Ishinomaki

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DSC00051 copyFor a food lover, especially one who lives to eat, and not the other way around, the best thing that can happen would be to chance upon a new eatery which serves excellent food, swathed in a nice cosy atmosphere and of course, the clincher, offers great value for money. Naturally, the concept of value is subjective, but in the day and age of present Singapore, now ranked as Number 1 most expensive in the world to live in, the concept of a cheap and good meal has almost gone the way of the Dodo.

Nonetheless, in Singapore, Japanese Cuisine has always been imagined as fine dining with stern, highly trained chefs, wielding ultra sharp knives and serving up delicacies from behind the counter. Not so in Ishinomaki, which offers something different. A quiet Japanese eatery located in the basement of Palais Renaissance along Orchard Road, the restaurant opened for business in August 2014, and has been quietly gaining stellar reviews amongst local food bloggers. Helmed by Chef Chee who hails previously from Keyaki Restaurant, Pan Pacific Restaurant Singapore, the restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. The restaurant is a member of the Japanese Fisheries Association and receives its Pride Fish from Hokkaido, Japan on a twice weekly basis. Here is an insider tip, the fish are airflown from Hokkaido, every Tuesday and Friday mornings, arriving in Singapore late that same evening. So the best and freshest fish are available in the restaurant every Wednesday and Saturday!

Below are some of the pictures of the meal that we had.

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Selection of Pride Fish from Sapporo, Hokkaido

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Starters. Simple preserved vegetables with Japanese bean paste, served along with fish liver.

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(Not on Omakase menu) Extra order of Yakitori Prawns with Mentaiko Sauce

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Meat ball and straw mushrooms in clear chicken broth

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So tasty, wife wanted to show the insides of the meatball

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Extra order of Eggplant in special sauce with Katsuobushi flakes

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Sashimi Moriwase with extra dollop of uni, courtesy of Chef Chee. We ordered a fresh fish from the catch, and Chef had it sashimi-ed with the the remaining head and bones added to the Miso soup.

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Hiroshima oysters with cheese

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Scallops baked in cheese

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Chirashi Sushi. Assorted cuts of crab, salmon, toro (tuna) topped with copious amounts of tobiko (flyish fish roe) on a bed of vinegared rice.

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Wagyu beef beautifully done and served with vegetables

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Check out the cut. Yumz!

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The remainder of the fish head cooked in our miso soup. The umami was simply awesome.

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Dessert was green tea ice-cream with Japanese pastry

Dinner was served nice and slow, giving us ample opportunity to chat with the chef and also the staff on duty. We were never rushed at any one time and the staff went out of their way to make us welcome and at home, even though we were already past 10pm by the time we finished.

Chef Chee also mentioned that the restaurant was doing well at lunch time selling their specially prepared lunch-boxes, priced from S$25 upwards. Business while initially slow, has picked up nicely and he recommends making a reservation early for dinner, so as to avoid disappointments.

Damage for the night was $88++ per pax for the Omakase dinner. We did not go into the Sake menu that night, but the spirits list sure looked well stocked. The extra fish we ordered went for $60, inclusive of slicing and cooking of the miso soup. Honestly, to us both, that was without doubt the dish of the night.

Bottomline, we will be back again, and very likely with some friends who love good value Japanese food as well.

Keep up the good work, Chef Chee, and for the rest of us, better go soon before the word goes around, and booking has to be done online by ballot, for a spot 2-3 months down the road, like some other Japanese outlets in Singapore.

Here is the link to the website: http://ishinomaki.com.sg/

ISHINOMAKI GRILL & SAKE 390 Orchard Rd, B1-02/02A/03 Palais Renaissance, Singapore 238871

Opening Hours

LUNCH MON to SUN 11:30am to 3:00pm |

DINNER MON to SUN 6:00pm to 10:00pm |

CONTACT 6737 1065 |

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Kaya Toast @ Killiney Road

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Kaya Toast by Dad Bear
Kaya Toast, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

Kaya Toast, or simply toasted white bread with coconut jam served with a nice slice of cold creamy butter. Just one word, ‘heavenly’. Coming of Hainanese descent from my mother’s side of the family, I am proud to say that Kaya Toast was brought to Singapore by the hardworking Hainanese folk from Southern China. Taken alone, it doesn’t feel any different from your usual morning toast, but served with a cup of hot coffee (with condensed milk, local style) and 2 soft boiled eggs, cooked timely to perfection. It becomes a local institution.
In the recent years, riding on the success stories of Western coffee brands like Starbucks and Coffee and Tea Leaf etc, local brands have popped up everywhere in Singapore, in shopping malls, office buildings and even in the airport lounge area. The concept is simple: a cup of good local coffee, toast with kaya and butter plus 2 soft boiled eggs. Then, have a few other items on the menu to titilate the taste buds of patrons, like laksa, mee siam and mee rebus. And I believe, that these local companies will give the western brands a serious run for their money, locally in Singapore (and Malaysia) at least.

Back to Kaya. Derived from the Malay word “Srikaya” (remember rich person = Orang Kaya?). It is a popular food spread in South-East Asia. The jam is made from a combination of coconut milk, eggs, flavored and colored by pandan leaves and ultimately, sweetened by caramelized sugar. There are many varieties, from the lumpy sort, to the almost smooth as peanut butter sort. There are also varying colors between green and brown, the color being a function of how much sugar and pandan flavoring was used.
My late Grandma, who was a sarong wearing Nonya, would slave over the charcoal stove for hours, to make kaya for the family. She would use the double boil method to slow heat the kaya mixture, until its consistency turned thick and green. In my younger days, before the days of the internet, computer and color tv even, a kaya sandwich made from soft white bread from the local baker (not Gardenia), with Grandma’s kaya richly applied on, was a breakfast or snack fit for a king. Those were really the days when simple treats made your day.
My mother, now in her retired days, makes her Hainanese kaya when she feels like it. Her kaya is slightly different from grandma’s in that hers is brownish peanut butter like, compare to grandma’s green more lumpy version. Mum serves hers with a thick slice that iced Anchor butter, not margarine or anything else containing trans-fat, just the way, her dad, my Maternal Grandpa, the Hainanese who came to Singapore in the early 1900’s to earn a better living, taught her how.
I am blessed with being able to experience the a childhood rich in traditional culture and learning opportunities. I was able to taste different types of food, different in the way it was prepared and served, and also lucky enough to be loved by my grandparents who doted on me.
I do miss my Kong Kong and my Ah Ma very much. I just hope that my children will also be able to have the same loving relationships with their grandparents. Because one day, when they too are gone, only then will my kids realize how much they truly miss their grandparents.

More pics can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157627310353935/

The Famous Musang King durian aka Mao Shan Wang durian

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Ok, upfront I will admit it, I am no durian lover. In fact, my mum will attest that when I was a kid, she had to drop me and my sis across the road at the mee rebus store, while everyone else gorged on durians during a Malaysia holiday almost 40 years ago. Mind you, I don’t hate durians, but I am not one that will travel miles and kilometres to sample the fruit. My wife, C, on the other hand is a true blue, brought up in Malaysia, durian-lover. During our recent trip to KL, we made a 2 hour detour to Taman Melawati, a place where the durian lorry trucks gathered with the latest pickings from the plantations in Penang. This was where the wholesalers picked the best to sell at their respective stores in KL. The price differential at Taman Melawati was about half that in the city itself.

Durian, aka the King of Fruits in SE Asia, is a particularly unique fruit. The name Durian is derived from the Malay word “Duri”, which means thorn. Love it or hate it, it is simply unique in its looks and taste. The external shell, as we all know, is the hard thorny exterior. Heaven help the poor soul if a fully grown fruit should drop on your head. It is the fruit inside, which is the promised land, the nirvana of all local fruit lovers.

The botanist Alfred Russell Wallace (remember the Wallace trail in Dairy Farm?), once described the fruit of the durian as a rich yellow custard highly flavored with almonds. Yet, many different varieties have sprouted over the years, as locals tried to cultivate the ultimate durian, in terms of flavor, quality of meat and even to the size of the seed. From the district of Balik Pulau in the South-West of Penang, you have many different types of durians grown there, below is a list of them:

D11
‘Number Eleven’ is a very popular durian in the 70’s. It has creamy yellow flesh with a pleasant taste and a subtle smell.

D604
The D604 was first cultivated by the late Mr. Teh Hew Hong of Sungai Pinang, Balik Pulau. The flesh is quite sweet, and has some ‘body’ to it as the seed is small

D600
This durian originates in Sungai Pinang in Balik Pulau. The flesh has a bittersweet taste to it, with a touch of sourness.

D700
The flesh is darker than D600, like chrome yellow. Also slightly hard. Crispy, but the smell is not very strong.

Ang Sim (Red Heart)
Ang Sim is a durian with flesh which is quite soft and very sweet, and dark yellow in colour. It also has a nice aroma.

Khun Poh
This durian takes the name of the late Mr Lau Khun Poh, who first budded it. Khun Poh has beautiful orangey flesh with a slightly bitter-sweet taste and a heavy aroma.

Hor Loh (Water Gourd Durian)
The flesh of the Hor Loh is very soft, dry and quite bitter. It has a sharp smell to it. Hor Loh was first cultivated at the Brown Estate of Sungai Ara. It got its name from its appearance resembling a ‘Hor Lor’ pumpkin. If the durian hits the ground hard when it falls, the flesh tends to be bitter thereafter.

Ang Heh (Red Prawn Durian)
Ang Heh originates from Pondok Upeh, Balik Pulau, and has a round-shaped husk. The orange reddish flesh is highly aromatic, very soft with a bitter-sweet taste.

Xiao Hung (Little Red Durian)

Xiao Hung, whose name means ‘Little Red One,’ originates in Sungai Pinang, Balik Pulau. The flesh has a bittersweet taste to it, with a touch of sourness. There are only one or two seeds per section, but the flesh is thick.

Yah Kang (Centipede Durian)
Yah Kang is favorite durian of many. Although its flesh is whitish, the taste is superb, milky, like very sweet, melting chocolate. The name ‘yah kang’ means centipede, and accounts for the number of centipedes found at the foot of the tree, hence giving it the rather unusual name.

Bak Eu (Pork Fat Durian)
Bak Eu has a slightly acidic aroma. The flesh is whitish while the taste is quite bitter but nice.

The following are some of the durians at Peng Siew Durian Estate in Titi Serong, Balik Pulau .
D17
D17 is dark cream flesh. The taste is slightly dry but sweet. It is a tasty durian.

Coupling  
This durian is gets its unusual name because it looks like two durians joined together, one big and one small. When split open, you almost thought the two halves belong to two different durians. Coupling has whitish flesh which is slightly dry but tastes good.

Ooi Kyau (Tumeric Durian)
The name Ooi Kyau (tumeric) describes the colour of the bright yellow flesh of this durian. It is very sweet and tasty.

Chaer Phoy (Green Skin Durian)
Chaer Phoy is shaped like a small canteloupe. The skin is bright green, giving it the name which means ‘green skin’. Chaer Phoy has creamy white flesh which is a bit dry, not too sweet but tasty.

Ang Jin (Red Yoke Durian)
As the name suggests, Ang Jin Durian has deep orange flesh. It is very sweet and tasty.

Lin Fong Jiau
This durian is named after Lin Fong Jiau, aka Mrs Jackie Chan. Named after the celebrities whose relationship can be best described as bitter-sweet!

We tried the Mao Shan Wang or Musang King Durian that day. Considered one of the highest quality durians around, it normall retails for about S$20 per kg in Singapore. At Taman Melawati, we were getting it at wharehouse prices, and were literally feasting on the King @ RM18 per kilo. The durian flesh from the Mao Shan Wang, pictured above, was a gleaming bright yellow. Removing it from the husk, It was firm to touch and yet not mushy in any way. There was a sweetness in the flesh with a hint of bitterness right on the palate right at the very end, The flesh was creamy (really like custard) and you could barely make out the fiber content within. The seed was amazingly small, only measuring about 2 cm in size. 4 seeds later, my tank was filled up. Mind you, this was after a heavy lunch at Taman Malim (more on that another day).
Durians are noted to be a rich source of Vitamin C, potassium, carbohydrates, proteins, fats and the amino acid, tryptophan. Not surprisingly, after we washed it all down with mineral water, we were literally sitting quietly, rubbing our tummies in gastronomic contentment! 🙂

We made our way back to Singapore after that. C was very pleased to have scratched her itch. All the way home, we were both burping durian breath. We even bought 4 fruits for her parents and my parents to try. Needless to say, Mao Shan Wang made everyone very happy that night.

More pics from our KL trip can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157627098100721/with/5950040734/

Roasted Honey Glazed Pork aka Char Siew in KL

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Oversea Restoran has in my humble opinion, the best CharSiew in the world. The secret is the selection of the cut of pork and also in the caramelization of the honey and sugar onto the surface of the pork. Unlike the super lean reddish chunks of tasteless meat we often get in Singapore, the Oversea CharSiew is crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside, with just that right amount of fat and oil inside to balance it. Truly heavenly!

More pics of food that we sampled during this trip can be seen here : http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157627098100721/with/5949461431/

Poh Pia

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Poh Pia by Dad Bear
Poh Pia, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

We had read much about the new Singapore Food Trail (SFT), a high end hawker centre located at the Singapore Flyer. It was recently opened in March 2011, and the chief idea was to invite the kingpin Singapore hawkers to set up a branch there. The decor is a retro-inspired theme, with relics and memorabilia from the 50’s to the 70’s.

I decided to bring my brood for a night’s out at the SFT. My intention was to let the kids taste some of the long lost dishes and also have a look at some of the items on display.
I must admit that my previous experience at the Singapore Flyer 2 years ago, when I actually went up in it, was a rather negative one. I felt it was a tourist trap, an expensive one at that, with the kids bored to death halfway through the ride. At the same time, it was truly expensive, both the ride and the makan after the that. I recall that 2 years ago, I had spent some $250++ for everything, having brought along the 6 of us plus my maid and my niece, a total of 8 people. Not something the man on the street would consider as a value proposition.

This time round, with me mentally prepared to get hit hard in the pocket, we found that food prices were expensive but not exorbitant. A bowl of Hill Street mee pok cost $9 for a big bowl, when the original one would cost $6 max. A bowl of home made fish ball @ 73+1, cost $5 for 6 fish enormous home made orbs. Tasty, but at almost 90 cents a pop, it is indeed pricey. The kids got to try a bottle (yes, a glass bottle) of Green Spot orange soda, now all but extinct, play with a manual type-writer and a roller dial telephone, and they ended the day with a ice ball to suck on. They had wanted to try the ice ball from the get go, as grandma had told them of how she and grandaunt H would pay 5 cents for an ice ball 50 over year ago when they were in school. The ice ball uncle would pour sweet syrup colorings on the ice ball, and Grandma and grandaunt H would split it into 2 to quench their thirst in the hot sun after school in Katong. I did consider ‘ta-powing’ one back for Grandma but @ $2.50 a ball, with the risk of it melting on the way, it was a definitely no go.

The dish which left the most impression on me tonight, was the simple but delicious Poh Pia (pictured above). The Poh Pia or ‘薄饼’ which literally means thing biscuit or thin pastry in Chinese is a dish which originated from Southern Chinese dish popular amongst the Fujian or Hokkien people. Popular during the Qing Ming festival, it is eaten all year round, and is a well liked food in South East Asia, especially China and Singapore.

The skin of the pohpia is thin and crepe like. It can be machined made or made the old fashion way, where a thin film of batter is applied on a hot pan and allowed to dry. I definitely prefer the hand made one. I feel it is more airy and not so thick. It is a healthy dish, with lots of vegetables to give you the roughage you need. To prepare the Poh Pia, you take 2 Poh Pia skins, and let them overlap slightly. Taking care not to overfill with ingredients. You first add a sweet sauce, and place 2 lettuce leaves to add as the foundation layer. Then according to taste, you add egg (whole boiled and cut into little minute pieces) along with peanut powder, cooked and de-shelled prawns, chinese sausage, garlic, chili paste, fried shallots before finally adding the piece de resistance, the shredded turnip mix which is the main ingredient of this dish, it make the Poh Pia filling and nutritious.
My mum in law holds the best Poh Pia parties, where the whole family sits down around the table and busy themselves making their own Poh Pia’s, each crafted to suit the individual’s tastes. We can each easily wolf down some 3-4 Poh Pia’s per person at each seating, though my father in law claims that since the Poh Pia is almost all veggie, it is digested very quickly, and one gets hungry very soon after.
At $2 a Poh Pia, it offered good value and nutrition. However, all things taken in consideration, it would be a long time before I come back voluntarily to the SFI. It is a good place for tourists in town to try local fare, but for the locals, there are better and more economical places to consider. I can imagine the high rentals that these master hawkers have to overcome every month. 5cents for an ice-ball? That really seems like centuries ago. Perhaps Singapore is really becoming too expensive to live in. On that note, I worry about our kids. Can they even afford to enjoy the simple pleasures of life in the future, something as simple as sucking on as ice ball, without having to pay the moon for it?

More pictures from the Singapore Food Trail can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157626968665526/

Peking Duck

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Peking Duck by Dad Bear
Peking Duck, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

On the journey back from Bali, my wife C told me (4 times to be exact) that she couldn’t stand the food on Air Asia and when we got home, she wanted to eat peking duck. When we got home, the website HungryGoWhere stated that the peking duck at Asia Grand Restaurant was ranked number 1 in Singapore. A phonecall and a booking later, we were on our way.

Peking Duck, as the name suggests, is a dish which originated many years ago in China, in particular, during the Northern and Southern Dynasties in China (420 to 589AD). It gained popularity only in the Qing dynasty when the scholars from the upper class favored the dish, especially during composing poetry.

The first restaurant which specialised in Peking Duck was one called Bianyifang, and it exists even till today. I was fortunate to taste the duck at Bianyifang back then in 2005, when my friend Uncle U brought us there. We also tried the highly rated peking duck at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Beijing. If I recall right, the duck skin was light and crispy, and the pancake along with the spring onion blended perfectly. In Beijing, one also had the option of consuming it with sugar (not unlike roti prata) but the preferred sauce (in Singapore) for the Peking Duck, is the hoisin or brown sweet sauce.

So what makes the Peking Duck so special? I believe it is not only the way you eat it, but the way you prepare it. To prepare an awesome Peking Duck, you need a bird about 5-7 kgs. After the duck has been slaughtered, plucked and eviscerated, the next step is the critical one. A small cut is made at the neck and air introduced, such that it separates the skin from the underlying dermal fat. In medical sense it is really like creating skin emphysema. The duck is then soaked in hot water for a while before it is hung out to dry. Following which it is coated with a layer of maltose syrup, and hung to dry for a further 24 hours. The last step involve slow roasting of the duck in an open or closed oven for 30-40 minutes at a temperature of about 270’C.

Routinely, the entire duck is presented at the restaurant to the patron. The duck skin is then carved out and served with cucumber sticks dipped with hoisin sauce, and wrapped with the pancake pastry. The remaining parts can either be chopped up and eaten at the table, or used to make duck noodles. We chose the latter tonight.

The duck at the Asia Grand Restaurant was simply outstanding and worthy of the number 1 rating on HungryGoWhere. @ $33 (special offer) a bird, we figured that we will be back whenever C gets a Peking Duck itch again!

More photos of the Peking Duck @ Asia Grand Restaurant can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157626735933553/

Congee in Hong Kong

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Untitled by Dad Bear
Congee, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

Hong Kong is known as the food capital of Asia, and not without reason. You have a choice of both western and asian cuisine or even fusion cuisine. One can also enjoy meals fit for a king (which cost as much too), along with meals which are enjoyed by the man (or woman) on the street. During my last trip to HK, surprisingly, it was a simple bowl of pork porridge which was the highlight of my short stay. So simply done and yet so delicious. This led me to read up a little on what the Teochew Chinese call Muay, and the Southern Chinese, in particular the Cantonese call Jook.

To my limited knowledge, both versions refer to rice cooked in copious amounts of water, many times its weight. The main difference between the two would be the amount of water added to the rice, and how fine the rice granules ultimately become. Teochew Muay usually refer to a soft form of rice granule served in hot rice water (called “ahm”). The Muay is usually very plain tasting, and flavor is derived from the food that you take it with. More often than not, items like salted eggs, preserved salted vegetables, steamed peanuts etc.  On the other hand, Cantonese Jook refers to rice granules which have been cooked in lots of water, stirred until the point that the soften rice granules break downs into a thick white broth.  By then the rice granules are no longer visible, nor can they be felt when placed in the mouth.

From an excerpt taken from the HKTB local food guide, making a good jook involves putting fresh raw ingredients into the hot and continuously boiling plain congee, with their flavors enhancing the already smooth soft-textured congee.  It is the variety of raw ingredients available, which has led to many different varieties of Jook, and as a result, the many famous restaurants that served Jook primarily, each with their own masterpiece, sprouting up all over HK.

Once considered a healthy food to be taken by people recovering from an illness or when you were not feeling well, primarily because it is easily digestible, Jook is now taken as a morning breakfast staple or a late night supper dish. Keen to sample the roast goose porridge @ Fuk Kee, we were disappointed to learn that their roast goose jook only started serving after 11am, which meant at least a 1.5 hour waiting time. Not wanting to wait, we walked down Argyle Street, Mongkok, and chanced upon a tea house (‘Char Chan Teng’) which served porridge as well as freshly prepared dough fritters (‘yow zhar kwai’).

I ordered my favorite jook, namely pork porridge with century egg, along with a yow zhar kwai to go along with the jook. The bowl of jook that arrived was beyond my wildest expectations. There were healthy chucks of lean pork, along with slices of century egg inside. However, what made it different from what you can get in Singapore was the plentiful cubes of coagulated pig’s blood. Tasting the blood cubes brought me back decades when my maternal grandpa would bring us for Sunday morning breakfast at the old Still Road alley in Katong. We would bring our own eggs to beat into the porridge, and back then, they served pig’s blood cubes too. The shop in Still Road has since moved to the Marine Parade wet market, and to date,  is still doing a roaring trade, but with the next generation of cooks at the helm, I believe. I digress. Ever since Singapore pork went the airflown frozen supply route, pig’s blood is impossible to procure. Hence it was a big pleasant surprise  to taste it again. The overall combination was heavenly. With just a sip of the jook, I could feel the warmth creeping through my body. There was no hint at all of any MSG, just the smooth feel of hot tasty pork congee titillating my palate. Together with the yow zhar kwai, the single bowl of Jook was enough to fill me up, ready for the day’s challenges.

Some quarters have it that successful restaurants NEVER wash their porridge pots. and the pot is always kept full and the jook constantly stirred. It probably makes sense. After all, why break a winning streak? That said while it may look easy, the preparation of Jook is a tough and arduous one, requiring plenty of patience, technique and stamina. More often than not, when a loved one is sick at home, it is often taken as a measure of true love for one to toil for hours over the stove preparing Jook for the sick friend or family member. Therapeutic value is derived from the ingredients used. However, as everyone knows, no matter sick one is, food always tastes better when love goes into its preparation.

So next time your loved ones or your kids clamor after you for some love and attention, offer them a bowl of jook. 🙂

More food photos from the HK trip can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157626632264539/with/5735816147/

p.s. In a scientific paper written by the late Emeritus Professor Wong Hock Boon, he advocated that rice water was the best oral rehydration treatment for infants suffering from severe diarrhea and food poisoning. So there is indeed some truth behind the therapeutic properties of  the benign looking bowl of porridge!

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