Loving Cha Gio (Recipe included!)

My memory of Vietnamese food goes as far back as pho and Banh mi, but I’ve never really been adventurous enough to try others. Vietnamese cuisine incorporates a lot of fresh vegetables, which I do not enjoy. Let’s just say that I love greens so much that I can’t bear to eat them 😉

However, I recently discovered a Vietnamese food store in Taipei which serves really good fried Vietnamese spring rolls. Fried Vietnamese spring rolls, also known as Cha Gio, is a fried snack made of rice paper skin, stuffed with meat filling and then deep-fried.

Let’s begin by describing this dish. Unlike Chinese spring rolls which are wrapped in egg or flour-based skin, being wrapped in rice paper skin provides a chewy and crispy texture to the spring rolls. The filling consists of ground pork, shrimps, black fungus, mushroom and other garnish and because of the variety of ingredients, it has many textures in one bite. The dipping sauce consists of fish sauce, chopped nuts, lime/lemon juice, sugar, garlic and fresh chili – this combination complements the fried dish with a tangy and savoury aftertaste.

Cha Gio with rice noodles

So I’ve side-tracked a bit, but this dish is amazing, and I had it served with cold rice noodles at the Vietnamese food store (they diluted the sauce to ensure that it’s not too overpowering).

Sauce for the noodles; The actual sauce for Cha Gio is slightly thicker!

I’ve linked the store here, but this post is different – a friend shared a recipe and here’s something that you may want to try yourself!

Have fun and enjoy making it!

Jeju Kitchen – Tampines 1

It’s the eve of Chinese New Year, and I thought I’d do a different post to celebrate the new year. Just before I returned to Taiwan, I visited Jeju Kitchen at Tampines 1. It was honestly really good – something I didn’t expect to find at a heartland mall.

Here’s a 27-second clip on what I had there:

Items I had there:

  1. Pork Volcano Fried Rice with CHEESE ($12.80) – A good mix of kimchi fried rice, bulgogi pork, cheese and egg over a sizzling hot plate. This is great for sharing and the fact that it was on a hot plate helped retain the heat of the food longer.

    Taste: 👍👍👍👍 Value: 👍👍👍👍
  2. Pork Kimchi Stew ($12.80) – Nice small chunks of pork within the stew – kimchi was nice and soft. The soup was good but I personally felt that it would have been nicer if it was slightly thicker – this is a good go-to simple kimchi stew!

    Taste: 👍👍👍👍 Value: 👍👍👍
  3. Injeolmi Bingsoo ($13.80) – This was the most expensive item we ordered and it was worth every dollar. An amazing bowl of goodness indeed. Soft mochi and a ton of injelomi powder. There were many items within this bowl that provided different textures. Highly recommend if you enjoy eating bean-based desserts.

    Taste: 👍👍👍👍👍 Value: 👍👍👍👍👍

Jeju Kitchen has three outlets across Singapore – Waterway Point, Tampines 1 and Nex. I’d highly recommend going there for the desserts – it’s worth it!

Bak Kwa – which will you choose?

A Chinese New Year must-have, good bak kwa is important! As a follow-up to our previous post on home-made bak kwa, here’s a review on two brands of bak kwa that may be of interest to you. 

Bee Cheng Hiang – Mini EZ Festive Collection ($32)

A household brand to almost all Singaporean households, Bee Cheng Hiang carries bak kwa that’s fresh from the grill as well as a wider variety of vacuum-packed bak kwa. In a gift set we received recently, there were four boxes of different types of bak kwa – and each bite-size piece was individually vacuum-packed. The four flavours in it are – Mini EZ Pork, Mini EZ Pork Chili, EZ Gold, and Mini EZ Chicken.

Here’s a quick reviews of the four: 

  1. Mini EZ Pork – Classic pork bak kwa that is nicely flavoured and chewy. It’s on a tougher side and is quite of a chew. 
  2. Mini EZ Pork Chili – Similar to the Mini EZ Pork but has a slight spice to it albeit almost negligible. Would recommend to those who like subtle spice. 
  3. EZ Gold – Taste more like Chinese sausage instead of bak kwa – will not recommend this at all as it’s tough and dry. 
  4. Mini EZ Chicken – Tastes almost exactly the same as the Mini EZ Pork and you definitely can’t tell that it’s chicken – it’s pretty good!

If there’s one thing Bee Cheng Hiang got right is the packaging. This gift set is very presentable and provides a sampler of its various products.

I’d highly recommend it to all who want to have controlled portions of bak kwa and would like to have a taste of the different products. However, all the vacuum-packed bak kwa lacked the smokey barbecue flavour. If you are looking for char-grilled, strong smokey flavour bak kwa, this may not suit your palette. 

Kim Hock Seng – Traditional Bak Kwa ($24 – $48)

It’s not a new kid on the block as the owner has been making bak kwa for the past 50 years! Situated along Geylang road, this store prides itself for its home-made bak kwa that is well-grilled over charcoal.

The packaging does not do justice to this delicious piece of goodness. In the box came many slices of barbecued bak kwa which was wrapped in paper – as we transferred the pork slices over to a separate container, I could see the juices (and lots of oil, of course) dripping to the bottom of the box.

Now for the best part – the taste: each slice of bak kwa was nice and chewy, with the bits of fat that we desire in a good bak kwa. The seasoning itself was just right – not too sweet, not too salty.  And the char was amazing – it wasn’t burnt and had that flavourful smokey flavour to it.

It is recommended to keep the bak Kwa in the fridge if you intend to eat it over a span of more than three days. You can heat the slices of bak kwa just before consumption! 

Verdict

Bee Cheng Hiang may win in its packaging, but Kim Hock Seng wins hands down. I’ve tried many brands of bak kwa in Singapore and I’ve got to say that Kim Hock Seng’s is comparable to Lim Chee Guan’s bak kwa (maybe even better!). 

Bee Cheng Hiang – Taste: 👍👍 Texture: 👍👍

Kim Hock Seng – Taste: 👍👍👍👍 Texture: 👍👍👍👍👍

Changi Experience Studio@Jewel: Be immersed in Singapore’s aviation history

Fun fact! Singapore’s first airport was located in Kallang – near our port. As time evolved and Singapore saw the need to increase the passenger airport’s capacity, the government explored other options, including the Seletar and Paya Lebar areas. However, due to residential considerations and the further possibility of expansion in the future, Changi was selected, and that was how Singapore Changi Airport came into existence.

I learnt about the fun fact above when I visited the Changi Experience Studio located at Jewel recently, and I would recommend anyone interested in the aviation industry or if you’re interested in learning about how Singapore Changi Airport came to be.

At the entrance, we were presented with our own personal journey maps with RFID tags on it. With it, we could quickly go to different sections in the studio and opening the map activated content of that section to be projected onto it (something like a Le Petit Chef video experience).

Timeless Exhibit

As we walked through the different exhibits, each exhibit had a story to tell. The first exhibit was a simple introduction to how the journey map worked, and the second exhibit was where things got interesting. We travelled back in time to learn about how the idea of Singapore Changi Airport came to be, view clips of famous people visiting the airport, learn more about Terminals 1, 2, 3, and the budget terminal. It was fascinating to know how far Singapore Changi Airport has evolved from a single terminal in 1981 to the four terminals and Jewel.

The third exhibit had many stations within it, which told short stories about Singapore Changi Airport. From fun facts about the three runways to learning about the extensive baggage system that runs across the airport, and the Singapore Changi Airport’s distinct scent, this exhibit showed behind-the-scenes on how the airport is run, and ultimately how the airport experience is built.

Following, there were many other experiential exhibits that include a race down a runway on stationary bikes, simple games on identifying dangerous objects from bags through x-ray machines, and even a booth that ‘rated’ your smile. A photo booth was also present, and you can take a photo and get it tagged to your journey map. You’ll be able to purchase the picture at the counter when you exit.

The Changi Experience Studio is very impressive –the technology it utilised throughout the museum helped tell the Changi Experience story.

If you’re looking for an attraction in the east, or if you have some SingapoRediscovers vouchers to utilise, hit this place up – you will not regret it.  

Changi Experience Studio
Level 4, Jewel Changi Airport (closest to Lobby C)
Monday-Sunday: 11:00-20:00
Last admission: 19:00

Fancy Ban-mian!

It’s well-known that the Chinatown area has a ton of good food. Today, I managed to try out this particular noodle stall, 麵莊Mian Zhuang, at Hong Lim Food Centre that serves ban-mian (板面 also known as flat noodles) but with a twist. I first chanced upon this stall in an “Our Grandfather Story” video and was intrigued that the stall owners dared to venture out to start this hawker noodle stall despite having stable jobs previously.

A conventional noodle stall usually serves ban-mian with minced pork, an egg, some vegetables, and ikan bilis (anchovies). Occasionally, the stall will also serve it with sliced fish, but not many do.

However, this stall serves ban-mian with minced pork balls, ikan bilis, and something very different – fish maw! I had this combination and have to say that I enjoyed this combination. The soup was light and flavourful, the minced pork balls were fresh and gave more texture (as compared to just minced pork), the ikan bilis added the salty and crispy texture, and the fish maw was a delectable ‘sponge’ that absorbed the soup well.

The chili that was served on the side was spicy and had a slight tangy flavour which paired very well with the bowl of ban-mian. The texture of the noodles was nice and chewy, and it was evident that it wasn’t factory-made – quite rare in recent times.

At S$4.50, I would definitely recommend this modestly fancy bowl of noodles to others.

Other combinations are also available including ban-mian with abalone clams (S$4.50/S$6.50), abalone (S$13.50) and prawns (S$4.50/S$6.50). The homemade chili can also be bought at S$5.50/bottle.

Do check Mian Zhuang out if you’re in the vicinity! It is located at Hong Lim Food Centre #01-51 and opened from 9am to 3pm (Monday-Saturday). Do note that it seems to run out of items later in the day so do head there early!

Verdict

Taste (especially with the chili): 👍👍👍👍👍

Value: 👍👍👍👍👍

Flying (again) during the pandemic

Having flown to Taipei earlier in August on China Airlines, here’s a short update on my flight back to Singapore on Scoot just last week.

The journey back on Scoot was a fairly smooth one. I booked the flight a month before my date of travel and was delighted to find out that Scoot resumed flights between Taipei and Singapore (previously, only China Airlines, EVA, Singapore Airlines, and Jetstar provided flights). The addition of Scoot flights gave me the option to fly back to Singapore on a Monday while the rest of the airlines flew later in the week.

Online check-in was as per usual, with me filling in my personal information and declaring if I had check-in baggage. However, I was also informed by the airline to fill in the Singapore Arrival Card, a travel requirement where all travelers to Singapore had to submit our arrival details to the ICA for immigration clearance within three days before our arrival.

Besides, Scoot also had their health declaration form which had to be submitted 24 hours before the flight.

Counter check-in at Taoyuan International Airport was also very smooth, and I was informed that there were around 20 passengers on the same flight as me from Taipei to Singapore. As we waited to board the plane at the gate, the ground staff constantly reminded passengers to keep their masks on at all times via the PA system.

On-board the flight, our seats had a ‘care-pack’ consisting of a bottle of hand sanitizer, a mask, and alcohol wipes which we could use during our flight. It was very thoughtful, considering that it’s a budget airline. Compared to China Airlines, I’ve to admit that Scoot’s care pack was a better one.

The return flight to Singapore was an uneventful one, with most passengers choosing to stay in their seats and barely anyone used the washroom or moved around during the flight.

Upon landing, all the passengers had to proceed to the immigration area where we took our COVID-19 test before clearing immigration. I pre-paid for my COVID-19 test earlier and only had to wait a short while before the test was administered (I got my test results back within eight hours!).

Immigration clearance and luggage clearance were also a breeze, which I was thankful for!

All in all, the flight back was an uneventful one. It is indeed sad to see airports so empty but I could get used to the empty seats around me on the plane!

If you’re flying in/out/through Singapore Changi International Airport, I highly suggest checking the Changi Airport website for the latest updates – it really helped me as I planned my journey back.

Shenkeng Old Street – a gem on the outskirts of Taipei

A short bus ride from the Taipei Zoo Station lies Shenkeng Old Street – an old street famous for its stinky tofu (a local delicacy that you either love or hate — it’s the latter for me). I’ve always wanted to visit this place but its location makes it pretty inaccessible – it’s not within walking distance from the nearest train station (unlike Shilin Night Market, or even Danshui Old Street) so you’ve got to take a bus. However, since I happened to be on an adventurous mode and near the Taipei Zoo Station, I decided to give it a shot.

Shenkeng Old Street

I was originally skeptical about the place because an online site described the old street as a short one. However, this is what I really like about it. Nestled in an old district with car repair shops nearby, this street is a gem. Once a bustling port between the tea plantations in the Wenshan and New Taipei City areas and Yilan, this place slowly saw less footfall when trains to Yilan took over.

Shops selling old-school toys and snacks are aplenty along Shenkeng Old Street

The red brick shophouses that line the old street exude a retro vibe but are very well maintained. From local delicacies to old-school toys, this old street is filled with shops with a blast to the past. My friend and I had fun reminiscing our childhood snacks and toys in these shops.

Delicious glutinous rice (NTD40)

While there were many eateries along the old street, I was more inclined to eating street food and the glutinous rice (油飯) caught my eye. The NTD40 (~SGD$2) bowl of rice came piping hot with a drizzle of sweet sauce all over it. It was delicious – the rice was soft and you could taste every grain of it (it wasn’t like conventional sticky rice!). There were sufficient ingredients – dried shrimp and meat included! I would go back for another bowl of this glutinous rice because it was savoury, light in taste and yet filling.

Unique drain covers along the streets of Shenkeng


On a weekday afternoon, there was a small crowd as a local tourists (namely the elderly) were bussed to the old street for an afternoon. It was encouraging to see this place bustling with many elderly enjoying a nice afternoon walk and shopping spree. Though the crowd is nothing like the past, due to the fall in tourism during this period, I’m glad to still have had a chance to experience this old street. May Shenkeng Old Street continue to retain its charm.

Finding comfort food in a foreign land

What is your comfort food? For me, it’s chicken rice, especially when I’m far from home.

I recently visited BoboChacha, a Malaysian eatery near National Chengchi University, that supposedly serves decent Malaysian food. Considering the number of Asean students in the school, it wasn’t surprising to find a Malaysian eatery in the vicinity.

This humble-looking eatery has a pretty extensive menu which can be found here. Out of the long list, however, one dish caught my eye – Hainanese Chicken Rice. Singapore is known for its wonderful chicken rice, and boy, was I excited to try it out.

Upon the arrival of the dish, I realised a few things –

  1. The chicken rice chili looked very similar to what can be found back home and it tasted really similar too. It wasn’t very spicy but had a good mix of ginger and chili to which I enjoyed.
  2. The chicken rice served was not white rice and was indeed chicken rice! It’s not common to find chicken rice here, and white rice is usually served with chicken rice in Taiwan so I was surprised that the rice had the signature chicken rice aroma (think chicken oil and pandan leaves)
  3. The portion of the chicken was pretty (very) small. While this photo shows a full chicken drumstick, let’s just say that it was a very small drumstick with a good amount of bones in it. The chicken skin wasn’t chewy and was instead too soft. It tasted nothing like the usual chicken you’d get with your chicken rice but instead more like a chicken drumstick boiled in water. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t taste anything like Hainanese-style chicken. For 95 NTD (around S$4.50), it just didn’t feel worth it.
  4. The side dishes served were common Taiwanese side dishes – nothing like what’s served back home or even in Malaysia. I won’t comment too much on this because it seems like this is a common value-added service to keep up with the practice here. In Taiwan, it is common for eateries to provide two to three side dishes when a rice dish is served. I would have loved to see ikan bilis or sambal vegetables though!

I was pretty underwhelmed by this meal because this chicken rice didn’t taste like the chicken rice back home but I guess I’ve got to make do with it because I’m far from home – at least the chili was decent. It wasn’t a bad meal, but it just didn’t taste anything close to chicken rice back in Singapore. Will I come here for the chicken rice again? I certainly won’t. But I won’t mind trying out their other dishes!

Verdict

Taste: 👍
Value: 👍👍
Overall: 👍

This little (Thunlit) light of mine!

I recently needed a light for my room – a light bright enough to be used as a side table lamp yet dim enough to not disrupt me as I prepare for bed.

Thunlit LED Eye Protection Lamp

My parents chanced upon the Thulit LED Eye Protection Lamp on Shopee earlier last month and after reading through the reviews, they decided to purchase it for me. They shipped it over to where I’m at right now and boy, am I enjoying it!

The whole lamp is covered in white PU leather and has a very clean feel to it. The base of the lamp also has a small groove that allows one to rest your phone there. Weighing a mere 480g, this light-weight lamp is sturdy and can be tilted at different angles for optimal brightness. The fact that it can be shifted to any angle makes it very flexible and suitable for small rooms.  

With three colour temperatures, this lamp provides white light, warm light and a seemingly other white colour (supposedly different but I can’t tell the difference). My go-to colour is the warm light as it makes the place look very warm and homely at night.

This light illuminates the room pretty well. The touch button function also makes it easy to turn on-and-off. One downside to this model is that the touch function is slightly below the printed ‘on-off’ button on the base of the lamp. We actually thought that we had received a malfunctioned one when we first got it.

Warm light in a dark room

The model I have is the USB-plugged in version without an in-built battery. However, it suits my needs as I have a power socket near my bedside. I do believe there is a model that has an in-built battery though!

If you’re looking for a flexible, small bedside lamp, you may want to give this a shot. It is pretty inexpensive, is aesthetically-pleasing and brings light to the room (literally).

The Thunlit lamp can be folded for easy storage too!

Verdict

Price 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

Performance 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

You can check it out on Shopee here.

Still one of the best ramens out there – Ichiran Ramen

Fancy a bowl of piping hot soup filled with delicious ramen noodles, slices of chashu (sliced pork), and lots of chili? (I’m leaving out the green onions because that’s just pure decoration to me).

When my family and I first tasted a bowl of this delicious goodness, we were obsessed with it. Out of five nights of our stay in Osaka, Japan back in 2017, we saw ourselves heading back to this Japanese chain thrice. That’s two more times from our intended ‘one ramen meal’.

With it being so special, I’d always try to visit an outlet if it’s available in the city – and they happen to have it in Taipei City!

Let’s break down the contents of this ramen –

  1. The broth is thick and tastes pure – there is little residue stuck in your mouth after you slurp it. This pork-based soup has clearly been boiled for an extensive amount of time and leaves close to no aftertaste boiled soup usually has. Unlike other ramen shops, Ichiran allows you to customise how much seasoning stock and how rich you’d like the soup to be. They have their ‘suggested’ serving but give customers the option of making the soup richer and thicker. I love how I had the option to leave out garlic from my broth as well.
  2. The noodles were nice and firm. It can’t be seen in my order sheet above, but I selected ‘firm’ under my choice of how cooked I wanted my ramen to be. Just think, al dente pasta’s firmness – firm, yet still soft to chew, and gives a better bite.
  3. The chili in the broth was what sealed the deal for me. The chili was not overly salty, and it added a great ‘kick’ to the broth. It neutralised the slightly salted broth and ensured that there was no ‘porky’ taste. For my order, I asked for 4 times the spice level. You can choose up to 10 times the chili level at no additional cost!
  4. The chashu, in my opinion, was just an additional topping which did not add much value to the meal – that’s how great the broth and noodles were for me! The chashu had a slight chew and was well-seasoned. I felt that the slices could have been thicker, but I guess you can just order more chashu if you feel like having more protein in your meal!

All in all, this bowl of ramen cost me around SG$13 and in my opinion, was definitely worth the almost two-hour wait I had on a weekend lunch in Taipei.

Taste: 👍👍👍👍👍

Value: 👍👍👍👍