Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A Small Sum of Asam

This food stop was at Cafe Mark in One Utama. If I hadn't been taken there by regular diners I might not have noticed the inconspicuous establishment. The modest entrance and decor reflect the simple local style of food served. But don't let the quaint quietude put you off, this cafe is famous for a fragrant fiery feast of Asam Laksa.

Asam is a soup based on the tangy tamarind. It is sour and spicy and packed with fresh fragrant herbs and vegetables for an extra zesty boost. What's great about this style of laksa is that it satisfies your cravings for chili and curry-esque spices without the added richness of coconut milk. The tang of tamarind, menthol of mint and heat of chili all work together in one refreshing noodle bowl. Mark's is also surprisingly generous with the fish meat which soaks up the bold broth.

Keeping with the asam theme, we ordered a plate of Asam Sting Ray. Yes, sting ray. I love sting ray. The flesh is the most moist, delicate, white fish meat you will ever eat. Having a single smooth plane of conjoined cartilage instead of finicky invisible needles is also a plus when diving into a bite of ray. Here they are prepared in an asam sauce and served with okra or ladies fingers to the locals. They also give you a plate of rice and mixed vegetables for an afoordable set lunch price.

Shovelling all the spicy acidic sauces down my throat, I definitely needed a hydrating cooler to quench the would-be stomach ulcer burning its way through my digestive track. Cincau to the rescue! If I am ever hot, thirsty or need a gastronomic fire extinguisher, this cooling grass jelly drink always rises to the challenge. Soothing, smooth and filled with silky strands of jelly. I want one. Now.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Sweet and Savoury Singaporean Sensations

On one our trips around the many malls of KL, we stopped for a quick bite at Oriental Cravings. IT's a small cafe in a department store, wedged between clothing and handbag stores. Simple local style food here is served up with a little extra cost for the cool clean air-conditioned atmosphere. Wasn't too hungry at the time but I could not resist having a savoury bite. Glancing through the menu, my usual choices of hot curries and assam based dishes seemed a tad too daunting. So Singapore fried noodles were a welcome option for a light flavourful tea time meal.

Singapore fried noodles is a dish of mee hoon (fine rice noodles or rice vermicelli) and assorted vegetables and proteins. Bean sprouts, onions, bell peppers, spring onions and shallots are common choices for plant portion while prawns, pork, chicken and egg are frequently present as the protein. The noodles are fried dry (meaning without a soup or liquidy gravy) and seasoned to be sweet and salty with a hint of heat. Don't be deterred by the term, dry, as the noodles are anything but. Bold flavours are carried by the soft fluffy strands of noodles making every bite a scrumptious explosion. It's fun and filling enough as a main dish without being heavy. Very satisfying working your way through the plethora of ingredients and textures. It's a really popular item in oriental menus abroad, like Chinatown in London. Cheap too.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Sassy Shelf Selections of Sarsaparilla

A&W Root Beer has been my favourite commercial root beer brand as long as I can remember, probably due to the association with vanilla ice cream floats in big frosty glasses. Damn you Pavlov. There's something special about drinking a beverage from a tinted glass bottle. Nostalgic, if you will. A bridge back to the days before mass-produced aluminium cans and plastic bottles. There's a sense of history every time you wrap your fingers around the cool weight of a glistening glass vessel. This was the first factor that attracted me to this sturdy bottle of root beer. I had never tasted Angus O'Neil's brew before. It was nice. It has a pleasant mellow flavour, less sweet than most commercial brews. You can really taste the subtleties of the various ingredients like ginger and liquorice. Those who are very sensitive to herbal flavours like these should probably avoid this one. For everyone else, it is a very nice alternative to regular root beer. Like any good brew, it goes great with a salty snack. Root beer from Down Under :)

They're bulky, but I consider them carry on

I've never been crazy for chocolate or nuts. As a child, I was more of a Mars bar fan than I was a Snickers one. I love soft and chewy textures which is why nougat and taffy have long been my candies of choice. The supermarkets here in Bangkok have wide range of sugary snacks but they tend not to draw from American influences, unless you are wandering the aisles of Villa (specialty import supermarket), but even they you will often see more Australian or British products. So when trolling through the tantalising trenches of treats back in Malaysia, these little tangerine packets caught my eye. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

I love trying things I don't normally eat. I vaguely recall having these cups of chocolate coated peanut butter before but I wanted a fresh experience. I'm a sucker for retro aesthetics so the packaging was almost enough for me to reach out and grab them.

Tiny food has always been one of my vices. Aren't they adorable? I've always thought they looked like miniature chocolate tarts. The tiny paper cups create that cute connection to the charming cupcake. Even the crappy cardboard tray could pass as a cookie sheet. I would have loved to play with these during one of my childhood cooking game sessions. Pint sized pies anyone?

The milk chocolate is quite mild, which works for my tastes. The only problem with the cocoa casing is that it seems to instantaneously liquify upon human contact. The equatorial climate may have contributed to this, but even in air-conditioned rooms, the chocolate seemed to melt if you breathed on it. Strategic consumption may have to come into play when tacking these candies. Gently pull the paper cup away with your finger tips and scoff the lot. Biting a bit at a time may lead to melty chocolate mess. The thin soluble paper does not provide any structural support whatsoever. Regardless of these issues, the whole point of the peanut butter cup is, of course, the peanut butter. The enclosed nutty goodness is not exactly like it's creamy namesake. The peanut filling is drier in substance but surprisingly more silky on the palette. It's salty as peanuts should be and is just sweet enough to remind you that you are indeed eating junk food. They also seem to be addictive. A few days later I ended up buying a family bag of mini ones and kept munching them on the plane. Miniature tiny food: miniature with the more miniature size. Anybody want a peanut?

Saturday, 2 July 2011

My Milkshake Bringeth All Ye Gentle Folk to the Breakfast Table

I like milkshakes to the point that I drowned out my childhood cow milk allergy in cold creamy goodness. If anyone lives near a GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) you have to try the lime milkshake, it is pure puckering perfection. But let's get back to the breakfast table. The diabetic American one to be more precise. As a child I had heard of these candy coloured pastry treats that you could just pop into a toaster and enjoy. But they were from far away and you could only see them in Archie comics and on TV. A little way down the road and the emergence of import supermarkets gave the bright boxes a place on the shelf. But they were really expensive and look mildly radioactive to adults. Finally in my college years, I shared a dormitory with a notorious candy dealer. She had ample supplies of the elusive rectangular pastry pockets. I got pop tarts.

Now, my first flavour was the classic strawberry. Since I was giving in to the infantile impulses of my food psyche I might as well stick with one of the most child-friendly fruit flavours. I liked my first few bites enough. It may have been my high expectations and excitement that led me to believe that. You soon realise the taste of rainbows tastes like chemicals. I needed a tall glass of milk to help wash it down and desensitise my tongue. Fast-forward to my most recent trip to Malaysia, I was shopping around a Cold Storage (local supermarket chain) looking for local snacks or anything I was not used to seeing in Bangkok. Lo and behold the psychedelic packages were sitting neatly on the shelf. I know I can get pop tarts in Bangkok, but I tend not to go looking for them. Again, my mind likes the idea of such over the top treats more than my taste buds. What caught my attention in this case was the flavour: Strawberry Milkshake. A certain someone had recently sent me a photo of the flavour range for sale in a vending machine. I was baffled as how a product that was already the furthest possible thing from a healthy breakfast could be pushed even further. Ice cream parlour flavours do not equate healthy or breakfast. I needed to know.

It's a sweet cookie pastry stuffed with a sweet filling, iced with a sweet pink icing and decorated with sweet rainbow sprinkles. I can feel my foot falling off as I stare at the pale plank of potential diabetes. But wait! There's 25 percent less sugar! Only 3 cups instead of 4! Yay! Kittens for everyone! Still, this merely meant that you could take a few more bites than usual before needing something to soothe the sweet sugary burn. The pastry and icing were the same as I recalled from previous encounters, clinging to the bleak flavours of white flour and white sugar but strangely satisfying if you're in the right mood.

I am a sucker for sprinkles so seeing the little flecks of colour was a welcome break in the otherwise albino tart. The monotonous colour palette was reiterated once I penetrated the crumbly casing. I preferred the glaring red of strawberry filling peeking out from under a blanket of snow white icing. The tart faintly emanated the fragrance of a strawberry milkshake which was not too unpleasant. The cut in sugar was a welcome adjustment, but overall, if I am in the mood for doping up on kiddie crank, I'd rather have the sweeter sharpness of fructose fruit from a straight strawberry one. Nyan cat, all the way.