Yummy Japanese food from Konbini (convenience stores)

One of the things I love so much about Japan is that you can go to a konbini or convenience store anywhere in the big cities, and get really healthy, cheap food. I often have salads, sometimes with prawns or other protein in them, a little bit of pasta, and some salad dressing on the side. The great thing is – every pack is marked so you know EXACTLY how much fat, protein, carbs and overall calories are in your item.

 

As you can see, they are pretty small by western standards…so just buy a few! I actually like having lots of little different types of food – it’s like assmbling your own bento box :)

 

As I mentioned, you can buy a sachet of salad dressing separately, in various flavours, and again with the calories helpfully delineated on the back.

  

 I thought some greens might be healthy, so got a mixed dish with what looked like bok choy, beans, a little potato and egg.

 

And look, each dish was only 198 yen, which is around $2.45 AUD. This is why many of us say it’s actually cheap to eat in Japan…if you go to the right places.

Sometimes I grab a tuna salad if I haven’t had time to eat before going out…just grab on the way home, eat in the hotel room, freshen up and head out again!

And some pics of the other lovely food items on display….

At the top of the above pic you can see a row of little sandwiches…they are my fave thing to have on hand in the bar fridge at the hotel, for those hangover mornings when you need a bit of sustenance before heading out. Tuna &  mayonnaise is my favourite. There are also soups, pastas and hot foods for those who want a hot meal.

 

The only time I saw an empty shelf in a grocery store/kombini was just after the tsunami and nuclear reactor meltdown, when everyone was buying bottled water in bulk, not being sure if the drinking water was safe. Apparently it was safer than the amount of radiation in Europe’s water, but there you go, such was the media influence and scared uncertainty of the time.

Another tip of mine for those who need a coffee in the morning to get going, is to get a couple of coffees in cans the night before, and stash them in your bar fridge. They go ever so well with the sandwiches, and help you to be alert enough to go out and get a real coffee from a coffee shop.

I have to admit I’ve done a 2am konbini run when I’ve been awake and starving in my hotel room – what a godsend to hungry people in the middle of the night!

If you haven’t yet been to Japan, I tell you don’t be afraid of just walking in and having a nose around (you can even get beers and other alcohol there too). If you’ve been, what were your favourite delicacies from the kombini? Sushi rolls? The steamed buns or fried chicken near the checkouts? Or what?

ION Orchard, Food Opera, Padang Padang

On earlier visits to Singapore I had breezed through ION Orchard as part of the Orchard Road experience. But something was missing. I was yet to experience the wonder that is Food Opera, the very upmarket hawker-style food court in the ION Orchard basement. Time to rectify that.

For those who haven’t been to Singapore, Orchard Road is THE premier district for shopping malls; mainly upmarket but with some budget-friendly, old school surprises lurking amongst the almost spage-age architectural statements.

ION Orchard is arguably the best of the best.  66,000 square metres in size, with 4 levels above ground and 4 levels below, ION offers over 300 retail, food & beverage and entertainment options.

The luxury brands are all there: Louis Vuitton, Dior, Prada, Miu Miu etc, as well as mid-range favourites like Topshop, Zara and Uniqlo. (Yes, I confess, i *may* have made some purchases here).

ION offers fine dining as well as food chain outlets, delis and confectioners, cafes and bars, mostly on the basement floors but also on the floors above.

It is the ION food hall on Basement level 4 that I gravitate towards, and the outlets here are outstanding. Old Chang Kee, Punggol Nasi Padang and the Wang San Yang Tea Pavilion nestle alongside Ginza Bairin and 4 Fingers Crispy Chicken!

Food Opera is the primary one, offering 22 stalls and 4 mini-restaurants in the hawker style. Aesthetically there is an immediately appealing sense of history and homeliness, as well as luxury and whimsy. Modern design trends, such as animal heads on the walls and large sculptures are everywhere, including animal sculptures such as deer, pigs, giraffe and even golden dragonflies and insects. Uber-glamorous chandeliers illuminate the space, throwing the beautiful gilt ceiling mouldings into sharp relief. Yep, you sure feel like you’re somewhere swanky!

But enough of me telling you about it; take a look for yourself:

Food Opera in ION Orchard Singapore

Peacocks and stag/deer heads look down on Hainan Chicken Rice & BBQ Seafood outlets

  

A large golden dragonfly looks down from the Draft Beer stall; an ornate ceiling at Ah Wok restaurant makes looking up worthwhile

  Ah Wok in Food Opera

I tell you, I walked around for AAAGES trying to decide what to eat. As I am very fond of the flavours of Malay, Indonesian and Peranakan cuisine, it is no wonder that I finally decided upon Padang Padang for my lunchtime repast.

Padang Padang (so good they named it twice!)

Padang Padang in Food Opera

Food Republic, which owns Food Opera, had this to say about Padang:

Padang cuisine is the traditional food of ‘Urang Minang’ (Minang people) who inhabit West Sumatera, Indonesia. The key to Padang cuisine’s rich flavour and mouth-watering aroma is the correct blend of spices. Padang Padang is owned by Mrs Wahyuningsilh and the recipes are inspired by her grandmother – a 3rd generation Peranakan in Indonesia. At Padang Padang, they are committed to using only natural ingredients and processing them traditionally to retain their original taste and health benefits.

Signature Dishes: Nasi Kuning Ayam Merah, Rendang Sapi (Beef Rendang), Ayam Goreng Bumbu (Padang Fried Chicken with Spices), Ikan Asam Pedras (Spicy & Sour Fish), Gado-Gado Padang (Padang Mixed Vegetables), Cabe Merah /Hijau Padang (Special Red/Green Padang Chilli)

Padang Padang was crowned one of the top 3 Hawker Kings at Food Republic.

Food Republic reviews some other Food Opera outlets Soup Guru, Ah Wok and Scott’s Beef Noodles here.

As for me, I ordered the Nasi Kuning with Ayam Merah, which is yellow rice with chicken in a red gravy largely comprised of tomato, turmeric, garlic, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, chilli and soy. YUMMERS!!

Ayam Merah & Nasi Kuning

The chicken was still still just a little crispy from having been fried first, and the sauce was extremely tasty without being burn-your-mouth-out hot. There was a beautiful balance of salty, sweet and chilli. I also could have chosen a multi-dish from their many meat and vegetable options (as you can see in the photo above). Next time I think I just might!

In need of some freshening up before I hit the street again, I encountered the splendour that is the ION Orchard ladies toilets! Honestly, how glamorous are these? And as I left the modern mall, I couldn’t help but laugh at these fantastic coloured sculptures of shoppers, seen at the front of ION Orchard:

 

So whether for the shopping or the food, ION Orchard is definitely worth perusing next time you’re in Singapore.

Have you already been? What are your fave shops or food outlets?

 Food Opera @ ION Orchard
#B4-03/04 Ion Orchard
2 Orchard Turn
Singapore 238801
Tel: +65 6509 9118

Operating Hours:
ION Orchard
10am to 10pm

Food Opera:
8am to 10pm Monday – Thursday
8am to 11pm Friday, Saturday, Eve of Public Holidays
10am to 10pm Sunday

Singapore Shenanigans from April

Hai from Singapore! I noticed that I still hadn’t posted pics from my LAST Singapore visit, so now is an appropriate time :)

We stayed at Clarke Quay, at the lovely Swissotel Merchant Court which was just moments away from the water.

The hotel room itself was lovely and very bright, with a great view of the quay.

 

I loved the Kopitiam food court in the nearby mall,  Liang Court. We ate there 3 times in our short stay! Sometimes for brekkie/brunch, or as here, for a refreshing Ais Kachang. More on food here in a separate post.

 

For our evening meals, we couldn’t go past Jumbo Seafood. Both times we went to the one further away from the bridge, because the tables at the bridge establishment were already reserved til way late! We elected to have Pepper Crab instead of the usual Chili Crab, and it was delish (more on Jumbo later too, in a Singapore food post to come).

 

After a short rest and freshen up, we glanced out the hotel window to see a load of people gathered on the bridge, seemingly drinking and chatting en masse. But wasn’t this squeaky clean and orderly Singapore? Do they allow drinking on the streets? In Sydney there’s an open container law which prohibits you from public drinking except in designated areas (like, in pubs or right next to them).   Dom popped out to investigate. And our eyes did not deceive us!

I scurried to get ready, then we raced out to mingle with the locals. We hadn’t arranged to meet anyone, though we’d met a few goths back in 2010 when we went to Heart of Darkness. Spotting a few black-clad suspects, we decided to loiter nearby, while beginning to enjoy our cold Tiger beers purchased from the nearby convenience store.

 

Erm yes, blurry – but then, that’s how we felt after a few beers! Before long we got chatting to the people next to us…and behold, they were goths and punks! One lovely girl called Prethi leaned over to say how nice my hair was, and that was it. Soon after I discovered that the Indian guy with the death hawk (see pic above) was none other than Philip Von Grave, who had been a facebook friend since we met back in 2010! Small world! (And poor memory).

Basically, we got to meet all their friends (a couple of whom I’d met at HOD before), and one of them got out his laptop to play some alternative tunes: Rancid, Clash, Bauhaus, the Cure etc. And we all got drunk and silly together and talked about gigs and albums we liked until the wee hours. I tell you, it really made the night for us!

 

On our second day, with cranky brainboxes we dragged ourselves back to Kopitiam for morning nosh and I had a delightful dish of silken rice noodle wrapped around small tasty prawns, before being smothered in a soya sauce. YUM! OK, so I also had some dim sum sides, while dom had some wontons with noodles:

 

After brunch, Dom went to Chinatown, while I headed to Geylang (see my Geylang/Joo Chiat post here). We reconvened for a meal @Central, before hightailing it to the Marina Bay Sands. OK, so we got off at the wrong stop and had to get back on the metro, meaning that by the time we got to the top, the sunset was all but over. It took a long time to walk through the complex, find the lift, wait to board the lift, disembark, join the queue, find a spot to take photos… Despite the rush I couldn’t help but marvel at the architecture once again, both inside the complex and outside at the city views.

 

The view, once we made it to the top, was stunning:

 

However, the delay meant we were late heading out to the Singapore Night Zoo, and eventually we had to admit defeat on that score. Not to worry though, let’s just head to Jumbo Seafood again!

I’ll soon be posting some of my CURRENT Singapore and Malaysian shenanigans…more soon!

Scoot off to Singapore! And go la, to Geylang!

Yes, I’ve succumbed to the temptations of the newest budget airline and am scooting off to Singapore…even though I just spent a few days there in late April.

Why? One-way fares of $121 for Sydney to Singapore are pretty hard to beat. If you’re in Australia you should really check it out!  From there I’ll be taking local flights to get around, and am planning to spend a few days on the lovely Tioman Island before flying to Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia for some great eating and shopping.

Last time in Singapore I stayed in Clarke Quay, especially fun on a Wednesday night which is ladies night (more on that in a later post).  But where to stay this time? I’ll be travelling sans husband, and looking to downgrade from the Swissotel Merchant Court at which we stayed last time. I’m thinking of heading northeast.

In previous trips I’ve seen all the city sights, I’ve discovered the (touristy!) delights of Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam, Marina Bay and Bugis area.  In April I decided I wanted something a little more exotic, yet still able to be done in an afternoon. What next?

Fascinated by both Malay and Peranakan culture, my researches led me to Geylang Serai, a predominantly Malay area with great hawker food and Joo Chiat, home to old Peranakan style shophouses (a la Penang).  The shophouses stretch all the way down Geylang Road, where the area becomes known simply as Geylang – Singapore’s Red Light District.  Oo er missus! This place was looking juicier by the day.  Never heard of them? They are well worth checking out (and see the map here to get your bearings).

Geylang/Joo Chiat, while not as close to the city as Chinatown & Little India, is nevertheless quite easy to reach by MRT. I changed twice to get to the closest station Paya Lebar, which takes around 30-45 minutes. From THERE it’s just a moderate walk…but it wasn’t for me on MY first visit (see full sob story below).

So, what is there to see? Up until late 2011, there was a Malay Village eponymously titled Geylang Serai, which housed replicas of Malay kampong houses and aimed to preserve Malay culture and promote tourism. Alas, the 10 million spent was never recouped, and the village closed late September last year.  I highly recommend the Remembering Singapore post on Geylang Serai for more background on this. In its place a new Civic centre is being built, to be completed around 2016.

What is there now?

Malay Market in Singapore

Blooming amidst the ubiquitous high-rise complexes here is a fantastic Malay Hawker Centre and clothing market (albeit catering to Muslims and predominantly carrying Baju Kurungs and headwear). Known as Pasar Geylang Serai, it has the structure of a Malay longhouse, all A-framed gables with wide overhangs, embellished with traditional diamond design wooden panels, and incorporating decorative ventilation screens so the air can circulate and keep the place cool.

There are beautiful batik motifs and intricate patterns adorning the walls, inlaid stone featuring floral motifs on the floors, and everywhere a sense of craftsmanship that is missing from modern malls. But enough about the architecture, right?

On the ground floor is a series of stores ranged around the perimeter, with a wet m arket in the middle. On the first floor, reached by stairs, lift or escalator, is the food centre. THIS is what you come for.

Apologies for the bad quality of photos – not wanting to stand out, I snapped quickly with my little point-n-shoot. Note it was mid-afternoon, hence not too many people there post-lunch and pre-dinner.

You may be able to see in my first photo a banner proclaiming healthier choices. In late April when I was there, Peyar was one of 3 hawker centres to take up the challenge. Stalls in these hawker centres have started using whole-grain noodles, brown rice bee hoon, healthier oil and salt, and selling drinks with lower sugar content. Read more in the Straits Times article.

Hajjah Mona Nasi Padang and Geylang Briyani Hall are some of the well-known stalls to  try. Apparently at breakfast time, GS Oli Thosei & Food Stall is a great place to enjoy Appom (Indian rice dish), Dosa (Indian pancake) and Masala chicken (spiced chicken). Be sure to go early for these dishes often sell out before noon.

As for me, I had limited time to spend there as I wanted to SHOP! So I just grabbed a teh tarik from the Al Karim Teh Tarik Corner (above). Next time I would do the sensitive thing and cover up – at least wear short sleeves. As it was so humid, I was wearing a strappy tank top, and while no-one looked at me sideways, I felt people studiously NOT looking at me – know what I mean?  Were I dressed appropriately, I think I would have talked to people aside from the stall owner, and likewise felt more comfortable taking photos. A word to the wise.

Next it was time to check out the cloth and clothing markets.

There were quite a few ladies shopping here, although I avoided taking pictures of them so as not to offend. There were beautiful batik patterned pieces of cloth that one could buy to make up into skirts or pants later (and indeed I was wearing pants made of almost identical batik cloth).

As I mentioned earlier, the main fashion favoured by Malay women is the Baju Kurung – a knee length tunic over a long sarong skirt, paired with a head scarf. While the purpose of the dress is to cover up, the colours are often joyfully bright, with detailed embroidery and silky lustre.  I was fascinated and yet could only admire from afar. While tempted by the beauty of some of them, I could only make the pieces work separately back at home, and managed to resist buying any.

You can also see here a lot of childrens clothing.  Hey, if you don’t believe in contraception, then everyone’s got them, right?

Pasar Geylang Serai has become a hub for not only Singaporean Malays, but also those of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, serving as the ‘Malay Emporium of Singapore’. The Wisma Civic Centre when built, will no doubt become a place where Malays come together as a community, enjoying shared activities and celebrations.

Just across the road from Pasar Geylang Sera is the Joo Chiat Complex – a multi-storied shopping mall again featuring a lot of clothing stores, but also fabric, curtain, carpet and other homewares stores. You don’t even have to cross the road – there is a covered walkway stretching from the first floor of the food centre across to Joo Chiat.

Look at the outside – isn’t it a lovely festive building in thjose varying delicious shades of green? Inside too, is very modern with a soaring vaulted ceiling and open central area accentuating the height of the structure.

I checked out a few of the stores, but realised quite quickly that there really wasn’t anything for me. (The question “why didn’t I go to Orchard Road?” did, I admit, rear its ugly head right about now. “But you’re here for CULTURAL reasons”, I admonished myself, while mentally slapping myself upside the head). To be fair, there were some shoe shops which were cheap and cheerful – just not to my taste.

On the ground floor I nosed around the curtain stores for a bit, then headed outside to the adjacent building.

Here there were interior designers, custom curtain makers and generally more desirable and upmarket things to buy. I was almost certainly going to purchase some very luxe-looking gunmetal-silver fabric with turquoise central asian motif embroidery (to match my new wallpaper). But then I looked at my watch. Oh my. I had less than an hour to find my way home to meet the boy and head out to Marina Bay Sands. Bugger. Why did I waste 45 minutes just GETTING to this place?

So I left the store and decided to get a few snaps of the surrounding area on Joo Chiat Road. What beautifully restored shophouses there were!  To the side of the Joo Chiat Complex was the Joo Chiat Hotel – similarly painted in bright pops of green with orange and brown thrown in for good measure.

 

Looking down Joo Chiat Road  I saw row after row of well maintained shophouses, and felt there was a very villagey atmosphere about the place.

It just felt like a place I would like to spend more time in, even if I wasn’t a Malay or a muzzie.

And so it comes as no surprise at all to read that Joo Chiat has become Singapore’s first Heritage Town.  In fact, just a few days ago on Saturday 30th June the  Joo Chiat Heritage Night was held to celebrate this victory in preserving Peranakan culture.

I won’t repeat it all here, but there are many great stories about the area’s past, and the original Joo Chiat’s great-grandson has a fantastic blog, My Choo Jiat Story – go have a read.

With all this in mind, and searching for hotels for my upcoming trip, I noticed many cheaper options were in Geylang, just a tad further west of Joo Chiat. Not at all put off by the fact it’s a red-light district after dark, I’m keen to explore the many eateries and shophouses there.

I haven’t shared much about Peranakan culture here, as I am quite the novice myself. Hopefully I’ll learn a lot more and have some good quality photos after this next trip.

Now, for those who were interestd in my sob story, here it is…

*Insert wiggly lines as we go back in time*

Having arrived at Paya Lebar station, it should have then been a moderate walk to the Joo Chiat complex/Gaylang Serai food centre – had I not listened to the advice of locals at the station.

Wanting to check I was about to walk in the right direction, asked “is this the way to the Joo Chiat Complex? Various people told me it was too far to walk and I needed to get the bus, so I looked it up, and waited.

And waited…and waited.

About 6 buses and 10-15 minutes later, I boarded the bus. Another 10 minutes later, I asked the bus driver, “Is the Joo Chiat complex near?”

Oh no. Wrong bus.

We’d passed Joo Chiat Road or Joo Chiat Lane, which the driver thought I wanted, but were now nowhere near where I REALLY wanted to be. Doh.

Off I jumped, walked a bit, clueless, then spied a hotel with a cab rank out the front. Joy!  I only had the afternoon to explore and time was running out. Except there was already a queue, with people in front of me.

I waited another 10 minutes for my turn and then after a 5 minute cab ride was dropped to the centre I’d been trying to get to for so long. It turned out to be pretty darned close to where I started out :/

I didn’t know this until I’d finished shopping, and asked locals how to get back to Paya Lebar MRT. It took about 10 minutes to walk it.

OH THE PAIN.

Geylang Serai Food Centre
1 Geylang Serai #01-K1
Singapore 402001
1800 222 2121

First stop in India: Delhi

Delhi is the quintessential mix of “old and new” (yes, travel cliche #1, yawn…)

While most people who haven’t been to India often think about poverty and slums (or maybe call centres), in fact there are spacious wide boulevardes that greet you from the airport. The airport itself sets the tone with soaring glass and chrome architecture, and gleaming metallic art installations on the walls.

 

As we drove from the airport into town, we first saw middle-class peeps walking their well-groomed dogs, others doing their morning calisthenics, still others waiting for the bus to work, with nary a whiff of poverty for some 20 minutes or more.

Dahl stall Delhi India

Only after some time does this impression of orderliness and wealth give way to the dusty streets with little markets and chai stalls, the hordes going about their daily business, lean-to shanty houses, people sleeping on footpaths, temples, masjids, auto and cycle-rickshaws, the smell of smog and wood-fire mingled, the ubiquitous cows and even more numerous street dogs. I remember my first trip here, having been been to Mumbai previously, wondering “where’s all the character?”

I kept looking slyly at my husband to see when he would get his first shock  - but it was a long time coming, much to my disappointment.  I’d made him watch doco’s about slums, the railways, even Bollywood movies to get him acclimatised, but secretly thought he’d find it confronting his first time around.  After a few days he declared that, in terms of smell and grubbiness, he thought Thailand was worse!

In truth, it was ME who in the first few days wondered what the heck I thought I was doing back here, when we could’ve been sunning ourselves on a beach in south east Asia (see pics of dusty hot littered roads near our hotel, below). But more on that later.

 

Every other time I’ve stayed in Delhi, it was in Main Bazaar – the Khao San Road of Delhi – in the appropriately named district of Pahar Ganj, right near New Delhi railway station.  As you can see, the road is fairly narrow, and utterly congested with tourists, shops/market stalls, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, and the odd cow and dog. With the constant honking of traffic over here, it’s NOT a peaceful place to bed down for the night.

 Pahar Ganj, Delhi

But being older, wiser and a little less noise-tolerant, I decided to book us into the other main accommodation area in Pahar Ganj, Arakashan Road. It’s just a little more upmarket, although still dusty and noisy by day, and festooned in neon by night.

This is the road from Delhi Station to Arakashan Road; note temples, autos, cows and dogs:

 Delhi cow

Arakashan Road alive at night – admittedly the road is not much wider than Main Bazaar, but it is mostly hotels and restaurants, and more local Indian foot traffic.

Pahar Ganj by night 

We stayed at Hotel Raj which was relatively clean, and fairly quiet, being back off the main road. But every morning this pigeon fancier who lived on the roof (we surmise) would make his cooing noises to atract the birds and he would feed them.  So for some half hour from around 7am, there would be this “craw!craw!” and we’d screw our earplugs in just a little bit tighter.  But by Pahar Ganj standards, this was no big deal :)

The hotel had a nice little restaurant attached, at which we ate breakfast a few times.  But we weren’t going to restrict ourselves to a hotel restaurant, and planned a little exploratory walk after a well-deserved nap – with no stopover on the way to India, it had been a LOOONG flight!

Anxious to try out the local nosh, we happened upon a great little Bengali restaurant around the corner – Gagan Restaurant. No, I’m pretty sure it’s not in the Lonely Planet, but it does the BEST thali plates, with refills of all but the meat curries. OK, it’s a bit grungy on the inside, as you can see below, but it’ s the food that counts, right? And queues of locals waiting to get a seat is always a good thing:

Gagan resturant, Delhi 

Gagan DelhiThali plates, for those who don’t know, are these tin plates with an assortment of different curries in them so you get a variety (a bit like the bento box concept in Japan). You will also get rice and sometimes pickle or raita, and roti or naan bread upon request. Sometimes you even get a dessert, like a gulab jamen.

Dom ordered the mutton curry thali plate and I had the chicken, along with the usual dahl, 2 veg curries, rice and pappadum – oh, and the rice was topped with teeny tiny french fries – aww! I tried Dom’s and…I shoulda had the mutton. Delish. We went back there 3 or 4 times after that, and the little boy who did the refills always had a big smile for us.

 Indian thali plate

We were about 10 minutes walk to New Delhi Railway Station, and a short walk further on to the Delhi Metro Rail, which is a great way to get around Delhi. We used this a lot to get to various parts of town; much quicker than a taxi or auto rickshaw.  To access the Metro station, you can either walk through New Delhi Railway Station (there’s an overpass with views over the railway lines like the one below), or take the bridge to the left of the main station and walk over.  The pic below right is the view from the bridge at sunset – see how the smog makes for a lovely diffused colour glow?

 

If you choose to stay in the ritzier Connaught Place area, where there are 4 and 5 star hotels, there is a Metro station there also to get you about town.  Mind you, the Inner Ring Road is getting torn up now and looks like a bomb hit it. It looked like they were replacing plumbing, as pipes were exposed. But India being India, the shops and businesses remained open; people just resign themselves to walking over the rubble (which also provided comfy beds for the street dogs). And even Connaught Place has pockets of grunge – check out the filthy auto below! I don’t think it’s been used in some time, heh.

 

In the next few posts I will share some of the sights, such as Chowry Bazaar in Old Delhi, the Red Fort, Jama Masjid etc (with beautiful rather than grungy pics), but I just wanted to give a bit of local flavour here and show what the daily streets are like.  There was a lot of beauty in architecture, scenery and fashion later in the trip, but Delhi is like the mean streets, with a grit that gets under your skin even as it gets up yer nose!