Hotto Motto (ほっともっと), Japan

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So I never thought fast food could be this good. I had my first taste of Hotto Motto’s donburi in Asahikawa, on one of the evenings when we were strolling along the main shopping stretch and wanted something to eat. I’ve never had Japanese fast food elsewhere that’s come anywhere close to this in terms of variety and taste. Along with Hotto MottoYoshinoya in Japan is fantastic as well – so much so that Yoshinoya in Singapore can’t even lift a pinky to it.

Everywhere in Japan

It’s easy to spot Hotto Motto‘s red signage in English, and it’s typically found along the main shopping street.

Damage: $

Each donburi (rice topped with ingredients) costs on average around $6 with a bowl of soup, and can go even cheaper depending on what you order.

To go: For a quick and easy, satisfying budget meal

I have no complaints. The wide ranging menu featuring everything from different portion sizes to add-on set meals to sides to variations on each dish, and we stood for a good while in front of the automated order machine because we were a little overwhelmed. The buttons were all in Japanese, but there are images to help you figure out what exactly you’re adding to your order.

Hotto Motto‘s ambience is your typical fast food joint with counter seating and tables to the side and, of course, service is snappy – perfect for the traveller on the go. In short, my order of beef cooked with onion slices, topped with leek and an onsen egg was nothing short of satisfying.

Travel Diary: Takinoue Pink Moss Park, Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Japan (Gallery)

We followed the signs featuring a little cartoon character holding pink moss up a hill. As we curved around the last bend and approached the carpark, the Takinoue Pink Moss Park revealed itself to us – an entire undulating sea of pink, spotted with the contrasting green of the trees – a sight to behold.

On closer inspection, the pink “moss” was not any sort of moss at all, but rather tiny flowers, layer upon layer of it in such density which lent the landscape a bold colour, coming in full force as if knowing that each of them couldn’t have evoked the same response on their own.

Takinoue Pink Moss Park Hokkaido Japan Travel Blog Top Sights Takinoue Pink Moss Park Hokkaido Japan Travel Blog Takinoue Pink Moss Park Hokkaido Asahikawa Japan Travel Blog Sights

Photography: The Meaning of 平 (Píng)

平. A simple, symmetrical word. Pronounced píng, it means “balance”.

Today marks the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year calendar, triggering the age-old tradition and flurry of visiting of the Elders, extended family, and sometimes friends. I’d start the day by visiting my grandmother, handing her a pair of oranges and wishing her good health and other blessings, followed by spending the rest of the day with my immediate family and relatives moving from house to house.

Over the years, the list of places to visit has gotten shorter and shorter that now for most people, it’s practically a cheatsheet of one-stop-multiple-hits (i.e. where everyone just agrees to congregate at one place). As the Elders move on, some of the tradition is lost and the generations no longer see value in (and in fact, dread) meeting people they mostly only see once a year. As a kid, it was all fine and dandy receiving hong baos (red packets containing money), but as we moved beyond childhood, we realised that we now have to make small talk with relatives, deal with never-ending questions about non-existent boyfriends and girlfriends, much less marriage, and have to actually appear interested in whatever conversations there are over the span of many hours.

But 平 – this simple, balanced, symmetrical word, has far deeper meaning in the Chinese language when used in conjunction with other words, and which possibly unlocks the secrets of the essence of harmony; if I were to attempt to string its range of meanings together into a mosiac, it is akin to a beautiful 平旦 (dawn) where everything is 平顺 (smooth-sailing), 公平 (fair; there is equality), and where there is 康平 (good health) and the ones you love are 平安 (safe).

This Lunar New Year, I wish you the same balance and harmony in the many aspects of life in which 平 remains relevant and rings true. As conveyed in the clean, simple strokes of the character itself, perhaps we could realise that, indeed, achieving a balance is far simpler than we think. And perhaps, we would also find 喜 (yet another word resonating in symmetry and balance; pronounced , meaning “happiness”) in the process, just as I had a few hours ago tossing yu sheng (an oriental salad) and cheering the full suite of blessings with my family in a team effort to fondly usher in the new year over reunion dinner.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Symmetry.”

Kim Heng HK Roasted Meat, Singapore

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Category: Chinese – Hawker – Roasted Meats

My colleague and friend has been raving about this place for weeks on end, and so I finally made my way down on a Saturday morning to give it a try. Before going, I did a quick search which yielded Kim Heng as the “Best all rounder” in an article by the Straits times on the best roasted meat stalls, and so I went with high hopes.

Block 214 Serangoon Avenue 4, 01-88, Tel: 6283-3695, Opens 8.30am to 7pm daily

Situated in a clean coffeeshop at the corner of the ground floor of a HDB block facing the Serangoon Stadium, Kim Heng HK Roasted Meat is easy to find and can be seen from a distance away; even before lunchtime, a long queue of customers would have formed, cutting right across the path.

Damage: $

It’s roasted meat after all, and in a coffeeshop, so it can’t (and shouldn’t) be that expensive. That said, it’s steeper than some of the other places I’ve been, but that could be because we ordered ribs in the mix. It came up to about $14 for each of us, for a platter of mixed meats and 2 small soups to share 3 ways.

To go: Perhaps, if you’re in the area

I’m personally not convinced that this is the best all-rounder for roasted meat in Singapore. It was okay; nothing really special if you ask me, and unfortunately not as mind-blowing as my friend made it out to be (I mean, when he was describing it to me, he really went all out with the expressive hand gestures to accompany the mouthwatering descriptions in addition to a look of bliss). The sio ba (roasted pork belly) was better, but I remain a skeptic about whether this place warrants the queue and the hype.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

I cut through the building, entering from the side of the carpark, and straight away saw the long line to my right. My friends had recommended going just before 11.30am when, from experience, a freshly roasted batch of sio ba would be ready and displayed alongside other tantalizing meats, ready to be devoured.

Kim Heng HK Roasted Meat Serangoon SingaporeWe ordered a mix of char siewxio ba, ribs and roasted duck (feature picture). The char siew (roasted pork slices) was average – way too fatty and not as caramelised on the outside as would be ideal. There were little tasty bits here and there, but nothing came close to the char siew I’d had at this place called Sun Ming in Cheras, just a little way out from Kuala Lumpur – which, to date, still stands as the best I’ve ever tasted.

The sio ba was springy and the skin was lightly crisped, but I found that it was not exceptionally fragrant although on the plus side, it wasn’t heavy from overused oil which is a common mistake. The ribs were a disappointment – there was very little meat, and it wasn’t particularly tender. If you go, I’d recommend you save your rib fix for another day at some place else like Morganfields which has the ultimate sticky bones.

And so my search for the best roasted meats in Singapore continues. If you have any recommendations, please do let me know – I’d really love to hear all about them!

Kim Heng Roast Meat Serangoon Singapore

UNA, One Rochester, Singapore

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Category: European/Spanish – Special Occasions

Just a month ago, we visited UNA for the first time over Christmas. My family has a family tradition of having brunch every 25th of December, and I, as usual, was placed in charge of making the reservations. I was looking for a place which served up hearty meats (beef/pork/turkey) – to me it just doesn’t make sense to have Asian cuisine at Christmastime – and a cosy atmosphere. Helmed by Chef Jean-Philippe Patruno, UNA, veiled by the lush greenery of One Rochester, was relatively new and had already received a number of good reviews.

1 Rochester Park, Singapore 139212

Located in the vicinity of Buona Vista, One Rochester is an enclave of classy restaurants. Parking is limited in the open air carpark, but you can always park next door at The Star Vista and take a short 5-10 minute walk over.

Damage: $$$$

They have several tapas-style options in the $10s to $20s. Mains of Hanger steak, suckling pig or Pluma Ibérica are around $30 – and the portions are decent but not that sizeable. So if you’re planning to do the entire suite including dessert, prepare for about $100 each. At Christmas, their brunch menu of 1 main and a buffet of starters and desserts was $65++ each.

To go: Sometimes, on special occasions

While the food was good, the thing that stood out to me most was the impeccable service. I think anyone who has experienced poor service on an important occasion would agree with me that it makes a whole lot of difference. The staff were very friendly, helpful in offering suggestions, prompt at checking-in on guests, and basically doing everything possible to ensure the best experience possible. They had some standout dishes as well, including the Spanish TortillaPluma IbéricaCrispy Cod Fish main and Pedro Ximénez Panna Cotta.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

We opened the meal with appetisers of cold meats, jamon iberico, and pan con tomate, which is a dish which I saw lots of when I was studying in Barcelona, and which we made at barbecues and gatherings by taking a tomato cut in half and then rubbing it into bread. The spread included pan-fried scallops & asparagus which featured thick juicy scallops, as well as spanish tortilla with prawns and aioli (see featured picture, triangular slice) which in Spain was referred to simply as a kind of “spanish omelette”.

Pluma Iberica Una One Rochester Singapore Review

For the mains, we ordered the pluma ibéricahanger steakbaby chicken and crispy cod fish. The steak was a bit dry and tough, but the pluma ibérica was incredible – the pork was tender, and its meaty-woody flavours sang powerfully to the accompaniment of a light but intense sauce made from natural jus. The mash which lay beneath was smooth and creamy, and balanced out the saltiness of the meat perfectly.

The baby chicken was beautifully charred on the outside, although not crispy, but the inside remained juicy and moist. The crispy cod was a good counterpoint to the heavy meat dishes and was fresh, falling off in large flakes when pulled with the fork, and the batter which encased it was crispy, light and non-oily.

baby chicken una singapore review

I was excited about the spread of desserts which included items like banoffee messbitter chocolate tart, and churros & chocolat. The bitter chocolate tart was a disappointment in spite of how it looked – the presence of salt in the chocolate was overwhelming and masked the taste of the cocoa entirely. The churros was too oily as well. The Pedro Ximénez Panna Cotta, however, was fantastic – topped with light crumbles of popcorn, the panna cotta was soft and creamy, with the sweetness of the grapes of the sherry coming through in its wake – and I just had to have three of those before calling it a day.

Una One Rochester Singapore Review dessert

Travel Diary: Journey through Bangkok, Thailand

Our taxi came to a halt behind a row of cars as the light turned red. A little girl, barely seven or eight, was standing next to the front door of the car in front of us, speaking to the driver. She was motioning with her hands, showing off something. I leaned over to the right and caught a glimpse of orange and yellow. They were flowers. She’s selling flowers in the middle of a main road. The intersecting traffic slows, and the drivers ready for the green. She turns, swinging a pole with garlands of flowers hanging from its ends, and quickly dashes to the road divider just as the vehicles begin to pick up their pace and get back in tempo. As we pass, I notice her head bent at a slightly downward angle, her shoulders slightly slumped, her feet grubby. I noticed that she had no shoes.

I remember the countless number of street-side stalls as being one of the most striking things about Bangkok. We would walk down pavements along shop fronts which felt more like narrow back alleys. The street-side stalls formed a blockade between us and the road, and would go on endlessly – light cotton apparel, thai boxer shorts, cheap plastic sunglasses stacked high, in between which were food stalls – letting in no air and no light. People walked past in a constant viscous stream, squeezing past each other to go in opposite directions, while groups of bored-looking Thai girls sat outside massage parlours, fanning themselves in the midday heat, calling out every once in a while to prospective customers an invite to come in.

Bangkok was everything I’d expected it to be. Crowded, lively, chaotic. In Platinum Mall, you would see that people from all around the world have come, dragging huge plastic trolley bags going from shop to shop to source for bargain apparel to sell at a profit. It was energetic yet exhausting to be part of, and we ended up finding solace at Starbucks.

Street side food stalls in Bangkok Roadside stalls in Bangkok Thailand

Food in Bangkok was cheap and readily available, although I did end up rushing to the toilet about 4 times a day (which, by the way, is not usual). Every once in a while, smells of food would be interrupted by the smell of sewage coming from the gutters and drains, and would inspire cringed noses and a quicker walk.

Corn based dessert at a street side stall in Bangkok Thailand

Whilst touristy, Jaktujak Weekend Market was a highlight of my trip. The sections selling apparel did not appeal to us but we did find much to our fancy at the other end of the market where they sold dried food items ranging from mango to ginger, and also aromatic oils of bergamot, rose, and lemongrass, packed into display-worthy bottles forged from glass. Leaving Jaktujak, cabs were lined up alongside the road near the exit, their drivers standing by the curb. A cabby approached us to ask where we were headed. Upon hearing Sukhumvit, he made a face, waved and said that it was “very very far” but would take us there for 600THB. I’d seen the map; it wasn’t that far at all. We walked farther from Jaktujak and got into a metered cab which ended at 150THB.

Sad to say, the cabs were a major reason for my schlocky impression of Bangkok. We once boarded a cab waved in by a Bo.lan staff from the road which claimed he was on “meter”. It was a sort of van that looked more like it belonged in a zoo; heavily dented, with masking tape around the handles and on the doors where parts were on the verge of falling off. We were even more appalled at the state of its interior – cans stuffed between the top of the seat and the ceiling to prevent it from collapsing, a stool supporting the seat where my mother sat, and a lot of rubbish everywhere else. We were laughing about how shocked the hotel staff would be at seeing this “sampan” (a Chinese flat-bottomed boat, but literally meaning “3 planks”) come into their lobby, when my dad noticed the meter was off. The driver then insisted we would pay 250THB, and when we refused, veered to the side of the road and forced us out- but not before he demanded 50THB from me.

Cabbing in Bangkok Thailand

Nightmare cab in Bangkok Thailand

I didn’t know much about the Somboon Seafood scam until I got back to Singapore after experiencing it first hand. We’d tried to get to the restaurant several times, and every cabby we’d encountered said there was no Somboon Seafood, only some variation pronounced Som-boon-dee. We eventually got into a cab whose driver said he knew where it was, only to inform us halfway that “Somboon Seafood doesn’t open on Sundays. I take you to Somboondee. When my friends say they want Somboon, I bring them to Somboondee because Somboondee is better! I know the boss – he will give you 10% discount because you’re my friend.” The liar took us down some quiet gravel road where a wire light was poorly bent an attached to a flimsy fence to form “somboondee” in a wiggly writing. He lowered the side window and hollered to the owner, who’d been sitting at a table smoking and didn’t look at all like he’d been expecting guests, and straight away we knew something was amiss. The “restaurant” was practically empty except for a poor family of four seated in the dark, all of whom promptly looked up, surprised, stared at us miserably and totally halted their meal. The seafood selection was miserable, the prices steep, and the whole place was barely even lit. It was eerie, and we promptly said we’d had too similar a meal the previous night and started to walk briskly back out to the main road. The cabby had parked by the side, and upon seeing us, ran up to us to ask why we were leaving. As we walked, the discount steadily increased from 10% to 15% to 20%. We kept walking.

Mango Sticky Rice at Siam Paragon Bangkok Thailand

Unfortunately, Bangkok just wasn’t my kind of city and left much to be desired, but it still could be yours, just as I’ve had friends who’ve gone back twice or thrice. While there was beauty in some of it, such as their piousness and cuisine, and of course, it is an inexpensive holiday destination, I especially wished the cabbies were more friendly and honest (to me, they’re sometimes tour guides who can teach you about the city, and are often the first locals you encounter extensively upon setting foot in a country; the ones in London were fantastic) – that would’ve helped preserve the impression that I’d gone to Bangkok with but sadly departed without, and that is “the land of a thousand smiles”.

Religion in Bangkok Thailand

De Zaab, Bangkok, Thailand

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Category: Thai, Northeastern – Casual Dining

On the morning of our last day in Bangkok, we decided to explore the UP Rama 3 mall (ดิอัพ พระราม 3) which newly opened, just down the street from where we were staying at the Chatrium Residence Sathorn. The mall was barely a month old, and we’d gone down to scout it out for a place to have breakfast. Unexpectedly, one of our most value-for-money and best meals happened there at a new restaurant, which we hadn’t even heard of, called De Zaab on the first floor.

The Up Rama 3, Narathiwat Ratchanakarin Road, Yannawa, Bangkok

Chong Non Si ช่องนนทรี The Up Rama 3 ถนนนราธิวาสราชนครินทร์ ยานนาวา กรุงเทพฯ

The UP mall is located at the corner of a major street intersection. If I had to draw parallels, it would be a version of Singapore’s Chijmes, with its elements of old world european architecture. It’s pretty small but has several food establishments including Singapore’s very own Boon Tong Kee chicken rice restaurant alongside a significant number of medium to high-end Japanese Restaurants; from Japanese barbecue to handmade sushi and sashimi from fish flown in from Japan in an omakase format.

Damage: $

De Zaab offered the most incredible value ever. At lunchtime, they had set meals which were between 160 – 190THB ($6-$8) which were fixed pairings of dishes from their regular menu. We’d thought that perhaps the portions would be smaller but alas, the portions were comparable to everywhere else, and my-, the dishes were all good!

To go: Definitely, if you’re in the vicinity

Leaving the restaurant, we were actually concerned about the restaurant’s viability, with prices almost comparable to the street-side stalls (except this was a proper restaurant). I do note that this may be out of the way for those staying farther up north in Bangkok. However, if you find yourself somewhere near to or in Sathorn, they’re definitely worth your while.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

At 10.30am on a Monday morning, the UP Mall was still relatively quiet apart from the soft pipe-in Japanese music which reminded me of the Shiroi Koibito Park in Hokkaido. The signs of the mall’s recentness were fully apparent – the walls and floors were spotless, and some units were still in the midst of having their fixtures put up whilst one or two others were pending tenancy.

Since it was our last day in Bangkok, we thought it made perfect sense to indulge in Thai food, and so when we passed by De Zaab on the first floor and saw the tantalising pictures, we went straight in.

Pad Thai and Thai mango Salad Bangkok ThailandAll I can say is damn – we made a hella good choice. We ordered a set of Thai papaya salad and a seafood Pad Thai (rice noodles stir fried with eggs, firm tofu, a touch of sugar and spice and with peanut bits). When served, we were gawking at the heap that was the papaya salad. The papaya strands were a good rawness, thickness and had lots of crunch. Every stand of the Pad Thai was well glazed with the tamarind and fish sauce, with a good amount of prawns to boot. Personally, I prefer how they do it in Singapore, which is to stir fry the beansprouts in with the noodles, whereas here, the beansprouts were served raw on the side.

The Seafood Tom Yum Soup had so much depth of flavour as well – it was light but punchy on the spicy and sour, with just the right tone of sweetness – and was loaded with plenty of ingredients including fresh prawns, squid and a whole party of vegetables.

Seafood Tom yum Soup Bangkok Thailand

De Zaab Signature Stir fried Noodles Bangkok Thailand

Truth be told, I have no idea what the dish above (and also the featured image) is called, but I’d refer to it as one of the restaurant’s signature dishes because it was featured on the wall, and also had half a page of the menu dedicated entirely to it. It wasn’t part of a set, but either way, if you show them this picture, I’m sure their friendly staff will be able to figure it out – just look at the amount of ingredients in this thing – fresh and succulent prawns, fishcake slices, and a generous helping of vegetables on top of the fragrant and fluffy vermicelli. Such a delight.