Food Travel

3 Days in Kuala Lumpur: Part 9: Street Food

It goes without saying that when you visit a place you have to try the local food, and you’re not going to find authentic local food in chain stores or fancy restaurants. Not typically anyways. We spent most of our 3 day trip looking around the Chinatown area and it has a fairly decent mix of tourist style restaurants, franchises (3 McDonald’s encircled the area… not surprised at all), and a nice assortment of “street food”. That’s what my wife says it’s called. She’s referring to the stand alone carts that sell food. She was insistent that we try eating at one of them before leaving and I love to eat, so I didn’t put up any argument.

So, the second night of our trip we found ourselves wandering down the road that runs along eastern edge of Chinatown and we saw a stall that was selling satay. I think satay is just a local word for shish kebabs, except they’re plain grilled meat on a stick, with a sauce applied to them during the grilling process. The stuff smelled fantastic and we couldn’t resist. We snagged their last beef satay, 3 chicken satay, 2 chicken liver & gizzard satay, and an order of rice cubes. It was served up fairly quickly and came with a dish of a spicy and sweet peanut sauce. We cleared the plate in about 3 minutes. The stuff was delicious and left us wanting more. I’m not a big fan of gizzard and liver, but even that tasted great coming off the grill there.

Here are some photos!

The other thing I can recommend is a stand called Air Mata Kucing. I have no clue what that means, but it’s located at one of the intersections along Jalang Petaling, near the center of the Chinatown area. They serve a drink that tastes like tea made with sugar cane. There were also bits of some fruit in it. My wife says she thinks it’s longan fruit. It’s very good, very sweet, and can be served with or without ice. We wound up going back for more of this stuff on our 3rd and last day there.

I would have liked to have had the opportunity to try out more of the local dishes, but our trip was a short one. There’s always next time!

Food Living in Singapore

Just Acia

Just Acia is a restaurant located in the Downtown East Mall in Pasir Ris, Singapore. My wife and I went to the mall to meet up with friends we hadn’t seen in months. Singapore is such a small island, but life gets so hectic that we still seem to only find rare opportunities to hang out with our friends.

When we arrived, the first thing on everyone’s minds was dinner, so off we went. One of our friends already had a place in mind that she said was fantastic, and had a great deal. We’re always keen to find places that are both “fantastic” and have a “great deal”. She didn’t disappoint!

Just Acia is on the ground level, back past a huge children’s play area. We’d probably never have even found it without her taking us to it. I didn’t even realize that the mall had a back area before tonight.

As we walked up to the restaurant I saw a sign that said all “set meals” come with freeflow (as in free refills) ice cream and drinks. That got my interest up, because free refills on anything isn’t common in Singapore. I was extra excited about the ice cream, because ice cream in Singapore is sold for a fairly high price. Most dairy products here are quite a bit more expensive than what I was used to in the US, because it all has to be imported. For those of you who don’t know and don’t care to Google it, Singapore is an island nation and a city-state.

When we got to the table and flipped through the menu, I was surprised again. The set meals were reasonably priced and the food looked really good. My wife placed an order for beef bulgoggi and I got the deep fried chicken, as well as a side dish of steamed dumplings. Right after ordering we were given cups and small metal dishes so we could start getting our drinks and ice cream from a buffet style bar near the front of the restaurant. The drink choices included Pepsi, Mountain Dew, some teas, cappuccino, lattes, and mocha. Again, impressive for the price.

By the time we sat back down our orders were hitting the table. The meal came with a bowl of rice (no surprise, this is Asia), a small bowl of broth soup (standard fare in Singapore), and a small dish of what I think was kimchi, though I could be wrong.

The food was fantastic! The first thing I tried was the dumplings. They were so much better than I had hoped. I’ve had a lot of dumplings in Singapore and these were the best so far. The deep fried chicken was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. It wasn’t over cooked, and it tasted like the oil they used was fresh. My wife and I swapped a portion of our meals and her beef bulgoggi was great as well.

The cappuccino I had after my meal was fairly strong. It was nothing special, but I have no complaints about it either. The ice cream also wasn’t anything premium, but it did have a good taste to it, and I wound up getting three servings.

The last thing I’d like to mention is that the staff is very friendly and very helpful. They were always smiling and always quick to ask if you needed any help. The only drawback I found was that the hostess seemed a bit hard of hearing. She spoke English, but she either didn’t listen to or didn’t understand what I said back to her. When we first approached the restaurant, two of our group had gone on ahead, with the rest of us lagging behind. I tried to explain that we were with the other two people, but she kept saying, “Group of four? Please come this way!” Finally, we just ignored her and walked past her into the restaurant to where our friends were waiting. Later, I stepped out for moment and when I came back, she asked me if I wanted to be seated, as if she hadn’t just seen me 4 minutes previous. Still, this is Asia, so you can’t expect everyone to be as proficient in English as a native speaker, so I can’t even call this a bad mark against the restaurant. It was just a minor annoyance that most foreigners have probably come to occasionally expect while traveling abroad.

All in all, this place serves some great food for a great price, and we’ll definitely be visiting them again.

Food Living in Singapore

Amigos; Western Food

When I moved to Asia I knew I was going to be giving up a few things. One of those things was easy access to cow meat. Singapore doesn’t have much in the way of cheap beef, or reasonably priced steaks. Or, so I thought.

During my first visit to Singapore in March of 2008 I saw that a typical diet here consists of mostly chicken, pork, or fish and rice or noodles with a small portion of some green leafy vegetable. Soups containing those ingredients are also popular. That’s pretty much all I’ve eaten for the last year as well. Not that I’m complaining! A lot of those dishes are delicious! But, I had a craving for something a bit more solid than that, and the last time I had a good amount of beef was on my birthday in the Philippines in March of this year. Even then it wasn’t a steak dinner as most Americans would envision it.

I had resigned myself to the belief that I would only have a good steak dinner when I was back in the US, so I wasn’t actively looking around for good deals. I didn’t want to break my budget to get something I can easily do without.

When my wife and I first agreed to rent our current place in Pasir Ris, the agent that located the property for us gave us a short tour of the area. Well, actually we went on an hour long walk around a good portion of the neighborhood but it was so exciting that we hardly noticed the distance we covered until we looked at it on a map later.

During this walk, we passed a small shop that was part of a hawker area. It’s called ‘Amigos; Western Food’ and doesn’t have a very impressive exterior, but the agent went into detail about how good the food they serve is. I smiled and nodded, but I wasn’t really convinced, and wasn’t in any hurry to try it. A few days ago I had an interesting conversation with a guy from Egypt, who also had nothing but good things to say about the place.

Last night, my wife and I finally got around to checking it out. Good thing the place is open late, because we didn’t make it over there until about 1am! I think we were the only customers there. We took a look at the menu, and I was surprised to see that there was a steak available for only 13.90, so I ordered it. My wife got a plate of lamb chops, which was also reasonably priced at about 9 dollars or so. Still, it was cheap, so I wasn’t expecting much. I certainly wasn’t expecting something that looked better than the picture on the menu. That’s sort of a joke, where what you order rarely looks as tasty as the picture. This time, the opposite was true, and we were more than pleasantly surprised to find such great looking dishes at a hawker stall.

The lamb chops.

The steak.

So, I suppose the real question is, how did it taste? That was the second surprise. The stuff was better than great! It was fantastic! In anticipation of a potential fail whale, we asked for Tabasco sauce, but we wound up not needing it. As you can see from the pictures above, both dishes came with a sauce. Each had a distinct taste that seemed appropriate to the meat. The potato wedges were also fantastic and the veggies used for the small salad were crisp and fresh. As for the meat, it was tender and had just the right amount of fat on it. My steak was a little undercooked, but it had been so long since I’d had a good steak dinner, and it tasted so good, that I didn’t care. I gobbled the whole thing down, then cleared the rest of the plate, and was very satisfied. My wife and I traded bites of lamb for steak, and her lamb was just as good.

If anyone’s looking for a reasonably priced place to get a great steak or set of lamb chops, this is definitely the place to go!

Food Geeky Stuff Living in Singapore

Cults in Singapore

Cults can be dangerous, socially disruptive elements in society.  As such they should be treated with extreme care, to ensure that they’re not planning anything crazy, like blowing something up or destroying the local playground.

When in Singapore, be aware that the following cults have been spotted hanging around a bakery in Pasir Ris:

The Yam Bis Cult

The Suji Bis Cult

Food Living in Singapore

Drinking From A Bag

When you move abroad you expect to run into things that are different from what you’re accustomed to.  Things like the types of food you’ll find, the language, the customs, and the way people dress.

One thing I didn’t expect however is that “to go” drinks are usually given out in plastic bags.  The first time I saw this was in the Philippines in March of 2008, when I was visiting Margee’s family.  I thought it was really amusing.  The bags are mass produced and shops buy them to put the drinks in.  When you buy a drink, and say you want it “to go” they will open it and pour it into a bag, along with some ice.  Then they’ll drop a straw in, pull the drawstring tight and pass it over to you.

I asked my wife about this and she said it’s because it’s cheaper.  I didn’t get it.  I asked her, “In what way is it cheaper for them to have to hand out an additional plastic bag?”  So she told me that there are deposits on the bottles and cans.  If you get a drink and take the bottle or can with you, you have to pay for the deposit as well as the drink, and it’s inconvenient, or sometimes not possible, to return the container to get the deposit.  So, to avoid that, the stores pour the drinks in bags and handle the return of the containers themselves.

I later found the same to be true in Singapore at hawker centers.  When you get a drink to go, it’s most often poured into a plastic bag.  The hawker centers use the bags not only for drinks from cans or containers, but for the drinks they make themselves, like the local iced Kopi.  I imagine it’s cheaper for them to use the bags than to use paper cups.  I also imagine it’s more about being able to put ice in the drink than having something to do with a deposit in Singapore.

I’ve seen people carrying everything in these little bags: juice, soda, coffee, and even beer (in the Philippines).  It took a while to get used to, and it was a bit strange to carry one around myself, but I’ve become accustomed to it.

Oh, and one other thing about “to go” orders.  Here in Singapore it’s referred to as “take-away.”  When I first got here I would sometimes ask for something “to go” and the person taking my order would just give me a blank look and ask again if I wanted my order “for here” or “take-away.”  In the Philippines, it’s referred to as “take-out.”

Sometimes it’s small things like that, that remind you of how far from home you are.