Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Durians, the King of Fruits

Yes, it is the season of durian, the King of Fruits in these parts of the World. For the uninitiated, durian is a thorny fruit found throughout South East Asia. It grows on trees and fall when they ripen. My hometown is very famous for durians. We have a little orchard and I was back over the weekend for some durian feasting

Little Hut in the Orchard

Smoke to rid the mozzies

The first thing my dad always do is to start a bonfire of dried and green leaves to chase away the mozzies. Yes, mozzies here are aplenty and quite aggressive. Insect repellent is essential when visiting the orchard.

Fruits hanging from the tree

Generally, ripe durians will fall from from the trees over night. What we usually do is to walk around the orchard and pick up fruits that we can find lying on the ground. Sometimes durians do fall when we are doing the picking hence the hard hat.
Collection in Progress. No, not sure what's with the hippie pants and pink sneakers

Some people run an orchard for commercial purposes. However, my dad run our orchard out of interest. We do not intend to sell the fruits that we pick hence we do not use any insecticides or chemicals on the trees. What we get is that durians are often half eaten by squirrels. Since the squirrels can't finish the whole durian, we are often left with half of the fruit that is still good to eat as durian flesh are compartmentalised.

Hole left by squirrels
Another proof that our durians are full organic

Counting the harvest

Besides durians, there are other kind of fruits in the orchard. One of the more popular choices are mangoes. Coincidentally, one of the mango trees had bore fruit and was ready for harvest.

Getting the pole ready to dislodge the mangoes from the tree


The Old Work Horse

Bountiful harvest
The skin of the durian is often described as a thorny and hard coat of armour. Access to the flesh of the fruit often involves a machete/cleaver/chopper, a pair of steady, strong hands and nerves of steel.

The flesh of the can be described as custard like with a strong and pungent smell. Some of my Westeros Westerner friends liken the smell and taste to blue cheese but that is over simplifying things. The taste of durian is often complex and varies from tree to tree. Some carries a creamy sweet taste while some are a bit bitter.

Durian is known to be "heaty" in nature. Traditionally, we drink salt water to "cool down" after a durian feast. However, a better alternative is young coconut water. Coincidentally, there were some coconut trees outside of our house and a few were ripe for harvest, or so we thought.

Again, opening a coconut involves a machete. However, instead of precision cutting and prying as with durians, opening a coconut involves pure and simple hacking.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Miam Miam, 1 Utama Shopping Mall

If there is one thing common about Malaysia and Singapore, it our love of good food. It is not surprising that many Malaysian eateries have spread it wings to her Southern neighbour. To name a few, Paparich, Madam Kwan, Old Town White Coffee had made their presence felt in Singapore. The latest to join the list is Miam Miam, a cafe who prides itself as a "casual Artisanal French cafe-restaurant that brings together a mixture of French Artisanal Cuisine and techniques with influences derived from traditional Japanese preparation and cooking art".

I have passed by the Bugis Junction outlet a few times but did not have the opportunity to pop in. However, I managed to pay a visit to its 1 Utama Outlet in Malaysia last weekend. We reach there around 12.30pm, and boy, the queue was long. I waited for roughly 20 minutes for a table of 4, and that is with 2 parties before me giving up.

The choices on offer are not many. Basically what's on offer are broken down into soups, appetisers, bread and sandwich, pancakes, pasta, baked rice and souffle. Drink wise we have the various iterations of coffee, tea, smoothies, juices and soda.

We decided to start of with their signature pasta dish aptly named Miam Miam Spaghetti. When I was ordering, the maitre'd did emphasize that what is shown in menu will not be what I will be getting. The picture shows bacon but the 1 Utama outlet does not serve pork unlike their main branch in Gurney Plaza, Penang. What we get are turkey ham, chicken sausages, mushrooms, some tomatoes, veg, tossed in their secret sauce (sesame based) topped of with a soft boiled egg and some roasted sesame. Unlike purely western style pasta, the sauce is far more lighter and in my opinion suits the taste buds of Asians better. The balance of meat and veg makes this dish less jelat. The addition of the soft boiled egg enhances the smoothness of the dish. 

Miam Miam Spaghetti Before Tossing

Miam Miam Spaghetti after Tossing
Next up is Miam Maim's version of carbonara. The usual cabonara that we often see is quite heavy on cheese and cream. The Japanese influenced version have a far more lighter sauce only thicken by the soft boiled egg. The pasta comes with quite a generous amount of chicken sausages.
Spaghetti Carbonara

For the  rice dish, we decided on the Riz Au Curry.This basically rice with a chicken frank, some beef, an egg, some broccoli baked in thick Japanese curry sauce and beef stock. It being a Japanese curry dish, the spiciness is practically non existence for South East Asian taste buds but it is quite fragrant. The beef stock adds that tinge of extra dimension to the dish.   
Riz Au Curry

For pudding we ordered what this place is famous for - the French Toast. The menu states that this is the best in town and urged its patrons to "don't ask, just order". Quite a claim and I was not disappointed. One problem with French toast is that some cafes tend to overdo with the dressing and syrup. Besides that, some tend to overdo the batter and over fry. If I want Roti John, I will get Roti John. No such problems here. The bread is just battered lightly. It comes with a scope of fresh cream on top and the syrup was served separately. The bread is soft and warm. I was able to cut just using a fork.  

The coffee here is not cheap at RM8.80 for a small cup. The difference compared to other cafes is that their coffee is hand dripped. No espresso machines here. The coffee did not disappoint. Compared to Espressos, this hand dripped coffee carries a lighter after taste and is perfect having it just with milk. 

Agnes ordered a peanut butter and banana milk shake. Nothing light about this shake. It sounded as if one can have this as a meal alone. The consistency was indeed quite thick. I stole a sip of it and it really did taste good. Something different you can't get else where, I think.

Peanut Butter Banana Milk Shake

Overall, the food here is quite good, albeit at the salty side for the rice and pasta. Servings are quite large whereby 4 adults can actually share 3 mains and a pudding (though I don't think the French Toast was meant as a pudding). One thing about this place is that if you are really hungry, you are better off going somewhere. Inevitably you would have to wait for a table. After getting a table, the kitchen will take another 20-30 minutes to prepare your order. I think it is because they really make it from scratch (as they proudly put it in neon sign) and not cook the food in large batches.

Prices are typical of cafes in Klang Valley. Meal for 4 pax comes to about RM130 with taxes. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Wong Hee Restaurant, Bandar Mahkota Cheras, Selangor.

This is one our favourite restaurants around our neighbourhood in Sg Long/Mahkota Cheras. This joint serves good food at a cheap price. Moreover, service is often prompt and friendly. Over the weekend, after some chores in Sg Long, we decided to pop over to have a quick dinner.

One of the dish that we always order is the pumpkin tofu. This dish is like a 2 in 1 dish. The base layer consist of steamed egg. On top of it will be the fried tofu and other condiments like mushrooms, vege etc. All these in a bath of pumpkin gravy. The texture of of the steamed egg is smooth and it is not unlike chawanmushis you get at Japanese restaurants. The pumpkin gravy is just of the right consistency (not to thick or too runny to go with rice.

When we were deciding on what vegetable to order, we were told that the fancifully named "Green Dragon" vegetable was available. This is a leafy vegetable that looks like Chinese chives but does not carry the strong taste that put some people off. It goes well stir fried together with bean sprouts. The crunchiness of the bean sprouts and leafyness of the "Green Dragon" vegetable compliment each other. It would taste better if some salted fish is added into the stir fry. However, we were not up to something too salty that day hence we settled for a garlic stir fry.

Next up, is the steamed free range chicken that came highly recommended by the maitre'd. For the uninitiated, it is not too easy to find free range chicken in Malaysia (strange that it may sound) and it always comes at a high price. In addition to that, even though restaurants claim to serve free range chicken, there is a tendency to serve frozen free range chicken. A frozen free range chicken would have lost most of its flavour and will often carry the thawed meat taste. However, I am glad to say that the free range chicken that was served was indeed fresh and worth the extra money. Texture of the meat was just nice unlike farm fed chicken which is always too though at the breast meat and too soft/fatty at the thigh and drumsticks.

By the way, have I mentioned that the speciality of this joint is their claypot fish. Look around and you would notice that every table would have at least ordered some form of claypot fish. We settled for the more economical red tilapia. The fished is basically steamed before being placed into a sizzling claypot. After that, the chef will pour the secret recipe gravy over the fish before it is served. The dish carries a nice fragrant smell enhanced by the small amount of Chinese cooking wine that they add in.

When eating tilapia, one point to note that it will always carry a muddy taste. This is due to the environment and also conditions these fish are usually reared in. Hence, red tilapias are usually not suitable for steaming and more suited for other styles of cooking like deep fried. However, the tilapia served at Wong Hee does not have this problem.

The reason the tilapias here do not carry the muddy smell is that the fish are reared in clean water for a certain number of days before they are served. This way, the fish is somehow "domiciled" ridding it of the muddy taste and also improving the texture of the flesh. One can visit the "aquarium" at the back of the shop. The more expensive fish like the pak sou gong and shang yu are kept in the glass aquarium.

As mentioned, prices here are quite reasonable. For a dinner for 4 with 4 dishes and 2 small bowl of soup with tea, the total bill came to RM108. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a quick and reasonably priced meal.  

Monday, June 2, 2014

Fresco, Jaya Grocers, Empire Shopping Gallery, Subang Jaya

High-end supermarkets are springing up around the Klang Valley. Jaya Grocers is one of the pioneers in this segment opening their first outlet in Bangsar Shopping Centre. More often than not, these Supermarkets usually have an eatery within the supermarket. This brings us to Fresco, an Italian eatery inside Jaya Grocers in Empire Shopping Gallery (Coordinates 3.082253, 101.582712). They serve the normal Italian fare like, pasta and pizzas. They do have a proper pizza oven though not the wood fired type.  

Work in Progress

Into the Oven it goes

Bar and Kitchen
 However, what differentiate this eatery from others is that you can actually make your selection of meat or seafood from the supermarket and request it to be cooked on the spot at Fresco. Yes, this is as fresh as it gets. This is the same concept as those Chinese Seafood restaurant where you pick the fish from the tank and they will cook it for you. The only other Western style eatery that does this that I know of is Ben's Independent Grocers  at Publika. Selection of fresh meat is actually quite limited being beef, lamb and seafood. Beef you will have the choices of normal imported beef, grain fed and if you are filling indulgent, Australian Angus beef. As for seafood you can basically have a choice of prawns, squids, salmon or cod fish. You are out of luck if you are looking for chicken. They do have in house prepared chicken dishes though.
From the shelf.....

From the chiller
After making your selection, remember to bring it straight to Fresco instead of the supermarket cashier. What will happen is that Fresco will charge you the price of the fresh meat and also a service charge of either RM4 (meat priced below RM20) or RM8 (meat priced above RM20). No, they did not say what will happen if the meat is exactly RM20. Tell them your preferred style of cooking (grilled, pan fried or deep fried) and they will get it done for you in no time. Not sure why anyone would want to deep fry a perfectly good slab of steak unless you are American (Chicken Fried Steak....shudderssss). There was a guy in front of me at the queue who paid for it at the cashier then brought it to Fresco and kicked up a big fuss because they double charged him. Feel like telling him off to read the notices next time. You can choose sides to accompany your meat at RM6.80 per sides. They have spaghetti aglio olio, grilled vegetables, mash potatoes, some form of rice and some form of Italian salad which I forgot it's name.

Agnes went for a slab of Australian Grain Fed Sirloin. You can tell the meat is fresh because they basically just seasoned the steak with some salt and pepper before slapping it on the grill. Agnes said the meat was tender and was not overcooked. She ordered it well done as she is not allowed rare meat for the time being. It is easy to grill a steak rare or medium but it is an art to grill it well done. There is always a danger of overcooking it turning a good slab of meat into a tree bark. So kudos to the chef.
To the table....Grilled Steak with Aglio Olio and vege

As for myself, I wanted to eat healthy (besides the fact that I am not allowed red meat) so I went for the cod fish. Could have opted for the Salmon but it is a bit mainstream. The Cod Fish was frozen and I was a bit cheesed of when they weigh as it was. I am quite sure frozen fish weigh more than thawed ones due to the liquid content. Anyway, I ordered it grilled and I feared for the worst when it arrived at the table. There was a whiff of fishiness from the Cod. I thought I just paid RM30++ for piece of fish that was not fresh. However, the fears disappeared when I had my first mouthful. The fish was flaky and flavourful, enhanced with a dash of freshly ground pepper. I don't know how they do it so fast. From dead frozen to table took a little bit less than 20 minutes. 

Grilled Cod Fish with Aglio Olio and Vege
For anyone at the vicinity of Subang Jaya, I would highly recommend this place. Definitely worth a visit just for a different dining experience. Prices are a bit steep though since you would have to pay for the fresh produce, the service charge to cook it and also sides. It would be a better proposition if they give a free side with every order. I have yet to try the pizzas and pastas (except for the Aglio Olio side, which does not serve as a bench mark as they are cooked in bulk then slapped on the dishes when ordered) but there were quite a number of diners ordering them. Besides that, I always have confidence when doughs of pizzas are freshly hand kneaded and built from scratch. I would try them my next visit there and report.