Geylang Serai Market & Arab Street, Singapore

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Over the last few visits to Singapore I trained my sights on  ‘alternative’ food destinations away from Orchard Road, Chinatown and the such. And found Geylang Serai Market and Arab Street.

The Geylang Serai area is culturally Malay. Arab Street is , as the name suggests, Muslim and so intersects with Malay culture in addition to Middle Eastern & North African.

Hogged on the briyanis, kebabs, hummus et al. Next time in Singapore, you must absolutely check out these places.

Ofto Kleftiko, Halloumi & the world’s lamb capital

(No, Ofto Kleftiko is not the Cypriot term for an old lady by an oven – it is actually very slow-cooked lamb. Just put this photo in for effect!)

Kleftiko is a form of cooking in Greece & Cyprus in which the raw ingredients are put into a hole in the ground, sealed with mud and slow fired for 6 to 7 hours. Lamb done this way is a particular delicacy and having experienced it at the Mona Lisa restaurant on the other side of the Larnaca fort, I can say this with confidence. Go for it.

The origins of Kleftiko are a bit murky, but the more popular version suggests that Greek soldiers dumped meat & veggies into the ground in the morning, fired it with charcoal and left to fight the Romans. At sundown, those of them that survived the day’s battle would come back and eat up the stuff, which to their surprise had become deliciously tender by then. The good men at Mona Lisa plied me with the softest, most delicate Lamb I have ever had along with wonderful rice and potatoes. Kleftiko.

Halloumi is goat’s cheese and is another Greek/Cypriot favourite. Grilled or Fried, Halloumi makes a great course in itself. And if you don’t believe me, check out oomphy Nigella Lawson’s take on it.

As you can see, there is a pattern beginning to emerge. And it is – yes, Lamb.

The middle east & the Mediterranean are the places to go for those who like their Ovine repasts. If East Asia is the place to go for Seafood and the Americas for more bovine pursuits, Asia Minor is great for all forms of goat/sheep/lamb. Whether it is lamb kebab or lamb pilaf from Turkey or the Kleftiko from Cyprus, Lamb enthusiasts will never tire in this land. And after 4 days of unceasing effort in this direction, all I could say was baa.

Click here for all my Cyprus posts>>

Using chopsticks

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I must have been about 4 or 5 years old, when I sat with my father in a darkened movie hall watching a grainy-white documentary that showed strange men using sticks to pull up strings off the table to stuff it in their mouths. And I loved it right away. By the time I got to my teens, I could not think of anything more sophisticated than insouciantly picking up my roast pork with chop sticks while holding a conversation with an extraordinarily gorgeous Japanese lady. Of course, it hasn’t happened quite that way (the Japanese lady part that is) – but I still think it is way cool to eat with chop sticks. So, a few years ago, I decided to learn how to do it.

It is pretty simple really. Here is how you do it.

You grasp the chopsticks within the fingers of your right hand (ie. if you are genetically left-handed; otherwise, hold it in your left hand). Then push them into a bowl of noodles (always a bowl, never a plate). The chopsticks will immediately come off your fingers. Next, you hold them a bit more steady and try to dig out the noodles harder. The whole caboodle will come out of the bowl and fall on the table. Keep repeating this till your companions at the table (in my case, a wife and two incredulous little boys who could’nt understand why they were not allowed this kind of fun) ask you to go away. Do this for about a month. You will crack it. I did – so I know you can too.

Yup, now I can hear the question. Is there a simpler way of learning to use chopsticks? Unfortunately, No. But, the good part is, this will seem really simple when you realise you need to use chopsticks and the chinese soup spoon simultaneously to get the sang-froid look. That, my friend, is another story.

Click here for all my posts on Chinese Food>>

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(Both photos in the post, courtesy: http://www.chinatownconnection.com/how-to-use-chopsticks.htm)

Travel writing & the art of writing about Food

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“we counted fourteen separate hors d’oeuvres – artichoke hearts, tiny sardines fried in batter, perfumed tabouleh, creamed salt cod, marinated mushrooms, baby calamari, tapenade, small onions in a fresh tomato sauce, celery and chick-peas, radishes and cherry tomatoes, cold mussels. Balanced on top of the loaded tray were thick slices of pate and gherkins, saucers of olives and cold peppers. The bread had a fine crisp crust. There was white wine in the ice bucket, and a bottle of Chateauneauf-du-Pape left to breathe in the shade”

” The main course arrived – rosy slices of lamb cooked with whole cloves of garlic, young green beans and a golden potato-and-onion galette

“The cheese was from Banon, moist in its wrapping of vine leaves, then came the triple flavours and textures of the desserts – lemon sorbet, chocolate tart, and creme angalise all sharing a plate. A coffee. A glass of marc from Gigondas. A sigh of contentment.”

Peter Mayle can be irritating. Here I had just finished what most observers would call a sumptuous Sunday lunch and settled down to read his “A year in Provence” and before you know it, I am panting for more food. I must say this for the man. He can bring food alive . Continue reading

Mallu food at Claypot in Thippassandra in Bangalore

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(A surreal snap of a mallu ‘sadya’, I found on Flickr – click here for the original)

So you are looking for authentic kerala food in Bangalore. And you want a clean, not fancy place that serves you great food and no attitude. Check out Claypot, the tiny little mallu joint on Rama Temple Road in the midst of the crowded Thippassandra locality just off Indira Nagar in the eastern part of the city. Once there, ask for Benny and say I sent you. Should get you a warm smile. Keeping the determinedly socialist approach of the Mallu, knowing a big kahuna will not change anything else at the place for you – the food will remain the same as for everyone else. Which is good, because the food everyone gets is great.

My personal recommendation is to land up for lunch and to get yourself a mallu ‘meals’ (it is always said in the plural – anyone asking for a mallu ‘meal’ is either a serial-killer or a capitalist or both). Ask for a crab masala or prawn ‘thoran’ – if you can handle tons of lovely grated coconut – and mackerel fry. Say thanks to your God and tuck in.

Times Food Guide 2008 Awards and launch in Bangalore

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(Telugu actress – or, Actor as they seem to prefer it – Ileana giving away a prize)

The latest edition of the Times Food Guide, Bangalore was launched over the weekend with much fanfare at the Windsor Manor.  And I found myself in a Page 3 gathering, not my natural watering-hole. For some reason, the good folks who ran this shindig decided that I was to be one of the 20 odd people giving away a prize and so I found myself wedged inside an unlikely group including Kannada actors Ramya & Ganesh , the snooker player Pankaj Advani and Wipro CFO Suresh Senapati among others.

I gave away the prize to Dakshin the south Indian cuisine restaurant at the Windsor. Which was a relief, since I do genuinely like Dakshin. But specialty food in 5 star restaurants is, in general, not for true foodies. Continue reading

Singapore vs Hong Kong

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(Chinchalok egg, a Peranakan/Nyonya dish – photo from Singapuradailyphoto)

The raging question of our times is obviously : Is Singapore or Hong Kong better for street food? Standing on various corners of Causeway Bay in Hong Kong earlier today, I can see the battle to be pretty close. On the whole, my guess is Singapore is a length ahead for two reasons. The first is the fact that Singapore street food offers 4 distinct cuisines (Chinese, Malay, Indian & Peranakan/Nyonya) whereas Hong Kong has mostly chinese (although Cantonese + all other great chinese cuisines are on offer). The other is the wide range of food courts that Singapore offers for hungry travellers. These food courts combine the visual variety of many different cuisines with the legendary squeaky-clean environs of that city state. Yup, one length ahead.

Incidentally, there is a rumour that Michelin Guide is on its way to Asia.