The (almost) perfect wantan noodle soup

The (almost) perfect wantan noodle soup

I’m a picky eater. That’s long been established. There are some eateries I go to once and never go back and yet there are some that I just can’t resist going back to again and again. Recently I found a place that serves an almost perfect wantan (little dumplings) noodle soup. Great but what exactly is so good about it to a picky eater like me?

The real test of great wantan noodles is in how rich and flavorful the soup is. To that end, it must have a natural sweetness without being insanely salty (as is often the case) or so watered down it’s plain salt water. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been disappointed by soups like that.

To me, the soup is what counts, everything else is a bonus if it tastes good. If I’m ordering at an unfamiliar eatery, the dry version is the one I go for. It comes with a small bowl of soup which makes the perfect test sample to help me decide if I should order the full-blown soup version the next time.

The (almost) perfect wantan noodle soup

So that’s what I did when I first tried out a certain ‘new’ eatery stashed away at the top of a mall. Surprise, surprise! Their soup is pretty darned good, even by the standards of my picky palette. It’s richer than most and flavorful without tasting like it came from the Dead Sea lol.

The (almost) perfect wantan noodle soup

Veggie-wise, there’s definitely more than the usual 2 or 3 sad-looking green slivers you find floating in most soups. These are actual bokchoy stems in their own right.

Their wantans are not the usual pathetic skins with nothing more than a comma of meat inside, so small they instantly get lodged in your teeth. These are stuffed with abundant minced pork and like a whole shrimp? wow! and plump to the point of obesity that you have to eat them in two bites. So good!!

The (almost) perfect wantan noodle soup

Their charsiew (or barbecued pork) is unattractive and boring but I don’t mind that they lack the gleaming glamor of their caramelized melt-in-the-mouth cousins which would usually render them overly-charred and blackened and quite unpalatable to me.

So then, this, to me, is as close to a perfect bowl of wantan noodle soup as it gets. Good soup, plump meaty wantans, real veggies and unglamorous charsiew. This picky eater is laughing and has gone back several times since.

Between a cuppa and a sippa

Between a cuppa and a sippa

So one exceptionally fine morning on the dawn of a new day maybe, I found myself sitting in some corner cafe having ordered myself an early lunch. When it came, I noticed the portion was rather yuge. My lunches aren’t usually this heavy but I had a growling tummy to appease so what the heck!

Not only did I dig in shamelessly, I licked the platter clean! If I’m hungry, I eat. I don’t care if it’s the right or wrong time to be eating like a pauper or a king, or how many “guilt trips” I’m supposed to run round the park afterwards. Bunch of bologna! Our grandparents did just fine before all this nonsense started circulating. So yeah, just do what your body tells ya and you’ll be fine!

Oh yes, and I even ordered a drink!

Which I’m so not in the habit of doing. Instead I’m used to getting the slanted eye for refusing to order a drink. Oooh, I’m so shivering in my shoes! But like it or not, it’s a habit of mine cultivated from when I was that new kid on the office block. A group of us would frequent the cafes and eateries near the office daily.

When most everyone else would order a drink, I would almost inadvertently say no. My logic is really quite simple. Why order a drink when the office is 5 minutes away and all the drinks I could ever want are right there in that pantry? It doesn’t make sense!

But if I’m feeling happy and relaxed or craving a certain kind of drink, I’d certainly pamper myself with one. Like on this particular day when I really wanted something to sip on while settling in to read a book.

A book, you say?! Yeah, this is probably the first book I’m reading in something like 20 years but I’m not ashamed to admit it. Hey, I’ve been busy devoting all of my energy on being the best mom I could be and somehow in the midst of all that rushing around, never found the patience nor the inclination to sit through a book.

What good fortune that I should suddenly find a book in my hand and the time to read it at leisure over a glass of coffee and tea! And that’s got to be a good thing, right? *lifts up glass* Cheers!

An occasional vegetarian’s dilemma

An occasional vegetarian's dilemma

So another vegetarian day rolls around and this time, it falls smack on a weekend. And weekends are when I do my grocery runs. Simply because I so enjoy mingling with the rest of humanity. If you want the skin of your ankles scraped off by stroller wheels or your bum pancaked against your grocery cart, this is the day and the way to do it!!!

Okay, so now I’m at the mall and I’m walking aimlessly trying to think where I can find a decent vegetarian lunch. Nothing comes to mind. This is when it hits me. Sure, going vegetarian every fortnight is a good thing (both from a religious and health perspective) but vegetarian food is notoriously hard to find when you’re out. Probably not to some but to me, it is! ’nuff said!

Wait, I do know one place – a newly-stumbled vegetarian restaurant. So we head on over, only to find a parade of smiling staff leaning against empty tables and chairs, arms folded, turning people away. Wh-whot?!!? What’s goin’ on?!!! Well, here’s the story one-liner – there’s a “problem with the gas”. Darn, what could be wrong with “the gas” on a day we’ve got nowhere else to go??!

Well, I wasn’t sticking around to find out. I took it to mean, better get out of here quick before the fireworks begin!!! Okay, so maybe I overreacted. Still, better safe than sorry. I herded my group to higher ground. We wandered around wondering what we could eat but almost everything I could think of had some element of either meat or eggs in them. Think, come on, think harder! Well, good luck with that. When your tummy’s growling like a bear, you can’t even hear yourself think!

So we bummed around and eventually wound up with a miscellany of this and that and called it lunch. Okay, let’s see what we had. Lonely french fries, without the chicken.

An occasional vegetarian's dilemma

A reluctant salad for sharing. Trust me, this wasn’t love at first sight. Unwrapped self-service food in open glass coolers are a huge red flag for me and I stay clear of them for obvious reasons (golly help us if someone were to sneeze over them!! and believe me, I’ve heard a big old sneeze in a bakery but was too afraid to look back, so yes!). But desperate times call for desperate measures so I crossed my fingers and dug in.

An occasional vegetarian's dilemma

Not that the salad tasted half bad but that doesn’t mean I’m okay with room temperature salads. I’m not. Clearly that cooler belongs in the junkyard. That said, there’s nothing that a good old cup of cold bubble tea can’t fix, right?

An occasional vegetarian's dilemma

Do you have an interesting vegetarian story to share? Either leave me a comment, or post it on your own blog and leave the link below.

What’s in that rickety tin bowl?

What's in that rickety tin bowl?

Just when I thought it was going to be an ordinary dinner at one of the most highly-anticipated restaurants on our p.e.a.r.l (our picky eater restaurant list is still very much alive despite having gone through many iterations since the last mention), this Saturday night Korean barbecue came with a question, what’s in that rickety tin bowl?.

We walked in and all the tables inside the restaurant were occupied so we had to grudgingly say okay when the server pointed us to a table outside. Outside, as in on the kerb along the road where cars are double parked.

After the initial clinkety-clang of distributing plates and cutlery (which is apparently the customers’ job now), we eventually settled down to enjoy an ambiance of blue evening skies, natural lighting and lungfuls of a barbecue smoke and carbon monoxide fume cocktail that, we were delighted to note, comes free with the meal! Aah, the joys of kerbside dining!

What's in that rickety tin bowl?

So there we were, alternating between flipping various kinds of meat on the grill and constructing meat morsels and 반찬 (banchan or side dishes) into lettuce wraps. I have to admit that when it comes to cramming fistfuls of lettuce wraps into my mouth like they do in Korean dramas, I’m an epic fail. I bite my lettuce wraps in half and sometimes chomp on just the leaf alone. Duh!

Diners were filling up the tables fast and pretty soon, we were surrounded. Too busy playing musical chairs with cutlery and utensils on a table that’s way too small for everything to fit, I paid little attention to the 40-ish couple at the next table. From out of the blue, Mr Smiley (seems he had this perpetual smile pasted on his face) reached across and asked if we’d like to have the excess rice balls his wife was rolling in her gloved hands.

What's in that rickety tin bowl?

I was like, what? say that again, read: eyeing him in disbelief. Now how often does a random stranger offer to share their food? That’s right, almost never, right?! although I’m guilty of having done it myself. One time, we had a bowl of untouched salad that was too much for us to finish and so as not to let it go to waste, I handed it over to the young couple at the next table. And they too had been just as wide-eyed and hesitant to accept my offering then.

Now here was a stranger holding out a rickety tin bowl with 9 rice balls inside and I’m like umm. I could’ve been gracious and snatched the bowl from his hand but my first instinct was to say no. It would’ve been out of character for me to accept. People including acquaintances have been offended. Not that I mean to offend. Truth is although I love to cook and I blog endlessly about food, food is not really a big thing for me.

So then Mr Smiley started explaining that one order of rice balls was too much for him and his wife as they had other dishes as well. Then, he said the magic phrase – they don’t like wasting food, he said and I was impressed and instantly sold. We collectively chimed in and thanked him profusely. Since you put it that way, sure, we’ll help you with that, thanks lol.

What's in that rickety tin bowl?

So that was how a rickety tin bowl and 9 rice balls changed hands. We’d never had rice balls before but Mr Smiley assured us they’re delicious and that we won’t regret it. And he was right. Those rice balls were freakin’ tasty (we order them quite often now) and meeting these like-minded folks is always nice.

What's in that rickety tin bowl?

The tale of two Christmas Eve dinners

The tale of two Christmas Eve dinners

Christmas Eve in the city. Bah humbug! Darn the Grinch who stole Christmas from us this year! Still it’s the holidays so we’ll just make-believe this one and get to the mall early to catch a movie. Which one? Naturally the one that turned out to be such a great choice.

Ferdinand.

What a sweet hunk of a bull and a tale that has all the heart-warming trappings of a movie for this time of year – kindness, compassion, friendship, respect, teamwork and a happy ending. And lots of funky dancing. Loved it. I really did. Go watch it, bring your kids!

After the movie at around 2pm, we thought we’d catch a late lunch. No such luck! Apparently the mall had filled up with all of humanity while we were in there, making it impossible to walk without hitting anyone. We couldn’t have picked a worse time to be at the mall.

We were starving and the restaurant lines were insane. We were hoping to have better luck at the food court. Omg, one look and we instantly turned around. The place was one freakin’ mess and we kinda lost our appetites. We simply had to get the heck out of there.

It was 3pm by the time we got home and proceeded to turn the fridge upside down hoping a fulfilling lunch would somehow drop out. But all we had were cold ham sandwiches. Still better than the food court, I guess. Bah humbug!

Still determined to have a good Christmas dinner in spite of our homemade roast turkey having been written off the menu *sobs*, we set out for the swanky part of town with Google Maps for our guide, headed for a Korean fried chicken shop which friends have sworn “serves the best fried chicken ever, you gotta try it”.

We ordered 2 kinds of fried chicken – sweet spicy and spicy hot, or something like that. Sometimes we really wanna trust people’s food recommendations so much but sadly, one woman’s meat is another woman’s poison. We really wanted these to be the best fried chicken we’ve ever tasted but they turned out to be…

The tale of the Christmas Eve dinners

… far from crispy, drowned in overly-sweet totally-unspicy sauces that sadly underwhelmed; not to mention that there were no signs of the ubiquitous side dishes either. Ugh! Reluctantly we polished off both servings to keep to our family’s “no food wastage” policy.

Then we got up and walked a few steps down the street to a Korean barbecue restaurant that we know and love, and ordered pork neck and pork belly. Ahahaha! Now we’re talking!

The tale of the Christmas Eve dinners

This meal came with lots of lettuce, side dishes and possibly the best kimchi in town. We even managed to flag down a smiley waiter to barbecue the meat for us while we ate. Aah, this is the life!

Poke, if only it came with waterfalls

Poke, if only it came with waterfalls

So we’re on our way down from Yosemite, the land of waterfalls. Maneuvering those twists and bends can really get you light-headed, I tell ya. Not to mention the blur of the redwoods, sequoias and cold wind rushing past the slightly rolled down car windows. You tilt back your head, take a deep breath and let the mountain air permeate through your entire being. Man, this is what I’m talking about!

And now to top off that light-headedness, it’s time for some poke (pronounced po-kay). Since we found out about a seafood restaurant tucked away behind the downtown fish market last year, we’d been quietly sneaking down there for the occasional dose of raw fish goodness. They don’t serve live seafood (which makes this place all the more attractive to me) but they sure do serve a mean bowl of poke that’s bursting with fresh raw fish and robust enough to feed two. Poke for the diehard, in other words.

Then somewhere in the middle of last year, Pokiland opened not far from us and we started going there for our fix. It’s popular with the health conscious, offering less of a focus on the fish and more on greens, toppings and sauces. You pick a bit of this and that to personalize your own poke bowl.

Poke, if only it came with waterfalls

Looking at this picture, I know you’re going, but where’s the fish? Well, you can’t see it but trust me, there’s 2 generous scoops of raw salmon and tuna hidden at the bottom of the bowl. Well, that’s how they put together your order, you start by selecting your proteins so the fish goes in first and ends up hidden underneath all of those gorgeous toppings and sauces.

Okay, then, let’s mix it all up and dig in! Omg, you cannot believe how good and SPICY this tastes! One of their sauces, dabomb, is literally just that! One fiery spoonful and you totally wish you were standing underneath a waterfall with your mouth open. Oh man, where are those waterfalls when you need ’em!

Poke, if only it came with waterfalls

Pretending to be a restaurant

Pretending to be a restaurant

If you ask me, weeknight dinners are supposed to be homey, maybe even to the point of boring. While cooking up a storm on a weeknight may be counter-intuitive, I think it makes sense to linger near the stove just a little longer on cold evenings like these. And just to throw in a little fun, why not pretend to be a restaurant serving up a dinner to some weary diners?

First up, that obligatory omelet that I would not order but which my girl friend never fails to order . But why? Baffled! I made this with the last few eggs in the fridge and the egg whites I had left over from my cream puff project.

Pretending to be a restaurant

Next, we have a braised dish. It was supposed to be braised pork belly which I love but will not order because it always seems to be swimming in fat and sodium. While the prospect of cooking it myself was exciting, I’m new to braising, sorta.

And also I’ve been looking for a leaner cut of pork belly. Does lean pork belly even exist? I didn’t think so either. Armed with zero experience in the pork purchase department, I was wont to throw up my hands and leave it once again to the God of Ribs! No lean pork belly? No problem. We got ribs!

Pretending to be a restaurant

I braised the ribs with potatoes and hard-boiled eggs. Weird combination, I know. But I couldn’t resist the temptation of making it an even larger pot so we could have it over 2 meals.

And of course, not forgetting the veggies. Chinese kale stir-fry is another hugely popular restaurant dish. Mine comes topped with garlic oil and oyster sauce and with enough carrots to make any rabbit happy.

Pretending to be a restaurant

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