Thursday, April 16, 2015

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Goubuli Baozi (狗不理包子) has come to Singapore! The time-honoured Tianjin steamed buns have been sought out by travellers to China and served to visiting diplomats and celebrities, but have never had an overseas branch until now.

The delicate handmade steamed buns are are made with half-leavened dough, pleated with 18 folds or wrinkles (like xiaolongbao) and contain soupy meat fillings (like xiaolongbao too).

The brand harkens back to 1858, when founder Ah Gou started a very successful business selling these buns. He was so busy or engrossed in making those buns, that he would have no time to chitchat with customers. Hence people would start calling him "Goubuli" meaning "dog that ignores". A complaint and yet a catchy name at the same time.





So now, more than 150 yers later, Goubuli has found fancy digs in Marina Bay Sands. The outlet called 9Goubuli (the 9 is just an auspicious number added to set the Singapore branch apart) has a main dining area and three private rooms. It is near the end of the mall where Todai is.





In the Singapore kitchen, we have Baozi Master Chef from Tianjin - Chef Wang Chuan Ping (right) - who is the seventh generation baozi Master and has been perfecting her skills for the past thirty years.  They use a combination of three specific flours sourced from Australia and Canada (grains grown in dry and  to get that consistency. The pork is all hand-chopped, so that they are moist, and don't get mushy.

However it isn't just baozi they sell here. In fact, the menu is pretty diverse with a little bit of everything - Cantonese, Sichuan, Shanghainese and even Beijing dishes.

Executive Chef Koo Kowk Fai who specialises in Cantonese dishes has a team of chefs preparing dishes such as ‘chilled salted duck’, ‘stir-fried egg whites with scallops in truffle oil’, ‘double boiled bamboo pith with bird’s nest’, and more.

But first, we must try the signature baozi, right?



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Goubuli Bun with Meat and Vegetable Filling ($2.60/piece) 

OK, they have a traditional bun with just meat (S$2.20/piece), but this is the one with seafood and vegetables added in (极品三鲜包). You can see the bits of shrimp and maybe scallop in this. It's supposed to be premium ingredients and even nicer.

However, with all my heightened expectations of the Goubuli buns, I have to say this was not my fantasy baozi brimming with ingredients. And somehow, the seafood addition did not enhance the meat but seemed to dilute the flavours instead. I must come back and try the regular meat-only bun to see how it compares.

I do love the dough skin, especially that softly chewy texture that is way more interesting than the usual fluffy cotton-like bao skin. Goubuli's dough skin thin and yet resilient enough to absorb gravy and hold its shape.







Goubuli Bun with Vegetable Filling ($1.90/piece)

Oh this was surprisingly delicate and delightful. The gravy is just lightly savoury, and the natural sweetness of the vegetables and their crunch made each bite refreshing. Vegetarians have a great option here.





Goubuli Bun with Wagyu and Vegetable Filling ($3.50/piece)

Now this was the potent one. You peel open the bun and can smell the aroma of the wagyu! The coarsely chopped cubes in the rich gravy have a good bite to them. It's a nice mixture of A3 and A4 grade marbling, so it isn't excessively fatty and has enough beefy flavour for balance.





Appetizer Combination

9Goubuli has a good range of cold side dishes and appetisers, many of which are Sichuan style. We tried a sampling of three dishes (left to right):
- Vinegar Marinated Wood Ear Mushroom ($8): nicely done, sweetly tangy and crunchy
- Steam Chicken with Szechuan Chilli Sauce ($12): silky chicken but the chili is too mild
- Pork Terrine ($10): slightly too soft and mushy for me





Braised Fish Maw in Superior Soup ($18) 

This was excellent. Quality fish maw in a rich stock made from boiling whole chicken and duck under high heat. Carrot gives the soup its golden tinge, and chopped coriander (served separately) adds fragrance. The hot stone pot kept the soup bubbling hot too, so enjoy this slowly.





Szehcuan Style Poached Sliced Fish (S$22/S$33)

The restaurant uses cod fish for this version of 水煮鱼 and the buttery rich flesh does go well with the dried chili and Sichuan peppercorn flavours. However, it's clear the spicy heat has been toned down for the local palate. But good news then, for those who can't take chili heat well, or those who don't believe in extreme chili heat obliterating all other flavours.





Spicy Diced Chicken with Red Capsicum (S$18/S$27) 
Oh this was my favourite dish of the evening. When I saw 辣子鸡 on the menu, I was so happy. I just had to try it. This was deliciously addictive all right - crispy yet juicy bits of chicken well-seasoned and fried - but again, this is nowhere near true Sichuan style tongue and lip numbing spiciness. That's fine; it means I can bring my two little kids to try this. They love spicy food, and this is a great way to get them to work their way up the scale.





Lobster Stir Fried Dry Noodles 

This is not on the menu, but it was cobbled together from two items on the menu. The humble fried La Mian (hand-pulled noodles) gets a super upgrade paired with the Baked Half-Lobster. Both were expertly done. I really liked the simple noodles, and the lobster was clearly fresh, springy and juicy.





Banana Chocolate Spring Roll with Coconut Ice Cream (S$14)

A pretty modern dessert, but nicely done. The comforting combination of banana and chocolate in baked filo pastry plays with creamy and crispy contrasts, while the sorbet-like ice cream adds a sweet cold jolt to the warm spring roll.

The 9Goubuli menu also covers homemade noodles, seafood, meats, dim sum and rotisserie, including classic Cantonese roast items and even Peking duck, thanks to Executive Chef Koo's 25 years in Cantonese cuisine.

Goubuli in China has more than 20 restaurants with various specialties - some do baozi, some purely appetisers, and yet others are fine-dining establishments with Beijing and regional specialties. The 9Goubuli restaurant in Singapore showcases a little of each of these to let us try what they have.

While I would rather they focus on just doing the baozi or just a small menu extremely well, they do have some notable items in the regional dishes and cold appetisers. The wide-ranging choices and accessible prices also make it easy for families and large groups to come and eat together.



9GOUBULI (狗不理)
Marina Bay Sands (MBS)
The Shoppes, Canal Level
B2-02
2 Bayfront Avenue
Singapore 018792
Tel: +65 6688-7799
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/9goubuli

Monday, April 13, 2015

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Have you been to the Village Hotel Katong (VHK)? The Far East Hospitality group has done a nice job completely refurbishing the old Paramount Hotel. Well, it is a S$30m facelift! Launched Nov 2013, the cosy Peranakan-inspired hotel has 229 smoke-free rooms in the quaint Katong district.

I love the bright colours and contemporary Asian motifs. Look how the glossy mirrored ceiling adds depth and height to the lobby.

VHK recently introduced a pleasantly affordable holiday experience for local families (S$285++, Family room) and couples (S$195++, Deluxe room) interested in getting to know more about Peranakan culture.

Peranakan Family Experience (S$285++ for a family of four)
• One night’s accommodation in Family Room
• Unlimited WiFi access
• Buffet breakfast for 2 adults, 2 children at Katong Kitchen
• FREE 2-hour Peranakan experience at Kim Choo
• Late check-out at 3pm (subject to availability)



The Kim Choo session includes a rice dumpling wrapping demo, with a short sharing of the Peranakan culture/history and also a sampling of the Peranakan kuehs and snacks. You might think you already know lots about Peranakan culture as a local, but trust me, they will regale you with so many interesting tidbits, you'll come away completely charmed.








The lobby lounge is spacious with more private nooks at the side for reading or coffee. Or in this case, happy children discovering the swivel chairs. The kids loved this place immediately.





This is the Family Room; it's much bigger than the others and fits two double beds. There's a small balcony too. Ours faced the East Coast Parkway scenery.





Furnishings are kept simple and minimal, for a clean look.



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The beautiful Peranakan patterns extend to the bathroom in the bold decorative tiles. There's a rain shower but no bath tub as the space is fairly small. I've read that the Peranakan Club rooms have an in-room standalone tub which sounds awesome.

But let's go to Kim Choo since it's at 3-5pm, soon after check-in.

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There are so many lovely things to look at.



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Upstairs in the Kim Choo shophouse, you'll see a treasure trove with museum-worthy pieces. The sideboards are intricately carved and decorated with ancestral pictures, Mother Mary paintings, peonies, phoenixes, bamboos. These are usually placed near the front door. There are also Victorian cabinets with Chinese carvings, and even Chinese lions as the feet. These used to be owned by the very rich who could afford delicately carved pieces.



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In the Peranakan home, the kitchen reigns as the soul of the house. Someone once told me if your Peranakan friend invites you over but never shows you the kitchen, they don't really like you.

Interestingly, there's not much porcelain. Enamel ware - with origins from Europe - was much more popular even though it was more expensive. It doesn't spoil or break. There are tiffin carriers for hubby's or kids' lunches or potluck parties among friends.

Again we see decorative peonies symbolising wealth and good fortune, while phoenixes represent wedding or couples' bliss.


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Two little "nonyas" for the day! Jolie and Nadine so loved dressing up in the traditional clothes.



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A girl can't have too many shoes!



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So many pretty things to look at. And that's Raymond (bottom left), the most knowledgeable host-owner of the shop. Ask him anything about the culture, and he will go into greater and more astonishing details!



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Did you know otah otah is Peranakan in origin? It likely came from Semarang (central Java), where a lot of Peranakans settled. Raymond says the Indonesian connection kind of explains why buah keluak (the black nut indigenous to Indonesia) and nasi ulam are mainstays of Peranakan cuisine.

And I learned that love letters are called that because the lacy edges of the egg wafer when rolled up resemble grandparents' marriage certificates. How sweet!



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The rice dumpling wrapping demo is quite interesting if you've never seen it done before.




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Kim Choo is just a 5-minute walk from VHK; it's on 111 East Coast Road. Highly recommended, and there are so many tasty snacks to buy too!






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Swimming next! Oh, the pool caught us by surprise - small and round but with one side unusually deep (like 2m although it says 1.8m). Of course Nadine chose the deepest part to chuck her float and sink in. The girl has no fear of water. Good thing both can swim a little better now.



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Back at the hotel, there's the all-day dining restaurant Katong Kitchen, which also happens to be halal.


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This is where you can have your buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner.



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We had breakfast here the next day. It's a decent selection of Western and Asian items, with a live station for eggs.



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My favourite item there is the nasi lemak with achar and otah. The rice is fragrantly fluffy and rich. A lighter choice would be the Chinese-style porridge with condiments, braised peanuts, salted egg, century egg, pickles and chicken floss. Jolie liked the carrot cake.



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You could also have breakfast upstairs at the Peranakan Lounge. However, children are not allowed here at all times. That means peace and quiet for some, but families will have to head elsewhere.



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The hotel extends right into a shopping mall, Katong V, formerly the Paramount Shopping Centre. Group Therapy Cafe is there, with all day breakfast and great coffee. There's Tomi Sushi if you feel like some Japanese. A small but well-stocked NTUC Fairprice Finest supermarket ensures you won't run out of basic toiletries or snacks.

The girls always have a fabulous time on staycation. The Village Hotel brand is a locally grown one that aims to give their guests immersive experiences in the areas they are in. For overseas visitors, it gives them a chance to soak in the local way of life. Each hotel is different; this Katong hotel is their flagship hotel, and it is as cosy and warm as the Peranakan culture it's inspired by.


VILLAGE HOTEL KATONG
25 Marine Parade Road
Singapore 449536
Tel: +65 6344-2200
Reservations:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StayVillage
Instagram: https://instagram.com/villagehotelkatong


Many thanks to Far East Hospitality for the invitation




Wednesday, April 8, 2015

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Wow, where do we even begin? The World Street Food Congress (8-12 April) got off to a roaring start today, bringing 24 of the world's best street food wonders in one place. Let's take a look at the Jamboree, the really fun part - feasting!

The Hoy Tord Chao Lay folks from Thailand is back by popular demand, making many of us do a fist pump of joy. It is fabulously crisp and savoury, just a superb way to inhale your seafood.


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They have the Hoy Tord or oyster omelette, as well as the Talay Tord seafood omelette above in first photo. Both are plated with seared crunchy bean sprouts and completed with a splash of fish sauce and pepper.



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And what a lovely place we have this year to enjoy the food! The green grass field facing Tan Quee Lan Street opposite Bugis Junction. The new MRT exit (Downtown line, I think) leads out right to the event. So easy to get to! Look for the large white tents with stalls.

And there's live music from 8-10pm, to add to the atmosphere.


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We have eateries as far as Bolivia! Gustu serves antichucos, hearty meat skewers with potatoes. It's Claus Meyer's social enterprise "eradicating poverty via deliciousness" - he helps the impoverished young or marginalised youth to achieve a meaningful livelihood - what a wonderful thing to do after NOMA.








These Vietnamese ladies braved intense heat from the traditional charcoal claypot stove to make banh xeo, or crispy seafood pancakes, at Banh Can 38. Started by a history lecturer who is also a chef, they won a UNESCO heritage award for their cooking technique.




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Here's Paul Qui, Top Chef Season 9 winner, at the only food truck at the jamboree, dishing out stunning must-try dishes. He is originally from the Philippines, and together with Moto Utsunomiya started East Side King, a group of Asian-inspired street food restaurants and food trucks in Austin, Texas. I love it when fine-dining chefs go back to street food roots.



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His Kinilaw is like a Filipino ceviche, featuring snakehead fish and prawns with a coconut vinegar dressing spiked with yuzu and chili padi. That's his signature starter.



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His Chicken Inasal Taco with Fried Chicken Skin is a taste epiphany. Chicken inasal is a dish commonly found in the Philippines. It's essentially chicken marinated in lime, pepper and vinegar, then grilled over charcoal fire. The crispy chicken skin simply brings it over the edge.



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Also from the Philippines, Pepita's Kitchen's Lechon stuffed with truffle rice was so popular, it sold out well before 8pm. Come early to try some of this BBQ suckling pig.



Singapore has its own pavilion - Deliciously Singaporean. There are five stalls there.

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Keng Eng Kee gives us a fuss-free way to enjoy crab - using soft-shell crab with three sauces (that they use for their chili crab, black pepper crab, and salted egg yolk crab). Just dip and enjoy. You also get calamari and eggplant in the ensemble.


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Hong Kong Street Chun Kee gave their prawn paste chicken a twist. Serving boneless chicken thighs in a bun along with sweet potato fries. They still have their original "har cheong kai" if you like it the old fashioned way.

Other stalls include Chey Sua Carrot Cake; Alhambra Padang Satay which came up with a halal satay beehoon; and MA Deen Biasa with mee kuah.




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From Penang, we have the couple behind Tuck's Nonya Catering who are serving fried turnip lettuce wrap with black satay.  Roll it all up with some of the kickass sambal belachan and munch! Yum!





Everyone's posting with the official hashtag #wsfc15 as well as #wsfc2015 - you can see more food photos on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!



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Indonesia has four stalls, one of which is Pak Sadi's Soto Ayam Ambengan from East Java. Their secret includes using fresh milk fish and seafood in the stock, along with an addictive "koya" powder - made from crushed prawn crackers and garlic. Note that this soto ayam might be slightly salty, as the East Javanese like their food salty.


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There's the Gudeg, a breakfast dish made from jackfruit sambal served with crispy cow skin crackers and braised or grilled chicken. This dish takes three days cooking and resting time!

I shall have to try the uber-spicy Taliwang Bersaudara grilled chicken, and the Kupat Tauhu Gempol from the other stalls too.



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Every evening from 6-8pm, there will be cooking demos by various chefs at the "Dai Pai Dong" tent. Here's Devagi with KF Seetoh.


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We also had an intense dialogue-hackathon with industry leaders; I will cover that separately.



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End the day with a sweet treat from Churro Locos!



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Served with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and sprinkles. Honestly, I think it's better than chocolate.


Well, it was really fun meeting all the vendors. I will update with more pics, as I get them. I couldn't finish all the stalls in one day. But there's four more days to feast! So see you there!

Thu 9 April: 5pm to 11pm
Fri 10 April: 4pm to 11pm
Sat & Sun 11-12 April: 1pm to 11pm





 
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