Monday 28 October 2013

Homemade Foo Chow Fish Balls 福州鱼丸

Making fish balls isn't easy. And in this day and age, few people would actually makes the effort to do so. Commercially machine made varieties are so easy to get hold of and with all the countless variation that you find in most Chinese supermarket, it's not hard to see why most people would not even entertain the idea of slaving hours over this. Even back in Singapore, most household would purchase them from local fish market while doing their daily grocery shopping. However, to be able to make springy fish balls from scratch is possibly one of the most satisfying achievement that you can have. It is also much more healthier as unlike those commercially available versions, these contains no artificial preservatives.

The main ingredient is fish paste which is first seasoned and then beaten to a sturdy, bouncy mush. This is not something that can be achieved by simply mincing and blitzing everything in the food processor alone. Think of it like making a loaf of bread if you like. As with bread making, kneading the dough by hand is a crucial step as this stretches the gluten in the dough to yield a lighter, fluffy bread. But in the case of the fish paste, what you are doing, is essentially stretching the protein strands and aerating the paste. It is this process that helps to firm up the paste and produces a lively and bouncy texture to the fish balls.

The technique deployed here for making a bouncy fish balls is a scoop-and-throw method. Be brave as the harder you throw, the bouncy the ending result will be. This is one of those times where you will need to summon all your inner anger. Just think of those horrible morning rush hour, commuter pushing and shoving you onto crowded trains; think about the number of times you've taken a day off to wait for a parcel, only to find the postman leaving a 'while you were out' card when you were clearly in the house, waiting patiently for that lovely purchase you've made online. Something along those lines, the angrier the better. This is a very therapeutic exercise.

Back in Singapore, Yellowtail Snapper (黄尾鱼) is the most common choice of fish used for making fish balls. Other good varieties are Whitefin wolf herring (ikan parang/sai tow yu/ 西刀鱼) or Spanish mackerel (ikan tengiri/kau yu/ 鲛鱼). In truth, most fish can be use to make the fish paste but not all variety will give you a bouncy 'doink' factor. This depend on the amount of Myosin protein. By 'beating' the fish paste, it aggravating these muscle strand in the fish making it bouncy. Some fish contains more of this protein than the other. Red snapper and grouper are also good substitute I find, but it's all a matter of trial and errors. However, I wouldn't use any expensive fish as this is meant to be a peasant dish, so leave those luxurious fishes alone and use this opportunity to try out those cheaper options such as pollack, coley etc. On this occasion, all I can get hold of is coley and it makes rather good and successful bouncy fish balls.

Ingredients (makes about 24-28 balls)

400g firm white fish fillet  (I used coley but feel free to experiment)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp egg white
120ml ice cold water (keep this in the fridge until needed)
2 tbsp potato starch
1 tbsp tapioca starch

For the filling:
100g minced pork
1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp potato starch

To serve:
Homemade chicken stock


Start by making the fish paste. Using a ceramic spoon (one of those Chinese soup spoon), scrap along the skin to remove the flesh off the skin. Do not use a metal spoon as it will tear the skin and instead of getting clean white flesh, you'll get bits of skins. Pick through the flesh to make sure there are no bones.

Combine the fish flesh, salt and egg white in a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Add a tablespoon of ice cold water and continue to process the paste using a medium speed or pulse function. Stop when the paste looks smooth and has come together. Scrape the paste into a clean bowl.

Mix the potato and tapioca starch with the remaining ice cold water and pour this over the fish paste. Knead to combine thoroughly.

Wet your hands under a cold tap. With a wet hand, scoop up the fish paste and then throw it back into the bowl to compact it. You will need to used a bit of strength for this. Repeat this about 40 times or so, until the paste feels dense and smooth. 

Cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge for an hour.

For the filling, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. 

Fill a deep dish with tepid water and add a large pinch of salt. Stir to dissolve and set aside. This is where you will rest the formed fish balls.

To form the fish balls. First roll the filling into small balls, about the size of a small grape, and set aside. 

Wet your hands to stop the paste from sticking, then place a large spoonful of fish paste into your hands and roll into a  ball. Make a deep dent in the ball with your thumb and insert a meatball into the dent. Pinch the fish paste to enclose the filling and seal. Roll to reform into a ball and drop the finished fish ball into the prepared salted water. Repeat until all fish paste and filling are used up.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Turn down the heat to a gentle simmer, add the fish balls and cooked for 8-10 minutes. When the fish balls are ready and cooked through, they will float to the surface. Scoop out the balls, drain and serves immediately in some hot homemade stock.  

Try adding them to Hokkien Prawn noodles , Chicken Macaroni Soup or  Teochew Dry Mixed/Tossed Noodles With Minced Pork (Bak Chor Mee)

Saturday 28 September 2013

Hong Kong Noodles (This Is Not Singapore Noodles) - The 2013 HK Chow Mei Fun Declaration 香港炒米粉

I love Hong Kong noodles.

Their radioactive yellow and neon hue are something you will be no doubt able to spot from miles away. Their striking colours are alluring and their electric taste, intoxicating. This is not a dish for the faint-hearted. That utterly delectable curry spice give it that wonderfully addictive kick and flavours. This ubiquitous noodles are adored by the entire Hong Kong nation, no wonder this has long been declared as their national dish, and quite rightly so.

But alas, outside Hong Kong, this magnificent dish has suffered the fate of 'lost in translation' and been mistakenly named as Singapore noodles ....oh dear! What's going on? We Singaporean already have our famous Chilli crab and let's not forget our own national treasure - the Singaporean Hainanese Chicken Rice. So no, oh no, will we want to ruthlessly snatch this wonderful dish away from its country of origin and deny the rights to its well deserved and true title - ladies and gentlemen, I bring you........the Hong Kong noodles.

It is with heavy heart and pangs of sadness that I am now giving this dish back to the nation where it began. So take it back, great people of Hong Kong and let this luminous silky strands forever bear your name and may it bring you lots of  recognitions as it did for us.

So here I am, for one last time before I hand over this dish, I shall pay my own tribute to the Hong Kong noodles. Recreating this dish means only one thing, shop-bought Charsiu from a bonafide Cantonese restaurant. So don't go cheating by making your own from scratch as this will only ruin the integrity of the dish. 

Make sure you use lots of turmeric to ensure that acid-like yellow tinge is a bright as the glorious sun. Let's not forget about the copious amount of curry powder now, this is not the time to go all stingy on us. Fish sauce, oh yes, that much favoured magical condiment used in all Cantonese cooking. I hope this recipe will bring you as much joy as it has brought me........Oh I do 'love' Hong Kong noodles!

Disclaimer : I have been invited to write this post on behalf of the 'Reclaim Our Hong Kong Noodles Foundation - There is no such thing as bright yellow Singapore noodles division'. 

I have to say I have nothing against this famous dish other than the misleading namesake title. No one knows how the name came about, some speculated that it's because we Singapore is a multicultural society hence we add curry powder to everything. This is not true of course.

The dish itself was not as bad as I have imagined it would be. My preconceived bad impressions of it was mainly due to all the vile versions that I've tasted in the past. The worst culprit were those that served the curry powder raw. And believe me, munching on raw spices is not at all pleasant.

My tongue-in-cheek write up aside, here is the actual recipe for the dish. For the sake of this post, I have tried many versions of cooking it and this is the best of the bunch.

I have cooked the peppers separately and then added to the dish towards the end. This is a trick used in many stir fry dishes. By cooking them separately, they retains their refreshing crunch and not turns all mushy. The fish sauce might be an unexpected addition (despite my joke, it's not actually used in Chinese cooking) is actually a life saviour  and give it that unexpected pleasant umami taste.

Give it a go if you like, but whatever you do, just don't called it Singapore noodles!

Ingredients (Serves 4)

300g rice vermicelli
2 free range eggs, lightly beaten
5 tbsp groundnut oil
1 small red pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced
1 small green pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced
12 raw prawns, shelled and deveined
100g charsiu (Cantonese roast pork), shop bought,  thinly sliced
2 spring onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp good quality curry powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp fish sauce (you can also use soy sauce)
1 tsp sugar


In a large bowl, soak the noodles in hot water for 10 minutes. Drained and set aside. 

Heat 2 tablespoon of oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When smoking, add the beaten eggs. Swirl the wok to spread the eggs thinly. Once set, after 30 seconds, flip the omelette over and cook for another 15 seconds. Remove from wok, rolled into cigar shape and thinly sliced so you get these strand of omelette.

Return the wok to the medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil . When smoking, add the sliced peppers and stir fry for 30 second before transferring to a dish and set aside. 

Heat the wok on high heat and add the remaining oil. When smoking hot, add the spring onion and stir fry for 30 seconds before adding the curry powder and turmeric. Add the prawns and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Once the prawns turns pink, add the noodles and season with the fish sauce and sugar. Tossed to coat the noodles thoroughly with the spice for 1-2 minutes. 

Add the charsiu, along with the eggs strands and peppers and give another final toss to mix and heat through.  Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Sambal Eggs (Yong Tau Foo-style) or Nyonya Scotch Eggs

When the temperature drops, I like to keep myself warm by cooking food with pangs of chilli kicks. Of course, spicy food does not just limit itself to cold autumnal days, even when the temperature soars, I will still often be seen adding chillies to spice up my cooking. But on days like these, when the sky looks grey and dull and everyone seems to be retreating to their warming stew and slow braising cooking, a bit of chillies are most certainly a welcome addition to jazz up any meal.

A spicy Sambal definitely fit the bill for providing that much needed heat. This traditional robust sauce is the cornerstone of much Nyonya cuisine and for a bit of kick, there's nothing more satisfying than to sauté simple ingredients in this rich, hot sauce.

Continuing with my current obsession with eggs and slowly recreating fantastic dishes that let this humble ingredient be in the limelight for once. This Nyonya Sambal eggs or Sambal Telur as it is better known is another fine example. Not quite contended with just making the basic version, I have slightly upped the 'wow' factor to this by taking inspiration from a Hakka classic, Yong Tau Foo (beancurd stuffed with fish and pork meat paste).

The boiled eggs are halved and the yolks are then scooped out and added to the meat paste so nothing is wasted. The paste is then moulded into the eggs halves to form a trompe-l'œil whole egg effect. These are the dipped in a light batter before deep fried to achieve that crispiness. Once coated with the spicy Sambal, these magical eggs are a treat to behold.

They are delicious serve simply with steamed rice. I like my sambal to be slightly dry but feel free to add more liquid to make a wetter sauce for which you can dipped the eggs in and eat on its own as a nibble. Come to think of it, this is rather like a Nyonya twist on Scotch eggs!

Ingredients (Serve 4)

4 large free range hard-boiled eggs
100g minced pork
300g raw prawns, shelled, deveined and finely chopped (you can do this in a food processor)
2 tbsp coconut milk
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
1 tbsp fish sauce
freshly ground black paper
sunflower or vegetable oil for deep frying

For the batter:
50g flour
1 tbsp cornflour
pinch of sea salt
100ml water

For the Sambal:
1 tbsp belacan/shrimp paste, lightly toasted in a dry pan or in a hot oven
10 large dried chillies, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes to soften, squeeze dry and cut into small pieces
2  large red chillies, cut into pieces 
10 shallots or 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
5 candlenuts (substitute with macadamia nuts if not available)
3 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
1 tbsp tamarind purée (you can get this readily available in jar)
100ml water (alternatively use coconut milk for a richer sauce)
2 tbsp sugar
sea salt, to taste


Prepare the Sambal. In a mortar and pestle, pound the belacan, chillies, shallots and candlenut into a fine paste.

Heat the oil in a wok over low heat and cooked the spice paste until fragrant, about 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly to stop them from burning. You will need to be patient for this, the spice paste will gradually turn from a pale red to a deep, rich maroon and the oil would have separated from the paste. Add the water or coconut milk and tamarind, cook for another 2-3 minutes. Season with sugar and salt to taste. Remove from heat and set aside while you prepare the eggs.

Peel the eggs, cut into half lengthways and scoop out the egg yolks and set side.

 In al large bowl, add the pork, prawns, reserved egg yolks, coconut milk,coriander, fish sauce, black pepper and mix well to combine. Divide into eight equal portions.

Wet your hands (this help to stop the mixture from sticking to your hands) and fill each half of the egg white with the mixture. Make sure you push it into the hollow dome left by the yolk and mould it with you hands to form the shape of a complete egg. Repeat with the remaining eggs.

Prepare the batter by mixing the flour, cornflour, salt and water in a bowl. Whisk to form a smooth  thick batter.

Heat the oil in a pan or wok over medium high heat to 180ºC. 

Dip the eggs into the batter, shake off any excess and gently lower it, filling side down, into the oil. Fry in batches for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Remove and drained on some kitchen paper.

Heat up the sambal in wok, add the fried eggs and stir to coat slightly with the sambal so you don't lose the crispness of the eggs.

Serve immediately with some hot steamed rice.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Chinese Steamed Savory Egg Custard

I am slightly obsessed with eggs at the moment. Not only are they delicious, they are also one of the most versatile and nutritious fast food. And the great thing is, there's always some knocking about in my kitchen and when on days when I lack the passion or initiative to do any major culinary challenges, it is a great fall back ingredient to use.

They are perfect for breakfast - poached, boiled, scrambled and fried and by adding a few more ingredients such as potatoes and onion, a classic Spanish tortilla is transformed into lunch. But for the Chinese in me, I always like to make this simple steamed savoury eggs to go with my lazy meal.

For those who frequently visit Chinese restaurants will no doubt have come across this deceptively simple dish at some point. You might even puzzled at how on earth does such a 'boring' looking egg dish command such highly acclaimed status - We Chinese adore this! This humble custard is home comfort to us.

The ingredients list is simple. Eggs, water, seasoning and that's it. To be able to make this skilfully at home is the most fulfilling achievement. The key to a smooth and silky steamed custard is to not to whisk it too ferociously when mixing the eggs with the stock. It is also essential to pass this mixture through a fine sieve to remove any bubbles that may have formed. My nan used to scoop up any visible bubbles with a spoon and then painstakingly prick any remaining bubbles with a sharp toothpick to ensure that a clear and smooth surface is achieved before slowly transferring the dish into a steamer. Another key thing to remember is to keep the water in the steamer at a steady but low boiling pace. Otherwise, the custard will cook too quickly and you will ends up with lots of craters/dimples formed around the edges and the surface, the look of a moon surface in this instance is not desirable. I would also recommend using a ceramic deep dish and never metal for the same reason, so the custard cook more gradually and evenly.

Once you've mastered the techniques to a tender and silky steamed custard, go wild. There are many variations that can be conjures up from this basic recipe. My nan often added chunks of century eggs or even seasoned minced pork etc to create a more luxurious version. You can also add prawns, scallops or cooked crabmeat and a drizzle of XO sauce for a delicious seafood version if you like. But to my mind, the simplicity of the basic recipe is as good as any of those fussy posh concoctions. Sometimes, I even replace the stock with just water for a cleaner taste if I don't have any good homemade stock at hand.

Ingredients (Serves 2 )

4 free range eggs (I use burford browns but any good quality free range eggs will do)
250ml good quality chicken stock or water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp sesame oil

light soy sauce, to serve
ground white pepper, to serve
sesame oil, to serve
1 spring onion, cut into thin rings, for garnish


Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the stock or water, salt, white pepper and sesame oil and whisk until well blended. Strain through a very fine sieve. Strain again if necessary to remove any visible froth from the mixture. There should be no froth or bubble on the surface. This is the secret to a smooth steamed egg.

Carefully ladle the mixture into a large heat-proof dish (such as Pyrex or porcelain china) or 4 individual serving bowls. Make sure the egg mixture is no more 5 cm deep. I used an 8cm diameter x 4cm deep dish for this.

Prepare a steamer. Set it on a gentle boil. Do not steam the eggs on a high heat as this will create dimples which meant it won't have a desired smooth finish. Lower the bowl into the steamer. Cover and steam for 20 minutes for the large dish and about 15 minutes for the individual bowls. Watch out for the water level and add more boiling water to the steamer when needed.

When done, the egg should be just set and feel firm in the centre when touch, with a slight wobble but not liquid. Test by inserting a toothpick in the centre, it should come out clean. If not, steam for a few more minutes.

Carefully remove the dish from the steamer, drizzle with a dash of soy sauce, white pepper and garnish with the spring onion.

Serve hot.

Sunday 8 September 2013

Singapore Half-Boiled Eggs - 100% Pure Egg Perfection!

Before the popularisation of sous vide eggs, we Singaporean has already declared our undying love for these 'Onsen eggs' for years. And instead of using modern trickery, cooking eggs at precisely 62ºC for a soft set white, we relied on simple passed down recipe from our parents - learning the tricks of the trade and the most important 'timing' to yield the quivering whites without the help of technology.

To every self-respecting Singaporean, the ubiquitous half-boiled egg is eggy perfection. This humble breakfast dish is widely available in all Kopitiams (coffeeshops) around the country and is often accompanied by a cup of Kopi-O (black coffee) and some kaya toast to dunk.

Similar to the soft boiled eggs but the Singaporean version has a much runnier, curd-like white. They are cooked in the residing heat from freshly boiled water and never simmered. This allows you to have complete control over the temperature to achieve that desirable just-set egg white with the coddled yolk waiting to ooze out.

For best results, the choice of eggs are crucial. Use the freshest eggs you can get your hands on. There is no place here for any old battery farmed eggs. Quality is everything. To serve, a dash of soy sauce and a pinch of freshly ground pepper (white is the preferred choice but black will do just fine) is all you need.

Break into the glorious golden yolk, give it a stir to mix and mop it all up with some toast. This is how the mighty lives. Now if only I have some kaya toast as well, that will be pure breakfast perfection.

Ingredients (Serve 1)

2 large free range eggs (I use burford browns but any good quality free range eggs will do)
about 1l of water
soy sauce, to serve
ground white pepper (or black pepper), to serve


Make sure the eggs are at room temperature before you start. Otherwise the shock from the sudden temperature change will make them crack open.  

Boil the water in a kettle and pour into a small pan. 

Using a slotted spoon, gently lower the eggs into the water. Place the lid on and let the eggs sit for 6 minutes.

After this time, remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and allow it rest for 30 seconds until cool enough to handle. 

Using a teaspoon, give a gentle tap in the middle of the eggs and crack open over a small saucer. 

Add a dash of soy sauce and ground pepper to serve. 

Mix to combine. 

Dunk with toast and watch the velvety yolk dribble down a happy chin. 

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Sambal Kacang Botol (Winged Beans) With Prawns

You may not have come across this strange looking ingredient. Kacang botol is a more familiar sight back in Southeast Asia than it is in the Western world. They are more commonly known as winged beans due to their unusual ruffled leaves that surround them. When cut into them, these delicate 'wings' forms a four-sided cross sections hence, they are also sometimes nicknamed four corner beans. 

They have a wonderful refreshing crunch when raw. Thinly sliced and they are perfect for making a crisp salad. They can be also used in various stir fried dishes but the most popular way is to cooked them in a spicy sambal (or sauce).

Sambal Kacang botol is not a dish for the faint hearted. But then again, a faint hearted soul can easily deseed the chillies or reduce the amount to cut down on the heat factor. I would, of course, not recommend it. As the heat in the sambal is what give this dish that wonderfully addictive kick that like a tempest temptress, lure you into having more and more. They also coat the dish with the most luscious crimson colour. A beautiful looking dish that packed a fearless punch.

Hot as it may be, the sambal also has a soothing sweetness side to it, achieved by slow cooking the sambal before stir frying. This process is crucial as only by cooking the raw spice paste (rempah) in a low heat gradually, will the shallots loses its moisture and slowly caramelised. This intensified its sweetness and also allows all the wonderful flavours to mingles, yielding a glossy, thick rich paste that forms the cornerstone of this dish.

The winged beans are available in most Asian supermarket but don't worry if you can't get hold of them as you can easily substitute them with okra (ladies fingers) or even green beans.

This is such an easy recipe and a simple way to recreate the distinctive flavours of typical Nyonya cooking.  

Ingredients (Serves 2 - 4)

8 raw prawns, shelled and deveined
about 20 kacang botol/winged beans (or substitute with okra or green beans)
3 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp tamarind puree (you can get this readily available in a jar)
2 tsp sugar
pinch of sea salt, to taste

For the rempah/spice paste:
1 tbsp belacan/shrimp paste, lightly toasted in a dry pan or in a hot oven
10 large dried chillies, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes to soften, squeeze dry and cut into small pieces
2  large red chillies, cut into pieces 
10 shallots or 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
5 candlenuts (substitute with macadamia nuts if not available)


Trim the tips of the beans and cut into bite size lengths. I normally like to cut them at an angle so they look more attractive. 

Pound the ingredients for the spice paste in a mortar and pestle into a fine paste. Alternatively, blitz them in a food processor.

Heat the oil in a wok over low heat and cooked the spice paste until fragrant, about 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly to stop them from burning. You will need to be patient for this, the spice paste will gradually turn from a pale red to a deep, rich maroon and the oil would have separated from the paste. What you are left with is a thick, shiny Sambal paste ready to transform the most humble ingredients into something spectacular.

Once this is achieved, turn up the heat to medium and add the prawns and the water. Cooked for 1 minutes before adding the winged beans and give it a good stir to mix. Continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes until the prawns have turn pink and cooked through. Add the tamarind puree, sugar and season with salt to taste.

Transfer onto a serving dish and serves with some hot, steaming rice.

Sunday 1 September 2013

Morito, Exmouth Market

Morito is nothing new. It's not one of those recent openings with hyped up praises and accolade. Nothing that it serves is consider as the most current and hippest and definitely no trendy ingredients pass through the kitchen. Yet quietly over the years, it managed to collate some devoted followings and regulars customers. 

It is easy to see why, for what this tiny little Tapas bar does offer, it does it with such conviction that along with it's pared down interior, orange accents that mirrored that of a glorious Spanish sunset,  marked this out to be a great little joint. 

Dominated by a long bar counter where the chef grilled and cooked the tapas to order, filling the air with evocative aromas that lures you into unwitting drool at the hanging menu board hovering above. There are a few rustic tables on the side for bigger groups but for a lazy, nonchalant weekend brunch, park yourself by the window seats and gleefully mopped up the superb Tapas while watching the world go by is a great joy in life. During summer time, grab the a few tables out front to enjoy the gleaming sunshine or smooch on the long bench along the facade. Close your eyes, and you can just imagine yourself to be in some part of sunny Spain.

The menu covers the usual Tapas suspects and some mezze selections, not surprisingly as this is run by the same people who own the famous Moro restaurant next door. All dishes comes in small sharing plates as you would expect. Bring along a few friends and pick from any of the excellent dishes, you can be certain to be well fed.

Some top dishes include the classic Patatas bravas (£4), smothered in just enough sweet tomato sauce so that it doesn't go all soggy by the time it reach your table.

Salt cod croquetas (£4) is another of my favourite. Bite into the crispy and crunchy crust, revealed soft tender flesh. Mildly salty and decidedly flavoursome, it's excellent with or without the accompanying tangy mayonnaise.

But the Puntillitas (£8.50) is a must for every visit. These piled up tiny, baby squids are deliciously crisp and tender. The liberal sprinkle of brick-red sumac (one of my favourite ingredient) adorned the juicy squids with odd tanginess, so addictive and moreish.

Another great is the Chicharonnes de cádiz (£5.50), cubes of succulent fatty pork belly flavoured with earthy cumin and the sharp lemon tang cut through the richness. A tad on the salty side it may be but doesn't deterred the goodness of this delightful dish and nothing a nice glass of wine can't wash it down.

Lamb chops (£8.50), too, were beautifully grilled and once again, spiced with cumin and hot paprika. Smoky and spicy, a perfect pairing.

As a Tapas bar goes, Morito is everything you want it to be. Cosy, no-fuss, buzzing and indeed, it can sometimes be overwhelmingly so (avoid weekday evenings if you can). But for a good spot of Spanish sunshine and if you happened to live or work around the vicinity, this is the place to be. And even if you don't live near the area, still, make it a point to come down here on the weekend and treat yourself. Good news is, they take reservation for lunch so you don't have to queue.

Morito on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Saturday 31 August 2013

Nyonya Purple Sweet Potato Kueh Talam

Purple sweet potato or sometime known as Okinawan sweet potato is a thing of beauty. It has a similar flavour and sweetness as the ubiquitous orange variety but once cut into it, revealed an intoxicatingly vivid purple hues. 

Do not confuse it with Ube/Ubi (purple yam). Although both has similarly coloured flesh and both are frequently found in many puddings and sweets across Asia. Ube is more commonly used in the Philippines where this purple tuber are transformed into many of their nation favourite treats. It has a slight darker and rougher looking skin and is harvested above ground. Okinawan sweet potato on the other hand, is grown underground. 

I'm a huge fan of this purple variety as growing up, there would often be many wonderful treats made using this, like  Bubor Cha Cha and all sorts of Nyonya Kueh(cakes) such as these Kueh Talam.

Traditionally, these sticky cakes would be made using pandan leaves and coconut milk, yielding its signature emerald green and white layers. My nan however, being a purple sweet potato fan herself, would often give these kueh a beautiful purple twist which is just as attractive to look at and more importantly, equally delightful to eat. The sweetness of the potatoes and the fragrant coconut milk makes this chewy little cakes all the more enjoyable.

The purple sweet potatoes are not that common but can be easily found in most good Chinese supermarket. I usually get mine from Chinatown. 

I have faithfully stuck to the dainty version that my nan would make, using tiny Chinese teacups which has been painstakingly oiled before each steaming process. However, you can use a cake tin for this and cut into small bites with a well oiled knife instead. Just make sure you increase the steaming time appropriately and to test, stick a chopstick or skewer into the middle of the cake and it should come out clean when done.

Ingredients (Makes about 28-30 small cakes or fills a 8-in square cake tin)

For the bottom layer:
300g purple sweet potatoes
350ml coconut milk
150g tapioca flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
150g caster sugar

For the top layer:
450ml coconut milk
100g tapioca flour
2 tbsp rice flour
1 tsp salt

sunflower oil, for greasing


Peeled the sweet potatoes and cut into thick slices. Place in a prepared steamer and steam for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through.

Put the cooked sweet potatoes into a large bowl and mashed till smooth before adding the coconut milk and mix well. Add the tapioca flour, salt and sugar and stir to combine. 

Pour the batter into a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until just warm through so that the sugar will dissolve.

Lightly greased the small cups (or a cake time if you are using) with the oil before filling them with the batter until just slightly over the halfway mark. 

Prepare the steamer and steam for 3 minutes until the batter is firm and turns a darker, translucent shade. (Increase the cooking time if you are making this in a cake tin to 20-25 minutes)

While the bottom layer is in the steamer, prepare the top layer batter. Combine the coconut milk, tapioca flour, rice flour and salt in a large bowl and mix well. 

Spoon this over the steamed purple layer and steam for another 3-4 minutes until the white layer is cooked through and set. (Again increase this to 20-25 minutes if using a cake tin)

Allow the kueh/cake to cool completely before turning them out. If using cake tin, cut into bite sizes to serve. 

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Janetira Thai, Soho

There is a general misconception of Thai food around the world. Aren't they all supposed to be spicy and blow-your-head-off hot? Well, the answer, I have discovered recently is simply... No!

Contrary to what many believe, Thai food is all about the balancing of sweet, sour, spicy, salty in equal measures. Of course, there are a few dishes that will make you reach for your glass of ice water but not always necessary so. 

And this is where Janetira Thai comes in. It is not a new restaurant opening and in fact, it has been quietly sitting on Brewer Street from the past year or so. Up till now, this place has simply gone under my radar but of late, you would have no doubt see this little restaurant cropping up all over you instagram feed and twitter timeline. So what changed? You might ask. 

After realising that by serving the ubiquitous Thai green curry, and Pad Thai , is not bringing in the customers they thought it would. And if you ask me, that is precisely the reason why even though I have walked past this venue many times, have never been tempted to walk in. There are more stereotypical Thai restaurant around than I can shake a stick at, all serving so-called Thai food.

Then it all changes with the resident chef's decision to introduce a new special menu. What caught my eyes and tickled my fancy was the unusual dishes that has been listed. And so during the introductory month, I popped in a few times to try out some of the dishes, at a 30% off promotion.

Some of the highlights include the salt and pepper calamari bites (£6.50), light and crispy but it's the crunchy garnishes of red chillies, garlic flakes and fresh green onion combination that really topped it off. 

The deep fried eggs in tamarind syrup (£6) was another great dish. Sweet and tangy sauce blanketed the deep-fried crispy eggs. Perfect when eaten with some of their chilli oil from their condiment selection. 

The JFC or  Janetira fried chicken (£5.50) could perhaps do with more flavours infused into the chicken and crispier texture, but nonetheless, was enjoyable when paired with the sweet sticky coating sauce.

The Crispy pork belly and Thai broccoli stir fry (£7) was simple but delicious. Copious of pork belly pieces to go with the crunchy fresh vegetables, all bathed in a sweet, spicy and salty sauce.

The daily special that I had on one of my visit was a beautifully cooked scallop in a fresh, tangy dressing. Just enough chilli to give it a kick without being overwhelmingly spicy.

Khoi Soi - northern-style chicken curry noodle (£8.50) - were a delicious bowl of noodles in a rich, slightly sweet, curry broth. It came with a side of chopped red onions, pickles and lime wedges and topped with some crispy fried noodles. What surprised me was the chicken wings on the bones and not pre-chopped boneless bites....hurrah! The flat egg noodles was bouncy, the broth was flavoursome and the chicken pieces was generous.

A favourite of mine was the Kuay Jaap - Pork and offal noodles in five-spice soup (£8.50). We have a similar dish in Singapore and this reminded me of that. The mixture of crispy pork belly and the selections of offal gave this an interesting textures. The broth tasted like it had endured hours of simmering, packed full of flavours and the rolled rice noodle soaked up the delicious broth and you simply eat the whole dish with the use of a spoon. Bit of crunchy pork belly, chewy offal, spice-riched broth and soft, tender noodle, I just adore this!

But my ultimate favourite is the Mackeral curry with pickled bamboo shoots (£9). This dish came with a 'heat'mometer warning as the Bim (the lady who serve me) explained that even during staff meal, she can only eat a mouthful of this. This was definitely one of the hottest dish from the menu and one that pleases me the most. I love spicy food and this was perfect. Unusually, this curry contain fermented fish guts which enriched the flavours and gave its distinctive pungent aroma. This is an acquired taste but one that is worth venturing into if you are after something different to the normal humdrum Thai red or green curry.

I am rather glad that the chef has decided to go with her gut and launched this more adventurous menu. Quite a few other dishes that I would definitely go back to try such as the Pink noodle with fish balls (£7.50) and the Raad Naah - Noodles with sticky soy bean sauce and marinated pork (£7) etc. And those that I have had so far, did not disappoint.

From speaking to Bim, these are food that they served during staff meal and are actually more authentic than the usual menu that you get from a typical Thai restaurant. If you are in search for some authentic Thai food and to dispel the myth that all Thai cuisine are spicy, give this place a go.

* Disclaimer: On my third visit, my meal was free which I didn't anticipate till it was time to pay. However,  this did not swayed my judgement. My many numerous return is a validation of what I truly think of this restaurant and I'm planning to go back again *

Janetira on Urbanspoon


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