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My (not so) near death experience – Fugu dining

My (not so) near death experience – Fugu dining

I always dreamed of trying and experiencing something unique. Sort of like marking significant milestones in my life. One such milestone is cheating death by eating Fugu or what is commonly known as pufferfish or blowfish.

Fugu? What is Fugu (Pufferfish aka Blowfish)?

For those wondering what Fugu is, National Geographic nicely describes this deadly fish as:

ABOUT PUFFERFISH

Biologists think pufferfish, also known as blowfish, developed their famous “inflatability” because their slow, somewhat clumsy swimming style makes them vulnerable to predators. In lieu of escape, pufferfish use their highly elastic stomachs and the ability to quickly ingest huge amounts of water (and even air when necessary) to turn themselves into a virtually inedible ball several times their normal size. Some species also have spines on their skin to make them even less palatable.

Toxicity

A predator that manages to snag a puffer before it inflates won’t feel lucky for long. Almost all pufferfish contain tetrodotoxin, a substance that makes them foul tasting and often lethal to fish. To humans, tetrodotoxin is deadly, up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans, and there is no known antidote.

I was about to put something 1200 times deadlier than cyanide on my plate and hope to almighty God that I don’t die from it.

Well sort of.

Pufferfish, if prepared correctly is not toxic. Only certain parts of the fish will cause death if ingested. The emphasis here is “if prepared correctly”.

If done wrongly, I would be 6 feet under.

Evidently, I didn’t die. If not, you will be the first person reading a blog entry from the other world.

How does Pufferfish Taste Like?

I had it in Tokyo, Japan after my whirlwind tour of Hokkaido with my girlfriend where we visited Hakodate, Noboribetsu, Sapporo and Otaru. It was our last meal in Tokyo and we wanted to try something unique.

We went for Fugu at Torafugu-tei near the famous Shibuya Crossing. You can’t miss it since it has a huge ass Fugu right above the store front!

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This restaurant serves a variety of Fugu called “Tiger Blowfish”.

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Great to know that the restaurant serves “Only the safest product”

There’s a la carte and also meal courses on offer. When we were there, there were two courses on offer. One going for 4,980 yen before taxes. The other going for 6,480 yen before taxes. While we were a little puzzled by the menu, there appears to be only minor differences with the menu (the more expensive comes with “Deep Fried Blowfish” while the cheaper menu instead comes with “Blowfish under-skin”), we decided to go big (if it’s going to be our last meal after all) and ordered the 6,480 yen set.

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First up, came the Blowfish Skin. If you had jellyfish before, it has a similar chewy texture. It was very refreshing due to the sauce it was served in. It was citrusy like a mix of soy sauce and some kind citrus fruit. The grated ginger (that reddish thing) was not overpowering and helped balance out any fishiness (although I didn’t feel that the dish was at all fishy in taste). I would have loved it even more if it had been a hot summer day as the dish was served chilled.

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Blowfish Sashimi was up next. Surprisingly, unlike our typical experience with Japanese Sashimi, it was not served with wasabi. Instead, again you find a small portion of ginger on the side to go with your soy sauce. There was also a slice of lime, if required. This was, I think, the key point in the meal as you get to experience the actual taste of fugu. Its surprisingly neutral tasting and very “clean” tasting. It doesn’t have a taste per se unlike Salmon and/or Tuna. Or it’s just me not having grown up with fugu and not recognising a “fugu” taste. The flesh is very firm and slightly chewy. Likely from all that muscle gained from puffing away? I actually felt something while having the sashimi. My lips felt slightly numb. Was it just my brain working overtime or was it really true that a master fugu chef will just leave a slight amount of toxin on the flesh to tease diners?

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Blowfish hotpot. Yep, we graduated from the raw food portion of the meal. So, what happened was the restaurant staff had laid out a sort of paper bowl in the middle of the table that is above an induction heater. The bowl had a metal piece in it that heats up the broth. The broth was very simple (essentially a piece of seaweed to give some flavour). I guess the idea was to not overwhelm the delicate taste of the blowfish. Any heavier and/or stronger tasting broth would have covered the little taste of the fugu. We were told to cook between 6-7 minutes per piece (longer for bigger pieces and shorter for smaller pieces). The flesh, when boiled, was tender. There was no fishy smell at all. For those who are used to having fish soup of some kind, you will normally assume to soup to have some kind of fishy taste/smell to it. Oddly, there was none. It really goes towards showing how neutral tasting the fish actually is. I did try drinking of the broth towards the end. It was a pleasant tasting soup with a slight sweetness from all those vegetables that came with the hotpot. But not much taste attributable to the fugu itself. HINT: Don’t drink too much of the broth. One or two spoonsful is/are good enough as the broth has one more task to perform.

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Midway into our hotpot came the fried blowfish. Make a guess what did it taste like. Like fried chicken, of course. Honestly, I believe you can actually pass off fried fugu as a nice piece of fried chicken. The entire thing was crispy and tender. Absolutely delightful.

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Blowfish Porridge. Well, there is no blowfish involved here. Instead, the staff will prepare the porridge at your table using the broth leftover from the hotpot. They will add in a bowl of rice to soak in all that goodness before pouring in an egg for flavour before topping it off with some spring onions and some soy sauce. It was more than plenty for the two of us. We found that the waitress was a bit light on the soy sauce and we decided to add it a bit more. The porridge evolves with time. At first, its watery before turning thick after absorbing in all that broth. I found it to be very filling and my advice is that if you think you are already about full, you might want to ask the waitress to cut back on the rice so that you won’t have too much porridge.

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We ended our meal with a small dessert – a mini ice cream sandwich.

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Post fugu meal – I didn’t die!!!

As time ticked by, I knew I was safe. I cheated death.

Would I recommend Fugu? Yes! Definitely. I do think most should at least try it once during their lifetime. But do remember to have it at proper establishments with proper fugu chefs. While deaths do occur, they can be attributed to amateurs who had no idea what they were actually doing.

Have you tried fugu? Let me know in the comments.

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What to see and do while in Sapporo, Hokkaido – Part Two (Again loads of awesome photos!)

What to see and do while in Sapporo, Hokkaido – Part Two (Again loads of awesome photos!)

Sapporo is the regional capital of Hokkaido. The vibrant city offers a lively and energetic feel to its visitors especially when coming in from Hakodate and/or the outlying coastal cities. As Sapporo is a major transport hub in the North, it will likely feature in any Hokkaido itinerary. As the article turned out to be too long with all the awesome photos I took, this guide is a two part series on what to see and do while in Sapporo. This is Part Two.

Click here to see Part One where we covered Sapporo Central Wholesale Market, White Lover Park and Sapporo Beer Museum.

Sapporo Factory

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If beer is not your thing or if you would like to do some shopping, you can consider popping over to Sapporo Factory which is a short walk away from the Beer Museum.

Sapporo Factory is a shopping complex that appears to be converted from an old factory. It appears to be a brewery that belonged to the Kaitakushi, the old government of Hokkaidō prefecture, and subsequently owned by the Sapporo Beer Company, the predecessor of the Sapporo Brewery. You can still see parts of the complex reflecting their link to the Sapporo Beer Company.

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If you are hungry, do try the semi self-service teppanyaki restaurant where you get to be your own teppanyaki chef for the day! 

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Sapporo Clock Tower, Odori Park and Sapporo TV Tower + Shopping @ Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade + Free flow Wagyu Beef Shabu Shabu

If you are not done for the day, why not visit the Odori area in Sapporo? Not only is it close to a number of attractions, it is quite close to the Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade. Don’t worry, there are many restaurants there as well so you can end of with a sumptuous meal =]

The Sapporo Clock Tower is apparently one of the oldest (if not, the oldest) surviving building in Sapporo. While it appears on many itineraries, it appeared to me to be a little hyped up. I think its expected given that it was built in 1878 and there is nothing much you can do to a building then. So either plan it as a 5 minutes detour or just route your way such that you will have a chance to have a quick glimpse before you head over to Odori Park.

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Odori Park, depending on the season, may be a worthwhile place to visit. During ordinary months it is just a plain old park. However, during winter it becomes an interesting attraction with its snow sculptures and maybe even a small “christmas market”. When I was there, I noticed makeshift stalls being set up in the park and also Christmas decorations. I mused aloud to my girlfriend that it would have been a beautiful sight if we visited just a month later.

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Odori park is located just beside Sappro TV Tower. It looks somewhat like the Eiffel Tower (which I covered in my other post here). dsc02665.jpgWe decided to head up the Tower during our visit as an alternative to going up Mt Moiwa. My recommendation is to skip the Tower and just brave Mt Moiwa. Although both of them offer an elevated view of Sapporo City, there is a difference looking at Sapporo City from afar as compared to looking at it from above. The Tower is only recommended if it has been raining the Mt Moiwa is shrouded with fog or if you are rushing for time. If you are attempting to do the Tower, it would be preferable to do it in the day as the city appeared to be rather dark. There are just not much attractions to catch your eye at night other than the Beer Museum and Sapporo Factory’s glass roof.       

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Mt Moiwa in the distance

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Odori Park down below

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Sapporo Beer Museum and Sapporo Factory

Once you are done, you can perhaps pop by to the Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade. The sheltered arcade is approximately 1km long with around 200 shops that runs east to west. It begins at Nishi-1-chome and ends at Nishi-7-chome and offers tourists a very lively and vibrant area to visit. For the history buffs, this arcade can trace its roots back to the Meiji period when the Meiji government established the Hokkaido Development Commission in Sapporo with merchants setting up shop around the area. Expect to find place somewhat crowded with tourists seeking a bargain from the tax free shops and/or a meal nearby.

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For us, we decided to give a shabu shabu restaurant (Wai-Wai-Tei @  Shimizu Building) near the Arcade a try after being refused entry from an overbooked restaurant while at Hakodate (read more about it here). The restaurant is actually hidden as you have to take a lift up. There were, however, signs on the street to help advertise the existence of the place. The place looked quite authentic with mostly locals frequenting the place other than the odd tourist. The prices are also affordable for a free flow of Wagyu beef.

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While we got both the shabu shabu and sukiyaki, my suggestion is to go with just the shabu shabu. Sukiyaki is just too sweet. There is also pork available. For both types of meat, there are different prices for different cuts. We went with the normal wagyu beef  (3,820 yen per pax) and found them to be good enough. If you don’t fancy taking too much rice balls, consider asking them to cut back on them to reduce waste.

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Sukiyaki

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Shabu Shabu  – Wagyu Beef (Free flow)

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Shabu-ing

This is my itinerary for Sapporo. While I have sought to arrange it into a day’s worth of itinerary, I actually done it over the course of two days. Depending on your schedule, you may want to tweak accordingly. 

From Sapporo, you can consider doing side trips to Otaru (which I covered in this post) or even visiting Hakodate and Noboribetsu.

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1 Day Noboribetsu Itinerary – What to do and see while in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

1 Day Noboribetsu Itinerary – What to do and see while in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido

This is my one day itinerary covering Noboribetsu. Noboribetsu is a small town strategically located between Sapporo and Hakodate and makes for a good layover for travellers going from one city to another. The town is rather quiet and laid back and the main attraction is to experience Hell’s valley, a place so desolate that it is befitting of Dante’s circles of hell. Join me as I experience walking in Hell’s own valley. Just before your mind  starts playing tricks on you, the Onsen dates back to the Edo period and only started to play up the hell theme now. The Onsen traditionally had no links to the demons and devils currently associated with it. But with all that sulphur smelling air, it does not require too much imagination to associate the place with hell.

Getting to Noboribetsu Onsen

Noboribetsu can be reached by train from either Sapporo or Hakodate via the Hakodate line. The train ride will take approximately two hours from Hakodate. Once you get off at the station, exit the platform and head out of the station. Look out for the bus stop on your right. There is a regular bus service that takes you to the onsen area. The fare is 340 yen and operates in the same manner as the trams in Hakodate (perhaps a similar system across Japan? As to how it works, I covered it in my other post here). So prepare your coins! If you don’t have exact change, there is a coin exchange machine built into the same payment box. Drop your 500/50 yen coins into the coin slot to have it broken down into 100s/10s. Once you have your exact change, make the necessary payment.

However, unlike the trams in Hakodate, the numbers on this bus’ ticket don’t jump in order; it appears that some stops share a similar ticket number. This caused some confusion as we had the impression that we were still far from the Onsen when in fact we had actually reached. If it helps explain this better, the screen at the front of the bus would display the price payable for each ticket number. We had expected there to be at least 10 fares displayed before reaching Noboribetsu Onsen as it is the eleventh stop for that route (the 10 fares corresponding to the 10 earlier stops). Instead, only six to seven fares were shown. The only indication we had reached was the fact that the fare payable for our ticket had risen to 340 yen. Please take note of this!

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Going to be a tight squeeze. So try to get a seat asap!

Lunch at Noboribetsu: What to eat

You will likely arrive in Noboribetsu Onsen around 1pm thereabout. Head over to your accommodations to deposit your your luggage as it will be too early for you to check in (it appears that 3pm is a common check-in time). With that out of the way, head over to the main shopping street (Gokuraku Shopping Street) for your lunch.

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Don’t expect to be surrounded by loads of eateries or be overwhelmed with choices. You are no longer in Sapporo/Hakodate anymore!

We went to a small eatery that is diagonally opposite of a Family Mart store. The place appears to be a bar serving simple but good food. We ordered Takoyaki (Octopus Balls), Seafood Okonomiyaki (a kind of Japanese Pancake) and a beef bowl. Although simple, the food tasted great! The stronger flavours offered a good break from the lighter tasting seafood bowls we ate while in Hakodate (if you haven’t read it yet, I shared my experience of visiting and eating in Hakodate’s morning market here).

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There are other food stalls along the road but some of them were closed. So have a look around and see what is available. You can consider trying ramen which I read is also pretty good.

Walk to Noboribetsu Hell Valley (Noboribetsu Jigokudani) – What to see and do

A short walk from Gokuraku Shopping Street is the Hell Valley (also known as Jigokudani) which surprisingly is a free attraction! No tickets required to visit the Hell Valley and its neighbouring attractions (i.e. Oyunuma Pond and Oyunuma River Foot Bath)

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Oyunuma Pond and River Oyunuma Foot Bath

Somehow, during my research, it appeared to me that most bloggers/travellers do not venture beyond the valley to the Oyunuma Pond and the Foot Bath area. Well, at least that was based on the blogs I read. Most visitors tend to keep to the valley as it is the most accessible.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the valley is perfectly fine a spot with pretty decent views of a land so barren from the volcanic activity in the region. However, the fact that it is highly accessible also means large hordes of tourists being let loose in the area.

Thankfully, it appears that Oyunuma Pond and also the River Oyunuma Foot Bath have eluded the tourists. Both attractions together make whole the entire Noboribetsu experience and should feature in your travel itinerary if you do visit Noboribetsu.

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The Hell Valley is at the bottom right. Take the green trail to the main crossing before taking the loop up to Oyunuma Pond and then towards the Foot Baths.

Don’t be put off by the map. Both attractions are actually within short walking distance from the Hell Valley. To reach the River Oyunuma Foot Bath from the Hell Valley via Oyunuma Pond would take approximately 1.5 hours with multiple stops along the way for photos. Just continue following the path and the directional signs placed along the route. The climb starts off pretty gentle before becoming physically demanding as gentle inclined slopes become replaced with steps. So for those who may have difficulty climbing, you might want to give yourself some extra time to take it slowly. Do take care especially when attempting the hike after a bout of wet weather. As the paths are mainly dirt paths, they become wet and muddy. At certain areas, the path becomes slippery from the wet mushy layer of dead leaves covering it. The hike is the toughest at the earlier stage as you climb up to a peak overlooking the pond. Thereafter the hike is mostly downhill:

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Oyunuma Pond is a huge body of water that is 50 degrees (metric) at its surface and 130 degrees (metric) at its deepest point. Take some time to wash the waters bubbling away from the thermal heat radiating from the earth’s molten core. Be mindful of the wind direction as a strong gust in the wrong direction will have you covered in a warm sulphur smelling mist!

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Once you are well soaked by the sulphur smelling mist, the Oyunuma River Foot Bath is about a 15 minutes walk away. Follow the sign and stay on the road. Do stop once a while and look back for a different perspective of Oyunuma Pond. Isn’t the view splendid?

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The pond is emptying out into a small river. This is the start of the Oyunuma River.

You will soon be diverted off the road and back onto a path down into the trees. This path will bring you right down by the edge of the river. The water is still hot but has cooled down considerably in the short distance it flowed since it last left the Oyunuma Pond. Keep following the river and you will spot a man made structure further downstream: A wooden platform parallel to the river. You reached the foot baths!

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The Oyunuma River Foot Bath offers a unique experience of being able to enjoy a natural hot spring right at its source in the middle of a forest. A truly authentic experience! The water temperature here is actually cooler than I expected it to be. If you been to a man made bath, you will be used to waters ranging from 37 degrees to 39 degrees. These waters would have likely been artificially heated back up to achieve such temperatures. Here, the foot bath feels slightly cooler than that. Well, maybe slightly above body temperature? I do suggest testing the water first before dipping in just in case sudden volcanic activity had heated the water up. The water depth here is shallow and you can wade in the river barefooted. Look out for the plastic sheets available on a nearby rack that you can sit on if you don’t want to get your pants wet or dirty.

 

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From the foot baths, it’s about a 10 minutes’ walk back to the edge of the town. Along the way, you may notice tourists bringing their own towels and making their way to the foot baths. If your accommodations are close to the edge of town, you can always consider popping by again later in the evening or early in the morning for a quiet soak.

This is my 1 day itinerary for Noboribetsu covering all the must sees and must dos while in Noboribetsu. If time permits, you may consider including in a visit to the bear park (which was closed for inspections when I was there). As to my dinner, I will cover it in another post where I will review my stay at the Grand Hotel in Noboribetsu and also its half board service. Be sure to look out for it in the coming days.

Bonus Content: Visiting Noboribetsu while on a budget

For those travelling on a budget, there is an alternative itinerary that you can consider that can help you save some money. Instead of staying one night at Noboribetsu Onsen, the other alternative is to make it a side trip on route to either Sapporo or Hakodate and have your luggage deposited at the station while you are there (there are both coin lockers and left luggage services). This will allow you to save on your accommodations as hotels at the Onsen area are typically more expensive than in the main cities.

Take an early train into Noboribetsu Station before 10am. This leaves you almost the entire day to explore Noboribetsu Onsen. You can visit the Hell Valley, Oyunuma Pond and the foot baths before heading back to Gokuraku Shopping Street for lunch. You can then for a small fee visit any one of the baths offered by the hotels and/or the public baths for a soak. Once you are done, you can then take the bus back to the train station, retrieve your luggage before heading to your intended destination.

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Review: Muching on Shark’s Cartilage @ Zai Shun, Jurong, Singapore

Review: Muching on Shark’s Cartilage @ Zai Shun, Jurong, Singapore

For the many who hesitate consuming sharks because of the industry’s horrible reputation of harvesting sharks just for their fins, take consolation that there are restaurants out there making an effort to branch out away from just using the fins to also use other parts of a shark. Not only are such steps significant in reducing waste, they encourage the average fisherman to bring back the entire shark back to port instead of simply dumping the finless sharks back into the ocean. Such innovations in cooking styles also bring different flavours and textures to the dining table.

Zai Shun Curry Fish Head

One such restaurant is called Zai Shun with their large variety of seafood dishes on offer to their diners. Incidentally, Zai Shun was awarded the Bib Gourmand by Michelin for 2017. The Bib Gourmand Award recognises “restaurants and street food establishments offering quality cuisine at a maximum price of S$45”. Zai Shun was the only restaurant in the Jurong East area that was recognised by Michelin.

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Zai Shun Curry Fish Head

 

Shark’s cartilage

While Zai Shun is known for their steamed fish and their large variety of fishes to choose from, Zai Shun is also known for its Shark’s cartilage served with a generous amount fermented bean sauce and pork lard:

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Shark’s cartilage with fermented bean sauce and pork lard

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Close up shot of a piece of shark’s cartilage

 

The dish is best eaten fresh and just out of the steamer. The cartilage itself is tasteless but has a very rich gelatinous texture that goes well with the fermented bean sauce which completes the dish. The cartilage makes a good a side dish with rice given the strong flavours of the fermented bean sauce. I am, however, skeptical regarding the addition of lard in the dish. While the lard may have helped with the taste, I don’t think it is essential to make it into a good dish as most of the flavours would have come from the fermented bean sauce anyway. While best eaten when it is still warm, the dish was still good after a while although the gelatinous texture might come through as being too much for some and may leave a sticky feel on your lips which can be easily dealt with using a piece of tissue paper.

Stewed Pig Trotters

Other than their steamed seafood, another dish that I found to be notable would be their pig trotters that have been stewed to the point that the skin and meat just fall off the bone. This makes it easy for a trotter to be shared as you can easily separate out the meat into smaller serving portions. Be sure to get yourself some of their garlic chilli vinegar sauce. The vinegar helps cut through the fats of the pork trotter and enhances the overall taste while the garlic and chilli both add onto the already flavourful stewed pork.

Zai Shun - Pork Trotters

It is advisable to go there early to not only beat the lunch crowd but also to have a greater variety of dishes to choose from. When we reached there around 1.30pm in the afternoon, most of the dishes were already sold out.

Zai Shun Curry Fish Head, #01-205 First Cooked Food Point, 253 Jurong East Street 24, Singapore 600253, 7am to 3pm. Closed on Wednesdays.

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4 secret spots off the beaten track in Johor Bahru, Malaysia

4 secret spots off the beaten track in Johor Bahru, Malaysia

For many day trippers to Johor Bahru, Johor Bahru is confined to either City Square Mall or KSL City Mall. Johor Bahru is perfect for that quick cheap massage, heavily discounted movie tickets compared to watching the same movie in Singapore or just a place for a family to dine in and do some shopping. But Johor Bahru can offer more than that. Here we cover 4 secrets spots in Johor Bahru that you can add to your itinerary.

Jalan Tan Hiok Nee

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Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and its surrounding area offers visitors a chance to explore the old streets of Johor Bahru. Let’s face it. Who wants to go all the way to Johor Bahru and spend all their time in the confines of a mall.

Situated near City Square Mall, it is accessible by foot (if nearby) or by Uber or Grab (if coming in from KSL City Mall). When combined with a visit to the surrounding area, this afternoon detour promises visitors visitors not only a chance to explore the back lanes of the city but also an awesome opportunity to laze around in some cafe

Suggested Route: Starting from Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, visit the nearby cafes and museums before making your way towards Jalan Wong Ah Fook:

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Tepian Tebrau

Tepian Tebrau, during my last visit, appears to still be off the tourist radar. It is a place specialising in barbecued street food: Barbecued stingray, barbecued sotong (squid), barbecued fish and the classic Otah. So if you are looking to feast at a seafood restaurant with all the bells and whistles, you may want to give this a miss.

Tepian Tebrau is actually a food court with small stalls selling barbecued food. While there are other stalls selling staples like fried rice or noodles, a majority of the stalls there focus just on barbecue.

My grab driver recommended that I try Ah Yong and I was glad that I did. The portions are generous and also affordable. The amount of food I ordered could feed two persons comfortably and only cost me MYR56 (USD13):

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Address: Jalan Mohd Amin

San Low Seafood Restaurant

San Low Restaurant is located in the suburbs of Johor Bahru amongst local private housing. It is a great location for day trippers who want to have seafood without having to travel out too far. More of a “Zi Char” Restaurant, it promises a no frills experience instead of a typical Chinese restaurant.

The price is affordable with a decent sized chilli crab, a vegetable stir fry, and a plate of their signature beehoon costing just around MYR100 or less.

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As the place is still close to the city area, the place gets packed on weekends. So if you want to have a hassle free dining experience, try to get there just before the dinner time crowd (i.e. 6pm to 6.30pm).

Address: Jalan Merah 1, Taman Pelangi, 80400 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia

Insider Tip: The restaurant offers a private car service that will get you to places nearby. Depending on the distance, the price may vary from MYR10-15. While slightly more expensive than a Grab or Uber, this is to help cover the empty ride back. So if you don’t want to feel ripped off, just call your own Grab or Uber.

Orang Asli Restaurant

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This is one place that promises an “authentic” seafood dining experience in Malaysia. Located by the sea, this restaurant is largely a self service place. My advice is to go in earlier around 6pm to 6.30pm or else you will be one of the poor souls waiting for a table.

Once you get there, go find yourself a table. Take a mental note of your table number (which should have painted on the wooden planked floor) before heading to the fish tanks/buckets by the side of the wooden platform. Unlike San Low, you can actually pick your own seafood here. Just grab yourself a pail and a wooden tongs before picking your own crabs from the huge blue plastic tubs. There will be different types of crabs and depending on the season, there might be even crabs filled with eggs. Once you are done with your pick, just join the queue with your pail and place your orders with one of the waiters there.

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Insider Tip: If you are aiming for crab roe, you should pick crabs with a “U” tip on the underside of the crab instead of a “V” tip. Those with a “U” are female and those with a “V” are male.

When you are done with your meal, you can try Grabbing or Ubering back but due to the isolated location, it may be difficult to get a ride back. If you have difficulties, try asking the waiters for help. They can help dial a cab for you. However, do expect the driver on insisting a fixed price instead of the meter on the dubious reason that he had to drive all the way in to get you.

Address: 1, Kg. Orang Asli, Telok Jawa, 81750 Masai, Johor, Malaysia

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Guide: 擂茶 Lei Cha or also known as “Thunder Tea” Rice

Guide: 擂茶 Lei Cha or also known as “Thunder Tea” Rice

While my colleagues queued up for their usual fish soup at Amoy Street Food Centre, I decided to go explore the place. If you remembered my last post on this food centre, you will recall I covered an odd fusion dish combining elements of Indian and Cantonese cuisine. It is time to find another interesting dish to help tide me through the day.

I did not have to search long before I saw the eye catching words “擂茶” meaning “Thunder Tea” at LIN DA MA 林大妈’s (Stall is on the second floor). And no, the dish has no links to Zeus but more on the “Thunder” bit later.

I was always intrigued by the dish with not only its unique name but also its presentation. It always looked too healthy and bland to me.

You can be your own judge:

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But what is this dish actually?

“Thunder” “Tea”

Technically, the word “擂” (lei) does not mean “thunder”. While it incorporates the base word for Thunder “雷”, it actually means to “pound” or to “beat”. This links the dish back to its Hakka (a group of people from the Hakka-speaking provincial areas of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan, Zhejiang, Hainan and Guizhou) roots where part of the dish is made using a pestle and mortar.

Unlike the small ones we now use in our kitchens, those pestles and mortars were way larger so as to accommodate the large amount of ingredients and were used to pound and reduce the ingredients for the dish into a paste. This pounding mimicked the sound of thunder and thus the association.

The paste is then used to make a “tea” soup that is to be served with a bowl of rice topped with condiments.

Taste

The stall owner recommended I try tea soup first before mixing up the bowl of rice with all the ingredients. From then on, she suggested I alternate between having spoonfuls of rice and occasional soup.

It was surprisingly good.

Despite its bland appearance, the dish was actually quite flavourful. While you won’t get overly strong flavours (think spicy, salty or vinegary), both the rice dish and the tea soup hit the mark.

When I downed that first spoonful of tea soup, it struck me as being a very “rich” creamy soup. Although there was no cream added, the taste was oddly satisfying. A few more spoonfuls of the soup revealed another taste that I failed to pick up on my first try: The fragrance of the thai basil used to make the paste. For those wondering, the tea paste is typically made from a few base ingredients such as toasted peanuts (which gave the soup that creamy taste I noted), toasted sesame, Thai basil, mint and tea leaves.

Then came the main part of the meal.

I mixed the rice with the condiments comprising mainly of stir fried long beans, some sliced vegetables, peanuts, fried anchovies and bits of beancurd. Sounds quite tasteless right? You cannot be more wrong. The vegetables have been lightly salted when being stir fried and helps impart some flavour. The peanuts and the anchovies also add their own layers of flavour to the rice dish and also some texture. After days of meat heavy and other rich foods, this simple rice bowl felt therapeutic. I was doing my body not only a flavour in terms of the actual taste of the food (the rice was delicious) but also helping cleanse my body of all those “toxins”. Leaving aside this health hocus pocus, so long as the dish tastes good to me and also looks decently healthy, I think that’s good enough for me.

Yes, I did finish my bowl of rice. Towards the end when I had maybe 3 to 4 spoonfuls of rice left in my bowl, I poured some tea soup into the bowl and created my own Thunder Tea porridge and far easier to scoop the remaining bits out from the bowl. While I don’t recommend doing it for the entire bowl worth of rice, I think a small portion of soup mixed with the rice towards the end of the meal helps tie it all up together and also helps you mop up the remaining bits of rice and vegetables.

For S$4 a portion, I think it one worthwhile health food in the city area without having to munch on a boring salad to stay healthy.

Have you tried Thunder Rice Tea? If not, will you be trying one any time soon?

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Super Makan Asia’s Beef Rendang – Food Review

Super Makan Asia’s Beef Rendang – Food Review

Super Makan Asia @ Tiong Bahru Plaza

During one of our quick short lunch outings, my colleagues and I headed over to Tiong Bahru Plaza (if you followed my blog from its infant days, you would have read my short post on this hidden gem).

Instead of some restaurant or a fancy eatery that would normally have justified the train ride out of the city area into the suburbs, my colleagues brought me to a small eatery at the basement of Tiong Bahru Plaza called “Super Makan Asia” (SMA).

The eatery can seat at most 25 diners at any one time and serves simple local fare at affordable prices between SGD 4 to SGD 6.50.

I was deciding between having their Nasi Lemak (check out my other post where I had Nasi Lemak from another stall that is frequented by dignitaries including the Sultan of Brunei) or their Beef Rendang.

For those uninitiated, “Rendang is a popular dish of meat stewed in coconut milk and spices, commonly found in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.” Singaporeinfopedia describes it as:

The meat, usually beef but sometimes chicken or mutton, is stewed in coconut milk with spices such as ginger, chillies, galangal (blue ginger), lemongrass, garlic, shallots, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric. A wide rather than a deep pot is preferred to allow the milk to evaporate during a slow boil of up to three hours. Skill is required to ensure the liquid does not overboil and cause the milk to curdle. However, if the fire is too low, the meat could burn. Correctly cooked, the liquid will thicken into the distinctive rendang gravy. This cooking process has several purposes – it adds flavour to the meat as it is braised in the spices; it softens and tenderises the meat as the dish dries up; and it enhances the preservation of the dish, allowing it to remain edible even two to three days later without refrigeration or up to two weeks in the refrigerator. The dish is best eaten with rice and is sometimes consumed with ketupat (steamed pressed rice). It is more often served in hawker centres as one of several dishes in nasi padang.

I decided to go for their Rendang. As the portion appeared small on the menu, I decided to add one bowl of curry vegetables as a side:

Super Makan Asia Beef Rendang

Curry Vegetables at Super Makan Asia

My verdict?

Skip the vegetables and just go for the Rendang.

The eatery offers a no frills experience with their Rendang. It is back to the basics of just plain rice with Rendang. I would have preferred slightly softer rice though.

Nothing here that will distract the person from the rich gravy generously coating each tender beef cube. The flavour is intense and is enriched by chunks of fat that gives the dish an extra punch (if you are health conscious just leave those bits on the side). The serving is also commendable unlike those served by normal Nasi Padang stalls. In fact, I think I could have done with two servings of rice for the amount of Rendang on my plate!

At S$6.50 a portion, SMA’s Rendang is, I think, not only value for money but also offer a taste of classic Rendang in a modern setting. SMA’s Rendang deserves one and a half stars out of three. I may just make that trip to have it again.

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