I am always game to try whenever I see it at a night market is 刈包 Gua Bao. Also scripted as 割包, it is often called a “Taiwanese hamburger” 台式漢堡 by tourists. And there are many good versions around as well! There are those who maintained the tradition of making 刈包 by serving thick slabs of braised pork belly sandwiched by a piping hot and fluffy steamed bun, like 源芳刈包 at Hua Xi Street Night Market 华西街夜市 and 石家刈包 at Tonghua Street Night Market 通化街夜市, while others like 蓝家刈包 at Shida Night Market 师大夜市shred the meat into bitesize morsels for the convenience of diners. I prefer the former as it seems more hearty and visually appealing to have a whole piece of meat encased within. Whichever the case, the 刈包 offered at these joints promises a delightful palate experience. But the truth is, 刈包 is so easy to make at home and a sure favorite amongst many be it the young and old, especially during family gatherings and events.

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Asian Food Fest #10 Aug 2014 : Taiwan

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Welcome to Taiwan! Our 10th instalment of Asian Food Fest brings us to this beautiful country which was once called “Formosa” by the Portuguese, the first “foreigners” to set their eyes on it about 500 years ago to mean “Beautiful Island”, and beautiful is truly an understatement. Rarely would one would be able to find another place on Earth where one could be enjoying the warm sea breeze by the coastal regions and within less than an hour, scale altitudes of more than 2500m above sea-level to confront the majestic mountain ranges. Having the Tropic of Cancer cutting right through the island nation, one can be chewing sugarcane in Tainan or Pingtung in the morning and in less than half a day’s drive, be admiring the majestic cypress and cherry blossoms on Alishan or even playing with snow on Yushan. It is through this complex and often strategic juxtaposition of geographical factors that brings about the rich natural and social history Taiwan has, as well as its anthropology and culture. So join us in this month-long adventure to discover the interesting aspects of her food culture, the nuances which make her distinctively different from her proximal neighbours, to become what we now know as being uniquely Taiwan!

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Kueh Bingka Buah Sukun – Baked Breadfruit Cake

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Breadfruit is one of those things which I have been curious about for the longest time. It grows in the tropics but yet remains highly elusive in Singapore. For one, no one sells it in the markets, so it really takes quite a bit of looking around to find a tree. Yes there are a few trees around on our island but they remain in the “rare” category. I have encountered two trees so far, one near my place and other near a friend’s place in the east. Despite its wide distribution range from the Polynesian and Oceania Islands all the way to Kerala on the southern end of continental India, breadfruit doesn’t seem to have been widely incorporated into local cuisines very much. It remains much in the “exotic” category, far from being a staple for most. So it got me very curious as to what it tastes like, how it should be prepared and what it could be used to cook.
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