Tuesday, November 11, 2014

If you work in the CBD, especially in the Marina Bay area, you know what it's like when lunchtime approaches. It's a battle with the rest of the workforce for food. Long queues, less than healthy dishes, or stuff that is just way too pricey. You may have to walk pretty far to get to your favourite options. Food delivery services? Sure, if you don't mind awful greasy fare or food that doesn't travel well.

The young and talented folks behind Grain.com.sg knew this. They came up with a dream concept - healthy but tasty and interesting dishes delivered to you under 15 minutes upon ordering online. How do they do that? I followed the team on their run one day, and documented the story on Yahoo and Makansutra.

Most of these meals cost just an average of S$10.90 with no delivery charge, and you can even opt to add cold-pressed juices at S$5.50 per bottle. It's a balanced meal with complex carbs (e.g. black rice, couscous, quinoa) and fresh ingredients prepared with healthier techniques. They're also getting more requests for warm Asian food, so you'll see stuff like Ginseng Chicken Soup (above) among the 50-60 dishes they have on rotation. I love their website. Take a look at what's available today - grain.com.sg

Sunday, November 9, 2014

April 2014 in London for the inaugural Chowzter Awards.

This was the first time I traveled with the Aide de Camp's fabulous Valencia travel tote/camera bag, which I wrote about earlier here. I absolutely LOVE this bag. It's since traveled with me from New York to New Orleans, back to Boston, London and Singapore, then Sydney (Australia), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Telunas (Indonesia). I put this baby through some serious tests!

And this Thursday, Nov 13, they are coming with me to San Francisco! Yes, there is no other cabin bag I will use when I travel. It's the best camera bag that I've ever come across.

The Aide de Camp Valencia camera travel tote is sturdy, versatile and well thought out

Aide de Camp makes seriously stylish camera bags that are both a thing of beauty and function. Before this, we either had to settle for practical but uninspiring bags and backpacks, or cool bags that weren't very useful or protective for cameras.

My Valencia tote comes with an inner bag that doubles up as a lightweight handbag. It's perfect when you reach your destination and just need a smaller and simpler bag for casual outings. I actually use this inner bag almost every day here, for my events and outings with friends. I love the detachable shoulder strap - strong neoprene that is so easy on the shoulder.

London street, photo by Stanislaus Hans Danial Subianto

Yes, I'm super happy with this travel tote. The external material is tough waterproof nylon with leather trimmings. Just run your hands across it. You won't be able to stop; it just feels so nice.

Me and my Aide de Camp on London street, photo by Stanislaus Hans Danial Subianto

If you're looking for a VERY NICE Christmas present for someone who loves photography and style, you can't go too wrong with an Aide de Camp bag. A lot of people have bought them for daily use as well. Some of the bigger bags are great for parents who need to carry lots of things for the kids.

With a Japanese girl working at Dishoom in London

See? You can bring the bag out for any occasion.

And then we went across the pond to the US.

The Aide de Camp bag is so easy to travel with

It travels really well. I love that it has a back flap that you can slip over your luggage handle.

photo from official website

The bag fits under most airline seats

The size is also a perfect fit below most airline seats.

Fresh Arrival In New Orleans

This bag has been halfway round the planet and back...and more! Living up to its name as trusted personal assistant!

What I packed in the Aide de Camp bag

You can fit quite a lot of stuff in the bag, and there are lots of inner compartments to help you organize and get what you need in a jiffy. Apart from my camera equipment (my basic DSLR, two lenses, one external flash) I choose the most essential items that I will need on any flight.

The camera padding box makes a great toy boat/train too!

And Nadine has found creative ways to play with the inner camera padding box.

Once again, take a look at the video which does a great job of summarising the features.

Aide de Camp has several bag models. I know mine will last quite a long time, but I'm already eyeing some others to add to my collection.

Thanks to Aide de Camp founder Michele Ng for the Valencia tote, and for putting your design skills to benefit us!

London photos taken by the talented Stanislaus Hans Danial Subianto of EatandTreats on my Canon 400D. US photos taken on the Canon PowerShot SX700 HS, which is a handy travel-sized point and shoot, kindly loaned by Canon Singapore

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

George Calombaris autographed this

Last week, I got a taste of how popular Masterchef Australia judge and chef George Calombaris is. I had arrived five minutes early at Hotel Jen Singapore (formerly Traders Hotel) for the sold out Hubalicious dinner hosted by Lifetime Asia, and the line for getting in was already snaking out the function room area. People showing up early for dinner in Singapore always raises eyebrows. We are famous for being wedding dinner late. Or at least fashionably ten minutes late.

George Calombaris in Singapore

But it was easy to see why. George Calombaris is as funny and entertaining in person as he is on TV.

He's only 35 but so accomplished. Voted one of Top 40 Chefs of Influence in the World by Global Food & Wine magazine. He owns five restaurants in Melbourne, which have won awards. His latest is Jimmy Grants featuring George's take on what a real take-away souvlaki should taste like.

George Calombaris Singapore Hubalicious dinner

This dinner was sold out in two days flat. Even the organisers were taken by surprise at how fiercely popular George was in Singapore.

My friend had messaged me from California in the US, to ask if I could help get tickets for a 10-year-old girl Sarah in Singapore who is a tremendous fan (Sarah herself is a budding culinary genius). Sadly, try as I might, I could not get seats. I would have given her mine and just cover the event standing, but it was a press table. So the best I could was get George to autograph something for her (first photo). Sarah, I hope this will do for now, and I really hope you get to meet George himself someday.

George Calombaris in Singapore

George was indeed very likeable. The room came alive each time he entered. We learned how he is into "whole food, real food" and "clean living".

Someone asked if organic food was worth its price tag (e.g. $5 apple?), he says he grew up where produce that was just grown naturally, and stresses that it's important to know where your food comes from.

He gave two demos from the four course dinner. But first came our appetizer.

Chicken Parfait, bitter chocolate baklava, coffee, kumquat, pickled onion, pumpkin seeds

Chicken Parfait, bitter chocolate baklava, coffee, kumquat, pickled onion, pumpkin seeds
This was a very pleasant chicken liver mousse with crunchy baklava pastry. Baklava playing a role in a savoury dish instead of being the traditionally supersweet dessert? Awesome.

Chefs know when a skillet is hot enough

He's testing the heat with just the back of his fingers held over the skillet. I love it when chefs do that. That bit of kitchen magic gained from years of experience. It was still funny - "No, it's not hot enough. Let's have some questions from the audience!" and then later he announces, "OK, yes, it's hot enough now!" when oil fumes start becoming visible!

George Calombaris Singapore Hubalicious dinner

And as a nod to the TV show, he had a member of the audience play the judge while he came up with his dish - a green Greek salad - and presented it for "judging". The lady could not stop saying, "It's...green!"

Well, it really was. Very green. When we got our share of the dish, we had to blink a few times.

Green Greek Salad with stir-fry abalone

Green Greek Salad with stir-fry abalone
Your eyes will feel like someone has given you a green monotone filter. But flavourwise, this unusual salad was not one-dimensional at all. It's a burst of crisp vegetal freshness bound together by an incredible herbed feta dressing, and peculiar kale puree, while the slices of flash-fried abalone provided a mild hit of umami. That was the Asian ingredient we would all identify with.

George Calombaris in Singapore

Next, George put together the main course. He's spooked by the size of the tweezers, "Clearly not mine, and I hope not someone's nose tweezers either!"

Poached chicken, miso hummus, green mango salad

Poached chicken, miso hummus, green mango salad
George loves green mango, but the highlight in this ensemble is really the miso hummus. Beautifully delicate and coy, it keeps you wanting more and more. His inspiration for this was from hummus made by an 80-year old man in the Middle East. The secret was blending chickpeas with ice cubes and adding corn oil, lemon juice and tahini, no garlic. It was so tasty, he had to recreate it and add his own touch.

He says hummus is one of the three things always in his fridge. The other two are pickled cucumber and Kewpie mayo.

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate cake
Dinner took four hours, and by the time dessert appeared, it was almost bedtime for me. Chocolate cake for serotonin? Not a bad idea.

Seth and Nick up to crazy Instagram antics, which would later win them a book

Our table clearly had fun. Nick and Seth (middle two seated) were taking crazy Instagram shots, which would later win them an autographed book! Dang, I want that book! I also met Chef Ryan Hong, and found out our fathers came from the same "village" in Malaysia! Where food is still old school and amazing. My dad was a huge foodie.

Meanwhile here is the recipe for the Green Greek Salad courtesy of George, should you like to recreate this dish at home.

You can click to see or download the full-size photo.

Catch MasterChef Australia Season 6 on Lifetime Asia (StarHub channel 514) weeknights at 7pm and 11pm. This season Sydney chef Kylie Kwong joins them as a regular guest mentor.

Many thanks to Hotel Jen for extending the invitation to this lovely event.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ultimate Hawker Fest 2015 in Singapore

The Ultimate Hawker Fest is back for the third year celebrating Singapore’s Hawker Heritage as part of Singapore’s Jubilee (SG50) celebrations. This event has been known to pull together the best names in the industry, and also amp up normal recipes to "ultimate" versions. But best of all, this indulgence is done in the name of charity. All profits will go to 32,000 beneficiaries under Touch Community Service, regardless of race and religion.

So what will we get to see this year?

Pioneer stalls by multi-generation hawkers: stalls helmed by chefs from the second, third and fourth generations of pioneers. Examples include Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh and Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery being passed to second and third generations respectively. In addition, Crocodile King by Tony Tee is making a comeback, offering nutritious crocodile soup only available for the festival.

Traditional fare made with the finest ingredients: ‘ultimate’ versions of the original dish. Examples include Elongated Glutinous Rice with Abalone by Geng Shu Mei Shi Shi Jia, 100 days corn fed Anxin Chicken Rice and Foie Gras Rojak by Onaka.

New generation hawkers and chefs: Douglas Ng of Fishball Story, Gerald and Julyn of Penang Kia, and Wee and Adrian of Old Bibik Beef Rendang will be present at the festival. Their passion for food has moved them to leave comfy jobs in other sectors to join the culinary industry.

Celebrity chefs: Eric Neo (from Intercontinental Hotel), Tan Yong Hua (Restaurant HOME), Melvin Lim (Ramada and Days Hotels Singapore) and Shen Tan will be cooking local dishes such as Otah, Roast Duck, Nasi Lemak etc.


This year, more than 20 hawkers and chefs have been handpicked by well-known food bloggers, Maureen Ow (www.MissTamChiak.com; centre), Derrick Tan (www.SgFoodOnFoot.com; right) and Ian Low (TheSilverChef.blogspot.sg; left) to create the Ultimate menu.

I know they have worked tirelessly and really hard to put together a marvellous line-up of remarkable hawkers and dishes. So do drop by and support the hawkers who have also taken precious time off their business to showcase their ultimate recipes here.

Date: 22 November 2014, Saturday
Time: 11am to 5pm
Venue: Suntec Convention Centre Halls 401 and 402
Buy coupons at www.ultimatehawkerfest.sg

All photos courtesy of Ultimate Hawker Fest

Friday, October 31, 2014

I need to do more short and simple posts, even if it's a photo using a cameraphone. Posts with over 20 photos can really kill, and take too much time to craft.

Anyway, I was craving kway chap the other day and went to this tried and trusted stall for my fix. Hai Fa at the Bedok Interchange food centre. I opted to omit the egg and fishcake, to focus more on the real meats. The well-cleaned intestines are absolutely toothsome and like the meat and taupok, they have absorbed all the sweet rich flavours of the braising stock. The kway (rice sheets) are a littel thick but super smooth and slurpalicious. Oh, and the chili is perfect. One little dipping dish sometimes is barely enough.

The only thing is - with something this tasty, you'll inevitably find the portion a little wanting. For S$3.90, you get this set that just about half fills you. Next time, I'll order a two-person's portion.

#01-67, Bedok Interchange Food Centre,
207 New Upper Changi Road
Singapore 460207
Tel: +65 64443963
Open: 7.00 am to 3.00 pm (Closed Thursdays)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ensalada El Mero Mero
Remember American Express and the 30licious promos? Yes, S$30 fabulous meals for 30 days. It's back and runs Nov 3 to Dec 2.

Booking started yesterday at http://book.hungrygowhere.com/30licious - yes, that's where you sign up for these scrumptious deals (S$30++ for Amex cardholders).

I tried out the $30 three-course dinner at El Mero Mero (30 Victoria Street, #01-20 CHJIMES, tel: +65 6337 1377) and it is such fabulous value for money.

For starters, you have the El Mero Mero Salad (above, normal a la carte price S$21). A gigantic bowl of fresh butter lettuce, tomatoes (marinated and sundried), Caesar dressing, sunflower seeds, and chunky skewers of braised pork belly (so divine). And folks, this is the full size dinner portion. They are not skimping for the S$30 promo!

Pork Carnitas
After that healthy start, indulge in your main courses. There are two options - this is the Carnitas (a la carte price S$32): slow cooked pork, pico de gallo (fresh tomato salsa) cutely served in an onion cup, a smoky pepper sauce and corn tortillas kept warm in a pouch.

It tastes best when you assemble a little bit of everything on the pork. Let the acidity of the tomato salsa cut through the pulled pork, and the pepper sauce to bind it together. It's incredibly filling though. After two wraps, I started eating just the pork alone minus the tortilla carb. Seriously, it's a lot of food for one person. That meat pot just kept on giving...I wanted to take it home.

Tacos al Pastor with Kurobuta Pork
Or you could go for the other main course - Tacos al Pastor (a la carte price S$26): Kurobuta pork done al pastor ("shepherd" style, but really a shawarma fusion with guajillo rubbed pork), grilled pineapple, chopped onions, coriander and lime, plus a green pepper sauce to spice things up a little (spice level - don't worry, it doesn't bite).

Nitro Sorbet
Dessert, thankfully, is light. Nitro sorbet (a la carte price S$12), freshly made. This tastes like it's been spiked with tequila! Cold and refreshing, served interestingly in a wooden bowl that looks like a coconut shell. Flavour changes weekly.

Daily juice of the day - papaya spiked with key lime
What's interesting is your meals include water and daily juice - today it's papaya with a hint of key lime. Get your vitamins, antioxidants and fibre all in one lovely drink.

I hope those restaurants who charge diners for plain water will sit up and take notice!

El Mero Mero has a nice show kitchen
El Mero Mero is small and cosy, but has a large show kitchen. There's a bar just outside where you can also indulge in smaller bites and drinks. For both restaurant and bar, there's a small Hispanic wine list, beers imported from Mexico (three exclusively - Rosarito Beach, Bufadora, 8 Reales), cocktails, and of course a wide selection of tequila and mezcal.

El Mero Mero at CHIJMES
El Mero Mero means "the go-to guy" in Mexican. It's aiming to be the go-to place for contemporary Mexican cuisine in Singapore. Many of the ingredients are flown in from Mexico. However, they've partnered with ComCrop (Singapore's first rooftop garden) to start growing Mexican ingredients like habanero and Serrano chillies, green tomatillo and epazote. This will help them minimise their carbon footprint while giving us fresher and tastier chillies, herbs and vegetables. Salsas and sauces are made fresh inhouse.

El Mero Mero is just one of the 35 restaurants offering the Amex 30licious deal. Check out http://book.hungrygowhere.com/30licious for more venues and make your booking online.

Mouseover the restaurants to see details of the special S$30 menus. On mobile apps, you can just tap the restaurant description and it will expand to show the menus.

I have already spotted some I want to go for. Bookings are open now, and the 30licious meals begin 3 Nov! Enjoy the treats! #30liciousAmex FTW!

This post is brought to you by HungryGoWhere and American Express 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sometimes before you travel overseas, you want to get your hair nicely done. I had asked my friend Renzze to recommend me a good stylist from her regular salon Naoki Yoshihara by Ash at Liang Court. She has jaw-droppingly amaaazing curls and colours. Anyway, the salon contacted me and told me they had a second branch now at International Building, which I could try.

Komachi at International Building #02-03/04
They have taken over Komachi on the second floor (opposite ANZ Bank), and will eventually change the name. The salon decor is a bit different here: Stark monotones rule in an almost masculine atmosphere. It's balanced by some flowers and a black chandelier.

At Naoki Yoshihara's second branch (still called Komachi for now)
There's that black chandelier, me doing an arm workout taking a selfie with the heavy 5D MkIII, and the guy who would cut and colour my hair, Shinya Ikumi.

I had been growing my hair out since Jan 2013 (it was a short bob then). I didn't cut it for a long time. As you can see, it was getting a bit unruly and bottom heavy. Shinya layered my tresses, trimmed the excesses, and gave me more volume on top.

As for colour, he advised me not to go too light, and gave me duo tones at the bottom for more dimension.

Ready to step out
Tada! This is the final result. But it actually got better after I left the salon.

Selfie with the 5DMk3
At lunchtime an hour later, the temporary curls had softened nicely.

I'm glad I didn't bleach it
At home, the hair still felt light and soft. I'm glad I didn't bleach it.

I love the new hair, and I am getting compliments for it, like never before. Sometimes it's a bit funny, it's as if people have just noticed that, "Hey, you have long hair now! Very nice!"

So many thanks to my stylist!

Shinya Ikumi the hairstylist fresh from Japan (just came over in Sept!)
Shinya is fresh in from Japan, having arrived in early September. He loves it in Singapore so far.

You can look for him at Naoki Yoshihara by Ash's THIRD outlet opening in Isetan Tampines on 1 Nov 2014! He is the Outlet Manager there. The salon has also kindly extended a promo for readers:

Promotion (20% off all hair services) for readers!

(click to see bigger photo)

Quote: Catherine’s blog 
(yes, we will spare you guys the trouble of trying to pronounce Camemberu) 

20% off all hair services
Naoki Yoshihara by Ash @ Isetan Tampines, Level 1
Promotion valid for “Catherine's readers ONLY’ from 1st Nov 2014 to 30th Nov 2014.
By appointment only please; walk-ins will not be entertained.
Opening hours are from 10am to 10pm daily.

Naoki Yoshihara by Ash is a chain from Japan. I'm glad they are expanding in Singapore too.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NaokiYoshiharaByAsh
Instagram: http://instagram.com/naokiyoshiharabyashsg

Flagship outlet
177 River Valley Road
#02-15/16 Liang Court
Singapore 179030
Tel: +65 6333-5662
Open 10.30am to 8.30pm (closed Tuesdays)

Second outlet (Komachi)
360 Orchard Road
#02-03/04 International Building
Singapore 238869
Tel: +65 6339-9432/6836-3391

Third outlet (Isetan Tampines), opening 1 Nov 2014
Level 1
4 Tampines Central 5
Singapore 529510
Tel: +65 9387-7852 (English); 9387-8805 (Japanese)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How many of you are absolute coffee maniacs? Plenty enough to keep the hipster cafe scene going for sure. But I'm just curious - do you care where your coffee comes from and what impact it has on the environment?

Here's a company you may not have heard of - Puro - that believes people and the planet are just as important as profits. Puro was created in 2005 by a company called Miko which has been roasting coffee beans in Belgium for 212 years. Born out of growing environmental and ethical concerns, Puro has always sourced Fairtrade, organic and shade grown coffee.

Well, it has to be good coffee first, right? Fortunately it is. Puro kindly sent me a sample of some of the beans:
Fuerte: dark roasted blend of high grown Arabica blended with Congo Robusta beans (50%). Almost like bittersweet chocolate.
- Noble: mild, smooth, floral Guatemalan Arabicas blended with Peruvian Arabicas, and 20% premium Robusta
- Bio-organic: 100% Arabica from Peru and Honduras, the most delicate blend of the three, with soft notes of chocolate and citric sweetness.

My family likes the intense and full-bodied Fuerte best of all. But back to the conscientious part.

Fairtrade coffee is grown by small farmers or plantation workers meticulous about their crops, and the Fairtrade Foundation helps lift their working conditions and the lives of workers in the coffee growing dependent communities in the developing world.

Puro is also at the forefront of buying and protecting rainforests and is actively working alongside the World Land Trust, whose patron is Sir David Attenborough. Together, they even put a webcam in the  Ecuadorian rainforest to keep an eye on endangered species and raise awareness for conservation. Special forest reserves also keep near extinct species like the Golden Poison Frog alive.

For every cup of coffee sold, money is given to buy and protect areas of rainforest in South America. To date, Puro has saved over 5,600 acres (about 6,000 football fields) of rainforest across three Puro reserves in Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia.

Watch their story in this video they made in the heart of South America.

Puro Fairtrade Coffee Film from Puro Fairtrade Coffee on Vimeo.

They don’t have their own coffee shops but they supply some of the UK’s leading chains of cafes and restaurants, such as National Trust, Le Pain Quotidien, Leon, and Gourmet Burger Kitchen. I have seen their ancillary products in hotels (sugar sachets in W Bali, for example). You'll find Puro widely available in mainland Europe, Africa, Australasia and recently in Canada (they are currently looking for a US distributor).

It's great that you can have amazingly good coffee that helps the environment and the community that grows it. I've not seen any other coffee producer that is this dedicated to the cause.

For more details, visit the
Main Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/fairtradecoffee
Singapore Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/purocoffeesingapore
Singapore online store - http://store.purocoffee.com.sg
(Oooh, they now carry Puro Caremelized Speculoos Biscuits and Puro Belgian Hot Chocolate Drink)

Many thanks to Puro and Tamara Wolf for sending me the coffee from the UK!
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