The Elvis sandwich

elvis with bacon

Riding on the wave of my last post, where I disclosed my hubby’s peculiar fondness for dolloping peanut butter in his cheeseburgers, I decided to explore more deeply, this pairing of the saltiness of meat together with peanut butter. It brought me back in time, to a possibly better time when bell-bottoms were très chic, when there was glory in the excess, when Elvis sang, and dearly loved a peanut butter, bacon and banana sandwich.

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Two great Mexican meals in two cities

Although I had not truly tasted authentic Mexican food till I moved to the US, I was hooked from the first moment I tried it. The flavours are fresh, with heavy usage of lime, tomatoes, onions and chillies like jalapeño. The spice factor is sharper from that of most Asian cuisines and often carry more of a kick. Continue Reading →

The best cupcake in the world – Molly’s Cupcakes

The cupcake boom was alive and well when I was first in Chicago four years ago. There was Sprinkles, Swirlz, Sugar Bliss…and of course, there was Molly’s. I especially love Molly’s. I truly love Molly’s. Molly’s was a five minute walk away from my apartment when I lived in Chicago and I definitely had a love hate relationship with it. I loved it for the little pick-me-ups whenever I needed (or wanted) one, but of course hated that my then expanding waistline was in no small part attributable to my love of the delectable concoctions at Molly’s Cupcakes.

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The Burger Bar in Noosa, Queensland, serves up awesome burgers

When S and I were approached by Tourism Australia to check out the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival this past May, we agreed, but also told our hosts that we’d want to check out some of the area’s top local restaurants as well. Because I like to do my own research, I spent an evening trawling through the Web in order to pick out a few places to check out. One place in particular was a no-brainer. The Burger Bar was, at the time, rated the #1 restaurant in Noosa on Tripadvisor. It had also been awarded Queensland’s favourite burger by lifestylefood.com.au in 2010, 2011 and 2012. As a burger lover, I knew that this would be a mandatory stop during our short trip down under. Continue Reading →

Best tonkotsu ramen

I love tonkotsu ramen. It ranks as among my all-time favourite foods. The cloudy white soup, made with crushed pork bones, is sinfully rich and always satisfying. Served with firm, well-made noodles, perfectly roasted slices of pork, and a ni-tamago (a boiled egg with firm whites but a soft yolk), and I’m in heaven. Here in Singapore, I’ve enjoyed regularly tucking into the version served at Tampopo, located in Liang Court. And up until a few weeks ago, I thought that Tampopo’s tonkotsu ramen was pretty darned good.

But then I went to Kyushu. And discovered what really good tonkotsu ramen tastes like.

During my recent slightly-crazy dash across Japan, I was able to spend 2 nights in Fukuoka. It was just one of two places during my 16 day trip that I was able to spend more than one night. While we had two meetings to attend in Kyushu’s capital city, we also had a little bit of free time to explore the city. One of the first things I did, after checking into my hotel, was grill the hotel’s staff on what their favourite tonkotsu ramen stalls were. Experiencing great tonkotsu ramen was certainly at the top of my must-do-in-Kyushu checklist.

I was thrilled when one of the gals I spoke with quickly produced an article that she then xeroxed for me. The article listed the best tonkotsu ramen stalls in town. Of them, she said that her favourite, and the favourite of most of her colleagues, was Ichiran. She told me that while Ichiran was now a chain, the original branch was not far from the hotel. No more than a 10-15 minute walk in fact.

The next morning, armed with a map and a large appetite, my colleague D and I set off to discover Ichiran. While we found it easily enough, we were slightly befuddled by shop’s layout and ordering system. All of Ichiran’s branches have a similar and uniquely striking layout. They are narrow and long. Two long rows of seats are arranged around a central corridor. Each eating station (for lack of a better term) is cordoned off from its neighbor by wooden dividers. In front of each eating station is a red curtain, which hangs low. The open space in front of each customer is just barely big enough for the waiters and waitresses who roam the central corridor to pass food through. When seated, you can’t see your neighbor’s faces. You can’t see the faces of the people serving you or the people eating across from you (unless, like me, you rather rudely stick your camera into the opening). The whole experience feels slightly illicit, sort of like sitting at a peep show. But instead of naked performers, you’re being served up wonderful portions of food porn.

Before finding one’s seat, a customer can order his or her ramen from a vending machine stationed near the door. If you aren’t comfortable with this, ignore it. Ichiran now has order sheets in English. Just ask for one when you sit down. Also near the door is a lit layout display of the restaurant. The layout actually shows you where the empty seats are, which is fantastic when trying to find a place in this fabulously popular ramen shop.

I loved that Ichiran offers customers a huge host of options when ordering. In addition to a variety of extra edible items that you can ask for, you will be asked to write down exactly how you want your ramen prepared. Your ordering sheet will give you options to choose from for the following categories: flavor strength; richness (fat content); garlic; green onion; roast pork filet; “secret sauce” (using red pepper as a base); and noodle’s tenderness. When I visited, I ordered mine with medium flavor; rich broth; regular garlic; weak green onion; with roast pork filet (and a ni-tamago, of course); no “secret sauce”; and firm noodles.

My ramen was amazing. The broth was ridiculously rich and divine. The noodles were delicious and cooked perfectly. After every bite, I had to stop and turn to D, declaring, “Oh my God! This is so good!” It was, hands-down, the most enjoyable ramen I have ever had. It was also probably the fattiest, but hey, you only live once.

Ichiran has branches all over Fukuoka (and also, I’m told, Japan). There is a list of all of its branches on its website. Note though that it is in Japanese. If you want some basic info on Ichiran in English, you can click here. Now that I am back in Singapore, I am desperately hoping someone will bring Ichiran here. I can’t imagine having to wait to return to Japan before having another bowl of this simply stunning ramen.

Freshness Burger and random Hokkaido shots

While I often write about rather chi-chi dining establishments, long-time readers will also know that I’m a huge fan of some pretty low-brow foods. Especially burgers. While in Japan this trip (I am writing this from Tokyo), one of the many things on my must-do list was visit a Freshness Burger.

Freshness Burger is a nation-wide chain. One friend once described it to me as the closest he had ever found to In-N-Out Burger outside of California. Other friends had similarly raved about Freshness Burger’s small but amazingly well-prepared burgers. During my last trip to Japan, my darling wife S had pretty much hijacked our itinerary. That meant that Freshness Burger was not on the menu — instead we ran back and forth across Tokyo trying as many high-end pastry shops as possible.

Well, this time, I finally made my way to a Freshness Burger. The branch I visited was in Fukuoka, but I’m pretty sure that the quality is standard across all of the company’s many outlets. Not wanting to get too creative, I had the Classic Cheese Burger. All I can say is, “YUM!” It was, hands-down, one of the best burgers I have ever had, in either a gourmet restaurant or a fast food outlet.

The staff, pictured here, were also really cool. The guy in the cap made my burger while the dude with the glasses took my order. The girl in black seemed to be in charge and the gal in the cap was, well, I don’t know what she does there, but I enjoyed watching her do it (yah, I know, I’m a dog).

I can’t wait for my next visit to Freshness Burger. I’d love to slowly work my way through their pretty extensive menu. Sadly, when I went to this branch in Fukuoka, I wasn’t too hungry — I had just filled up on the best tonkotsu ramen I had ever eaten (but that my friends is another post).

On a totally unrelated note, I just want to say that I LOVE Hokkaido. Even through I was there for just 2 days and really didn’t see that much, I am already a fan. I’m posting 3 pictures from my quick visit. The grilled scallop, topped with Hokkaido butter, was part of the breakfast set I was served at the gorgeous ryokan I stayed in.

This miso cod, plated with daikon and tamago, was also part of the same really huge breakfast. I can’t even begin to describe the Kaiseki dinner I had the night before. It was ridiculously good, but moron that I am, I didn’t take a single picture.

I did take this shot though, which is the private, outdoor hot spring tub attached to my room. I have to admit that visiting some of the country’s best ryokans these past 2 weeks in Japan has given me a new appreciation for the art of bathing. While I was really a shower-only person, I’m now sold on a good hot soak.

Yummy ramen in Singapore

marutama2.jpg

There are some friends whose emails and text messages you simply don’t ignore. My buddy IC is one such fellow. Prone to over-ordering (and over-eating), he has one of the most discriminating and well-cultivated palates on the planet. It’s funny because for many of my friends, whenever they travel, they email my wife S or me, asking for advice on where to eat (as well as where to shop and stay). But when we travel, we turn to IC for advice. We’ll bombard him and his wife with questions on what are the very best places, cheap or chic, in which we can stuff our very greedy faces. The two of them travel constantly and always stay at the nicest places and eat at the most exceptional restaurants.

A couple days ago, IC sent me a short little SMS. It read, “Ramen Marutama at Central shopping cetre opposite Merchant Court Hotel on Eu Tong Sen Rd 3rd floor. Is the best ramen I’ve had in town. I recommend to go soon before the press write about.” As you can imagine, a message like that got me pretty darned excited. So, as soon as I had some free time, I dragged S down to Central (a mall we had pretty much written off ever visiting) to check out Marutama.

(Along the way to the noodle shop, I was quite pleasantly surprised to spy a new and larger branch of Tom Ton, also on the 3rd floor of Central. I’m a huge fan of this place. I love going to the Liang Court outlet for its delicious black pig katsu. I can’t wait to try this new and sexier looking branch.)

Marutama Ra-Men is the first Southeast Asian outlet of an established Saitama and Tokyo-based ramen shop. For the time being, owner and head-chef Tetsuya Kudoh is here in town, overseeing the little restaurant’s operations and ensuring that the food is of the highest quality. His menu is simple. The ramen is served in a savoury chicken soup. Diners are asked to choose between having it normal or spicy. Then you choose what items to have in your ramen. Again, there are just a few options. S had hers with stewed pork belly. I had mine with a seasoned egg and char siu. Both were excellent. The soup is very tasty and the noodles, thin but full-bodied, were truly exceptional. Both my char siu and S’s pork belly slices were cooked to perfection. The ramen is served with some super-yummy, seasoned seaweed. On the counter, there’s a bowl of fried garlic, which adds a nice kick to the soup. The menu also has a few side dishes and two seasonal ramen specials. I plan on trying the house special on my next trip. It’s a ramen which contains soup made with seven different kinds of nuts.

I can see why my buddy IC recommended trying this place as soon as possible. I’m sure that over the next few weeks, more and more people will discover Marutama and the word will surely be out. The restaurant has a small counter and just a few tables. Fortunately, ramen’s a quick meal. Both in terms of preparation and consumption. Which means that even if it’s crowded, the wait for a seat shouldn’t take too long. Either way, the ramen here is definitely worth the wait.