Thursday, March 29, 2012

I bring Th(R)ee cakes!

Simplicity is more may be the best phrase to sum up the things I am about to share with you here; something serving as a keepsake from my trip in the form of food, or to be more precise, cakes, found from the shelves of convenience stores, local Walmart, and even food stores.
Being a pickyeater, I am not readily accustomed to almost anything that is available and though it may sound of inconvenience, it actually paved the perfect excuse for me to go on a food hunt; yes, for my own food; though hiding in the bushes and preying on unsuspecting animals is far from my mind. I am a civilized girl living in the modern and advanced 21st century, for goodness sake.

Besides, who needs to go on an actual hunting in the woods when we have our concrete jungle dotted with cemented buildings and marts with swinging electronic doors which opens automatically to welcome you?

Choices are in abundance here; we are after all, talking about hypermarkets here and I managed to pick one or two.

Shannon Cake; which is supposedly a healthy choice of a mini cake due to its sugarless content and ingredients used.Image Hosted by PicturePush - Photo Sharing
Guess what, the cake is not exactly a local one either as it is a famous cake from Europe.

Image Hosted by PicturePush - Photo Sharing Golly, I travelled this far to get something from a different continent, fascinating!

Mini in size, the taste was like it sounded; just one bite, or maybe two or three, if you have really small mouth like mine, and that's it, the cake is down your digestive tract.
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It was quite pleasant in taste; and it was as it claimed; sugarless that the only taste one can make out is that of the flour and maybe the very slight hint of banana used in the making of the cake, or so I think.

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This is another foreign cake; but I was quite delighted to see it (as usual) that I got it just to try their local taste of this Japanese pancake widely publicized as cartoon character, Doraemon's favorite (or only) food!
The Mini Red Bean paste Dorayaki
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A tad too sweet for my liking; I think our local version of the Dorayaki found in Jusco in-house bakeries are better.

Finally, the last one is the authentic Guangsu Biscuits which is truly and definitely of the local China origins.
(Read my first encounter with this biscuit here; which I found in my own country)

What's more, this Guangsu or Jiangsu biscuits were born in the exact same place I was visiting and therefore, how could I fly off from this place without bringing samples of this biscuits from its birthplace?

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This was definitely different from the one I had the first time; but then the earlier version was made locally in Malaysia.
I am not sure whether this is truly the original one, but it is definitely made in the province itself; where it was born.

The Guangsu/Jiangsu biscuit is a humble mode of meal for travelers; or particularly scholars or food for the middle-income to lower class families due to its availability and lower cost in making. Consisting mainly of dough, water and sugar, this biscuit serves to fulfill the hunger and provides sufficient energy to last one on their trip. The best part about this is that its dry texture enable it to be kept for a long time; thus making it a preferred food for traveling or for storing during the hard times.
It is a theory which I have come to believe after reading many Chinese-related novels and also watching various movies/TV series of the same theme.
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It was not to be expected as a fancy food; in fact, it did feel like eating a unleavened bread or biting on flour dough.
However, what went through my mind was not on the taste of the biscuit itself, but rather, the story of its humble beginnings and how our forefathers and people in the past survived on potatoes, starch, flour and unleavened bread and it made me realize our glistening fortune today; right in our faces.

That, I believe, is the magic of the Guangsu biscuit; whereby it is not to satisfy one's culinary buds but rather as a modest reminder of one's past and the long road we have come to be what we are today.
Scholars who have thrived on this biscuit while thronging the roads to their bright future; brave men who filled their hearts and stomachs with this bread while battling their way to the glory of their birthplace, anxious pheasants on the run or in hiding throttling with bits of these bread covered in dust for their children are just a few of the scenario that comes to mind.
A bittersweet journey reminiscent of this biscuit; which I hope will be passed on to remind our future generations as well.

They say that souvenirs often bring home memories of a vacation with you; but I say these three cakes brought not memories of the trip but rather of the hilarity of finding something non-local to bring home and of all, the local Guangsu biscuit speaks of the most profound effect albeit the most bland in taste.
It was definitely a lot more than what I would bargain for, but it made the trip and experience almost complete...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hope Star Coffee and Cate

A trip to a Chinese populated country is not complete without as much a taste of the local Chinese flavors.
Sure , it was a treat to be pampered by all the indulgent and aromatic home-served hot food directly from the kitchen and specially prepared by a local no less; but still nothing beats that fun of navigating your way through the streets relying on the hopeless street guides and just taking your pick like you were blindfolded. I am sure you get what I meant by that; especially when you are on travel.

I am not complaining that I get the comforts of home cooking; which I must consistently emphasize, as I did enjoy a tad bit of the local tastes scouring the streets of Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou in my earlier posts albeit some of the rather unpleasant meals which I wish to just push to the back of my mind so that it is conveniently forgotten but I did too found the ones that I could sing praises for; though tarnished by the image of the dining environment.
Well, there you go, one can't expect the best of both worlds, and a culinary journey through Asia is one of the most exotic and tantalizing; if not the most fulfilling for the bravest of the gastronomic explorers.

It was then on the day that I was about to board the plane that my mind floated to this matter and with a rumbling empty stomach since our early awakening from 4 in the morning for the two-hour ride to the international airport here in Pudong to meet the check-in time, we were immediately drawn to a dainty little cafe located near our terminal.
Free of our gigantic luggages (well, they seemed to have grown in size since we first packed them) though we still have some hand luggages and an hour or so to kill, we made a beeline to the vacant cafe.

Image Hosted by PicturePush - Photo Sharing Hope Star Coffee and Cate; nope, it is not Cafe, but rather it is really a capital T there and it is no spelling mistake either. I can verify for that, as Cate, is a word used for ' a choice or dainty food; or a delicacy' as defined in the dictionary.
I was quite impressed with the usage of the word Cate here; as though I knew of its existence, I have not come across anyone using this word at all to describe what they were selling; to sum it all up in brevity and clarity and it was exactly what Hope Star was conveying to all the potential customers.
I'd say, a really good name for a place that serves coffee and simple delicacies to tempt the appetites of the weary travellers loitering around the terminal, waiting for their flight; and may I say, Cate is just exactly what I am looking for to polish my overall trip to China.

A bowl of hot udon noodles with seafood in soup sounded exceptionally appealing when one is running away from the cold winter weather outside the airport and the purportedly turned up A/C inside the airport and the tastes of the noodles just did not disappoint.

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Realizing that we did not really get a good taste of the Chinese dim sum, that fact was no longer intact with the discovery of dim sum on the menu here; though the choice were not aplenty.

Har Gao/Shrimp Dumplings were one of the few choices, and I knew I had to have them (I am devoted to this!)
It took a few more minutes for this arrive and I take comfort in the fact that the extra time was for the making of this dim sum rather than shoving the ready made ones sitting there in the freezer into the microwave for an instant heat booster.

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The price difference was huge from the first glance at the menu; and I can say that it was a few times more than what I would normally pay for a decent basket of this back home but the size of the bamboo basket used to serve this seemed to challenged that of my usual ones when it arrived.
Yes, we are talking about a giant-sized dim sum basket; if there was ever one and I wondered whether there is a need for such exaggeration to prove to me that the prices charged were worthwhile. *Laughs*

Image Hosted by PicturePush - Photo Sharing To be fair, basket size aside, the dumplings were indeed larger in size too; which did compensate for that exaggerated factor earlier and I am pleased to see of this place; compared to some of the extortions and throat wrangling prices versus food and eating outlets in airports, which I am sure many have had encounters with.

Image Hosted by PicturePush - Photo Sharing The shrimps were alright; fresh but the outer skin was just a little too thick and mushy for my liking, but it was a decent effort of a highly publicized dim sum. After all, we have grown with stereotypical minds setting that rule that the best local food are never to be found in places like the airport, and we just can't get away with it.

However, there is always an exception to every rule and I must say that of this place; Hope Star which serves nice food and offers excellent service to their customers. Prices may be a little more than what one can expect of the local eateries in the town; but hey, this is the best one can get when one is traveling or about to take off.
I'd say we were lucky and it was probably fate that I managed to grace my trip to be able to say that I have tried even dim sum from China; the place of the origins of the Chinese cuisines, to say the least.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Szechuan-style Fish and Homemade Noodles

Noodles and rice are almost synonymous to the daily diet of the folks on the eastern side of the globe here and having someone cook rice for you one day and then bring you noodles for dinner the next day is not something out of the ordinary. Nope, it is not at all.

That's why after a long day traipsing the mesmerizing streets of Shan Tang, we were surprised by the kindness of my mother-in-law who got us some really good homemade noodles they tried at a local Chinese restaurant down the road.
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On the menu from the restaurant, the spicy and exotic chilies added to the extravagant flavor of the Szechuan style steamed fish and all I can say is, I was thankful for the light soup the noodles came in with and also the availability of water and juices besides the fact that I am having this at home.
I would probably look really embarassing sweating and looking like I am about to burst into tears after taking a few tastes of the fish; if I were sitting in a restaurant. Oh, my in-laws are definitely better than me with spicy food!

Image Hosted by PicturePush - Photo Sharing There is also the nice leafy vegetables to accompany the spicy fish, which I am truly thankful for.

The noodles were homemade and definitely tastes it when put into the mouth which had screamed many profanities (maybe just a little snort sometimes) at the countless numbers of rice flour-laden shape-like noodles claiming to have been rolled with hand and from the domestic kitchen board.
Light, tangy not to mention smooth, are just a few of many words to describe that first feeling when tasting these noodles and just makes one want to reach out for another helping, and the soup is just doing nothing but complement the taste of the noodles; and bland is far from anything on my mind when I work my way through this with my fork.

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Needless to say, every drop of soup is finished to the last slurp.

Another interesting dish is the Deep fried taro crullers with sesame
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It seemed and even sounded a little weird but the small-sized number of these just makes them disappear before my eyes in an instant. Yes, even the kids loved them, and I should be so thankful they even allowed me two shots before they just grab them from the box.
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Stir-fried sweet potato with carrot

I have to admit, for a non-potato fan like me, I sure have a lot more potato-related posts than one can imagine in one week although, this is the last post for the potato buddy.

This is like the potato version for the usual Mengkuang Char (also known as stir-fried jicama); only that the main ingedient of jicama is replaced with the crunchy sweet potato.

A simple dish whereby the two vegetables are sliced and then tossed into the wok and stir-fried.

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Alright, to be fair, I am not going to be biased on this as it would deem really unfair to all the potato-fans out there and that is almost the majority of the population around the world.
I would prefer the jicama version though; and the carrot...the carrot always get to stay, especially when they are crunchy and fresh!:)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Braised Pork Trotters with Ginger and Black Vinegar

While I was in China at my brother-in-law's place, I enjoyed local food outside and also from the home cooked dishes prepared by their domestic helper.
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However, that did not stop our hosts; my brother-in-law and sister-in-law from chipping in and surprising us with their very own set of culinary skills from their kitchen.
Of course, that was also with the help of my mother-in-law who acted as the advisor and supervisor in the kitchen and sharing her own secret recipe in cooking simple dishes.

One of such dish is this: Braised Pork Trotters with Ginger and Black Vinegar
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Due to the elements and ingredients of this dish which included ginger, garlic, black vinegar and pork, it is a popular dish made to be consumed by women who were in their confinement period (one month after giving birth).
The Chinese believed that the ingredients composed of 'heat-induced' elements which could help to provide heat and replenish the energy lost in the process of giving birth, and at the same time, rejuvenate the blood flow in the women's bodies.

This is a traditional dish typically used to maintain the health of birth giving mothers after labor; and is only one of the dishes served during the period. There is not much of variety either, for women nursing their health after birth as there were too many taboos preventing them from simply consuming anything that is deemed to deteriorate the immune system which is said to have weakened following their major loss of blood during birth. Therefore, based on the principles of the Yin and Yang in the traditional Chinese medicinal practice, when one is sick or weak, it usually refers to the loss of Yang energy and food/ingredients should often contain the elements of Yang in it to return the immune system to normal; or balanced in terms of the Yin and the Yang.

Despite this being a confinement type of food, it does not mean that this cannot be consumed by others or in normal times as it is an exceptionally popular dish among the Chinese community as well, to be served during meals.
My brother-in-law used a lot of black vinegar and garlic in cooking this dish; as he loved the strong taste and I guess he was also, at the same time trying to use garlic to counter or repel the odor of the black vinegar which filled the whole house the minute he started cooking.
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Then my mother-in-law and his wife just stood beside him and told him to put in the ginger and add in sugar, and keep stirring, to make sure that the tastes of the dish is even and aromatic.
Also, the sugar is to dilute and balance the sour tastes from the black vinegar.

The end result was not too bad; in appearance although most mentioned that the taste was a little uneven. I am not really a fan of this, so I didn't taste it myself.
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Maybe it is true that 'Too many cooks spoil the soup?' :)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mini Tangerine ~ Oh So Sweet!~

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We found this mini tangerine sold in mass stocks in the market in Suzhou, and looking so fresh and juicy compared to the dried up versions we get around here sometimes.

Nicknamed the 'Emperor lime' (direct translation from Chinese), these little goodies is an adorable visual treat and attracts no less 'ooh aah' from buyers at the market; especially tourists.
This fruit is not to be dismissed for its size as it packs a punch of sweetness and nutrition in its contents.

Typically we only get this fruit as it approaches the new spring; which is the lunar New Year season as it is harvested during then. The fruit is synonymous in the auspicious golden color to usher in the new spring, joining the other fruits with the likes of mandarin oranges, pomelo, apples, etc.

This to me, is like a mini version of the mandarin orange as it is equally packed with saccharine and Vitamin C. It is healthy and the best part is that it is easy to peel and consume; a plus for people who loves fruits but yet lazy to do the job of peeling.

If you are ever in China, don't forget to look out for this fruit; especially when it's in season. It's not too expensive, and yet, you will enjoy it that you will go back for more.

Sweet Chinese potato

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This seems like a popular snack on the street in China; as I have found many vendors making a living out of it on their carts located at the sidewalk.

Personally I find nothing fascinating about a steamed potato, but I think many disagree with me; especially if you are a die-hard potato fan.
Also, another reason is probably due to the cold weather and while I am rubbing my hands hard to keep them warm, some would prefer to have a RMB2-3 worth of steaming hot sweet Chinese potato in their hands to do the job.

The outer skin is slightly purplish; but when the skin is comes off in the peeling, it reveals a rather golden orange-like color mash of potato.
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It was still steaming hot when bought off the cart; perhaps the main reason that attracted hordes of ravenous buyers to it in the first place.
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It is no wonder that this a favorite considering the fact that it was a staple back in the days of farming and also war times when this was the only main source of carbohydrate.
I remember my mother telling me of the story on how the poor and even themselves, surviving on rice and sweet potatoes during the hard times. The potatoes were cheap back then, not to mention filling and they were in abundance.
It was easily grown and some, while on a refugee run would even be able to dig up a sweet potato from the ground; which shows how easily accessible it is.

I know of people who still love this as a snack until this day; as a reminiscence of their past and also the fact that this helped them to survive to the day.
This was probably the key to this sweet, carb-loaded yet healthy vegetable landing its place in the hearts of many; and it is something that maybe not many of us from the current generation could relate to.

Have you a history/story with the sweet potato or potatoes in general?
Do you have a love/hate relationship with this vegetable or food staple?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Freshwater shrimps with vinegar and the local flavors

During my stay in my brother-in-law's place in Suzhou, we enjoyed great hospitality and food similar to the tastes of home, thanks to the great cooking skills of their domestic helper who came in every day.
At the same time, we were constantly surprised by the occasional local dishes she whipped up to share with us, as some of the dishes that the local Chinese enjoy.

One of such dish is the Boiled Freshwater Shrimps
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The shrimps were medium-sized but really fresh; as one could taste the sweetness bursting through the shells!
According to Ah Yi (means Aunty in Chinese), the helper who prepared it; this is a local favorite dish and the way to take it is to dip it into a sauce made of vinegar, chili, soy sauce and garlic (I think) and with the shells on!
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I may be a fan of shrimps but honestly, I didn't like the idea of having it with the shells on. It was just a little bizarre to me; and I think I still prefer the shrimps without their shells:)
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Stir-fried zucchini with eggs
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Braised pork belly in soy sauce
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Steamed grouper the Chinese style; with Chinese wine and light soy sauce, garnished with spring onions and ginger
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Stir-fried mixed vegetables
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Fishballs with Chinese spinach in soup
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I love the local fishballs; they are much tastier and bursting with the fishy flavor.

We did enjoy her culinary skills and variety, and who will ever say no to the comforts of homecooked food once in a while during travel?
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My Travel Food Diary: Happy Lemon

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I like the name of this shop which specializes in drinks and beverages; something like our local Chatime.

Happy Lemon, and the poppy bright yellow color of the shop just screams joy and cheerfulness and that is one sure way of attracting customers.

My hubby wanted a drink; as he had always loved checking out drinks in different places.

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This is one interesting drink; Green Tea and Red Bean Pudding drink (I cannot remember the price anymore)

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Unique taste; although it felt really chewy instead of liquid-based; and milky too.
The red beans and green tea did help to add flavor and mask the strong milky scent; but I really did like the combination of the red beans and green tea.

I am glad I stopped by for this drink, or else I won't find this unique drink!:)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Travel Food Diary: Historical sweet Jiangnan snacks

I have shared the full story of these cakes in my travel blog, but I just wanted to share the photos of these enchanting cakes here; found on the nostalgic streets of Shantang

The Plum Blossom Cake
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Hai Tang Cake
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Read the history of these cakes here

Check out some of the beautiful scenes from my trip here:
Shantang Streets
Ping Jiang Street

Now tell me you are fascinated by them :)

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Travel Food Diary: Reliving the memories of O'Filet

When one is traveling, it is probably not customary to deviate from the local tastes of the culture but indulging in that familiar taste found all over the world.

I am not talking about the homely cuisine anymore, but rather the seductive temptations of those international fast food chains claiming their expatriate homes and fitting into the local environment comfortably, everywhere on the globe.

My blog has been a clear evidence that I am not big into the notion of fast food, but when you are traveling with little kids (hubby's nephews and nieces, not my own), you find yourself enjoying the local scenes from the windows and then suddenly felt your arm being pulled in a direction where you had no idea of.

Standing right in front of you is that bright splash of colors red and yellow which does not need a genius to figure out the identity at all.
Pushing our way through the swinging doors, we find ourselves in such a busy crowd and long queues at the ordering counter that would put any local food industry to shame with its business popularity.

One thing leads to another, and wriggling ourselves into the seats we found at the sides of the restaurant, trays of food landed before our noses; and looking something like these...
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No cue needed from the kids who buried their faces into the paper wrappers and were even busy to give you a thumbs up on whether they still remembered your existence.

I felt like I was the only one wandering back into memories of the past as I look at this simple and familiar sight
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I may not be a regular with fast food, but this is probably the only one that I had ever come remotely so close in relationship that I could even say I missed it.
The soft fluff of the buns and the flaky bits from the deep fried fillet just brings back memories of childhood; where even as a kid, I never need to look at a menu in this place to decide what I definitely want for my meal.

Some may not understand that connection to the good ol' O'Filet, when one is surrounded by plenty of ravishing goodness and treats from the world famous menu but I don't need all that.
All I need is this good ol' Fish O' Filet, and that's where the relationship with the burger world starts.

Ronald McDonald would have been proud :)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Travel Food Diary: Snack Candies from Hangzhou

I am not sure how many of you there like peanuts, or candies, but I am sure the number is just screaming back at me that you are definitely a fan of either or Both (majority).

That is why, this Peanut Candy snack we found on our trip, which combines the best of both worlds is bound to make lovers of peanut, candy and anything sweet, jump in ecstasy.
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The Chinese are known for their sweet tooth as well; or maybe a variety of exotic tastes in their food and it is evident in the many different snacks found on the streets, shops and even packaged food in convenience stores. Perhaps, it would be easier that the Chinese just love food, in general?

I am sure many have had encounter with candies like these, or if you have not and dying to know how this is like; well, it is definitely Sweet (obviously), and sticky where the hardened sugar binds the crunchy peanuts together.
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Another variant found is the Sesame Candy, which is made of the same combination as well.
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An interesting but not uncommon snack for locals and tourists alike, and not unique to only China as these can also be found in various places in South East Asia.

A word of caution for the dental savvy, these tend to stick to your teeth; especially the back of the mouth, which can be really annoying.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Travel Food Diary: Homely tastes from Katong in Suzhou

After an episode of unpleasant food encounters while on my tour in Hangzhou, I was treated to a nice dinner once back in Suzhou; courtesy of my brother-in-law and his family.
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It was a pleasant thing to know that we will be getting to enjoy some food which tastes like something from back home as we were introduced to this Katong Restaurant, started and run by a Singaporean in the urban Suzhou Industrial Park.

I am not complaining about the welcoming and comfortable ambiance of the restaurant after a few days on the streets, and the sight, not to mention the aroma of the familiar dishes whipped up by the skillful chefs in the kitchen of Katong Restaurant makes up for that homely experience.

Fried Omelette; the kids' favorite and a must have to whet their appetites for every meal.
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Stir-fried bean sprouts with salted fish
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Now, if the kids have their favorites, I too, have my preferences and as my sister-in-law put it; 'continuing with my favoritism' here in China with this comforting bowl of Fishball Soup.
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Nestum Prawns
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The prawns were lightly buttered before being fried and then covered with Nestum flakes

Tofu in claypot
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Chinese spinach served in superior broth stock
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Steamed grouper the Chinese style; in light soy sauce
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As it was a huge crowd and everyone was in a celebratory mood; since we get to gather with an arriving relative and also a family friend, there was room for an extra Braised Noodles dish.
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Being in a Singaporean owned restaurant, there is no way escaping one of Singapore's favorite dish; Steamed Chicken the Hainanese style.
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I know that most would love to enjoy the local tastes when traveling; sampling from the streets and going to the back alleys where some of the rare gems of an eatery can be found to get an authentic taste of the culture, like what most locals would do.
However, I do enjoy once in a while enjoying warm and lovely environments like these; being spoilt by the comforts and luxuries, and have a glimpse of home as well.
It is important to strike that balance, and I won't mind having that privilege to dine in a nice place occasionally, instead of eating off the streets and tasting what the locals do.

Sometimes, it's good to be reminded of home, after all, home is always the best place, isn't it? :)

Have an awesome weekend folks!