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.
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.
As Confucius said, it is a joy to have friends visit from afar. But it can be a stressful thing too, especially if they come at this time of year. As they’re based in London, there’s no question of taking them to some hipster hole; anyway I don’t inflict hipster holes on my friends.
Fortunately, we still have Little India, crowded and noisy and wonderful, and bearing Komala Vilas just a short distance from the chaos of the main road. The place has given no attention to its decor beyond the bare minimum, to provide its customers with somewhere to sit. Instead its most potent advertisement is the scent that wafts from the kitchen and out the entrance.
To people who farm, it is the climate that determines what is in season. But for us city folk, the ‘seasons’ run around the schedules of promotions and sales – and, of course, our own momentary cravings.
For this dish, we have a large bag of scallops because they were half-price at the local supermarket. We have broccoli because they were freshly in, from Australia no less, in the wet market. And as for the cherry tomatoes? Mum likes them. And why shouldn’t she?
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.
As far as I can remember, salted duck has never been common in Singapore. In fact, I can remember exactly one place which sold it, which was at the old Sembawang Hill Food Centre, and I always had that every time I dropped by (which was not frequent).
As such, the news of a new salted duck place in Toa Payoh is intriguing, and I’m thankful I went to look for Benson Salted Duck – a reason to revisit Singapore’s oldest HDB estate, where my mother used to live. She has her list of places round here which we still go to every time we drop by. And I suspect we will be adding to that list now.
Taking advantage of the Chinese New Year sales, we finally have a proper flat-bottomed pan, which means we can pan-fry stuff without oil splattering everywhere. Which in turn means the revival of a classic.
Here we use pomfret, but honestly any fish with firm flesh that doesn’t flake when pan-seared should do. Spanish mackerel (batang) and tuna are awesome with this treatment. Sear, then cloak in the night-dark sauce and plenty of aromatics to finish, wafting the aromas of caramel, ginger, garlic… not all good things take a long time.
So I don’t think anyone has questioned my zeal for Mexican food – or at least food from a certain corner of Mexico which has percolated to our shores. (The day mole becomes widely available here will be a very good day.) But if someone were to question this for some reason… well, that’s why I’m putting this out here first. Would Babette write about any Mexican place they come across? Anything that serves a burrito?
Here’s your answer, hypothetical critics. (Also this. And come think of it, this too. I’ve got a track record, people, I’ve got evidence.)
Man, this place has been on my list the longest, longest time. Long ago, at a work-related function, I first saw the logo of Rumah Makan Minang – imitating the distinctive, buffalo-horn eaves of the rumah gadang, the traditional communal houses of the Minangkabau people. The crew, working noisily and efficiently, soon had a long table decked with catering trays. A taste of their chicken, and of squid cooked in an ink-black sauce, and I have been looking to come to Minang ever since.
The Minangkabau, one of Asia’s few matrilineal societies, hail from West Sumatra but have spread out over maritime Southeast Asia. They have had an outsize impact on the region. Our first president, Yusof Ishak, was of Minangkabau descent, as was Indonesia’s first vice-president and Malaysia’s first Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Others work their influence more humbly and subtly, one serving of rendang or nasi Padang at a time.
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.