Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Fish That's a Must Have for Chinese New Year - Prosperity / White-Belly / Rabbit Fish (发财鱼 / 白肚鱼)

It's the second day of the lunar new year celebration and my family was about to leave my uncle's place when my cousin persuaded us to wait for a few more minutes for a delicacy said to be a must-have in the new year. 

Two plates of steamed fish appeared shortly on the dining table; i know the significance of fish, given its pronunciation in Chinese which sounds like the word "in excess'. However, don't be too fast to discount this common-looking species.

Popular among the Teochews (a Chinese dialect group) and known as white-belly fish (beh-tor-heu), legend told of a man who prospered right after having the rabbitfish and the saltwater fish kind of became the must-eat for good luck and prosperity for the rest of the year. Why the man didn't think of pork, poultry, beef and vegetables is something i don't wish to argue since i am not THAT man. 

My cousin didn't seem to be aware of that legend although she was more excited to share information on the item i should look out for while eating the fish; she termed it the "bulb" and said that it appears only during the lunar new year period! 

One fish was sacrificed cut open for my viewing pleasure and she pointed to that white stuff at the tummy area. When she claimed that only the male fish is blessed with the "bulb"; my first thought was of disgust. 

Not an expert on fish, i can only draw reference to mammals and i looked at her with an appalling expression:"Don't tell me that's the fish testicle?!" Anatomically speaking, i had a rough inkling that's not the answer and it slowly dawned on me that it's likely solidified semen! 

The female fish was obviously full of fish roe, defined by the yellowish tinge even though it could have also been mistaken as lung. 

Cooked fish roe and semen (known as milt) side by side - cooked roe was commonly eaten and i shall not say much about it. The milt (i eventually gave in to my cousin's relentless persuasion by taking a small bite) tasted like soft tofu with a seafood flavour; should i not know the truth, i might have really enjoyed it. 

Not interested in roes and milt? No worries; just go for the fish meat which was tender and sweet without any bitterness from even the area surrounding the stomach! Leave the roes and milt to those willing parties! 

Have them with sambal chilli and huat for the rest of the year! p.s. I didn't win the 4D yesterday and i sure didn't become the sole winner of the over S$9 million TOTO draw today. 

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Where To Get Them
From the fishmonger in the wet market. As mentioned earlier, you can only find the fish with the roe / milt sometime before / during the lunar new year period. 

Pricing
Teochews might be the biggest eaters for the fish but other dialect groups in Singapore would not have given it a miss given its auspicious significance; hence, prices can shoot up to over S$100 a kilogram during this period. My uncle got it for about S$40 a kilo from his regular fishmonger.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mookata Traditional Thai Charcoal BBQ @ ORTO [Near Khatib MRT Station]

When Bottle Tree Park @ Khatib became ORTO, i didn't think i would patronise it that often; at least not to the extent that my family even had our lunar new year reunion dinner at one of its resident restaurants. 

Deviating from the normal buffet / Korean BBQ craving during this festive season, we opted for something that has its origins in Southeast Asia; Thai traditional BBQ steamboat, otherwise known fondly as Mookata! 

Our family has a tradition of having early reunion dinner even though we still insist on a reservation, specifically for indoor seating as our genetics have resulted in tempers flying whenever the surrounding gets too warm.

The weather was exceptionally windy that day and those seated outside might be better off compared to those stuck in the air-conditioned premise. The only issue was the unpredictable weather since the outdoor area was only partially sheltered. 

Those familiar with mookata might wonder if i have arrived at the correct place for the BBQ steamboat as there wasn't any sight of the signature "hardware".

Just wait a while after you order -the kata (otherwise known as the skillet) would appear only upon your order. The one above was a tom yam soup base which cost an additional S$5. 

Waiting is necessary since the mookata here wasn't your typical convenient, electrical-powered version. This is done the traditional way using good, old charcoal! 

Don't fret about the resultant smoke as the UFO exhaust tube (available only indoors) does a pretty neat job! 

Normal soup base - we had six adults, two kids and having two mookatas would result in less infighting between the family members! 

Now on the menu, which is always a headache for a person who loves variety - to make it easier across 8 persons with differing wants / needs, i figured a set for 4 and a meat lovers' platter would do the job. 

These didn't include the bowls of white rice and drinks which were separately charged. You may also select ala-carte items in the event you have a great / premium appetite that day. I shall share the order list towards the end of this post. 

Maybe because of their delicate display, we got the feeling that there were quite a lot of meat and we would likely be stuffed at the end of the meal! 

Set for Four - A combination of "marinated chicken thigh, pork collar, prawns, squids, suriyaki (it should be sukiyaki meat), bacon, pork belly, fishballs, meatballs, crabsticks, otah fishcakes, Chinese cabbage, kangkong, xiao bai cai (bak choy), corn, golden mushrooms, eggs, tang hoon and tofu. 

Meat Lovers' Platter - pork collar, chicken thigh, sliced beef (replaced with pork belly as mom doesn't take beef), sukiyaki, bacon, shabu shabu, pork belly (again) and 2 premium sausages. From the look of it, i thought the slices of sausages would at most make up to only 1 normal-length sausage. 

Big piece pork belly with a sesame-infused marination that was so delicious! If not for the fact that it is so unhealthy, i would love to dig into mookata every week! 

In mookata, chilli plays an important role and the one at Mookata Traditional Thai BBQ featured three levels of spiciness with the right being less spicy and left being the most potent. They were not the spicy sweet type found at Mookata New Udon Thai Food restaurant even though the spiciness was personally quite acceptable. 

Anyway, let's get started with the oiling process; placing the chunks of pork lard onto the inverted pot and let them sizzle away! 

The soup base assigned to my side was the tom yum; after a while of cooking, i noticed the meat were cooked very slowly and this wasn't good news as i was famished! 

On the other end, my elder sister and her hubby were having an easier moment; their silver pot had already turned a pretty yet unhealthy charcoal black! 

We checked with a staff and he kindly checked, agreed that the charcoal wasn't fiery hot, took it out and returned shortly with a smoking hot pot! 

Shabu shabu style - not sure if you have noticed but the steamboat area was noticeably wider than some other mookata restaurants and this means you can put in more stuff into the soup (p.s. for steamboat lovers).

Yummy pork belly! 

Tom yum soup that had a balanced level of spiciness and sourness but surprisingly, it was on the sweet side. The same sweetness goes for the normal soup base which i didn't have a picture of; just use the same photo and imagine the colour of the soup to be light yellow.

Soup was supposed to be heavily flavoured by the meat juices flowing down from the pot and this didn't disappoint; the main problem was the thick layer of oil! 

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Location
81, Lorong Chencharu, #01-04, 
ORTO Leisure Park (the old Yishun Bottle Tree) 

Operating Hours
Mondays to Thursdays - 5pm to 12am
Fridays - 5pm to 1am
Saturdays & PHs - 12pm to 1am
Sundays - 12pm to 12am
(Last order is an hour before closing)

Website

Menu / Ordering List
As above

Pricing
Set for 4 - S$68.90
Meat Lovers' Platter - S$74.90
(Subject to GST and Service Charge)

Additional Information
Since it is the lunar new year period, you can also lou hei within the same restaurant and for those who are worried about the GBS infection, you can also opt for abalone! 

Our smoked salmon yusheng! According to the supervisor / manageress, the ingredients except for the sauces / condiments / powder etc were prepared in house. 

The kids had a great time putting in the "stuff" and spewing words of auspicious meaning without much understanding of what they really mean. 

Lou-ing time with the table in a big mess right after! I wouldn't be surprised that in a moment of excitement, there could be some "liao" stuck on the ceiling or even within the exhaust suctions!

Whatever the case, our family had an enjoyable reunion dinner! :) 

Monday, February 08, 2016

Aerie Tower - Sweeping View of the Wetlands @ Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve [Singapore]

Without an eye to spot little critters and tiny reptiles, i find nature reserves rather boring and prefer to aim for the tower for a breathtaking, helicopter view of their surroundings.

It's not my first time to Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve although i always feel that it's challenging to post the pictures in this blog since i generally have nothing especially educational or informative to append to them.

Having said that, i guess i would post some of the photographs taken during the trip i made with my dad on new year day even though there wasn't much to be seen.

Above is Aerie Tower - said to be a landmark for the nature reserve. Not many are aware what Aerie refers to; a person, a bird or just a name thought of with no significant relevance? 

Reached the top of the tower! Coming back to the name, aerie is defined as "a large nest of a bird of prey, especially an eagle, typically built high in a tree or on a cliff" on google! 

The wetlands featuring low-height flora which wasn't much, honestly.

Similar to the view windows at Yangshuo, a different side offers a different view and this side shows the cityscape of Johore Bahru, state capital of Johor, Malaysia. 

On good days, i should be able to see hundreds and maybe even thousands of migratory birds on the mud-lands; that would have resulted in a much more impressive sight! 

At that time when i visited, it was literally an "empty" place with few roosting birds. i thought it was already the start of the winter season but according to a few friends today, the climate this year is extremely odd and even in Japan, the snow fell only at about mid-January. 

Whatever the case, hope the situation would improve soon. If not, the reputation of Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve as a popular spot for migratory birds would definitely be undermined. 

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