Dining in Singapore – Number 3 Crab

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Two weekends ago, Tawn and I took a break in Singapore. It was a busy four days filled with seeing friends and eating. Singapore is well-known as a foodie’s paradise. Dinner the first night was with a group of Singaporean friends who took us to Number 3 Crab, an excellent seafood restaurant in the Tiong Bahru neighborhood.

Tiong Bahru is one of the the oldest housing estates in Singapore and has been undergoing something of a gentrification in the past few years. It is becoming quite a hip and happening place thanks to its charming mix of vaguely art deco government flats and traditional Chinese chop houses, with residents ranging from local Singaporeans to expatriates from all corners of the globe.

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Having a drink (a Singapore Sling, of course) in the lobby of our hotel, the Millenium Orchard Hotel, located conveniently on the far end of Orchard Road, a short walk from the MRT station.

Number 3 Crab has been acclaimed as one of Singapore’s finest restaurants and its owners, Thomas and Wendy Lim, have an edge on the competition: they are purveyors of seafood, not just restaurateurs, and own a fresh seafood stall at a local market.

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The menu, illustrated with large color photos, includes just about every type of seafood you could imagine, including crocodile paw, something we didn’t get around to sampling. In addition, they offer several meat dishes and a good selection of vegetables, so you can round out your dinner nicely.

Here is our dinner, in the order that the dishes arrived:

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Stir fried greens – spinach, I think – in a light broth with fried silverfish on top. 

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Pork spareribs in a sweet, sticky, and rich coffee glaze. These were so wonderful, I almost forgot that we were going to eat crab and gorged on the ribs!

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Crispy fried beancurd (tofu) which I think had chopped shrimp mixed into it. I may be wrong about that, though. In either case, it was tasty and the texture was a perfect contrast of crispy exterior and silken interior.

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This is the clams with special sauce, which I think was enhanced with soy milk. I might be wrong about that, but it sure was tasty.

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Hong Kong style steamed fish with a soy and oil sauce. This fish was really lovely, light, delicate, and perfectly cooked.

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The first of our two crabs (serving seven of us) was prepared with a chili sauce. They give everyone a large plastic bib because there is no way to eat the crabs without making a mess of it. The sauce was nice, more sweet than spicy.

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The second crab came with a special pepper sauce, which I found even more enjoyable than the chili sauce. The pepper sauce has a more complex flavor, using different types of pepper to add depth.

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To get a sense of how large these crabs are, here’s me hoarding the first one. A lot of the time, I don’t see the point of messing around with crabs because they are too small to make the effort worthwhile. In this case, the crabs were huge and there was plenty of meat inside. The crabs were also very fresh, pulled from a tank kicking and screaming (well, kicking) and killed to order.

This dinner was a good example of Singaporean food at its best: simple dishes prepared with tremendously fresh ingredients and cooked with great skill. As a sign on their wall puts it, their name may be “Number 3 Crab” but they are definitely number one.

 

Breakfast and Lunch in Honolulu

One corner of Honolulu that we found ourselves returning to throughout our two-day visit was Kapahulu Avenue. This neighborhood runs from the north side of the Honolulu Zoo (which is at the south end of Waikiki) to the H1 freeway near Chaminade University of Honolulu. The approximately two-kilometer distance is gentrifying nicely, with lots of long-time shops rubbing shoulders with a new Safeway supermarket. On our visits there, we ate a breakfast and a dinner.

 

Breakfast: Sweet E’s Cafe

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Located in a small shopping complex kind of hidden off Kapahulu Avenue near the H1 freeway, Sweet E’s Cafe is one of the higher-rated breakfast places on Yelp.com. To be certain, I take Yelp reviews with a few large grains of salt. That said, it looked like a good bet for a decent Saturday breakfast before we started driving around the island. 

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Arriving early, we found the dining room less than half full. From the reviews, I get the impression that the restaurant is very crowded later in the morning. The interior is pleasant and the servers were helpful, if not exactly warm.

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Poached eggs with Kalua pork. My big beef with lots of places is that their poached eggs are overcooked. This time, the problem was that the eggs were undercooked. In my mind, the perfect poached egg has solid but not rubbery whites, with runny yolks. When I cut into the first egg, the whites were still watery inside. It was right on the line between “worth sending them back” and “not worth sending them back,” so I didn’t. As the watery whites soaked my English muffins, though, I regretted my decision. The pork and the sauce were tasty, so points there, but the potatoes were bland and would have benefitted from some herbs or spices.

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Tawn ordered a basic waffle with maple syrup. It was pleasantly crisp, cooked to just the right point.

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We also ordered French toast stuffed with cream cheese and blueberries. The toast itself was nicely done but the blueberries inside the toast were tough, leading me to conclude that they use frozen blueberries for the stuffing and only place fresh berries as garnish for the plate.

Overall conclusion: Sweet E’s didn’t show such a sweet face for us, at least as far as quality. It has the potential to be very good and if we lived there, we would give it another chance to redeem itself. But if you are just visiting, I would suggest you search out Boot’s & Kimo’s in Kailua.

 

Dinner: Sam’s Kitchen

On Friday evening, we found ourselves looking for a tasty dinner that didn’t involve a lot of expense or effort on our part. Turning to Yelp.com, I searched for “cheap seafood dinner” in Honolulu. Sure, that’s probably the last place you want to eat – somewhere serving cheap seafood – but we got a result whose high ratings were accompanied by thoughtful reviews: Sam’s Kitchen.

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Located on Kapahulu Avenue right across from a new Safeway shopping center, Sam’s has a slightly retro dive bar appearance. When we arrived about 8:00, we were charmed by its exterior but baffled (and slightly worried) by its almost vacant state.

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We entered and found only a half-dozen customers (if that) listening to live Hawaiian music. I felt a little conspicuous walking in during their performance – after all, it wasn’t like we could sneak in unnoticed. The lady behind the counter was welcoming, though, so we figured out the menu and placed our order.

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Sam’s is about as “Hawaiian” as you can get, a fusion of flavors that represent the different cultures that make up the local population. There is a heavy Japanese bent (and it seems that their original Waikiki location is wildly popular with Japanese guide books), but other cultures are represented, too. Dishes are mostly either rice bowls or bento boxes and their garlic sauce is apparently “famous.”

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Tawn tried the spicy garlic shrimp rice plate, which came with a salad and a half-ear of corn. This was good food – the shrimp is tender and sweet and the garlic packed a punch – and stayed with us for the next day.

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I had the fried mahi mahi with macadamia nuts. The fish was very fresh, lightly breaded, and the sauce was tasty. Both dishes were simple, inexpensive, huge, and excellent. So much so that on Saturday night, our second and final night on Oahu, we decided to visit Sam’s again.

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This time we stopped at the original location on Royal Hawaiian Avenue in Waikiki. This location is take-out only, although it does offer some self-service tables if you can’t wait to get back home to eat. The menu is the same and the customers were mostly Japanese.

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Tawn ordered a combo plate (left) with the same two items we had the night before, but half a portion each. On the right, I ordered a garlic steak plate. The steak was tasty, although pretty tough.

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With two small bottles of wine from the convenience store downstairs, we celebrated our last night on Oahu with a sunset dinner on our balcony.

 

Maui Food Madness Part 2

The second part in my series of interesting places I ate while we were recently on Maui. Today: eskimo candy, touristy seafood, and sensational sushi.

Eskimo Candy

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Eskimo Candy is what they call smoked salmon. Eskimo Candy is also a small seafood restaurant located across from a Napa auto parts store in the beach condo town of Kihei, on the south side of Maui. Open weekdays only, there’s only a trio of tables and much of the business is takeout. The menu is mostly fish and freshness is the name of the game.

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An order of fish and chips served with slaw. The catches of the day are listed on the board and are available in many forms, including fried in a light beer batter and served with fries. This was opah (also known as moonfish), a firm white fleshed fish that is a byproduct of longline tuna fishing. Really good.

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The prize catch, though, is their poke rice bowl. Poke (pronounced “poh-keh”) is raw fish (usually tuna) salad. Eskimo Candy serves four types: a spicy poke, one with fukikake (dried seaweed and sesame seeds), one with shoyu (soy sauce), and one with wasabi. The fish is really fresh, cold, and firm – the best quality poke I’ve eaten. 

Also worth trying (although not seafood) is their chicken teriyaki.

 

Lahaina Fish Company

Lahaina is the largest town on the west side of Maui, an old whaling town that dates back to the 1800s. It is a major tourist area with a charming downtown of shops and sights to see. We had lunch at the Lahaina Fish Company, a restaurant that sits on the harbor and is listed in the Lonely Planet as a worthwhile place to eat.

The breeze was pleasant and the service reasonably attentive. The food, though, wasn’t very interesting and the prices were about what you would expect in this touristy an area. Two items that are worth mention:

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A poke taco appetizer consisted of four very crisp tortilla shells served with okay poke and garnishes including edamame guacamole. It was passable but the shells were super crunchy, a bit too much so.

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One of the specials was described as an “Ahi Sashimi ‘Katsu’ Rice Bowl”. Of course, this is a contradiction in terms. Sashimi is raw and katsu is fried. Sure enough, they used middling quality ahi tuna, wrapped it in nori, lightly breaded it then briefly fried it. It was served with fresh seaweed, carrots, dried seaweed, and a few other greens on a large serving of rice. The so-called “wasabi ginger buerre blanc” dressing didn’t add anything to the dish and the portion of rice was so large that the last quarter of the bowl (despite mixing the ingredients) was plain white rice.

 

Sushi Paradise

After eating abused ahi sashimi in Lahaina, it was a relief to come to Sushi Paradise.

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Located in a strip mall in the condo town of Kihei, Sushi Paradise puts on an unflattering face.

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The inside is small and spartan but it gets busy. If you don’t make reservations, you could easily face a wait of up to two hours. Tawn and I shared a “Paradise Dinner” for $60, which includes a selection of sashimi and sushi, sunomono, miso soup, chawanmushi, and a choice of rolls. We also ordered a few specials, which inflated our bill.

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The sunomono, or pickled seafood salad, featured fresh tako, or octopus. The key to very tender tako is that it has to be massaged before it is cooked. Otherwise, it is just a lump of rubber.

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Our selection of sashimi: red snapper, salmon, yellow tail, squid, octopus, tuna, surf clam, mackerel, and sweet egg. Some of the best quality fish we’ve had outside of Japan. Hard to speak too highly of this restaurant.

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One of the specials was a very lightly torched albacore tuna served with avocado. Not only very tasty, also very beautiful to look at. The very essence of Japanese cuisine is that food should be pleasing to all the senses. This dish achieved that.

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Chawanmushi is a steamed egg custard dish. Our had spinach in it, which was mostly near the bottom of the tea cup in which it is served. The key to this dish is that it has to be strained to remove any clumps or scrambled bits. If it is cooked to the correct point, it is gently solid with a velvet texture. As you might expect, Sushi Paradise has mastered this technique.

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Another special was lightly fried fish belly (don’t remember the type) topped with a mixture of soy sauce, scallions, and grated radish. Deceptively simple but very complex flavors.

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Our sushi plate: tuna, red snapper, yellow tail, salmon, shrimp, eel, sweet egg, plus a spicy tuna roll. All very fresh fish. The shrimp was perfectly done, crunchy but not tough. As you would imagine, I’d recommend you go to Sushi Paradise next time you are on Maui.

Stay tuned for more Maui Food Madness…

 

Seafood in Yaowarat

While our Singaporean friends were in town a week ago, I went with a couple of them to Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown, for a nighttime seafood dinner.

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The streets are no less busy once the sun sets as impromptu restaurants – movable feasts, really – open up on the sidewalks.  Seafood is the specialty of the neighborhood, with several well-known sidewalk vendors offering the freshest seafood available in town.

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A dozen river prawns, simply grilled.  The flesh was sweet, the only thing needed was some spicy homemade sauce of chilies, fish sauce, and lime juice.

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A plate full of crabs, steamed and cracked for our easy eating.  The prawns, crab, and a plate of fried rice were all the three of us needed for a tasty and surprisingly affordable dinner.

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As we finished dinner and headed back to the friends’ hotel, I noticed the moon, just a day or two past full, lost amidst the bright lanterns of Yaowarat.

 

Jason and Daniel Visit – Part 2

Later in the week, Tawn and I had a second opportunity to visit with Jason and Daniel, taking them to see a Thai market.  Wet markets (in other words, those that sell meat and produce) are often one of the best ways to get a really good look at the culture of a place you are visiting.  We chose the modern, clean, and convenient to get to Marketing Organization for Farmers market, known by its Thai initials “Or Tor Gor”.

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Or Tor Gor market is located across the street from the Chatuchak (“JJ”) Weekend Market, immediately outside exit 3 of the Kamphaeng Phet subway station and a short walk from the Mo Chit Skytrain station.  It is open every day of the year and remains busy until the afternoon, so unlike some markets that are most active at the crack of dawn, you can catch a few winks and still see Or Tor Gor in action.

Here are some of the sights we saw:

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There are loads of fruit and vegetable vendors, selling both locally grown and imported varieties.  Even though it is a few months before the height of the mango season, many vendors had a large selection of fragrant “Flower Water” mangoes.

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Dried fruit is an excellent way to bring a taste of your trip home with you.  Here, Jason and Daniel consider the different offerings including mango (lighter yellow) and papaya (orange).

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Curries are one of the staples of Thai cuisine, but even most Thais who cook at home will rarely go to the trouble to grind their own curry paste.  (Although I would like to try and make my own curry paste one of these days.)  Instead, they purchase freshly made curry paste from the local market, available in many varieties.  Tell the vendor what kind of curry you want to make and she’ll tell you what vegetables, herbs, and meats you need to buy and in what quantities.

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This market also has a significant cooked food section so you can buy your meal here and when you return home all you have to do is make some rice.  This vendor is selling curries.  By my count, approximately twenty different types of curry!  Some use the same type of curry paste but are varied by protein and whether or not they use coconut milk.  If you’ve ever tried a “jungle curry” at your local Thai restaurant, that is a curry made without coconut milk.

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Lots of snacky items available, too.  Here, Tawn and Daniel discuss the different flavors of shrimp chips available for purchase.  You can buy these cooked (as you see here) or in small uncooked discs that you fry in oil at home.  I can’t imagine the benefit of frying them yourself so much better to buy them precooked.

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Thailand is home to inexpensive, high-quality seafood and Or Tor Gor market is a good place to buy it.  Above is a tray of small crabs, the type which are brined then crushed and added to one variety of som tam – green papaya salad.

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Fresh scallops are another plentiful item.  When buying them in the US, I’m used to seeing only the white adductor muscle and not the attached roe.  Here they are sold still in the shell with all the bits still attached.

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Another popular sea food item is the giant river prawn.  These beasts usually have a body about nine inches in length (not including the antennae) and are perfect for grilling.  Here, a vendor stacks prawns for display.

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Or Tor Gor market also has several flower vendors, including some who specialize in garlands.  These hand-made flower arrangements are used for worship, placing them on Buddha statues and at shrines, as well as for honoring elders, guests, teachers, and other people of respect.

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This type of garland is especially fragrant.  It will last for several days and each evening the room will smell of jasmine.

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Another prepared food vendor sells stir-fries and other dishes that are eaten with rice.  Thus their Thai name, gap khao, which means “with rice”.  In the steamer in the foreground of the picture is an interesting dish called hor mok.  It is made with a mixture of flaked fish and red curry, steamed in a leaf cup until it has a mousse like texture, then topped with some coconut cream.  Tawn made this for me on one of his first trips to San Francisco after we met, making do with the ingredients he could find at the time.

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For our breakfast (it was going on 11:00) we settled on four dishes with rice.  From the lower right, clockwise: green curry with fish cake, bitter eggplant and basil; pork belly and boiled eggs in soy sauce; eggplant fried in ground pork and basil; and pumpkin served with scrambled egg.  Very tasty.

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Finally, after two days of trying we succeeded in getting a picture of the four of us together.  This one was taken by a young lady who was sitting at the adjacent table waiting for her food to be delivered.  Not only does it show you our handsome mugs but you can also get a good idea of what the market looks like with many of the prepared food vendors in the background.

Again, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to finally meet Jason and Daniel in person and a treat to be able to spend some time with them while they were in town.  Hopefully, the next time we meet it will be in Tokyo!

Happy new year to all of you!

Food in Hua Hin – Seafoodies

As I mentioned in the recent entry about my weekend in Hua Hin, the people whom I was there with, Tawn’s colleagues, are foodies.  Specifically, they are sea-foodies.  I’ve never seen a group of people remove quite so much crab meat from a pile of shells in so short a time as this bunch of diners.  As for me, I really enjoy seafood but there’s also a point where enough is enough, especially back-to-back meals of the same things.  Let me share with you what we ate, so you can appreciate it, too.

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Our main meal was at a popular local restaurant in the heart of Hua Hin town, an unassuming place that looks more like a loading dock with tables.  “Loading dock” would actually be an accurate description, because it is adjacent to the fishermen’s wharf.  Unlike such piers in some corners of the world that have become tacky tourist spots, these are the unassuming working jetties where the fishing fleet comes to offload their catch of fresh prawns, crabs, fish, oysters, scallops, and other delicacies of the deep.  Based on my experience, there are few places where you can find seafood more fresh than the fisherman’s wharf.

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Tables are placed on a series of extentions to the main dock, a series that seems rather haphazardly added on based on an expanding clientele.

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The entire family (or families) seem to be at work, with youngsters sorting out fresh shellfish with each order that is placed.  Half the main floor area is a series of tanks which are filed with different types of creatures depending upon demand.  This being low season, only about half the tanks had occupants.  I have no idea what the “spot babylone” is.

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Clams with garlic and basil.  Very sweet meat.

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Fried squid.  Instead of cutting these into rings, this restaurant cuts them into strips.  A bit overcooked, I thought.

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Lump crap meat, scrambled eggs, and green onions with tumeric and curry powder.  My favorite of the dishes.

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Hoy jaew – a crab meat sausage wrapped in tofu skins and steamed then deep fried.  I wrote last month about a restaurant we went to in Chonburi that is famous for these.  Entry is here.

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Raw oysters.  These were large and very briny tasting, not as clean a taste as I enjoy.  Garnished with a very pungent herb, salt, lime juice, and toasted shallots.

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Steamed crab, anyone?

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Boiled prawns.  The crab and prawns were served with a super-spicy dipping sauce.

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Two of Tawn’s colleagues enjoy the meal.  Looking behind them you can see the various seating areas, each with a tent roof.  The solid roof structure way in the back is on the land, which is where all the holding tanks for the seafood are.

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After the seafood dinner, we went to one of the night markets in Hua Hin.  The traditional night market is on the city streets and is very crowded.  There is a new area that has been set up that is a bit more park-like and focuses on the arts.  There was a live band playing in a small ampitheatre, a food court area, and lots of vendors selling everything from paintings to clothing.  Above, a pair of Tawn’s colleagues posed for pictures.  Picture taking was a big part of the weekend.

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At the night market I ordered some coconut ice cream served with sticky rice in a hollowed-out coconut shell.  The meat of the coconut was cut loose with a little device so that I could eat it with the ice cream.

The next day…

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Did I mention that picture taking was a prominent activity?

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The next day after class we stopped for lunch at another seafood restaurant before driving back to Krungthep.  I didn’t take any pictures because, well, it was pretty much the same menu all over again.  I did take a macro photo of this fried prawn head, though, because I thought it was kind of interesting.

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The restaurant we went to was in a small fishing village on the south side of Hua Hin.  Interestingly, the tide was out, leaving the whole fishing fleet beached.

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Thai fishing boats are very colorful.  So that was my weekend in Hua Hin with Tawn’s colleagues.  Very fun opportunity and I’m glad to have had it.

 

Dining in Chonburi: Seafood Extravaganza

 The family of one of Tawn’s university friends owns a famous seafood restaurant in Chonburi province, about a 90-minute drive southeast of Bangkok.  In all the years he has known her, Tawn has never been down to visit the restaurant.  A few weeks ago we decided to finally accept the friend’s offer and drove to the restaurant.  It was, to say the least, a seafood extravaganza.

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The unassuming restaurant is in a busy market area near the Gulf of Thailand.  An open-air shop house, the restaurant looks like it has been there for ages, which it has.  It is clean but not fancy.  The counter between the kitchen and the dining area is lined with bottles of their homemade chili sauce, a Warhol-esque decorating statement.  Large photos of the dishes on the menu line the walls.

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The first thing to be placed on the granite tables are a trio of sauces: the homemade chili on the left, a sweet “plum” sauce in the back, and a fish sauce with chilies.  The small green chilies in the fish sauces are called prik kii nuu in Thai – literally, “mouse shit chilies”.

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The restaurant’s specialty is a kind of seafood sausage, if you will.  It comes in two types: Hoy jaew is the round one, and is made of crab meat; Hae gun is the flat one and is made of shrimp.  Both are wrapped in tofu skins and steamed then deep fried.

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Another batch almost ready to come out of the deep-fryer.

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And interior shot of the hoy jaw – basically a crab cake.  Large chunks of fresh crab meat.

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Another menu item the restaurant is famous for is the bpuu jaa – crab shells stuffed with a mixture of crab meat and pork, then fried.  The flavor is especially good at this restaurant because they mix the meat with coconut milk.

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Goong ob wuun sen – baked vermicelli with prawns with a sauce made from oyster sauce, cilantro, and ginger.  The secret ingredient is pork fat, which lines the clay pot to prevent ingredients from sticking while the dish is baked.  As it is served, the dish is stirred and the melted pork fat is distributed over the noodles, which absorbs it.  Yummy!

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Tom yum talae – Traditionally “tom yum” soup with fresh seafood.  Moderately spicy with a tamarind flavored broth.

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Khao pad bpuu – Stir fried rice with crab meat.  The owner spoiled us by making it stir fried crab meat with a little bit of rice in it.  Tasty!

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Plaa muk kai tod gratiam – Young squid that are filled with squid roe, fried in a sweet sauce and topped with fried garlic.

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Plaa tod – Cotton fish filleted and fried…

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and topped with yam mamuang – a sauce of green mango, carrots, cilantro, chilies, and dried shrimp mixed with fish sauce and lime juice.  Perfect with the fish and not as spicy as you might expect. 

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The star of the show, a basket of steamed crab!

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The mother of Tawn’s friend as an expert at cracking and peeling crab.  She sat there at the table and opened a half-dozen crabs for us, making the choice bits easily accessible.  Normally, crab is something I won’t bother with if I have to peel the shells and pick out the meat myself because it seems more work than it is worth.  But with an expert peeling them – well, I’m all in!

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Sauce of death!  Chilies (loads of the “mouse shit” variety) blended with lime juice, fish sauce, and not much else.  This is super spicy.  And really good with the crab meat.

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The strange interior membrane of the crab, which I was encouraged to try. Very astringent, briny flavor and not something I’ll have again.

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For the most part, the food wasn’t very spicy but was really tasty.  The sauce for the crab, though, is just spicy.  There’s no two ways about it.  This required a lot of water with lots of ice to cool down the mouth!

Growing up in the US, I didn’t eat a lot of seafood while I was growing up.  I only came to appreciate it once I started having really fresh seafood prepared in simple ways that emphasize the freshness and flavor of the meat.  Needless to say, this restaurant reinforced all the great things about seafood.

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For dessert, some khanom niaow – basically, a Thai-style mochi (pounded sticky rice) served with a palm sugar sauce and fried cooked rice.

After lunch we strolled around the local market.  I’ll share those photos tomorrow.