Monthly Archives: April 2012

Singapore- Little India

After more than two months in Vietnam, landing in Singapore was an incredible culture shock.  Singapore is shiny, it’s clean.  There are huge shopping malls instead of ramshackle markets.  Everything in Singapore is air conditioned, so no one is sitting out on the sidewalk trying to catch a breeze.  Spitting on the sidewalk in Singapore will get you fined.  And in Singapore, you can eat delicious food from all over the globe.

When we arrived in Singpore some of our friends from Sydney were here for a quick holiday as well.  As we strolled through the malls and shopped and ate I told her, “I feel like I can’t really focus on anything.  There’s so much STUFF here!  I don’t know where to look.”  Living in a Communist country for two months will do that to you.

In Singapore we’re staying in Little India.  We didn’t really pick this neighbourhood on purpose, we just happened to find a good hotel here.  But, now that we’ve been here for a few days, I’m thrilled that we ended up in Little India.  The food, people.  It’s all about the food.

The busy streets of Little India on a Sunday night

Colourful clothes drying outside a high rise apartment building in Little India

Outdoor food stalls in Little India

Our hotel is about two blocks away from the Tekka Centre, the largest Indian hawker centre in Singapore.  Every other day we head over there for a fast, tasty and cheap meal.  It’s amazing!  We sit at tables with locals and we all dig into plates of rice and dahl, using our fingers and sweating under the fans.

Why don’t we have more places like this in Sydney??  Sharing a table with people you don’t know is such a great way to meet new friends.  Without fail, every time we sit down the locals strike up a conversation with us.  They want to know where we’re from, how do we like Singapore, is the food tasty, have we tried the biryani from that stall over there because it really is the best?  It’s great fun!

Famous biryani stall at the Tekka Centre- can you spot me in this line??

The staff at the biryani stall prepares my lunch

Mutton biryani! So incredibly tasty and filling!

We’ve also tried Indian food outside of the hawker centre and it’s all been consistently delicious.  One of our favourite meals in Little India was a Komala’s Vegetarian Restaurant on Serangoon Road.  The food was outstanding and the portions were SO huge.  I ordered the dosai meal, which came with three different types of vegetable curries (green bean, potato and okra) and a piping hot dosai that was literally as long as my arm.  When they delivered the plate to me, I could not stop laughing!  How on Earth was I going to eat all this??  Luckily the food was incredibly good and I have a husband who likes to help me out!  We managed to finish the Monster Dosai together!

Monster Dosai!

Delicious vegetarian food at Komala's in Little India

I’ll write more about some of the other food we’ve been having in Singapore in another couple of posts (I can’t wait to tell you about the Maxwell Hawker Centre!)  Singapore is our last stop on a journey of 9 months that will bring us home to Sydney.  What a way to wrap it all up!

 

Street-side seafood in Saigon

It was our final night in Saigon, our final night in Vietnam.  We’d spent more than two months traveling around Vietnam, meeting people, seeing the sites and eating, eating, eating.  I can honestly say that in two months we had only one bad meal.  The food in Vietnam is universally delicious, fresh and affordable.

We wanted one last tasty meal to round out our trip.  And, despite the fact that we’d just spent five days eating fish and prawns on Phu Quoc Island, we decided that we weren’t quite done eating seafood in Vietnam.

On our first night in Saigon, we’d walked past a small restaurant with baskets of fresh shellfish arranged outside.  We’d stopped to watch a man sprinkling scallion oil over mussels being grilled over coals.  We were tempted to sit down there and then and tuck into a platter of those mussels, but we had other plans.  So, we saved our grilled seafood dinner for our final night in Saigon.

The restaurant was called Oc Dao 2 and it’s located on Nguyen Thai Hoc between Pham Ngu Lao and Tran Hung Dao.  It was packed when we arrived and, despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to get a table outside where we might have snatched a cooling breeze.  Instead we squeezed inside the crowded downstairs space and crouched on stools.  Our knees were level with the table.  We were ready.

The shellfish was served with pepper and lime sauce and a sweet chili-type sauce as well as a big plate of fresh herbs and lettuces

Teeny little fork and spoon to help us dig all the fishy goodness from the shells

We started with two icy cold Saigon beers.  The menu was entirely in Vietnamese, so I employed the age-old method of going up to the baskets of shellfish and simply pointing at what we wanted.  Our waiter did speak English fairly well, so that was hugely helpful!

Baskets full of fresh and tasty shellfish on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant

These huge conch's were being grilled while I debated my choices

Our first dish was cockles that had been stir fried with nubs of pork fat and a spicy chili sauce.  They arrived just out of the wok and were too hot to touch for several minutes.  Once the shells had cooled down, we dove in, cracking the shells open with our fingers and digging the little bites out with the teeny tiny fork and spoons that we’d been provided with.  The cockles were lovely dipped into the lime and pepper dipping sauce, but I think I preferred them on their own without sauce so I could really taste the fresh, brine-y flavour of the cockle itself.  After we ate all the cockles we had a plate full of savoury chili sauce, so we ordered a baguette to help us mop up all that goodness!

Stir fried cockles with pork fat and chili sauce

Next we had a dish of scallops that had been grilled and topped with scallion oil and crushed peanuts.  Oh. Holy. Goodness.  The scallops were incredible… smokey from the grill and tangy from the scallions, but still so soft and sweet.  We adored the scallops and ended up ordering another dish of them.

Grilled scallops with scallion oil and crushed peanuts

Yum yummy yum!

For our final dish we had the mussels that we’d seen being grilled on our very first day in Saigon.  The mussels got the same treatment as the scallops had before them, but the flavours were very different.  Whereas the scallops had tasted delicate and sweet, these mussels were more savoury and tasted very much of the sea.  They were excellent.

Grilled mussels with scallion oil and peanuts

So, maybe not the most well-balanced meal.  There were no vegetables, no noodles, no rice.  Just shellfish piled high on our table!  When we were ready to go we took a quick snap of all the shells we were leaving behind.  Andy looked at the picture and said, “I think we won.”  We did indeed.

We won.

 

 

The flavours of Phu Quoc

We couldn’t leave Vietnam without a stint on one of the famous beaches, now could we?  I’m a total beach person and I was longing for a few days of sand between my toes, squinting into the sunshine and paddling in the waves.  We chose to go to Phu Quoc Island after hearing that it had some of the best beaches, and seafood, in Vietnam.

Both were true!  Phu Quoc lies an hour’s flight away from Saigon out in the Gulf of Thailand.  The water is crystal clear, the breezes are warm and the menus contain almost nothing but seafood.  So, basically, paradise.

Long Beach, Phu Quoc Island

Dipping my toes in the warm, clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand

We stayed at Thanh Kieu resort in a garden view bungalow.  The bungalow was lovely with a large front patio, hammock, big comfy bed with a (much needed!) mosquito net, a safe in the room and several resident lizards.  One morning Andy got up early to take pictures and when he came back in the bungalow, I could tell by the tone in his voice that something was amiss.  I didn’t have my glasses on or my contacts in yet, so I couldn’t see the HUGE lizard (I’m not exaggerating, it was about 8-10 inches long) that was lounging on the wall near the door.  Andy shoo’d it away while I huddled under the mosquito net freaking out.  Lizards aside, we adored this resort.

The beach of Thanh Kieu Resort on Phu Quoc Island

Our bungalow tucked away in the gardens at Thanh Kieu

We spent our days lounging on the beach in the comfy padded chairs provided by the resort, napping in the hammock on our patio and watching the sunsets  with glasses of cold wine.

Sunset and cold white wine

And after sunset, we’d set out to find dinner.  The waters around Phu Quoc are filled with local fishermen paddling around in traditional basket-boats and the seafood is fresh, plentiful and cheap.  We tried crab fried rice, tuna steaks grilled with chili, fresh rice paper rolls with prawns, bbq’d snappers, steamed clams and more.  It was a seafood-filled five days!

Local men pull in the catch from their basket boat

Grilled tuna steak with chili

Crab fried rice

Fresh rice paper rolls with prawns

Visiting Phu Quoc was a wonderful way to round out our time in Vietnam.  I will miss the brightly coloured flowers in the garden, the sound of the little waves breaking on the clean sand and the fresher than fresh seafood for dinner.  I will NOT miss the lizards.

Saigon Crab Feast 2012!

After more than two months of traveling in Vietnam, here’s something I’ve learned.  Vietnamese restauranteurs can be very tricky.  In Hue, there was a restaurant called Hang Me near our hotel.  Hang Me was famous for making some of the best Hue-style dumplings in Vietnam.  It was located on a block with several other restaurants which also served Hue-style dumplings.  And those restaurants were called Hang Me Me, Hang Mi and Hung Me.

These other restaurants were clearly trying to capitalise on the success and popularity of their neighbour by giving their establishments such similar names that some people (mostly tourists, I’ll bet!) ended up confused and eating at the wrong place.  Seems a bit dodgy to me, but from what I can see, it’s fairly common practice.

So, when we decided to go out for a meal of Saigon’s famous soft shell crab, I really needed to do my homework.  You see, most people agree that the best soft shell crab in Saigon can be found at Quan 94.  Unfortunately, finding Quan 94 isn’t as simple as it should be.  You see, Quan 94 is located at 84 Dinh Tien Hoang.  And at number 94 Dinh Tien Hoang is another restaurant, that also serves soft shell crabs and is called… Quan 94.

The busy and sometimes confusing streets of Saigon

We had our cab drop us off a few doors down so that we could scope out the street and make sure that we were in the right place.  We could see both restaurants, and both places had staff outside waving to potential customers and urging them to come on in.  Hmmm.  Once we’d confirmed the address with the staff at the restaurant located at #84, who seemed very used to people asking whether they were in the right place, we grabbed a table and got ready for our feast!

The entrance to the correct Quan 94

A tray of live crabs greets you as you enter the restaurant

We were the only tourists in the whole place, but the staff spoke some English and we already knew what we wanted to order.  We started with a few very cold Saigon beers to celebrate finding the correct restaurant!  And then, we chowed down.

We began with an order of deep fried soft shell crabs.  We watched as the cook grabbed the fresh crabs, cut them into chunks with her scissors, dunked them in the batter and tossed them into a wok full of oil.  Literally moments later a plate of crunchy, hot crabs was delivered to our table, along with a sweet and sour type dipping sauce.

Piping hot freshly fried soft shell crabs

The crabs were almost too hot to eat, but we were starving and so excited!  The batter was crispy and light, not too thick and well fried so there was no glugginess about it.  And the crabs were insanely good.  Soft, full of sweet white meat and so flavourful that we didn’t need the dipping sauce at all.  We inhaled that first plate of crabs like we thought they might try to run away from us.

A mouthful of the best fried soft shell crab I've ever had!

Andy is very happy with his soft shell crab dinner!

After demolishing the fried soft shell crabs, we decided to take a little breather, order another beer and pace ourselves.  We sipped our frosty cold drinks and watched the cooks and waitresses preparing the food to order.  The glass noodles with huge chunks of fresh crab seemed very popular and I watched as they made order after order for the crowds.

The chef makes servings of glass noodles with crab to order for the busy restaurant

As we watched the food coming out of the woks, we got hungry again.  So, we ordered soft shell crabs in tamarind sauce.  This time the crabs were batter-less and stir fried with ladles full of tamarind sauce and some onions.  The sauce was sour and sweet and the crabs were the perfect amount of soft with a little chew to them.  I’ve never had soft shell crabs cooked this way before, but I’d certainly have them again.  This plate disappeared almost as quickly as our first round of food had!

Tamarind soft shell crab with onions and black pepper

This piece of tamarind crab looks like it's trying to escape! Don't worry... I didn't let it!

We probably should have stopped eating at this point.  We weren’t really hungry anymore.  But we’d been sitting in the restaurant for over an hour watching order after order of crab spring rolls pass us and be placed on other tables.  We’d watched the local customers wrap these piping hot spring rolls in lettuce leaves and happily gobble them down.  We couldn’t leave without trying some of the rolls for ourselves.

The crab-filled spring rolls served with herbs and lettuce leaves, rice noodles and dipping sauce

And I’m SO glad we tried them.  The crab spring rolls were 100% crab meat.  No fillers of bean sprouts or mushrooms or cabbage.  Just a small roll crammed full of sweet crab meat.  We ate them wrapped with the leaves they gave us and dunked the rice noodles in the sauce provided.  These were probably the best spring rolls I’ve ever eaten.  Amazing end to our meal.

A close-up shot of the crabby interior of the spring rolls! Delicious!

With our bellies full of crabs, our hearts full of happiness at finding the right restaurant and our heads full of thoughts of our pillows, we strolled hand-in-hand out into the sweaty Saigon night.