Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tonkichi Pork Loin Katsu - A Worthy Competitor for Saboten? @ Takashimaya Shopping Centre [Singapore]

I often waxed lyrical about the epic, totally delicious pork loin katsu in Saboten and one of the many comments received after that was that i should give Tonkichi a try as well. 

Boasting four outlets, i am aware that Tonkichi has been around in Singapore for quite a number of years (longer than Saboten i think) and its continual presence does give one the impression that its food must be of a certain standard. 

With that in mind, the 吃喝玩乐 gang (comprising of colleagues, both current and former, from the arts and social science faculty) decided to give it a try after being superbly impressed by Saboten in our previous food outing. 

Nope, i didn't take up the jumbo katsu set! Instead, i opted for the Hire and Rosu Katsu set, which was essentially deep fried pork fillet and loin. 

Similar to Saboten, we were given our own armoury of sauces to play with and a bowl of sesame seeds to grind. The dressing for the freshly shredded cabbage was unfortunately too zesty for me and i could not help comparing it to the nicer sesame dressing available in Saboten. 

Now coming to the all-important meat. 

For the pork loin, i was denied the thick chunkiness signature of Saboten's pork loin and it was obvious the juiciness was simply not on the same level. I was in fact more thrilled with the hire (fillet) that was surprisingly tenderer than the pork loin. 

It also didn't help that the layer of pork fat was so thin! Hello, you need the fats to boost the "shiok factor"!!

Lastly, a few slices of sweet watermelon to conclude the meal. As with Saboten, the rice, miso soup and cabbage were refillable but service could be a bit slow; so do be patient! 

Wait, not yet! There was a birthday cake! 

For the three April babies of which ah hem, i am part of! Haha. I seriously didn't realise i have so many friends who were born in the month of April! Anyway, some introduction; the middle lady is Ms Boo while the left one is Ms Wee who has a blog at http://wkiahui.blogspot.sg/.

p.s. we were so noisy; the staff had to ask that we toned down our volume! 

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Location
391 Orchard Road Ngee Ann City, 
#04-24, Takashimaya Shopping Centre

Price
Hire and Rosu Katsu Set - S$26
[Subject to GST and Service Charge]


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Local Food @ Fuyuan Restaurant (富园餐馆風味菜) [Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan]

I was determined to have some authentic local food on my second day in Taiwan and decided to walk along a quiet pathway adorned by brightly lit signboards. Good food can sometimes be found hidden in some unspoken alleys.

There was one simple criterion; it must have customers!

Fuyuan Restaurant (富园餐馆), which should be translated as prosperous garden restaurant, met my expectation; almost all tables were filled when we entered the small establishment and it served a dish that was said to be a must-have in Sun Moon Lake (日月潭). 

It also did help a bit when we saw a garden located at the back of the building where fresh vegetables were planted and harvested for consumption! 

Since we were unsure what the local specialties were (save for that must have dish) and shyness prevented us from asking further, we decided to go along with the set meal at NT$800 (around S$33) that included four dishes and one soup. 

Freshly brewed tea in a metal teapot can be had for an additional NT$100. Taiwanese are crazy over tea and the country is famed for their tea culture and plantation; so you bet this was one pot of great tea we had. 

Daylily Soup
金针汤
I originally thought this was the golden needle mushroom soup and felt something was off when the bowl of soup was served to us; those were obviously flowers and not mushroom! Upon checking the web, the flowers were actually daylily and known as 金针花 in Chinese. Anyway, the soup had a slicky smooth consistency that wasn't too heavy on the palate although i would have very much enjoyed a peppery broth similar to Singapore style Bak Kut Teh in that cool weather. 

Spring Onion Chicken
葱油土鸡 
The use of scallions was a bit excessive for this dish; resulting in a flavour that would be more likeable for individuals who love spring onions. Personally, i disliked the harder texture of the chicken even though it came with significantly lesser fats. 

Stir Fried Wild Boar Meat
炒山猪肉
First bite, a nice smokiness to the flavour. Second bite, not too bad as well. After the third bite, it was evident that the wild boar meat was tougher than our conventional pinkish pig and Alex literally left the dish for me to finish up myself. 

Stir Fried Vegetables
炒過貓菜
When i first heard the name of this vegetable, i was amused as i have never in my life heard of this vegetable known as 過貓 (which would literally mean walked past the cat). 

The cat hated it so much!? Not for me; i totally love this vegetable for its thin stalks and unmatched crunchiness! Instead of oyster sauce, the chef in Fuyuan cleverly used another one that was similar to the meat sauce (that came in a can often found in Singapore's supermarkets) and the taste turned out to be so delicious! 

President's Fish 
總統魚
This is the must-have dish to have in Sun Moon Lake. Not i said one hor; this was according to the many blogs on the web when i checked out the food to have in the area. 

Texture of the freshwater fresh was amazingly soft (warning: you need to have good chopstick skills to eat the meat). Other than that, the taste wasn't exactly that befitting for the top governing position in countries like Taiwan, USA. In addition, you have to be extremely mindful of the many barely noticeable bones! As i mentioned, you need good chopstick skills.

Real look of the president's fish! Now, you might wonder how the name actually came about since it doesn't bear any resemblance to any of the famous president. The origin of that name is not that complicated; it was initially known as aruzay  (曲腰鱼) and the name change came about simply because it was the favourite dish of Taiwan's first president; Chiang Kai-shek! 

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Location Map
I didn't have the exact address but Itashao is not a big town and you should not have any problem finding it. Just rely on the google map that i have generated for your benefit. 

Price
For the above, we paid a total of NT$1,500. The big ticket item has to be the president fish which required an additional top up of NT$600! 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Golden Mile Thien Kee Steamboat Restaurant - The Hainanese Kitchen since 1952 (黄金瑞记) @ Golden Mile Tower [Beach Road, Singapore]

Golden Mile, comprising of both the tower and complex blocks, is well known for being indisputably the 'Little Thailand' of Singapore; in this ethnic enclave, you can find ample eateries serving authentic yet cheap Thai cuisine, discos belting out the latest hit in Thai language and even a good-sized supermarket offering many products imported from Thailand. 

Therefore, when my sister asked if i am aware of this famous Hainanese restaurant in Golden Mile Tower known as Thien Kee, i think she can see the huge question mark looming above my head. No, i wasn't aware even though i had mookata in the same building last July! 

In a nutshell, stepping into Thien Kee felt like i am in an air-conditioned coffee shop. Ambience was limited and it was sacrificed for practicality; there were so many tables and chairs! Furthermore, why the need to spend on ambience when you are already famous! 

Joyce did her research beforehand and knew exactly what to order; their Hainanese chicken is a must and so is the steamboat which appeared on almost table that was occupied. 

Steamboat
A look at the menu would give you a good summary of what was included in the steamboat and given that we were ordering many other foods, we decided to just go with the small steamboat at S$40.

This was served; note that there were two other plates of meat and vegetables (inclusive of a egg) which were not captured in the above photograph. 

To be totally honest, i thought it was too pricey to pay for such meagre amount of meat even though mom added that it must be the expensive fish maw and sea cucumbers that drive up the price. The freshness was no doubt there but i figured it might be worth the effort to have the steamboat in the comfort of my own house instead. p.s. my family members love the fishballs. 

Many reviewers enjoyed the soup in Thien Kee although i found it to be too bland for my liking. The broth improved markedly at the end with the help of the veg and meat; however, it wasn't good enough to warrant another visit for me.

Hainanese Chicken
This was so similar to what i had in Yet Con that i strongly suspected the owners were under the same master in the past (both restaurants also serve steamboat)! The chicken in Thien Kee didn't feature the disgusting raw bloodiness (thank god) even though the meat was just as dense and solid without the tenderness i personally preferred from competitors like Tian Tian. 

Hainanese Pork Chop
Yet again another signature dish.

That didn't impress me once again! It was fried to a crisp, a texture i seldom reject, but the sauce had that supreme tendency to cover the juiciness of the pork patty! It also didn't help that my mom's version of sweet and sour sauce had the same zesty taste. 

Pork Satay
These were delicious!! It was of a slightly sweeter rendition and held an ability that didn't require me to dip it into the peanut satay sauce. They were that good! Even though the pieces on each stick were larger than what i can get from the market, the price at eighty cents a stick was a tad hard to stomach.

By the way, forget about the ketupat. The satay went perfectly well with the fragrant chicken rice! I never knew such combi could work out such wonders! 

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Location
6001, Beach Road,
B1-20, Golden Mile Tower

Operating Hours
11am to 10pm. Closed on certain Chinese festivals like eve and 1st day of Chinese New Year, 15th day of Chinese New Year, Labour Day, Dragon Boat Festival and 15th day of Hungry Ghost Festival.

Price
Steamboat - S$40
Hainanese Chicken - S$10
Hainanese Pork Chop - S$11
Pork Satay - S$0.80 each stick
Chicken Rice - S$1 a bowl

Menu
As above. Please note that the dishes don't come with pricing and you may check with the waitress when you place your order. 

Additional Information
Weirdly, unlike most steamboat restaurants, you don't get the feeling you are hitting onto any wire or gas cylinders while you are digging into your hotpot. 

The reason was because the gas was piped directly from the ground! p.s. don't ask me what was the technology involved behind this as i seriously have no idea. 


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sunrise at Hehuanshan (合歡山觀日出) @ Cingjing Farm [Nantou, Taiwan]

I was almost regretting our decision when i had to climb out of bed at 3.30am to get ready for the sunrise tour at Hehuanshan that was arranged the day before.

It didn't help that the attire we brought along for the trip was not appropriate for the freezing temperature! It is April, for goodness sake and how could it be so cold!?!!? I, myself, donned at least four layers of clothes and yet i could feel the chill eating into my bones!

Weather, according to the mini-bus driver, was not favourable to catch the sunrise as it was too cloudy / misty, as evidenced in the above picture. Temperature at this point was actually 2.6 degrees celcius! 

We noticed a few of the travellers were unravelling winter jackets from the overhead compartment and upon checking, came to realise they were for passengers like us who have ignorantly forgotten to pack winter wear! They had a bit of smell but well, beggars can't be choosers! 

The mini-bus shuttling us to the peak - it was obvious that the sun would not be showing its face that morning and it was decided (by the driver since we are not experts) to catch the sea of clouds (云海) instead. 

Which was impressive yet didn't quite blow my mind away. Maybe i was too disappointed that Mother Nature has decided to deprive my chance of catching sunrise at such high altitude. :(

Rest of those who travelled with us in the same bus appeared genuinely excited and there were many taking a million photographs to permanently save the moment.

Alex eventually did it too even though the picture didn't turn out nice due to the natural back light effect. And it's impossible to ask him to wait a while longer for me to change the settings as this weakling wanted to get back to the heated bus ASAP!

So, i had to resort to my amateur Photoshop skill to superimpose him onto an existing picture! Okay lah, it turned out quite alright.

This was the original photograph. Hahaha. Photoshop is a very powerful software and could do marvels on those pictures you have taken; i should explore saving in raw format as i understand it would allow for greater flexibility! 

Honestly, how mesmerised could you be when faced with the same scenery for twenty minutes? If there is a bed, i would have jumped into it for a restful sleep. Point is, there wasn't any and i got restless as usual.

Like some, i attempted to climb up the hill even though i had to admit the slippery slope wasn't that easy to climb and the last thing we want is to have my obituary in The Straits Times.

It wasn't even 6am and the whole area was already lit! For those who are interested, it took us roughly eighty minutes to get to this place from our minsu, with a toilet stop in between. 

Last look before we left! 

Our NT$400 / person sunrise tour hasn't ended yet; we were brought to several viewing platforms on our way back. The first one was at one of Hehuanshan's peak at 3,150 meters.

Temperature has increased although it was still a chilly 8.3 degrees Celcius with a strong wind blowing towards us. Which means Alex simply didn't want to get out!!!!

This road, the only one leading to Hehuanshan, is accessible by everyone except during the peak winter season when there is a likelihood of snowfall up the mountain. 

However, travellers on self drive might want to think twice on driving up yourself as visibility can be horrendously low. 

Hikers / Mountain climbers should also re-consider your decision unless you are confident of your navigation skills in bad weather condition. 

Viewing platform that was shrouded by fog.

A futile effort to look beyond a few hundred meters and that's a pity as the surrounding view was said to be spectacular and out of the world; definitely a welcome sight for an urban dweller. 

See!! Supposed to be so pretty right?!?!?! Sianz...

Strangely, i was thinking of barbecued chicken when i saw this plump friendly bird (looked like the robin bird). Guess the dinner at Carton King was too early and my stomach has not had anything since waking up at 3.30am.

Godspeed to the hikers! Weather was said to be very unpredictable in Taiwan during the period we went; one cab driver in Taichung told us that in the morning we were in Hehuanshan, it was snowing in Yushan (Taiwan's tallest mountain at 3,952 meters).

Our second viewing platform which was a five-minute drive away. 

One of seven peaks in Hehuanshan, Wuling (武嶺) has an elevation of 3,275 meters and said to be a favourite spot for bird watchers. 

Well, i could not confirm since i could not even see anything!!! Luckily i didn't pay very much for this tour although i would like it's of no fault to the operator; just a matter of bad luck.

Rein in your kids if you know they are hyperactive and not known to listen to kind advice and instructions!

Kunyang - the last stopover for us. Previously known as South of Hehuanshan, it borders Taroko National Park; another place that i should make a point to visit in my next trip to Taiwan!

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The sunrise tour could be purchased from the Cingjing minsu / hotel you are staying in and the driver would pick you from the doorstep. For more details, you can refer to the e-go bus service website at http://www.e-go.com.tw/cht/tourbus_detail.php?serial=13. 

Price
NT$400 per person

Duration
Roughly 3 hours

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