Top 10: The Memorable Eats Of 2009


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You know it’s been a good year when you are able to say this: 2009 was when I began to eat for a living.

I’d always been a devotee of affairs of the stomach. I may have written about fashion and other lifestyle areas for a living but baking, braising, trying new recipes, eating out — those were what consumed me when weekends rolled around. 

Luck has its ways of finding you, however. Now, on the precipice of 2010, I’m beginning to close out a lunar calendar year of cooking and eating with my family in Singapore as research for my book, “A Tiger In The Kitchen.” 

My journey so far has taken me many places — France, where I had the loveliest gingery champagne cocktail with friends old and dear; China, where my father and I went in search of my great-grandfather’s footprints in the village of his birth. And, of course, Singapore, where my aunties and maternal grandmother have been plying me with meals, recipes and much, much love along the way.

With all that I’ve packed into 2009, it’s hard to decide what the highlights have been. But, inspired by some stellar Top 10 gastronomic lists out there (definitely check out Sam Sifton’s list of Top 11 dishes in New York in the New York Times), I decided to give it a go.

Here, in no particular order, are my 10 memorable eats of 2009. 

Enjoy, buon appetito and listen, let’s do this again in 2010 …

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Sin Huat Eating House: A Red-Light Special


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To say that the prospects of having a good meal at Sin Huat Eating House seemed dim when we first arrived would be quite an understatement.

For starters, it was hard find the place. Located in a desolate corner of Geylang, Singapore‘s big red-light district, this restaurant situated in an open-air coffeeshop was so dark that it blended right into the furtive blackness of its block. On top of that, every so often, its few fluorescent lights would flicker and go out for several seconds.

Then, there was the row of grimy, green fishtanks displayed front and center. And the sweaty cooks who would emerge now and then to reach into these fishtanks up to their arm-pits in order to scoop out shellfish whenever someone placed an order.

This was the place that Anthony Bourdain had included on his list of “13 Places To Eat Before You Die” for Men’s Health magazine?

In all my years of eating around Asia, however, I’ve come to learn that it’s usually the least appetizing-looking places that create the most memorable dishes. And in Singapore, some of the best places to eat are to be found in the seediest of neighborhoods. (In a travel story I did for the Washington Post this weekend, I list a number of mind-blowing places to check out in Singapore’s red-light districts. These would be places to eat. Food, that is.)

And Sin Huat, once you get past its stomach-churning trappings, definitely fits this bill.

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Cowgirl Sea-Horse: Fish So Good It's Got To Be Bad For You


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It’s always a little unfair to judge a restaurant based on its first week out the gate — kinks still have to be worked out; the kitchen may not have found its rhythm yet.

Judging from a visit to Cowgirl Sea-Horse just days after it opened, it’s a place well worth checking out. If things are only expected to get better after the first week, well, let’s just say they’re already pretty darn satisfying.

This new seafood outpost of the popular Cowgirl in the West Village has the same Southwestern flavor and Steel Magnolia bartenders that the original restaurant does. But it offers slightly different fare from the chicken-fried steaks and smoked barbecue ribs that have been mainstay of Cowgirl for decades.

On the menu are $12 to $14 seafood gumbos, fish tacos and shrimp cornettas (crispy cones filled with shrimp). Like Cowgirl, it does a good job at what it does — uncomplicated comfort food. One thread links the two restaurants: there’s an awful lot of fried in both places.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

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