I’m in the middle of a one day juice fast of six juices from The Syndicate Juice Co. and after several hours of just drinking my meals, all I can think about is food, delicious food. Since I can’t eat anything, the second best thing is to write about my favorite Filipino restaurant in Manila – Sarsa.
Sarsa, named after the Filipino word for sauce, is a mainstay in the Filipino table. Most meals are accompanied by an assortment of sauces: calamansi soy, chili vinegar, fish sauce, liver sauce, bagoong(a local fermented fish or shrimp paste) – the combinations are endless and Sarsa Kitchen is a contemporary take on classic Filipino food with some specialties from the south as the chef JP Anglo is from Negros.
The menu is a melange of classic Filipino dishes and several Negrense specialties. All are well-executed – the grilled dishes are seared with the meat slightly blackened and crisp on the outside and tender on the inside – from inihaw na liempo (pork belly) to inasal (Southern-style grill) chicken parts (including intestines, tails, gizzard and liver). Bulalo, a Filipino version of pot au feu with beef, bone marrow and vegetables is done traditionally with soup and another as Kansi, served on a sizzling plate with gravy. Vegetable dishes were also very good with the gising gising coconut milk prawn and beans to the roasted squash topped with crispy dilis(tiny fish). We also enjoyed the pancit molo, a dumpling and noodle soup similar to wanton mee and Batchoy, a southern soup filled with misua, thin noodles and pork liver. My mouth is watering from the memory of that meal – I can almost taste the starter of crispy dilis in the chili pineapple glaze. I better stop writing or I’ll give up this juice fast right now.
2014 ended with a fantastic two-week trip a deux to Paris followed by my sisters’ visit over the Christmas and New Year holidays. 2015 started out busy with dinner parties, getting the kids back to school and the the recent Chinese New Year celebrations and just like that, March is almost here. I wanted to get back to posting and I just couldn’t write about another restaurant and ignore one of the best reasons for a foodie to love living in Singapore – hawker centers – that unique outdoor food court that locals love and frequent every day.
I’ve been to several over the years but it was only when we moved here that I was taken to several hawker centers by my friend D (you know who you are) who loves good food and good deal as much as I do. We meet up about once a month to try out new places or hang out at food centers and do an afternoon of hawker-hopping . Our first trip was to the Zion Riverside Food Center (70 Zion Road), we tried the black carrot cake, which is actually not made with any carrot but with radish, wok-fried then tossed in dark soy sauce and also shared an ice jelly dessert. At another hawker center near Holland Village, we had the wanton mee topped with char siew (roast pork), wilted greens and a few wantons with a plate of the classic chicken rice along with a fresh-pressed sugarcane and lemon juice.
Another time, we met up at the East Coast Lagoon Food Village (1220 East Coast Parkway, Bedok) before going to the famous 328 Katong Laksa for spoon laksa (where the noodles are cut short so you can it just with a spoon) – a large bowl of sinus-clearing prawn broth and coconut milk filled with rice noodles, cockles and prawns and served with a side order of banana-leaf wrapped otak-otak (ground fish meat mixed with tapioca and spices, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled) was a great lunch. This was followed by another short drive to the Old Airport Road Food Center – a few blocks of hawker stalls in three separate buildings. There we had a delicious mutton soup (a first for me) – clear broth with fresh herbs and mutton ribs from Hougang Jin Jia Mutton Soup (1-23) and the best bang for the buck I have ever had at a food court – the $5 fresh prawn noodle soup from Kallang Cantonese Prawn Noodle (1-83) – where the auntie fishes out three large live prawns from an aquarium and drops them into the piping hot prawn broth along with some noodles, fresh herbs and topped with chunks of crispy pork lard which melts into the broth. I would drive all the way there just for that delicious bowl of soup. We finished our meal with some banana and jackfruit fritters along with a green fruit juice, the name of which escapes me at the moment.
Of course, our family favorite, Newton Hawker Center which we consider our “local”, even if we live in Sentosa, is where we usually go when we just want a quick meal and can’t be bothered to cook. Many say that Newton is a rip-off and that it’s expensive and tourist-filled but we still enjoy going there and eating at our preferred stalls – perfectly crispy gooey oyster omelets from Hup Kee, grilled pork satay from the uncle at the far end near the washrooms (I don’t even know what his stall is called), hokkien mee – slightly soupy stir-fried yellow and white noodles with prawns, chili and herbs, hot and buttery roti prata to be dipped in the curry sauce or just eaten as is or fluffy garlic or butter naan with grilled prawns and crispy baby squid sotong goreng in the sticky sweet sauce.
Singapore’s hawker centers are a great way to experience the local culture through food and even if I’ve been here for over a year now, I haven’t even scratched the surface. Thank goodness there’s lots more to try and loads of new places to eat in. Here’s to more hawker-hopping with family and friends!
After a year in Singapore, we now have a few favorites – Luke’s, for when we’re feeling flush and then there’s the “cheap and cheerful” version of Luke’s – The Market Grill – part of the Unlisted Collection of seven boutique hotels and fourteen restaurants mostly in Singapore but also in London, Shanghai and Sydney. In Singapore, they also manage other trendy restaurants Bincho, Esquina, Pollen and Cocotte.
Located on bustling Telok Ayer street, The Market Grill is in a converted shophouse. A long narrow room lined by a few formica-topped tables with a long counter making best use of the space. Behind the counter is the open kitchen and grill. They also have a large chiller where the different cuts of meat are displayed just like at a butcher which is why they specialize in grilled steaks.
I first went for lunch in the middle of the week with some friends and we made it a point to arrive early so we could get a table as they don’t take reservations. Good thing we did, as the place was packed by the office crowd by 12:30. We started off with the artery-clogging oven roasted bone marrow (S$25) which came with caramelized red onions, a parsley and shallot salad, sea salt and two large marrow bones which we slathered onto slices of crisp toasted sourdough. We never fail to order this when we eat there, even our 12-year old son asks for it when we’re there. This was followed by two side dishes – the crispy pig’s ears (S$18) with a garlic and herb vinegar dip and the onion matchsticks (S$8). The pig’s ears were superb – not greasy at all and still crispy, like chewy chips (much better than the soggy battered version at Pizzeria Mozza). The onion matchsticks were addicting – I could have eaten a whole bowl on my own. The three of us shared the lobster roll (S$45) – a soft sweet buttered roll filled with mayonnaise tossed lobster chunks served with fries and a green salad and a medium-rare 200-day grain fed, 200 gram Wagyu rump (S$40) which was served plain with a dollop of caramelized red onions. Too full for dessert, we walked off our lunch and had a post-lunch coffee nearby.
On another occasion, I lunched with another friend and we sat at the counter and had another enjoyable lunch – the usual bone marrow to start then I had the grilled Maine lobster (S$45) about 500 grams, served simply with butter, lemon, a green salad and mashed potatoes which they gladly substituted for french fries while my friend had a 400-day grain fed, 200 gram Black Angus bavette (S$40) with fries. No dessert again.
We’ve been back again several times with the kids (for dinner and we always had to sit on the counter) and tried the 150 gram CW (chef Colin West’s initials) Burger Breakfast (S$23) which comes with a sunny side up egg, bacon and aged cheddar. Their beef burgers are available in either 150 grams or 200 grams (from S$22 to S$33) and they also have a cod fish burger and a chicken burger for those who are avoiding red meat. We also had the Terres Major and Lobster – a 300 grams artisanal cut of beef with a 500 gram lobster, both grilled and served with a green salad, french fries and strangely enough, just red wine sauce for the meat, you’ll have to order the butter sauce separately and pay extra for it. The kids had to have dessert so we all shared a plate of churros which could have been perfect except for the non-traditional covering of cinnamon sugar (proper churros are served plain) and a tiny pot of melted chocolate. Trust me, you’ll have to ask for more chocolate to dip the churros in as there isn’t enough for the three large churros.
The Market Grill is our go-to when we’re hankering for a grilled steak or a lobster and with the usual prices for steak and lobster at other high-end Singapore restaurants, this place hits the spot and doesn’t leave one with a hole in their pocket. We’ll definitely be coming back.
_______________________________ The Market Grill
208 Telok Ayer Street
Telephone: +65 6221 3323 *Open Monday to Saturday for lunch (11h30 a.m. to 2h30 p.m.) and dinner (6 to 10 p.m.). *No reservations, street parking only.
My last Tokyo post is all about Roppongi Hills, Tokyo’s so-called city within a city of modern skyscrapers, high-end hotels, luxury shops, green spaces, world-class museums, numerous bars and night clubs and lively back streets.
My friend Rumi lived nearby so we decided to meet at the 45th floor lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo for a quick view of the city stretched out below. We started our tour outside Tokyo Midtown where we walked around the park, over the bridge and the tiny brook and by the manicured green areas dotted with park benches to the concrete bunker 21_21 Design Sight which is part of the Tokyo Midtown Design Hub.
From Midtown, we walked several blocks away to the bustling area around Roppongi Hills where the Mori Art Museum and the Eiffel-tower-lookalike Tokyo Tower are located. On the way there, we stopped for a quick takoyaki snack – Japan’s version of street food. Takoyaki are deep-fried flour balls made with octopus, tempura bits, green onion and pickled ginger, topped with bonito flakes and a squirt of Japanese mayonnaise. Traditionally eaten as an after work bite along with a highball, a shot of whiskey topped up with ice cold soda water served in a large mug like a beer, Rumi knew that it wasn’t the right time to eat the takoyaki but she and I decided we wouldn’t be able to wait till sundown. We split a highball and half a dozen takoyaki which were delicious and hit the spot for more wandering around the shopping mall nearby, passing by the Mori and admiring Maman, Louise Bourgeois’ humongous bronze spider sculpture. We stopped afterwards at the beautiful shady terrace of The French Kitchen in the Grand Hyatt for a cold drink and some sunshine before walking back and trying to find a simple place for lunch.
We finally stumbled on a small ramen place on a quiet side street. The dark entryway had a vending machine at the entrance where Rumi dropped the coins and chose two bowls of hot ramen topped with roast pork and a medium boiled egg. As soon as we sat at the counter, we surrendered our tickets from the machine to one of the ramen cooks and waited for our order. The atmosphere at the ramen place was like a club with rhythm and blues blasting inside. I noticed, again, that the restaurant was packed with Japanese men again and we were the only ladies there (just like the other evening at the yakitori place) and I asked Rumi why it was that Japanese women weren’t often seen eating in Japanese restaurants. She explained that the ladies preferred more sophisticated Western food for lunch than traditional Japanese fare.
The ramen noodle soup came with self-serve pitchers of iced tea and the usual condiments of chili oil and seaweed flakes. We dug in and started to sweat from the hot soup and it was only then that we also noticed that all the men having ramen were eating cold ramen to stay cool on such a hot day. We started to laugh because it seemed like we were in the sweltering American south listening to John Lee Hooker, getting shiny faces from the heat of our soup (instead of having barbecue), keeping our hair away from the broth and slurping away with the blues. We finished our ramen and on our way out, we laughed even harder as we realized there were paper bibs and elastic hair ties provided on top of the vending machine to hold one’s hair back from getting into the soup and cover one’s clothes from the splatter – leave it to the Japanese to think of everything. That ramen lunch was another dining culture experience shared with my foodie partner Rumi.
We walked lunch off, returning to Tokyo Midtown where we escaped the heat from the streets for a wander around the mall, looking into the Umami boutique (a shop selling umami flavored everything from crackers to sauces to nuts), Toraya (the traditional Japanese tea cake place) and for a quick espresso at Dean and Deluca and window shopping.
After that, it was a short walk through Hinokicho park to Rumi’s neighborhood in Akasaka where we put our feet up and relaxed before heading out to a Yakiniku (Japanese table barbecue) dinner nearby – again filled with Japanese businessmen. I don’t know how we managed to eat several platters of grilled beef and offal along with a large green salad tossed in a sesame dressing. We were both so full that Rumi insisted we go to the local pharmacy for a tiny bottle of an herbal concoction that Japanese drink the night of food or alcohol excess to avoid indigestion and a hangover. We downed them right then while the pharmacist looked on in amusement. It didn’t taste bad, just like a shot of herbal liqueur without the alcohol burn. It was a fun-filled, food-centric, non-stop exploring day which gave me a chance to discover a part of town on foot and enjoy the city quirks with a Tokyo native.
After a morning spent shopping for children’s presents at Hakuhinkan Toy Park, Tokyo’s version of Toys’R’Us, Rumi and I were escorted by the shop’s owner to his favorite tempura restaurants a few blocks away. Just off Ginza, in a back alley was an unmarked sliding door which led to my best lunch in Tokyo. One of those memorable meals that magically combines a sense of place with delicious food and hilarious company.
Rumi and I entered the simple room with just a seven-seat counter in the center lined by blond wood walls – no decorations or music and no chef. We were offered something to drink by the kimono-clad server – Rumi ordered a cold beer for us to share and this was served with a small plate of cold silken tofu. While we waited to see what would happen, the unsmiling chef came in from the kitchen, nodded his head to us and quietly approached his large bubbling vat of oil carrying with him several bamboo baskets filled with all sorts of seafood and vegetables. He gave us three tiny plates with grated radish, a bit of lemon juice and some fine salt then, the show began.
As this was a tempura restaurant, all the food that the chef prepared was first dipped in a light ice-cold batter then deep-fried. First came a single block of soft tofu – hot and silky soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside. As soon as we had gobbled this up, the chef would fry the next morsel: lotus root followed by sweet shrimp, asparagus then young corn and a small bundle of thin green beans. Halfway through the meal, the chef could see the glazed look in our eyes and hear the oohing and aching after every bite and finally, a flicker of a smile finally appeared on his face. Next up was a quail egg, a scallop, some white fish, shiso leaf, several more tiny sweet shrimp and finally a small plate of pickles and served with the traditional last course, a bowl of cooked short-grain rice in which the chef had poured some green tea and topped it with a delicate prawn fritter. By this time, the chef was chatting with us and telling us about how he loves what he does and that although, Michelin wanted to list him, he asked them not to as he wanted to keep his restaurant small and as is and just keep cooking the food he loves to do. Lunch lasted a couple of hours and ended with some lemon jelly and green tea. We left the restaurant with a full belly, smiles on our faces and a hand-wrapped onigiri gift from the chef. Tempura will never taste the same again. That’s what happens when one visits Japan, all the other previous Japanese meals start to pale in comparison.
___________________________ Yoshimatsu *Open for lunch and dinner *I promised the chef not to publish the location, so please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org for the address
My friend Rumi recommended this traditional yakitori restaurant, one of the oldest in Tokyo with over 80 years of mastering the art of grilled skewered chicken. What started out in 1931 as a simple food stall located behind the Kabuki theater, quickly became a favorite of the Kabuki actors and theater crowd which then prompted the owners to make it into a restaurant in 1939. It moved to its’ current Ginza spot in 1958 and has been run by the same family for three generations. Torishige is not the usual elbow-to-elbow, crowded, smoky and noisy yakitori joint (there are other places to experience that) but a simple refined version frequented by locals and concentrating on the grilled chicken and not so much on the ambiance.
On the mid-week evening that we visited Torishige, I was the only female in the whole packed restaurant. We were seated in the middle of the counter, not too close to the grill but close enough for us to watch the chef pay close attention to dozens of skewers laid out on a narrow grill filled with hot coals. We decided to order the Jidori menu (4800 yen – around $45) for 8 sticks with soup and rice. We didn’t have long to wait as the skewers started to be come straight from the smoky grill – aigamo (duck), tebasaki (flat wing tip), aigamo shimeji (brown beech mushroom rolled by sliced duck), tsukune (chicken meatballs) and chunks of jidori (free-range chicken) with leeks – all savoury bites of perfectly char-grilled poultry. The set menu also included the chestnut like-ginnan(ginkgo nuts), asparagus or Shiitake mushrooms (we ordered one of each so we could have both), and kimo (chicken liver) that we asked them to substitute for shishito peppers. By the time the famous curried rice and chicken broth were brought, we were too full to finish either and just and had a taste of each. Another wonderful dinner which explains why Tokyo is on every foodies’ must-go list.
2014 is definitely the year of travel. In January we spent a few days in Bali with family rediscovering the island. In March, a much-awaited return to Moscow (last time I was there was 17 years ago) to show A the new and improved MOCKBA. This was followed by two weeks in Manila with the kids and a trip to Tokyo in the spring. As it was my first time to Tokyo, I was lucky that my good friend Rumi had just returned home to Japan after several years abroad which gave me the best food tour guide for my initiation to the amazing gourmet offerings of Tokyo.
We stayed at the Imperial Hotel, a classic Japanese hotel, located close to the famous luxury shopping area of Ginza. On our first evening, we decided to see what the area had to offer. Close by was a small street parallel to the train tracks lined with restaurants on either side. A & I meandered along until we found a packed sushi bar towards the end of the road. I won’t even be able to tell you the name as all the signs and menus were in Japanese so we did what tourists usually do and just pointed out something on the menu. It was a 12-piece sushi platter with amaebi (sweet shrimp), maguro (tuna), hotate (scallop), ikura gukan (salmon roe), uni (sea urchin), negi toro (chopped tuna with chives), tamago (cooked egg), aji (mackerel), chutoro (fatty tuna belly), hirame (flounder), unagi (grilled eel) and the very strange kazunoko (herring roe) which neither of us ate. All that plus a side dish of fried egg with mushrooms set us back around US$25 each – a bargain after all those stories about overpriced Tokyo. We walked around the block a bit to digest our dinner and as we neared the hotel, we witnessed aTokyo phenomenon – hundreds of ladies queued up in several orderly single file rows waiting to greet a stage performer about to exit the theater across the street. No pushing and shoving, each one waiting patiently with a piece of paper (greetings?) or a bouquet of flowers to offer the star. The sense of order and respect – that was what my first impression of Tokyo.
The next morning, A set off for work while I had a leisurely breakfast and did my first day exploring Ginza which was several blocks away. I started off at Hakuhinkan Toy Park, Tokyo’s version of Toys R Us, and walked slowly up the street, window shopping and people watching. By the time I reached the middle, it was time for lunch so I followed Rumi’s advice and went to Mitsukoshi where there are five floors devoted to food – the 11th and 12th for restaurants, the 9th for smaller self-serve counters with a large terrace, B2 for the food court and B3 for grocery items. I went up to the the 11th floor and walked into the first one that caught my eye – a tonkatsu restaurant which has almost full with mostly Japanese and two solo diners, just like me, who looked like tourists. I sat at a corner table and chose the tonkatsu and ebikatsu (prawn) set which came with soup, rice and pickles. The food came quickly with the crunchy but not oily panko-crusted pork cutlet and the equally crispy deep-fried prawn set on a wire rack over a plate with some lemon and tartare sauce served with the brown rice I asked for. On the table were the two containers of homemade tonkatsu sauce – one sweet and the other spicy along with some implements that I had never seen nor used before. It was basically a shallow corrugated ceramic bowl and a piece of wood. I looked around and saw what my neighbors were doing and realized that this was like a mortar and pestle and was being used to hand grind sesame seeds to be added onto the tonkatsu sauce to thicken and flavor it. The tricky part out of the way, I finally began to eat my delicious lunch and finished it off with the tangy crunchy pickles. One of the things I enjoy when I’m discovering a city is eating on my own – it gives me chance to concentrate on my food and at the same time observe the locals and their rituals.
After lunch, I walked to Ito-ya – Tokyo’s premier stationery shop to have a look and ended up spending hours and lots of yen, ordering embossed leather luggage tags and purchasing cards and stationery. It was late afternoon by then and my energy was flagging so I went to the nearest coffee shop I saw – Le Cafe Doutor – which was filled with locals sitting alone having mostly iced coffee. I ordered a black coffee and enjoyed my caffeine for half an hour before walking the roundabout way back to the Imperial.
The following day while walking around Ginza again, Rumi and I stumbled upon a months-old coffee boutique – Toriba – where they roast their own beans on site and have a small coffee bar where we sampled two types of their funky-named music-influenced blends – Jamaican Dub Mix and the Deep House Mix. Later on, she also took me to the Bulgari’s Il Bar where she made me the typical cold coffee served with sugar syrup and lots of ice. This being the Bulgari, a tiny bowl of chocolate covered almonds also came with our coffees. On our last day, after a morning spent at mega-store Muji, A and I had lunch and coffee at the nearby Dean and Deluca in Yurakucho. For a coffee lover like me, the amazing selection of coffee and different cafes from the self-serve Doutor to the high-end coffee with a view at the Bulgari, was a pleasure.