Thursday, September 30, 2010

LP Noodle Station

Ah, a blissful week. Just like slurping one steaming hot cup of instant kim chi ramyun after another. Perhaps attending a happy event like a wedding ceremony has brought back some good luck (I’m Chinese – the semi-superstitious kind). Work aside, life in the past 5 days involved enjoying a bunch of new songs, interesting reads and good food. By the way, does anyone know that in a traditional Chinese wedding, when a bridegroom ushers his bride into his house straight from the typically horribl interestingly decorated car, everyone has to literally turn their backs on them? Apparently, in failing to do so will have the luck of the guests be forced out of their system by the strong qi discharged from the newly wedded couple. It's only when they rejoin the guests after the bedroom ceremony (nothing sexually-inclined, unless potties are your thang) that they are allowed to meet face to face. Some valuable notes from the resourceful aunties there.

The weekend is here again but there’s no wedding or tea-ceremony to attend. Darn it. Let’s just hope that good luck from the previous week hasn't expired and will continue to run through the weekend (at least) and may there be more pork noodles too. The gorn low (dry-tossed) kway teow and bee hoon combination’s my favourite. Densely flavoured, moist ground pork is a must. A generous scoop of lard or fried shallots oil is almost necessary. Some thick slices of sweet liver sausage complete the universe.

I thought of LP (some Hokkien friends out there must be tickled by this acronym) Noodle Station as I had my gorn low meen for breakfast at a wet market in Cheras, a few hours before the wedding. Coincidentally, Qianli Xiang (the loh mee restaurant in my previous post is located just some lots away from LP. The universe has spoken. I had to, at the very least, flash this LP on my blog.

Rubbish aside, LP is a fine, modern kopitiam. There are the usual nasi lemak, condensed milk-based beverages and kaya toast. What’s interesting is that, in between, there’s pork noodle. And from my observation, there’s at least a bowl on every table. I’m not going to exaggerate and claim this to be whatever bestestestest thing ever because it isn’t. But in all honesty, it’s a bowl of satisfying comfort food. The ground pork's well-seasoned and the sausage's sweet and smoky. A more daring splash of aromatic oil would have been appreciated. On the other hand, I wished the curry chicken was less oily. Oh, or was it designed to have the floating layer of oil be applied to the noodle? The curry chicken here relates to the Chinese version – less spicy and somehow dilute. In general, I think the pairing of chicken curry and gorn lou meen is a champion. Imagine the explosion of flavours when soy sauce meets curry leaves meet pork meets coconut milk meets shallot oil meets sesame oil and tell me it's not worth drooling over.

As mentioned earlier, I've been enjoying some new songs that I've discovered while mindlessly surfing the web. One of them is Melody Gardot's If The Stars Were Mine, which the unripe words seem like a cross between The Sound Of Music and Disneyland. But that's just old cynical HairyBerry babbling. It's a great string-backed, bossanova track laced with MG's sultry voice. So, while I'm still all chirpy and enjoying this rather peculiarly lucky week, here's wishing everyone a good weekend ahead. :)

LP Noodle Station
Jalan SJ 1
Taman Selayang Jaya
Selangor, Malaysia

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Restoran Qianli Xiang

That was an unfortunate Saturday at The Gardens, Mid Valley City. Despite the pleasant surprise of bumping into LifeforBeginners, the Devil and the Diva, I had to keep a distance from the happy, healthy trio. In my hand was a bag of flu medicines (soluble tablets, pills, etc). The signs of a virus attack were clear as I returned home from a run in the drizzle that morning. I needed heat! A hot bowl of tau fu fah, some sweet horse legs and crispy yau char kway from the noteworthy I LOVE YOO! would turn things around, I thought. It didn’t take long before I started sneezing incessantly in front of the snacks and had to dash to the nearest pharmacy.

You don’t disappoint your family by cutting short a weekend outing. I survived MVC by wanton-wrapping by the dozen and napping at the public benches placed along the way as they shopped. Then, came lunchtime and the sick one was asked to decide. Remembering mum’s mention of an Ulu Yam loh mee restaurant in Kepong Baru, I suggested that we give it a try. Why loh mee? Because it’s soupy, hot and served with black vinegar - an appetizing, cleansing potion that I believe can prevent (and hopefully, cure) any ailment. I’ve read a report on a family in China that consumes black vinegar everyday and that portrait of them literally defines living in the pink of health. Inspiring!

My suggestion was not well-received. Apparently, there’s a better option in Taman Selayang Utama. Qianli Xiang or fragrance traveling a thousand miles in Mandarin (how paradoxical, considering my now reddened, stuffed nose!) has been around for a few years and is quite a favourite among the locals. I was told that the noodles are homemade.

There’s always this scene in family-run, small Chinese restaurants during the busy lunch hours - sweaty parents heaving and shouting in the kitchen, the young children reluctantly fill up your empty teapots while the grandmother calmly cuts the vegetables at a corner of the restaurant. But in the late afternoon, activities are minimized to a gathering of generations at a table as the kids take a short nap, in preparation for the maddening dinner crowd. The calmness in the restaurant at that hour was soothing for a patient like me.

When it comes to loh mee (be it Penang, KL or Singapore style), I prefer the sauce to be minimally starched (I'm disturbed by the sight of a gooey, translucent dark sauce). A good reduction with some whisked eggs will just do for me. What I liked about Qianli Xiang’s loh mee was the noodle. The inconsistency in size may not be visually pleasing and perhaps, even border on being amateurish but that’s what makes homemade food unique, I guess. Slightly chewy, smooth and with just a hint of floury taste, it was nothing like the typically bland, tough and thick yellow noodles that usually come with a lye aftertaste. Ingredients like greens and pork were aplenty too, here.

My deteriorating condition was no excuse to not try the homemade noodles, fried…Hokkien mee style, of course! Given my rather insensitive tastebuds that day, I still found their take pretty darn good. Noticeably different was the drier coating of soy sauce-based stock, perhaps due to the absorbing nature of the homemade noodles, unlike the usual oil-sealed thick yellow type. And that’s how I like my Hokkien mee, as compared to the watery version. What’s missing was that extra dash of fried lard bits, which would have added some crunch and aroma to the dish.

Besides black vinegar, minced garlic is another proven therapeutic condiment served at most Chinese restaurants. I must have had a few tablespoons of it that day. The nose didn’t dry up as I hoped but man, there sure was a serious windy issue going on later that day. It was only a week later that I’d fully recovered from that bad flu. Lesson learnt – do not run when it’s drizzling on a sunny day because the immune system, perhaps confused with the high/low temperature, is greatly weakened. So, run only on a clear day or...when it really pours!

Restoran Qianli Xiang
27, Jalan SJ 1
Taman Selayang Jaya
Selangor , Malaysia

Friday, September 24, 2010

Yaleju - Dong Bei Ho Guo

The only thing that differentiated us from the rest of the customers was our local accent. Appearance-wise, we weren't that different. On a Sunday night, this seems like a preferred place for the workforce and students from the many provinces of China to gather and feast.

Our visit was unintended. It was one of those evenings when we were looking for good tze char (a rather impossible task since we were at Dhoby Ghaut) yet the tired feet were begging to rest. Strangely enough, the compromise was the few blocks of shophouses located nearby the Kallang MRT station. WtF, right?

The lanes separating the rows were dark and quiet - a contrast to the vibrant food streets of Geylang not too far from here. Was I at the other side of Geylang?

Further down the front (or back) row, we observed a single, well-lit lot. A restaurant! It didn't take long for us to make a choice.

Yaleju offers just 2 types of soup - clear or ma la (numbing hot, literally). I guess it has to do with the Dong Bei (northeast China) palate. Tom yum is not a staple stock there, I'm sure. The varieties of meat, seafood and vegetable were not unlike the many steamboat restaurants scattered around the island. The selection of pre-cooked dishes that night, despite looking abandoned and unkempt, were more interesting - braised pork ribs, trotters and chicken feet. They served these by the large plastic containers. However, I didn't find any of these interesting-looking dishes delicious. In fact, the bland trotters were a mix between a clean-shaven Monday morning and a Wednesday stubble. A few rare condiments are worth a mention though - fermented (red) soy bean paste, garlic/coriander/scallion/sesame oil paste (or what I called a Chinese pesto) and the simple black vinegar to go with some of the other dips.

Even at the late hour of ten, the restaurant was still packed to the brim. Tables were filled with glasses of beer (with ice) and plentiful crabs, prawns, beef and pork. Some looked serious while dipping their meats into the piping hot pot but most were just happily chatting the night away, intoxicated or not.

We left the restaurant with full stomachs and a feeling that we've just returned from a trip to China. That was fun.

Yaleju - Dong Bei Ho Guo
12, Jalan Ayer
(Near Kallang MRT Station)
Tel: (+65) 6746 6619

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Summer Splash at Hersheypark

We arrived very early that Saturday. That's good because the rides were just opening and there was basically no queue, except for the newest addition, the Fahrenheit. In less than 2 hours (and on an empty stomach), we’ve been to heaven and hell, and survived the most thrilling rides Hersheypark has to offer.

It’s no wonder that the Fahrenheit attracts the most visitors. The best part is the slow, suspenseful 121 feet vertical (yes!) ascend that plunges, again, vertically to just a few feet above the ground. The rush was intense and I think it’s a great stress buster. I would have gone for it again had the queue been any shorter. The Great Bear roars as it speeds through the track at about 100 kmph...hanging. Awesomest! When I saw the complex formation of the Storm Runner, I told myself that this was going be one helluva freakin’ long and exciting ride. The website described the ride best - coaster will launch you from 0-72 mph in 2 seconds flat. 18 stories straight up, straight down. And that's just the beginning. The Sidewinder’s route may be shorter, but that’s just because it moves backwards too! A boomerang motion, they call it. Perhaps physiologically impossible but the reversal at top speed did, in a way, untangle the (ahem, slight) dizziness the previous few rides caused. One of the very last rides we had before leaving was The Claw. Oh, I like the sound of it…because it makes me hungry thinking about crabcakes. As the hand swung to about 64 feet in the air, the view, which included glimpses of the blinding evening sun and enthralled riders sitting on the opposite side, was beautiful. My mind began to wander and for a while, the world slowed. And the music of Sigur Rós came to life.

At The Boardwalk, summery songs blasted from the speakers. California Gurls, Don’t Worry Baby, Soak Up The Sun, the massive splashes and baking sunbathers – it was what I’d always imagined a fun summer day would be like in America.

And just to be sure, we’re still talking about central Pennsylvania.

And there was Dippin’ Dots, an ice cream that defies all conventions by being made into tiny frozen droplets. My first impression of this marvel is the resemblance to certain pellet-form rodenticides. A read on the web revealed that liquid nitrogen is used in the manufacturing process. Molecular gastronomy stuff comes to mind. Deep freezing means that it’s more resistive to heat and that’s perfect for a day that peaked at about 36 deg C. I had the tasty Banana Split flavour and enjoyed tonguing the spheres. No spoon required.

I came to this century old amusement park thinking that it's a fun place for kids, only kids. And I was right. For that whole Saturday, I was a kid again.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mixed Rice and Examination Days

This post could have gone either direction – a lament of failing yet another examination or a dedication to an exhilarating end to a course of study that was, in the beginning, as remote to me as Kyrgyz cuisine. It all began in January when I came home from Cairo to find that I’d failed one of the papers from the last round of examinations. The thought of seeing an “F” on the result slip again haunted me throughout the next semester. I registered for the supplementary paper in July and was all motivated to better my previous grade. Alas, as time went by, work started piling to the roof. I had no choice but to rush through deadlines and subsequently isolated myself from the world to study for a few days prior to the examination. Preparation is not just about immersing oneself in the notes but also taking care of one’s health by eating well and working out. All too dramatic, perhaps. Some may even argue that I should have adopted a more relaxed approach. Yes, I would…if I was still 21.

Anyway, yes, eating well. There’s nothing more balanced than a polystyrene box of mixed rice. It does get oily and MSG-ed most of the time but I believe it’s all about choosing the dishes wisely. Kindly decline that extra scoop of shiny, happy gravy and you’ll keep your heart beating for another minute. And maybe keep that strand of hair intact for a couple more years too. So, for the next few days leading to the examination, it was solely chye png (mixed rice) and lots of hot green tea.

Stir-fried pork with black pepper, long beans, bok choy, sardine.

Sweet and sour pork, sambal brinjal and okra, stir-fried bittergourd with fermented bean paste.

Honeyed pork ribs, stewed pork belly, sambal kangkung, lettuce.

Sweet and sour pork, Kong Po chicken (with lots of onion), mustard green leaves, celery.

The night before the examination - mustard green leaves, bok choy, Kong Po chicken and braised pork slices.

Mixed rice is something that I had enjoyed growing up with. I like the sight of having a colourful spread right in front of me and to be able to choose whichever dish that pleases my appetite du jour. I must admit that in the past few years, I had started seeking other, usually more expensive, options. Of course, I do enjoy each experience but I guess, in a way, I've turned into this person that is obsessed with discoveries than to really enjoy the food itself. I had succumbed to all celebrations and overhyping of the latest, the best and whatever superlative that is within my limited vocabulary. Now, I find them creepy. The way I see it, simple pleasures like eating have been overly commercialised and dramatized on the web. I am cynical that way. As much as I like photography, I'm starting to realise that sometimes, the camera is not the best company to a dinner, especially when it should be about the conversation and food. Whatever lah. As this tak apa, laissez faire blog celebrates its third (belated) anniversary, I hope to eat well, spend more time with my friends, travel further and stay healthy.

The supplementary examination result slip was sitting on my desk when I returned home a few days ago. A "P" is visually not very much different from an "F" and so, I had to magnify the print to confirm. It was a "P". I haven't made myself a totem but I believe that it's not a dream. So, yay.  

Thursday, September 2, 2010

National Mall, Washington D.C.

As the afternoon reached a sweltering 95 deg F, the mile along the National Mall seemed eternal. After passing by the White House and the Washington Memorial, it'd crossed my mind that perhaps I should leave the Mall and retreat to the much more comfortable interior of the Smithsonians. But I remembered the massive statue of Abraham Lincoln seated inside the Lincoln Memorial (thanks to the Night At The Museum) located at the other end of the Mall. To give up on this for some shade would be absolutely ridiculous.

As we descended the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I told a fellow colleague that I was impressed and inspired by Lincoln's Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses, which were both inscribed on the north and south walls respectively. It means a lot for a person like me (who knows nothing about the history of America other than 4th of July being the Independence Day) to be able to appreciate the wise words of the 16th President of United States.

I wish a few quotes are sufficient to exemplify the righteousness and intelligence of the 16th President of the United States of America but seriously, it's best to read the Addresses in whole.

In my few weeks here, I've been asked this question a few times..."What do you like about America?". Freedom, I said. Perhaps the expectation was for a more obvious and fun answer like convenience or superior technology, I believe the fundamental key to success is having the freedom to be creative. Freedom stems from equality, and that had been fought for in the USA, time and again in the past.

In 1963, more than a century after President Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address, a man by the name of Martin Luther King delivered his infamous "I Have A Dream" speech to hundreds of thousands of Americans, right here on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that we'd just descended. His intention was to break the racial barrier that plagued the country and to restore freedom and equality promised by their forefathers.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

In the past month, workload and the excitement of adapting to a new territory had me drifting away from news back home. But of course, one can never be completely disconnected, thanks to the advancement in information technology and concerned friends. I've read of distasteful, radical comments and speeches, mostly in relation to irrelevant racial bias that made me wonder if this is what the world perceived of us - racists.

The National Mall was more than just blocks of famous landmarks to me. It had inspired and reignited that spark of hope that freedom and equality are possible, with the power of the people. It must be.