June 23, 2017

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by Danielle Goh

ALL the cheese lovers in Singapore rejoice. The rest of you, we understand you may not be too enthusiastic.

The newly revamped LiHo has a range of cheese milk teas, and a $1.90 topping of cheese to go with any drink. RTG Holdings decided not to continue the Gong Cha franchise here, after its Taiwanese business partners sold the company to Gong Cha Korea. By Monday (Jun 5), all 80 Gong Cha outlets will be replaced with LiHo. It’s new name means “How are you?” in Hokkien.

Some additions to the menu are the cheese milk tea, smoothies, and vitagen drinks. Gong Cha fans need not fear, as trademark flavours such as Oolong Milk Tea, and Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3M still remains on the new LiHo menu. There are also more ways to drink your milk tea: A small opening with a heart-shaped lid helps to get to the top layer, and comes in handy for hot drinks. Also, drinks come in medium and large sizes.

NOTE: Gong Cha has clarified that Oolong Milk Tea is not available on LiHo’s menu. LiHo’s Say Cheese range actually consists of different teas, with no addition of milk, and a cheese topping. We apologise for the error.

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TMG went down to LiHo at Paragon and Cineleisure to try the controversial cheese teas, other new flavours, and also the more ‘conventional’ milk teas. We’ve rated each drink, and picked out the best and worst ones:

 

1. Cheese Guan Yin with cheese topping, Large. $7

So for this drink I went crazy with the cheese… It was a bit of a splurge, but worth it.

Fans of Gong Cha will be happy to know that the cheese had a light foamy texture, similar to the Gong Cha milk topping. The cheese was like a creamy version of a Japanese cheesecake. Mixed with a light brew of oolong tea, the slightly savoury cheese topping blended well with the drink. The cheese was not too overbearing, and the different layers in the drink made for a colourful taste palette. It took a while getting used to the blend of savoury with the slight bitterness of the oolong tea.

For cheese lovers, don’t forget to drink it to the end for the last bits of cheesy goodness!

Verdict: Yes, it lives up to the hype. 9 out of 10

 

2. Cheese Jing Syuan tea, with white pearl topping, Medium. $4.80

The cheese and Jing Syuan tea is an unexpected pairing.

It’s like salted egg yolk on a bailey’s ice cream, unique together, but also completely okay without the other. The savoury cheese was a surprisingly satisfying counter to the sweetness of the Jing Syuan tea though. This one didn’t blend as well as the Cheese Guan Yin, so the cheese layer remained at the top. So this was like drinking the Jing Syuan tea, but also eating a slab of cheesecake, separately. After stirring more vigorously, the cheese still didn’t quite mix with the tea, so I felt like I was drinking regular Jing Syuan tea. It was not as good as the Cheese Guan Yin in my opinion.

Verdict: Surprisingly good, but can be better blended. 7 out of 10

 

3. Yam Milk with custard pudding topping, Medium. $4.30

This was so good…

It’s a tough fight between the yam milk and the Cheese Guan Yin for first place. I was glad to have taken the staff’s suggestion to have the custard pudding topping. It added a caramelised sweetness, and the soft, milky texture of the pudding complemented the yam perfectly. The concentration of yam was just right, and it made the drink appetising. This drink reminded me of my favourite mango pudding, it could double up as dessert any time! I finished the drink very quickly.

Also the pretty purple colour is a plus.

Verdict: Perfect mix. 10 out of 10

 

4. Classic Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3M, Medium. $4.20

Ah, the classic milk tea. Basically an improved version of Gong Cha’s Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3J. Slight difference is that Gong Cha has more of a smooth texture, while for LiHo there’s a stronger brew of tea, and it’s a little more milky. The mixture of black pearl, pudding and jelly is bubble tea heaven.

Verdict: It’s classic for a reason. 8 out of 10

 

5. Choc-A-Milk + OREO, Medium. $4.20

I had to walk to Cineleisure for this one, because it was sold out at LiHo’s Paragon branch. According to the staff, this drink is a best-seller. But after drinking it, I think that most of the credit goes to the Oreos. There’s a generous portion of crumbled Oreo bits at the top of the drink, but it doesn’t really go well with the chocolate milk tea. After a while, I felt that I was drinking diluted chocolate milk, but with the occasional Oreo crunch. It was quite a disappointment. Maybe it would work better as a smoothie…

Verdict: Does not taste as good as it sounds. 5 out of 10

 

6. Vitagen ‘n’ Peach, Medium. $4.00

Tastes just like normal Vitagen, and it’s very, very, very sweet. Sadly, nothing really special about this drink. I couldn’t taste much of the peach, and as if the Vitagen was not sweet enough, there’s sugar liquid at the bottom. Feels like they bought bottles of Vitagen and just poured it in; If I wanted Vitagen, I would rather just go to Sheng Siong.

Verdict: Excuse me while I reel from sugar overdose… 3 out of 10

 

7. Golden Yuzu Juice + Golden Ai Yu, Medium. $3.70

Here’s a healthier option if you need a pick-me-up drink for the day. It was really refreshing, a great thirst-quencher on a hot and humid day! The sourness of the yuzu hits you very quickly, with a sharp aftertaste. Some yuzu slices are mixed in with the drink, so it’s peel fresh. The jelly helps to break the sourness with its honeyed sweetness. Only downside to this is that the jelly is a gigantic chunk. Was a little annoying because it’s too big to drink with the straw, so I had to keep mashing it.

Verdict: Don’t be jelly, try this. 7 out of 10

 

Well, at this point I’ve been convinced: Cheese does go with milk tea. Top favourites are the Cheese Guan Yin and the Yam Milk with custard pudding; I’ll gladly go for a second cup.

 

Note: Previously, the article mentioned that Gong Cha’s Oolong Milk Tea remains on the new LiHo menu. This is incorrect, as Oolong Milk Tea is not available on LiHo’s menu. LiHo’s Say Cheese range consists of different teas, with no addition of milk, and a cheese topping.

 

Featured image by TMG.

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by Kok Wei Liang

THERE is gaynger in Singapore. That’s “gay danger”, to any uninitiated straight people.

I am writing this in the painful seclusion of my room, shunned by friends and frenemies, my hair frizzy and free of product because the assistant at my hairdresser’s refused to blow it out and apply hair wax, my nails chipped and uneven because no manicure bar will have me anymore.

In light of a recent post on Facebook about how “young punk” cafes are serving gay cake disguised as rainbow cake, I thought it would be a good idea to tell the public what gay cake actually is.

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The Gay Overlords disagree.

I visited them at Gay Headquarters, during Gay Communal Hours, when all the straight people of Singapore were soundly asleep, dreaming of contributing to society in productive ways. The Gay Overlords do not think my exposé will be useful in furthering the Gay Agenda. They even refused to accept the favour baskets I prepared for them, of homemade his-and-his coconut oil shaving gel with flakes of avocado butter. That is how I know they meant business.

I can tell that the repercussions from this perceived act of treason will shake the LGBT Underworld for years to come. But I will not be silenced.

Here is how to make gay cake.

You will need six ingredients. The post on We are against Pinkdot in Singapore got that much right.

True rainbow cakes have seven layers, like the seven layers of a rainbow. Gay cake has six layers, because of our favourite sex act – the 6.

In the 69, you 6 me and I 9 you, but in the 6, you 6 me and I fall asleep. Show me a gay man who doesn’t love the 6, and I will show you a liar.

1. Vanilla-scented candle.

2. Almond milk. If you cannot squeeze the juice from the nuts yourself, store-bought is fine.

3. A photo of something really gay. My go-to is of the man with the gayest job in the world – the Pope. I like using the one where he wears jewellery.

4. Twinkies.

5. Ice.

6. Music by a certified gay icon. Here is an alphabetical list of acceptable icons: Beyonce, Cher, Donna Summer, Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Queens of the Stone Age. You may, in a pinch, resort to Elton John, but your cake will turn out a little bitchy.

Mix the first five ingredients in the gay bowl. That’s whichever bowl held all the condoms at your last gay party.

Blare the music from your certified gay icon to your mixture. The volume should make your batter rise and harden.

Cut the resultant hardened mixture into little pieces. It is recommended that they be cut into little round blocks so as to not arouse suspicion, but other shapes will not actually affect the efficacy of the cake.

Find a public male restroom. Place the cake in a urinal. Wait for a straight man to piss on it. It will turn him gay.

Caution:
Do not let gay men piss on this cake, that’s how we got whatever Milo Yiannopoulos is.
Do not let children piss on this cake, that’s how we got Justin Bieber.
Will make bisexual men hungry for brunch.
DO NOT EAT THIS CAKE.

 

Kok Wei Liang does not want you to know anything about him, because he likes anonymity when he does standup and slam poetry.

 

Featured image from Facebook.

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by Lim Qiu Ping

“DONBURI” simply means the bowl. As a food item, it refers to a bowl of Japanese short-grain rice topped with certain ingredients. It could be fried cutlets of different meats, cooked or raw seafood, or curry, just to name a few. There are different categories of donburi depending on the ingredient resting on the rice.

Though the donburi is not unknown in Singapore, the spotlight has shone more on the ramen or sushi. But there is an increased appreciation of this Japanese rice bowl dish in recent years, towards specific types of donburi:

 

1. Current rage in town – the ten-don

Ten-don is a Japanese compound of two words – the “tempura” and “donburi”. The bowl of rice is topped with tempura, which is deep-fried battered vegetables or seafood. This particular type of donburi has been on the radar of Japanese food enthusiasts since the first ten-don specialty restaurant, Ten-don Ginza Itsuki, opened at Tanjong Pagar in July 2015.

Ten-don Ginza Itsuki

Image from Facebook user Foodogenic by nanatang.

There are only two offerings available at Ten-don Ginza Itsuki – the Special Ten-don and Vegetable Ten-don. The Special Ten-don (at $13.90) consists of two tempura prawns, an assortment of tempura vegetables, slices of tempura chicken meat and a tempura egg on top of the rice. The Vegetable Ten-don (at $12.90), on the other hand, has only vegetable tempura on rice.

Tempura ingredients are fried separately, according to the temperature optimal to cook them into fresh, crispiness without being excessively oily. In addition, the ten-don here is served in beautiful bowls made by the 400-year old Arita porcelain brand.

Near to two years after its opening, customers are still queuing up for a taste. Lines could be formed within 30 minutes of its 11.30am opening time and definitely during lunch and dinner hours.    

Ten-don Kohaku

Image from Facebook user Ong KiAn YEe.

Ten-don Kohaku, also a ten-don specialty restaurant, entered the scene in June 2016 to a similar welcome at Suntec City. It sells Edomae ten-don, or ten-don in the Edo-era style – a category of Japanese cuisine which is known to be heavier in taste.

The menu is simple, with items differentiated by the one with meat or without; drizzled with the original sauce or spicy. While the Kohaku Ten-don and its spicy version cost $15, the Vegetable Ten-don and its spicy version are a dollar cheaper.

For the tempura, ingredients included crab stick, squid, shrimp and chicken breast and an assortment of vegetables, such as pumpkin, long beans and mushroom, cooked in oil blended with sesame oil for an extra fragrance. The fluffy rice, which is of Nanatsuboshi variety, is imported from Hokkaido

The Suntec establishment has been so popular, another branch opened at Boat Quay in December of the same year. Queues at either locations could last more than an hour.

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Don Meijin

Image from Lim Qiu Ping

Don Meijin, the newest addition to the Ramen Champion foodcourt at the 4th floor of Bugis+ since February this year, has cooked up a local kick to the ten-don: the Spicy Chilli Crab ten-don.

The regular ten-don (priced at $13.80) has tempura featuring black tiger prawns, seasonal fish fillet, asparagus, pumpkin, eggplant and the kakiage, which is made of mixed vegetable strips. The aromatic bed of rice, specially imported from Hokkaido, is cooked to al dente consistency. Then, to create the Spicy Chilli Crab ten-don, a Japanised spicy chilli crab sauce – prepared for more than four hours using fresh chicken broth, chunks of snow crab, mirin and Japanese soy sauce – is poured over the tempura. This particular ten-don costs $14.80.

Don Meijin boasts of being the first ten-don shop to introduce the Ochazuke method of enjoying the ten-don. With a top-up of $2, the customer is given some wasabi, rice crisps and a pot of dashi soup. Mix them into the remaining rice and tempura pieces of a half-eaten ten-don to enjoy the rest of the dish as rice soup. This is how it’s done in Japan, apparently!

 

2. The craze for raw fish on rice – the chirashi-don, bara chirashi-don and kaisen-don

Chirashi means “to scatter”. So, expect to see in chirashi-don a colourful and artistic “scatter” of sashimi, or slices of various raw fish, on top of vinegary sushi rice. It is said that chirashi-don began as a dish meant to utilise leftover fish parts after the best portions have been used for sashimi platters or making sushi.

The bara chirashi-don is supposed to be the humbler variation of chirashi-don but has come into its own nowadays; just as fancy and happily, less pricey. As opposed to thick slices of sashimi, blocks of fish and other ingredients (usually cooked or marinated) are laden on the sushi rice.

By 2015, comparison of the most affordable, or value-for-money chirashi-don and bara chirashi-don was rife in Singapore with Japanese food enthusiasts looking for joints selling chirashi-don below $30 and bara chirashi-don below $20.

The Sushi Bar

The Sushi Bar, specifically its branch at Far East Plaza, makes their chirashi-don with slices of salmon, yellowtail, tuna, swordfish, scallops and Japanese-styled rolled omelette; a piece of blowtorched salmon belly; and salmon roe attractively spread on top of sushi rice. This is the normal bowl priced at $24.90. A basic bowl without the scallop or salmon belly is cheaper at $19.90 while the premium one is priced seasonally.

Sushiro

Image from Facebook user Sushiro Singapore.

A bara chirashi-don from Sushiro, a sushi bar opened in late November 2015 at the basement of Thomson Plaza, allows one to enjoy a heap of chunky raw salmon, tuna, octopus, prawn and salmon roe on top of sushi rice. The serving is well-made, generous and more noteworthy for its price, as Sushiro’s bara chirashi-don is said to be the cheapest around at $12.80.

Teppei Japanese Restaurant and Teppei Syudoku

Image from Facebook user HappyYummy.

Teppei’s bara chirashi-don must be mentioned at this point, having been credited as the brand which ushered in the fervour for the raw fish donburi since its first takeaway outlet opened at Takashimaya in September 2014. It’s donburi is a variant of the bara chirashi-don, called the kaisen-don. The difference is in the bed of Japanese rice prepared without vinegar. Teppei lightly treated its sweet Niigata rice grains with a savoury house sauce instead.

Its kaisen-don boasts a marinated pile of raw salmon, tuna and white fish chunks, with a sprinkling of salmon roe, daikon sprout and bits of tempura batter. There is even a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) version, sold at its Ion Orchard takeaway outlet, where customers can choose what goes into the kaisen-don: two, four or five choices of seafood to go on top of the rice. Options consist of salmon, tuna, swordfish and yellowtail, whelk, baby scallop, octopus and squid.

The Teppei brand has its flagship restaurant at Orchid Hotel in Tanjong Pagar, where the kaisen-don is sold for $17.60. At its takeaway outlets, named Teppei Syokudo, the kaisen-don goes for $16. And depending on the number of seafood chosen, the DIY kaisen-don can cost $8.50, $15.80 or $19.80.

 

3. The next donburi rush – unatama-don?

Image from Facebook user Gnninethree.

Man Man Japanese Unagi Restaurant, part of the Teppei chain, only opened last October. Already, customers are willing to stand in line for more than two hours to eat at this unagi specialty restaurant in Chinatown, along Keong Saik Road.

As the term “unatama-don” indicates, it is a type of donburi served with “unagi” and “tamagoyaki” – freshwater eel and Japanese-styled rolled omelette – placed on top of rice. Live eels are imported from the Mikawa Isshiki region, which means the unagi is prepared on the spot by cutting, deboning and then grilling the eel flesh with a sweet and salty soy-based marinate called tare. The spongy slabs of tamagoyaki, with its lighter flavour, contrast well against the savouriness of the unagi.

A small unatama-don costs $18.60 while a medium and large bowl set the customer back $25.80 and $32.80 respectively.

Note that all prices given come without additional charges and tax.

 

Featured image by Pixabay user Sharonang. (CC0 1.0)

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by Azimin Saini (Michelin Guide Singapore)
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ON RUE de La Roquette in the outskirts of Paris, Alain Ducasse, the illustrious chef behind the many Michelin-starred restaurants from Paris to London is hunched over a mound of cocoa beans spread on a metal counter. “I had the dream of making my own chocolate, making it the traditional way from bean to bar,” he says in French. The counter is in a factory that specialises in bean-to-bar chocolates supplied to his restaurants and sold online. Many of them are single origin products made with beans sourced from the likes of Peru, Java and Vietnam.

Half a world away in the Malaysian state of Pahang, a member of the Temuan community – an orang asli (indigenous) ethnic group harvests a cocoa pod, to be sold to a local chocolatier. These are foraged from the wild and grow as solo trees rather than in organised plantations. Their way of life has been unchanged for generations and many depend on rubber tapping and forest foraging for an income.

From Paris to Pahang: the two locations are distinct but connected threads that make up the auburn fabric of the chocolate world. For centuries, the relationship between cocoa production and chocolate consumption has been a portrait depicting the haves and the have-nots.

One sees it as an affordable but luxurious indulgence, the other to merely eke out a living.

Countries home to cocoa bean farms are often developing or middle-income countries which supply raw materials to Western production centres thousands of kilometres away. Most chocolates produced by these origin growing countries are often seen as inferior, made by constituting low-quality cocoa powder with vegetable fat – not cocoa butter as is the case of quality chocolates.

“It’s ironic,” says Toby Garritt, CEO and founder of Pod Chocolate. “When you ask people about their favourite chocolate, they’re invariably going to mention chocolates from France, Switzerland or Belgium. None of these countries are cocoa-growing countries.”

“I’m from Australia and my family had a vineyard in South Australia,” Garritt continues. “And where you have the vineyard, you have the winery. No one would imagine taking Australian grapes to France and calling that a French wine. And yet, it’s perfectly normal for cocoa to travel thousands of kilometres and somehow it becomes French or Swiss. Why is that?”

 

The Big Change
But a tectonic shift is happening. Garritt is part of a growing crop of Southeast Asia-based fine chocolate makers who operate a short distance away from cocoa tree farms. The CEO lives in Bali and uses Balinese cocoa beans for his range of chocolate bars.
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It’s a niche playing field and these makers are scattered across the South East Asian region. In Malaysia, there’s Chocolate Concierge whose products includes bars made from cocoa pods foraged by the Temuan community. Over in Vietnam, there’s Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat created by Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou. Further east in The Philippines, there’s Hiraya Chocolates – the brainchild of Arvin Peralta who sources his cocoa beans from Davao. Indonesia, the world’s third largest exporter of cocoa, is emerging as the biggest player in the bean-to-bar scene as it’s home to a handful of makers ranging from Pipiltin Cocoa to Pod Chocolate.

These makers are only a few years old, and the scene is at its infancy. But already, domestic and international coverage is picking up, along with export offers promising to take these bars to the global stage. What unites them is a sense of irony – that cocoa producing countries are not also home to premium chocolate makers.

 

Cocoa’s History in South East Asia
In part, it’s because of the global development of the chocolate economy. For all its sweetness and associations with luxury and romance today, chocolate has a dark history. That French, Swiss and Belgian chocolates are seen as the pinnacle of quality is a direct result of history – one that has seen the dawn of colonisation and heard the rallying cries for national independence.
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Here’s a brief but vital history: cocoa itself is native to Central America and grows in a narrow girdle stretching 20 degrees north and south of the equator. The Spanish conquest of the region introduced this exotic tropical product to Europe where it was first enjoyed as a drink, and then in confectionery. It wasn’t long before colonial powers sought to increase its production, and began planting the trees in other colonies – including Southeast Asia.
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The first cocoa beans to reach the region was in 1660s on the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade – a route that connected the Spanish colonies of The Philippines and Mexico across the Pacific Ocean.

Not to be outdone, other European powers began experimenting in their South East Asian colonies. The trees flourished but they found better commercial success with other cash crops. Spices are of greater value in the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia), rubber easily outweighed cocoa beans in Malaya while the French similarly found greater commercial imperative with growing coffee in Vietnam.

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https://robert-parker-michelin-sg-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/02/12/6625df9f33354e34bdb2e3d435109f93_chocolate+roasting.jpg

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Despite its introduction as a crop in this region, Arvin Peralta of Hiraya notes that Asians were not exposed to the chocolate making traditions of Europe. “The Spanish just used chocolate for chocolate drinks. That’s the product that developed here in The Philippines,” he says referring to tableya – a Filipino chocolate drink introduced during the Spanish colonial era.

Instead, it is the fledgling chocolate companies in the European metropoles that would emerge as leviathans in today’s chocolate world. Van Houten was one such – the Dutch firm invented the cocoa press in 1828 – the hydraulic machine that separates cocoa solids from cocoa powder that made mass chocolate manufacturing a reality. British maker Fry’s was another, for inventing the chocolate bar in 1847 by mixing sugar with cocoa powder and cocoa butter.

Over the course of a hundred years, many of the original chocolate makers have merged into massive multinationals. Fry’s was gobbled up by rival British chocolate company Cadbury in 1919 which was in turn acquired by Kraft Foods in 2010. Belgian chocolate maker Callebaut and French Firm Cacao Barry merged in 1996 to form Barry Callebaut which today produces 1.7 million tonnes of cocoa per year.

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By the 2010s, change was in the air. Consumers started growing conscious of the source of their food and support for small producers took off. Craft beers boomed, as did the third wave coffee joints that swept much of the world’s cities. With it rose the bean-to-bar chocolatier that was the antithesis of everything a multinational offers: terroir sensitivity, fair trade and to some, exclusivity.

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The fleshy white insides of a cocoa pod.
The fleshy white insides of a cocoa pod.
The Importance of Staying Local

This new wave of chocolate makers do everything from purchasing their own cocoa beans, grinding them down on site, moulding, packaging and marketing them.There was just one problem: few are based in the origin growing countries. This distance and lack of direct access to farmers have led to criticism of bean-to-bar makers for using inferior beans even if the products are single origin.

One such critic is Frederic Loraschi, a pastry chef and consultant for juggernauts like Hershey who believes that bigger buyers get better beans. “These guys get the best beans because they buy big volumes and can afford it,” he tells trade website Confectionerynews.com. “The others buy leftovers that nobody wants.”

Small chocolatiers are not able to afford travelling regularly to form strong relationships or control the fermentation process, he says.

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https://robert-parker-michelin-sg-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/02/12/676c186c5b4e464e88d723b78f5fb422_Tonny+Garritt+profile.jpg
“You need to be on the field selecting beans yourself but they [the plantation or seller] have probably already sold their best beans to Barry Callebaut,” he adds.
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And that’s exactly where Southeast Asia’s chocolate makers have an edge. Living a short day trip away from the farms means they are, “[not only] able to be on site to inspect the beans,” says Ning of Chocolate Concierge, “but are able to take it one step further, which is to start from the tree itself.”

Agreeing, Garritt (pictured left) says: “How do you know if you’ve got a high quality raw material? The first thing you have to do is go into the farm and ask yourself, is this a healthy and happy looking farm? If it isn’t why is that?”

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Empowering the Powerless
Part of the appeal of these bean-to-bar chocolate makers is their social mission which has an impact on communities as much as on the quality of the cocoa beans that they get. They are closer economically and emotionally to these farms: their multiple sojourns into the cocoa growing depths of their countries often come with the intention of helping farmers to maximise yields, better cocoa quality and hence increase their earnings.
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The week before we spoke to Arvin Peralta of Hiraya, he was visiting cocoa farmers east of Manila in an old port city where the Spanish first introduced cocoa to the region. Unlike in the south where there are established plantations and where he primarily already sources his beans, the cocoa trees here are much older and the farmers are not clued in on post processing techniques.

“The production is small and they don’t know how to ferment the beans which is required in making fine chocolates,” he says referring to the crucial step in which microorganisms work to develop chocolate’s flavour and colour.

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Arvin Peralta (in blue) inspects the cocoa beans with a farmer.
Arvin Peralta (in blue) inspects the cocoa beans with a farmer.

“Doing so can double or triple the selling price. When I spoke to them, they’re interested to learn how and we’ll connect them with the Cocoa Foundation of The Philippines to teach them about post processing. So by the time it’s the May harvest season, they can apply what they’ve learnt.”

The root of the issue is because the farmers themselves have never seen the end product.

“Being at the bottom of the global food chain, farmers typically sell their beans to a middle man and then lose sight of them,” wrote Tissa Aunilla, co-founder of Pipiltin Cocoa on her alma mater’s website. “As a result, some of our suppliers in Tabanan, Bali had never tasted chocolate in their life, even though they had been cocoa bean farmers for 30 years.”
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This makes a massive difference. Garritt says: “Coffee farmers drink their own coffee, so they will know whether his coffee this year was good. He can ask himself, ‘hey this is good, what happened this year?’ With cocoa, the farmers have absolutely no idea. They don’t know the difference between fermented and non-fermented beans, or if it works well.”

One way his company gets around this is to receive beans from co-operatives and turn it into chocolate for them to sample. “So we provide feedback and input on their process even though we’re not the ones ultimately buying the beans,” he says.

Their efforts to help farmers don’t end there. Instead, they also typically pay the farmers higher prices. Pipiltin Cocoa, for instance, pays its suppliers 40-50% more than market price – the same figure that Pod Chocolate reports.

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Vincent Mourou and Samuel Maruta. Photo credit: marouchocolate.com
Vincent Mourou and Samuel Maruta. Photo credit: marouchocolate.com
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“In Vietnam we are fortunately working in good conditions, meaning that the normal market price farmers will get for fermented cacao beans is very close to the price of cacao delivered in London or New York, that’s already more than double what a West African farmer would typically earn,” wrote the duo behind Marou Chocolates on their website.

“At Marou we pay a significant premium over this local market price […] we pay more than the other buyers to have access to higher quality cacao before the other buyers.”

The Rise of The Affluent Class?
Naturally, this means fine chocolates costs more, rendering it almost an accidental luxury product. In The Philippines, a low-quality chocolate bar could is priced as little as 20 to 40 Pesos while a bar of Hiraya chocolates rings up 180 pesos at the cash tills.
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Even so, all the chocolatiers we spoke to report that their sales are on an upward swing. To support this boom, Pod Chocolate just opened a new factory to quadruple production capacity with ample space to expand in future. This is also the factory from which they would start looking for export partners. Pipiltin Cocoa has just made its bars available in Tokyo along with an expanded digital Japanese footprint to serve that market.
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Hiraya Chocolates is looking to double their production this year and Chocolate Concierge purchased an entire farm to have complete control over its products from tree to bar.

The clincher? The bulk of their customer base is local. It’s a sure sign that the taste buds of at least a certain affluent segment of the South East Asian population are becoming not just more discerning but are developing a sensitivity to terroir and ethical consumption.

“There’s an emerging market for this similar to the third wave coffee trend,” says Peralta whose bars are often sold out at retail locations. “It’s mostly millennials and hipsters or the older generation who are looking for healthier options.”

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A staff member from Pod Chocolate in Bali.
A staff member from Pod Chocolate in Bali.

Still, Ning of Chocolate Concierge strikes a cautious note and believes that Asia still has some way to go at least when it comes to terroir and origin. “Japan has the longest history of regional awareness but this sensitivity is not as developed elsewhere in Asia. Yes, we can tell the difference between durians like a D24 from a Musang King but that has not extended to other types of food.”

“We are still in the infancy, but the trend is only moving one way and people are becoming more aware and asking the right questions. For me, the person who picks up the bar and doesn’t know the Malaysian bean-to-bar chocolate story goes, “wow, I want to know how the bar is made,” then that to me, is success.”

But beyond Asia, the common goal of these indie makers is for the world to pivot to these cocoa-growing regions as fine chocolate producing countries too, and for farmers to have a fair shot at a better life.

These are valiant efforts, even if it’s at its nascence. It may not quite narrow the gap between Paris and Pahang or the haves and have-nots just yet, but it does at least take it that much closer.

 

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by Melissa Tsang

I’M A 23-year-old Chinese Singaporean woman. After graduating culinary school in 2016, I started as a commis (also known as 马王, or minion) in a Chinese restaurant kitchen along Orchard Road. This is a description of my everyday work, in English, written for friends and family who are curious.

The structure of a Chinese restaurant kitchen

I drew a diagram of what our kitchen looks like, from where I stand (I only know how to hand draw and then upload a picture, please forgive incompetence):

pic 1

Dim Sum, 点心: They make the har gow, siew mai, XLB (little soup dumplings), carrot cake, cheong fun, and many other forms of dim sum and desserts. Because nearly everything there is made by hand, from scratch, they start work at 7am to finish their prep before service starts at 11am. Since we only serve dim sum in the afternoon, they get off work at 5pm, or whenever they finish their scheduled prep for the day. They are usually considered a separate kingdom from The Main Kitchen and the roasting department.

Roasting/BBQ, 烧腊:This is where the Peking duck, braised duck, roasted suckling pig, soy sauce chicken, char siew, roasted pork belly, braised pig’s intestines, etc. are made. They have two work areas — the back, and the front. The back is where all the heavy prep work is done. Every day they have to wash, marinate, dress, and hang carcasses; as well as roast them in their huge apollo oven (it looks like a tandoor). The front (a tiny work space beside the main kitchen) is where they carve and plate their finished products. They don’t just prepare their own items, like an a la carte order of a Peking duck; they also make products for the main kitchen. For example, they have to produce char siew for the rest of the kitchen — dim sum uses a lot of char siew for their pastries; the main kitchen uses char siew in a Yangzhou fried rice.

The Main Kitchen, 厨房: When industry people say “kitchen” they often refer to any of these sub-sections, and not dim sum or BBQ:

Steaming, 上什/蒸锅/蛋扣: They are located right beside dim sum, and are responsible for anything from the main kitchen that requires steaming — for example, Teochew steamed pomfret, Cantonese steamed marble goby, steamed bamboo clams with fried garlic and tung hoon. They make the daily double-boiled soups, and are also in charge of preparing the sharks’ fin and sea cucumber (very labour intensive, time-consuming products to prepare). Unlike the rest of the main kitchen sub-sections, they coexist very peacefully with dim sum.

Wok, 炉头/炒锅: Most people are more able to understand this sub-section of the kitchen. It’s basically where all the things are stir-fried or deep-fried. Within the wok line (our wok line can accommodate six, but most of the time we work with four) there is a hierarchy.

Wok 1 is head chef, 老大/大佬. He makes the big and final decisions for the main kitchen. He doesn’t do much prep work. If there are orders for abalone, sea cucumber, Alaskan crab, the expensive stuff, they go to him. But he is really more important as a political figure, not as a cook. Like a gang leader, or any head chef, he is supposed to enforce discipline and consistency in his kitchen. He is also supposed to protect the interests of the main kitchen, especially against Front-of-House and higher management, especially in disputes with HR. For this reason, people expect him to exhibit a lot of machismo and dominance, or else they consider him ineffective and weak.

Wok 2 is the sous chef. He is not as politically significant as the Laoda, but he is acting chief in Laoda’s absence. He schedules our duty roster. He may also cook the Very Expensive Things. Some corporations/restaurants that do Cantonese cuisine have a policy of hiring only Hong Kong nationals to occupy head chef and sous chef positions. Ours is one such company.

Wok 3 is expected to cook anything short of the Very Expensive Things. Although he is lower in rank than Wok 2, he is not necessarily less experienced.

Wok 4 is also known as the deep-frying wok, or the “tail wok”. It is usually occupied by a more junior person. If a whole fish needs to be deep fried, it goes to him. He also handles a lot of fried rice, ee fu noodles, fried bee hoon, stir-fried carrot cake. Since the larger and heavier woks are all kept at his end of the line, he cooks off most of our sauces (XO sauce, black pepper sauce, chilli crab sauce, sweet and sour sauce etc. ), deep fries peanuts, cashews, walnuts, whole chickens multiple times a week. He has an enormous role in prep. This person must work very quickly, and must multitask well. When service gets very busy, he should be able to deep fry two different items while stir frying ee fu noodles, without losing his shit.

Woks 5 and/or 6 are opened when we’re descending into chaos and desperately need another wok guy to help out. That’s when a qualified person, who otherwise performs another role, goes on the line for the night.

Butchery, 水台: The person working in butchery has one of the most strenuous jobs ever. Our butcher happens to be the largest dude in the kitchen. When deliveries come, they go straight to his room. He is the one who has to wash cartons and cartons of vegetables alone, break down entire carcasses of cod, hack entire legs of Jinhua ham, chop crates of ribs into smaller chunks, etc. He has to lug boxes and boxes of stuff to and from the walk in freezer. These are on top of the fish and seafood he has to kill and clean. He mostly works with the heaviest cleaver.

Knife work, 砧板: This station is a line of three cutting blocks (literal blocks, they are very thick and heavy, for stability). People doing knife work slice and chop almost everything the kitchen uses. They also have to marinate all the meat, sliced fish, diced chicken, etc. They have a never-ending list of things to do. They are also the first line to read and process order tickets. For example, an order comes for “Seafood fried rice, medium, +salted fish, on hold, no MSG, not too oily, VIP, split into 6 portions”. The relevant information to the dude at the cutting block is “seafood fried rice medium + salted fish” has to pass the ticket over with the correct amount of diced seafood, julienned lettuce, and a small handful of chopped salted fish. Then his job is done and he has nothing else to do with this order ticket.

The Center Line/Traffic control/Communications, 打荷: This is where I work, between the knives and the fire. This is the section most difficult to explain to outsiders. This is where the youngest, most junior people work. This is the section that is the least technically demanding (i.e. you can train a monkey to do this job), but it is the most physically mobile, and the most cognitively demanding position during peak hours.

I’ll first explain what happens when we get a single order, using the above example – “Seafood fried rice, medium, +salted fish, on hold, no MSG, not too oily, VIP, split into 6 portions”. The dude at the chopping board has already pushed the lettuce, diced seafood, and salted fish from his side to our side of the table. We take a quick glance at the order sheet. First, we grab a medium-sized portion of rice. Then we transfer everything from our side of the table to the table directly accessible to the wok guys. We tell him, “no MSG, not too oily”. We then fetch a serving tray, six small plates, a small rice bowl, and a metal dish. The wok guy makes the fried rice, dumps it in the metal dish, then we portion the fried rice using the small rice bowl (so that every portion is in a neat little mound). This fried rice example is a very simple example involving a bit of communication between our section and the wok line.

Here is another example, involving more inter-department teamwork: an appetiser plate named 特式三拼

pic 2

Let’s say there’s an order for this item for five people. The knife work dude will toss over five butterflied prawns and five mantou rings (the dim sum department makes these weekly, in huge quantities). I will have to dust the prawns in potato starch, garnish and decorate five plates on a serving tray, sear five pieces of foie gras, and have wasabi sauce and foie gras-mushroom sauce on standby. At the same time I have to talk to Wok 4 – “特式5位”. Sometimes he forgets what he has to do, so I will say “炸锅巴5件,wasabi 虾球5粒,打鹅肝汁”. He will do all that while I sear the foie gras. When the foie gras is almost ready, I will call BBQ. They will bring five individual portions of braised duck and tofu, and I will plate up and send the dishes out.

These are only individual examples. On their own, they are very easy to execute. But on a busy night, between 6:30 – 9pm, the ticket printer doesn’t stop running. It will feel like the orders are coming in faster than we can send out dishes. This is when our roles within the section become specialised, and the concept of “queue” and “time” becomes especially relevant:

pic 3

Incoming orders:

Highlighted in pink is the table where we process incoming orders. The shaded black box is the ticket machine, facing Knifework. Any order printed is first visible to them, although we have trained ourselves to read from the other side.

(As far as possible), according to the order in which they were printed, Knifework pushes ingredients with their order sheets over to our side, and they will all be received by the Korkor, who is the most senior person in the section. The first thing he will do is separate dishes “on hold” from “fire”. “On hold” means the order has been processed, but the customer doesn’t want it now. For dishes on hold, he groups them by table number. For dishes ready to fire, he sorts them according to

1. Time of order. But it’s not rigid, it’s no big deal if an order printed at 7:35pm goes out before an order printed at 7:32pm.

2. Whether it is a soup, appetiser plate, non-starch item, or starch item. Within the same time frame, items should be sorted to prioritise soups and starters first, and starch dishes last.

3. Front-of-House mistakes – sometimes FOH barges in saying “I FORGOT TO KEY THIS ORDER IN PLEASE SAVE ME AND MAKE IT NOW”. We could say “no, dis your problem”, or we could allow that item to jump the queue.

4. How angry the customer is. Some customers are able to wait, others are not. If it’s been 15 minutes and a table hasn’t gotten their fried rice and are upset, we understand and will help that item move up the queue. But if the order has literally just been printed and a server comes in saying “HE’S PISSED OFF”, we do not entertain this request. Because we honour the concept of the queue.

Outgoing dishes:

When we’re busy, I stand facing the table highlighted in green. On this table we cram at most three to four items in a wok guy’s immediate cue. Meaning he simply has to concern himself with clearing these few items as quickly as possible. The rest of the space is reserved for plating and garnishing. In a five minute time frame, I might have fish pan frying on the stove, tofu in the deep fryer, while plating lobster ee fu noodles for 10 people, while listening to wok sounds. We look down when we plate so we can’t see much else, but we are able to hear when a wok guy is done with a dish. If he’s done, we have to drop what we are doing and send out the dish. As soon as the immediate queue begins to clear, any one of us will fetch items from Korkor’s Organised Queue of Incoming Orders.

Stacking and efficiency:

Sometimes there’s a Yangzhou fried rice in Wok 4’s immediate queue, but he’s been busy and the fried rice hasn’t been started. Then Korkor receives another Yangzhou fried rice order, but if we go strictly by time, that Yangzhou fried rice would be quite further down the queue. Nevermind, we let it stack. The Korkor will call out “扬州炒饭有塔!” then he tosses it over to me. Stacking is inevitable because if we went item by item, according to time, we would literally die.

Prep work and miscellaneous duties:

There are many other small, routine, menial tasks that I do every day, that I don’t need to talk about here. Oil does not pour itself, I need to fill metal drums of oil for each wok guy about twice a day. Eggs don’t crack and separate themselves. Seasoning containers don’t refill themselves. And so on.

The more interesting prep work is in sauces. A great example would be XO sauce. We make roughly 10 litres of XO sauce every two weeks. When we realise we’re running low, we need to start dicing (very small dice) Jinhua ham and salted fish. This is very difficult. They are very tough ingredients. I do not like this part. Then we need to soak dried shrimp, steam and shred dried scallops, and grind chillies, shallots, garlic, and the soaked shrimp. We will weigh the required MSG and sugar. Then the XO sauce is ready to be cooked off.

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The Difference Between Western and Asian-style breads
UNLESS they’re softer varieties like brioche, traditional European breads have a harder crust and a drier, saltier crumb while Asian style buns are soft, springy and sweet. Think multigrain sourdough loaves versus kaya buns or slices of rye bread versus hotdog rolls.The key difference lies in the dough’s chemistry: “Western-style bread has zero fat – its main [components] are flour, salt and water,” says Daniel Tay, founder of Old Seng Choon – the modern revival of his parents’ confectionery which operated from 1965 to 1996. “Asian-style bread is high in fat and sugar – about 15 per cent ft and 25 per cent sugar. These two work together to give the soft texture.”
https://robert-parker-michelin-sg-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/02/06/9e5b5de6117e48138fcc5855ee4e7da2_Daniel+Tay.jpg

 

The successful pastry chef turned entrepreneur has seen the ebbs and flows of trends. He’s the man behind brands like Bakerzin to Cat & The Fiddle and counts reputable establishments like two-Michelin-starred Les Amis and French delicatessen Fauchon as former work places. He also runs Foodgnostic, a food solutions manufacturer. Tapping into his knowledge of bread baking was merely dipping one’s toes in the rich reservoir of his experience and technical savoir faire of the baking sciences.

“I know it’s been trendy to eat crusty bread recently,” he says. “But are most of us trained to eat that from young? Not to me.”

Indeed, it was only in recent years with the profusion of gourmet bakeries like Artisan Boulangerie Co and Baker & Cook that Western-style bread took centre stage. Otherwise, the bakeries that churn out soft buns still prevail and are found in just about every turn. This softer variant of bread has been the dominant preference for local tastes, so much so that even top end restaurants like two-Michelin-starred Odette take it into consideration when composing the bread basket.

Tangzhong Dough

But the difference doesn’t end at just fat and sugar content. Asian-style breads are also made by adding a Japanese-invented dough called tangzhong.“The Japanese realised that by cooking the flour, the dough absorbs all the water. This cooked dough is added into the rest of the bread mixture which gives a moister mouthfeel,” says Tay.

https://robert-parker-michelin-sg-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/02/06/cb843e245bfd49cfac6f2db32110a3b0_tangzhong.jpg

 

In this method, equal parts flour and boiling water is mixed in a pan. Once it is cooled, the dough can be added into the actual bread mix to comprise 5-10 per cent of its total weight.

The precise roots of this method are unclear, but the Japanese preference for soft, sweet breads can likely be traced back to 1875 when a former samurai named Yasube Kimura invented the anpan – a soft bun stuffed with bean paste that’s otherwise used for wagashi. He found that the bread introduced to Japan was either salty or sour – flavours which were out of step with the Japanese palate.

How It Is Made
Tay has kindly provided his recipe for those who wish to make these soft buns at home. This forms the basic recipe sweet bun recipe from which modifications can be made. Bear in mind that sour dough can be omitted and to use strong bread flour of 12.5 per cent protein for both the main as well as tangzhong dough for better gluten development. 

Tangzhong Dough
100g strong bread flour (12.5 per cent protein)
100ml water

Sweet Bun Dough
1kg strong bread flour (12.5 per cent protein)
18g yeast
18g bread improver
240g sugar
30g milk powder
14g salt
2 eggs (50g each)
35ml condensed milk
450ml water
180g unsalted butter
100g tangzhong dough
100g sourdough (optional)

Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step one: Make the tanzhong dough
Bring 100ml of water to a boil in a pan and add 100 grams of strong bread flour. Stir quickly and remove from fire to prevent the dough from over cooking.

Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step two: Let it cool
Continue knead the dough with a spoon or by hand if cool enough until dough is formed. This step is crucial as adding a warm dough into the rest of the bread dough will alter the temperature.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step three: Make the bread dough
Place flour, yeast, bread improver, sugar, milk powder and salt into a mixing bowl and stir until well-mixed. Then add in the eggs, condensed milk and water and start the mixer with a dough hook.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step four
Add the tangzhong dough first and continue to knead. At this stage, the dough would’ve developed gluten. Next, add the unsalted butter and knead until dough starts to make slapping sounds against the mixing bowl.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step five: Let it rise
Cover the bowl with clean wrap film or a cloth and allow the dough to ferment for approximately one hour. Place the bowl in a cupboard or space away from heat and moving air.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step Six: Shape
Shape the dough into round balls and insert your choice of filling if any. Place the dough balls into small paper holders similar to the ones for cupcakes.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step seven: Let it rise (again)
Proof the dough again in the cupboard away from heat and moving air and let it rise until it is 2 ½ times its normal size. To see if it’s ready, poke it gently with your finger and the dent made should only return half way up. As the dough proofs, pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celcius.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step eight: Give it colour
Beat one egg and lightly brush over the top of the bun. This gives the bun a sheen when baked. Be sure to avoid the sides or drips.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step nine: Bake!
Bake for 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and allow to cool. Enjoy.

 

This article first appeared on Michelin Guide Singapore. Visit Michelin Guide Singapore on Facebook.

Featured image May22: Wonderland by Flickr user Daniel Ansel Tingcungco. (CC BY 2.0)

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by Michelin Guide Singapore

CHINESE New Year is always a welcome period for festive eating but the dedicated for whom fitness resolutions still loom large in January, the search for waist-friendly grub can be a challenge.

Here’s a thought: Whip up a healthier version of yusheng. Granted, the entire dish is meant to signify abundance but that doesn’t have to mean an abundance of calories. In fact, The Health Promotion Board notes that a serving of yusheng may contain as many calories as a main meal thanks to the use of oil as well as sweetened plum sauce.

“We do have some customers who request for ‘healthier’ options but as tossing yusheng is a once-a-year affair, most clients are happy with the yusheng options that we provide,” said Michelle Chan, Restaurant Manager of one-Michelin-starred Crystal Jade Golden Palace. “Typically, some customers would request for the service staff who is assisting with the tossing of the yusheng; to add less oil and/or less sauce to suit their palate.”

 

For those who prefer to have complete control over their food intake, the restaurant has also provided a healthier recipe so even the most stringent of weight watchers won’t worry for partaking in some festive cheer.

“The ingredients are mainly fresh fruits and salad leaves instead of the usual yusheng assortment,” said Michelle. “Green salad leaves provide crunch while fruits impart a natural sweetness. Rather than fried ‘pok chui’ biscuits, chef has used sweet potato strips instead.”

As with any recipe, more modifications can be made to further reduce the calories. The sweet potato strips that the restaurant recommends is deep fried but it can be baked or air-fried to a crisp for a similar texture. The fruit jam to be used for the sauce can also be substituted with low sugar options or homemade fruit compotes while plum sauce can be omitted entirely.

 

Healthful Yusheng
Serves 4-5

Ingredients
80g Japanese sweet potato, baked or air-fried
50g black fungus, soaked in water till soft and thinly sliced
50g strawberry, thinly sliced
50g honeydew, sliced
50g papaya, sliced
50g apple, sliced
50g watermelon, cubed
100g red carrot, cut into fine strips
100g white radish, cut into fine strips
10g fresh yuzu peel (orange can be used as well)
50g sesame seeds, toasted
50g pickled onions
20g olive kernals, finely diced (substitute with other nuts)
100g assorted salad leaves, washed and drained
10g Tobiko (flying fish roe)
50g yellow capsicum, cut into fine strips
2 lime leaves, cut into fine strips
2 stalks rosemaryFor yusheng sauce:
Fruit jam such as apple or orange marmalade
Lime juice
Plum sauce (can be omitted)
Rice vinegar
Pomegranate juice
Boiled water, to add to desired consistency
150g peanut oil

Method
1. To make the yusheng sauce, combine about 1 tablespoonful each of your choice of fruit jam such as green apple jam, lime juice, plum sauce, rice vinegar and pomegranate juice. Season to taste by adding more of all or some of the condiments and add as much water to reach desired consistency.
2. Arrange remaining yusheng ingredients onto plate and sprinkle Tobiko, lime leaves and rosemary leaves at the top.
3. To toss, add peanut oil and yusheng sauce.

 

This article first appeared on Michelin Guide Singapore. Visit Michelin Guide Singapore on Facebook.

Featured image CNY-52 by Flickr use Lynn Chan. (CC BY 2.0)

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by Najeer Yusof

INSTEAD of letting your excess food go to waste, why not place them in fridges that others can access?

Two community refrigerators were installed in the lift lobby of Block 441, Tampines Street 43, for residents in the area to donate food to needy neighbours. The two-week-old initiative by Tampines North Citizens’ Consultative Committee (TNCCC) was launched by Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC Baey Yam Keng on Saturday (Jan 21).

One of the fridges was labelled with a “Halal” sticker, to cater to Muslim residents. Food donors were advised to be aware of the items they put in each fridge. Over the course of the first week, we noticed the “Halal” fridge being empty most of the time. According to the residents, the food in both fridges usually disappear within a couple of hours after replenishment. Eggs and meat were usually cleared the fastest. Although this initiative has been intended for the long term, the TNCCC is planning on monitoring the initiative for three to six months. Subsequently, it will decide on the next course of action: making improvements or stopping it entirely.

We decided to monitor the use of these fridges for a week, to see how the residents were using it and this is what we saw:

Residents of block 441 and Mr Baey Yam Keng fill both fridges with groceries on the day of launch.
DAY 1: Residents of Block 441 and Mr Baey filling both fridges with groceries on Saturday, Jan 21, the day the project was launched. The groceries, such as fresh meat, vegetables and fruits were donated by residents.

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Madam Poh Muei Giok, 73, a resident of block 441, taking an ice-cream from one of the fridge. "It is a good idea but some people are misusing it by taking a lot of the food," she said.
DAY 2: Madam Poh Muei Giok, 73, a resident of Block 441, taking an ice-cream from one of the fridges. “It is a good idea but some people are misusing it by taking a lot of the food,” she said.

 

Madam Evangeline Ang, 57, a member of the Residents' Committee, takes a photo of the contents of both fridges to update the other members on what needs restocking. "I come on alternative days to check on the stock and to see what needs restocking," she said.
DAY 3: Madam Evangeline Ang, 57, a member of the Residents’ Committee, taking a photo of the contents of both fridges to update the other members on what needs restocking. “I come on alternate days to check on the stock and to see what needs restocking,” she said.

 

Mr Michael Lim, 61, a retiree who resides in the neighbouring block checks the fridge to see which grocery requires a top up, before heading to the market to purchase them. "I heard about the initiative but I did not have time to come down to check it out till today. I bought fish cakes, meatballs, tofu, apples and oranges to fill into both fridges," he said.
DAY 4: Mr Michael Lim, 61, a retiree who resides in a neighbouring block checking the fridge to see which item requires a top up, before heading to the market to purchase them. “I heard about the initiative but I did not have time to come down to check it out till today. I bought fish cakes, meatballs, tofu, apples and oranges to fill both fridges,” he said.

 

Mr Tay, 52, a member of the Residents' Committee, stacks jars of Chinese New Year goodies on one of the fridges. The goodies were donated to the nearby Community Center by one of the residents. "Someone donated a few boxes of Chinese New Year goodies to the Community Center so I decided to bring them here for the residents to take them," he said.
DAY 5: Mr Tay, 52, a member of the Residents’ Committee, stacking jars of Chinese New Year goodies on one of the fridges. The goodies were donated to the nearby Community Centre by one of the residents. “Someone donated a few boxes of Chinese New Year goodies to the Community Centre so I decided to bring them here for the residents to take them,” he said.

 

Madam Salma Binte Ismail, 62, a resident of block 441, takes vegetables from one of the fridges. "The other day I was able to take some fish. This is a good initiative especially for residents like me who cannot afford to purchase a lot of groceries. My husband is the only one working and due to the recent heart bypass he had, he has not been working much lately. So we are not doing very well economically," she said.
DAY 6: Madam Salma Ismail, 62, a resident of Block 441, taking vegetables from one of the fridges. “The other day I was able to take some fish. This is a good initiative especially for residents like me who cannot afford to purchase a lot of groceries. My husband is the only one working and due to the recent heart bypass he had, he has not been working much lately. So we are not doing very well economically,” she said.

 

Madam Rei Tjoeng, 42, a resident from the neighbouring block, fills the fridge with mandarin oranges. "We may need to think of safeguarding the food inside such that there isn't a growth of bacteria. This can be done with proper storage and clearing any waste inside," she said.
DAY 7: Madam Rei Tjoeng, 42, a resident from a neighbouring block, filling the fridge with mandarin oranges. “We may need to think of safeguarding the food inside such that there isn’t a growth of bacteria. This can be done with proper storage and clearing of any waste inside,” she said.

 

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by Najeer Yusof

THE pineapple tart is an iconic pastry that is found in many Chinese homes during the Lunar New Year. The term for pineapple in several Chinese dialects, such as ong lai in Hokkien and wong lai in Cantonese, sounds similar to the arrival of prosperity. Making the buttery pastry, which comes with a dollop of pineapple jam on top, has been a part of Mr Wei Chan’s family business for 33 years.

The 45-year-old is the current owner of Pine Garden Bakery, a heartland bakery that specialises in handmade cakes and baked goods. He is from the second generation of a line of family members who ran the bakery before him. His mother, a former seamstress, decided to open the bakery with a few relatives after realising that her tailoring business was not doing well. The recipe of pineapple tarts was passed down from her mother, Mr Chan’s grandmother. Although Mr Chan has made minor alterations to the recipe to make the tarts softer, he has retained the gist of it and still has the tarts handmade.

The pineapple tarts are made only during the Chinese New Year period and the preparations begin about a month and a half in advance. Here’s how the tarts are made:

MAKING THE PASTE: Mr Chan sources the pineapples from dealers in Malaysia. He obtains samples from them and decides on the best one before placing his order. The pineapples used to make the tarts have to be half-ripped and must not be sweet. They are skinned, grated and made into paste. The homemade paste are then stored in a refrigerator until it is time to make the tarts.
MAKING THE PASTE: Mr Chan sources pineapples from dealers in Malaysia. He obtains samples from them and decides on the best one before placing his order. The pineapples used to make the tarts have to be half ripe and must not be too sweet. They are skinned, grated and made into a paste. The homemade jam is then stored in a refrigerator until it is time to make the tarts.

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ROLL AND CUT: The base of tart is made from a mixture of butter, plain flour and salt. The batter is rolled out using a roller, to ensure even thickness. Subsequently, the base of the tart is shaped out from the flattened batter, using a cutter.
ROLL AND CUT: The base of the tart is made from a mixture of butter, plain flour and salt. The dough is rolled out using a roller, to ensure even thickness. Subsequently, a cutter is used to cut out the tart base from the flattened dough.

 

IDEAL WEIGHT: The pineapple fillings are weighed on a scale to exactly eight grams. They are then hand moulded into round shapes and placed onto the tart. The portion of the filling has to be exact, to ensure the best taste.
IDEAL WEIGHT: The pineapple fillings are weighed on a scale to obtain a weight of 8g. They are then hand-moulded into balls and placed onto the tart. The portion of the filling has to be exact, to ensure the best taste.

 

NEAT AND TIDY: After the pineapple filling is placed onto the tart, the filling is pressed to ensure that the tarts have a smooth top. Since fresh pineapples are used, the fillings contain pineapple fibers. Pressing the fillings helps to prevent these fibers from sticking out.
NEAT AND TIDY: After the pineapple filling is placed onto the tart, the filling is pressed to ensure that the tarts have a smooth top. Since fresh pineapples are used, the fillings contain pineapple fibres. Pressing the fillings helps to prevent these fibres from sticking out.

 

SEE AND SWITCH: A worker inserts a tray of pineapple tarts into the oven for baking. This is a 40-year-old oven and it has four decks. Each can fit four trays. The trays in each deck are switched among one another during baking, to ensure even baking. The worker has to observe the colour of the tarts to know if they are baked proper.
SEE AND SWITCH: A worker inserts a tray of pineapple tarts into the oven for baking. The oven is 40 years old and has four decks. Each deck can fit four trays. The trays in each deck are switched around during baking, to ensure even baking. The worker has to observe the colour of the tarts to know if they are baked properly.

 

WORKING TEMPERATURE: The tarts are made in a enclosed room with a room temperature between 19 to 20 degrees celsius. Since the batter is made with butter, a cool temperature is needed to prevent the butter from melting and making the batter too soft.
WORKING TEMPERATURE: The tarts are made in an enclosed room with a room temperature that is between 19 and 20 deg C. Since the dough is made of butter, a cool temperature is needed to prevent the butter from melting and making the dough too soft.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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ASIA is home to thousands of cultures, yet the one ingredient that unites us all is having rice as part of our daily meals. From India in the west to Japan in the far east, down to furthest southern reaches of the Indonesian islands, rice has been a staple for billions of people for thousands of years.

Yet the humble grain, or at least the processed white version of it, has been at the crosshairs of health authorities in recent years for its role in diabetes.

Harvard researchers studying over 350,000 participants way back in 2012 for instance, noted that an additional serving of white rice raises the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 10 per cent. This is explained in part by its high glycemic index (GI) score which causes spikes in blood sugar.

But these same researchers note that modern sedentary lifestyles have a large part to play as rice has been in the Asian diet for millennia and health issues are cropping up only now. One solution: reduce the amount you eat, but do it without starving.

This is easily done by adding seeds, nuts and grains. While the purity of a simple bowl of white rice is certainly hard to beat, these small modifications not only add interest in flavour and texture but ramps up the amount of nutrition you’d get in one sitting. Here’s 7 you can add for a healthier bowl of rice.

01 Barley
Barley incorporated into short grained rice yields a nutty taste with the chewy texture of al-dente pasta while providing more manganese, phosphorus and proteins. The grain cooks at the same rate as rice so it can be mixed and cooked at the same time. To get this right, combine 1 cup barley with 1 cup rice with 2 ½ cups of water and cook as per normal in your rice cooker.

02 Quinoa
For those looking to increase the amount of protein in your diet, quinoa is your go-to grain. The cereal which is native to South America takes just 15 minutes to cook so add it into your rice towards the end if you prefer it still crunchy. While white rice and quinoa is an easier combination, consider cooking with brown rice to include more fibre.

Amaranth, the ancient Aztec grain.
Amaranth, the ancient Aztec grain.

03 Sesame Seeds
There’s more to sesame seeds than just having it as an oil or to sprinkle on top of burger buns. They’re packed with nutrients like proteins, fat and fibre, and tastes best when roasted and crunchy. To get the best out of this flavour and texture, dry roast the sesame seeds on a hot saucepan until slightly browned, and mix it in with cooked rice.

04 Amaranth
This ancient grain was a staple of the Aztecs and is as protein packed as quinoa. Unlike quinoa though, amaranth turns mushy when cooked, so go by your preference when cooking it with rice. Generally, more amaranth leads to a soft pudding-like texture. But a good way to start and gauge your preference would be to use 1/4 cup of amaranth to 3/4 cups of other grains.

05 Soy Beans
Soybeans have long been cooked with glutinous rice in Asia as part of leaf-wrapped dumplings and often come seasoned with savoury additions. The beans are also so protein-packed that it’s recommended as a replacement for those on meat-free diets. To cook it, soak the soy beans overnight so they soften up, dehull them and then add your desired amount into the rice to cook simultaneously.

A bowl of garbanzo beans
A bowl of garbanzo beans

06 Mung Beans
Healthy ingredients can be difficult to find but thankfully, mung beans or green beans as they’re commonly known are found everywhere. They’re packed with nutrients like magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, folate, zinc and vitamin B6. Like soy beans, soak the green beans overnight before cooking. Recipe-wise, the Iranians have a dish named Mash M’tubuq which calls for ½ cup of mung beans to 1 cup of rice. It also calls for other ingredients like yoghurt, onions, molasses and dill but there’s no reason why you can’t try it out plain.

07 Garbanzo Beans
Garbanzo beans are often seen more as the main ingredient in hummus than with rice but it’s a combo that’s also seen in Mediterranean and Indian dishes. Save yourself some time and go for the canned version rather than the dried version as getting the buttery texture it’s so loved for requires more than just soaking, but also simmering for 1 ½ hours. As canned versions are already cooked, simply add your desired amount towards the end of the rice cooking cycle and give it a good stir.

 

This article first appeared on Michelin Guide Singapore. Visit Michelin Guide Singapore on Facebook.

Featured image mixed rice by Flickr user theilr. (CC BY 2.0)

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