There are some friends who you simply trust explicitly when it comes to food recommendations. My friend L is one such person. So when she raved about the best steamboat meal she’d ever had, and added the caveat that she had been introduced to this gastronomic revelation by none other than Wong Ah Yoke, chief food critic of The Straits Times, the main English newspaper here in Singapore, I knew it was something I had to try for myself. And soon.
The one and only time I tried checking out Michelin-starred dim sum specialist Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong was a complete bust. My wife and I had tried stopping by the original Mongkok branch for an early breakfast before a full day of appointments. Unfortunately, the line was simply too long and after a little more than 30 minutes, we had to hightail it back to Central, sans dim sum.
As the editor of Aun’s fantastic blog here at Chubby Hubby, one of the things I enjoy doing most is getting to know our fabulous contributors. Our contributors come from all walks of life – including marketing and creative folks, working mums (including S, Aun’s wife) who juggle a full time work schedule and still manage to turn out restaurant quality meals, as well as people who work in the corporate sector – all of whom take time out from their busy schedules (no doubt eating all the way) to share their eating and travel experiences, varied recipes and life in general with us and our readers.
To be honest, I had kind of avoided Chopsuey Cafe when it first opened. Early reviews by both press and bloggers weren’t entirely favorable. But, a few months ago, my sister-in-law J, who has impeccable taste, recommended that we go there for brunch. And I’m so glad she did. Since then, I’ve been back several times, each time becoming more and more enamored with this elegant yet oh-so-kitschy restaurant tucked away in a corner in Dempsey Hill. In the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that all of those critics who pooh-poohed this marvelous little Chinesey eatery, well, just simply didn’t get it.
As we usher in the year of the snake, the most important event for many of us is the reunion dinner. In Singapore, where families are typically small, most people would be spending their Chinese (or Lunar) New Year’s eve dinner at home with a home-cooked spread. That usually works for me too. But this year, to spare our homemakers from pre and post meal slaving over the kitchen stoves, we have included our extended families to come together for an eight course feast. I believe a bottle of wine ought to be in order.
Like many people, I first discovered xiao long bao in a famous Taiwanese restaurant called Din Tai Fung. I don’t usually eat in chain restaurants, but I do make an exception for this New York Times rated, Michelin starred eatery which is famous for its xiao long bao. And so after first experiencing the steamy, soupy, pork-filled wonders of xiao long bao for the first time, I became obsessed. Now, it is one of those things I must have weekly or somehow I feel deprived.Xiao long bao means “small steaming purse or basket” in Mandarin, which is a very factual description of a magical dish. These dumplings are traditionally filled with small pork meatballs (although you can find chicken, vegetable and seafood nowadays), and are encased in a thin, translucent dumpling shell with a savory broth within.
I’d never really thought about making XO sauce—a deliciously spicy and umami condiment that first gained popularity in Hong Kong in the Eighties—in the past because the process seemed mysteriously complex. Generally consisting of dried scallops and shrimp paired with chillies, and a blend of shallots and garlic, the recipe for most signature XO sauces served at famous Chinese restaurants are closely guarded.
Whether I’m making chawanmushi (茶碗蒸しwhich broadly means ‘steamed in a teacup’ but specifically refers to Japanese steamed savoury custard), zheng shui dan (蒸水蛋 or steamed eggs), egg tofu or a savoury custard of my own invention, my base ratio for the custard ingredients is 1 egg to 100ml liquid. With this master recipe, the custard consistently retains a meltingly delicate quiver that possibly accounts for its comforting, nursery-food like qualities. And it takes just 20 minutes to steam.
La Mar is a restaurant that I first visited in Lima in the summer of 2009. I remember this place clearly because when I went with my classmates, we very coincidentally ran into other classmates who were also touring Peru at the same time. By that point on the trip, my friends had brought me to so many restaurants that I had already recognised Peru as an undiscovered gastronomic haven: they have over thirty types of corn and so many kinds of fruit that I had never encountered. Not to mention a huge number of stunning fusion dishes, a direct result of Peru’s many immigrant cultures. La Mar has restaurants throughout Latin America and has recently started expanding into the USA.
I had the opportunity to meet with You Si in Shanghai, China at an art gallery event. I was talking in a group that kept expanding and suddenly I found myself talking to a lively Chinese man with an infectious smile and lots of stories to tell. We established early in the conversation that we both used to live in New York and then we bonded over shared memories of the “city that never sleeps.” As it turns out my new cocktail companion was You Si, a Chinese artist who had moved to New York and lived there for more than two decades but had in recent years moved back to China to live in Shanghai. When I asked, “is any of this work yours?”, he replied, “no, none of this is my work, I am a guest tonight just like you.”