Are you nuts over nuts? [Three Squirrels Box of Nuts]

Are you nuts over nuts? [Three Squirrels Box of Nuts]

If you enjoy nuts, you’ve probably heard of Three Squirrels (三只松鼠), a Chinese company that sells exceptionally fresh tasting nuts. An ex-colleague introduced me to this brand after she brought it back from a business trip to China, and I haven’t looked back since. So, when my family and I traveled to China in 2018, we made a point of visiting their store just to purchase the nuts as gifts for relatives and friends back home. Fast forward to 2021, when many of us are still working from home and the need to munch has risen.

My dad found the Three Squirrels box of nuts (每日坚果) that comes with 30 individual packets. These snacks have been highly appreciated at home, with all of us going back for more each time.

Each packet has 6 different kinds of nuts (almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts and cashew nuts) as well as 3 kinds of dried fruits (blueberries, raisins and cranberries). The six types of high-energy nuts take up at least 65% of the packet.

Another box variant comes with 4 different kinds of nuts and 4 kinds of dried fruits. We prefer the former but will go for the latter if we want more dried fruits.

Here’s why we keep going back for more:

It’s healthy

Compared to other snacks, these nuts and fruits are definitely healthier options. As it’s not fried, and unsalted, these make great healthy snacks.

It’s individually portioned

It’s easy to control the quantity as well because it’s well-packed individually.

The nuts and fruits are fresh and excellent

The nuts and fruits are fresh and excellent. The nuts and fruits are packed in two compartments in each packet, keeping them fresher and less sticky. Before eating, just tear down the centre and shake the pack of nuts to ensure a proper mix.

Conclusion

If you like variety and are looking for nutritious snacks, this package of 30 packets of nuts may be precisely what you need. Each box is supposed to last one month (30 days), but if you’re anything like us, you could find up nibbling on two packets a day instead.

Coffee packaging – it just gets better.

Coffee packaging – it just gets better.

If you’re a fan of coffee, you should know the many types of coffee that are out there – and it’s not just the type of coffee beans – there are many ways of making coffee as well.

We recently received a packet of coffee which served two. When told, I found it pretty strange as coffee packets usually come in single servings (I hadn’t seen the packaging yet). But then I looked over, and I realized why it served two. The packaging was unique and different from the usual coffee packs bought in the market.

The Coffee Brewer Coffee Bag

This coffee bag from The Coffee Brewer resembled a snack bag and had a small sprout. Upon reading the instructions, I realized that I had to add hot water from the top of the bag (not the sprout) to an indicated level which can be seen on the back of the package.

Essentially, there is a built-in filter bag (filled with ground coffee) within this packaging. The water poured from the top of the bag flows into the filter bag, and the filtered coffee eventually rests on the bottom of the bag. The bag’s design allows the filtered coffee to be easily poured out once you crack open the mouth of the sprout.

The idea is fascinating, makes coffee brewing easy, and honestly speaking, you can technically drink out of the bag!

As for the coffee, although I added water only to the “strong” indicator line, the coffee tasted a bit too diluted for my liking. It was also perhaps the fact that this was considered a ‘strong’ coffee that made it slightly disappointing as well. The slight tangy aftertaste was pleasant, though! It would be nice to test out their other variants, but I’ll be sure to add less water the next time I brew it.

I’ll give the innovation a 5/5 and a 3.5/5 for the coffee itself.

126 big pao price up, ingredients down

126 big pao price up, ingredients down

When it comes to baos (dumplings), Singapore is so blessed to have many brand names offering these treats — Ho Kee Pau, Tanjong Rhu Pau and Confectionary, Teck Kee Tanglin Pau, and Tiong Bahru to name a few.

Baos are great for all occasions — from proper meals to coffee break treat. They can be eaten to fill the stomach or just please the palette.

With increasing prices of raw materials, bao prices have been escalating. This is understandably so as the outlets need to remain profitable.

However, one price hike got us a little concerned. 126 Dim Sum 揾到食 has raised the price of its popular big pao to S$2, a price point unheard of at non-restaurant level. Plus, the outlet charges GST so the real price is S$2.14.

What we noticed also was that on top of the increase and GST, the slice of Chinese sausage and mushroom were missing. For some, it’s the lup cheong that makes the difference, letting this iteration stand out for the competition. It’s what makes one drive all the way to Geylang and risk getting a traffic ticket to buy the bao.

We couldn’t let this go without asking why. When queried over the phone, a staff said, “$2 is cheap already. Others are charging $2.20.”

About the missing ingredients, she said, “Some customers told us that the lup cheong is smelly so we decided to remove it,”

Dah? That slice of lup cheong has been an essential part of the setup for many years. So why now?

Truth be told, I was so disappointed by the price hike and the missing ingredient that I refused to take a photo of the bao.

Like I said at the start, Singapore has lots of great bao outlets. Time to pick another one.

Photo: Gabby K from Pexels

Exploring Taichung: Taichung Second Market

Exploring Taichung: Taichung Second Market

Did you know? Taichung has an interesting way of naming their markets – First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Markets. This naming convention apparently came out in the past based on the order they were founded – very different from the naming conventions we are used to, but very practical. Only the second, third, fifth and sixth markets seem to be in operation at the moment. 

Over the weekend, I visited the Taichung Second Market, which had an abundance of food options. A popular tourist attraction, the market had some signs which made it easier to move around – note, easier, not easy. The market felt like a maze, but it was fun to ‘get lost’ inside as it allowed us to explore the various shops. 

Of the many food stores in the market, I ate at five of them (over two days). Here’s my quick review of the places:

Arashi Braised Minced Pork (嵐肉燥專賣店)

Unlike your usual braised minced pork rice bowl, the braised pork here comes in thin slices (think ramen chashu), topped up with minced braised pork – this is a pork-on-pork bowl. The meats were well-seasoned, and the sliced pork came with a nice chew. If you like fried shallots, you’ll love the braised minced pork sauce as it had a robust aroma of shallots. At 65 NTD (~$3.10), I’d give it a 5/5 for this affordable bowl of rice – in fact, I’d buy it even if they raised the price. 

魚皮李滷肉飯

This store serves the more traditional version of braised pork rice. Instead of ordering the braised minced pork version, I ordered one with a thick slice of pork belly. This small bowl cost 55 NTD ($2.60) and was a pretty small portion, but when topped with a fried egg, the combination of runny egg yolk, pork belly and piping hot rice was delicious. I’d give it a 4/5 because of the cost (mainly because the portion was smaller than the bowl of rice from Arashi Braised Minced Pork. 

小庭找茶 

Situated on the market’s outer ring, this shop sells traditional desserts that come with a modern twist. Of the two desserts we consumer, the 相思粉粿 (60 NTD/$2.90) consisted of red beans and a blob of yellow slimy goo topped with almond milk. This dish was unique – the taste was good, but the texture was strange. I don’t hate it, but it is not something I’d want to order again. The other dessert, however, was good. 

The dessert, 餅冰淇淋 (55 NTD/$2.60), came presented very nicely – a biscuit made of brown sugar, which resembled a coconut husk, had a scoop of ice cream and boba in it. Considering that Taichung is known to where bubble milk tea originated, I loved how they incorporated boba into the dessert. 

2/5 for the 相思粉粿. Good to try, but only for trying

4/5 for the 餅冰淇淋.

王家菜头粿糯米肠 

Tip: Buy the tea from Like Tea Shop and have it with your snack here! (Image credit: Arlene)

This stall sells traditional snacks like radish cake, glutinous rice rolls, and soups. With a pretty extensive menu, this shop honestly sells mostly carbs, making every dish very filling. We had the radish cake with an egg. The fact that they served it fresh off the griddle made it appetizing. Still, the carb-overdose was real as it felt like I was eating a flour cake that had no strips of radish within the dish – I personally prefer the Hong Kong-style radish cakes. 

3/5 for the radish cake! 

Like Tea Shop (老賴茶棧)

This shop had such a queue when I went on Saturday, so I gave it a miss, but on Sunday, this shop only had two people in line, and I took it as a sign to try it. 

As someone who does not enjoy sweet black teas, I was surprised by how smooth this cup of iced tea was. It had a strong tea fragrance and had a pleasant refreshing aftertaste. I’d give this place a solid 5/5 as this cup of tea only cost 25 NTD ($1.20)! A definite must-drink if I’m in the area! 

Conclusion

I’d highly recommend that you visit this market if you’re in Taichung, preferably in the morning as there are more shops open. The food options are abundant so do go with an empty stomach!

Taichung Second Market

No. 87, Section 2, Sanmin Road, Central District, Taichung City, 400

Closed on Mondays (Most shops are closed by 2pm)

Dihua Street – a gem in Taipei

Dihua Street – a gem in Taipei

I love visiting old streets – the vibrancy and the old, low-rise buildings just give them a nice and welcoming vibe. Over the past weekend, I visited such a street in Taipei City – Dihua Street. While it is not considered an old street, it certainly gave a similar vibe!

Located near Dadaocheng, Dihua Street is easily accessible via the Taipei metro. This street is renowned to be THE PLACE to go and shop during the Chinese New Year season. Peppered with many shops selling dried goods from seafood to snacks and preserved food, this place is heaven for shopping regardless of age.

Dihua Street

Aside from dried produce, Dihua Street is also home to many other types of shops – shops that sell local-university products, shops that sell creative products from local artists, and even an Olympus shop selling cameras and accessories. There are various small exhibitions within some of these shops as well, which make them a great place to spend an afternoon.  

I went on a rainy weekend afternoon and it was quiet, but I do believe that it’s a lot busier on dry weekends – especially because there’s food readily available in the area.

One of the shops I stopped to eat at was 度小月 – a shop with origins in Tainan. I had a taste of the Dan Zai Noodles and Braised Meat Ball which cost 50 NTD (~$.240) and 15 NTD (~$0.75) respectively – very affordable! Can’t deny that the portion was a bit small but the minced pork sauce and prawn with the noodles, topped up with piping hot soup, was quite a treat on a cold rainy day! The interior of the shop was also very unique – it had a ‘cart’ set-up resembling how they used to sell these Dan Zai Noodles in the past.

Dihua street is an amazing place to spend an afternoon. I’ll definitely check the place out again when it’s not raining. Check out the 7-11 along Dihua Street too – it really is very pretty!

Loving Cha Gio (Recipe included!)

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!

Popiah skin 24/7

Popiah skin 24/7

New York is known as the city that never sleeps, Neither does Citibank, according to its tagline. If you’re a popiah lover, you’d be glad to know that Fortune Food also operates 24/7.

My family loves to make our own popiah, especially for Chinese New Year. This year, I left it a little late — the day before CNY Eve to get the ingredients.

As usual, I headed to Ng Kian Seng Confectionery, my favourtite popiah skin store at Bedok South Block 17. To my horror, all the skin were sold out (guess others had the same idea).

I put on my best smile. OK, my mask was on but my eyes were sparkling. All in the hope of convincing the lady boss to somehow sell one of her reserved stash to me.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. Instead she asked if I drove. It sounded like such a strange question but I said “yes”.

She went to rip a piece of receipt off her book and told me to head to that address to buy directly from her factory.

“What time does your factory open till today,” I asked.

She told me nonchalantly that it is open 24 hours a day.

Less than 10 minutes later, I arrived at Fortune Food at Gourmet East Kitchen in Bedok North.

As I walked towards the unit, a man asked me through the metal gate what I wanted. Just as I was preparing to take out my phone to snap a couple of shots of the place, he came out and handed me my order.

That was really fast — I was in and out within five minutes.

The 1kg of popiah skin was warm — a testament that it was freshly baked.

Next comes the taste test. While shaped and priced the same as the Bedok South shop, the skin was a little too refined and much chewier compared to what we were used to.

Overall, it’s good and most wouldn’t have noticed the difference. But, I was more used to having my popiah skin pockmarked with tiny air bubbles and a little thinner.

The plus point for this popiah skin is its constant availability. I paid S$20 per kg (think it’s the festive season surcharge) because its website pricing was S$18 per kg.

So, if you need popiah skin anytime, check out Fortune Food is at 3017 Bedok North Street 5 #01-13, Gourmet East Kitchen, Singapore 486121.

Verdict

Taste: 👍👍👍👍

Texture: 👍👍👍

Price: 👍👍👍👍

Jeju Kitchen – Tampines 1

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?

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: 👍👍👍👍👍

Bak kwa: Buy or bake?

Bak kwa: Buy or bake?
Marinated meat ready to hit the oven

Bak kwa or pork jerky is a staple for Chinese New Year. And without fail, the price of this yummy honey-glazed grilled meat will increase as the festive season approaches.

The reason given by the sellers is that ingredients and manpower costs escalate during this period. Point taken but the increase can make the product prohibitively expensive at S$68 per kg from my favourite store. This high price is especially more of a concern in such turbulent times.

With that in mind and inspired by some posts on home-made bak kwa, I decided to check out some recipes on YouTube to explore the possibility of making my own.

After watching a few videos, the process looks surprisingly easy. My mind was made up as the risk seems low. After all, if the end product is not nice, it won’t cost me much either.

Virgin attempt

My attempt is based on this clip, which is really easy to follow. Plus, I’ve got all the ingredients listed in that clip at home, except for the minced pork.

All that’s needed to bake your own bak kwa

Having read in another recipe that they added five spice powder, I opted to include that too. Another online recipe suggested adding fermented tofu, which I didn’t because there’s none in my kitchen.

Once all of the above has been mixed together, it’s a matter of letting the marinated meat set for four hours. I left it overnight as I didn’t want to cook past midnight.

The baking process was relatively straightforward. Pop the meat into the oven, take it out to slather a layer of honey water, then baste both sides. You can find the process in the YouTube link mentioned above or any other clip online.

Looks like the real thing

Then comes the most important part — taste test. The entire family loves it! OK, there’s definitely room for improvement in terms of thickness and texture but the taste is just right. I had cut down on the sugar after sizing up the recommended sugar amount and the honey water coating.

Our conclusion is that we will skip buying and bake our own this year. With all the ingredients already available at home, I only had to buy the minced pork, which cost S$12 per kg. The total cost, minus labour, was about S$15.

Weighing this cost against the hefy price from the traditional shops, we will experiment with other ingredients and cooking processes further so that our family and friends can taste something different this Chinese New Year.

Verdict

Taste: 👍👍👍👍

Texture: 👍👍👍