Saturday, 31 January 2015

Cucina Cafe & Restaurant at Holland Village Review

Cucina Cafe and Restaurant (former Amici Authentic Italian Restaurant)
275A Holland Ave

{*  UPDATE  *}
This review is based on the restaurant located in the address above, which have been moved to its new address in Aperia Mall, Kallang Ave as of 7 Jun 2015. I imagine the review for the food is still applicable as they have the kitchen staff.

I had dined in this restaurant 3 times in the last 3 months because it's within easy walking distance from my place near Holland V, and more importantly, Ada bought Groupons for these visits. I wouldn't normally dine in this restaurant in this price range if it wasn't for discounts. We went back repeatedly because we have yet disappointed with what we ordered.

Ada felt a bit bad for only eat there with Groupon, so I said I'll write about it in my blog if it makes her feeling better.

The Vibe:  It's a cosy, semi-fine dining setup, which I like. Dressing up for dining isn't my thing.

The restaurant's walls are covered in deep brown earth tone with semi-arches that when I entered the 1st time, I felt like going into a cave (not a bad thing). A brightly lit cave, that is. Adorned the walls are alfresco paintings of Roman goddess, and the most prominent mural is the likeness of a sword-wielding, winged-archangel Michael (you know, the one played by John Travolta's 1996 film of the same name).

St. Michael

Cucina cafe and restaurant, Holland Village, Singapore
While the front is located at Holland Ave, this backdoor
has more character

The Food:  We ordered from the limited choices with the use of Groupon: soup of the day, a main of 4 choices, and a drink.

Corn soup:  7.5 / 10. This was the soup of the day. Normally, corn soup isn't my cup of tea because I found them to be too sweet. This one wasn't bad. The garlic bread was crunchy enough and not too buttery.

Seafood aglio e olio spaghetti:  8 / 10. "Aglio e olio" is Italian for "garlic and oil" . We tried this before and found it too spicy (might not be for Singaporean). So we asked for less spicy. It was still too spicy for Ada. I could take it, but would prefer to be less spicy. I want to taste all the ingredients of my food, not being overwhelmed by one loud condiment.

The seafood serving is reasonably generous enough with mussel, clams, squid rings, and prawns.

Despite being called "garlic and oil", it's good thing that they're stingy with olive oil. Some restaurant puts so much in that you find the prawns swim in a sea of olive oil.

The Prices:  Quite pricey (expat prices) for casual dining without the discount. With Groupon, we were able to eat the 2 dishes above plus a selection of either tea, or coffee (we ordered iced lemon tea). All these come to more than a reasonable price of $16 SGD (Groupon is for $32 for 2 pax). You can't really get this seafood pasta alone in any Italian restaurant for less than $16 (decent taste or not).

Overall:  8 / 10 (if you order the right dishes and have Groupon voucher). Before my 1st visit, we read some comments on what people said about the restaurant. Pretty negative things were leveled at the steak. I don't know about their steaks, as a rule of thumb, I wouldn't order steaks in a restaurant that calls itself an Italian restaurant.
Barossa Restaurant, Holland Village, Singapore
If I like to eat steak, which I don't, I would check out the Aussie Barossa restaurant that's about 20m away. This isn't my recommendation for Barossa as I have never tried them. I imagine their steaks at least come from the green pastures of Australia, which is a country known for their quality beef export, and steak is part of Australian cooking.

Of all the mains that I sampled before, I found that Cucina makes decent pasta dishes. I also tried their pizza before, and it's alright, but I've more confident in recommending their pasta dishes.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Tale of 4 Cities of Chindia (China and India)

While I wrote the travel article about the Chinese and Indian immigrants in Singapore, I was struck by the similarities of the relative geographical relationship between Beijing and Shanghai on the one hand, and New Delhi and Mumbai on the other.

Almost a perfect trapezoid

Here are some facts and figures to support what I said.

Cities Latitudes Longitudes
——————— —————— ——————
New Delhi 28.65 77.23
Mumbai 19.07 72.88
Beijing 39.91 116.4
Shanghai 31.22 121.46

Latitude variations between the 2 Indian cities = 28.65 - 19.07 = 9.58
Longitude variations between the 2 Indian cities = 77.23 - 72.88 = 4.35

Latitude variations between the 2 Chinese cities = 39.91 - 31.22 = 8.69
Longitude variations between the 2 Chinese cities = 121.46 - 116.40 = 5.06

If you look at these 2 pairs of latitude and longitude differences, they're quite close (9.58 vs 8.69, and 4.35 vs 5.06). It's curious.

If the 2 pairs of latitudes and longitudes have the difference, the shape in the map above would be a perfect rectangle. But this is nearly a rectangle, which is still quite coincidental.

Two of the lantern installations during Mid-Autumn Festival 2015 in Gardens by the Bay, reflecting Indian and Chinese cultures in Singapore with the cultural icons of Ganesha and one of the Dragon King of the Four Seas.

Ganesha lantern display, Garden by the Bay, Singapore
Dragon, lantern display, Garden by the Bay, Singapore


You could say Mumbai is the Indian Shanghai, or Shanghai is the Indian Mumbai (depending on your point of view). I.e. The 2 cities are the financial centres of the 2 countries. Apart from being financial centres, these 2 cities are also the origins of their respective national film industries. Mumbai gave rise to Bollywood, and Shanghai also founded Chinese film industry. This is less surprising because wealth creates the needs for entertainments.

Side note: American film industry started in New York. The 1st American studio in in Queens, NY. But only briefly in 19th century. In 20th century, studios begun to mushroom in Hollywood, CA.

The relative geographical relationships between these 2 pair of cities are interesting. So I dig a little deeper to see if I can unearth more similarities between these 2 pair of cities. Naturally, I look at their population relationship between these 2 city pairs.

Cities Population (million)
——————— —————————
Mumbai 20.7
New Delhi 16.8
Shanghai 14.35
Beijing 11.51

It's not surprising that that are more people living in Mumbai and Shanghai than New Delhi and Beijing because wealth and therefore employment opportunities drive people into the financial centres.

Naturally because of higher population density in India, one would expect higher population living in the cities of India. However, it's their ratios, therefore relationship, of their city populations of these 2 pairs that's interesting,

Ratio of the population of Mumbai to New Delhi = 20.7 / 16.8 = 1.232
Ratio of the population of Shanghai to Beijing = 14.25 / 11.51 = 1.246

If we're using only one decimal point, then they have the identical ratio of 1.2. Or that the financial centres are approx 23% larger than its capital cities. And I wonder if this is purely coincidental, or something deeper and organic about how population distribution work in large countries like India and China. Well, I'll leave that to the sociology academics to answer. I've done my job of asking question.

Just 1 more bonus trivia: what about the fact that both the respective capital cities of the 2 countries are in the north while their financial centres are in the south?

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Singapore River Outdoor Statues and Sculptures Walking Trail

This short walking trail shows you some of the outdoor sculptures around the Singapore River in the Civic District.

Map of Singapore River Outdoor Statues and Sculptures Walking Trail
Numbers showing sites of sculptures and statue in this walking trail
(click to enlarge)

We'll start our walk at Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall where our first statue is located.

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, Singapore
Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

Black Raffles Statue (1919)

More tourists and locals alike are paying more attention (or maybe homage) to this statue of Stamford Raffles because this year is Singapore's 50th birthday.

This black statue of Raffles was originally stood at Padang, watching over cricketers played in sweat-drenched bleached-white uniforms. It was moved here during the Singapore's centenary in 1919. The present location let the statue to be closer to the sound of music instead of the sound of cricket (either those played in or on the grass).

White Raffles Statue (1972)

This white statue is said to have located at the Landing Site of Stamford Raffles.

Stamford Raffles statue stands at the Landing Site, Singapore
Stamford Raffles statue stands at the Landing Site

He's credited to be the founder of Singapore by having appointed one of the Malay royalty Hussein as Sultan of Singapore. Who gave him the power to do so? He did. Remember that 19th century Singapore was the Wild Wild East (both literally and figuratively). Rules were made up as they went.

Chow Yun-Fat in Pirates of the Caribbean
"Welcome to Singapore!"
a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: A World's End
Chow Yun-Fat isn't Singaporean, but Jet Li and Gong Li are.

If I may, I would like to compare him (Raffles, not Chow) with Christopher Columbus, not because they were both "discoverers" of new lands. No, Raffles didn't discover Singapore in any sense of the word. What they share in common is serendipity.

Java was the place where Raffle tried to make something of himself when he left England. Singapore was only a side show while he was busy in Bencoolen as William Farquhar run the whole show.

Farquhar should also be credited for co-founding Singapore, and shares this pedestal with Raffles. I have yet seen a pedestal with 2 statues. They're probably as common as conjoined twins.

Stamford Raffles statue, Singapore
Raffles' statue with Asian Civilisations Museum in the background

I hazard a solution to this dilemma of twin statues. If only we can build and place the statue of Farquhar on the ground where the tourist on the right is in this photo, Farquhar's statue can stand there in the long shadow cast by Raffles just like in the photo. Isn't it nice without being in the equatorial sun all the time? Isn't it?
Stamford Raffles' statue bathed in the brilliant sun

William Farquhar's portrait hung in a quiet museum
Photo: wikimedia (under CC license)

The Great Emporium (2002)

As you continue to walk past the statue towards Asian Civilisations Museum along the riverbank, you will soon come upon a group of sculptures that titled "The Great Emporium". This is a phrase coined by Raffles that Singapore was going to be all about trades, and his vision has came to pass. The sculptures depict a typical trading scene along the busy riverbank in the early days of Singapore.

The Great Emporium sculpture, Singapore
The Great Emporium

The pigtailed Chinese and turban-wearing southern Indian coolies are weighing a sac of rice (that's what it looks like to me), the Englishman is haggling, and the Chinese towkay is reckoning with his abacus.

The abacus-wielding, queue-wearing Chinese were called in English as towkays  (頭家) in those days. This is Min Nan dialect (where Teochew, and my mother's mother tongue belongs) for "boss". While "towkay" denotes "Boss" or "business owner", it literally means "head of a family". Towkays were a wealthy Chinese merchants class . The Malay word that derives from towkay is "tauke", meaning "boss", or a form of address like "sir".

Before late 20th century, the Chinese who left China were from the south, and especially those lived near the coast. They were either fishermen or had some connection to it. Min Nan (閩南) speaking people are those live in southern Fujian, Teochew (Chaozhou), and those live in east Guangdong province, and Hainanese.

Being fishermen and seafarers, they naturally the part of Chinese who would sail to South China Sea (aka Nanyang) and landed in the shores of S.E. Asia to places like Singapore.

The Min Nan dialect has more influence on the languages of various SE Asian countries than the standard Mandarin. While I am not surprise with Min-Nam dialect on SE Asia, I'm somewhat surprise by its influence on NE Asian countries of Korean and Japanese languages. I would image because of their proximity to northern China, Mandarin would have greater influence.

Ask a Thai or a Laotian to count from 1 to 10, and anyone who can understand Min-Nan dialect will instantly recognise the similarity of the sounds (just as European will recognise the sounds of each other's numbers as they're originated from the same root).

Towkay sculpture, Asian Civilisations museum, Singapore      Towkay sculpture, Asian Civilisations museum, Singapore

Further up the steps are the sculptures of 3 figures.

Chettiars to Financiers (2002)

Overwhelming majority of Chinese who came to Singapore centuries past were from southern part of China; similarly most of Indian who arrived Singapore in the early colonial days were Tamil speaking Indian from southern India.

Chetty or chettiar (moneylender) is a title used by mercantile caste in Southern India.

I don't believe both southern Indian and Chinese (as supposed to more northern Indian and Chinese) who migrated to Singapore are coincidental. I think it's because these 2 groups were able seafarers and marginalised groups in their respective countries.

This predominance of Tamil speakers among the Indian-Singaporean also explains why Tamil - not Hindi - is the one of 4 the official languages of Singapore, even though Hindi is the official language of India.

Why wouldn't Min Nan be one of the 4 Singaporean official languages? This is because Min Nan isn't a language, but a dialect, where its writing is based on standard Mandarin.

Migration pattern of early Chinese and India to Colonial Singapore
Destination Singapore: migration pattern of early Chinese and India to Colonial Singapore
(click to enlarge)

You could say that the meeting of these peoples in Singapore are almost predestined as Singapore is practically the mid-point between the 2 regions of Min Nan and Tamil Nadu. The gateway of the 2 oceans; the meeting point of the 2 ancient civilisations. And the strategic position why the colonial Dutch and the British wanted Singapore for themselves too. Because of Singapore's location, location, location, it's destined to be the place of confluence of cultures, trades and peoples. Then and now.

It's a freaky coincidence that the financial and political centres of these 2 countries (Mumbai and New Delhi in India, and Shanghai and Beijing in China) are in the middle and northern parts of the  2 respective countries. You can read more of these comparisons I made about these 2 pairs of cities here.

Chattiers to Financiers sculptures, Singapore

The sculptures depict the transformation of early Indian chattier (seated figure) into a modern financier, represented by a lady in modern trader attire. This shows the dramatic Singapore transformation from once-upon-a-time humble moneylenders into modern Singapore banking industry.

First Generation (2000)

If you continue to walk along the riverbank, cross Cavenagh Bridge, when you reached the other end of the bridge, look left and you'll see the sculptures of a group of naked kids leaping into the river at the bank.

Sculptures "First Generation", Singapore

This interesting sculpture piece reminds us of the Singapore past when such scenes were common at the riverbank. These sculpture romanticises an idyllic and innocent days of old. The reality was that the old river was very unsanitary for anyone to swim in. It was a logical dumping ground, choke full of garbage and a cesspool of germs. Those were the days, my friends !

Singapura Cats (1990)

Walk back in the opposite direction. Just on the other side of the bridge, keep an eye out for a group of sculptures of 3 dainty cats installed just outside the bridge railing.

The River Merchants (2003)

In less than 50 metres away from the bridge, you'll see the group of sculptures of 3 human figures in front of Maybank Tower. The seated figure is prominent Scot trader Alexandre Laurie Johnston arguing with a Chinese merchant and a Malay chief over goods and money. He founded his 1st business at this very spot.

Sculptures, "River Merchants", Singapore

Johnston's outreached hand is asking for tourists to touch/hold/shake it. In a 100 years time, that hand will disappear from wearing away by constant contact of human hands.

Sculptures, "River Merchants", Singapore
Eavesdropping on their business meeting

Next to the above sculptures is a well-crafted sculpture of a couple of Chinese coolies loading merchandise up the bullock cart.

This concludes our walk. Thank you, come again.

If you still have plenty of energy after this walk, considering continue with this Outdoor Public Art trail around Raffles Place, which starts where this trail finishes.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Review of Malaysia Boleh at Jurong Point

After our trip to Legendary Hong Kong at Jurong Point shopping mall, we were quite happy with the authentic Cantonese fare there, and decided to visit again to try out other dishes. When we got there, we had a change of heart, and decided we would try out the Malaysian themed food street, also in Jurong Point. Both the HK and Malaysian themed food streets are on the same floor but at 2 opposite ends of JP2.

"Malaysia Boleh !" means "Malaysia Can !" is a national campaign catchphrase launched by the longest-serving prime minster of Malaysia Dr. Mahathir as a way to give Malaysian an ego boost.

Malaysia Boleh food street, Jurong Point Shopping Centre, Singapore
We decided to try out the Malaysia Boleh for the sake of my brother and his wife, who are going to visit us in Singapore in a few weeks. They're living in UK countryside that's naturally quite deprived of a diversity of ethnic cuisines. My sis-in-law in particular is a foodie and wants to try out as great a variety of dishes as possible. We're more than happy to be guinea pigs to test out the different food streets in Singapore for them.

I had a little bit of reservation at first regarding to Malaysia Boleh, having tried out the similar Malaysian themed food street in Sentosa. Incidentally, I took them there in their last visit to Singapore when we walked around Sentosa.

I wouldn't say the Malaysia Food Street in Sentosa is terrible, but there's nothing I want to blog about it. Let's say I wouldn't make an deliberate trip to eat there. Without question, the setup of the Malaysian street theme there is nice. At the end of the day, I was there for the food. So I wanted to try out the food in Malaysia Boleh before recommending it to them.

So here I was in Malaysia Boleh, checking out the joint.

Malaysia Boleh food court, Jurong Point Shopping Centre, Singapore
Entrance: the lanterns are CNY decoraions

The Vibe: This is not a bad effort in the mockup of a Malaysian food street atmosphere of the days of old where itinerant hawkers roamed the streets. I'm particularly like the retro bicycled hawker stall setup. I was there around 3:30pm on Sunday, and the crowd started to leave (must be seeing me coming). I imagine it would be much more crowded during lunch time. As you can see from the photos below, even between lunch and dinner time, the place is buzzing with diners. But that's a good sign.

Mobile street hawker stall, Malaysia Boleh, Jurong Point shopping mall, Singapore
Mobile street hawker stall selling dessert swwet

Malaysia Boleh food court, Jurong Point Shopping Centre, Singapore Malaysia Boleh food street, Jurong Point Shopping Centre, Singapore
Malaysia Boleh food street, Jurong Point Shopping Centre, Singapore Malaysia Boleh food street, Jurong Point Shopping Centre, Singapore

The Food:  Since there were only 2 of us, we could manage to only pig ourselves on 3 dishes. I usually eat lunch like the queen (not that kinda queen). For the purpose of food tasting, I would take my eyeballs off my weighing scale for an afternoon.

We ordered some safe dishes to try it out: KL style Hokkien noodles, fried oyster and prawn mee.

Prawn Mee (8 / 10)
I had very good memories of prawn mee by Lee's Malaysian back in Sydney when I worked in Townhall, especially winter when it warmed the cockles of my hearts (no cockles in this soup though). Naturally I ordered this dish here. While its egg noodles were slightly softer than Lee's Malaysian, and the pork is a little tough. Overall, it's quite good. The soup has the perfect level of spiciness for me. Some make it so hot, its spiciness overpowers every other taste. You might as well eat a bowl of chili.

Prawn Mee
Prawn mee

KL Hokkien Noodles (7.5 / 10)
The use of generous sweet soy sauce gives KL version of the famous Singaporean version its inky colour. It's not too overly sweet, and it even has a hint of wok chi (锅气), which I've rarely - if ever - detected in Singaporean Hokkien noodles.

The idea of wok chi (French: flambé) isn't as big in Hokkien cooking as in typical Cantonese kitchens where you see regularly huge tongues of flames leap from the stoves into the woks as cooks flip their woks furiously so that the tongues of flames could lick the food evenly. And KL's Chinese cuisine are dominated by Cantonese cooking.

The wok flambé technique gives Cantonese fried noodles that unique texture and aroma of slightly burnt noodles, and imparts it that cest-ne-sais-quoi quality.

While this technique gives us that extra oomph, but it's really hard on the cooks' wrists and elbows. Some cook get cooks' wrists or elbows to bring us that extra something.

KL style Hokkien noodles
KL style Hokkien noodles

Fried oyster (7.5 / 10)
The cook managed to keep the right amount of softness and springiness in the eggs and flour. While the oyster were reasonably soft and moist, there were only a few.

Fried oyster
Fried oyster

The Prices:  Another noteworthy thing is the price, which is more similar to hawker centres in the city than in the air-conditioned environment of food court in a shopping mall. Maybe because it's located far out in the West (I took half a point for that). The cost saving can help to reduce your transportation cost of getting here (I put back half a point for that).

Overall Score:  8 / 10. This is probably the best-kept "secret" among Singaporean. Perhaps because of its remote location in the West. I'm much more satisfied with the overall standard here when comparing to Malaysian Food Street in Sentosa (I would give that place a score of 6.5 / 10).

I'll definitely return to try its other dishes, and would happily recommend it to my foodie's sis-in-law when she arrives. We might try them more than once before they arrive.