Bites: Fried Chicken Two Ways, Fried Chicken Master

It’s not like Singapore has ever gone off eating fried stuff, but… on the way to the MRT and Serangoon, I find out that Four Fingers is setting up at Causeway Point. This means there must be more than 10 places in one mall where I can have fried chicken of some sort.

Which makes me wonder if we’re having too much of a good thing, especially when considering Fried Chicken Master (炸雞大獅). The Taiwanese concept has landed in NEX, clearly bent on representing one of the most popular dishes in the Taiwanese night market pantheon. But do we really need this? Does Fried Chicken Master (hereafter FCM) have something new to say about this street food staple?

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Bites: Late Lunch at Ju Hao, Bukit Panjang Plaza

On reflection, there was a period in my youth when Bukit Panjang actually figured quite prominently. I used to take piano lessons there, and when Bukit Panjang Plaza was still new, it was where I went for BBQ pork ribs. (Cafe Cartel doesn’t even exist anymore, I don’t think.)

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But I haven’t been here for a decade, and so – after a Sunday afternoon stroll in Choa Chu Kang – Dad and I decide to head down. We try the Hillion first, but think better of braving those crowds and retreat to BPP, and to Ju Hao. A nice, grounded choice – it’s a lamian/xiao long bao joint. We know exactly what we’re in for.

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Bites: Ishikari-nabe, Otaru Suisan

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Hokkaido is a fascinating part of Japan if you’re into history. Over the centuries it has been an enemy, a wild frontier, a place of occupation and colonisation. Even now, most place names on the island aren’t Japanese at all, but derived from the native (and sadly endangered) Ainu language. This includes Ishikari and Otaru, the namesake of Otaru Suisan.

Of course Hokkaido is also awesome for the foodie, with its bounty of seafood. But places that boast air-flown seafood from Japan are no longer a rarity here. It was more the promise of Ishikari-nabe, a mighty hit of umami, and the presence of a dining companion, that led us here. And oh boy does Otaru deliver.

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Bites: Riverside Grilled Fish Restaurant 江邊城外

I like wandering malls on those few holidays when most shops are closed – Christmas in London, CNY here. Maybe, as a reaction to the festival, it has the same logic as the people who go overseas during this period – just to get away from the socialising that would be necessary if they were here. It’s also interesting to see which few places are still open.

To find that Riverside Grilled Fish is among the open restaurants, though, is a real surprise. Of all the Asian imports in the Raffles City basement, only the ones from China and Taiwan showed up. But unlike neighbouring Din Tai Fung, Riverside was not rammed to the gates with white people. In fact there was only one white guy, at the next table. We’ll get to him shortly.

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Bites: Tonkotsu Ramen, Hakata Ikkousha, Chijmes

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My friend D is a living example of cosmopolitanism – he comes from Italy, studied in Ireland and the UK, lived for a year in Japan, works across Europe, is in love with a Singaporean. More to Babette’s point, he knows and loves eating. He can hold forth on the virtues of Italian food today, and be a partisan in the Fukuoka ramen chain rivalry tomorrow. (He supports Ichiran. They aren’t in Singapore, unfortunately.)

So when he proposes a ramen joint – especially one that his friend from Japan recommended – I’m all too happy to go along.

Ikkousha is a relative newcomer in its native Kyushu, seeing as its founding date was during the Heisei era. But in Singapore, it’s been around since 2014, which would count as ‘established’. The Chijmes branch, nestled in along a whole stretch of Japanese joints, puts out an open welcome with its warm lighting and wood-based decor.

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Bites: Lunch at Commonground, Our Tampines Hub

The first time I saw the name ‘Our Tampines Hub’, I thought it was just some possessive eastie who really likes the place. But no – turns out, in our gradual slide into Orwellian horror, it’s the actual name of the actual building complex. Repeat it enough times, I guess, and it will feel true. This is Our Tampines Hub. Our Tampines Hub. Our Tampines Hub…

Anyway, wouldn’t have known about this place, or be within 10 km of it, if not for a little errand I had to run. Also a blazingly sunny day that forced me to seek shelter anywhere. But since I was there, Commonground – well-situated right at the front of the building – seemed worth a visit.

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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.

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Bites: Reunion Dinner, Crystal Jade

What Babette ate for Reunion Dinner

As I typed this first paragraph, I was full. I was so full my stomach pressed lightly against my chin. So full that it didn’t feel like merely a weight, but pressure, pushing out in every direction. So full that the very thought of eating food, or drinking, was anathema.

Now, barely 5 hours later, and I am hungrily eyeing the box of pineapple tarts on the table. Being insatiable is, of course, the whole point of Chinese New Year. There should be only addition, never subtraction. People greet each other with wishes for perpetual surpluses – not that we’ve got enough to live comfortably, but that we’ve got more than that. Preferably more than ever previously possessed. More, more, more.

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New Opening: Yogurtland, Suntec City

This was an invited tasting. Thanks very much to the organisers and hosts. Also, Yogurtland is holding a competition – details at end of post.

How much of life is predetermined? Do we really have a choice? Is free will an illusory construct of a human mind desperate to maintain its sense of control in the face of events beyond its influence or even comprehension?

These are the questions – the big ones, anyway – that come to mind when I see a frozen yogurt shop. Well, Yogurtland – which has just launched in Suntec City – is all about the freedom. Nothing is predetermined; everything is a choice, for $3 per 100 grams.

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‘Oddly Perturbed’: Five Nines, Keong Saik Road

Five Nines Keong Saik Signboard

Writing Dear Babette means I’m somewhat obliged to chase new stuff – to dig around for what’s opening, what’s cool and what’s incoming. I’ll be honest here, though – Five Nines was not my first choice for a night out with good friends at Keong Saik. The place I wanted to go to (I won’t name it, that’d be churlish) wasn’t open on the only day we could meet. 

So, fine, new place it is. And certainly it’s a confident place, this. Five Nines is a metallurgy term, used to signify that a precious metal is 99.999% pure. Which is why I’m sorry to say that, from my visit, it feels more like a mining operation in a place with both gold and pyrite in the ground. 

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