Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Yummy Viet Vietnamese Restaurant

Yummy Viet
28 Smith St
Singapore 058942

I've been hunting down for a genuine imitation Vietnamese restaurants since I've been living in Singapore for the last 6 years. The hunt had been a hit and miss affair (mostly misses). Because of repeated disappointment, I have almost given up. I decided to give this one a try because Groupon voucher was available ($10 voucher for $20 food). That way, the low cost buffers any pain of disappointment.

 The Place 
It's located in Smith St. If you're tourists, this is better known as Chinatown Food Street. Most shops here are small and cosy. I was there during a weekday afternoon, and so it's quiet. I imagine they would be busy other times.

 The Food 

Beef Noodles with Briskets (Phở Bo Nam):  8.5 / 10 Since this was my 1st visit, I always consider pho would be a benchmark for the general standard of the restaurant. If they couldn't pull off the soup, I would be hesitant to try something else.

They didn't have my  2 fave additional toppings for their beef noodles : tripes and tendons. They do have beef balls , but I don't have good encounter with beef balls in Singapore, so I chose brisket. I should've just stuck with beef only. Their briskets were dry. Soup and rice noodles were good.

The greens are sparing, but at least they come with traditional sauces of BBQ and chili paste for the meat, which is a nice authentic touch. Most Vietnamese restaurants in Singapore don't provide that.

Beef Noddle, Yummy Viet, Singapore

Sugarcane Prawns: 7.5 / 10
One important characteristics of Vietnamese cuisine is the generous healthy serving of salads that go with the various dishes. Perhaps because of the cost of veggies in Singapore, or other reasons, side salads are either pathetically tiny that usually caused me to laugh derisively or shake my head disapprovingly (depending on my mood). This isn't a comment directed at this restaurant, but all Singapore's Vietnamese restaurants that I've been to thus far (more than 8 or 10).

This sugarcane prawns are supposed to be wrapped in lettuce, bean sprouts and mint (and sometimes carrot or turnip strips), and then dipped in fish sauce. It isn't quite the same without the salad greens. The content is slightly soft, but does have adequate prawn taste.

Their photos (on the menu as well as online) shows 3 sugarcane prawns in their serving, only 2 came out. Had one got way?

Sugarcane prawns, Yummy Viet, Singapore

Fried Spring Rolls: 7 / 10
Bit bland and hard. And like the sugarcane prawns, this dish should come with a generous serving of salad greens for the wrapping. Their salads are served more as a decoration rather than healthy substance for the body.

Fried spring rolls, Yummy Viet, Singapore

Cold Coffee: 9 / 10
This is the best way to wash down the Vietnamese food (either this or coconut juice served in its shell). It's the best drop of Vietnamese coffee roast I've had in a Vietnamese restaurant in Singapore. The only other time I had better cup was in Trung Nguyen Café.

I asked for less condensed milk. For those who don't have a sweet tooth, you should do the same.

Coffee, Yummy Viet, Singapore

Overall Score: 8 / 10
Unless you go to eat in Vietnamese restaurants in Sydney, Vietnam or Paris (in that order), as far as Singapore is concerned, this comes as close to authentic Vietnamese as I have tried. This renews my hope for further search of authentic yummy Vietnamese restaurants.

Good enough to come back to try my other fave dishes in their menu like Shrimp Noodle Soup (Bun Rieu), Spicy Beef Noodle Soup (Bun Bo Hue), and Stew Beef. And Ada has her favourites too, like their baguettes with different fillings. The presence of these traditional must-have dishes also suggest a case for authentic Viet food.

We have already bought another Groupon voucher for the return.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Landmark and Glorietta Shopping Malls

 And Now....the Weather Report 
When we got on the plane on our way to the Philippines 4 days ago, typhoon Noma (former Nomoy) was already heading towards the Philippines from the Pacific. It finally arrived yesterday. December is a typhoon season in Philippines. Unlike the previous typhoon that Ada saw last year when trees were uprooted and streets flooded, this one is losing much of its energy as it finally arrived. Still, it's a typhoon (or hurricane if it occurs in further north geographically such as North America). It's nothing to sneeze at, especially if you stay out for too long.

 When the Swiss Guards Go Marching In 
Where to go in a typhoon? Somewhere indoor would be sensible. Since our hotel has shuttle to go to various shopping malls around Makati, I thought I'll go to one of them. I heard of Greenbelt Shopping Mall that I want to check out. While the shuttle doesn't stop at Greenbelt, but it stops at Glorietta mall, which connects Greenbelt mall (several large shopping malls in Makati connects together like a giant octopus).

After a random walk around at Glorietta, I ended up at one of the exit, and I saw Landmark shopping mall across the road. I never heard of it, but its 3 Christmas trees in its store drew me there like the Star of Bethlehem drew the 3 Wise Guys (ahem...Men) to Jerusalem. I'm not a stickler for rules, but these 3 Xmas trees weren't topped with the Star of Bethlehem as tradition demands. Naughty, naughty, naughty!

While December is the rainy season, it's also the festive season of Xmas decor (if you like kitsch. I like some of it. Could be quite enjoyable, like ice cream).

Actually, I was more attracted by the store security guards who were in their full Swiss Guards uniform. I thought I should go over there and take a photo of them. They looked cute for security guards, who usually dressed in trendy uniform that looks like cops in most countries.

Most business of any moderate size in Manila would employ security guards that check your bags at the doors. I think the malls heighten their security during Xmas. There was several bombings in Glorietta that occurred in 2000, 2005 Valentine's Day, and 2007. There's good reason for all these tight security in commercial area.

Security guards in Swiss Guards uniform, Landmark Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines
Security Guards in Swiss Guards uniform screening shoppers

As it turned out, the 3 trees formed the backdrop where the jolly, prancing store Santa posed for photos with shoppers. I saw no kids sat on his lap. That's more like the American thing (at least in Hollywood movies). Maybe I should start the trend. But then, I wouldn't want to break his leg.

Santa, Landmark Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines

Santa, Landmark Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines

After some meandering, looking out for something unexpected. My prayer was answered. It's a Christmas miracle! I heard the sound of marching drum beats. I followed the sound and found 2 column of marching Swiss Guards. Well, that was quite unexpected.

Swiss Guards, Landmark Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines
None of the shoppers in this photo seems to pay any attention to the Swiss Guards.
Am I the only one who's curious about the appearance of band of Swiss Guards in a mall ? They don't seem to be busy.
Maybe they're there everyday during the festive season.

Swiss Guards, Landmark Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines

Swiss Guards, Landmark Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines

Swiss Guards, Landmark Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines
Swiss Guards, Landmark Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines
Swiss Guards, Landmark Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines
Swiss Guards, Landmark Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines
Swiss Guards, Landmark Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines
This is the 21st century, and so the Swiss Guards include womenfolks

Naturally, I asked myself, why the Swiss Guards? What's the angle?

What popped into my mind immediately was the Philippines' Spanish colonial past. Has it anything to do with traditional Spanish culture? The answer, I think, is 75% yes and 25% no.

While the Swiss Guards served in various European cities in the 15th century, including those in Spain, but not exclusive to it. These mercenaries also served in France and Naples. I supposed the Swiss Guard inspired the idea of French Legionaire or French Foreign Legion. Possibly.

Having said that, these uniforms aren't too dissimilar from Spanish military uniforms during the Spanish Colonial era in Philippines. Although they wore breast plates on top of these uniforms in battles. Putting these 2 things together, one can infer that the Swiss Guards may have started life in Spain in the 16th century, and evolved into Swiss Guards. Hence the similarity in uniforms.

The Swiss Guards are still active today, protecting the Pope (and they must be Catholic).  If you've been to the Vatican (I have), you would no doubt spot them at every gate. The real Swiss Guards consist of only males, unlike these Pinoy performers here.

 Where Catholicism Meets Capitalism 
I tried to get back to the entrance of Glorietta 3 where I would catch the next shuttle back to the hotel. I got a little lost, which usually is a good thing. What's bad news is when you got totally hopelessly lost.

Christmas decor, Glorietta Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines
Glorietta 3 with Xmas decor

This time is no different. I ended up seeing a catholic "shrine" in the mall. I'm guessing it's Virgin Mary. Or probably known by a zillion other names (like the so-called "Chinese virgin Mary", aka Goddess of the Sea, who also has a zillion other aliases).

Virgin Marry, Glorietta Mall, Makati, Manila, Philippines
The devotee is praying while holding her hand.
Doesn't the floral design of their clothes interestingly similar ?

In many SE Asian countries, it's not uncommon to see religious iconography being placed in the middle of a commercial district. It's not common, but far from rare, to see, say, a shrine of Guan Yu (God of War) in a shop in HK. It's a common sight to see a Hindu shrine just outside a shopfront or a large shrine at the corner of a large shopping mall in Bangkok. Erawan Shrine is such good example (and become well-known this year because of the bombing. Don't you get the feeling that shopping mall aren't a safe place to be?). Bali, Cambodia, etc all have shrines in their places of businesses.

In short, there's no strong and clear demarcation between place of business and place of worship. In Philippines, the main religion is Catholicism. Just because Catholicism is imported from the West where there's a clear separation of religion and commerce doesn't change that happy co-existence in Philippines, where such co-existence is allowed. Actually, it's desired. Why not? This way, all the spiritual, emotional and material needs can all be satisfied in a convenient one-stop shop.

This is cultural import that's customised to local conditions. Much like MacDonald's in some Asian countries including local cuisines in their menus. I once was able to order sugarcane juice in a Macky's in Singapore some 20 years ago. I can't do that now. Sugarcane juice is increasingly hard to find in Singapore. In China, KFC would have rice on their menus (at least in a  Suzhou's KFC outlet I went to a few years ago).

Instead of a small shrine, Greenbelt mall  actually has a chapel in it.

I didn't expect to learn any Pinoy culture from visiting malls (even if it's commercialised), like I always say, getting lost a little bit during travel can lead to unexpected discovery.

Not a bad way to spend 2 rainy hours in the afternoon, really.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Wildflour Café + Bakery

Wildflour Café + Bakery
125 L. P. Leviste Street,
Salcedo Village
Makati City
Manila, Philippines

This place is mins walk from Fraser Place where we stayed. It looked busy. So we decided to give it a whirl.

I've tried a few foreign cuisines (like Thai and Japanese) here that rated highly (like top 50), and had been disappointing. Not that I'm surprise. Like most SE Asian countries, this isn't a migrant nation, so expect locals cook those foreign cuisines.

But American food is an exception with the Pinoy's exceptional love for the American (exceptionalism food and culture) In any case, this is just one delicious example.

 The Place 
Cosy, casual dining setup. As usual, you get the typical friendly Pinoy hospitality. It's well staffed, and so the service is good and food come reasonably promptly.

 The Food 
(Click to enlarge)

California Burger: 8.5 / 10.
The filling are quite tasty. I hope they would give us bigger buns to prevent the content from falling out (if our buns are too small, we would fall off our chairs, too. Same principle). In any case, there's more meat than buns (I'm talking about the burger here).

The potato chips (fries if you're Yanks) seemed to be cooked by 2 different persons. Half are crunchy and have perfect shapes, and the other half are soft and soggy, and look like mutant chips (I hope they didn't re-fry old chips. Probably just bad potatoes). As a general rule, fried things get soft quickly in Manila (humid weather and without setting air-cond on high). So wolf it down before they go soft on you (I'm talking about eating here).

California burger, Wildflour, Makati, Philippines

Squid Ink Pappardelle: 7.5 / 10
Most squid ink pasta I tried in Korean restaurants before tend to cook the whole thing in squid ink gravy, which leaves your teeth looking like beautifully ebony. On the other hand, this chef cook the squid ink with the pasta separately and sparingly. The prawns weren't frozen well, leaving the flesh spongy.

California burger, Wildflour, Makati, Philippines

Overall Score: 8 / 10
Overall not too shabby experience. I wouldn't mind go back there again. The overall standard seems good, and there're a few more items on the menu I wouldn't mind trying. They forgot to serve us the free bread, which I'm told is quite good. Free thing usually taste better. Maybe next time.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

SM Mall of Asia, Manila

After our visit to Intramuros, we thought we would go for some din-din and grocery shopping that's set for the next 2 weeks. I thought I would do it in SM Mall of Asia to have a look at this humongous mall.

SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines

While Manila have a lot less malls than Singapore, but their sizes tend to be big. 3 of the top 10 largest malls in the world are in Philippines, according to wikipedia as I'm writing this. Nº 1 and 2 are in China. But that's shouldn't come as a surprise. I wouldn't be surprise if top 5 are all in China (which has towns, not city block, but an entire town just selling pot plants, or furniture, etc). The top 3rd and 4th are in Philippines. That's a bit of a surprise.

Jackie Chan perplexed
What? It doesn't make sense !

Both Nº 3 and 4 largest malls in this list are owned by SM group. This one we were going to is outside top 10 because it's about a decade old. It still dwarfs most shopping malls in Singapore.

SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines

All the size won't matter to me if they have ugly architecture. This mall does have some appealing architectural curves and features.

SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines
Main entrance

For kids who're taken by Santa, they're in luck. There're a plenty of pretty adorable Santas popping up through the malls like mushroom.

Santa, SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines
Hello there!

Santa, SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines
Want a hug?

Santa, SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines
Lady, may I have a dance?
Santa, SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines
They're multiplying

Santa, SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines
Just too much fun with so many Santas.
Perfect setting for hide and seek with dad.

Advertising globe, Santa, SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines
Nice but expensive advertising billboard

I found this Rebel fighter jet parked inside the Mall.

Star Wars' Rebel fighter jet, SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines
Apparently, the car park is full. This mall has enough space for a Star War's Rebel fighter jet.
Don't use the force, Lucky ! Use the ignition key!

Star Wars Rebel fighter jet, SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines
The Rebel government is desperate and will recruit any member of the public

From a shopping mall or an airport far far away from Hollywood, you will be overwhelmed by the Star Wars promotional Force. It's Mission Impossible to avoid. And "Resistance is Futile". The following are promotional displays I saw in Changi Airport 2 days ago where I board to fly to Manila.

Star Wars Chinese movie poster, Changi Airport, Singapore

Star Wars Stormtrooper, SM Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines
The Stormtrooper have taken hold of Singapore Changi Airport

Star Wars Stormtrooper and TIE fighter, Changi Airport, Singapore

Star War's Stormtrooper, Changi Airport, Singapore

Star Wars Stormtrooper and TIE fighter, Changi Airport, Singapore

Star Wars Stormtrooper and TIE fighter, Changi Airport, Singapore

May the Schwartz be with you!

Max's Restaurant in Manila

Max's Restaurant
409A Soriano Ave
Intramuros Manila

As we were going to visit Intramuros, we asked the hotel staff for a recommendation of some Pinoy food around the area we could try before visiting. He suggested Max's Chicken, which is minutes walk from the entrance to Fort Santiago.

Before I come to the Philippines, my stereotypical view of Pinoy (who lived outside the Philippines) is that they love to sing, and good at it. Now that I'm in the Land of Smiles (there has taken a corporate takeover of this name by Thailand tourism), I need to update my stereotype to reflect that their Nº 1 love is chicken. Singing comes at a distant 2nd.

The stereotype, let's be politically correct and call it identity trait. Their Nº 4 love, if you MUST know (ok, ok, ok and stop twisting my arm), is honking their car horns.

Max's restaurant at Intramuros, Manila, Philippines

Sign, Max's restaurant, Manila, Philippines
Top:  The restaurant must have done something right to survive this long
Left:  "The House That Fried Chicken Built" can be seen in every Max's outlet

 The Place 
The restaurant was established in 1945. The fact that this is the end of WW2 is no coincidence. It started with the friendship between the founder Maximo and the American occupying troops (the love of America can easily rank Nº 3. To remember these 3 loves, use this simple mnemonics, "Chicken Singing America".

Chicken singing
Chicken singing about America.
Source: Arthur Troester. Graphics added.
The place is set up for a casual dining experience.

 The Food 
We order 2 different chicken dishes.

Recept, Max's restaurant, Manila, Philippines

Chicken Platter Meal: 7.5 / 10
I don't believe I'm saying this (because I'm anti-fastfoodie), but Max's recipe isn't as tasty as Colonel Sanders' 11 secret herbs and spices. Max wouldn't feel bad, he loves American officers. It's not as deep-fried as KFC chicken, which makes it healthier, and I don't take rich food too well. The sides aren't too inspiring either.

It's still interesting tasting. Should try if you haven't. Although I won't eat it again. There's a zillion other chicken franchises in Manila to sample.

Chicken platter, Max's restaurant, Manila, Philippines
Chicken platter

Chicken BBQ: 6 / 10
This is far too sweet for my taste and the meat is somewhat tough. I didn't expect BBQ sauce could come out so sweet. It would be more accurate to call it honey chicken.

BBQ chicken

Overall Score: 7 / 10.  The 2 meals both each come with a drink. So its price is quite reasonable considering this is located at Intramuros. For locals, it's pricey.

If you're a tourist, it's worthwhile to give the chicken platter a try. If nothing else, you can some idea what Pinoy chicken would be like. Dining in one of its many different chicken franchise should be one of the thing to do. You can also tell people you ate at Max's.

I've been to Max's. That's how you do it.