Thursday, 21 February 2013

Din Tai Fung: where xiao long bao is just *wow*

Forget bak kut teh, forget chicken over rice and forget kaya toasties. There was one thing on my Singapore food list I would not have left without: Din Tai Fung's xiao long bao. It has been a while since I've had decent dumplings and God knows the ones in Londontown would never compare to the ones we have in Asia.

My date was clearly excited. So was I.

We went to the one in Resorts World Sentosa, for a much needed power lunch before our kids' date out at Universal Studios. There was already a bit of a queue but we only had to wait for 15 minutes which I suppose wasn't bad considering it was a Saturday. Gave us enough time to browse the menu and tick all the munchies we wanted to order.

They served us the hot and sour soup first and I was surprised at how massive the small serving was. The soup itself was quite tasty and had the most amazing consistency and texture. I hate extra thick, extra chunky, corn starch laden soup so this was great. The only thing I found lacking was the element of spice; it wasn't as hot as I hoped.

On to the next one: classic pork xiao long bao!
It was as good as I remember: the broth aplenty and the filling perfectly porky. I know people usually eat xiao long bao with vinegar, ginger, soy sauce, etc but I like being a purist with these babies. I'd put a bit of chilli oil every now and then for a heat kick but the broth is super tasty on its own so there's really no need to change the flavour profile.

Delighted with my dumpling

Plaid Boy ordered the deep-fried 'specially marinated' pork chop with special fried rice.I'm not a huge fan of pork chop but I actually liked this one as it was lean and tender. Whatever it is they put on their 'special marinade', it works!

It was already a (relatively) healthy meal but of course we had to have our 5-a-day portion so we also had  some kailan (aka Chinese broccoli) stir-fried in a classic concoction of oyster sauce, soy, and oil. Plus lots of fried garlic.

Did you think six pork dumplings would serve our bellies full? Of course not. We also ordered the crab and pork xiao long bao.
Remember my review on Yauatcha's king crab and pork xiao long bao? No comparison to Din Tai Fung's version. The former was so full of extenders that neither of the flavours stood out. Plus the broth was bland. The latter, on the other hand...

You can actually spot the crab bits! The balance of flavour is interesting; you bite once and the dumpling is distinctly pork, you bite twice and it's distinctly crab. My mind was initially confused by it but I stopped wondering after the second piece because it was just so delicious. I could definitely live on this if I had to.

We were pretty full at this point but one of the servers dropped our steamed chilli crab and pork buns (which I think we kinda forgot about).

Look at the filling, look how generous they are with pork and crab:
Like the steamed dumplings, it was packed with pork and crab meat and had a good kick to it.

Excuse me while I burp at the thought of all that.

Ahhh. I can't pinpoint what makes DTF's fare so special. I like that you get the same quality grub whichever branch you visit. I also like the fact that the place is not poncey at all; despite international fame, everything at DTF reflects its humble beginnings, focusing on authenticity and respect of flavour. I also like that it's a total value for money (and they were so generous with the stuff!)

Overall my xiao long bao craving of x years was extremely satisfied and my belly reveled in gastronomic glee. What an awesome kick-off to a wonderful date. <3

Din Tai Fung
(Resorts World Sentosa) 26 Sentosa Gateway #01-217 Singapore 098138  | +65 6686 3565
Ave spend pp: £15 OR LESS!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Six tracks for February 2013

And here's our monthly six-track playlist. =)

Rihanna ft. Mikky Ekko - Stay
I am not a Rihanna fan at all. I saw her live once and felt ripped off, just because she was awful. That said, I do like this track, which she performed at the Grammys. It's simple and straightforward with lyrics like "The reason I hold on / Cause I need this hole gone / Funny you're the broken one but I'm the only one who needed saving / Cause when you never see the light it's hard to know which one of us is caving". Wonder if she was thinking of Chris Brown. 

Mikky Ekko - Pull Me Down
Speaking of Mikky Ekko (whose name is actually John Stephen Sudduth), has anyone actually heard of him before the Grammys? His tracks have been floating on some Spotify playlists for a while now. This track is pretty slick and sexy. Like most things that spell 'trouble'. =)

Ben Pearce - Need To Know
Sampling Anthony Hamilton's Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens, Ben Pearce gives us a cool slick tune that reminds me of being single. I first heard this in a cocktail bar whilst, uh, being chatted up by a Kiwi who thought I was Aussie. I don't remember much about the conversation because a) I wasn't interested and b) I was semi-hypnotised by the song's beat. Don't ask, just listen.

Foals - Late Night
Holy Fire, Foals’ third album, was released this week and just like a lost puppy returning home it summons a bit of getting used to. I’m sure fans will debate with me on this though: I want to love it as much as I love Total Life Forever but I’m a bit confused; I like more than half of the tracks but there are other tunes that almost send me off to sleep. My favourite track off the album, Milk and Black Spiders, isn't on YouTube yet. Will post later.

Solange - Losing You
While her supermegafamous sister almost always dominates the pop/R&B charts whenever a single is released, Solange's underrated, almost Motownish style has set her on a comfy spot on the B/C-List (and the occasional berating on gofugyourself). But it's cool because she's cool and this track (released last year) is cool. I love its steady chill 80s vibe, and though it's different from her old . And I love how different it is from Mrs Carter's  it is and how e  I love howAlso check the remix by Cyril Hahn, who did that  kickass remix of Destiny's Child's Say My Name too.

Tegan and Sarah - Goodbye Goodbye
I listened to Tegan and Sarah's seventh studio album and my initial thoughts questioned the lack of the usual indie guitar blankets. They've one-upped the synths and this gives the whole album a poppish, more commercial feel (there are some bits off the album's first single, Closer, that reminds me of a certain advert). That said, it works quite brilliantly. Lyrically, the twins are stronger and more honest than ever and every track is pretty catchy. Overall a good dive into electropop. =)


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Yes, this is a V-Day post.

DISCLAIMER: This is not a sponsored post.

Valentine’s Day was heaps bigger when we were younger. In grade school, we’d write requisite greetings on cardboard hearts for a name out of a box (so nobody leaves heart-less) and get funny written ones from ‘secret admirers’. In high school, fancy floral arrangements would dominate common spaces (resulting from the mass exodus of the male species to the flower shops of Dangwa the night before). Oh, and don’t discount the influx of soft plush toys; no other day in a year have I seen so many Tazmanian Devils, Powerpuff Girls and Marvin the Martians (there was a year when I received all three).

Where are we now with V-Day though? Bit more on the "Meh" side? Most of us really can’t be bothered for various reasons -
       “I’m too cool to be commercial.”
“It’s a nonsensical and an impractical holiday.”
“But you should celebrate love everyday, not just for a day!”
“My IQ is inversely proportional to my EQ.”

Admittedly, I don’t rate V-Day much either. Whilst the aforementioned reasons have been used to escape invites and what-have-you’s... there was one big reason behind all this (thank you P for pointing this out): "It's scarier than Halloween". So much pressure to pull tricks and treats off and you end up having a heart attack for fear of being the new Lanie Boggs. That's why, whether I was in a relationship or not, I've never gone out on a V-Day date. 

Trust me. It's scary and you'll never forget it. 

But hey, I'm not that cynical. I get why some people are still super in the mood to go woot woot on festivities. Love, in all forms, is still a really special thing to find/to feel/to have and if people fancied making a big day out of it then let's not ruin their parade. In fact, if you yourself fancied giving your special someone a little something for the day of luuuuuurve... why don't you...

1. BE SWEET and say it with a box of choccy! Nothing screams V-Day more than a box of cocoa and candy.

Cocoa Monster ManilaThe new face of sexy quality chocolate! If you think the box looks amazing, wait til you try the truffles. My brother's recommended flavours are peanut butter and coffee! They also do custom orders for events and corporate giveaways so check out their Facebook page for more info, or call +63 922 873 6638. Better yet, go visit their shop in Eastwood Mall (Ground Floor) and see for yourself! They're there for the V-Day bazaar til the 17th =)

Hotel Chocolat's Love Selection. (London/UK) Now this, is a kit made for the day. Truffles, check. Chocolate bar, check. Small bottle of rosé, check. Dark lemon drops, check. For £35, this hamper goes a long long way. All you need is a tin of mints before kissing. And someone to share it with.

Laduree. Because Paris, discounting its blasé chicness, is still the city of romance and that mint green and gold shop is a bit of aristocratic Paris and Marie Antoinette (of course) in London. Check out their V-Day Menu! The Covent Garden branch is quite small but the piazza itself is spectacular and perfect for dates with its cobblestone steps and charming artsy vibe =)

2. BE CHEESY! Literally, because a hamper of cheese goes a looooong way. It's nice and cute and very pleasing to the palate. Have a cheesy night. There are a lot of good delis around. My favourites S&L (Makati, Philippines) and Neal's Yard (London, which I've blogged about before) will not disappoint. They have really good cheeses: the former sell European dairy and the latter sell cheese from all over Britain. An old favourite, if not for the trek to Marylebone is La Fromagerie. They're considered to have the best cheese rooms in London and if you fancy a 'different' sort of V-Day, check out their 'thrilling' V-Day 

S&L Fine Foods: 135-B Yakal St. San Antonio Village, Makati City, Philippines | +632 836 7713
Neal's Yard Dairy: 17 Shorts Gardens, London, England | +44(0)20 7240 5700
La Fromagerie: 2-6 Moxon Street, Marylebone, London | +44(0)20 7935 0341

3. GO WAIT IN 'VAIN' and treat yourself (and bring a date!) to a salon visit. Azta Urban Salon is giving 25% off their Brazilian Keratin (with Iron) Treatment (til 30th April). It's an awesome treatment for reducing unwanted hair volume and elimination of hair frizz and kink (har har the pun). Other salons would call this the Brazilian Blowout/Permadry. Azta's treatment has a milder formula containing leeeeeeess formaldehyde which makes it super safe for both customer and stylist. =)

Or just go and have a decent time prettifying yourselves for a big date. Click here to view a menu of their services. =)

3. BE MA-ART, EH! You know how people say it's the thought that counts (and the handbag/shoe that follows)? It seriously is true. The most underrated presents are the ones that do not hold much monetary value but bear priceless moments and so much meaning. Why don't you try getting crafty together? Learn the art of DIY? The art of cooking? The art of making lo....ts of happy memories? Try something new with your partner. Jack Johnson said "it's always better when we're together."

Craft MNL (Manila) - Get crafty!
Crafternoons at Fullybooked (Manila) - Alessandra Lanot of Life After Breakfast teaches you DIY
L'atelier des Chefs (London) - bake your cake and eat it, too!
Photography Tours and Courses (London) - for snap happy freaks.

4. MIX IT UP. Because Lloyd Dobler set 'harana' standards high and everyone fell in love with Charlie and his tunnel song. Because personalised playlists are awesome and mixtapes will never be out of tune. Have a look here, here, here and here for ideas.

5. JUST SAY IT. Perhaps this is the real reason why most of us aren't that bothered about V-Day. To express love, complex as it is, can be very simple. Yes it's scary, yes it's nerve-racking and yes, some of yous think that if you say it too often the meaning will get lost. Come on, people. Most of us are way beyond lucky to find and to have someone to say it to - and most of us are idiots for not saying it as often as we should whilst we still could.

There's nothing more romantic than saying it straight. Three words, eight letters. Simple.

Uh, and on that note... (and because I believe I'm lucky)
I love you, Plaid Boy.


Thursday, 7 February 2013

Philippines 2012: Cagayan Valley part 2

There's a sort of excitement you get from being 'one with nature'. I haven't felt that for a while until my father took me to see his farm. I felt like a cross between Dora the Explorer and a kid off to Toys R Us for the first time.

Played in the corn fields, trying to look for those crop sightings.

My father joined me for a while, worried I'd get lost (haha!)

It was a fantastic sea of my favourite colour. And it stretched as far as the actual ocean.

Coconut trees were scattered all over. I find them really calming, as if summer was just around the corner.

Of course we had to try the produce. 

It was fun picking and munching on calamansi all throughout the tour. 

For as long as I remember my parents have always been fond fish farms. Unsurprisingly, they had some ponds/lakes on the other side of the farm to harvest fish, mostly tilapia. We came just in time for feeding. Did you know that Region 2 is considered the 'Tilapia capital of the Philippines'? Pampanga apparently used to hold this title until 2008.

They were harvesting some sort of mollusks too. I'm not quite sure what they're called. Do you know?

More photos:

After the trip we went to visit my dad's mother and his siblings, my aunties whom I've not seen in years. Some cousins were visiting for the holidays too. I only have 11 cousins in total, so it was good to spend time with them there. My grandmother was quite teary when she realised most of us were there and it was cool to see that despite most of us being based elsewhere, her children still look out for her.

This was really pretty.

Guess what my auntie M's profession is...

Eggplant, anyone?

I really had an amazing time and I hope I can visit the farm and Sta Teresita again soon.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Philippines 2012: Cagayan Valley part 1

My last visit to Region 2 was eight years ago and man, was it eventful - I caught severe dengue and almost died (clearly I've not been back since). When I went back to the Philippines in December, we had to spend a good chunk of my visit in Tuguegarao City because my father worked over the holidays. I was pleasantly surprised to see and hear about the overall development and the evident economic growth in town: they've built buildings for BPOs, commercial and government hubs, decent student accommodation, various cafés/bars, etc. Plus I've not experienced extremely fast Wi-Fi anywhere else. Good job.

A few highlights:

Family time. Enough said.

Seeing my father work with the Valley Cops. PNP Regional Office II was named best unit (topping all other 16 commands in the country) in 2012 and was given the Presidential Streamer Award. My father always spoke of his team during our catch up convos and I've never really heard him speak so proudly. At a thanksgiving event and at the Christmas Eve mass, he said that it wasn't just through his leadership, but more so through the dedication and hard work of his men that they got to where they are. And it showed beyond statistics; coppas from the scouts to POs, from SGTs to COLs were so dedicated and eager to do their jobs despite the moody weather and despite being away from their families during the holidays. Galing.

I have to give super special mention to Kuya Jerry, Kuya Jerome, Kuya Tabs and Kuya Mike who were always with my sibs and I. Admittedly, it felt strange being 'watched' at first as I've been so used to doing things on my own in London but in the end it felt like they were extended family so it didn't feel invasive at all. My bro and I went out with them pa a few times for drinks and despite our silly attempts at 'escaping', they always made sure our shenanigans were safe. Kuya Jerry's the best (I have to say that in case he reads this).

We went on random road trips as my father wanted to show us around the region. One of the most poignant moments of the trip happened whilst driving through Buntun Bridge, the longest river bridge and second longest bridge in the country. This is the bridge my late grandfather built; it was his proud piece of work and ultimately, the cause of his death. I never got to meet gramps but we've heard heaps about him from my granny. As we drove in silence there was a surreal feeling of pride and a strange sense of longing. Yes, you can miss and love someone you've never met.

Buntun Bridge, Instagrammed by my brother & myself.

We visited some churches to light prayer candles and to offer thanks. It was great to sit back in reflection as He's given us so many blessings and so many opportunities to do good.

St Clare Monastery, Iguig

Basilica Minore Nuestra Señora de Piat

We had so much food to eat also; lechon was abundant (everyday!), seafood was fresh, veggies were organic,  fruits were juicy and ginormous... aaaargh! I could go on forever! Brekky was always amazing and we always looked forward to waking up to the awesome smell of garlic rice (yes, rice!!!) Everything was delicious. Going out was fun too as drinks were actually decent. Cocktails were only PHP100-180 each scotch ranged from PHP150-300 a shot (and this was already the nicely aged ones you pay thrice as much in Manila for).

I'll write more about the trip in the next few days. The more I think about it though, the more I actually miss the place. So many things I loved about that trip - especially the fact that I didn't catch dengue this time around! Haha!