Mei Wei Economic Bee Hoon (Singapore): Fried Chicken Surprise

IMG_6545Just after dawn on a weekday, my mother and I make a short trek to Joo Chiat, one of the sweet pockets of Singapore‘s laidback East Coast where you’ll still find pre-war townhouse-packed narrow lanes that feel like 1970s Singapore.

A dusty little corner kopitiam (coffeeshop) beckons — Poh Ho Restaurant, which we’d visited once for excellent plates of wanton noodles. When we left then, I had vowed to return — from what we could see, the handful of other stores there held much promise. One Indian hawker, for example, is constantly mentioned as one of the best makers of roti prata in the country.

Unfortunately, we had chosen to make the journey on one of the few mornings each month that the prata guys are off. Our disappointment was brief, however. A queue snaked around the front of the kopitiam, framing it like a necklace.

Singaporeans like queues — in a country filled with thousands of superb eating options, there’s no need to line up for good food. So if there is a line, something terribly good must exist at the front of it. Well, we immediately got in line …

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Spoon (Edinburgh): Haggis and Harry Potter

Jams

J.K. Rowling, as you might imagine, is big in Edinburgh.

The Elephant House, with its sweeping picture window views of Edinburgh Castle, is constantly packed with camera-toting tourists, as Rowling wrote bits of Harry Potter there — back when she could still wander the world incognito, of course.

Besides this cafe, however, there is one other spot that is something of a Rowling shrine — though one that’s considerably less mobbed, as it’s morphed into something else since its Rowling years: Spoon, a bright and cheery first floor restaurant that used to be Nicolson’s Cafe, otherwise known as the place where Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of Harry Potter.

As much of a fan as I am of the series, I’ve never wanted to get in the perennially long line at the Elephant House. Spoon, on the other hand, not only doesn’t have the lines but is also a restaurant whose food I’d heard good things about.

So on a drizzly Sunday, D.B. and I set off for a little look-see …

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Chai Poh Scramble: Easter, Singapore-Style

Breakfast in this household includes many of your standard brunchy dishes — eggs and bacon, egg-soaked casseroles, eggs a dozen ways and more.

What’s less typical is when I wake up craving Chinese porridge — and the eggy accoutrements that go with a hot bowl of the stuff that I get at my mother’s kitchen table in Singapore. The eggs she serves with porridge are large bowls of beaten eggs, steamed with minced pork and white pepper. Or, savory scrambles packed with ketchup, shallots and sometimes shrimp.

Of the egg dishes I love in Singapore — one remained untested in my own Brooklyn kitchen: Chai poh omelet, a scramble peppered with deliciously salty chunks of preserved radish.

The reason was simple — I’d simply never bought chai poh before. But when my chef friend Simpson recently gave me an extra packet he had in his larder, I decided to give it a shot. After all, Easter was around the corner and my Let’s Lunch bunch had decided to share egg dishes for April …

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Sweet Tomato-Egg Stir-Fry: Just Like Mom Made

On a spring afternoon 16 years ago, my dear friend Kelly invited me into her kitchen.

This might not seem particularly noteworthy, given all you read about fearless kitchen action on this blog — except that at the time, I was a tepid (and rather terrified) culinary novice whose oeuvre basically spanned charred fried rice and idiot-proof instant noodles. As interns at the Oregonian, however, we didn’t have much money to eat out at the time, so Kelly invited me over one day to sample a stir-fry that her mom always made in their Indiana home. At Kelly’s small stove in Portland, I watched intently as she heated up oil, stir-fried tomatoes with some sugar, poured in some beaten eggs and in a matter of minutes, the dish was done.

I’ve thought about that meal often — not just because the dish itself was delicious. The diced tomatoes, softened and watery from sloshing about the wok, mingled with hearty eggs and laced with sweetness, made for a combination that was heavenly scooped over hot rice.

Mainly, however, I remember how simple Kelly made it look — and how adult it seemed to be cooking an actual meal that didn’t involve ramen powder packets or crusty burned bits. I remember that I wanted to be Kelly.

Although we stayed in sporadic touch over the years, I never thought to bring up this meal to Kelly — until we caught up at my “A Tiger in the Kitchen” reading at Powell’s in Beaverton, Ore., last month. Over spicy Korean hand-pulled noodles and dumplings after, I finally asked. “Do you remember that tomato and egg dish you made?”

And oh yes, of course she did.

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Rolina Curry Puffs (Singapore): A Bite of History

There’s been some chatter on Twitter about curry puffs recently — talk, even, of taking a stab at home-made versions of these deep-fried pastries filled with curried potatoes and hard-boiled egg.

Making these puffs — which are divine, especially if eaten piping hot and freshly fried — has never once crossed my mind. This is due in large part to the fact that they’re ubiquitous in Singapore, where I grew up. At 50 cents Singapore (roughly U.S.$0.40) — about what they cost when I was growing up in the 1980s — these puffs were so inexpensive and easy to buy that not many people thought of creating their own. (I salute @WokStar‘s attempt for our Let’s Lunch date next month.)

Among all the hawker stalls that sell curry puffs in Singapore, however, a few stand out. During a visit to Singapore earlier this year, I had the great fortune of stumbling upon one of them while cruising a hawker center, searching for lunch …

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