Din Tai Fung, The Gardens Mall

I remember having an entire meal made up of dumplings when we were in Beijing a few years ago - dumpling after dumpling arrived at our table and after awhile, we couldn't tell the pork-chive ones from the pork-carrot ones from the vegetarian ones. A serious case of over-dumpling-ness. That didn't put me off dumplings, though - in fact, it was that dumpling meal that got me taking dumplings seriously, not just as a side dish to a main meal but as the star of the meal in its own right.

Din Tai Fung
The Gardens Mall,
Mid Valley City
LG207, Lower Ground Floor
Tel: +603 22832292

We were on one of our mother-daughter weekend shopping excursions in Mid Valley City and were looking for a place to re-energise after all that exercise (read: looking out for good deals should be a sport). I have to admit, the pictures at the entrance of Din Tai Fung are quite a good idea - we were tempted at first glance. Dumplings galore - that's difficult to resist.

Xiao long bao - pork and broth encased in a thin, delicate dumpling skin, perhaps the star of the menu. Best eaten hot, and with a tiny bit of vinegar and fresh ginger.

Shao mai - we weren't expecting it to be a twist on the xiao long bao, but we aren't complaining. The dumplings looked a lot like flowers in their vases and unlike the usual shao mai, these little pockets contained the xiao long bao broth as well.

Their vegetable and dumplings are delicious, if you like your veggies. The first time we ordered these dumplings, the waitress informed us that the dumplings would filled with more greens than pork and very kindly asked us if we would be alright with that. We were more than "alright with that", and have ordered these on every visit since. Dip in a bit of chilli for an extra kick.

Din Tai Fung doesn't just serve up dumplings and this is perhaps my favourite non-dumpling dish, pumpkin fried in salted egg. Coated with a delicious layer of salted egg, the chunks of pumpkin are crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside. I had never had this combination of ingredients before this and I've been wondering why ever since.

La mian with minced pork and mustard greens.

The menu also features a selection of la mian (pulled noodles) and rice dishes. The noodles are lovely and smooth and broth-based noodle dishes are generally light, mild (but flavourful) affairs. One gets a choice between normal and Japanese rice for the rice dishes and on what visit the brother ordered a serving of fried pork and shrimp Japanese rice, which was pleasant but paled a little in comparison to the other more punchy dishes on the table.

Pork and shrimp fried rice

Eating at Din Tai Fung may require a bit of strategising as there's always, always a queue at conventional meal times. However, despite the crowd, waiting times are generally not very long - they seem to have an incredibly efficient system both with handling the crowd and queue as well as with food preparation. My guess is that that's what's kept people coming back, on top of the food, of course.

Desserts at KTZ, SS2

So what does one do after a meal at New Paris? - one simply hops into the car for a short drive round the bend to KTZ to satisfy the sweet tooth. Sure, we'd just had a huge dinner, but there's always room for dessert, especially if is it's a KTZ one (besides, a birthday celebration should end on a sweet note, no?).

22 Jalan SS2/63,
Petaling Jaya
Telephone: +603 7877 2499

We'd had a rather disappointing round of after-lunch desserts at the Mid Valley Megamall Tong Pak Fu branch just earlier that day so we were hoping that KTZ would make up for it, show us how it's really done.

Red bean lou - for all those red bean-inclined people (read: me). The crunchy, roasted cashews add a lovely crunch to the somewhat creamy red bean and sago combination - I was sold at first bite. 

The ever popular mango lou - I reckon that no table would be complete without at least one of these at the table. They're always generous with the large, sweet, juicy chunks of mango - and topped with the little mountain of shaved ice and sago, it really does make for an extremely satisfying dessert. 

Mat Tou Lou - a large serving of mango lou with a few extras thrown in, as the name suggests. 

They really did show us how it was done, serving up desserts that were a far cry from the watered-down fare that we had in Tong Pak Fu. Their warm desserts are also pretty satisfying, for those days when you feel like a comforting bowl of mung bean or black glutinous rice dessert. KTZ serves up savouries as well, though, I say that desserts are clearly their forte.

The little brother, all smiles, with his mat tou lou. 

Selamat Hari Raya!

May it be filled with good company and an abundance of ketupat and rendang.

New Paris, SS2

It was the cousin's birthday recently and it didn't surprise me at all that when asked where he'd like us to gather for some birthday indulging, he said, "Paris!". Having grown up in the area, he's always had a soft spot for the place, perhaps a result of a mixture of childhood familiarity, good food and amazingly short waiting times.

New Paris
No. 62, 64, 66, Jalan SS2/72,
47300 Petaling Jaya,
Selangor, Malaysia.
The "New" Paris spots a large, bright, unmissable sign and is a far cry from the small outlet that it used to be. One gets a sense of the efficiency that is to come even before stepping into the restaurant - on my last visit, I was very quickly directed to a parking spot right in front of the restaurant and was helped along as I parked so that my car would take up the minimum possible space. 
  Braised pork knuckle - nothing like a good pork knuckle dish to kick of the celebrations. Braised till deliciously tender, this was a real winner.  

One of our must-haves - stir fried lotus root with a nice mix of other vegetables (and those delicious roasted cashews). What's different about the one here is the slightly cheesy sauce that lightly coats the vegetables, a bit of fusion, if you may. 

The Chinese restaurant staple - the simple (but incredibly satisfying if done right) deep fried fish with soy sauce. 

The house special, tofu that's ever so slightly crisp on the outside topped with a simple (but effective!) mix of minced meat and salted turnip.

New Paris also serves up other "tai chow" favourites like Marmite (insert meet of choice here), braised pork ribs and kung po chicken. If you're the sort who thinks a meal is not complete without a good serving of soup, you can get your soup fix here, too. 
The birthday boy was happy (so were the rest of us) - few things are more rewarding than sharing a meal with family, what more one that involves braised pork knuckle.

Holiday Foodsteps: Newton Circus Food Centre, Singapore

There were times when it felt like I was seeing Singapore for the first time in my life - the Singapore of my childhood is a blur of shopping malls and colouring pens now, and I seem to have absolutely no recollection of the food. So when we were taken to Newton Circus, I had no idea what was in store for us and was quite surprised to find ourselves at a busy food court with row after row of stalls selling seafood-anything. 

You know you're in a touristy spot when every table has a friendly warning stuck on it. 

Since chilli crab is one of those much-talked-about Singaporean dishes, we thought that it would only be right to order some to share. While fresh, the chilli crab we had here tasted, unfortunately, a lot more like sweet and sour (or maybe just sweet) crab.

The dangerously addictive deep fried mantou that was a sidekick to the chilli crab. With their crisp exteriors and soft middles, and dipped into the sticky sweet-sour gravy, they helped ease the disappointment of the chilli crab a little.

Oh how I love a good grilled stingray - and I must say, this very pleasantly surprised me. The marinade (and of course, the freshness of the fish) can make or break this simple grilled dish and I've come across many a version that missed the mark. The sambal on this had a nice zing to it, not too spicy, but with just enough punch to have kept my chopsticks reaching back for more and more. 

To feel like we were having a balanced meal, kangkung belacan, which we found to be quite nicely done.

When I was recounting my Singapore experience to dad, he was surprised that I had no memories of Newton Circus at all -  I'd visited it more than once as a child, one of those places that has remained a part of the city despite all the changes that Singapore has seen through the years. It felt touristy, for sure, what with all the stalls offering the same food and with menus that looked almost identical even in layout (not to mention the warning stickers on each table!)- but I suppose, it's one of those touristy rite-of-passage type things that completes the whole holiday experience.

The next time I'm in Singapore, I'm going to be on the lookout for some real chilli crab, though.

Holiday Foodsteps: Seng Huat's Bak Chor Mee

"I just need ONE thing - Bak Chor Mee," so declared the other travel buddy. 

We were told that bak chor mee is quite the staple in Singapore, and can be found in every food court. We wanted something a bit more authentic, though, so we set off on Sunday morning (yes, before the dessert-lunch) in search of the all-important bak chor mee. Having done a quick search on the web the night before (gotta love free wifi), we'd identified a fairly popular spot for the noodles opposite Bugis Junction and when you're a tourist, anything with directions that simply say "opposite (insert major landmark here)" is gold. 

Seng Huat Eating House
492 North Bridge Road (Opposite Bugis Jn)
Singapore 188737
Opened 24 hours

It was, in fact, incredibly easy to find - that definitely wins it some extra brownie points. Ordering is as simple as specifying the type of noodles you want and whether or not you'd like your noodles spicy.

It amused me that I'd never really had a bowl of bak chor mee before, not that I remember anyway. We each decided on the non-spicy variety, opting for tomato sauce instead of chilli. I can see why it's a national favourite - springy noodles, delicately flavoured minced pork, that distinct flavour of Chinese mushrooms, wrapped up nicely by the slightly tangy and oh-so-appetising vinegar-based gravy. Washed down with a cup of cold white coffee, and you've got yourself a winning breakfast. 

Seng Huat also serves up fishball noodles, and while we didn't try any of their fishball dishes, I think it's safe to say that I'd pick the bak chor mee any day. The one thing that has left me perplexed though, is why, with all the similarities between Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine, we'd never come across bak chor mee in Malaysia. 

Or have I just been looking in all the wrong places? 


Holiday Foodsteps: Honeymoon Dessert, Bugis Junction

"That's my favourite dessert place! I tried some desserts when I was in Hong Kong!"
One of my travel buddies is rarely excited about anything, so this spoke volumes. 

We'd spotted Honeymoon Dessert pretty early into our excursion to the Bugis area. Bugis Junction was still sleepy then, with the shutters of most shops (including this particular one) still down. We spent most of the morning wandering around Bugis, watching the area come alive bit by bit. It was noon by the time we found ourselves back in Bugis Junction, ready to settle down to lunch.

Yes, being on holiday gives you an excuse to have dessert for lunch - not dessert WITH lunch but JUST dessert for lunch.

We were disappointed to find that the outlet wasn't open yet but as I had my nose was pressed up against the glass, desperately trying to peer into the restaurant for any indication of opening times, a young lady strolled past, heading straight for the door - we were Honeymoon Dessert's very first customers for the day.

Honeymoon Dessert
#01-70, 200 Victoria Street
Bugis Junction, 
Singapore (188021)

From the traditional end of the scale - double boiled papaya and snow fungus. A little something to make you feel like you're home.

The menu is extensive - the hot and cold, the traditional and the more innovative. Choosing is difficult, and while my travel buddies seemed to have been able to make their choices pretty quickly, I was stumped.

Tofu pudding with mango, one of the many tofu pudding combinations available.

What one orders when one cannot decide - red bean and grass jelly, topped with green tea ice cream. They managed to create something out of all my favourite Asian dessert elements (perhaps the only thing missing is something soy-based). It was quite a triumph of a combination - everything from the lovely green tea ice cream to the not-too-sweet red bean.

Hong Kong style dessert outlets like these have become quite the rage nowadays (much to might delight), though I've never had this red bean, grass jelly, green tea ice cream concoction in Kuala Lumpur yet. Am open to recommendations!