Category Archives: Hawker Food

Type of food – everything about Hawker style food a.k.a Street Food

Katong district, Singapore

I never expected that I will really enjoy my overnight stay in Singapore. It was a stopover transit on my way back to Melbourne. I did some research on the hotels nearest to the Changi Airport and came across Village Hotel Katong. My requirements are simple – hotel must be nice and clean at a reasonable price and walking distance to shops and food outlets. Everything else doesn’t matter as it is only an overnight stay.

On arrival at Village Hotel Katong, it was more than I expected. The hotel is new. The lobby area is welcoming. The Front Desk staff friendly and efficient. I was offered an upgrade to the club package which includes the use of the club lounge, breakfast and a gorgeous large room with a free standing egg shell bath tub in the living area of the bedroom. All these perks at an extra Singapore $50.

After check in and settling into my room, I freshen up a bit, went to check the club lounge and hotel facilities. Then, went for a walk along the main road, East Coast Road, in search of something to eat. There are a number of modern cafes, restaurants, open bars and a handful of traditional shops, including one which will stay with me for a long time. This one, with a big signage “Glory Catering”, has a selection of homemade nyonya kuih on a stand in front of the shop. Behind the stand is the Poh Piah station and the main food counter selling a range of Indonesian nasi padang curry dishes, noodle dishes from mee siam to mee rebus and nyonya laksa. Everything looks delicious. I settled for a bowl of “mee rebus”, which I haven’t had for many, many years. I also ordered one serve of poh piah. Drink a homemade barley as a cooling drink. I knew the food will be good as I stepped into the restaurant. It’s raw and authentic. It is nothing like one of the modern establishments down the road. But, what I didn’t expect was that the food and drink I had were more than just good. They were much, much better than I expected! If I were to live in Singapore, I would have to go back again and again to eat at this place, or to take home some of the poh piah to snack. The nyonya kuih were delicious too, which I had to take away 2 slices to try. The food and drink cost Singapore $8.20 and the two pieces of kuih cost Singapore $1.20. Unbelievable. I never knew such good food and price still exist in Singapore. As I left, I had to tell the “uncle” and “auntie” that I really enjoyed the food. The uncle who was making the poh piah was well dressed. He told me that he has been making the food for over 40 years! It looks like a family establishment that has been passed down a few generations because the taste and flavour are very authentic.
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I am impressed with Katong district. Walking around the neighbourhood streets is interesting. They are clean and green, beautiful “peranakan” terrace houses and bungalow houses. The area looks wealthy. It is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of glitzy Singapore city.

In the evening, I walked a bit further and came across “Joo Chiak Road” which is a long stretch of road dotted with bars, karaoke nightclubs, restaurants and and Indian’s grocer! This is old and new Singapore. There were a number of expatriates drinking at some of the open bars. The karaoke nightclubs are completely “black out” on the outside. They looked sleazy.

I had a simple traditional Chinese open air restaurant serving a range of dishes. It was a nice and simple dinner that cost only Singapore $6.50 and the barley drink $1. Singapore is affordable if one lives outside the city.
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Tok Tok ala Talk Talk

That is the name of the place. A catchy phrase, pop culture or just hip and trendy…probably all in one. It is an unassuming place in a standard block building in a suburb surrounded by other shop lots of food eating places in a residential neighbourhood in the southeast of Penang island. This trendy, rustic and arty place with a wine bar that looks something like a western movie set “saloon bar” would be more suited for the old part of George Town in the city amongst the boutique hotels, galleries and cafes.P1160325P1160305
The place started off as “Tok Tok”, a small single shop lot café of fusion style food with a Thai-Chinese crossed Nyonya local Penang fare. It was last year when I first stumbled upon this place with my partner, my mum and sister. We frequented that area for the food at a Chinese restaurant, “Wang Chao“. But it was shut and we decided to try “Tok Tok” which was a couple of shop lots from Wang Chao. I had good memory of the place, the food and the service.

This morning I caught up with my mum and sis for an early breakfast. After a local Penang all time street favourite, “Char Koay Teow”, I went for a walk around mum’s local wet market. It was a small market but each individual stalls was a delight to look at from fresh poultry to fishmongers, fresh flowers, vegetables and herbs, fruits, wet and dried spices, fresh grated coconuts, cream, milk, organic food, snacks, biscuits, Taoism religious and prayer matters. I was tempted to buy a few things. In my mind – fresh grated coconuts, coconut milk, ready mixed wet chilli and curry pastes, fresh turmeric, fresh tofu…the list goes on. But wait! I can’t take them home to Australia. I opted for something less to satisfy my urge – a packet of organic red rice and “sugar cane” sugar. I was thinking of the organic cold pressed coconut oil, but remembered that I am going home with only a hand carry bag. No check in luggage!

After a whirlwind of wet market, I told mum that I will take her and sis out for dinner tonight. It was her idea that we go back to Tok Tok, because she remembers that I enjoyed the food the last time. For a 78 years old lady, she has a better memory than me!

Tok Tok is the sound of “tok tok mee” or wanton mee. “mee” is “noodle” in the local Penang dialect, Hokkien. A memory flashed back to old Penang. There was a street vendor who pushed his cart in the neighbourhood selling his wanton noodle by making a distinctive “tok tok” noise by banging a pair of bamboo sticks on the surface of his cart. This was to let the people know that he is getting near to their home. I remember hearing this “tok tok” noise and will yell out to mum that the wanton man is here! How easy was that? The food came to your doorstep in the old days. Even a wondering Indian Barber with his high chair wooden stool!

The modern day “Tok Tok” at Bangunan Lip Sin at the Pekaka neighbourhood is nothing like the old “tok tok” days. There is a generous size ala carte menu with some Penang famous street food fare including as you would expect, “Tok Tok Mee”, Nasi Lemak, Siam Laksa, Lor Bak, Sang Mee and others. There is rice dishes which focus mostly on Thai and Nyonya dishes. We ordered dishes to accompany with rice – Loh Bak as entrée, a salted vegetable with tofu soup “Kiam Chai Tau Hu Teng”, deep fried Siam chicken, Pattaya fried rice and mixed vegetables. For drink we ordered a homemade warm beancurd drink.P1160274

After we have ordered, I looked around the place which has now been extended into 2 other shop lots next to each other. The immediate left shop is “Talk Talk” wine bar featuring a live jazz band on a weekend. Next to this is a more relax coffee lounge. All three are interconnected inside. There are opened atrium upper floor seatings. The place is hip, trendy and cool. I would love to come back next time to listen to some live music.P1160278

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The food…they were delicious! The only let down for me was the Loh Bak. It was better the first time I tried it last year. I don’t believed they were freshly made tonight. They were hard and overcooked. Probably been deep fried a few times. They were served on a bed of very old lettuces.P1160304 It was not a good start when it first came on the table. But I was very glad that the rest of the dishes were top notched! They were very good. The highlight was the finger licking good crispy and crunchy chicken and yet moist and tender inside. One of the best deep fried chicken I ever had for a long time.P1160312 Next was the nyonya style “Kiam Chai Tahu Teng” ie the salted preserved vegetable soup with silken tofu. It arrived in a steamy, bubbling hot claypot with heaps of fried garlic on top giving the soup a nice all round flavour. It was salty, sweet and tangy with slivers of fresh ginger in the broth.P1160308. The mixed vegetables and Pattaya fried rice were also very good. I must say I have ordered too much for 3 of us, but like most places they allowed us to take home what we couldn’t finished.P1160319

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P1160313 The food was a bit pricey in the area. The total bill came to $115 Malaysian Ringgit but still a very good value for what I couldn’t get in Australia, roughly $40 Australian dollar.

The other thing that impressed me was the commercial kitchen. It is enclosed in glass wall as you walked to the toilet. It is like a showroom which you can watch the kitchen in action – well organised and clean.P1160307 I gave the “Auntie” who cooked our meal two thumbs up for her food.

“Tok Tok” and “Talk Talk” is certainly the talk of the town in Pekaka and the surrounding suburbs. If you haven’t been there yet, I suggest you better go for “Auntie” homecooked meal. There is nothing pretentious and she was a bit shy if you try and snap a photo of her through the glass wall.P1160322

Penang – The Snake Temple “Flame Watching Ceremony”

P1150454P1150475Back in Penang again. This time for the Chinese New Year, visiting my family and relatives. Not many places in the world, even in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan practices the Chinese New Year traditions in the way the Chinese in Penang does. One such event is the 6th day in the Chinese Lunar Calendar – Choo Soo Kong’s birthday.

The Chinese folklore was that there was a Buddhist monk by the name of Qingshui, also known as Chor Soo Kong, who has gained supernatural powers through this skill in speaking the dharma and mediation. It was told that he was able to heal people and have said the town of Anxi during a period of drought, bringing rain as he went from place to place.

Worshipping of Chor Soo Kong is extremely popular in Penang and Taiwan. During the 6th day of the lunar festival, the main temple – The Snake Temple – celebrates his birthday with staged street performances, street food, stalls with Chor Soo Kong’s figurine from separate temple branches and the flame watching ceremony. Chor Soo Kong’s devotees, mostly Chinese with Hokkien background, as far as Singapore and Taiwan will flock to Penang to celebrate this event.

I was fortunate to be back in Penang during this time and the 6th day of the lunar calendar was on the 4th February 2014. This was the first time I have ever been to this event. It was busy but enough room to move around without pushing and shuffling other people. Most people came to worship or to enjoy the street performances – lion dance, snake dance, drummers, Chinese opera, martial arts and the flame watching ceremony, which I was told is to predict the future of Penang’s state wellbeing for the horse year. P1150493 P1150482 P1150481P1150499 P1150444 P1150419P1150513 P1150412P1150444P1150565The choices for street food were plenty. Between my partner and I we had the must have Penang street food – the Char Koay Tow, Asam Laksa and Jiu Hu Eng Chai (blanched cuttlefish with “kang kong” or water convolvulus).  P1150538 P1150535 P1150530P1150625

 

Chinese New Year 2014 at Richmond

It was only 3 weeks ago that we celebrated the end of 2013 and ushered the beginning of 2014. Not long from now, 12 days to be exact on the 31st January 2014, marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year. This is also celebrated by the Vietnamese around the world, known as Tet.

In Melbourne, the festival kicked off this weekend in Richmond, the first suburb to traditionally start the festival. The other suburbs – Box Hill, Springvale and Footscray will host the festival in the coming weekends. Melbourne CBD Chinatown and Crown Promenade are the ultimate venues for the biggest show of all – with a street parade of lion and dragon dances in the CBD, and stage performances and fireworks at the Crown Promenade.

This is my third year in Melbourne for the Chinese New Year festivals, and my third time to the Victoria Street Lunar New Year in Richmond, predominantly a Vietnamese suburb. The number of food stalls have increased in numbers from the previous two years – there were a few new ones – including a non-Asian stall selling American Buffalo Wings and the usual Vietnamese street foods like the grilled beef with betel leaves, vietnamese spring rolls, grilled calamari, grilled meat on skewers, pan fried radish cakes, fresh sugarcane juice and coconut juice.P1150033 P1140950

The highlight for me at the Victoria Street Lunar festival was the acrobatic lion dance performance and people watching. This year lion dance routine was different from last year and it didn’t disappoint the crowd, with a finale of exploding firecrackers strung from 3 very high poles.P1150017 P1150014 P1150012 P1140979

If there was a best traditional costume competition, I would have given that to the three Chinese deities “Fu Lu Shou“, signifying an abundance of good life –  fortune (Fu), prosperity (Lu) and longevity (Shou). These deities are mostly placed in the family living and dining room.

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Some of the women and men were wearing their traditional Vietnamese national costume, “Ao Dai“, pronounced as “au yai”. The material is usually make from silk fabric with bright colours.  P1140982P1140959

…our own version of “wolverine” sideburn.P1140990

This year is the “Year of the Horse“. The prediction is that it is going to be a good and better year than the Snake Year.

I am looking forward to the other festivals in the next 2 weekends.P1140960 P1140965 P1140969

Watch the lion dance video here.

Walking the Streets of Penang

Penang = George Town. This may sound confusing to the outside people; ie visitors to Penang. Why called Penang and not George Town? Penang is the State. George Town is the capital city of Penang. And yet, people who were born and grew up in Penang will still call George Town as Penang. But when asked where they were born. Their standard response is either George Town if born in the city or name of one of the outskirt town (or suburbs) like Air Itam or Bayan Lepas. I think the reason is that in the older time, “Penang is George Town”.  Majority of the population lives in George Town. All activities happened in George Town. There is nothing outside of George Town except “kampong” (village). It is the heart and soul of Penang. But, time has changed over the last few decades. Penang has grown. The kampung has become a satellite town. There are buildings and services and shops. Some have shopping malls and hypermarkets. George Town was slowly dying off from her glory days until UNESCO saved her from becoming derelicts and historical buildings being knocked down. The older part of George Town is now recognised as a UNESCO world heritage listed site, one that deserved to preserve  her heritage, cultural values and architectural buildings dated back to preWWII, the Straits Settlement and Colonial past.

Each time I come home to Penang, it is a must that I walk around the streets of Penang. When I say that, I am referring to the streets gazetted by UNESCO in George Town. It is colourful and interesting. It reminds me of my childhood days. I will always find new things. On this trip, there are new tourists’ friendly signs pointing to the important historical sites. There is the familiar “Little India” which is one of my favourite even if I am not buying anything, but to smell the aromatic spices in the air. There are the street vendors “hawker” stalls selling all kind of Penang food. Some of my favourite streets – Armenian Street, Beach Street, Victoria Street, China Street, Church Street, “Street of Harmony” or Jalan Masjid Kapitan Kling (Pitt Street), Love Lane, Muntri Lane, Chulia Street, Rope Walk and Campbell Street. P1130328P1130324 P1130320 P1130305P1130363 P1130355P1130375 P1130366 P1130365P1130347P1130403P1130436P1130385P1130387P1130458P1130416P1130394

Singapore by Night

Singapore by Night – that is what Singapore is good at. Showing off her buildings, river and harbour with glistening lights shimmering from afar with jaw dropping architectural glassed buildings soaring into the sky.

My plan was to go to the Chinatown for a bit of exploration – being the Autumn Festival (a.k.a the Mooncake Festival) and Hungry Ghost Festival, I was hoping to see some interesting lanterns, mock up stage with Chinese opera and altar worshipping the hungry spirits roaming around the streets. That was what I expect to experience in the Chinatown. This, unfortunately, did not happened on my last night in Singapore. But not a great deal and not missed as I have already been to Singapore’s Chinatown a couple of years ago and knew what it was like. I was only hoping to see if they put up a good show for the 2 festivals.

I left my hotel about six-ish to catch the SIA Hop-on tourist bus. It was still light when I waited for the bus. It was a long wait. By the time I got onto the bus, it was starting to get dark. The bus crossed an old heritage bridge on South Beach Road. The view along the river was breathtaking with a row of colourful neon shop signs   – bars and restaurants, and a view of the business district. I decided a detour and disembarked from the bus to explore the riverfront restaurants.P1120962There was an interesting graffiti street art along a small pedestrian tunnel below the historical bridge.P1120979 P1120978I enjoyed my evening stroll along the river which was surprisingly relaxing and quiet on the opposite side of the river away from the row of restaurants and bars. A “ying and yang” effect of harmony along the river.P1120987P1130005 P1130003P1130019P1130026 P1130013

After a long evening stroll, I decided to make my way to the Bugis street for a cheap dinner. I have noticed a street stall selling teochew style roast duck. It costs  $6 for a plate of some duck meat, tofu, bean sprouts and rice noodle. My verdict it was only an okay meal. P1130036 P1130032

Singapore – a modern city

Singapore – now who would have thought that it is more than just Orchard Road. Singapore is not one of the city that I have in mind to stopover for a visit on the way home to visit my family in Penang. But, I have been proved wrong on this visit. 10- 20 years ago, all I know about Singapore  was the Orchard RoadSentosa Island and Haw Par Villa. I will hopped across the Singapore channel on the Malaysian train from the southernmost Malaysian city – Johor Bahru to the tiny prosperous island of Singapore city. The Malaysian railway network system – KTM (“Keretapi Tanah Melayu”) connects 3 countries from Bangkok in Thailand to Penang and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Singapore city in Singapore, stopping at several of Malaysian state’s capital cities. It has been more than 20 years since I was a passenger on the KTM. I believe it is time to use the train again to see what it is like. Perhaps a trip in 2014 from Bangkok to Penang.

Before I arrived in Singapore, I was tossing around whether to book a room in one of the big hotels or a small, trendy boutique hotels in the suburbs. This trip was a short 2 nights stopover. I ended up choosing one of the big hotel centrally located in the cultural precinct near the harbour, away from Orchard Road. One of my key requirement is a well matched price for the location. Singapore is a very expensive city. The boutique hotels are as expensive as the larger 5-stars hotels with full facilities. I decided on the Fairmont Hotel in Raffles City Mall after an extensive research on the net. It is ideally located within walking distance to the harbour, Bugis Street, Arab district, Little India and Chinatown. The public transport system is world class with an underground mass rapid transport (MRT) system. The hotel is in an integrated complex of a shopping mall – Raffles City and an MRT station – City Hall. Singapore is a well planned city with landscaped gardens and canopy tree lined boulevards. To escape the heat, there is an extensive air-conditioned underground network system complete with shops, food outlets and supermarkets that connect several of the buildings. It will be a perfect escape or sanctuary for human if there is ever a nuclear disaster on the island! The only problem – there is no sunlight with vitamin D deficiency. P1120796The view from my hotel room at Fairmont. It is a good room with a high speed wifi connectivity.

Like it or hate it, I am not a big fan of Singapore. I spent my first day avoiding the Orchard Road and took the SIA double decker Hop On and Hop Off bus touring around the city. It costs $8 for a full day fare if you have an SIA boarding pass. The weather was perfect – sunny and hot, but not too humid.P1120841P1120815Seating on the upper deck may be too hot for some who are not used to the heat.  But, it has the best seating view of the city.P1120818P1120843P1120849

Passing through rows of overhanging branches shaped like green canopy from both sides of the street brought welcoming sigh of relieve from the heat.P1120860P1120862My destination stop is Little India. I could have walked there from the hotel, which may take 20 minutes, but the Hop On and Hop Off bus tour is a quick way of seeing the city.P1120880Singapore’s Little India isn’t quite the Little India I was expecting. It lacks the vibe and atmosphere of the noisy streets with sari clad Indian women, blaring loud music from giant black loud speakers outside CD shops, the scent of herbs and aromatic spices filling the air. There is a small Indian arcade, which is as interesting as it gets for me. P1120884 P1120881A couple of blocks away is the neighbouring Arab district, which is more interesting than Little India. It was an easy 10 minutes walk.  P1120887P1120909P1120903P1120926Arab Street and Haji Lane are really colourful with interesting shops and restaurants. Haji Lane is a small lane with little boutique clothing shops on both sides of the lane. I went into some of the boutique shops. They are interesting, but I am wondering how long they will last. And, this was a Saturday. There was hardly anyone in the shop buying. Most people were browsing and looking at the colourful Haji Lane.P1120927P1120936P1120934

I saw a couple of colourful street art mural painting. Though I find both streets are interesting and colourful, there is something not quite right. I think it’s too clean and clinical. It is like the whole street is being sterilised with mock up stage set of shops and stalls with colourfully painted facade and timber shutter windows. It is too Disney like. I think Singapore is trying and trying too hard to be something which is not. It is a too organised city. It is a man made island in every proportion.P1120944 P1120937P1120922P1120942The interesting part of my city tour today was the surprise findings of the coffee shops, peeping through the colourful windows of the building.P1120947 P1120948Singapore can boast that they have the best Hainanese chicken rice than Malaysia. And they are probably right after I have tried one of their chicken rice stall on my way back to the hotel. The chicken was silky smooth with a thin layer of coated gelatine. It was absolutely divine. P1120950P1120952