Bites: Budae Jjigae, Yoogane, Bugis

This evening was not supposed to go this way. I had a reservation for another restaurant ready, but the companion was having none of it, chanting Yoogane at me until I gave up. So here we were in Bugis, in the queue poring over dishes spanning all the shades of gochujang crimson, sandwiched between excited groups of the beauteous youthful.

People say eating chilli makes your skin better but I think causation runs the other way – it is the taut-skinned and finely chiseled, who would simply glow if they sweat, that don’t mind hunching over jjigae or hotpot. That, or the very hungry, which I was.

Continue Reading

Recipe: Kimchi and Roast Pork Belly Stew

 

The Singapore Met Service forecasted that February would be dry and windy, but they only got the second one right. Every day there’s been either great towers of clouds looming past, or out-and-out thunderstorms. It’s not exactly going out weather, in other words. But who needs going out when you can have stew?

Or maybe I can claim the shiny patina of Korean-ness and call this a jjigae instead. It’s got all the basic components of Korean cooking, all the bright colours and pungent aromas – kimchi, garlic shoots, leeks. Into this mix goes the hefty flavour of rendered, charred, golden roast pork (sio bak).

Be warned: this is not first date food. This is only for when you already know it’s real.

Continue Reading

Recipe: Kimchi, Chicken, Tofu Stew

There’s no lack of Korean TV shows, and one of my favourites is still Three Meals a Day, especially the Gochang season. It’s a fun show – the farming, the cute animals, four men bumbling about but in a positive way.

Then there’s the way Chajumma cooks, which is – for want of a less gendered term – just quite manly. There’s a big pot over a fire. You throw stuff (good quality stuff, of course) in it. Then you check if it’s cooked, and serve it up. It’s not careless cooking by any means; it’s attentiveness without neuroticism, mindful yet still relaxed. And it always looks so good.

Sadly I don’t live in a place where cabbages and Cheongyang chilies grow in the front yard, so a supermarket will have to do. That, and a Korean restaurant nearby which is willing to sell a tub of reasonably mature kimchi at a reasonable price.

Continue Reading

‘Song Joong-ki’: Seorae, Dhoby Ghaut

This was an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts and fellow tasters.

Oh look, it’s the Special Forces boys!

Well, I didn’t think it was that easy to get your attention, ladies. Seorae, on the other hand, knows exactly how this works. A TV screen outside replays the scene of South Korea’s impossibly beautiful soldiers pigging out in one of their restaurants; there’s a life-size poster of that iconic shoe-wearing (shoe-removing?) pose at the entrance.

Yes, they are featured in Descendants of the Sun; I just thought you’d like to know. But what I really took away from watching the scene is the possible reason why I don’t enjoy Korean BBQ that much – it’s because in Singapore we often miss out half the fun. A session at the galbi joint isn’t only about food – it’s about the conversation, and sufficient amounts of alcohol to knock out a commando in the morning. 

Continue Reading

Review: Tokyo Sundubu, Suntec City

Pic 1.jpg

This is an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts and fellow tasters.

I was thinking about the angle for this review while playing Europa Universalis IV at the same time, and it occurred to me – culinary empire-building is not unlike the real thing. It’s always a balance. You can sell people the equipment and a licence and be done with it; Subway does this and they’re everywhere. Or you can keep a shorter leash, keep a firm hand on the reins; the growth is slower, but more of the original is preserved.

You’d think Tokyo Sundubu would take the first path, considering what their specialty is. Sundubu jjigae is a little more complicated than its name suggests, but it’s still a straightforward stew. But no – the Singaporean outpost of the chain, which has grown to some 35 outlets in its native Japan, is adamant about consistency and control over its chief ingredient.

Continue Reading

Review: Vatos Urban Tacos, Beach Road

o.jpg
(Source)

Note: Sid, one of the three (not two, as previously said) proprietors, has addressed many of the review’s concerns in the comments section. Do read his comment too, in the interest of fairness!

It was a bit of desperation, I’ll be honest, what led me to the new South Beach and into Vatos Urban Tacos. Having been ill for days, and being out in the sun at a time when most other restaurants around the area had closed, meant I was willing to try anything. Korean-Mexican fusion, you say? Good. My passion for Mexican will balance out my indifference towards Korean food, like pouring hot water on ice, and we’ll get at least a nicely lukewarm temperature which is best for a troubled throat.

It didn’t go that way, though. It went a lot worse than that. The place had two entrances and no signs to show which is the ‘main’, so I just went into one and am met by a server. Excuse me, I say. I wave slightly and look him in the eye. And he gives me a look, half smugness and half surprise, and sidesteps me on the way to a storeroom without so much as a word. At this point you may, quite correctly, ask why I decided to go to the ‘right’ counter and ask to be seated anyway. But hey, Dear Babette is for reviewing restaurants, and that includes the terrible ones as well. 

Continue Reading

Review: House of Gimbap, Millennia Walk

House of Gimbap Millenia Walk Interior

The Korean lady who runs House of Gimbap needs, in my opinion, to delegate a bit more. The girl at the counter is just there to take the orders; she, on the other hand, is constantly shuttling back and forth, such as when I start asking about the drinks whose names are all in Korean. (I’m not an easy customer, I fear.) Well, every new place is looking for its groove, and better to find it in the kitchen first, as they have, and figure out the service as they go.

The kitchen’s work, as the name suggests, cleaves to a tradition of rice and seaweed rolls whose origins are murky and contentious. The similarity with Japanese makizushi – though sesame oil stands in for vinegar – may suggest it was brought over during the dark decades of the Japanese occupation. Then again, it may have been brought in via more peaceful trade in older times. Yet another possibility – Korea being short of neither gim (seaweed) or bap (rice) – is that they came up with it themselves, probably in response to the same demands for something filling and portable. The paddy field has been replaced with the office block, but the need for portability persists. 

Continue Reading

Review: Vatos Urban Tacos, Beach Road

Great New Places - Be the first to know. Set the trend - Culinary
(Source)

It was a bit of desperation, I’ll be honest, what led me to the new South Beach and into Vatos Urban Tacos. Having been ill for days, and being out in the sun at a time when most other restaurants around the area had closed, meant I was willing to try anything. Korean-Mexican fusion, you say? Good. My passion for Mexican will balance out my indifference towards Korean food, like pouring hot water on ice, and we’ll get at least a nicely lukewarm temperature which is best for a troubled throat.

It didn’t go that way, though. It went a lot worse than that. The place had two entrances and no signs to show which is the ‘main’, so I just went into one and am met by a server. Excuse me, I say. I wave slightly and look him in the eye. And he gives me a look, half smugness and half surprise, and sidesteps me on the way to a storeroom without so much as a word. At this point you may, quite correctly, ask why I decided to go to the ‘right’ counter and ask to be seated anyway. But hey, Dear Babette is for reviewing restaurants, and that includes the terrible ones as well. 

Continue Reading

Review: Churro 101, Bugis+, and Tong Ah Eating House, Keong Saik Road

Tong Ah Keong Saik Old and New
They do clean up lovely, the willowy beauties. (Source)
Look at these willowy beauties. (Courtesy The Dining Table)

This was my original opening to this review, when I was looking just to write about Churro101: Look how much we’ve come to like sugar. Look how hard Singapore’s food scene is leaning on all-out glycemic highs. Clearly sugar makes me grumpy. But then I remembered Tong Ah Eating House, and what went down the last two times I went with friends.

That Italian friend of mine (first appearing in the blog here) came with us to Tong Ah and, being diabetic, decided to order the kopi o kosong. ‘Gack’, he said, on the first sip. Subsequent responses included ‘gurgh’, ‘arrgh’ and an agonised wince (I am nothing if not a careful note taker). Without sugar or other sweetening it turns out to be absolutely undrinkable.

And then another friend dropped in from London, and despite that little prior unpleasantness I brought her there for breakfast anyway, where she gamely took all the carbs they had to throw at her – a proper kopi, sans qualifiers. She sipped the coffee. I held my breath. 

Continue Reading

Review: Masizzim, 313 Somerset

Masizzim 313 Somerset The Spread
Masizzim 313 Somerset The Spread
The spread.

What I’ve got in simmering away front of me, sitting in Masizzim, is one culture’s answer to an age old culinary problem – the issue of pairing something with chilli. It is a beef stew, kept bubbling by a flame below, spreading a meaty, rounded scent every which way. See, capsaicin is a beautiful, wonderful thing, but by itself it is often far too vicious for a dish. It’s not something that can be used alone. The native Mexicans used the equally formidable chocolate as its foil, but in Europe, while chocolate found its own mates (sugar and milk), they seem to have simply given up on chilli – more’s the pity.

But not in Asia. Just about every culinary culture in Asia, introduced to chilli in the 17th or 18th century, has found its preferred match to the spicy kick. It’s Sichuan peppercorns, citrusy and buzzing; it’s the fermented, marine odours of belachan and fish sauce. Korea’s solution is simple too – the savour of fermented soybeans, sweetness from honey or fruit juices. It is an approach that focuses on the nature of chilli as a fruit, rather than just a hot poker for the mouth. Masizzim gets it, the chilli assertive but not aggressive. 

Continue Reading