Sunday, 15 February 2015

Editorial: Let’s all be ‘us’

I’m going to talk about something different in this post. It’s about an issue I believe in and would like to share my opinion about.

Some people might see foreigners and expats in Singapore as “them”, that they are alien, a host of people that invaded our country and are fundamentally different from how local Singaporeans think and behave. I could see how that might seem so – some expats and foreigners in Singapore do have a certain ‘expat’ lifestyle and social circle that excludes locals. I am writing about this because I saw this really upbeat video that shows all the little things we do conscious or unconsciously to the people around us, no matter where they are from, and it struck a chord with me:

But actually I have never thought of foreigners and expats that way. I remember how when I was growing up, we had rented out rooms in our house to a couple of PRCs who are working in Singapore (we were doing the airbnb thing way before it got cool). In the end they turned out to be the elder brothers and sisters we never had. They would help us with our schoolwork, teach us Chinese chess, and even go to the park with us during the weekends. Since my dad came from China when he was young, he would also be chatting and bonding with them during their free time. We never did have the mentality that we are of different groups so we should not interact. In fact, I remember how my mum offered our Chinese tenant a seed of durian for him to try. He took it back to his room, and emerged a while later, with all the flesh scraped onto a plate. "Where’s the seed?", we asked. Turns out he thought THAT was the thing you’re supposed to eat, and he ate it up! Haha. Even said it was quite nice too.

So there’s that. I’ve only truly started interacting with more expats and foreigners when I started working after graduation. I had the good fortune in my first job to be working with a very talented creative director and PR/events director both from the UK. I didn’t notice the colour of their skin – I only saw their talent and work ethic. We became friends easily - we hung out and had beers from time to time after work to chat about what’s happening in Singapore and the oddities sometimes. In fact, the PR director went on to marry a local Singaporean guy after a few years!

In my second job that’s where I truly experienced the international/multi-cultural aspect of being in a company that started in France, and expanded to Singapore for an APAC headquarters. I truly enjoyed my time there with my colleagues from all over the world. Again, there was no such thing as ‘them’ vs ‘us’. We celebrated our differences and marveled at them, but we were the same in how we think and we had fun together.

In this photo we had a community manager from China, one from Indonesia, two Frenchmen, an Eastern European lady and an American. 7 out of 12 were not locals! I could not have had a better group of people to work together even so. The best part was learning that while both Singaporeans and expats/colleagues from overseas both have very good work ethic, they have a stronger sense of work-life balance. You come in, do your work, finish it effectively, wrap up, and go home or out. This cultural mindset was something I had appreciated and tried adopting as well. Meanwhile, our colleagues would also join us for lunch time hawker food adventures and even karaoke after work!

Another funny story was how we had a couple of French colleagues visit the Singapore office, and we ended up being fast friends, to the extent where when I went over to Paris, they brought us around too! Eventually they came to Singapore to work, and we hung out even more then.

One of the colleagues from my previous company was from the Philippines, and we’ve since become good friends till now. He’d lived in Singapore for quite a large number of years here and has no problems integrating with us, though sometimes he still gets quite puzzled by certain Singaporean traits like being ‘kiasu’. This was a recent photo when we caught up after he came back to Singapore to visit, now that he is working overseas in Amsterdam.

Finally, in my current workplace I also interact and work on a daily basis with expat colleagues. In fact, my boss is half Thai and half Peruvian, but had studied in the UK! Another colleague is Singaporean Indian, but had spent majority of his adult life in Australia, but is now back here. I find it very refreshing to work with a mix of locals and non-locals because wider perspectives and ways of thinking can be had.

I don’t think it’s possible to live in Singapore and be closed off to interaction with expats or foreigners. We are after all an immigrant society and country and we’re all in it together to make it better. I had so much fun looking through all these photos and remembering the good times and good people that had been in my life – there’s no “them”, only “us”. I hope anyone reading this will also feel the same, and encourage others who might be apprehensive or negative about other people who is not local to become more open and friendly!

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Thursday, 12 February 2015

Restaurant Review: Gu Ma Jia 5th Anniversary at 45 Tai Thong Crescent, Singapore 347866

Hankering for some homecooked food, in the form of a large family feast? If so, Gu Ma Jia at Tai Thong Crescent is probably one of the best places to go for clean, nutritious and rich food that taste authentic and homely. I was lucky to be invited for their 5th anniversary new menu tasting (after hearing about it a few times before from other bloggers). It's been 5 years? Wow! I found out that "Gu Ma" hails from Pulau Ubin, so whatever dishes we are having can be considered "island cuisine"?

We first started with the Gu Ma Signature Traditional Bean Curd Soup ($28). It is boiled for 6 hours using salted fish head, chinese ham, pork ribs, peanuts and fresh beancurd. I was not used to the salted fish head taste in a beancurd soup initially, but you could taste every bit of the goodness coming from the ingredients and into a soup.

Next we had some Homemade Yam Ring with Kyoto Pork Ribs ($30) which was decent. The yam ring wasn't too oily and the pork ribs wasn't dry or tough, which is good. I didn't think there was anything 'Kyoto' about the pork though.

The XO Prawn Noodles ($36) are worth ordering. The soup was really intense and packed to the brim with the sweetness of prawn, and the XO taste wasn't perceptible on its own (but probably the reason why its so flavourful). I reckon you could share this among 4 people, making it $9 per pax.

Next, something a bit more innovative - the Claypot Pork in Sesame Oil ($15/$23/$30) which is one of my favorites that night. Even though it says sesame oil, it is not oily at all, while the pork was fresh and tender.

There's also the Satay Cuttlefish ($18) which to me is quite normal, even if the cuttlefish is not hard or rubbery. Perhaps it's because I'm not a big fan of cuttlefish.

Next was the Ubin Lala Bee Hoon ($18), for those who like their noodles to be seafood-infused. I am not really into shellfish (especially the cockles, lalas, gong gongs), but what I tasted was not fishy at all but quite light and fragrant with the taste of the sea.

Lastly, a seafood that I eat on a normal basis - fish! This is a mainstay from the previous menu (probably because it is so good)! The Assam Fish Head ($28) was super fresh, full of meat and the sharp tang of Assam with a slight spicy edge kept the fish head interesting. For those with Assam Fish Head cravings, this will be the perfect place!

Lastly, some greens to complete the meal. It's something I've never had before, which is the Yuan Yang Kai Lan ($12)! It is done in 2 styles - as you can see, the greens have been flash fried (I think?) after it's been boiled.. so they ended up having this crunchy seaweed-like texture.

Lastly, a cup of refreshing Vinegar Enzyme Jelly ($5.80) to end the meal! Another innovation from Gu Ma - this dessert was "house" made using fruit enzymes - great for your digestive system and health!

There's simply nothing to fault at Gu Ma Jia! Prices are reasonable, and the place is not pretentious. It's really like eating at home, so I'll suggest for you to bring your folks or even to go with some like-minded buddies for a meal full of warm, comfort food.

Gu Ma Jia
45 Tai Thong Crescent, Singapore 347866
Tel: +65 6285 2023
Daily 11.00am to 10.00pm

By the way, check out their CNY menu!

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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Cafe Hangout: Tolido's Espresso Nook at 462 Crawford Lane, Singapore 190462

Tolido's Espresso Nook is a hidden gem of a cafe at Crawford Lane (near Lavender MRT) that is just a few minutes away from the famous Tai Hwa Ba Chor Mee (45 mins queue!) that serves up decent coffee (beans from Yahava) and food. They have quite value for money lunch sets where you can just top up $2 for a cup of coffee (iced or otherwise). They've been around for a while, but I've only recently gone to check it out (late last year, and again today). Do also check out the halal pastry/bakery shop beside after when you're done!

Lovely interior, though it could smell a bit greasy during peak hours.

They had innovative drinks like Pumpkin Spiced Latte, Seasalt Caramel Lattes and even a Kopi Latte. Those cost about $6 (pretty much like a Starbucks pricing and even taste).

Food-wise, the aglio olio is alright, though most people could probably whip up a better one at home (for those inclined to culinary arts).

I quite liked the Turkey Ham Mac and Cheese ($10)! It's just the right amount of cheesiness. Very comfort food. In fact, mac and cheese is really one of my top fav comfort food.

They also sell TRUFFLE fries
I liked that they used the skinny fries (but not shoestring like at PS).

Also tried out their Prawn Laksa Pasta ($16.80). It wasn't that great though, I found the sauce a bit too sweet, not spicy enough, and for my colleague, there wasn't enough sauce. But another colleague loved it (just right she said!) So to each their own~

Lastly, my other colleague had the Waffle Slammer and in case you're wondering, the verdict was that the waffle wasn't great (room temperature, not crispy or buttery) but the scrambled eggs were super delish (creamy, smooth, eggy). Now you know!

Tolido's Espresso Nook is a great little space for a quiet coffee (they have wifi for working) in the afternoon or something different for lunch! I have a feeling their brunch food will be decent as well. Check them out if you are around the Jalan Sultan or Lavender area.

Tolido's Espresso Nook
462 Crawford Lane, Singapore 190462
Tue - Sun: 9am to 9pm
Closed on Mondays
+65 66480178

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Sunday, 8 February 2015

Beer on Tap: Druggists at 119 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore 207547

I visited a really cool craft beer place today situated at the Chinese Druggist Association (beside Tiramisu Hero at Jalan Besar) called Druggists -- they have taken over the first floor of the Association and have only been operational for 10 days. Like Chye Seng Huat, they have maintained the exterior and loads of what's inside, but modernized it. Beer's a drug too right?

The interior feels like an air-conditioned 'kopitiam', with the marble top tables and retro coffeeshop chairs. Not to mention the lovely original floor tiles! The signboard reads in Chinese, tiger jaguar hall. What?

There's some food, but don't expect to find things like truffle fries, burgers or wings (they have already exclaimed that they don't sell it at the entrance). Instead, really local beer snacks, and even some rice to go with your sambal anchovies if you decide to go old-school simple. But nothing filling (so have lunch or dinner first or after).

And here's the 23 types of beer on tap! Ask the friendly staff for a recommendation, and try to be specific. Otherwise, the De Molen Pale Ale and To-OL Cloud 9 are light, refreshing and not too hoppy. They also have this Imperial Stout that you must try if you are a stout aficionado. For me, the Lindemans Apple Fruit Beer ($8 for half pint) is really fun to drink. Prices are on the slightly high side, but then again if you just want to get hammered with beer cross the road to the coffeeshop for a quart of Carlsberg please.

Here's the owner, pouring out some deliciousness from the magic wall of golden taps. So shiny.

There's also a lounge area if you walk in. I really like the decor, especially the wall of chinese names and donation amounts (very typical Chinese thing).

Here's my brother at the tap. Yeap, even the water tap is a tap (like a beer dispenser tap). 
Coooool. This is the 'backyard' area where you can sit alfresco, though it's pretty warm in the afternoon without air con.

So it seems like craft beers are finally taking root in Singapore, with more and more places offering craft beers and different types of beer on tap than the usual Tiger beer. Some might say that they are the Third Wave Beer, as millennials like us look for the story and the craft behind the product instead of the actual product itself. That's not to say that the product is not of high quality of course. That's paramount still. 

Finally, more options in Jalan Besar area for drinks! I really enjoyed trying the different beers, and wish Druggists a big success! I'll be sure to drop by again soon to try more beers, and I'll recommend for anyone to do the same too.
119 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore 207547
Tuesdays to Sundays, 2pm to 11pm
Closed on Mondays

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5 ‘legit’ cafes in Singapore you have to visit for coffee

Do you know that in this tiny island of Singapore there is at least 200 to 300 independent cafes scattered all over? While you can refer to those mega lists of café directories to see where each of them is, you’ll no doubt be spoilt for choice. Which of them is really worth going? Which of them are must-tries if you are a coffee fan? Well, I’ve been going to these cafes for 5 years now since the first few sprouted up because I’m a huge fan of café food (brunch, waffles) and coffee in the company of similarly like-minded friends, so I'm going to give you my top picks in recent times for what I think are ‘legit’ cafes that has consistently served up good coffee, food or both.

1. Tolido’s Espresso Nook

A tiny little coffeehouse that uses beans from Yahava Coffee (at Thomson), Tolido’s has a delightful range of coffees, but also decent brunch and lunch food like pastas and sandwiches. The latte here is smooth and light with a slightly acidic note. I like the fact that it is situated in the middle of a really old housing estate, but yet is near enough to the hip and trendy Haji lane that is just a couple of streets away.

Tolido’s Espresso Nook
#01-63, 462 Crawford Lane, Singapore 190462
+65 66480178
Tue - Sun: 09:00 - 21:00
Closed on Mondays

2. La Ristrettos

This is a super hidden café that you’ll never be able to just ‘walk past’, unless you happen to be at the 8th floor of Novena Medical Centre during week days before 6pm or Saturdays before 1pm.  I have heard about this place from coffee aficionados, and walking into the café you will realize that they do treat their coffee making seriously – the machine and barista actually takes up one forth of the already small space with an open coffee making counter. It’s not a big café, but they also serve up food and even desserts. You could also sit al fresco with a cup of their very best cappuccino.

La Ristrettos
#08-37, Novena Medical Centre, 10 Sinaran Drive, Singapore 307506
+65 63977165
Mon - Fri: 08:00 - 18:00, Sat: 08:00 - 13:00
Closed on Sundays

3. The Lokal

You have to try the coffee here, which comes from Sarnies (another great place in Chinatown known for quality coffee and beef sandwiches). Even though The Lokal might look and feel like a typical hipster café, you’ll realize that the quality of the food and drink offered here stands a notch about others, which is why I am betting on it to continue their business. The location is also spot-on for a mid-day break around the Outram/Tanjong Pagar district where there’s plenty to see.  Try their dessert creations like the warm banana cake with pistachios and caramalized bananas and pair it with a smooth cup of latte.

The Lokal
136 Neil Road, Singapore 088865
+65 64239918
Mon - Fri: 08:00 - 18:00
Sat - Sun: 09:00 - 16:00

4. Drury Lane

Just a few minutes away from The Lokal would be Drury Lane at Tanjong Pagar, which again will seem like an unassuming independent café, but turned out to have one of the best coffees in the area. This 2-storey shophouse café might look just functional, but they made it work with a small kitchen to serve up brunch food and cakes. The real star of the place is the quality of the coffee that the barista will serve up. Try their espresso to get an intense bolt of flavours (and caffeine). Otherwise, chat with some friends over a leisurely latte.

Drury Lane
94 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088515
Mon - Fri: 8:30 am - 9:00 pm, Sat - Sun: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
+65 62226698

5. One Man Coffee

A tough spot to fill with some many more cafes out there, but I’ll say One Man Coffee along Upper Thomson Road will have to take the cake (or the cup, in this case). Like the name suggests, it probably started out as a one-man operation, and only operates during the day because it is sharing the space with CRUST, a pizzeria that opens only in the evening. How brilliant is that? I like this café because it is so unassuming but you can tell the amount of effort that’s put into serving up a good cup of coffee that is made from the heart, using beans from Melbourne, Australia. Try the Magic ($4.50) – a double shot espresso with milk that is sure to jumpstart your day.

One Man Coffee
215R Upper Thomson Road, Singapore 574349
+65 96851685
Daily from 9am to 5pm

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Friday, 6 February 2015

Food review: Mojo Burps burgers and beer at 364 Tanjong Katong Road, Singapore 437123

If you are looking for an unpretentious spot for some craft beers and burgers, Mojo Burps at Katong is the place for you. Coffeeshop by day (like those that sell fried noodles), gastrobar by night, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much the place had to offer! I am so glad to try this place out, because I can definitely see myself returning for their delicious food and beer after work!

The owner of Mojo Burps was actually a really entrepreneurial guy who decided to strike it out on his own after working for others after many years. No reason for the name Mojo Burps, he said, but it sounded like something you'll be feeling after having some good craft beers and powerful food. Indeed!

Prices are very very reasonable. The steak for example, comes from Culina or Swiss Butchery, but is selling for $20. What a steal. Something like that could easily cost $35 somewhere else. So don't think because it's cheap, that it isn't good. Same goes for the rest of the burgers and food. 

Me and my colleague enjoyed a craft beer each. The yumeshu beer was really light and refreshing while my ginger BEER was great for helping me digest the food. Prices range from $10 onwards, and there are also some beers on tap.

Then came an avalanche of food. Firstly, the delightfully battered Spam Fries ($$8.90) - so sinful, but so good especially with beer.

We also had some Jalepeno poppers ($7.90) and fried chicken wings ($7.90 for 6 mid-joints). Both are pretty alright, though I wouldn't say out of this world. Perhaps the buffalo wings will do better. 

For the curious, the Jalepeno Popper is actually called such because there's cheese stuffing in them. And it really wasn't spicy at all.

The superstar of the night has to be the Ribeye 250g Cubed Steak ($19.90) though. It came with some tater tots and greens, but the steak was so perfectly executed. Plus its already cut up so it's perfect for sharing and easy eating!

It was SO JUICY. Unbelievable. Looking at this is making my stomach growl. Photo courtesy of Ms @Spoiltbytes

We also tried a couple of burgers. First up was the Pattaya Pork ($11.90) which used to be a Special item but turned out to be such a hit it became a mainstay. The omelette was light and not dry, and wrapped around a fresh pork patty. All the best flavours from the ingredients burst out.

For those who like their beef, there's also the Breakfast Beef Burger ($13.90) which had a sunny side up egg, bacon,  cheese, portobello mushroom and of course a juicy beef patty. With the curly fries and greens you're better off having this than MOS burger, for example.

I was sooo full after all the eating, but truly enjoyed myself! Better than Aston's or any other Western food place.

I really liked this place for all their food and combination with the huge variety of craft beers at affordable prices.  Even more so, the casual laid back ambience of dining alfresco in the East which is very relaxing. Food tastes better that way, I'm sure. Be sure to check out Mojo Burps when you are in the area!

Mojo Burps
364 Tanjong Katong Road, Singapore 437123
Tues - Sun 5pm to 12am
Closed on Mondays

Thanks to Mojo Burps for the invite!

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