Monday, November 22, 2010


Many visitors will enjoy walking up the green, serene, steep slope leading to Subak’s reception. I would try too, if only I knew. With hip-hop music blasting from the car stereo, we sped up the slope, to the horror of Subak’s staff. They stopped us immediately and politely explained that vehicles are prohibited from entering the restaurant, which is located on a hill. We definitely made an impression that afternoon.

Subak's NZ Lamb Shank Masala (with sweet potato mash)

Subak reminded me of Naili’s, one of the earliest cafes with a tropical setting that comes with lighted mosquito coils under every table. A decade ago, it was one of THE places to be in and had definitely made Sentul more appealing and cool. As much as I applaud their back-to-nature theme, I never understood the ambiance, which many would describe as unique. I call it humid and stuffy. As for the menu, I would give up the overpriced fries and chops for some fiery, colourful, tamarind-loaded fish head curry from Kari Kepala Ikan Sentul. The last time I checked, that's 10 minutes ago, Naili’s has now expanded to Ampang, Damansara Uptown and Taipan. Us urbanites are just so nature-deprived these days, aren’t we?

Ibu Yati's Gado-Gado

Subak's Balinese Fried Rice with a Grilled Chicken Skewer

Pan-Fried Medallion of Cod Fish and Butterfly Prawns (with tomato and ginger flower reduction)

Subak, with its contemporary landscaping and sort of exotic interior, was welcoming. But still humid lah. It was easy selecting the dishes as the signatures were already widely introduced on the web. Funnily enough, it was that sweet potato mash pillowing the lamb shank masala that I remembered the most. Subtly sweet, it was a brilliant alternative to the usual bland kind.

It started to rain heavily when we were ready to leave. And so, we ordered desserts.

Tapai Pulut with Vanilla Ice Cream

A conservative (or stereotype) sometimes, I came here secretly wishing that I would find some hidden gems of authentic, traditional Malay food amidst the creative menu but that surely just wouldn’t do with such grandeur of a restaurant on a hill now, would it?

Lot 3213 Jalan Penchala Indah
Bukit Lanjan 60000
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: (+603) 7729 9030
Check out their new menu here:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Japan, Marina Square's foodcourt and Keisuke

Where can you dine with a view of the Marina Bay Sands, the towering CBD, the grand Fullerton Hotel and the Esplanade without burning a hole in the wallet? The Marina Square foodcourt, of course! The night skyline, illuminated by some of the most identifiable skyscrapers in Singapore, is especially beautiful.

A few year ago, I came to this foodcourt in search of the legendary bak chor mee stall that some claim to rank among the best this island has to offer. The taste was average at best but it was later that I learned of a change in ownership that led to deterioration in quality and taste. Nevertheless, I'd found a great view.

Two months back, XLB returned from her solo trip to the land of the rising sun, bringing along indispensable memories of the Tsukiji market and some food; ranging from extravagant Western desserts (no Sadaharu Aoki or Pierre Hermé though) to local delicacies to unknowingly affordable compressed, dehydrated cubes of soup, which I had uncontrollably walloped all 9 packs within a short span of 24 hours. Hey, that's 1 cube in every 2.67 hours!

Earlier that evening, before I was presented with a bundle of souvenirs (mostly food, naturally), we were at Keisuke. For me, it was all about the Ebi Ramen Special that features a special prawn stock. This is one brave but controversial dish, I'd say, especially when you can get approximately 3 bowls (or more) of the local version of prawn noodles for the price of a bowl of this. I could do without the additional plate of side consisting of boiled pork/long beans and ajitsuke eggs. Instead, more of the crispy strands of saffron garnishing would have been great. Keisuke's ebi stock is not the usual Singaporean prawn noodles stock that's flavoured with prawns, pork bones (murkier) and rock sugar. This was refreshingly lighter. I enjoyed Keisuke's ebi stock but still favour a stronger taste. A matter of personal preference, really. Like how some prefer the lighter Teochew-style bak kut teh over the stronger herbal taste of the Hokkien version. It also came with some dumplings, which was a nice touch. Hmmm, how about some saffron in the minced filling next, eh? The juicy prawn gyoza with crispy skin is worth a mention too.

What in the world is a Kyo-Machiya cake? Literally deconstructing the phrase, it could mean a cake made in a green tea house in Kyoto. Whatever it means, the cake rocks. Yes, the skeptic has spoken. It's always that first tingling bittertaste that makes the best first impression, soothed only later by the sweet, smooth azuki paste. There were layers of green tea gelatin as well, adding to a more interesting texture.

The attentive staff asked if we would like to have some desserts but we'd made plans. At the Marina Square foodcourt, we finished a delicious-looking log of baumkuchen from Juchheim (a well-known pastry shop in Japan). Well, I did most of the eating, actually. I used to like Muji's (regardless of the flavour) but they seem to be harder now. Juchheim's was definitely more refined while sparing the excessive sweetness of caramel, which to be honest, added to the addiction.

With some time to burn before returning home tonight (as in Thursday night), I'd decided to grab a quick dinner of sliced fish soup at Marina Square's foodcourt again. Later, I had a cup of Teh-C and penned down this post while watching the sun set between the halved durians of the Esplanade. Ah, nice.

Keisuke Tokyo
9 Raffles Boulevard
#P3-02 Parco Marina Bay
Millenia Walk Singapore
Tel: (+65) 6337 7919



Apparently, Keisuke's menu has changed.

Read more here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Amish Village, Lancaster County

The morning shower did dampen my spirit as we traveled along Route 30. And the pour didn’t get any lighter when we turned into 340 (the Old Philadelphia Pike). I remember a guide book advising visitors to avoid this route for it is constantly congested and being, well, touristy. I guess at 8 am with the rain showing no sign of resentment, it didn’t really matter to us.

On my itinerary was a cruise along the Scenic Drive, a spot on the map that got my attention immediately. At Bird-In-Hand, we took a left turn into Harvest Road leading to Highway 772. The surrounding progressively transformed from rows of shops to fields of corn and wheat. A scattering of Amish houses, agricultural plants and towering power generators decorated the otherwise monochromatic plains.

I proceeded to turn off my GPS navigator (how fun) and drove aimlessly deep into the area, reminding myself to just observe and never trespass. It was still drizzling when I had my first encounter with an Amish on a buggy. Being the driver, I only managed to catch a glimpse of him. The man donning a black coat and a hat had a beard, a signature of every married Amish man.

The rain stopped for a while. We parked beside a river and walked about half a mile to observe a nearby farm. What I feared at this point was not the Amish but potential presence of Dobermanns and German Shepherds barking us off their property. Or worse, tearing us apart for breakfast. Then, it started to rain again and we’re forced to dash for the car.

Finally, the sky spared our humble lives and decided to open up that late morning. Shops started operation and we found ourselves at the Amish Village in Strasburg, a souvenir shop that doubled as a faux Amish house (complete with a guided tour). For only US$8, I must say that it’s worth every penny and that it’s cheaper than most of the other exhibitors around. The tour of the house by an informative elderly lady started at the living room, where most of the communal activities take place, followed by the bedrooms and kitchen. In between, we also learned about their history and traditions.

The Amish (and the Amish Mennonites) place great importance on family and the community, with God being the core of their very existence. They resist materialism, which basically cut them off from what modernity has to offer. A young adult decides if he/she wants to be baptized and will be accepted as part of the community, regardless of his/her decision.

Over the few weeks leading to this visit, I’ve been reading a bit on the Amish. As a visitor, there are certain etiquettes that I should note. For one, I shouldn’t be photographing the Amish. Nor do they want to be photographed as well. There are a few explanations (that I know of) to this. Some said that photographs are a symbol of vanity, a contradiction to their belief. As Christians, allowing themselves to be photographed is to disobey one of the Ten Commandments – Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image. The most interesting that I’ve heard implies that it snatches the soul from the Amish.

In the kitchen, we were told that the Amish use portable fuel such as propane cartridges for cooking. Electricity is not used in any way. A fellow colleague asked if electricity is considered materialistic. I was dumbfounded. In the weeks to come, I came to understand that electricity indirectly connects the Amish to the ways of the material world via electrical appliances such as the television, hence the prohibition.

The fact that these few European descendants hold up to their belief until today is admirable, considering how dependent we are on technology, which in general does related to materialism in today’s capitalist world. They are a testament to what life is like without mobile phones, the internet, and computers, a question we perpetually ask ourselves. This was quite an experience, especially in a technology-driven country like America. An enriching one, no doubt.

A few hours later, we were on our way to a nearby Chinese buffet restaurant before a frenzy shopping spree at the factory outlets next to it. Yes, all peculiarly located not too far from the Amish neighbourhood. This is Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stir It Lexington Market

Baltimore. From the walk to the Owing Mills subway station, I could tell that the demographics had changed significantly relative to where I’d been staying for the past 5 weeks. It was an interesting change.

Inner Harbor is a must-see, said most of my helpful colleagues. That too, I reminded myself.

Primarily, it was the centuries-old Lexington Market that I’d been looking forward to, here in Baltimore. Well, for the seafood, of course. The market gets packed during lunch. Stepping into the market in the morning, I shouldn’t be too excited just yet. Vendors were still busy preparing for the lunch crowd, although some displays were already filled with fried chicken, hotdogs and some Asian stuff. From afar, I managed to locate Faidley’s, the infamous big lump crabcake shop. Unlit, but rightfully so since it was only 10 am. There’s still a sizeable selection of breakfast to choose from. Ignoring the sushis and chow meins, I was left with some hotdog stalls and the Harbor City Bake Shop, where the longest queue was. I couldn't even catch a glimpse of the food as the display was blocked by the massive crowd. Certainly, I just had to join in the fun.

I surprised myself with the selection - a glazed donut (the first in my 7 weeks here, can you believe it!), a cinnamon twist and a large (almost a quarter, I believe) piece of carrot cake. There’s a good reason why Harbor City is an attraction here. The food's decent and they come really affordable. The soft carrot cake was heavy on the cinnamon, brown sugar and cream. In other words, very American. That's nice.

It’s easy to get around with the day-pass in Baltimore, although I must say that the Inner Harbor is still some distance from the nearest subway station. But it’s not a confusing walk. Just go towards I.M. Pei’s pentagonal World Trade Centre, which is placed right at the centre of the harbor.

The day must have hit a high of 38 deg C (yet again). There were 2 ways to cool it off – jump into the Chesapeake Bay (I'm not even sure if that's allowed) or just grab a cooling cup of Italian Ice from Rita's. I chose the passion fruit flavour.

As kids, we used to play baseball back in our kampung. The bat’s made of a broken broomstick while the baseball was an almost worn-out tennis ball that we’d picked up somewhere. A homerun’s fine but it was the pleasure of hitting your opponents hard with the ball that was most gratifying.

We were so close to experiencing a real (and professional) baseball game at Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles (a Major League Baseball team) was to play later in the evening. Sadly, we couldn’t afford the time. Streams of stalls selling souvenirs (mostly in shades of orange – the Orioles’ colour) and grills and beers were beginning to form as we left the stadium. Ah, next time!

The Baltimore Light Rail took us back to Lexington Market for lunch, where the locals and tourists had just started thronging.

And there was Bob Marley's Stir It Up.

A jam session was taking place at the center court. The predominantly American-Caribbean crowd was having a good time swaying to the cool reggae beats. If I must choose, this was the most memorable moment for me, here in Baltimore.

Faidley's crabcake shop was still not up. What?! A closer inspection showed a notice that it was closed for (I believe) the current owners' 52nd wedding anniversary. Bless them but my life was over at this point.

That thought didn't last long, surely. Look, I've driven more than 200 km to get here, got baked in the sun for hours and STILL haven't had any Maryland crab yet. Absurd, isn't it? I had to make sure that I don't leave the market feeling like a loser. Or hungry. And just like that, the beast unleashed.

Smacked right in the middle of the Faidley enclave is the iconic Raw Bar. I had half a dozen of their premium-sized, shucked oysters. Sublimely fresh, these. And they were great with a Bud Light. I got myself some Baltimore steamed crabs too. Cooked in vinegar and beer, you can imagine the combustion of flavours in the meat. But that's not all. It's actually the Old Bay seasoning that gives it the punch. Fortified with loads of herbs and spices (including bay leaf, peppers, paprika, 5-spice), the taste was complex, aromatic and appetizing. There was no hint of sugar in the mix but it worked wonderfully with the natural sweetness of the crabs.

There's more than one big lump crabcake stall in Lexington Market, of course. As we headed for the subway station, I spotted a couple and decided to have one for the road. And it was good. A simple squeeze of lemon provided a nice cut to the rich taste of baked sweet chunks crab meat. Just to confirm, I asked the bouffant-capped owner with fine upper lip hair if this was a jumbo lump crabcake. That's right, dear, she said. Cool.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Restoran Chat Masala

I’ve decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and look forward to more developments in Brickfields. Finally, this colourful neighbourhood is getting an overhaul.

Jalan Tun Sambanthan is now a one-way street. It reminds me a lot of my hometown, Sentul, where the once two-way Jalan Sentul now loops at Sentul Raya. Logically speaking, wider roads do ease traffic flow but here’s the question – where has the opposite side of the road been relocated? I’ve asked a few friends but no one could give me an answer. If there’s one suggestion that I may provide, to help smoothen traffic at this neighbourhood, is to build multilevel carparks. Double-parking is a concern here and it’s unfair to penalize just the drivers. I see this idea being more pragmatic than to fuglify a historical site with another self-indulging Malaysia Boleh skyscraper.

Back at Brickfields, parking was impossible as we studied the new Jalan Tun Sambanthan. Fortunately for us, a car was leaving right in front of us and we swerved into the parking space with much relief. Think of the buckets of sweat that I might have disposed off if I had to walk from KL Sentral on a hot afternoon.

Chat Masala sounded rather familiar and we decided to give it a try. It wasn’t until I made my payment at the cashier that I noticed the TOKL Food 40 2008 token. Not that it would change my perception, of course.

The self-service spread was very much the same as with many Indian restaurants. We opted for banana leaf rice, so everything was served to us instead. I look forward to my moru and rasam every time I go for blr. When well-prepared, the sourish liquids, rich with the pungent onion/coriander (moru) and spices (rasam), serve to open up the senses and in many ways, enhance the whole blr experience. Let’s not forget their medicinal properties as well. Unfortunately, both came much milder than I’d hoped for. The curried vegetables of okra, long beans, lentils and potatoes, on the other hand, were surprisingly flavoursome and nicely softened.

Meat analogue is such a sophisticated name for faux meat, isn’t it? Not a fan myself, but the lava tones were so inviting that I had to give it a try. Befittingly, the chicken and mutton were hot and spicy. There was an unmistakable sugary hint that comes with many vegetarian dishes. Truth be told, I actually liked both dishes for the explosion of spices in my mouth.

I was back in this Little India on a Saturday night, just to bask in the Deepavali mood and to see if there are any new and exciting festive snacks on sale. As expected, cars began piling from Jalan Travers. Decorating Little India were colourful lights, energetic drumbeats blasting from every corner, street performances and posters of Dr. Manmohan Singh and Malaysia’s current prime minister. Especially with the posters, my cynical mind couldn’t decide if the theme of the day was a celebration of existing bilateral ties or the triumph of good over evil. There are now Indian culture-inspired art installations at the center of Brickfields too. These must be from the same people behind that whateverthingtheycallit fountain at the Pavilion, Bukit Bintang, I told myself.

Personally, nothing from the previous description reminded me of Deepavali. Well, for this non-Hindu living in an Indian neighbourhood for over 17 years, at least. It’s only when I pushed my way into the tents and shops that I started to remember what this Festival of Lights was like - the tranquiling scent of incense, colourful garlands and families gallivanting down the street in traditional clothing. Oh, and the stacks of halwa, barfi, murukku and laddu.

I just hope that I’ll be receiving a large container of these snacks again from my neighbour this year.

Happy Deepavali and enjoy the long weekend, everyone.

Chat Masala
259G, Jalan Tun Sambanthan
Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: (+603) 2260 3244