Ssangdoongi Dwaeji Gukbap (돼지국밥), Busan, South Korea

Category: Korean – Casual – Gukbap (Pork and Rice Soup)

Dwaeji Gukbap is a specialty of the Gyeongsangnam province, which the Southeastern part of South Korea. It’s a very very simple, unpretentious dish, and a comfort food in all aspects – I can’t tell you how good this tastes especially when you’ve been out in the cold! Since Busan is supposed to have some of the best renditions of this dish, I stalked out what was considered to be the best one, and made sure we stopped over for dinner right after our visit to Busan museum.

887-1, Daeyeon1-dong or 35-1 UN Pyeonghwa-ro, Nam-gu, Busan, South Korea, Tel: 051-628-7020

It’s right within walking distance from Busan museum, and better still, right along the straight route back to the metro station. I was obediently going in the direction of the red pin in Google maps until we chanced upon the store front at 35-1 UN Pyeonghwa-ro from which I immediately recognised the logo of the two pigs with red chef hats. A row of flower arrangements and wreaths lined its entrance, and the interior was clean and spacious – nothing like what other reviews had said to be “extremely crowded” and having “a long queue even at 3pm”. As it turns out Ssangdoongi Dwaeji Gukbap is so popular that this was its newly-opened 2nd store.

Ssangdoongi Dwaeji Gukbap Busan Food Review Blog

Damage: $

So inexpensive! They had a sort of hotpot version with vegetable wraps but we went with what Ssangdoongi was famous for – the original gukbap at 6000KRW. Since this was Korea, we did it K-style and called for a makgeolli at 3000KRW to go with.

To Go: Yes you should, and go to the newer restaurant if you want to skip the queue

Food is fuss-free, very affordable, and great in the tummy on a cold day. With rigid-looking wooden tables and chairs and a metal-sheet counter top at the far end, ambience is obviously not their forte – but then again, who cares? The original restaurant (nearer the metro and about 5 mins from the newer one) is more compact with a more old-school feel, but really, walk that extra 5 mins if you want to skip the queue.

Ssangdoongi Dwaeji Gukbap Busan Food Review Blog

Ssangdoongi Dwaeji Gukbap Busan Food Review Blog

Like well-behaved pupils, we eagerly flavoured the dish with the garlic chives, tiny salty shrimp (which we happily called out as cincalok) and the red pepper paste as instructed by the waitress. The serving of pork is generous for the price – we kept magically unearthing pork from below the rice – and tender, with fats I’d imagine contains collagen which is all the Asian rage about being good for the skin right now. The broth was light, very tasty and when had together with the rice, reminded me of teochew porridge back at home.

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No. 813 BBQ Restaurant, Seoul, South Korea

Category: Korean – Barbecue

Anyone who’s been to Korea or has watched any K-drama would know how much the Koreans love their barbecue. While I was in Korea, we had barbecue at least 5 times in 11 days, and man, that is A LOT of barbecue. When we first arrived in Seoul, we stayed in Gangnam-gu, and so I’d planned out an entire list of food places to go in Gangnam a week ahead. No. 813 BBQ Restaurant had been on Lady Iron Chef’s list of 17 Best Restaurants and Local Eateries to Eat in Seoul, and so was assigned as dinner stop for day 1.

Gangnam-daero 152-gil, opens from 5pm for dinner

Contrary to what was said online, it wasn’t all that hard to find, especially since No.813 has 2 units next door to each other – the larger one being to the right of the original one, with a slightly more modern (and less authentic) feel to it and also twice the size of the other. Since it was already the late afternoon, we ambled around Gangnam for a bit until 5pm when they re-opened for dinner.

Damage: $$

No.813 BBQ Restaurant has reasonable value with decent portion sizes, and we left reasonably full after spending about $20 each on a set selection of meats and some kimchi stew, but keep reading…

To Go: It’s okay, but it isn’t a must-try

It’s decent barbecue, but that’s all there is to it. This was the first barbecue we tried in Korea, and while the cuts of meat I thought were pretty average (and some of the meat was practically served just out of the freezer and had to be left defrosting at the table), we thought that all in all it offered good value… until we tried barbecue at like 4 other places, including one more in Seoul.

The kimchi stew here paled miserably to the one we had at Heukdonga on Jeju-do, and the side dishes were very average and limited (as compared to every other place we dined at while in Korea). Service was terrible; although we were only one of the two groups of guests, we had to wave several times just to get the attention of wait staff who were too busy chatting with each other over the counter just 3m away, and had to request multiple times for another serving of kimchi stew and kimchi which never arrived.

No. 813 BBQ Restaurant Barbecue Seoul Korea Food Review Blog

Meal Top (밀탑), Seoul, South Korea

Category: Korean – Desserts – Bingsu (Ice shavings)

So apparently the Koreans are crazy about their bingsu, a dessert made from ice shavings, and topped with fruits or red bean, etc. (there being many renditions). Meal Top (밀탑) is one of the more famous ones and comes very highly rated at 4.5/5 on Tripadvisor, and is particularly famous for the ones with red bean topping.

165, Apgujeong-ro, Hyundai Department Store 5F, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 강남구 압구정로 165 (압구정동)

The Hyundai Department Store is right at Apgujeong metro station, and taking the escalators up to the fifth floor, you’ll be delivered right to the doorstep of Meal Top. You’ll hear it before you even see it – the clatter of cutlery and dishes and a busy chatter comes as a bit of a surprise as you navigate the escalators up past floors 3 and 4 which are full of luxury label shops and also extremely quiet.

Damage: $-$$

Each bingsu is about 8,000 KRW (~$10), which I find mighty expensive for something that comprises largely of shaved ice. Bingsu in Korea is pretty much one of the best ways to blow your money in a wink because they’re all about $10 (the cheapest one I came across was about $9). I had bingsu at 4 places around Seoul and Busan while I was there, and not once ever really left the shop feeling like it was worth the money. Nonetheless, it is a very Korean dessert, so you should probably try it at least once.

To Go: Maybe once (whether here or elsewhere, it doesn’t really matter)

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the profit margin on the bingsu is probably somewhere close to 90%, before the utilities and wages of course. The red bean, whilst wholesome and generous, could not divorce from the fact that it was still just a red bean paste, simply dolloped on top of shaved ice drizzled over with some condensed milk. The dessert was simple, good and tasty, especially if you’re having it on a warm day, but the thing that I found most spectacular, was oddly nothing to do with the dessert at all.

The service was impeccable from start to finish. Meal Top is an open-concept cafe, and the moment I stepped in from the ‘wrong’ side, the manager immediately spotted me, graciously ushered me to the seating area on the other side and pulled a waiting number from the machine for me. It was running at full house and there were several people ahead of us in the queue, but the wait wasn’t long. I watched, fascinated, as waiters transported trays of dessert barely 2 minutes after it was ordered, and as they swooped in on tables the moment guests departed, readying it within seconds for the next guests to be seated.

Meal Top bingsu dessert Seoul South Korea Food Review Travel Diary Blog

Tian Tian Chicken Rice, Singapore

SCRIBBLES
As anyone who’s visited Singapore would know, we’re pretty well-known for amazing and affordable hawker fare, and Chicken Rice is one of the dishes which tops the list. It sounds like a simple dish – just chicken, steamed or roasted, patted atop a dome of rice – but that is exactly why this dish could be easily underrated by someone who didn’t know better. #01-10/11 Maxwell Food Centre, 1 Kadayanallur Street, Singapore 069184 Tian Tian Chicken Rice is situated on the left most row of the Maxwell Food Centre when entering from the main entrance, and will be easily spotted due to the queue that trails in front of it almost every hour of the day. However, they are very quick and one never has to wait that long. Ambience is typical of Singapore’s hawker centres, where there are many stalls selling a variety of local fare at affordable prices, operating in a very casual no-frills canteen concept. Damage: $ With a plate of chicken rice priced about $4 or $5 (if you ask for more chicken), and vegetables priced around $3 to $4, you get incredible value here. We had a feast (see feature picture) on just $16. A great option for travellers on a budget! To go: Yes! If you’re in southern Singapore / Near Maxwell Tian Tian’s is a hainanese chicken rice, and is also the one Singaporeans are proud of for having won the cook-off against celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay in a publicly held tasting and vote in 2013. The chicken is smooth and the skin is silky, and unlike other hainanese chicken rice sellers, Tian Tian does a slightly thicker sauce instead of the usual light soy-sauce seasoning. Everyone would notice that Tian Tian’s chicken rice is particularly noteworthy – each and every grain remains intact, and coated over with the tastiness and aroma of natural chicken oils. They were extremely generous with the vegetables too, and they were cooked perfectly with good bite and delicious oyster-sauce flavours, and daym is that chilli spicy! Tian Tian Chicken Rice is a great choice for anyone who’s in the southern parts of Singapore (Tanjong Pagar, Duxton, Chinatown, etc.), but elsewhere, there are other great choices too, such as Boon Tong Kee at Balestier and one of my all-time favorites, Tong Fong Fatt Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice at Raffles Place.

Watami Japanese Casual Restaurant, Singapore

SCRIBBLES

Category: Japanese – Casual

Believe it or not, my first visit to Watami Japanese Casual Restaurant was because we were looking for lunch on a workday and after making a few rounds in the Raffles City basement, decided to give up on the unbelievable Din Tai Fung queue and head to Watami next door. Well, I’m glad that happened.

252 North Bridge Road, Raffles City Shopping Centre,#B1-06/07, Raffles City, Tel: +65 6336 2425

Watami is located in the Basement of Raffles City Shopping Centre, opposite Tiong Bahru Bakery, adjacent to Din Tai Fung, and just around the corner from Soup Union and Thai Express.

Damage: $$

As the name implies, Watami Japanese Casual Restaurant is not the most upmarket place, but of course, it isn’t a budget eat either. Weekday lunch sets change daily and are around $15, but if you go at dinner or do a la carte, prepare for at least $30 each.

To go: Yes, they have some really good dishes

Watami is pretty good, although there are some dishes I believe you can get better value on elsewhere. Of their entire menu, the barbecue/grilled items are typically their most outstanding, so I would make sure to get some of that.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

Since, like with Sushi Tei, I’ve visited Watami Japanese Casual Restaurant so many times, it makes more sense for me to share with you about some of the top dishes I’ve had there rather than write about a specific visit, so here goes! 

Order: Ika Maru Yaki (Roasted Squid, $13.80)

Watami Japanese Casual Restaurant Singapore Food Review Blog Grilled Squid

The Ika was done perfectly, even better than the ones we’d had in a few cities around Hokkaido. Amazingly tender (none of that chewy nonsense that we often get served with), lightly seasoned to bring out the the natural flavours- it was so good we ordered a second.

Order: Jikasei Niku Miso Hiyayako (Cold Tofu with Watami Meat Miso, $6.80)

Watami Japanese Casual Restaurant Singapore Food Review Blog Cold Tofu Miso Minced Meat Spicy

At under $7, there’s no thinking twice about ordering this dish. The tofu is refreshingly served chilled, and the sauce that goes over is lightweight but surprisingly intense. The serving of minced meat is generous, the dry chilli lends a slight edge when eaten, and is well-balanced with the cold silken tofu.

Order: Asari Ishinabe Soup (Clams cooked in a stone pot with Japanese-style Sauce, $10.80)

Watami Japanese Casual Restaurant Singapore Food Review Blog Hot Pot Clams in Sake sauce

I seriously think Watami undersold this dish by calling it a “Japanese-style sauce” when it has such an incredible dose of sake. The clams were served just right, not overdone (unless you leave them sitting in the pot too long after it’s been served, since the pot keeps the heat), and we couldn’t get enough of the bubbling broth of clam essence and sake, managing to dish out at least 3 bowls-full from the little stone pot.

Order: Wafu Touban Steak (featured picture; Self-grilled Short Ribs, $18.80)

The Wafu Touban Steak reminds me a little of Gyu-Kaku but it might be unfair of me to say that, since we all know not all Japanese barbecues are created similar (remember that piece of meat you spent 10 minutes chewing?). I’ve had the Wafu Steak on 4 occasions; 3 of which the cut was perfect and super tasty, and the other of which was way too fatty and ended up popping a lot on the stove and projecting its fatty oils all over the table. I know how that sounds, and it might still be worth it, but it depends on your luck. I’m not sure if you can make a request for something not too fatty – I’ve not tried, but if you manage to, I’d love to know!

Avoid: Bariuma Teba Karaage (Shichimi Curry) (Crispy chicken wings (chilli red), $7.80)

Watami Japanese Casual Restaurant Singapore Food Review Blog Crispy Chicken Wings

Avoid at all costs. Yes, I know you’re looking at the picture above and thinking, “How can that possibly be?” Looks can be deceiving – This was dry, had little meat, was pretty tasteless and was not spicy at all.

Asia’s 50 Best: Jaan, Singapore (Part 4, Desserts & Finishing Touches)

Category: French – Fine Dining

2 Stamford Road, Swissotel The Stamford, Level 70, Equinox Complex, Singapore 178882

Damage: $$$$

The Menu Prestige itself is an ongoing concert that has no specific intervals, but I have taken the liberty to break it up into smaller sections to make for an easier read. This section comprises the last 2 dishes of the Menu Prestige, which feels proper to name “Desserts & Finishing Touches”.


For the Finest Cheese Selection and Condiments, the hostess swivelled over a beautiful trolley display of cheeses, both hard and soft, with a variety of textures, and began asking for our preferences before proceeding to put together a tasting platter of 4 cheeses. Biscotti was served with homemade plum, strawberry and pear jams as well. I’m not a fan of nuts so I didn’t quite enjoy the biscuits, although the one in the foreground went well with the sweet, thick jams.

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2014 2015 Jaan Singapore Food Review Blog Cheese Selection

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2014 2015 Jaan Singapore Food Review Blog Cheese Selection and 1965 Sg50 Colheita Port Wine

The Kopke Colheita 1965, Cask #11640 was presented to us as well; a port wine that was selected to commemorate Singapore’s 50th Anniversary. Shipped from Vila Nova de Gaia, a city in Portugal which has strict standards on the ageing of their Ports, the Kopke Colheita 1965 was incredibly intense and sweet, and reminded me strongly of the Hungarian Tokaji wine I’d had in the historic wine cellar in the basement accessible from the Hilton Hotel in Budapest, which the sommelier had skilfully and accurately described as “liquid nectar”.

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2014 2015 Jaan Singapore Food Review Blog Coconut cream

To be honest, I can’t remember what this was, so I’m not going to try to give it a name. It was a light coconut-y foam with ice shavings followed by red ruby-like things beneath. I realised the best way to enjoy Jaan‘s dishes is to put together the different tastes and textures on a spoon and have it altogether. The same with this dish, which transformed into a creamy, cool and refreshing dessert, although not particularly outstanding.

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2014 2015 Jaan Singapore Food Review Blog Choconuts 'Grand Cru'

This is where Sous Chef Kirk Westaway made his appearance from the kitchen, holding a metallic canister, and asked how our meal was. He smilingly inverting the canister and leaned the nozzle into my plate like a magician about to present a trick, when out came a gush of thick chocolate mousse. As everyone already knows of my undying love for chocolate, this seemed like a possible heaven. The mousse was delicious and cold, which was all the more better, but somehow the different parts just didn’t quite come together on the plate.

The finale was the Petit Four (feature picture), once again presented with fanfare of dry ice. I’m not sure whether it could be because by this point I was i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-y full, but whilst good, it wasn’t spectacular to me – the exception being the round brown globes suspended on the small sticks out of a jar, which, when bitten, revealed pleasantly a surprise of strong and fragrant liquor.

All in all, a dinner at Jaan, well worth remembering. 

Asia’s 50 Best: Jaan, Singapore (Part 2, Appetisers)

Category: French – Fine Dining

2 Stamford Road, Swissotel The Stamford, Level 70, Equinox Complex, Singapore 178882

Damage: $$$$

The Menu Prestige itself is an ongoing concert that has no specific intervals, but I have taken the liberty to break it up into smaller sections to make for an easier read. This section comprises the first 3 dishes of the Menu Prestige, and for which I find most suitable to name “Appetisers”.


Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2014 2015 Jaan Singapore Food Review Blog Uni Sea Urchin Pudding with Caviar

The Hokkaido Sea Urchin with Obsiblue prawn and Kaluga queen caviar – I didn’t like. I love good uni but this was a pudding infused with sea urchin – the creamy texture of the pudding caused the natural richness of the uni itself to be lost, and whatever flavours made it through came across as slightly fishy. I couldn’t taste the prawn.

An addition complement of crostini was then served, beautiful to picture but somewhat ordinary in taste.

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2014 2015 Jaan Singapore Food Review Blog Crostini

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2014 2015 Jaan Singapore Food Review Blog beetroot collection

When the Beetroot Collection was served I’d spent a good while looking at it – it was like a piece of art- a delicate, intricate mixing of textures, temperatures, and variants of a magenta colour on the plate, punctuated by some yellow and some white of the radish and whip. This was a complex dish which included “Burrata artigiana” and honeycomb, and eaten individually made for nothing much, but when we began mixing them into the same spoonful, it became something quite special which I can’t quite put a finger on, and, I suppose, was the right way to enjoy it.

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2014 2015 Jaan Singapore Food Review Blog 55°C rosemary smoked organic eggAs if I didn’t already love egg enough, I was introduced to Jaan‘s highly discussed 55′ Rosemary Smoked Organic Egg with Ratte Potato, Chorizo Iberico and Buckwheat, which came with the great pomp of being served in a tray over a block with a endless stream of white mist gushing over and cloaking the table (feature picture). The waiter picked the egg from the tray and poured it in with the rest of the condiments in the glass, which I mixed a little with my spoon and then tasted. For all of the dish’s complexity in preparation, the egg was perfect but I still found it hard to believe that it could only be achieved by poaching the eggs at 64 degrees for 55 minutes. The chorizo, somewhat reminiscent of bacon, provided the salt to the otherwise seemingly non-seasoned potatoes and balanced the dish like a perfect breakfast.