A City for Serious Eaters

Happy Belated New Year! Chinese New Year that is… I got to spend it in Asia this year. It just so happens that it is the year of the snake. However you may feel about our creepy crawler animal friend, I liked some of the decorations, especially in Singapore. Here’s a shot in Chinatown with a large snake lining the street.

Chinatown Singapore

 

We happened to walk through Chinatown on our way to the infamous chicken and rice food stand. One of Singapore’s national dishes is their chicken and rice and apparently Anthony Bourdain vouched for a specific food stand. Desmond can tell you the story behind it all which includes some drama and rival stands being built but I was mainly interested in the food so I may not remember all the details.  🙂

Food Stalls

 

There are a lot of food stalls around Singapore that look like this but this one has the famed Chicken and Rice as seen below. You can also see Des ordering from the stand on the left, with a light blue sign.

Chicken and Rice IMG_0651

 

And for dessert, we got another famous Singapore item, Lao Ban’s Soya Bean (custard?). I should have taken notes…

Soya bean

 

The Chicken and Rice wasn’t my favorite meal ever but it was solid, satisfying and tasty. It is also a Singapore staple so a must try… and this dessert was good too! But if you have a serious sweet tooth (like me), it may not be sweet enough.

We continued on from here to meet up with friends. Singapore has a serious hipster scene to rival Portland (even though I’ve never been to Portland, I’m assuming). I wanted to share part of that scene with you: Group Therapy. That’s the name of the coffee shop.

Group Therapy

 

Group Shot

 

In case you were wondering, I’m the white guy on the right… 🙂 And see those egg cartons holding the sugar? Totally hipster… I enjoyed them.

That was one evening… The next morning/afternoon (whenever we got up), we experienced what was probably my 2nd favorite meal in Singapore, the Fried Oyster and noodles. I think it was just this fried oyster though on Upp Serangoon (sp?), because I tried it again later and it just didn’t measure up. We washed it down with some delicious milk tea.Noodles

Fried Oyster

Milk Tea

 

And before I bring this posting to a close, let me just share with you the Taro Pie at McDonalds. I have a mini-obsession with Taro flavored things, I really enjoy the flavor so I was uber excited to find this. Just like the apple pie but with Taro!

Taro Pie

 

Me with Taro Pie

 

(Notice the forehead sweat, this was after 15 minutes of drying off)

And to close: the reason for this blog title is an article about Travel Tips in Singapore, with the below quote from Anthony Bourdain with which I completely agree!

A City For Serious Eaters
“New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Singapore’s the city that never stops eating. For a gastro-tourist, somebody who travels to eat, any kind of serious eater, Singapore’s probably the best place you can go for maximum bang in a minimum period of time.”

 

My Favorite Meal in Singapore was…

Laksa! Wow, Singapore has so much amazing food and the choice is really hard but I think I’ve decided that Laksa was my favorite dish. I’m leaving favorite dessert in another category (ice cream sandwich discussed later). The winning ingredient, for me, in the Laksa is coconut curry. This dish is one of the things that greatly enhanced my love for both curry and coconut. The broth is really good. In some places, you can get mixed types of noodles in it as well and then it will usually comes with seafood, oysters in our case.

Laksa

The joy of the Singapore food scene is that there is so much variety. And what makes the variety good is that Singapore is right in the middle of all the places where the food originates (if that makes sense), like geographically, it is close to India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, China and more… so it isn’t like variety found in New York or something. Not only do you find original food, but special Singaporean fusions. And to make it better, the best food that we had was usually the cheapest. Although Singapore has a reputation for being very expensive (housing especially), food is still very very reasonably priced!

I went to Singapore to visit one of my favorite people, a previous roommate, the infamous Desmond Lim. Here he is with Fiona; they both helped me experience the many different foods…

Des and Fiona

I cannot express to you the strange transition I had coming to Singapore from Vietnam. I don’t usually get culture shock, but if I did, I think this was the closest I had to getting it. Singapore is so perfect and so well-planned, almost too much. So getting into the airport and driving home from there, I was somewhat bewildered. It was definitely a change of pace from Vietnam.

My first morning, I was hungry and ready to go in search of some good food! There are a ton of outdoor food stalls around Singapore, so we went to one by Des’ house where I had my first food experience. I had coconut rice for the first time, very good, and it came with an egg and I added some egg rolls… Price? $2 – $4.

Coconut Rice Breakfast

And then we proceeded to one of my next first and amazing experiences: the MRT. Singapore’s metro system is incredible, and although it isn’t food, it is worth discussing. It is also worth noting how awful, dreadfully awful, DC’s metro system compares. I mean there has to be something we can do. Let me also note that I never saw a broken escalator!

Here was the first station we went in.

MRT Station

MRT Map

We got out in a shopping district and were strolling down the road and Desmond stops by this cart all nonchalantly and is like you want some ice cream? And again, anyone who knows me knows my answer was YES! But this was going to be different. They had ice cream sandwiches with real bread! Sounded weird at first but it quickly changed my life and is one of my favorite desserts! I even tried to make it at home already, I suggest white bread over wheat bread though…

Ice Cream Sandwich

From there, Desmond took me to Arab St, so I could honor my heritage. 🙂 I feel like Arab St is an equivalent to U St in DC. It originated as an ethnocentric neighborhood and is now kind of a yuppie area. Yuppie usually equals fun food so we did try out a couple places.

Arab St SignArab St Mosque

Des knew of a good cake shop so we went there first!

Des eating cakeWe both share a love for green tea flavored things so that is the flavor we got.

Green Tea cake

The cake was good and there was definitely too much for us to consume it all at once. It was really soft and delightful. Then, almost next door, there was a fun looking coffee shop so we stopped in. The desserts looked very good and I immediately noticed Taro Cheesecake! I love taro and I love cheesecake but I have never had them together so this was going to happen. And here I am eagerly awaiting the cheesecake.

Me waitingAnd it was good…

Taro CheesecakeOk, I am writing this and re-realizing how much we ate but this is what happens when you’re on vacation right? So to continue, we left this place and walked through some more hipster streets to a Lebanese place to try some baklava that was very popular…

hipster alley

baklavaThere it is; and as if we weren’t eating enough sugar, we shared that ridiculously sugary drink…

And I have one more thing to share from this day before I give you a break! Since we were walking around this area of Singapore, we also stopped at Little India (which is not so little), where you have to try a curry dish and chapati so we shared some.

Curry Shop

Little India Curry

And that concludes breakfast and lunch the first day… I think a break is needed. And just so you’re not completely overwhelmed, we did get some biking in, at least one of the days.

The bikes

Eating Around Vietnam

Vietnam did consist of other foods besides Pho and Banh Mi so I wanted to share a few more things with you. Anyone who knows me knows that mealtimes are my favorite time of day, not just because of eating, but because of spending time with people. This trip consisted of a lot of mealtime and people time. Even though I still wasn’t able to eat every meal (sickness came and went), it was still good spending time with people.

Some of the best meals we experienced were at my friend’s aunt’s business. She had a chef cooking for them along with the employees and it was always reliably good home-cooked food. One of those great fresh meals were spring rolls. Always a favorite of mine, growing up, especially when they’re freshly wrapped.

Spring Roll Spread

Here I am enjoying my first roll… or maybe 4th or 12th…

Me Eating Spring Roll

Another good meal we enjoyed here was an omelet-looking thing (sorry I can’t be more descriptive, no one spoke English), but it was good! You just took the omelet mix in the lettuce wrap and put fish sauce over it like everything else.

Omelet Thing

This next meal may have very possibly been the same day. The noodles and rice were basic but the pork here was really good. The eggs always double the food appeal for me.

Noodles and Rice

Pork

 

At least half of the meals we had in Vietnam involved some kind of hot pot or hot plate. And most of these tended to involve goat or some kind of good meat!

Meat hot plate

 

And since most of our meals involved so much food, this one involved the hot plate and the  hot pot. So above you see the meat mix (goat) and of course a ton of vegetables and then you can also wrap this up like a Spring Roll.

Veggie Plate

 

Wrap

 

And then the hot pot with a goat curry.

Hot Pot Goat

 

We each had individual bowls to eat the noodles and everything else. Below you see my bowl with what was probably the weirdest thing I ate while there… goat’s blood. It was pretty spongy and didn’t taste that weird but knowing it was blood made it weird.

goat's blood

 

And then to finish it off, more coffee! Or Nuoc Mia which we had whenever we got the opportunity. Nuoc Mia is a really good Vietnamese drink that is made from pressing sugar cane.

Nuoc Mia

 

And I know I’ve already shown a lot of pictures of Iced Coffee but this one is special. It’s special because it has chocolate in it! This was in a cafe in Ho Chi Minh City; I had never seen one like that yet so I definitely ordered that.

Iced Coffee with Chocolate

 

And if you’re worried about going to Vietnam and not being able to eat anything “normal,” don’t worry, you can get really good “normal” food there as well; like this rice and pork below!

Rice and Pork

Banh Mi and Seafood (mostly)

One of my most most most favorite things in Vietnam was the bread! I cannot express to you how excited I get remembering that bread… 🙂 I think this was one positive contribution the French made during their brutal occupation that lasted for awhile. So, it might be debatable if it was worth it to get the bread, but I won’t get into that now…

Bread

Banh Mi was actually the first food experience I had after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City. We got into the airport, met the family, piled up in the van and started our drive home. FYI, this is what the traffic was like.

Bike Traffic

There was this one Banh Mi place we frequented every time we went to the city. Here is what it looked like.

Banh Mi Place

And this is what my first (of many) sandwiches looked like!

Banh Mi

And we went from that to our first meal. We got into town and went to my friend’s aunt’s business. Most of the best food we had on the trip came from this place. She had a cook working for her that made some great food. We would just lay out some cardboard on the floor and all sit around in a circle. This was part of our first spread!

The First Spread

These two dishes were seafood heavy as you can see. A lot of the trip consisted of seafood. It became a little much after the first week but the for the first week, I was still enjoying it!

First meal IMG_9068The next morning, for breakfast, we had something I had never had before and quickly became a new favorite, Hu Tieu. It’s another breakfast food in Vietnam, like Pho. There was a place across the street from our house that sold the best kind. If you didn’t make it there by 11am, they would sell out.

Hu Tieu

Almost everything, including these soups, got dressed up with more vegetables and sauces after they were served. These pictures are what they looked like before I did all that though. The Hu Tieu was served with a smaller plate of meat, also really good.

Side of Meat

Another favorite breakfast item included the Banh Mi but when they would give it to you with a fried egg… really good. And to make that even better, you would get meat with it sometimes. I guess I didn’t get a direct picture of it but you can see it in the background here.

Breakfast Banh Mi

And what better to finish it all off then with coffee again!

Coffee Pre-Mix

Coffee

“Pho Real”

Wow, it has been a long time since I posted anything. If you didn’t know, I was in Vietnam and Singapore! I actually had a little countdown going on the side of the blog until I arrived in “Food Paradise,” aka Vietnam. Well I did arrive and it was fabulous. However I am now back in the US, freezing to death. I don’t think there’s an emoticon to express that so I’m moving on.

And what to say about the trip except that it was very very special, such a good trip and I miss it immensely already. More than I thought I would actually. I got to go with my Vietnamese family that I grew up with and meet a whole bunch of new family and friends. Then to top it off, I got to spend time with one of my best friends in Singapore. Good times.

Here I am with the fam:

Viet Fam

I have yet to post any pictures but I wanted to put up a new post as soon as I could so I thought, what better to talk about first then Pho?? The title is my lame attempt to incorporate the correct pronunciation of Pho into an English phrase so for those of you who don’t get it, it is supposed to be like, “Fo’ Real??” I just realized that it could still be pronounced the wrong way but nevermind that… because it was also supposed to be a pun for experiencing “real” Pho! Anyway…

I thought I’d give you a few pictures of the different types of Pho I had! Pho is my favorite Vietnamese food and I honestly don’t think I’ve had it as good as my Vietnamese mom made it growing up… but here is what I did have!

So the first night there we had eaten several times already but I couldn’t go to sleep without having some Pho so we went to a place across the street to have some before going to bed. This is still when my appetite was acting normally…

My First Pho

And there it is… taken with my phone camera. I was happy to be there, so we ordered two bowls each! How much for all three of us ordering two bowls? Hmm, like $5… now that’s the life.

So we flew into Ho Chi Minh City and drove south for a couple hours to Go Cong, that is where the family lives. Most of our time was spent there. We did get to see a couple other cities, Da Lat, and Nha Trang, all really beautiful, and food experiences in all of them. But before we get to those, here are some more Pho shots!

Pho

Go Cong is a small town so everything was so close and besides the first night of Pho, we tended to go to the same Pho place each time we had Pho, whether it be for breakfast (it’s a breakfast food in Vietnam) or for dinner. Here was the place.

Our Pho PlaceIf you look closely, you can see our table on the left there with Isaiah, Trung and Trung’s cousin Gi. That was our crew for most of the trip. Trung is displaying the very stereotypical Asian gang sign.

Anytime I stepped outside the house in this town, people were staring at me. I was the ONLY white person in town and remained to be the only white person. I was one of two anomalies in town: me (the white person) and the one other “not-so-skinny” Vietnamese person but no one stared at her, probably used to it. And since I cannot currently show you the face in which people used to look at me, I can only describe the stares. Imagine if you saw a deformed celebrity. Like Justin Timberlake but with his face melting off or something. That was the way people seemed to look at me; maybe you’ll catch a picture showing one of the faces.

Pho

So yes, this was still Pho. This place we went to also sold Bun Bo Hue, another great Vietnamese noodle soup, but it has more of an orangey, spicier broth. Trung and I were convinced they used the same pot or something because their Pho always looked “tainted,” or we thought so. It was still good.

Ho Chi Minh Pho

Here was another important sighting of Pho. We went to Ho Chi Minh City a few times over the course of the trip and on the way we always stopped at this same little stall to get Pho, I think the driver and family were familiar with the owners. What is sad is that the first time we went, I was sick and couldn’t eat any but I made up for it when we went again later. I think this was our decided favorite Pho spot.

HCM Pho

Our regular schedule while there involved sleeping late, eating, getting coffee, napping and then spending time with family and eating a lot more. We had a favorite coffee shop as well, we think it is called Go Cong Cafe… They always serve some tea, we’d order some coffee and maybe some fruit smoothies. The coffee was incredible as always, I love it sweet and the smoothies were really really good. Everything tastes so real and fresh. I even got to try some new Vietnamese fruits, one of them in smoothie form.

Coffee Shot

So this is while the coffee is still dripping over the condensed milk. You then stir it up and pour it over the ice. And on the left is the tea. There were usually two different types of tea, a jasmine tea (I preferred) and another one, that seemed root-y, maybe from sugar cane or something… After you finish the coffee, you can just pour the tea they give you over the remaining ice, it’s good. And they are continually adding ice since it melts so fast.

FYI guys, if you take a girl on a coffee date, you are supposed to make her coffee, as in stir it up and pour it! So don’t slack, she’ll think it’s disrespectful. (Why you so respect me???!?!) Inside joke

Here were our two favorite smoothies: Strawberry and Mang Cau,the new fruit I was talking about which I tried in smoothie and normal form.

Smoothies

And since our days usually involved a lot of food and family, here is a family shot. This was the day of the two grandmas birthdays. Almost everyone is in this picture and I’m taking it.

The Fam

I think that is it for now but there will be more to come with more food!

Love With Food

This last Christmas, one of my favorite gifts came from Tanisha (friend from post above for reference). I was sitting at work one day and got an email stating that someone has purchased several meals for me through Love with Food, so I would receive a box of different food items to try once a month for 3 months! I forwarded the email to Tanisha saying, Are you Serious??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? I think it looked just like that.

I had no idea that things like this existed but it was a really good gift! And not only that, but you should check out the website; it’s a charity. For every meal purchased, they donate a meal to a hungry child. On top of all my joy and excitement at receiving delicious food items, it is that much more increased knowing that someone is benefiting from it in a very meaningful way.

Well this definitely seemed blog-worthy. I received my January shipment recently and thought I’d share it with you (in words, can’t share the food sadly)! Here is the box it came in.

Love with Food Box

It was so exciting receiving it in the mail! What comes inside is a complete surprise. They do provide a small menu of the items.

Open Box

Exciting, right? All kinds of good looking snacks. I also laid them out so you can see each item.

the spread

My favorite item: the Turbana Plantain Chips – these things were so good. They market them as a healthy alternative to potato chips and they were right, I think I enjoyed them more.

Most eccentric item: The chuao firecracker chocolate. It was dark chocolate but combined with pop rocks. I don’t know if there were actually pop rocks in it but that was the feeling you got in your mouth while eating it. I think it was more nostalgic then anything, pop rocks were very exciting childhood candies…

And on that dessert kick, I want to share another food item with you that I recently experienced, the Fried Banana and Nutella Cheesecake at Mad Fox Brewery in Falls Church. If you did not already see the picture I posted on instagram or facebook, let me tell you: this dessert changed my life. It is the best dessert I’ve had in a long time. The outside was a fried tortilla, with cinnamon sugar; inside was the cheesecake with bananas and Nutella and it was hot! A friend (Mario Martinez) described it as an American sopaipilla. I concur.

Dessert

Dessert Open

It was as good as it looks, if not even better. Little did I know when we went to celebrate Tiffany Barran’s (Shout out to Tiffany) birthday that we would be experiencing so much good food. I expected decent pub food but this was so much more. IF anyone wants to go, let me know, I will go with you!!! So much more to try…

And in closing, let me leave you with this video, Ray Lamontagne’s Let It Be Me. This song is so good. What’s funny is that I always thought I wanted Ray Lamontagne’s Trouble to be my wedding song but I think this song may just come out on top; the man went up against himself and won.

Treat Yo Self

The theme of my trip to Philly: “Treat Yo Self!” For those of you who don’t know the reference, it comes from Parks and Recreation. Two short clips are below to give you a glimpse of the principle.

The purpose of my trip was to visit a very good friend of mine who I happen to work with, Tanisha. She is working a 6-month stint in Philly so we had been talking about doing a day trip to mainly walk around and eat. The danger is that we are both enablers, I make Tanisha eat a lot and she makes me spend a lot; it becomes a day to treat ourselves… 🙂

Back to Back

The day started at 30th Street Station where I met Tanisha as she excitedly informed me of our many plans for the day. Since I’ve been there before, I was fine with whatever and gratefully told her I wouldn’t mind walking around and eating all day!

30th St Station

And then the walking began. We pretty much saw everything, by foot, which was good since we were working off the calories. So we headed over to the Art Museum first to do the traditional Rocky “run” up the steps. This experience was much better than my last one (Last time, it was 2am with my brother and some college friends and when we got to the top, all we saw were a bunch of couples making out in their car; not sure if anyone else has had that experience but it was awkward… :))

Here we are in our conquering pose:

Rocky Pose

Then we walked the long way down to City Hall which you can see below so understandably I was hungry.

Philly Walk

Tanisha was all about stopping at a Belgian waffle place but it was far away so I convinced her to stop in at a bakery for a snack. It is called Swiss Haus!

Bakery Case

This was pretty exciting but we decided to contain ourselves slightly since we still had so much food to eat! We got a sampling of a few cookies that were all good but my favorite was the Raspberry Horseshoe. I had never seen one before but it is like phyllo dough literally in the shape of a horseshoe filled with raspberry jam/filling. It was quite enjoyable.

Cookies

Raspberry Horseshoe

Jelly

This gave us the strength to walk on and head toward the Belgian waffles. We continued to be distracted by many places including Starbucks, the Apple Store and Tiffany’s (they had a nice bathroom :))

Apple on Walnut

One more snack included our Philly pretzel which was incredible and it came with cheese AND it was SO cheap. This has to happen on any trip you take to Philly.

Pretzel

After the distractions, we finally made it to Bonte… Tanisha had been waiting all day for this and it was worth it! A peanut butter and apple cinnamon waffle and a Mexican Coke.

Waffle

And then, another fun surprise, at least for me. Tanisha said she knew of an amazing foodie hot spot and oh how right she was: Reading Terminal Market.

Reading Market Sign

It reminded me of Union Market in DC but A LOT more packed and slightly more authentic for the time being; something much more for the “common man.” I know Union Market was recently refurbished but it has potential.

Reading Market

Candy

Amish

Here are some of their jellies and spreads! They even had mini-bottles, enough to entice Tanisha to make a purchase.

Jam

Mini Jams

Tanisha buying

And another purchase.

Honeycomb

And finally, the whole day of events accumulated into our journey for cheesesteaks; I know, typical. We got to enjoy some classic Philly streets which I’ve always liked and made our way to Pat’s! I usually get a steak from Pat’s and Geno’s but today there was too much food as you can see so we just split one.

Philly View

Philly view

By the way, I want to try this place (Milkboy) next time!

IMG_9008 IMG_9010 IMG_9016

IMG_9005 IMG_9006

As you can see, Philly has so much more good looking food places then just cheesesteaks but even if that was all they had, that would be enough to carry it! And I’m sure Tanisha would love to host some more food outings! Make sure you save up before the trip though. 🙂

Independence Hall