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Golden Week’s last stop October 2, 2009

Filed under: Eating,Travel — laurel @ 10:32 pm
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chili crab

On the last day of our Golden Week adventure we had a long stopover in Singapore on our way back to Japan. We checked our bags for our next flight and then headed out for some delicious dinner at Jumbo Seafood on the East Coast. Mmm…. it was so good. We had pretty much the same things that we’d had there on our previous trip, since we had such good memories of it and we couldn’t decide whether we preferred chili crab or black pepper crab. Both are fantastic. Along with our spicy sauced crabs we also ordered deep-fried man-tou buns (like tasty doughnuts for sopping up the chili sauce), bamboo clams, and lime juice. We dug in as soon as the chili crab arrived. As you can see it’s plenty messy so it would have been impossible to get a picture of the black pepper crab by the time it showed up.

Wouldn’t you know it, I just learned today that they even have two Tokyo locations. I don’t know what their prices are like, but it might be worth a try (It must certainly be cheaper than a ticket to Singapore).

So finally, here is the wrap-up of our Golden Week adventure:

Bali: Dinner at Mozaic

Bali: A day at the market and cooking class

Bali!

Java!

Singapore!

Alex’s Photoblog: Singapore

Alex’s Photoblog: Java

Alex’s Photoblog: Bali

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Finally… Golden Week (part 1) August 16, 2009

Filed under: Eating,Travel — laurel @ 9:26 am
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Merlion
Singapore’s famous Merlion

I’ve been meaning to write about some of our traveling adventures for a long time, but it seems like the more fun things we do, the less time I have to write about them. During Golden Week (oh my goodness, that was months ago now), we took a few days off from school and combined with several national holidays that fall in the same time period, we were able to have 11 days of vacation. First we flew to Singapore. We met up with some friends and tried some of their favorite places.

On the first night, we had dinner at Din Tai Fung, the famous Taiwanese dumpling shop that also has branches in Singapore and around Asia. Unfortunately I was just getting over a nasty case of the flu and I had temporarily lost my sense of smell. I literally couldn’t smell a thing. If it ever happens to you (and hope it doesn’t) you’ll be surprised to find how many “tastes” are really smells. I could taste the salty-sour combination of soy and vinegar, and the savory meatiness of the fillings, but the real flavor from the spices, ginger, and various ingredients was absent. Occasionally, the stuffiness would recede enough to allow me a few seconds of “smell-ability,” but for the most part the meal was muted, like watching your favorite movie on a black and white TV.  I did have more of an appreciation for textures, though, since it was one thing that I could sense. After dinner, we headed down Orchard Road to Food Republic, a big food court in the Isetan shopping center, and enjoyed some freshly squeezed fruit juices and steamed coconut cookies.

orchid
orchids at the Singapore Botanic Gardens | see more photos from our trip on Alex’s blog

By day two my sense of smell was fading out less often so I could smell the flowers (sometimes) at the botanic gardens. We had a great time looking at all of the beautiful landscapes, and we especially enjoyed the ginger garden and the orchid garden. The bonsai collection was amazing too.
For lunch we ended up back at Food Republic. Mara recommended the beef soup noodles, which were delicious. It’s rice noodles with beef and vegetables served alongside a seasoned beef broth that was oh-so-good. Of course, we also got some more fruit juices, which I just can’t get enough of.

beef noodles
beef soup noodles at Food Republic

In the afternoon we went to Yixing Xuan Teahouse where we learned about Chinese teas. We enjoyed four different teas in the traditional style, using small scent cups and tasting cups and a ceramic pot that was just big enough to brew four cupfuls of tea. The little pots come in several sizes so you can choose the right sized pot for the number of guests that you’re drinking with. The cups and teapot were set on a “sea” where the excess water could be drained.
To enjoy the tea, we filled the pot to the brim and let the leaves steep for a very short time. Then we poured the tea into the scent cups to enjoy the aroma, and finally into the tasting cups to drink it. Since the leaves are brewed for such a short time, we could brew each portion 7 times—the flavor of the tea changes a bit each time. I enjoyed the flavor of the 2nd and 3rd brewings the most. We tried silver tips, dragonwell, oolong, and jasmine oolong. My favorites were the oolong and the dragonwell green tea, which had a surprisingly grassy flavor. While it was fun to drink tea this way, and all of the equipment was beautiful and clever, with each piece filling its specialized purpose, it seemed a bit too fussy for everyday tea drinking for me. However, it was a great experience that I would recommend if you have a chance.

tea 1
Chinese tea service at Yixing Xuan Teahouse

tea 2
dragonwell (lung ching) tea

We had dinner at the Newton Circus hawker center. The outdoor setting is good and the food was pretty good (though we’ve had better), but the vendors were aggressive and prices were high. If I find myself in Singapore in the future, I hope I can try some of the more local hawker centers (foolishly, I had forgotten to read up on the Singapore foodie blogs until after dinner). For dinner we enjoyed fruit juice (of course), barbecued stingray, clams, and fish.

coriander leaf
mezze platter at Coriander Leaf, clockwise from left: Fattoush salad, fried haloumi, muhammara, labne, grilled eggplant with pomegranate salad, falafel

By the next day, my sense of smell was back to normal, thank goodness. After a boat tour of the river and a visit to the Asian Civilizations Museum, we had lunch at the Coriander Leaf. We felt refreshed right away as we walked in from the heat and humidity outside and we could enjoy a nice view over the river from our table. I chose the mezze platter and smoked duck and mango salad while Alex had the tandoori chicken lunch special. I especially liked the labne and grilled eggplant with basil and pomegranate seeds. Both were very good with the homemade flatbread. On the other hand, the rest of the mezze were rather forgettable. Alex’s chicken was tender and nicely spiced. Later we had some snacks for a quick dinner before we headed off to the Night Safari.

prawn mee
Da Dong’s prawn and pork rib noodles

On our last day in Singapore we woke up early to go on the rainforest treetop walk. After a quick shower and checking out of our hotel, we had lunch at Da Dong, following a recommendation from Chubby Hubby. I forgot exactly which dish he had recommended, so I got prawn mee with pork rib soup while Alex chose just pork rib soup. The soup was rich and delicious while the shrimp, pork, sweet and tangy sauce, sprouts, and chopped coriander combined in such a delicious way. While we were eating, I realized, “why in the world have we been eating that awful hotel breakfast every morning instead of going out to find something tasty like this?” It’s not as though the hawker centers and coffee shops are expensive, so we definitely should have been exploring the neighborhood at breakfast time too. Live and learn.

From there it was on to the airport and our next stop, Java.

See more photos at Alex’s photoblog

Our first (most excellently delicious) trip to Singapore in 2008 page 1 | page 2

 

Eats shoots and leaves May 25, 2008

seven fresh takenoko | layers of leaves at the tip of the takenoko, the innermost leaves are tender and delicious

Springtime is the season for takenoko, or fresh bamboo shoots. I began to see takenoko appearing in the markets around town in mid-April. I had never prepared one before and I had directions and recipes from the Kansha Club, so one weekend I bought one. I wasn’t sure at the time why they were only in the store on weekends, but now I know: they’re a lot of work to prepare!

I cooked my bamboo shoot on the last day of April, while Alex was at a school enkai. I got to work by carefully peeling away the tough, fuzzy outer leaves. When I had peeled to the point where the leaves would split part-way up instead of at the base of the bamboo shoot, I stopped peeling them off. Next, I cut off the tip of the shoot. I found that the tip is fairly tough, so next time I will cut it a bit lower, since the tough layers are hard to cut even with a sharp knife. Finally I slit the leaves halfway through from the base of the shoot to the tip. Be careful here, you don’t want to cut into the base at this point, or it will fill up with nuka while you are boiling it, giving you more work to clean it out later.

After that I tucked the shoot into my biggest pot and added the bag of nuka (rice bran) that came with the shoot. The nuka absorbs toxins from the shoot while it boils. I don’t have an otoshi buta, so I used a smaller lid to keep the bamboo shoot submerged (they tend to float). Finally I added water to cover and simmered the shoot until the base was tender, about 45 minutes.

Once the shoot was cooked and cooled a bit, it was easy to remove the remaining tough leaves. The innermost leaves, called hime-kawa, or princess skin, are tender and delicious so don’t peel them all away!

While Alex was at the enkai, his Kyoto-sensei asked him if he had ever tried takenoko, and offered to bring him some shoots freshly dug from his garden. The next day, I was surprised to find seven more takenoko waiting for me when I got home! Luckily, Golden Week would be starting that weekend, so I would have plenty of time to prepare and cook my shoots. Although the store-bought shoot kept fine for a few days, the cut edge of the garden-fresh shoots began to spoil surprisingly quickly, and the spoiled bits smell terrible. So if you are planning to get some freshly dig bamboo shoots from your friends or neighbors, make sure to cook them within a day. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I thought that the freshly dug shoots had nicer color and flavor than the shoot that I bought at the market too.

takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot with rice) | takenoko arima-ni (simmered bamboo shoot with fried tofu

I used the base of the bamboo shoot for takenoko arima-ni (simmered bamboo shoots with fried tofu), and the top went into takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot rice). For the arima-ni, I substituted fresh kinome (leaves of the sansho plant) for fresh sansho berries, since I couldn’t find the berries at my market. Both recipes were delicious and I made them each at least twice (I think I may have made takenoko gohan 3 or 4 times).

After my big weekend of takenoko boiling, I avoided the box of bamboo shoots that someone had brought to my school to share the following week. Considering how many we received from friends, it may be foolish to pay for takenoko at the market, unless, of course, you are buying the already prepared ones, which will save you from quite a bit of preparation time and a messy kitchen. The season is short, though. It seems like all the shoots popped up over golden week, and that was the last we saw of them. The fresh shoots are gone from the markets, though the prepared ones remain. Maybe I’ll get one to make the season last just a little bit longer…

I heard that they have takenoko on our friends the Kobayashis’ farm, so I hope that we can go digging for them ourselves next year. I’ve been told that the shoots are at their best if you can find them before they even come up from the ground. I’ve already marked my calendar.

I also just found a great video of harvesting and preparing takenoko at joi.ito.com. Check it out!