Tuesday, April 28, 2009

KL Black Hokkien Mee: Candidate 2

with Kin

I waxed lyrical about Wing Heng's black hokkien mee. I returned recently to an old favourite in PJ, which is almost as famous.

A powerful fire and the ability to control it is the critical component to the wok hei of a great hokkien mee. Fire fueled by compress air and kerosine is used in these huge stoves, so powerful, it will singe and burn food within seconds...and hence need a cook who is not only skilled at handling the heavy cast iron wok, but also strong enough to toss and turn the wok full of ingredents to make that wonderful concoctions that we call hokkien mee.

So on we go...first course, Black Hokkien Mee.

Black does not begin to describe it. Deep, dark...the noodles gleam in the light, and whiffs of fragrance rise to tease the nostrils as the plate is unceremoniously dumped on the table....this is no fine dining establishment...but a mere coffee shop somewhere in Petaling Jaya...but the food is heaven.

Unlike the one served in Jalan Imbi, this version had also thin bee hoon mixed into the mass of thick mee. But that is where the difference ends. Both had great mouthfeel...pork lard and crispy bits of lard pronounced itself on the palate as extreme pleasure. The slippery noodles, in the elegant...if I may describe the thick, black, slimy, smooth sauce as elegant...and the hot, spicy chilli belacan is wonderful. Excellent, excellent. I would be hard pressed to pick a winner, but if I must, I'd say the Imbi one is more fragrant, and edges the PJ one slightly. But both are excellent.

We also had the Kong Fu chao, but this was a disappointment...stay with Jalan Imbi for the wat tan konfu chao. There, the crispy beehoon is an pure inspiration with the soft, wok hei-ed flat rice noodles, and the beautiful sauce.

We also had a plate of Penang Lor Bak.

Somewhat similar to Singapore's Ngor Hiang (five flavours), the lor bak (literally translated as gravy meat) is sold semi-prepared and waiting. Take your pick from lor bak, heh chih (prawn fritters), tauhu, various sausages, fish fritters...and the stall owner will fry them up to a crisp and serve them.

The prawn fritters above are particularly beautiful. Super crispy batter smother about 2 mid-sized prawns. Lovely, lovely flavour...the prawns were fresh, the batter delicious.

And the lor bak itself was special. Meat, chopped and combined with spices, wrapped in a soy bean skin, and deep fried. Magic...eaten with the yin/yang sauce of lor (brown sauce with streaks of egg...this is a very special and beguilling sauce only to be found by hawkers who do Penang Lor Bak). Combined...this is absolutely umami heaven. The pork within the lor bak is both lean and fat meat, and packs the punch and flavour.

Even the coffee packs power...below the kopi-o...really black...and kopi with condensed milk. Thick, heavy mouthfeel, this makes one proud of the humble robusta bean used.

Excellent supper...except for the kongfu chao. Recommended to look it up.

Kedai Minuman dan Makanan Ah Fatt
Ah Hwa Restoran sells the Hokkien Mee.
Penang Lor Bak
# 66, Jalan 14/48 (directly behind the Shell station at Jalan 222),
Petaling Jaya.
GPS: Lat: 3.09743 Lon: 101.62938
Click here for a map

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Eating Tokyo: Kobe beef supreme at Gyu-an

with SYT

Kobe beef raises eyebrows. Accountants sometimes ask, "how can a dinner be so expensive". But here, I introduce a Kobe beef restaurant which is reasonably priced...well priced like a regular steakhouse in the US.

But then, can beef be that good, that it literally just melts in your mouth? Can the fat be packed so full of gorgeous flavour? Can it still be beefy tasting at the same time? Many wonder. Many never find out. To do so, would require a trip to Japan where the best wagyu is never exported, only to be consumed within the country. The Kobe prefecture is perhaps the most famous for wagyu, but in Japan you can find equal or even higher quality from other prefectures.

Gyu-an, a small steakhouse at the basement of a side street in Ginza is one such restaurant which can answer this question. The steaks served here are all from Kobe, and all perfectly executed. The service is excellent, little Japanese waitresses busy running around, fussing over diners. The manager is a gentleman who speaks perfect English.

I was first introduced to this restaurant by J. Nakazawa who had taken Kin and I to sample wagyu. Nakazawa-san is truly a Japanese amongst Japanese with an eye of the traditional and special. I returned with SYT this trip, and we spent a good 20mins searching for the restaurant. Finally I found it, and the walk to search was worthwhile. Unfortunately my Blackberry GPS could not lock into a location reading so I still don't have the coordinates, so please bear with the google map below.

The Menu in English, as translated by the Tokyo Metro Tourism folks.

SYT selected the Hana Taizen ladies set, and I did a 200g sirloin steak.

First, a beef with soy sauce amuse bouche - Gyu Tsukudani.

This was beef, ground and boiled with soy sauce. The taste of the beef was rather apparent...so, yes, wagyu retains the beefy taste. The texture was fibrous, but soft and tender, and the soy sauce adds its punch with saltiness and soy flavour. Very nice.

A small salad was next:

Fresh, fresh vegetables in a simple soy sauce based dressing. Very nice.

Then, the main event...SYT's fillet:

The beef was tender, but the cut was not very fat, though what fat present was well marbled and spread through the muscle fibres, making the beef very tasty, tender, and flavourful. Just a nice touch of chewiness.

My sirloin was somewhat fatter...

The characteristic skirt of fat on the sirloin was particularly flavourful...burst in the mouth, with great umami mouth feel, and beautiful flavour...I can almost taste the corn fed to the cows...and I am sure it is my imagination, the beer it had drunk.

The beef was very tender...had to be with the high level of marbling, and cooked perfect medium raw. At the same time, it had the robust, beefy taste. As can be seen the light browning of the outsides - a characteristic of the Maillard Reaction is evident, as indeed the flavours released were very clear to the palate. I am not sure if the beef had been dry aged. I am not aware that the Japanese practice dry aging...and indeed in the tasting, the nuttiness, foie gras flavour is absent, indicating that this was fresh beef...just very high quality and very beautifully cooked.

The beef was served with 3 different kinds of sauces, but being a purist, I only ate with the rock salt - extreme right.

Indeed one of the more pleasurable steak dinners I have had in a while...how I lament that all of these have been eaten outside of Singapore. This is a must try steakhouse when in Tokyo, especially if you are staying in the Ginza area.

6-13-6 (Hibiya Line Higashi-Ginza), Tokyo
(short walk from Gucci Ginza) Marked A on the Google Map:

View Larger Map
tel: +81 3-3542-0226‎

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Eating in Tokyo: Musa Shimo Sabo

with SYT in Tokyo

The Japanese have a knack for taking something totally alien, and through obsession and hard work, refine the product to their own. I already said that in an earlier post...

Anyway, what I truly love about the Japanese people is their obsession to anything they put their minds to. The best magazines on any product, be it handmade shoes, or shirts, or pens, or watches, or cars, or food...are Japanese. Many of the best food is found in Japan...indeed, when the Michelin team went to Japan, they only managed to cover less than 1% of the best restaurants on the land, and yet, when they totalled the stars awarded...the total for Japan is higher than the total of both France and Italy combined.

Japanese cuisine is refined...treats all the senses...and none more so than dessert. Just a few doors away from my favourite tonkatsu place in Tokyo lies Musashimo Sabo...a great red bean dessert place.

I always eat dessert here after my tonkatsu meal. I always order the same dessert...red bean with mochi and green tea ice cream.

The red bean is different and higher quality than any I have found in Singapore...it is somewhat larger, and cooked soft, but not so soft as to be mushy. I understand the beans are boiled for 8 hours in each store. The sweetness is just right...not too sweet as red bean can tend to be.

The mochi is simply a lump of glutinous rice ball...made so that the texture is spongy, springy...offering some resistance to the bite, but eventually gives way...wonderful texture.

And finally, the green tea ice cream. Made from powdered green tea of very high quality...known as Myukure and milk from the Aichi Prefecture, the ice cream is special. Not too sweet, the slightly astringent green tea blends well with the cream used it is full of green tea flavour, and smooth, creamy. Excellent.

But how all these seemingly disparate ingredients come together is yet another tale...each complimenting the other. Each adding and never taking away from the other's flavour. Symphonic is the word which comes to mind. Harmony. Lovely. Oishi.

Higashishinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
1-5-2 汐留シティセンターB111
B111 Shiodome City Center 1-5-2
105-7190 ZIP 105-7190
TEL:03-5568-6340 TEL :03-5568-6340
Opening hours 10:30~23:00 Sunday 10:30 to 23:00 Sunday closed

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Eating in Tokyo: My favourite Pork Katsu: Katsukura

with SYT in Tokyo

I love katsu...especially pork loin from a good cut of kurobuta, breaded, deep fried to perfection...leaving a crisp, crunchy exterior with sharp bits which disintegrate on each bite, and provides the mind with endless entertainment trying to distinguish the crispiness...and soft, tender pork with a layer of fat within...flavourful, joyful, beautiful.

So when in Tokyo, I always make a trip to Katsukura...a chain store...no doubt, but serves exemplary katsu. From the original store in Kyoto, Katsukura has grown into a chain of more than 30 stores nationwide, and I think is probably related to the one store in Singapore at Ngee Ann City. I have eaten at the Ngee Ann City store, but the taste, textures and experience is nowhere similar to the Shiodome one I frequent.

They serve the katsu with a huge, refillable serving of hand cut cabbage, and barley rice.

The bread crumbs are specially selected...to provide crisp, light taste. When placed on a piece of rice paper, the katsu left little oil stains.

The pork is offered in two grades, one regular and and the special grade is a kurobuta from Yonezawa prefecture. Two different cuts are offered...a leaner fillet and a fatter, more flavourful loin. And each tonkatsu was offered in 3 sizes - 70g, 120g, 180g.

Of course I had to have the special grade...tonkatsu at its best, IMHO:

Eaten with a special sauce made from soy sauce, red wine, apples and date palm...mixed in-situ with a mortar and pestle, completes the taste...provides tang and tartness to the rich flavour of the pork.

We also shared a serving of fried prawns...five large prawns, cut Japanese style so they don't curl on themselves, breaded in the same superior batter as with the tonkatsu, and deep fried similarly...

The prawns were fleshy, and very tasty. A hint of the sea was present, and the meat was crunchy, sweet and rich. Excellent.

Easy to find, the shop is in the ANA building, and right next to a Singapore Chicken Rice restaurant.

Shiodome / Tonkatsu
Higashi-Shimbashi 1-5-2, Shiodome City Center B1F. Open 11am-10pm daily.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Eating in Tokyo: Sushizanmai

with SYT in Tokyo

Otoro - the highest quality fatty tuna...well marbled, beautiful, soft, tender...tasty

Finding a great sushi place in Singapore is difficult. Either one has to pay huge ransoms for very good sushi, or one suffers of small pieces of frozen fish perched atop dry, sometimes very hard rice. But land in Japan, and beautiful, fresh fish, often much larger than the ball of vinegared rice it is sitting on, is delivered to your plate, with a dash of wasabi, to be enjoyed with soy sauce.

I love a good sushi. Many have revered Sushi Dai at Tsukiji Market to be one of the best in the business...and I don't disagree...but I loathe the long queues, the nazi-like behaviour of the owner, and the somewhat variable service of the wait staff. In my travels to Tokyo, I found myself drawn again and again to quality sushi, good service, and affordable price.

My preferred dish at Sushi Zanmai is the Maguro set. At Y3000, I think it is good value for the quality of the fish.

Two slices of a good, well marbled otoro can set one back S$60 in one of the fancy places on our island...Here two generous slices are included as part of the larger set:

Note marbling of fat on the tuna. Typically this is taken from the belly, and the fish should have no veins, and the texture smooth, and creamy to the palate. Tuna of this quality should have never been frozen, but taken from a chilled carcass typically purchased the same morning at Tsukiji market. See here for an earlier visit to the market to view the auction of tuna.

Two slices of chutoro (medium grade fatty tuna) is slightly broiled with a blow torch, leaving a lightly charred outside, but still raw insides...I particularly love this.

Two further slices of akami - red tuna sushi accompanies with 3 small pieces of tuna maki. All were fresh, chilled tuna. Taste was fresh, clean, creamy to the palate. No fishy smells testify to the freshness of the fish.

The set comes complete with a fairly large bowl of miso soup with fresh clams.

Value for money, and a must visit everytime I am in Tokyo. Definitely one of my favourites...especially when I am paying for sushi myself.

Sushizanmai has many branches spread around town, in convenient locations. I have eaten at the outlet at Akihabara, at Yurakucho (24 hours), both to my satisfaction. The Yurakucho branch is situated under the Yurakucho train tracks, just a stone throw's away from the Imperial Hotel.

Sushizanmai, Yurachuko branch

Address 1-3 Yurakucho 2 Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 100-0006


Opening Hours Open, 24 hours
Holidays Open, everyday

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Handmade pure soba: Shimizu at Nagano Prefecture

with thanks to the fine hosting of the kind folks at Seiko-Epson

I had the occasion to be in Japan, and was invited by the Seiko-Epson folks to visit their factory located at Shiojiri, Nagano Prefecture. The factory houses their Micro-Artisan Studio, and the assembly plant for the famous Sprin Drive watches.

We had dinner at this home style restaurant...on entry, we were greeted by the owners of Shimizu Soba:

The restaurant seemed to be set within their home, and I can see two private dining tatami rooms, each enclosed with traditional sliding paper doors. Within the room we had our dinner, was simply decorated...it had a piano on one side, and a Japanese lacquer table, and pillows for us to sit, Japanese style, either cross legged or kneeling.

The first course was seafood:

From left was a kind of roll with cucumber, potato and radish. Light and refreshing. Middle was a smoked rainbow trout, though it looked grilled or deep fried till crisp in a thick black sauce. A slice of lemon and a sprig of ginger completed the decoration. The whole fish can be eaten, including the bones, head and tail. The skin was crispy, the meat within milky sweet, and the soft bones provided some resistance to the bite. Very tasty! Oishi was repeated by all around the table. The prawn was a little unusual, I thought, it was wrapped in cheese, and lightly grilled. The prawn was very fresh, and the cheese provided a rich accompaniment.

A dish of pickles accompany:

Two types of cucumber...apparently a speciality of the area. One is lightly pickled with wasabi, and the other more plainly possibly with home made vinegar. Both were tasty.

Next course was a lettuce salad, with special dressing and instead of croutons, deep fried house soba. (more about the soba later, which is a speciality of this restaurant).

The lettuce was very fresh, crunchy, tasty. The dressing reminded me of soy sauce, perhaps a touch of fish or chicken stock, and grated radish.

Chawanmushi was next...this was again very well done, the egg creamy, soft, lightly steamed.

And embedded within the egg, I found chunks of chicken, ginko nuts, fish cake, and a whole fresh scallop. Wonderful!

Next up, shashimi:

Two slices of fish, I forget the name, but I was told it looked somewhat like an eel, bur flat, was sliced thinly displaying the silvery skin side...very beautiful. Japanese cuisine is about engaging all the senses - sight, smell, taste. The dish looked like a work of art. The taste of the fish was rich, creamy meat, and had a fishy, oily taste. The prawn shashimi was super fresh...light yet rich, fresh, sweet.

The tamago drew great appreciation from the table.

Lightly cooked, but only so, slight runny, but not quite...the tamago is layer after layer of such delicately cooked egg. Very lightly seasoned. Again very delicious.

Tempura, home style:

Asparagus - fresh and in season, was lightly battered and deep fried, tempura style. Another huge prawn, fresh was also fried tempura style, but in a kind of home style, where the crispy batter was whipped into some swirls around the prawn. The prawn was tasty, as usual, and the batter very light and crispy.

Finally the home made soba. Known as Genbanosho shown below:

The soba is made from black buckwheat grown in Yatsugatake Mountains in Shinshu, hand milled in the premises with a stone mill, and hand formed and cut. As can be seen, the soba appears uneven, unlike factory made soba. The owners explained that they only use pure buckwheat, and do not mix the grain with regular wheat which is typically used in factory made soba. The result is pure 100% buckwheat soba.

Shimizu has many types of Sobas; Sarashina Soba (First Flour) providing you with sweetness and great taste: Hiki-gurumi (Second Flour) providing you with great taste: Inaka (Third Flour) providing you with traditional

The texture is interesting...very springy, spongy. Very tasty. Served cold, it was dipped in a special sauce of soyu and other ingredients, with a small bit of wasabi, and slurpped with a great noise. Very enjoyable, and special.

We then tasted the three great sobas of the prefecture: a serving of Sarashina; Hikigurumi; Inaka. (L to R)

From left, Sarashina, First Flour. Sarashina is white Soba kneaded with Sarashina buckwheat made in Kurohime plateau. Please enjoy the sweetness and flavor. Sarashina buckwheat is also called as “Ozen.” Approximately 10 % of buckwheat flour is available from the center of the Soba seed. It does not have much flavor; therefore, it is kneaded with wine. The pure white texture is a result of having discarded the black outer part of the seed.

In the middle, Hikigurumi, Second Flour. Hikigurumi is kneaded with two types of buckwheat flours that are made in Kurohime plateau and the foot of the Yatsugatake Mountains. Second flour is used.

And right, Inaka, Third Flour. Inaka is kneaded with two types of buckwheat flours that are made in Kurohime plateau and the foot of the Yatsugatake Mountains. Third flour is used. Inaka has original taste, sweeter and more flavorless.

Very interesting soba experience. And wonderful food.

76-1 Souga Ooaza Shiojiri, Nagano 399-6461, Japan

Tel/Fax 0263-51-1348

Mail Address sobaya-shimizu@wine.plala.or.jp

Business Hours
11:00 AM - 2:00 PM
5:00 PM - 8:00 PM (Only the guest of the reservation) Closed on Tuesday

Photonotes: Shot with Panasonic Lumix DMC LX-3, limited to ISO200.