Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sichuan Noodles

We've become addicted to Sichuan noodles. I make extra meat topping and buy the fresh noodles from a coffeeshop in Foh San and on the weekends the boys make a bowl of noodles for themselves whenever they feel like it.


Sichuan Noodles

1 kg fresh egg noodles (serves 5-6)
3/4 kg lean pork, minced
1/2 T ginger, minced
2 T garlic, chopped
2 T spring onions, cut fine
3 T light soy sauce
1/2 T dark soy sauce (optional)
3 T sweet bean sauce
salt & pepper
cornstarch solution (1 T cornflour + 3 T water)-optional

Serve with:
Sichuan peppercorn oil
Sichuan red chili oil
Sichuan suimiyacai (from box)
A boiled veg, such as beansprouts or other greens

1. Heat 4 T veg oil in wok, then add the Sichuan peppercorns and fry till fragrant, about 1 min. Discard the peppercorns, leaving the oil in the wok. Add the pork, ginger and garlic and fry, breaking up the meat. Add the soy sauce, bean paste, salt and pepper to taste.

2. Liquid will come out from the meat. Continue frying under medium heat until all the liquid dries up. Add the cornstarch solution if you like the meat topping to be moist.

2. Boil two large pots of water. Drop the noodles in, about 200g at a time, and quickly stir with chopsticks to separate the strands. When it boils again, stir it for 30 seconds or so (depends on the thickness of the noodles) then scoop it all in a large slotted spoon, run under cold water to wash off the gummy starch, then dip again in another pot of boiling water quickly (to heat it up) then scoop it all up again quickly and drain well. Put into a bowl, top with some meat, spring onions, the suimiyacai (a preserved veg) and the chili and peppercorn oils. Before eating, mix noodles and topping well.

Note: For soup noodles just add hot diluted chicken stock. I use Swanson's Chicken Broth, 1 can broth : 1 can water.
To prepare chili oil and Sichuan peppercorn oil, refer to post on garlic pork.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Creamy White Sauce Pasta

As requested by Nee of Kuching (ha, trying to sound international), here are two simple classic white-sauce pasta you can cook up in a jiffy. They are basically the same except carbonara has eggs in it and because I cannot resist not heating the pasta again after tossing it with the egg mixture, I always end up with curdled sauce so personally I prefer the alfredo.

Two things to note:

1. Never use the grated parmesan in those green canisters. The smell always makes me look around the room for babies regurgitating their milk. Freshly ground parmesan is not smelly at all and if you use parmesan reggiano (Parmigiano-Reggiano) this'll be your best pasta alfredo/carbonara ever. I sometimes throw in leftover/remaining cheddar to enhance the tastiness.

2. You can add some crispy-fried bacon or fried parma ham strips, and fried mushrooms or peas etc to make it more lavish.

Fettucine alla Alfredo

250g fettucine (serves 2 big eaters)
150ml heavy cream
50g freshly grated parmesan plus extra to serve
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon butter

1. Boil the pasta in salted water until 'el dente'. Drain well.
2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pot at medium heat. Add half the cream, stir well for a minute or so till cream thickens a little, then add the parmesan and nutmeg, salt and pepper, stirring well. When it begins to bubble, add the pasta, tossing well.
3. Now add the remaining cream and when it just begins to steam, remove from the fire. Adjust taste with salt and pepper if necessary.
4. Serve immediately with extra grated or shaved parmesan on the side.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

250g spaghetti (or other shapes)
2 eggs
50g freshly grated parmesan plus extra to serve
150ml heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

1. Whisk together eggs, parmesan and cream, season with salt and pepper.
2. Cook pasta in salted water till el dente.
3. Drain pasta well and quickly add in the egg mixture when the pasta is still hot. Toss well and season to taste.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chicken Noodle Soup

This one's for you ,Yi, as the weather gets colder.


Chicken Noodle Soup

1 kampung chicken, or free-range chicken
1 large brown onion, diced 1 cm square
2 carrots, diced 1cm square
3 stalks celery, diced 1 cm square
100g short-cut vermicelli pasta
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1. Skin the chicken, trim off any fat, chop at the joints and bone the chicken. Leave the bones in big pieces so it'll be easier to remove later. Cut the meat into 2cm cubes.
2. Put bones and meat in a heavy-based pot, add 3 litres of water and the onion and simmer 45 min to an hour.
3. Meantime, in another pot, fry the carrots and celery in butter (or veg oil if you aren't brave) for 8 to 10 min in medium heat. Switch off heat and leave it covered.
4. Remove the bones from the stock and skim off any surface oil. Then add the fried veg and simmer 10 min. Add the vermicelli and the parsley, stir, season with salt and pepper and switch off the heat. Let the vermicelli steep in the hot soup; it will cook. You can re-heat the soup if you want it very hot.

Note: This is a bit of work but hey what's the point of cooking your own chicken soup if you use canned stock? You might as well open a can of Campbell's.

Japan: Tokyo Disneyland

May 2005

It was drizzling but Bob in his cool and wise way said it was the perfect day to spend in Disneyland. Obediently we set out in the rain with umbrellas and plastic ponchos. The rain got heavier but we were by then nearer to the subway station than the house.

More than an hour later, we got off , so excited. The Disneyland gate, the buildings, the rides and everything beyond! That Bob, he was right. No rain, no sun (no pigmentation ladies!) but best of all, no lines! Even if there was, FastPass did the trick.

Disneyland reduces us grown-ups into silly, excited, bright-eyed tots twitching impatiently to get into Mickey's house, going for the second ride in Pooh's Hunny Hunt, even risking our hearts in Space Mountain. For one day, we are our kids' age, pastel pink and blue become our favorite colors and everybody's so happy they forget to quarrel.

Tokyo Disneyland

We had the best guide, Kimmie! She's been there countless times and she saved us a lot of walking because she knew the park so well. This is one person I'd choose to be on an island (not necessarily deserted though--escape clause) with--she's heaps of joy and fun!


You go there and the rest of the day your head will go "Its a small world after all, it's..." My boys loved Tomorrowland. We all did. It's the best land there. Why is it Adventureland and Westernland are always under renovation, in any Disneyland? They might as well close these two lands. They definately have to close Critters Country. Yawn.

Mickey's house. Or was it Minnie's?

Inside Mickey's house.


What's it about an old duck that makes people so happy??

Japanese schoolgirls


Brings the best out of everyone!

The Parade of Dreams

The Parade of Dreams is good (around 7pm, on Main Street), but if you are in Disneyland, stay back till 9 pm for the highlights, The Electrical Parade 'Dreamlights' and the fireworks. It's truly magical and the best show of all. It made me wish we could live in Disneyland forever. It's that fantastic but I have no pictures to show because the camera battery ran out.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Japan: Tsukiji Market

May 2005

I've always wanted to see Tsukiji Market (the world's largest wholesale and retail seafood market), so when Bob's friend offered to take us there I almost kissed his feet. There were two conditions though: no kids allowed and we have to be ready by 4.45 am. I was disappointed for Ming, but understood the restriction was due to safety reasons (all those hooks) and the fact that it was serious business, bidding for the bluefin tuna, and they didn't like tourists there. Thing about going to Tsukiji is, it opens so early you can't get there without a car because the subway service would not have started yet.

It was dark when we started out. The rest of Tokyo hadn't woken up yet but the Tsukiji area was busy and active. It felt like we were on some important mission.


Tokyo is so big even residents of 20 years still need to drive with their GPS on.

Bidding in action

Contrary to what I have been told, it wasn't noisy, with the winning bidder nodding his head to seal the deal. We missed the fresh tuna auction, which took place earlier.

Checking for quality

See what I mean? Serious business because the tuna can sell for US$10,000 each.



The place is huge and so busy that the people move around in these little powered carts.

Cutting the first tuna of the day

This sushi restaurant is in the market and we immediately went in for breakfast.


The freshest and tastiest maguro sushi.

Heavenly piece of uni sushi.

Sushi Poster

I was told the best sushi is toro, the tender, fatty belly of the bluefin tuna (see that pink and white oversized sushi, upper right). That morning I made one of the biggest culinary mistakes of my life: I declined toro because I felt queasy eating raw fish so early in the morning. I went off with my camera to take more pictures. By the time I got back, my friends were on uni (sea urchins roe) and maguro (tuna). The maguro was tender, fresh and delicious. And then I had the uni sushi... The sea urchin roe was unlike any I've ever eaten, totally different in flavor from what I've eaten till then. It's not just the creaminess, but the flavor! So utterly fresh and sweet, without that weird briny taste I'd always thought was normal. Even the color was different. Oh, it was one moment to remember forever! To this day I dream about it...In fact, after Tsukiji, all sushi, even those in Tokyo restaurants, were never as good again.

Bonito fillets

This is dried bonito (tuna) before they shave it into paper-thin flakes to be sold as dashi which is the basic flavoring for soup, stock etc.

Bonito flakes

At a yakitori stall

Straight out of the sushi restaurant and I was going for the yakitori. My stomach had woken up.

Sea urchin and fish roe

We bought some cod roe which we pan-fried at home and it's one of the food we still talk about. Definitely have to go back to Japan.


Japanese pickles

The purplish pickle was excellent with plain congee.



Japanese ceramics

I'd buy my ceramics in China, thank you (its much, much cheaper!). In Tsukiji Market, you can buy that super-sharp sushi knife (around US$170 ea) and all kinds of kitchen utensils and ingredients.

Legumes store

The Japanese are the cleanest and tidiest people in the world. Tsukiji Market, besides having the tuna bidding section, also has a seafood market and it is so clean, totally unstinky and so well-arranged that its a joy to visit. So was this store. I mean would you find a legumes store interesting?? I did.

Tsukiji food stall

As you leave the market, you'll get to a row of small restaurants (some so small there's no seats; customers just stand and slurp their noodles) selling udon, tempura and all food Japanese. The aroma just makes you giddy with hunger.


Ming's daily needs.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sichuan Garlic Sliced Pork

As Sichuan food is not available in KK, we always have our Sichuan fix in Singapore. However, after Chengdu I found that the Sichuan food we eat in Singapore does not represent the real thing. Authentic Sichuan dishes are spicy and flavorful, with lots of red chili oil, ginger, garlic and Sichuan peppercorns which are numbing yet very fragrant and addictive. The only thing we didn't like is, like all food in China with the exception of cantonese food, the food is usually too oily.

Last night we had a Sichuan feast in my place. We are blessed to know students from all parts of China who are studying in our local university. Three pretty Chinese students, from Chengdu, Jiangxi and Gansu, are going back for summer holidays and Leila, who's from Chengdu, kindly offered to cook us an authentic Sichuan meal.

Twice-cooked pork

Chunk of pork belly, boiled, sliced and then fried (thus the name of the dish) with bell peppers, onion, ginger and garlic mince, all blended by those essential ingredients: Sichuan peppercorns, red chili oil and Sichuan hot bean paste, preferably that with broad beans. In Chengdu this dish will be much redder and oilier.

Garlic sliced pork.

Boiled belly pork (which must not be too soft or too hard), sliced and drizzled with a dressing and then chilled. This dish just bursts with all the flavors of peppercorns, garlic and red chili oil.

Garlic chives with pork.

A simple stir-fry of crunchy sweet garlic chives and pork, blended by a sweet beanpaste sauce.

We were so busy eating we forgot to take a picture of Leila's last dish, the famous scrumptious mapo tofu. The mapo tofu in KK is completely different, totally unauthentic! The several times I've cooked this dish I've been disappointed, until I went to Chengdu and bought prepared Sichuan hotbean paste, and learnt from Leila how to cut the tofu into small cubes and let it simmer long so the flavor invades the tofu.

Goongbao chicken (photo taken in Chengdu, Sichuan).

Another famous yummy Sichuan dish that's extremely flavorful, sweet and spicy. Goes well with hot rice.

Of all the above, the garlic pork is the easiest to make so here's the recipe.

Sichuan Garlic Sliced Pork

1/2 kg pork belly, not too lean or fatty
6 garlic cloves, smashed and finely minced
1 tablespoon ginger, pounded and very finely minced
2 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tsp fine sugar
a pinch of msg
red chili oil (preferably home-made)
Sichuan peppercorn oil and fried peppercorns

1. Scald the pork belly (uncut, in a chunk) with boiling water.
2. Put pork into a pot, add enough water to cover, add a piece of thumb-sized ginger and boil till cooked.
3. After 40 minutes or so, test with a fork. If too soft, it'll be hard to slice thinly.
4. Let the pork cool so it'll be easier to slice. You can chill it too.
5. Meanwhile, mix the first 6 ingredients well, till the sugar is dissolved. Season to taste. (Or, as Leila does it, sprinkle the pork layers with the ingredients one by one).
6. Slice the pork thinly against the grain and arrange it on a plate in a single layer. Drizzle the dressing over, then drizzle the peppercorn oil and fried peppercorns, then repeat with another layer. Finally sprinkle some fresh coriander leaves over and chill till ready to eat.

Note (edited): Make your own red chili oil by heating up some veg oil till it smokes, then switch off the fire, pour the oil into a heat-proof container (thick glass jar) in which the chili flakes are already put. If the oil is too hot, the chili flakes will burn and become bitter. If oil is too cold, the flavor and color won't develop. When the oil runs low, add hot oil to it again but be careful about the jar. Make Sichuan peppercorn oil by heating up the oil until it almost smokes, let it cool a little (too hot n the delicate peppercorns will burn), then add the peppercorns into the oil and pour it into a heat-proof container.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"Their Money is Called 'Butt'??"

October 2006

That's what Wey asked when we told him we were taking him to Bangkok, a city which you either like or dislike.

Hongkong has the best food and shopping and a beautiful skyline, thanks mainly to the Bank of China building and the South China Sea, Kuala Lumpur is all messed up and only looks good from a distance because of the Petronas Twin Towers, Shanghai is interesting for its history, food and two different skylines viewed from The Bund, Singapore is well-planned, clean but characterless, Tokyo's pleasant because its combines old and new perfectly, with tree-lined boulevards like Omotesando and Ginza and little streets of hidden restaurants and shops, Beijing's another ugly contender (but is worth going to for the amazing historic buildings), and so is Seoul. LA is surprisingly boring except for the outskirts and factory outlets and the amazing houses in Beverly Hills. Boston and Philly are both historic yet modern, San Francisco is beautiful with landmarks like The Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39 and breathtaking stretches along the Pacific, Vancouver is a very pretty but boring city, while Toronto is more cosmo yet very liveable despite its size. New York's all skyscrapers, international headquarters buildings and people are either very rich or very poor, Perth's got King's Park and that's it folks, Sydney's got that iconic but rundown Sydney Opera House, beaches, nice houses on the hills, very good restaurants, Melbourne is pleasant especially around the Crown-Yarra River surrounding, is not too big or small and has been voted for many years running as one of the top 3 most liveable cities in the world. Kota Kinabalu is..... called a city but really its not so I'll spare it my comments.

My prize for The Ugliest City in The World goes to......Bangkok! Architect students, make it a case study of what not to plan and design. For example, the main street, Sukhumvit Rd, is not walkable because of the traffic and the broken, loose and uneven pavement (they can build the world's biggest airport but not fix the main shopping road?). So they built a double-storey walkway (1st level) and light transit rail (2nd level) over the whole stretch of the road. This ugly structure completely hides the view of the new buildings on that road, and it gives you a vista of the whole ugly city. What had/is the government done/doing?!

However, the fantastic food (very colorful radioactive-looking but yummy desserts and a large tasty variety of Thai-indochina dishes), exciting blend of exotic culture, nightlife and cheap shopping (as in cheap useless stuff you buy and then wonder why) make it still a better place to visit than, say, Kuala Lumpur. My only advice is: don't take the tuktuks ! Just don't. They take you round and round and rip you off and all the while you breath in Bangkok's toxic oxidating gases. The taxi drivers aren't better too. Friends highly recommend a Somboon Restaurant but the two times we tried to go, we were brought to the same tourists-only restaurant that charged us 300 Bhat for one small plate of fried kangkong (a veg). The drivers get a commission for bringing tourists there.

We ate 5 meals a day in Bangkok and didn't take many pictures but here are some:

Sukhumvit Road

All the newest and glitziest shopping malls are on both sides of this street but the concrete walkway hides everything.

Wey deciding on a toy.

This is at the largest night market, a good alternative for those who don't want to melt in the heat in the world's largest weekend market, Chatuchak.

Night shopping on the streets.

At 8pm everynight, these makeshift stalls will spring up everywhere, even in front of 5-star hotels.



More dense and chaotic than any town in China!

Wat Pho

One day we told the tuktuk driver we wanted to go to the old palace. After two hours, I wondered what the fuss was about because, frankly, it was boring and not really pretty. When we left in a taxi, the driver told us that that wasn't the palace, but a wat (temple) that we'd just been to. The name? Wat Pho. Yes, what for did we spend 2 hours there??

Flowers for the wats

Bbq fish, obviously

Street food stall

Typical Thai dishes

Fried bugs

Super supermarket, 7th Floor Cental Mall


This has got to be the best supermarket in Asia in terms of quality and variety of international food. It has a large classy food court too.


At the floating village

An hour away from Bangkok, the floating village survived just because of tourists so its very commercialised and phoney. Don't waste your time.

Girls with flowers for Loy Kratong

We were lucky to witness one of Thailand's big festivals, the Loy Kratong. The Thais float these environmentally-friendly (base made from dough or banana stem) flower arrangements into the Chao Praya River with their wishes and prayers. The top hotels like The Oriental Hotel are lined up on both sides of the river, and we took a boat cruise which gave us a great view of the fantastic fireworks display given by these hotels.

We tried four different hotels in 7 nights. The last night, we wanted to sleep luxuriously and managed to get a room online at a boutique hotel, The Davis Bangkok. However, when we checked in, they were full so they put us into, not their ordinary suites but, their Presidential Suite! At no extra charge!



The master wing's on the left and the kids' wing on the right. Taken from the study/kitchen.

One of the bedrooms.

Part of the spa.

Thank you Davis Bangkok!

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