Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pangat @ Suntec City

It was my first time here. At the counter, I'd ordered, firstly, curd rice. The attendant smiled but I couldn't understand it. Was it an approval of my choice? Or did I just order something regrettable? Next, a side dish. There were a few rare, interesting titles but I wanted comfort food that evening, so I asked for saag panir. None of those smiles or nods this time. In fact, I could feel her slight reluctance to input my order. She did, eventually.

I sat at a nearby table and waited eagerly for my curd rice. I really can't remember the last time I had it. It must have been a year ago. Or longer, even. On a hot and humid evening, the thought of creamy, cold, sourish rice spiced with mustard seeds, ginger, coriander leaves, onions and chillies was very, very enticing.

A smartly dressed man, perhaps in his early sixties, approached my table and introduced himself as the cook. He asked to confirm my order of both the curd rice and saag panir. Politely, he suggested that the combination might be too heavy and proposed that I consider replacing the saag panir with gobi Manchurian.


I've always prided myself for being knowledgeable in Indian cuisine and never had I been challenged this way. My credibility was at stake. I imagined my friends and neighbours from Sentul looking really disappointed with some gesturing the loser sign. And by recommending something with a Manchurian sauce was definitely rubbing salt to the wound. Here's the funny part - momentarily stunned AND confused, I'd somehow agreed to that change.

There's a lesson to be learnt here - that the ego has to be bruised to gravitate one down to earth again. The gobi Manchurian worked really well the curd rice. A sweet sauce like that provides a wonderful balance to the sourness of the curd. Such common sense that I'd failed to see! Imagine if I'd insisted on my saag panir. The richness of both sauces would have been too much to handle. So, thank you, uncle, for making the effort to enlighten this lost child. I shall be back to seek more wisdom and of course, your delicious vegetarian food.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Long DUO Weekend

This time, I knew the words to most of his new songs and sang along happily. That's a Chinese pop concert for you. It's an extended karaoke session that I usually think twice before attending since I can do the same in a private room (with 2 drinks) for less than RM30. But how can one say no to Eason Chan's concert? Call me a conservative but I do feel that the Cantopop scene is declining to a stage where voices are faint, some forced and mostly indistinguishable. The catchy melodies and profound lyrics (well, sometimes) stay but often tailored, these are not representative of the quality of the singer. Eason's gifted voice is one of the very few that I still listen to ardently. He started strong that Saturday night at Stadium Merdeka with 今天等我来, a befitting opening number, which we thought was a new song. In fact, it was sort of a B-side from his early days. I'm definitely attempting this at K next time! There were a few covers that night too, like 好歌獻給你, 寂寞夜晚 and 破曉, which may be unfamiliar to the younger crowd. He did include a few of my personal favourites into the repertoire like 落花流水 and 裙下之臣 BUT where are the other hits like 葡萄成熟时, 大開眼戒, 不来也不去, 岁月如歌, Shall We Talk, 十面埋伏, 淘汰, 於心有愧, 七百年後 and K歌之王? The banters could have been shortened to make way for more of these songs. The atmosphere, despite the humidity, was great throughout the 25 songs set. The KL crowd, to me, has always been enthusiastic, responsive and supportive. The singers themselves acknowledged this as well. Honestly, I was expecting a 3-hour concert packed with more than 30 songs but I forgot that this was not a Jacky Cheung show. So, I left the stadium slightly disappointed. The company of old schoolmates made up for that. To think that we first heard Eason when we sat for our SPM examination. We've definitely come a long way. Maybe I should now stop laughing at my elders who travel to the Arena of Stars in Genting to watch their favourite singers from the 70s perform.

The concert marked the beginning of my long weekend in KL since the lunar new year. There was no preplanned eat list but that turned out fine. For a change, we lunched at Dubrovnik (finally) and found the recommended dishes, mostly dairy products-based, commendable. And for a change to that change, it was Klang bak kut teh for breakfast at Hock Kien, Bandar Manjalara. The famous braised claypot pork belly, to me, could have been more harmonized a dish. The ingredients seemed unevenly proportioned. The aroma of the sesame oil was strong, that's good. But the soy sauce based reduction was bland with some flavours clearly lacking, like ginger, cinnamon and peppercorn. On the positive side, the pork ribs served in the claypot bak kut teh were succulent and huge.

Of all the food that I'd tried over the long weekend, it was the wan tan mee from an obscure 壹记 at Taman Usahawan Kepong that had been most remarkable. The influx of customers was not high that Monday afternoon, which was good. Well, for us at least. 壹记 serves handmade, whole-egg noodles with a couple of toppings to choose from. The simplicity of their menu may not be attractive to many but they've done well with the noodles being refined, springy and without a hint of lye. For getting the fundamentals right, 壹记 deserves a revisit.

What's homecoming without a homecooked meal, right? I had a couple of those, including a large plate of steamed yam cake for tea, prepared by mum. Always generous, she filled the yam cake with a copious amount of steamed yam cubes that gave each cut a nice bite. The cake itself tasted rather plain, so a sprinkling of chopped waxed sausages provided some sweetness and colour. It's incomplete without a dollop of mum's dried shrimp chilli paste. It's a basic, versatile condiment that can be used to cook curry, sambal for nasi lemak, etc. For the yam cake, she added more salt and doubled the chilli. Let's see, I might have consumed more of the chilli paste than the yam cake.

Over the long weekend, I'd also experienced a pleasant, almost seamless passport renewal process at the immigration department in KL. And in between food and meetings with friends, I managed to hit a good running mileage. At the end of this short getaway, I felt recharged. What a difference a day makes, eh? I'm beginning to understand the lament of most employees now....YES, I do need more leave days!

74, Jalan Metro Perdana Barat 3
Taman Usahawan Kepong
52100 Kuala Lumpur

Friday, September 9, 2011

Steamed Threadfin

I ran the fastest 21 km of my life last Sunday at the Army Half Marathon. As with some of the other recent races in Singapore, the actual distance remains controversial. The fact that some of these routes are not IAAF certified questions the standard of professionalism of the organizers. On the other hand, typical GPS watches worn by the runners do not correspond well with elevations. So, who's right and who's wrong? As the blame game continues, I'm just glad that I ended the last of my half marathons this year with a sub 2-hour finish. Although, I am still considering the PJ Half Marathon in October. We'll see. The Army run was the best half marathon that I had participated this year. Rehydration points were aplenty, the cheerleading squads were energetic and there were even street performances along the way! My new Garmin Forerunner 210 (I got it at a good price at Comex just 2 days before the run!) had kept me running at a steady, consistent pace. But darn that killer slope at Fort Canning that had greatly reduced my speed! Towards the last 5 km, I thought I wouldn't be able to achieve a new personal best but I kept going. My mind, thoughtless.

The run started at 5.15 am and by 8.30 am, after gulping a few cans of isotonic drinks and getting a free massage at the Salonpas booth, I was back at home. Surprisingly, I wasn't as tired as I thought and decided to make a quick brunch before sleeping the afternoon away. Ahhh, just the thought of the sound sleep I had that afternoon feels good. There were 2 pieces of threadfin left and I decided to steam them. I know, I should be rewarding myself with something more sinful like char kway teow, KFC or bak chor mee. But I had to clear the fridge before the arrival of a new week, so I settled for a healthier brunch. Dinner was, yes, char kway teow. And Hokkien mee!

I went with the usual Cantonese-style steaming; minced ginger and garlic as topping, with a drizzle of sugared soy sauce. When the fish was cooked, I turned off the heat, added some hua diao wine and sesame oil before spreading the dish with a generous amount of chopped coriander and scallion. And covered the dish for a few minutes.

Threadfins bring back some childhood memories. As a kid, I was fed with a lot of threadfin porridge. The bones are hard and deathly, so I had learnt the art of simultaneously munching the meat and separating the bones in the mouth with my teeth and tongue before swallowing. And after some time, one will also be able to judge if it's an aged fish, from the texture of the thick skin. Back then, this was an upper-class fish. But I didn't have to buy them because I would get a good, unsold supply from my late grandfather. He was a fishmonger in a wet market. Mum being Hakka, would sometimes steam it with some sweet preserved vegetable and ginger. To be honest, I prefer this style because of the slight sweetness that gives a more interesting palate.

Back to my steamed fish, I vaguely remember reading some online articles on steamed fish served with rice noodle. It's a Teochew-style of cooking, I believe. Coincidentally, I'd frozen 2 stacks of carrot noodle that I made the day before. It was an experiment, by adding carrot puree to the dough, to inject some colour and sweetness to my usual handmade noodle. So, I cooked a handful of the carrot noodles and curled them into the steamed dish. By now, the soy sauce was infused with the spiciness of the ginger and garlic, and sweetness of threadfin, making it a tasty dressing for the noodles.

That was truly an enjoyable Sunday. So much so that I'd absolutely forgotten about the 4th anniversary of my blog. Looking at the amount of posts that I'd written this year, it seems like I'm bastardizing my blog. I'm not. I did mention, in one of my anniversary posts, that a blog is like one's child. Because you love it, you'll put in effort to ensure that it's taken care of. I believe my child has grown up. We've reached a level of understanding that infrequent postings do not equate to a love lost. In fact, I enjoy writing more now than, say 2008, because I begin to understand my priorities. So, I spend, whenever I can, more quality time in collecting and expressing my thoughts here rather than churning posts that mean nothing to me. Happy belated 4th anniversary, Black Tie White Lie.