Google PlusFacebookTwitter

‘Vegetarian-flavour’ pot noodle and yucky durians

By on Nov 21, 2010 in Travel | 17 comments

The only Oriental food that I am familiar with in Singapore (because of its ubiquitousness around the world) is pot noodle. Vegetarian cuisine is hard to find here, thus I was overjoyed to find ‘vegetarian-flavour’ pot noodle (“suitable for vegetarians”, as the packaging clarifies) at the supermarket. I have never eaten vegetarian flavour noodles in my entire life. My curiosity was aroused enough to make me attempt to decipher the ingredients on its packaging: Made using finely chopped bits of the tenderest and juiciest vegetarians money can buy, mixed with a dash of parsley and packaged with light, fluffy dehydrated noodles. The above text might be slightly mistranslated as my grasp of Mandarin is sketchy. **** My Singaporean friends have been pestering me to try eating durian for a long time now. Some said they “absolutely fucking love durian lah” while others were more cautious and called it an acquired taste. From its reputation I gathered the latter statement had a higher chance of being true. The Wikipedia article on durians compares its taste to “turpentine, rotten onions, and gym socks” – and I’m not quite sure whether that qualifies as vandalism or not. According to the first group, “the best fucking durian lah” can be found in Geylang, the red light district of Singapore – where, to quote again, “the odd-numbered lanes stink lah because those are the ones where durians are sold, and the even-numbered streets stink because that’s where all the hookers are, lah“. (I might be remembering it the wrong way round; don’t blame me if you go to Geylang and end up in the wrong lane.) Not quite wanting to brave the full force of the stink, I opted to try out durian in a more civilized setting instead. Durian Mpire is a chain of eateries that exclusively sells durian ‘delicacies’. This company, whose name was thought up by an advertising campaign of marketing executives (the appropriate collective noun has been used), sells durian shakes, durian juice, durian cakes, durian crepes, durian ice cream, durian waffles, durian puffs…and bear with me because I’m running out of breath here…plain ol’ durian. I have passed by this store many times at the local mall, seen many families happily munching on durian delights that I decided to give it a go on a whim one day. I ordered a ‘Mini Durian’, which is a small pudding-cup sized serving of plain ol’ durian. Looks appetizing, doesn’t it? In hindsight, the fact that this came little fucker came in a sealed airtight jar should have set alarm bells ringing in my head. The icing that you see on the top is merely a thin layer of sugary camouflage that hides the real horror beneath it – a chunk of durian fruit flesh. (The bright colours are probably thrown in to sucker in kids and na├»ve tourists into buying the stuff.) The texture is akin to that of…dense and chewy cotton candy while the taste itself…well, nothing can quite parallel durian for comparisons. If I ever had the misfortune of tasting my own shit (say, if a Saw movie style Jigsaw Killer forced me to) I assume that would come close to describing it. I ate two tiny spoonfuls before I gave up and threw it into a trashcan. (I momentarily considered giving it to some starving, homeless person but then I remembered I was in Singapore and I wasn’t going to find one. Certainly not on the third floor of a mall.) In a nutshell, durian is the most dis-fucking-gusting thing I’ve eaten so far. The worst part about eating durian is the pungent smell – so pungent that it stings your eyes. No, scratch that. The worst part about eating durian is that even if you have two small spoonfuls, the taste and ‘durian breath’ lingers for hours on end. I downed a whole packet of Clorets breath mints and still the smell / aftertaste didn’t go away. :| If I ever become an evil scientist and/or a billionaire I pledge that – cancer and world peace be damned – I will spend millions on funding research into wiping this fruit off the face of this planet. Okay, maybe I’ll give durian one more chance later when I feel brave again and opt for a freshly-cut durian instead, as my friends here have suggested after hearing about my experience. I have a much better understanding of the gravity of the warning at public transport stations here preventing commuters from carrying durian during a journey. **** Chinese cuisine as its found in Singapore is completely different from what you would find in India – or the UK for that matter. ‘Chinese’ takeaway food in the UK is mostly a sham, where ‘satay’, ‘sweet and sour’, and ‘pork’ are randomly thrown in front of meat / vegetable dish names and a cheap price tag tacked on. Hey, when the bloke ordering it probably drunk and will praise it as heavenly food anyway. In any of the Chinese cuisine stalls in cafeterias here, or hawker stalls all over Singapore, I am hard pressed to find any ‘Chinese’ dish so far that is familiar to me. This ‘gap’ is particularly evident when it comes to noodle-based dishes. Noodles are often served boiled instead of fried and oily as in Sino-Ludhianvi cuisine that I am accustomed to in India. I ordered a mushroom...

Mooncakes and floating lanterns

By on Sep 25, 2010 in Travel | 8 comments

A mooncake is a muffin-sized Chinese dessert that is traditionally eaten around this time. The occasion? A traditional Chinese festival called the ‘Mid-Autumn Festival‘, with its roots in moon worship and harvest celebrations. Legend has it that messages were hidden inside mooncakes – much like in fortune cookies, the idea being that the medium of communication could be eaten to destroy the evidence – exhorting the masses to rise in revolt that ultimately lead to the Ming revolution. Although messages are no longer hidden in mooncakes, they are still an integral part of the festivities. My local Singaporean neighbour next room tells me that these days modern mooncakes come with a range of fillings – durian, chocolate, orange – even ice cream! I wanted to try out a traditional mooncake, one which has a filling of lotus seed paste. Don’t let the variety of colours fool you! The mooncakes themselves are all the same flavour. It’s hard to describe the taste. With lotus seed paste filling, these mooncakes were slightly sweet and chewy but without any discernible taste that I could make out. I can’t imagine myself enjoying eating this during a normal meal as a dessert though, unless it’s one of the fancy-schamncy ‘new-style’ mooncakes that have more palatable fillings. The NTU Chinese Society held a celebration on our campus at the Chinese Heritage Centre on the day of the festival (17th September). I regret not being able to attend that since I was simply so tired that day! Instead, I went to the nearby Chinese Garden in Singapore where celebrations were being held over a week. Reaching Chinese Garden is easy – the entrance is right outside the exit of the namesake MRT station. Follow the path to reach the Red Bridge lighted with red lanterns – red being an auspicious colour in Chinese tradition. At the very end of the bridge, before you enter the gardens, you’ll come across two marble lions ‘guarding’ the entrance. (Took me a long time to get this picture right. Couldn’t use flash as the range as the objects were out of range, and had to keep my hand rock steady as I was shooting in low light. Had a long exposure shutter for this one.) I was blown away by the astonishing variety of lanterns that I saw there! The picture above was taken from the lakeshore, where there were lanterns floating in the water. These – and other lanterns – that people were carrying aren’t electrical lanterns but traditional fire-lit ones! The Mid-Autumn Festival is very much a family affair. All around the garden, there were families and friends gathered together having a picnic and lighting sparklers. Also, this festival might as well be the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day. Some of the more traditional (?) family groups were lighting candles instead. Unlike Diwali celebrations in India, usage of fireworks was subdued. None of the loud ‘bombs’ that I hate. I was tired after a day of recording the first Spectrum TV episode, but I had one more stop before I headed back home. The Ru Yun T’a pagoda is a seven-storey structure at entrance station close to the MRT station. I doubled back to the entrance I came from. The design is based on the Ling Ku Temple in Nanking. Not until I was right at the footstep of the pagoda staircase did I realize that climbing to the top might be a challenge when I was dog-tired! The architecture places a strong emphasis on symmetry – both the exterior and the interior. I know that pagodas are supposed to be places of worship, so I found this place intriguing. There didn’t seem to be any sort of scripture, prayer room, inscription, idol or any religious paraphernalia to indicate this was a place a worship. Possibly because this was built as a tourist attraction? Each storey of the pagoda has a viewing balcony. I climbed the spiral staircase to the top, where the height affords a view of the whole festival area. I was expected there would be hawker stalls to try out Chinese cuisine but I didn’t come across any. Anyway, my day ended on a high – with a climb to the top of a seven-storey tower. :) More pictures from the festival in my photo gallery for Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival 2010 in...

Singapura!

By on Sep 19, 2010 in Personal | 2 comments

I realise that I haven’t made a single blog post yet about my shift to Singapore yet. I was dealing with my debilitating caffeine addiction, craving to buy notebooks at ungodly hours of the night, settling in, and murdering my conscience. Right off the bat, you can’t find Mountain Dew (okay, not everywhere) or chewing gum in this place, so those are two obsessive-compulsive habits snatched away from me like a toy from a baby. You know what’s worse? Whether it’s on campus or places around campus, you simply can’t find good coffee shops in NTU. They call it kopi here (it’s a Malay / Indonesian word) and it’s sweet and milky shit – not very much unlike South Indian filter coffee. There’s a variation called kopi-o which is black coffee without milk…but still with a fuckload of sugar. Now I hear what you’re saying – why not just ask for a regular cup o’ joe? You think I haven’t thought of that already? Most of the coffee here is served from pre-prepared metal containers in canteens – or from vending machines. Vending machines that spew out coffee with milk and sugar when you ask for it black. It’s a daily struggle, I tell you. This is a big climbdown from Surrey, where we had three Starbucks outlets on campus with Costa Coffee and many other quaint coffee shops within walking distance. (One of the Starbucks we have is a 250-seater cafe which is one of the biggest Starbucks in Europe.) I’m so caffeine-starved that I’m thinking of making my own coffee in the hall of residence kitchen. If it weren’t for the fact that our kitchens only have microwave ovens and this video has freaked me out, I’d have given this a shot already. **** Me: Maybe we can test the efficiency of voice recognition software with different accents. Guy 1: How about dropping an egg from a height attached to different types of parachutes and see which one’s best? Or how about seeing whether a laptop’s heat can be used to fry an egg? Or devising a way to drop an egg from a height without it getting damaged? Girl: Let’s test the effect of Red Bull on fishes. Guy 2: My idea is…wait, what? Girl: Yes, let’s mix a fish’s food / water with Red Bull and then see what happens to it. They might swim faster. Questions? Me: Can I have your phone number? I disagree on the point that fishes will start swimming faster. In my opinion, the best way of going about this is closely observe any blogs / Twitter feeds the fishes have and checking whether they’ve made any posts about sleep-drunkenness. **** So yeah, NTU. This place is simply massive. You can keep trudging for hours on end to go from one lecture hall block to another. There are about 600-1000 students for each batch of each department that justifies the investment in real-estate this university has put in. Buildings are also spread further apart. I don’t mind walking since I’ve become used to in the UK now, but it’s the hot and humid weather that saps out my energy. I’m also working with the student TV station here – called Spectrum TV – and their TV studio is “sweet mother of Alanus Morissette”-huge in proportion. I’ll be working here as VT playback operator, post production editor, and on a features team producing a segment like Mythbusters. Already working on our first episode that will be recorded live-to-tape this week. I’ve had to take on a particularly heavy load of courses since I have to take courses from the electronic engineering, computer engineering, and computer science departments here to maintain compatibility with Surrey. (There’s no degree or double major as ‘Electronics & Computers Engineering’ here.) Many Oriental professors can’t pronounce the letter ‘l’ properly, which means that we are sometimes referred to as ‘erectronic engineering’ students. I arrived ‘late’ compared to most other exchange students so I haven’t had the time to explore many places yet. I also unfortunately got food poisoning (some other friends got it too) after we ate at a dodgy place after a party. Missed out a trip to Malacca subsequently. I’ve slowly been exploring Singapore when my timetable permits. **** I’ve had a few requests to make a blog post showing funny signs, so here ’tis. I’ll sign off here. When I saw this at the on-campus supermarket, it was like love at first sight. Surely such a flavour had been invented only for a person like me? Well, don’t try it. It’s all levels of terrible, just as you’d expect. At the local Courts Digital consumer electronics store. Random banner outside one of the lecture theatre blocks here. No explanation as to why we should know this. Technically, this is cheating since this photo was shot at a gift shop in Delhi airport and isn’t a sign. Still, why would anyone want to gift an Indian-style toilet? That would be an oddly-specific and passive-aggressive way of telling somebody that they are a piece of...

Shark fin soup for the soul

By on Sep 13, 2010 in Travel | 4 comments

I ate shark fin soup today. Boy, do I feel like a right bastard for contributing towards the extinction of an endangered species. See those pinkish chunks floating in the soup? Those are pieces of shark fin. It’s scant in its presence as this a ‘mass-market’ version; gourmet shark fin soup costs a bomb (~$100, I’ve heard) and comes with sizeable cartilaginous chunks of shark fin. Shark fin itself apparently has no taste, and it takes the flavour of whatever broth it is in. Most often the broth is chicken soup, as it was here. I didn’t know what to expect when I placed my order, so I requested for an extra helping of vegetables to mellow down the taste. Shark fin is…chewy – and in my case tasted like chicken since that was what the stock was. Those of you who know me would know I’ve been a vegetarian for many years now. Vegetarianism is a personal choice I made arising out of taste rather than any religious or ethical compunctions. All that has gone for a toss here in Singapore though since you’ll be hard-pressed to find vegetarian eating options here! (Do you ‘eat’ soup or ‘drink’ soup? The consensus seems to be that if the soup contains solids such as croutons then the verb is ‘eat’, otherwise ‘drink’ for light broths. I think when the words ‘shark fin’ precede the word ‘soup’, the verb should most definitely be ‘eat’.) I also had an egg-and-seaweed fold in the same meal – it’s a dish that roughly has the consistency of a dumpling on the outside, with a filling of puffy egg whites and seaweed strands. ‘Crispy biscuit’ is akin to a poppadum, coated in yoghurt-based dressing; ‘sandwich biscuit’ is a slice of pie stuffed with mashed potato. By the end of my meal, I realized that I had ordered too much food. The drink that you see in the picture above is ‘Chin Chow drink’. I asked the cashier/server at the (separate) place I bought the drink as to what was in it. He just smiled enigmatically, gave me back my change, and called another woman at the shop who gestured towards the crushed ice and said, “It taste better when ice bottom.” I later found out ‘chin chow’ is the Chinese name for grass jelly – made from the leaves of a mint-family plant. When you order a ‘chin chow drink’, you get blocks of grass jelly mixed with black, minty tasting liquid with crushed ice on top. I got more than my money’s worth out of the meal (cheap and filling at S$4.50) but the item that piqued my interest when I saw it on the menu – the shark fin soup – didn’t make a distinct impression on me except for hurting my conscience. Maybe this tasted like nothing more than chicken soup because it’s cheap shit. Maybe some day – when my conscience has recovered, and my wallet is thicker – I’ll try ‘real’ shark fin soup. **** I went to the Fairprice Xtra superstore at Jurong Point Shopping Centre to stock up on breakfast cereals and snacks. I consider myself to be good Samaritan, so when I noticed an unattended package lying at the checkout counter I pointed it out to the checkout counter lady (‘CCL’ in the conversation below). Me: Ahem. It’s seems someone forgot their groceries here. CCL: That belong to you. Me: Really?! Are you sure? CCL: [points to the entry ‘Pringles x 2’ on my bill, out of around just six items] This. Belong. To. You. (She probably wasn’t trying to be sarcastic with the emphasis. Probably. I like to think it was because she had difficulty speaking in English.) Me: Ah. Yes. Being a checkout counter employee at a superstore must require patience than a hostage negotiator...

Foodiebay aka ‘the third stage of civilization answer database’

By on Aug 18, 2009 in Reviews | 4 comments

Foodiebay.com is a restaurant listing website which I would recommend foodaholics (and non-foodaholics too!) to bookmark, for its an excellent resource to the answer the question “Where shall we have lunch?” (The first two important questions being “How can we eat?” and “Why do we eat?”) Started by IIT Delhi graduates who loved food and got fed up of having to run around too much to figure out a good place to eat, Foodiebay was initially launched as Foodlet.in before they changed to its current name because of ‘numerological concerns’. Initially, the service covered eating joints in only Delhi/NCR but the service has recently been expanded to Mumbai and Kolkata too. I can’t comment how good the coverage is for the last two cities; at least for Delhi their database is quite comprehensive. Once you visit the site you can search either by location from the dropdown menus, or search for a particular restaurant name using the searchbox below. My experience suggests that searching for locality doesn’t work that well because it tries to match with both restaurant names and place names. Moreover, the search function is quite terrible anyway – instead of searching for whole words it tries matching within restaurant / place names too. This often ends up giving irrelvant results. My advice is – if you know the name of a restaurant, you should use the search feature to look up its details; otherwise, if you’re looking for eating joints around a particular locality then choose the dropdown option. The dropdown has quite a bit of granularity, so you can select quite specific areas. Search results are ordered alphabetically according to restaurant name, with cuisine and address mentioned alongside. Watch out for the ‘printable discounts available’ tag available on certain restaurant listings. Icons show depict what kind of facilities are available – dine-in, delivery, bar, pure vegetarian only, cards accepted or not etc. In case you want to refine search results further, based on estimated cost for two, cuisine, facilities available et al you can do so by selecting the refinement options listed above the search results. Quick sorting according to rating (taken from HT / Times of India food guides) or estimated cost can be done by clicking on the column title. Clicking through on a restaurant title takes you to its details page. For certain restaurants a short (around 50 word) review by a Foodiebay editor is also available. You can browse through the restaurant’s menu too, which is posted in the form of images. Most of the time these are images of the takeaway leaflet menu, so don’t judge a restaurant by its menu! I don’t know how they got the menus for restaurants which don’t do delivery orders. Maybe they sneaked them out or asked permission from management. If the menu is long in length page-wise (menus are posted pagewise), you can have a bit of trouble reading it. Say you scroll to the end of a menu and want to flip to the next page – so you click on the next page link at tge bottom. The image changes but you’re still at the same place where you were, so you need to scroll again to the top before having to scroll down again. For menus which are a few pages long this can be quite irritating. Maybe they could place an anchor at the start of the menu which the browser would jump to when clicking on page link. Despite those few niggles (search, menu browsing) I would say that this is an excellent website. A startup has accomplished what other bigwigs in local search such as Google, AskLaila, Justdial and others couldn’t – make a no-nonsense website which helps you reach decisions...