Melbourne, the food capital of Australia, where multi-cultural cuisines reign supreme. You've arrived at a food blog where good food has no boundaries - be it restaurants, cafes, takeaway joints and any other eating places. Recipes to try out with successes and failures blogged to no shame. The focus is on authentic Asian (Singapore) food found right here in the heart of Melbourne. Just remember, the best dining experience could surprise your tastebuds when you least expect it. Get ready to be surprised on my food journey. Bon Appétit!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Kong Bak Pao (Bao)

It has been said the Kong Bak (Braised Meat) Bao (Bun) is the Chinese version of the American Burger. But with gourmet burgers coming in the form of Golden Fields' Lobster Burger down to the pedestrian Hungry Jack's, there is always someone's version of something.

But enough of the burger talk. One of the things I missed most from my childhood is the smokey sweet smell of Kong Bak Bao and the braised tenderness of the meat encased within warm soft pillows of mantou. My parents used to bring me to West Lake as a child for some serious Kong Bak Bao indulgence. I don't remember much of the restaurant itself except that it was located on the 2nd floor under blocks of flats. I do remember thinking how lucky the residents were having West Lake Kong Bak Bao right at their doorstep literally and eating it everyday. Oh, the naivete of a Lipitor-innocent child.

So, having missed this dish for quite some time, I decided to make my very own for the first time. I tend to cook by instinct and gut feel so did not quite follow any recipe. But I would advise using a slow cooker for the recipe below or what I can remember of it!

Ingredients (for braised meat)

1-1.5kg pork belly skin on
8 star anise
2 tbs five-spice powder
12 tbs kecap manis
15 cloves peeled garlic
1 litre water
3 tbs light soy sauce
1 tbs honey
3 tbs sugar


Make sure the water is boiling hot. Pour into the slow cooker. Then stir in the rest of the ingredients except for the pork belly. Once the mixture boils, taste and add salt to preference.

Slice the pork into 1-inch pieces and place carefully into the slow cooker once the broth is ready. Ensure the meat is completely submerged.

Slow cook for just over 3 hours. I set mine on high although that does not mean a literal "HIGH" with my slow cooker, it's really just simmer. I prefer my meat to be melt-in-your-mouth braised. But it's entirely up to you to decide when to turn the slow cooker off.

When the meat is ready, steam your store-bought (yes, really. they taste good and who wants to waste their time making them nowadays) clam-shaped mantou. Once they are done, try making sure you have the mantou while they are hot.

Wash and cut the coriander, don't discard the stems.

You are set to go. Sandwich the meat between the clams of the mantou with lots of coriander. I have no idea why in the following pics my coriander looked like they've been plucked from the giant's veggie patch. My parents actually thought they were lettuce. My in-laws were intrigued as they have not seen or eaten Kong Bak Baos much to my chagrin and shock.

But enough of that, warning, food porn below (not THAT below):

Killiney Kopitiam Melbourne

Killiney Kopitiam
114 Lygon St
Carlton VIC 3053
03 9650 9880

It was a chance passing on Lygon St and a quick glimpse of that oh-so-familiar logo that I realised the Singapore famous Kopitiam, Killiney was here in Melbourne! S was convinced I must have got it wrong, how could a coffee shop in Singapore be right here in Melbourne? But hey, here it is.

For those in the know, Killiney is known for their kaya toast and kopi (which I don't drink). Personally I've always loved Ya Kun's thin brown rye bread with kaya and butter. Not that I'm in a position to be picky here in Melbourne. And I do have fond memories of Killiney as a kid in Singapore next to ComCentre.

Back to Killiney in Carlton.

The decor is nothing like I remembered of the more humble version in Singapore. But mind you, that was going back decades ago. It's a franchise so I was hoping for authentic versions of Singapore fare especially now that Chom Chom was no longer around.

Familiar logo and not-so-familiar menu:

Of course we had to order their signature set of Kaya Toast, Soft-Boiled Eggs and Teh Tarik to start.

The teh tarik was way too sweet, it lacks the fragrance and strength of a good teh tarik.

I was certainly not disappointed with the kaya toast. While the bread was just an average toast, the triumph was definitely the kaya. The whiff of coconut pandan brought back great childhood memories of biting into a warm toasted kaya slice. My fave kaya in Australia is Glory's Hainanese Kaya in a jar. But it sure doesn't beat Killiney's fragrant pandan flavoured coconutty eggy concoction.

Eggs were cooked perfectly but I was offered light soy sauce instead of the thick caramelly kecap manis. Love the little spoon, so so kopitiam.

Roti Prata was floury and definitely not the Singaporean version I remembered. Completely edible but does not leave you wanting more. It tasted just slightly stodgy.

I was anticipating the taste of laksa from home. From the pics on the menu, it looked like they were serving it with thick rice vermicelli (chor bee hoon) as was the description. Disappointing, it arrived with hokkien noodles instead. The broth was scented with the right amount of coconut milk, spices and laksa leaves. Unfortunately without the right laksa noodles, it just missed the mark.

The sambal chilli was familiar enough.

The char kway teow actually tasted rather like an Aussie version of itself. I was so rooting and hoping this would turn out good. But it's neither Penang char kway teow nor Singapore sweetish char kway teow. Again, perfectly edible but I question the authenticity.

We did take away the mee siam and chicken rice. While the minute portion of mee siam was fine (nothing a packet of Hai's instant paste can't match), the chicken rice was suitably impressive by Melbourne standards.

The owners assured us they were refining as they go and will be adding more to the menu. They are such nice guys you really are genuinely hoping the business goes well. They are looking at expansion, which sounds promising. I do hope they will and have plans to stick around longer. Actually talking to them reminds me of Singapore Chom Chom's Andrew, engineer son of the owner who is there helping most of the time and one of the most genuine guys you ever meet. Singapore do breed good blokes.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kurobuta Belly Pork Roast and Red Velvet Cupcakes

Being home-bound this holiday season need not be a sad parade everyday. There is no person I love spending time with more than my precious babies. My paralysed husky girl is fighting one health battle after another but with Mummy giving her some nice Kurobuta pork (minus the fat and crackling), it did cheer her up a little bit.

Straits Cafe Doncaster Review

Straits Cafe 
694 Doncaster Road
Doncaster VIC 3108
03 98081845

Living in the bayside area of Melbourne, we are far from any "authentic" form of Asian cuisine, at least not those deemed authentic by the seasoned Singaporean and Malaysian taste buds. Jolted out of my inertia the other day, I had a sudden craving for Or Luak (Oyster Omelette). No doubt inspired by an MMS pic from a friend holidaying in Singapore featuring the starchy delicious hot mess of oysters, eggs, tapioca-potato-flour and spring onions.

So I decided to ask my good friend Google for a recommendation. I knew I had to travel east to find some sort of half-authentic version of this dish. Now I've been to Straits Cafe in Doncaster a few times over the years to know that Tony, the at-times cantankerous chef does a decent job of frying a mean Char Kway Teow and Hor Fun. I could never get used to calling it Sar Hor Fan like the M'sians. I didn't know they have started frying Or Luak but apparently only on 2 select days of the week. What do you know, this was my lucky day for once after a whole year of tragic circumstances.

Poor S was suffering from sciatica but was game enough to rev the engine and make our way to hawker mecca with a 45-min day trip to the eastern land of Asian congregation.

After placing orders for Or Luak, Char Kway Teow, Lo Bak and Rojak, S decided to head to Chemist Warehouse for some Voltaren. So guess who was left sitting alone with all 4 dishes arriving at once trying to ignore the gasps and shocked looks from the petite Asian girls who were struggling to finish a quarter of their har-mee and the men thanking their lucky stars on the money they save from not dating a glutton. Don't they know fat people never hoe down in public?? Yes size 10 or 12 are XL and XXL in Asia.

So this is how it looked:

The first dish I tucked into was Or Luak (Oyster Omelette). It is important to note that the dipping chilli sauce is essential to the dish. No matter how nicely done the Or Luak is, an insipid chilli dipping sauce can spoil the taste.

In this instance, the Or Luak itself was literally more like an omelette than the gooey starchy fry-up it usually is. Straits' version is more like a flat pancake-like egg omelette with chives and oysters. It is perfectly acceptable but lacks the exciting piping hot sensation you come to expect visually and gastronomically to fill you with the aroma of garlic, mashed up eggs and oysters. The gel-like starch of tapioca and potato flour mixed with undercooked eggs, chives clinging to fresh oysters still oozing with juice and garlicky goodness is just missing.

The chilli dipping sauce was a huge disappointment. It was slightly tangy, as if making a polite concession to the original version. It needs to have that robust unapologetic sourness of lime juice and vinegar with the spiciness of pounded chilli padi and pungent punchy taste of shallots. There is no zing. But it wouldn't be fair to expect the hawker version so true to Singapore hawkers and Malaysia's street vendors. So as far as having the pleasure of eating something that resembles the real thing, Straits probably hit the spot with the Or Luak, albeit a weak one.

Kudos to the Lo Bak, or Ngoh Hiang as we refer to this dish in Singapore. I've always loved the Lo Bak here. They use chicken instead of pork and it's in strips rather than minced. For some reason the texture reminds me of fish or prawn paste but it's not. Superbly juicy, the filling is flavoursome and moreish. The beancurd skin is crispy but they were generous with the filling so there's not much of the skin that's spare.

The most dependable and star dish here is the Char Kway Teow. But on this occasion, and I can't pinpoint why, it was just average. Perhaps the really busy lunchtime crowd and huge takeaway orders were putting pressure on Tony to fry as quickly as possible to meet the demand, but I can guarantee the standard is normally much better than it was today. What can I say? It is what it is, we all have our up and down days. 

After a couple of mouthfuls, we decided to take it away. When we asked for it to be taken away, the waitress said she'll give us a box, then she started serving other people and forgot about our container. So I took it up to the counter and paid at the same time. The container was in her hand but she made me take the plate back to my table with the container to do it myself. Do note they charge 50c for the container, it's calculated in the bill and you won't be advised about it in advance.

The Rojak was delicious. Straits was extremely generous with the sauce and crushed peanuts. The few pieces of mung guang (yam bean) adds a great crunch to the texture. The blandness of the mung guang goes perfectly with the thick rojak sauce. It wouldn't be fair to expect them to use as much mung guang as they do in Singapore or Malaysia. At between $9-$11 a kg, and as generous a portion as Straits provide, it just doesn't make sense to put mainly mung guang in there. However you can hardly tell the difference with the substitutes - granny smith apples and pineapples. I've done without the cucumber and tow pok in my rojak, preferring to stick to mainly fruits in it. They do have kang kong veggies and my fave cuttlefish in there. The cuttlefish goes incredibly well with it.

Straits Cafe in Doncaster is no fine-dining establishment, but you know what? I kinda like that. Somehow having hawker food in a posh environment makes me think it is probably not all that authentic. But if a cafe environment is what you are looking for, go to Straits Cafe in Wantirna. It is managed by none other than Tony and Helen's son and daughter-in-law. If you do go on the weekends to either, their Popiah is not to be missed, you've been tipped!