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4.268 Inasal Chicken + Pancit Molo + Ginisang Kangkong


-Cycle 4, Item 268-
30 (Mon) September 2013

-Philippine-
Inasal Chicken + Pancit Molo + Ginisang Kangkong

2.5

at Inasal Chicken Bacolod

-Ermita, Manila-

solo

WHO Research Trip: Day 4 (see previously 4.264 An Aristocratic Feast for One).

After spending the weekend in Singapore (see most recently 4.267 Chicken Rice), I'm back in Manila, back at work.

Inasal Chicken Bacolod (ICB) is a Philippine chain restaurant.   The business started in 1976 as a small restaurant in Bacolod, specializing in the regional specialty inasal.  In 1997, the first branded ICB was opened in Manila.  Now 12 locations around Metro Manila, including one 30 meters across the street from WPRO.  Inasal chicken remains the house specialty.  The menu also includes standard soup and noodle dishes.


With prices ranging from PHP 100 (about USD 2.50) to 200 per dish, ICB is about as cheap as a mainstream made-to-order eatery here can get.  Just a fews pesos above fast food (see for example 4.262 Chickenjoy...) or food court (see for example 3.243 Seafood Platter...).


As mentioned in the above-referenced post on The Aristocrat, Manila abounds with restaurants specializing in grilled chicken.  Inasal Chicken Bacolod is not to be confused with Bacolod Chicken Inasal or Bacolod Chk-n-BBQ House, though they all serve the same stuff at similar prices.

Pancit molo (1.5)--wonton noodle soup with a broth that tasted, here, exactly like chicken-flavored Top Ramen.

Ginisang kangkong (2.0)--morning glory sautéed in fish sauce, whether my standards for this ubiquitous side dish are getting higher or I've finally found a place that doesn't do it right, probably a bit of both, I was disappointed.

At the end of the day, I had dinner at ICB, located just across the street from WPRO.  It was okay, especially the chicken.  I got my money's worth, which wasn't much, of course.  But it was the kind of small quiet meal that I needed after the gluttony in Singapore.

4.267 Chicken Rice


-Cycle 4, Item 267-
29 (Sun) September 2013

-Singaporean-
Chicken Rice

4.0

at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (Maxwell Food Centre)

-Chinatown, Singapore-

solo

The Singapore Diet: Day 3 (see previously 4.266 (White) Carrot Cake)

Maxwell Food Centre is a hawker center.  Located in Chinatown.  One of the biggest and oldest and most famous in the city.

Not that impressive from the outside.

But once inside, wow, what a sight, two more aisles like this--exactly what I'd imagined a hawker centre to be.

To maximize the number of venues that I could hit on the final day, the plan had been to grab snacks at various hawker centres in the area and close-out The Singapore Diet by eating an early dinner at Maxwell.  Being Sunday, however, most centres were closed.  So I ended up at Maxwell for the day's first meal.


 Meal 8 / Venue 8: Marina South Delicious Food at Maxwell Food Centre

Item 16: (black) carrot cake (3.0)
--much punchier, and thus more interesting to my untrained palate, than the white (see yesterday's post).

Item 17: oyster omelette (2.5)
--another classic hawker dish, not exclusively Singaporean, okay but predictable.  

Item 18: hokkien prawn mee (2.5)
--okay, but the noodles were a bit overcooked.

Total: SGD 12 (about USD 10)

Being in Chinatown also gave me the opportunity to shop for souvenirs (i.e., magnets) in between meals.

Chicken rice is a Chinese/Singaporean chicken and rice dish.  Sometimes referred to as "Hainanese chicken rice" after its city of origin in China, spread by Hainanese immigrants throughout Southeast Asia, Singapore in particular, where it was most passionately embraced and now so ubiquitous, from hawker centres to high-end restaurants, that it's widely regarded as a/the national dish.  It consists of chicken simmered for hours to the point of extreme tenderness in seasoned stock that eventually thickens from the fat and gelatin to become a sauce.  The chicken is then chilled, cut into pieces, and served over steamed rice that's been cooked in a separate stock for additional flavor.  Chili sauce is typically provided on the side.  Deceptively simple.  Bland and icky if done wrong, sublime if done right, a fine line between the two.

Prior to this evening, I tried it once before in Shanghai.  That time, I'd taken a single bite and pushed the plate away.  Slimy sauce.  Off-flavored meat.  Gross.

Perhaps intentionally, Tian Tian is located next to an exit, allowing the customer queue to extend outside into the parking lot. 

Longest line in the entire centre, from morning til night.

The guy in line behind me; mainland Chinese, I think; apparently unable to read English, he didn't know what his t-shirt meant.

The only stall comprising two adjoining spaces.


The wall of fame, featuring Anthony Bourdain.

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is a hawker stall.  Located in Maxwell Food Centre.  The signature item, of course, is chicken rice.  My hawker book, based in part on a survey of locals conducted on the associated blog, listed the stall as the ultimate destination for the dish.  When celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain was in town for an episode of his food and travel program No Reservations, Tian Tian was chosen to represent chicken rice.  And the owners themselves engage in quite a bit of self-promotion, including a website, a FB page, and even an on-site wall-of-fame, activities not generally associated with hawker culture.  (Actually, the business also includes a proper sit-down restaurant in a different part of the city.)

Being a food tourist, I had to check it out.

rice

chicken and cucumbers

chili sauce

soup

Meal 9 / Venue 9: Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre

Yes, it was that good.  The meat was impossibly soft and succulent with just enough bite to avoid being mushy.  The sauce was silky smooth in texture, aromatic with light yet unmistakable touches of garlic and ginger, a wisp of sweetness from the soy sauce, balance.  The rice, "fragrant" as Anthony had described it, savory, scrumptious, really could be eaten as a dish in its own right.  The salted cucumbers, a nice accompaniment that provided crunch in between bites.  If all that weren't enough, the chili sauce on the side was an amazing blend of spicy and tart--supposedly, the secret ingredient is lime juice--that transformed an already perfect dish into an entirely different perfect dish.  At last, a tourist trap that lives up to the hype.  

Item 19: chicken rice (3.5).

Total: SGD 3!

That was supposed to have been the end, a perfect coda to an extended symphony of gluttony.  But when I got to the airport, I learned that my flight to Manila had been delayed for a couple hours.  And then I saw that Tiger Balm was selling in the airport drugstore for SGD 5.50 a jar, even though I'd seen it earlier that day in Chinatown for less than half; at the time, I didn't know that it would be so much more at the airport, so I didn't buy any.  I figured that I could go back to the city, purchase the Tiger Balm in Chinatown, eat a few more items while I was there, with the money that I'd be saving, and return in time for the flight.  So that's exactly what I did.

Just some random place in a back alley amidst all the chaos of Chinatown.

 Tiger Balm is a Singapore-produced menthol-based ointment that works magic on all manner of malady, especially mosquito bites; it's been prized by Koreans for decades--I can even remember a jar of the stuff in our medicine cabinet when I was growing up in California--but for some reason not readily available in Korea, thus making it an ideal gift item.

Meal 10 / Venue 10: Chinatown Seafood

Item 20: char kway teow (3.0)
--what's not to love about stir-fried rice noodles and seafood.

Item 21: chicken satay (3.0)
--a classic hawker item, influenced by Malay cuisine, excellent with the spicy coconut-peanut sauce.

Total: SGD 20.60 (+ 5.05 for beer) (+ 4.55 tax and service charge)

Done.

48 hours.  
10 meals.
10 venues.
21 items.
188 dollars (SGD) (not counting booze).
2.71 average rating.

See you back in Manila.

4.266 (White) Carrot Cake


-Cycle 4, Item 266-
28 (Fri) September 2013

-Singaporean-
(White) Carrot Cake

2.5

at Tanglin (Newton Food Centre)

-Central, Singapore-

solo

The Singapore Diet: Day 2 (see previously 4.265 Chilli Crab).

Raffles Hotel is a hotel in Singapore.  Established in 1887, the oldest existing, always referred to as "iconic." One of the most expensive in the city.  Named after Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore.

Royal China is a Cantonese restaurant.  It's located in the Raffles.  On weekends, tables are available only by reservation.  As noted in yesterday's post, my Singaporean friend Bernard made reservations at a couple local restaurants on my behalf, including one at Royal China.  I was warned not to be a minute late, or I'd lose it.  In fact, when I gave my name at the counter, I was asked for a phone number for verification.  Left to my own devices, I wouldn't have chosen straight out Cantonese for a meal on the Singapore Diet, but I was curious to see what all the fuss was about.

Colonial architecture mostly still intact, a quaint juxtaposition to the surrounding glass-and-steel high-rise glitz of downtown.

A lot of young folk--"socialites," Bernard called them--being served by a staff of old folk.

Meal 4 / Venue 3: Royal China at Raffles Hotel.

Item 8: conpoy congee (3.5)
--classic Cantonese brunch dish, the creamy texture done to perfection here, but it could've used more conpoy.

Item 9: har gow (3.5)
--my personal index by which to assess any dim sum joint (see for example 2.330 Har Gow), the silky skins done to perfection here, but the shrimp were minced, not chunky.

 Item 10: chee cheong fun (2.5)
--generally one of my favorite dim sum items (when made with shrimp), the soft rice noodle done to perfection here, but the scallops were too mushy and bland to provide any sense of texture/taste contrast.

So, Royal China was largely hit, slightly amiss.  As noted above, the external technique was flawless in every case, but I had some minor issues with the how certain internal components were prepared.  Certainly high quality overall, though not worth the fuss.

Total: SGD 24.72 (about USD 20)

Demand for the drink is so high and constant that they make the base in bulk and just shake it with ice upon order; there's even a rack for all the shakers.

At SGD 27 (+ 2.70 tax) for the Original, the most expensive mixed cocktail that I've ever had.

It was okay, I guess, tasting exactly how it looks--fruity--not really my thing.

So long as I was in the building, I had a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar, where the cocktail was invented in 1915.  When my mother used to own a cafe in Korea back in the 80s, the drink--a laughable shortcut version containing gin + grenadine + OJ--was one of the most popular items on the menu.  Come to think of it, as famous as the drink may be, I can't ever recall seeing or hearing or reading about it in any context outside of my mother's cafe.  Recent research suggests that the vast majority of Singaporeans have never tried a Singapore Sling.

Even shinier than Makansutra Gluttons Bay. 

After brunch, I purchased a book on hawker centres so that I could strategize the Singapore Diet to better effect.  A quick perusal of the book gave me an idea of the essentials items that I needed to try and where best to get them.  Regrettably, I realized that, with the exception of yesterday's chilli crab, and maybe the vegetable dishes, but only because I love stir-fried greens, everything else had been a waste of opportunity costs.

Newton Food Centre is a hawker centre.  It was the one hawker centre recommended by Bernard and listed several times in the book for various items.  Unfortunately, I hadn't read the fine print on hours, and the stalls that I'd come for were closed until later in the evening, so I had to make do with whatever was open.


Meal 5 / Venue 4: Tanglin at Newton Food Centre.

Carrot cake is a Singaporean radish and egg dish.  Though originating in China, where it's called "chai tow kway," carrot cake is now most famously regarded as one of, if not the, quintessential hawker item in Singapore.  Indeed, There's No Carrot in Carrot Cake is the title of a popular local book on hawker cuisine.  The primary ingredient is in fact daikon radish, grated and mixed with rice flour and baked into a jelly cake, the consistency somewhat like firm tofu but denser/chewier, and the taste, also like tofu, somewhat bland.  In Chinese, the terms for "carrot" and "radish" include the same root word "chai tow," the only difference being that "carrot" is prefixed "ang (red) chai tow"--coincidentally, the same is true in Korean--resulting in the odd misnomeric English translation.  Anyway, the cake is chopped into dice and cooked with eggs in one of two ways: (i) black, made with a sweet soy-based sauce and tossed with scrambled eggs, rougher texture and more intense flavor; (ii) white, made with fish sauce and fried flat into an omelette, crisper texture and lighter flavor.  According to my book, The End of Char Kway Teow and Other Hawker Mysteries, the first is more how it arrived from China, while the second is how it evolved in Singapore.  

Incidentally, the book that I'd initially purchased was Only the Best!  The ieat.ishoot.ipost Guide to Singapore's Shiokiest Hawker Food, mostly lists of dishes/stalls/locations, but I went back to the store and exchanged it for the other book, which also includes background and history, as well as highlights from the same lists, both books by the same author, Leslie Tay, a local blogger.  

Item 11: (white) carrot cake (2.5).

Based on a single experience, I'd say that carrot cake is pretty good, if unremarkable.  Ordering just "carrot cake," I got what appeared to be the white version, though the eggs were scrambled.  The pieces of radish cakes didn't contribute much flavor, just that squishy texture.  It went down very well with a can of Tiger Beer.  I'll try the black version before making a definite appraisal.

Total: SGD 4 (+ 4.50 for beer)


Meal 5 / Venue 5: Sheng Da BBQ Seafood at Newton Food Centre.

  
A bit full from the bulk of the carrot cake but rather dissatisfied by its blah, I wanted to get something light yet stimulating.

Item 12: sambal stingray (2.0)
--I found the sambal sauce to be bitterish, but the charred flavor was nice...

...and the stingray itself was sweet and tender with a bit of chew.

Total: SGD 10

The Auld Alliance is a bar.  Not just any bar, but a whisky bar, specializing in single malts, 1000 varieties, 500 by the glass, mostly Scotch, every distillery in Scotland.  Not just any bar, but a whisky bar, specializing in single malts, 1000 varieties, 500 by the glass, mostly Scotch, every distillery in Scotland Not just any bar, but a whisky bar, specializing in single malts, 1000 varieties, 500 by the glass, mostly Scotch, every distillery in Scotland.  Not just any bar, but a whisky bar, specializing in single malts, 1000 varieties, 500 by the glass, mostly Scotch, every distillery in Scotland Currently, it's ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for the city, which is how I learned about it.

Not just any bar, but a whisky bar, specializing in single malts, 1000 varieties, 500 by the glass, mostly Scotch, every distillery in Scotland.

The plan was to stop by for a drink or two and then off to a hawker center for dinner.  Not just any bar, but a whisky bar, specializing in single malts, 1000 varieties, 500 by the glass, mostly Scotch, every distillery in Scotland.  Anybody who knows me knows that I love single malts, more than food, more than all things in the universe combined and multiplied by infinity squared, even more than my sons, whom I'd trade no problem for a decent bottle each.  So I don't know what made me think that I'd be out of there after a drink or two.

Buying almost all of my single malts in duty free shops, which carry only a handful of the most famous/popular producers, I've never heard of, much less encountered or had a chance to taste, the vast majority of the whiskies out there.

I tasted 11 varieties.  Officially, each sampling was 2 cl, for a total of 220 ml.  Although the amount was way below my usual limit, I realized at that point that my palate had become anesthetized and could no longer really tell the difference.  Also, I was beginning to hit that happy zone where I get ambitious/adventurous, and devil-may-care with money, a dangerous combination in a place offering ultra-rare whiskies costing upwards of hundreds of dollars a pop.  I'll be back for sure someday--I might actually make a trip just for this place, fuck the food--so I wanted to leave something for next time.

A vertical of the Springbank, my all-time favorite.

The evening's best was this Strathisla 30.

The Glen Keith 40, distilled in 1970, bottled in 2010.

The Girvan 45, distilled in 1964, bottled in 2009--not a single malt but a pure grain whisky, which I wanted to try for comparison.

Comparing two different eras of Johnnie Walker Red Label--also not a single malt but a blended whisky--one from the 1970s, one from today, both totally different; I don't usually drink the stuff, but I was curious if it ever tasted good (no).

Another comparison, my day-to-day favorite The Glenlivet 12, also from the 1970s and today, also totally different.

Total: SGD 178 (+ 31.51 tax and service charge)

Meal 6 / Venue 6: Cosafe [delivery] [at The Auld Alliance]

I didn't want to drink on an empty stomach.  While the bar itself doesn't serve food, it has an informal delivery arrangement with an Italian restaurant next door.  The items on the menu didn't quite jibe with the conceptual vision of the Singapore Diet, but I wasn't about to leave all that whisky behind, just to grab a bite--like I said, whisky more than all things.

Crap, I forgot about the reservation at No Signboard Seafood.

Item 13: char-grilled squid (2.5).

Item 14: albondigas (3.0).

Fortunately, the food was reasonably good, not too pricy, and paired well with the whisky.

Total: SGD 31 (+ 5.49 tax and service charge)

Getting on the train before the midnight cutoff, I got back to Geylang and enjoyed the final meal/venue/item of the day at Lorang 9 Beef Kway Teow.  Located just two blocks from the hotel.  Despite the name of the place, its signature dish is beef hor fun, as recommended in my hawker book and confirmed by the server.

With so much awesome food available everywhere at all times, I can't understand why Singaporeans aren't all fat.

Meal 7 / Venue 7: Lorang 9 Beef Kway Teow

Item 15: beef hor fun (3.5)
--noodles, beef, gravy all ridiculously soft and luxurious.

Total: SGD 6