Wednesday, April 26

Milk Fruit, Ho Chi Minh

We were specifically asked to look out for and try the milk fruit while in the city. It looks pretty much like a guava and you eat it by cutting it in half and scooping it out with a spoon. The texture was a little like that of a slightly ripe persimmon, slightly spongy, but the taste was mild and sweet and each scoop leads to a slight oozing of a white watery substance pretty much like milk. It had great slurp value for sure! But the slight bitter aftertaste took a bit of getting used to.

Prawn Noodle Soup, Ho Chi Minh

Ben Tanh Market

We ditched breakfast at the hotel in search of “real Vietnamese” food at the market and discovered the prawn noodle soup. Served with fish cake, prawn and peanuts on top, the noodles tasted ok with some chilli stirred in. My food-partner in crime found the soup a tad on the sweet side and didn’t think too much of it.

Temple Club, Ho Chi Minh

29-31 Ton That Thiep Street, District 1 T. 829 9244

The first thing that strikes you about this place is the elephants that line the passage way leading up to the restaurant. Done up like in old antique style, the restaurant is a haven of all things old and new. I was told that just about everything in it was for sale. It also has a nice bar.

The food though is average. We had the bamboo shoot salad (top), vermicelli with crab, cha ca la vong (fried fish that is nothing like the to-die-for dish we had in Hanoi) and baked egg plant.

The bill came up to over US$30 for two which was relatively pricey for the type of food we got. The one good thing though is this restaurant opens late (last order is at 10.30pm) unlike most other dining places which shut by 9.30pm.

"Fish Vegetable", Ho Chi Minh

This is the most foul tasting vegetable that I have ever had (at least to us since the locals seem to consume it with no qualm). It looks exactly like the leaf of the money plant but tastes like raw fish gone bad. Worse yet, it leaves a terribly terribly terriby foul aftertaste that takes many many drinks to get rid of. You have to be very watchful to stay clear of it though as it is usually very well camouflaged in most dishes.

Bun Thit Nuong (Vietnamese Pork Noodle), Ho Chi Minh

Ben Tanh Market

We have tried this on occasion at Vietnamese restaurants but to eat this dish in Ho Chi Minh itself was great. This cold noodle with grilled meat (usually pork or chicken) dish is extremely tasty, light and great for the sizzling weather. The dish looks simple enough, rice noodles topped with an assortment of vegetables – basil, parsley, etc – and topped with a mix of chilli, fish sauce, a splash of oil from the meats and a secret ingredient dip. Toss all of this together and the end result is simply heavenly. Grand cost: 20,000 dong (US$1.20).

Pho Hoa, Ho Chi Minh

260 Pasteur, District 3

We chanced upon this noodle place while in search for a tailor and found, to our delight that this is “the” pho place for the locals. We promptly took a seat in this old style coffee shop and found the pho of all phos. The noodles were simply delicious, along with the slices of beef cooked in the heat of the soup, the tray of fresh herbs – different types of basil, onions, sprouts. Delish.

There was also the usual condiment of a sweet brown sauce and the chilli sauce. Only in this instance, it looked homemade and tasted great with the dish.

It was certainly worth the trek (15 minute cab ride, more with traffic) out to District 3.

Fanny Ice Cream, Ho Chi Minh

29-31 Ton That Thiep Street, District 1
T. 821 1630

Ah hah, we came across this other ice cream parlour on the middle of the fun shopping drag, Ton That Thiep, and just had to make a pit stop. I ordered the delicious (and oh-so-pretty) banana spilt which came with a pleasant surprise -- a scoop of mango sorbet. Yums… The mango was simply divine, and so refreshing on this sweltering afternoon. We also had the mint sundae, which though more rich than the sorbet, was so sharp you could've been chewing on the mint leaves themselves. Perfect respite from the scorching heat that afternoon.

Saigon Beer, Ho Chi Minh

We had a taste of this alcoholic beverage in the city – super duper light beer that goes really well with the local dishes.

Quan An Ngon, Ho Chi Minh

138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Quan Mot T. 825 7179

This is the jazzed up version of a food court with all the Vietnamese street eats that you can think of. It is a great place to ease yourself into the different type of Vietnamese dishes all at the same time. And its gorgeous too, set in an old bungalow that is filled with wooden tables and chairs. Not sure what to order from the menu, just lead one of the waiters to the food stands and point at what you would like to try.

And try we did – between the two of us, we sampled eight dishes. We started with the snails with a lemongrass sauce – quite yummy once you get past the idea of eating snails; and the fresh skin prawn rolls and the sugar cane chicken that was pretty much like the prawn rolls but served DIY ie you have to put the roll together. We also tried the crispy eel soup with vermicelli (overrated), the prawn crackers (lovely starter), the steamed rice cake with minced meat (interesting taste), sticky rice with Vietnamese sausages that tasted more like Chinese lap cheong (waxed sausages).

The food for the most part was average, but this is a great place to savour all things Vietnamese at one sitting.

Soda Chanh, Ho Chi Minh

We were told to try this Vietnamese drink: soda mixed with lime juice and sugar. Simple and refreshing but my preference is for the soda plum drink, soda with a preserved plum thrown in.

Pho 24, Vietnamese Pho Noodle, Ho Chi Minh

Throughout the city

I was told that this place is better than Pho 2000 where Clinton stopped for a bowl of noodles during his visit.

Good stuff, nice clear broth, super duper soft noodles, which when combined with the sports, onions, parsley and basil that came on the side, and a squeeze of lime, made for a lovely nice lunch break. Can’t say the same for the meats thought. The few slices that came with the noodles were a tad rubbery. I made myself a meal with the soup, noodles and greens instead.

Brodard Café and Restaurant, Ho Chi Minh

131 Dong Khoi Street, District 1 T. 822 3966

We had a fair amount of dessert today. This is another recommended café that was known for its chocolate cake, but by the time we got there (and it was only three in the afternoon), they had run out!! So instead we had the caramelized banana in a rum sauce. It has to be said that this cafe doesn't skint on portions. This came with four whole bananas doused in a thick and bountiful sauce. But the generousity didn't stop there--I felt like I could breathe alcohol!!! The perfect bite: a cube of banana covered in sauce and topped with a wee sprig of mint. As Jamie Oliver would say: Pukka.

The café is along the shopping drag, Dong Khoi (akin to Singapore’s Orchard Road) and a good place to rest tired feet.

Au Parc, Ho Chi Minh

23 Han Thuyen, Q1 T. 829 2772

We started out bright an early today with a visit to the War Remnants Museum. It was an interesting albeit disturbing sight and we were soon looking for something “happy” to ease us into the rest of the day.

This would be a great place for anytime of the day, the interior was cherry, full of light. I loved the mosaics and the sky roof. And it had a great menu, filled with sandwiches and salads (both western and some of with Viet influence), fresh juices and desserts.

We had the peanut butter and chocolate slice which was pretty though we were expecting a lot more from the dessert. This was a bit dry at the base and crumbly, although I am salivating at the memory of the dense chocolate top later. This was complimented by a fresh passion fruit drink and a beet root health-conscious mix (we had to balance the forces here).

The star of the show was the warm lamb salad with oven dried tomatoes (we love mixing up our courses). It was juicy and light; the lamb, tomatoes and peppers played off each other's flavours perfectly. The balsamic vinegar added a touch of piquant, and that just sealed it.

La Fenetre Soleil, Ho Chi Minh

2nd Floor, 135 Le Thanh Ton, District 1 (Entrance at 125 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia) T. 822 5209

After roughing it out at dinner, we headed for La Fenetre for dessert. I had half expected yet another hole in the wall type place like Crab 94, after having to scale two flights of dingy steps and passing a woman who looked dressed in her jammies, but I was pleasantly surprised. What I saw before me was an oasis of calm. A very pretty space dressed up in homey sofas and lounge chairs that invite you to just chill in the dim lighting and soothing music. We tried a local dessert of dough balls (pretty much like the tang yuans in Singapore) in a ginger soup, and a yam pudding. I am not much of a fan of “sticky” textures in food but it was a very nice rest spot regardless.

Tuesday, April 25

Crab 94, Ho Chi Minh

94 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Dakao Ward, District 1 T. 825 8633

This recommendation came from several friends who know the city. Crab 94 serves, as implied in its name, crab – and in all forms. The hole in the wall (you must be prepared for its “charming” ambience) dishes up crab crab claws steamed in a tamarind sauce – the sauce was intended to enhance the fresh claws but I found that it masked the sweetness instead; crab vermicelli with chunks of ever so sweet, succulent crab meat, and I mean chunks!!!; thick crab soup – delicious though way to filling; deep friend spring roll that was actually rather yummalicious, tossed in a bowl with some rice noodles, loads of basil and parsley and a dash of the sweet spicy fish sauce.

What we didn’t have room for was the crab fried rice, which a foodie friend of mine claims will give Chen Fu Ji in Singapore a run for its money and the fried soft shell crab. Well, you always have to save something for the next visit.

All the cooking is done outside the shop and there is one waiter who speaks English. In anycase, they do have an English menu. The total bill for the spread for two came was under US$15.

There are two restaurants by the same name on that corner. Head for the one that is nearer the traffic light.

Monday, April 24

Bach Dang Ice Cream, Ho Chi Minh

26-28 Le Loi, Q1 T. 822 3150

Our first introduction to food in Saigon was through Bach Dang – we had long heard about the wonders of ice cream in this city but never did we expect to find one that would give Ben and Jerry’s a run for its money. The "must-try" is the coconut ice-cream that was so full of the rich coconut flavour that you knew right away the concept of bottled flavours simply does not exist here. This was pure coconut cream and milk. Being served up in a young coconut only added to the flavour, as you could scrape off the flesh and eat it with the ice cream. Oh boy. This was out of this world.

We also tried the yam ice cream. This stood strong on its own merit. None of that bright purple stuff here. This was not overpowering, but rich and creamy. A bit too thick for my liking, but yam being starchy by nature, there was probably no escape from that. How delightful to have ice-cream that didn't taste manufactured. And judging from the crowds at this outlet every evening, its good to know that others feel the same way too!

Sunday, April 23

Geylang Lorong 9 Frog Porridge

New Lai Lai Hong Yun Food Centre
235 Geylang Rd Lor 9 T. 7468105 (Closed on alternate Wed)

I have always been slightly apprehensive about frogs. I'd heard they tasted like chicken, but just the idea... urgh. Then add porridge to the mix, which I had only recently become open to (thanks to traumatic kindergarten experiences), and you can imagine that this was quite a big step for me.

But I was very taken by this meal.

We tried both the claypot frog with ginger and spring onions and that with dried chillies. Both were exceedingly good, though I preferred the sweetness of the former. The frog, well, it really did taste like chicken, but a juicier and more succulent version. The first bites were a bit difficult, but it was so yummy I quickly dismissed my inhibitions. The porridge was also nice and thick, and slid down the throat easily.

We also had an amazing oyster omelette and green veggies. Feel good factor: 100%

This conquered, I'm all set to hit the other frog porridge contender in Lorong 3!


Thursday, April 13

One Rochester

1 Rochester Park T. 6773 0070
We proceeded to One Rochester for drinks after the North Border dinner and was served a bowl of anchovies that were flavoured with lemon grass and bits of chilli. The pieces had the nice fragrance of the herb with a hint of spice. Nice.

North Border Bar and Grill

2 Rochester Park T. 6777 6618

We were celebrating a friend’s birthday so I was far from pleased when they sat me (I was the first to arrive) at a table wet with the rain earlier, that was tucked in a corner, and ignored by the service staff.

But this was quickly redeemed by another waiter, who after noting my displeasure, found me another seat, and ensured that our party was promptly served at all times.

North Border had an extensive wine and drink list and the menu appeared Tex-Mex thought the waiter insisted it was “South-Western”.

We passed on the grill and instead ordered a variety of appetizers to share: the ceasar salad with scallop was crisp but it was the scallop that stood out for being superbly fresh and grilled to perfection; the portobello mushrooms (top) were excellent, the flavours accented by slivers of grilled capsicum; the crab cakes looked flatter than most (in fact, they didn’t look like the typical crab cakes at all) but tasted great; the chicken quesidillas were nice, but nothing out of the ordinary. We also had a mixed plate of appetizer comprising of buffalo wings (average), jalapenos stuffed with cheese that had quick the fiery kick, and a burrito variation with chicken and beef (ordinary); and a side of corn bread which was tasty but could have done with a some actual pieces of corn in it instead of having everything ground up. It was a nice dinner, with nice drinks in a very nice venu and but for the lack of parking spaces there, I would really be keen to come back to try more items from the menu.

Aljunied Putu Piring

I was “instructed” by a friend to pick up my dessert at this stall that is around the corner from Penang Delights. And obedient me went about the search. We had some trouble initially finding it, but was eventually led there by our noses, drawn to the sweet smell of the steaming rice cakes. The smell was great, but it stops there. This is a very average putu piring (Malay style steamed sweet rice cakes) as compared to the one at Haig Road. The gula melaka (palm sugar) centre was tasty though a little on the sparse side while the rice flour was dense rather than “light”, gumming the mouth shut rather than melting in your mouth.

Tuesday, April 11

Penang Delights

Blk 117, #01-06, Aljunied Ave 2

Finally, real Penang food in Singapore. None of the super sour assam laksa or fried kway teow with dark sauce added to cater for the Singaporean taste. The real McCoy. The Penang laksa here had a broth that was had the right amount of “tang” to it with loads of vegetables, mint, chillies and chunks of fish. And you could taste the “fire” in the fried kway teow (fried rice noodles). The menu here is simple, with just four items: laksa, fried kway teow, Hokkien mee soup (Penang style prawn noodle soup) and chicken curry all starting at S$2.50 / US$1.50 per serving. If only they had a sampler set so that I can try everything. But no matter, I will most certainly be coming back for more.

Penang Food Festival

A foodie friend of mine (from Penang, of cos!) decided that she loves her Penang food so much that she had to replicate the experience for the rest of us in sunny Singapore. And replicate she did, hitting the best hawkers in Penang – Hokkien prawn mee soup, char kway teow (fried rice noodles), curry noodles - packing and bundling it all up, and hoping on the next available flight back.

And you bet we were impressed with the spread. The delicious stock that dressed the prawn noodles with extra bean sprouts thrown in, the ever so flavourful char kway teow (done Penang style minus the dark sauce), and the ever so light curry noodles with a generous helping of mint leaves, floored us completely. We wanted to get on the next flight to Penang!

Monday, April 10

Putu Piring

S-11 Coffeeshop, Blk 12 Haig Road

This place serves one of my favourite kueh kueh (Malay cakes). Putu piring is a steamed rice cake with a gula melaka (palm sugar) filling. When eaten freshly made, with fresh shredded coconut, the steaming hot rice cake and palm sugar practically melts in your mouth and the amalgamating flavours … to die for. The price, a very affordable S$1 (US$0.60) for three. But do come early, there is almost always a line at this stall.

Sunday, April 9

Togi Korean Restaurant

11 Mosque Street, Chinatown T. 6221 0830

A friend had been raving about this place but it took us a while before we could agree on time for dinner.

This is a cosy restaurant run by a Korean mother and daughter team. It was packed when we arrived, filled with a mix of locals and Koreans (this to me is always an indication of the authenticity of the food).

As there were only the two of us, we kept our order simple. The spicy tofu soup offered me the fiery kick that I was pandering after that cool evening, and the ginseng chicken soup was robust, full of the flavour of ginseng. As with all Korean restaurants, even with two orders, our table was full, filled with the array of side dishes that comes with all meals – kimchi (preserved spicy cabbage), anchovies, mash potatoes… I saw folks at the surrounding tables tucking into a hotpot ramen (noodle) dish and kimchi fried rice that was cooked on a hotplate at the table, and made a mental note to order these dishes the next time I come by.

Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee

Hong Lim Market, Blk 531 A Upper Cross St, #02-18

This is the one place we hit whenever we have a craving for fried kway teow (fried flat rice noodles with dark sauce). Formerly from a coffeeshop tucked in the most remote corner in Outram Park, the noodles are served moist, generously sweetened by the thick black sauce, with lots of bean sprouts, egg and cockles. Not a big cockle fan myself, I leave that ingredient in as I am convinced that the cockle “juice” enhances the flavour of this smoky dish. Surpise pieces of deep fried lard lends added texture to the dish. There is only one stardard serving size here priced at S$2 (US$1.20) each. The question is: how many can you eat? Closed on Sundays.

Saturday, April 8

Hong Kong Cafe

378-380 East Coast Road T. 6440 3808

Hong Kong-style cafes seem to be sprouting up all over Singapore at the moment. And the crowds attest to the new rage. The owners of this particular outlet obviously didn't see the need to dress up the concept with a fancy name, but no matter--it's been such a popular hangout, it recently expanded to cover twoshop lots.

I wasn't too impressed with our order though. The toast with condensed milk and peanut butter was a little under-toasted and the toppings were rather sparing. I guess I like to live dangerously! My Mango King Ice-Blended (a blended drink of mango ice-cream, mango slices and mango juice) wasn't as sweet or rich as I expected either. But I am told that the instant noodles are crave-worthy, and judging from the number of other items in the menu highlighted to be popular choices, I think it deserves another visit.

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True Blue Cuisine

117 East Coast Road. T. 64400449

What a disappointment this was. For starters, with only 2 staff, service was rushed and inattentive. The prices appeared steep on the menu, but we were even more chagrined when we saw the tiny portions! Our chief bugbear: the assam squid (squid in tamarind sauce)-each of us managed to eek out only half a tablespoonful of squid, after discounting all the garnishes and spices. Another disappointment was the sambal prawns, which in addition to having only 4 prawns and a hefty price tag of S$20 (US$12), was woefully overdone.

To be fair, on taste alone, the chap chye (stir-fried cabbage, tofu skin and vermicelli) was quite light and slurpy, and the ngoh hiang (deepfried minced meat roll) was special, being a mix of crabmeat and minced chicken, and not the traditional minced pork.

But for the sharp pinch on the pocket (the total bill came up to S$140 (US$87) for 3, including dessert), and the sense of incompleteness at the end of the meal, I'd choose Kim Choo Kueh Chang down the road any day. Oh, and did I mention that we were charged S$3 (US$1.80) each for Chinese tea, which was served without request?


Restaurant Dong Il Jang, LA

3455 W 8th Street, LA
T. (213) 383 5757

Our Korean friend brought us here for its traditional Korean style cooking. We started our meal with the usual spread of Korean side dishes. This was quickly followed by bulgogi (barberque meat),

chap chai, a peppery glass noodle stir-fry that was very light and very addictive, and

a spicy cod hot pot soup that was to die for.