This piggy went to market

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Seafood stall at Chung Ling wet market

Going to the market in Singapore used to mean something very different to me growing up.

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Some weird cauliflower at Chung Ling wet market

My mom would drag me out of bed before daybreak to the neighbourhood wet market for the week’s fresh groceries.

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Fishmonger at Chung Ling wet market

The smells and sights of the market were an unforgettable one. Bathed in the warm glow of overhanging tungsten light bulbs, the fishmongers and butchers added an ethereal feel to the experience. The loud shouts and chants, designed to entice you to their wares — each claiming theirs to be fresher than their neighbours — was a cacophony of sing-song lilt.

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Gutting fish at Chung Ling wet market

Navigating the stalls also took some dexterity as hawkers would wash down their fish entrails or chicken guts as they go. The water would splash down and run off a small common gutter, which would invariably clog up and flood the market, hence the moniker, “wet market”.

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Vegetable stall at Chung Ling wet market

While not exactly a “hellish” experience, I would much prefer to sleep in or watch Saturday morning cartoons than get my feet wet learning how to pick a fresh fish (check the skin and eyes, they should be nice and bright; and the gills should be a vibrant colour). To sweeten the deal, my mom would give me a treat at the neighbouring food centre so marketing became a fun activity for me.

These days, we shop at the supermarket. No iridescent glow of lightbulbs, no loud calls to check out the hawkers’ wares. Just piped in music and efficient rows of things you’ll need. Which is fine for our busy lives but I can’t help feeling something’s amiss.

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Saturday bazaar at Ben Foods

Recently, my wife and I found a new way to ramp up the excitement by shopping at wholesale markets. Like outlet shopping in America, cars upon cars of locals and expats would lug home bulk items (1-kg pack of bacon, anyone?). Prices tend to be a lot cheaper, with some at almost half price. But this has an added element for me: the noise.

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Frozen seafood on the cheap

Even if there aren’t hawkers shouting their wares, it’s not unusual to see employees shouting to check availability of a stock. And the mad frenzy of shoppers stuffing their baskets and rushing out was reminiscent of the chaos, as my mom gripped my hand tightly, of the wet market. Too bad there aren’t any food centres near these wholesale markets where I can tuck into a hot bowl of fishball noodles.

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Dry goods and frozen beef, pork, lamb products

Good huntin’
Peter

Mindblown accepted

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I’m taking a break from posting about my favourite subject – convenient food, aka sandwiches – to talk about something else close to my heart: optical illusions. Check out the video and tell me if it doesn’t blow your mind.

Here’s how it’s done (http://distractify.com/fun/amazing-t-rex-optical-illusion/) but you can see it all in the video. Whether your mind will accept it is a whole different matter.

Now all I need is real magic (as opposed to an optical illusion) to make my cheeseburger appear larger than it is.

Good huntin’
Peter

Rise of the off-street cafes in Hong Kong

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An older but typical high rise building in Hong Kong

One of the biggest challenges for restaurants and cafés is worrying foodies diners will fret about their waistlines more than the quality of the food. However, in Hong Kong – arguably the food capital of the world – they seem to have hit on a balance: Cafés located on the upper floors of short rise buildings (some of which do not have lifts). Diners will have to burn calories if they hope to suck on some treats.

I first learnt of these cafés from a Wall Street Journal blog posted in 2011, which means they have been around for at least two years. Given an opportunity to visit Hong Kong last week, I decided to sniff some of these cafes out and see just why they’re so popular. Unfortunately, time was short and there was only so many stairs I could climb before the bung knee came loose:

Cat Store Cafe

I spotted this cafe from across Muji located on the third floor of a department store in Causeway Bay (sorry, I forgot the name of the mall) and was piqued by the cute cartoon on the window.

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Cat Store cafe on the fourth floor

Locating the entrance to the cafe itself was a puzzle, almost like the owners want you to gain a sense of achievement when you finally trudge up the flights of stairs to get to it. I had to circle around the entire building – even walk up a couple of flights of stairs at various possible entrances – before finally running into a private access door together with some very shocked residents. As the security guard packed the residents into a very cramped lift car that did not look out of place in a horror movie, I slunk past to a stairwell that looked like it came out of a CSI tv show.

Once you get past your initial fear of a hooded killer in the shadows, walk up to the fourth floor (or stop on any of the first few to explore the hidden cubicles of shops stocking fashion from Korea, Japan and whatever island spews cutesy dresses) and you will find this members-only cafe.

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Since I’d just had lunch, I ordered a cup of coffee and watched the cats at play. The food selection seemed no different from the hundreds of char chan tengs I’ve seen or eaten in Singapore and did nothing to tempt my palates. Even the desserts in the chiller did not look appetising enough to make me want to push the limits of my stomach.

From what I’ve observed, diners seem more interested in playing with the kitties than the food available. A girl, obviously on a date, was more interested in playing with the cats than talking to her date. At every available chance, she’d pick up one of the many cat toys dangling from the corners of the cafe to play with the feline mascots. Her date, who did not seem particularly fond of cats, smiled politely and pointed out the odd cat kerfuffle or catrobatics. Meanwhile a little girl refused to leave the cafe because a cat finally walked up to her to be petted. 

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Cats are also welcome to join their owners for a spot o’ tea

Cat Store cafe is a members-only cafe but membership can be signed up on the spot for free. It is located at 3D, Po Ming Building, Foo Ming Street, Causeway Bay. Recommended for cat lovers but not quite for foodies.

Small Potato

Also located in Causeway Bay (the branch store was located on the first floor – different from the ground floor – of Po Ming Building where Cat Store cafe is located) is Small Potato cafe. This came recommended by friends I was visiting in Hong Kong, and was thought to be the place to go to chill. In fact the tagline for the cafe is that it is your second home.

Unfortunately, they were closed for inspection on the day I’d visited so I didn’t get to try any of the food or drinks but I got a glimpse of the cafe when I poked my head in. As described in its website, the cafe is a chill out venue for people to gather and play games or even read comics. You can chat, chill, play over some desserts, finger food or coffee.

Small Potato (main branch) is located on the fourth floor of 4 Sun Wui Road, Causeway Bay.

Full Cup Cafe

Another cafe that seems determined to not be found is the Goth-themed Full Cup Cafe. If, for you, the mantra “getting there is half the fun” doesn’t apply, this cafe is definitely not for you. Unless you really want to explore the off-street cafes in Hong Kong or want to have the achievement of saying you found this place, there are plenty of interesting, quirky cafes for you to rest your feet/have a snack/tea that are much easier to find.

That said, if you do make the trek, Full Cup is kitschy, quirky at its best.

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A surreal mural found on the eerie stairwells leading to one of three floors of the cafe

The cafe is a mix of goth-death metal (think death note or Detroit Metal City) decor with eerie dolls and, on the floor I was at, there was a giant teddy bear dressed with a feather boa. The cafe spans three floors and from what I could gather, the first floor has an al fresco dining area and is the most popular. I was thus advised to go to the second floor, which was in want of service (I had to wait for quite a while to be served), and a kitschy decor. The third floor seemed more exclusive as wait staff stared in surprise when I poked my head in. I felt immediately unwelcomed and beat a hasty retreat.

I didn’t get to try the limited range of pastas, mains and finger food (I was saving myself for the famous claypot rice at Hing Kee) but the coconut coffee was a heavenly treat after trudging for nearly an hour, constantly checking Google Maps and Apple Maps to find this place.

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Full Cup Cafe is found in this building, which also houses a KTV on the second floor

Found on what looked like a building earmarked for demolition, you can find where Full Cup Cafe is by asking the cute guide loitering at the entrance. There is also a KTV located on the second floor and a few other cafes, so Full Cup is definitely not the only player looking to be lost in the food paradise of Hong Kong.

Full Cup Cafe is located on floors four through six at 36 Dundas Street, Mongkok.

I had only two days to explore the food paradise that is Hong Kong, including street-level food stalls such as (1) Burgeroom; (2) Via Tokyo; (3) this pork restaurant (Chui Zhu Dian 炊猪店, which has damn awesome fried pork cutlet, two doors from Via Tokyo), famous local delicacies (Hing Kee, snake broth,  Asutralian Dairy Co., etc) so I was not able to hit too many off-street cafes. But this Spanish/Latin restaurant (4) at Mong Kok sure looked inviting.

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(1) Burgeroom

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(1) Mini Classic Burger at Burgeroom (the only mini thing about this burger is its patty)

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(2) Japanese dessert cafe, Via Tokyo

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(2) Via Tokyo: Pork Katsu sandwiches are just katsu pork on a bed of cabbage sandwiched between two fluffy white bread

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(3) Chui Zhu Dian

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(3) Try the fried pork cutlet with curry. It was simply amazing

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(4) Spanish restaurant at Mong Kok

Then again, Hong Kongers are used to finding quirky, exotic finds off the main street so perhaps off-street eateries aren’t as unusual to us, Singaporeans. Or perhaps, Hong Kong restaurateurs are just great believers that if you build it, they will come.

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I love Rabbit: An rabbit-exclusive pet store found on the second floor of an obscure building in Hong Kong

Will you seek out an off-the-beaten-path cafe or plonk yourself down on the first available seat at Starbucks after a shopping spree/day out with friends? For me, I’d like a food adventure that is both within and without my mouth.

Good huntin’
Peter

Hamming up your burgers

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I love my hamburgers. The humble dish introduced me to a whole new way to appreciate sandwiches, that food group that incorporates the food pyramid into one bite-friendly dish. Imagine, with every bite, you get the right portions of carbs, vegetables and meat that you need.

Of course, some burgers tend to pile on ingredients in upside down portions of the pyramid but we’re allowed some decadence, aren’t we? Here are some of my favourite over-the-top hamburgers, which is the most mouth watering for you?

The Porky Burger

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PHOTO © PAUL SOBOTA

If you like your pork burger, this piggy design is definitely for you. Created in the kitchens of meat-on-meat burger pioneer and superstar chef Micheal Symon at his Cleveland B Spot restaurant, the Porky Burger is topped with pulled pork, coleslaw, BBQ sauce and bacon. I can already hear squeals of delight.

EB&D Loaded Up and Truckin’ Burger

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PHOTO COURTESY OF SMOKE RESTAURANT

Where does one start with this over-the-top burger? All that I recognise in this burger are the top half of the hamburger bun and the pork belly that seemed more at home in a khong bak pao. If, like me, your palate is screaming with joy and excitement, you might have to make a beeline to the Smoke restaurant in Dallas for a bite of this mega construction.

Banh Mi Asian Burger

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Photo: Half Baked Harvest

Love your American burgers but crave Asian flavours? Here’s a recipe for that mix, literally. Follow this step by step instruction on making your own Asian burger with Vietnamese influenced spices such as tangy lime juice, salty fish sauce, pungent ginger and a whole host of flavours waiting to pounce on your palate.

Mini powdered burger

A mini hamburger meal made entirely from dried ingredients

Photo: Guardian blog

Convinced you will never be able to create a hamburger yet you’re adept at making instant noodles? Here’s a (molecular?) gastronomic adventure from the land of the rising sun. Place the flavoured powder into moulds that come with the kit, set them in the microwave and, voila!, your burger meal is served. Unfortunately, the article said the burger meal is “revolting” but this could yet be a fun activity to do with your chefs-in-training children before you head to a restaurant for a real burger.

The Original db Burger

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PHOTO © CCHO/FLICKR

The inception burger to beat all burgers, this deceptively simple sandwich has a meat patty stuffed with braised shortribs, foie gras, and truffles. How you can bite into this monstrous patty is already mind-blowing.

The Luther

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Photo: Crave Real Burgers

Rumoured to be created by singer-songwriter Luthor Vandross (and blamed for his weight gain), the Luthor burger is a hamburger patty, bacon, cheddar, egg and onion sandwiched between – you’d better sit down for this – two whole glazed donuts!  Sure, salt does bring out sweetness in food (salted caramel, anyone?) and this burger is definitely a dream come true for burger lovers with a sweet tooth.

Tell me if I’ve missed out anything!

Good huntin’
Peter

3 Tips to Survive Christmas This Year. Psst… Comes with Instructional Videos

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Christmas is a minefield of sorts.
I’ll tell you why.

Firstly, there is cooking for the people who love you. In other words, the only 5-10 people in the world who know that they can butcher you in cold blood and get away with it.

Secondly, there’s catching up with friends over a meal, some of whom you haven’t seen for the entire year. And you’re supposed to get up to speed with them over a one-and-a-half-hour meal with your mouth stuffed with the stuff that came from a turkey’s ass?!

Finally, there’s sharing your wonderful life with on social media. How do you make the stuff that came from the turkey’s ass almost as appealing as your friend’s FB photos actually taken in Turkey?

You need a battle plan, and you need it fast.
So here are three videos that I’ve personally found most enlightening in navigating the Christmas minefield. Ready?

#1 HOW TO COOK WITH YOUR IPAD
Don’t bother surfing for the best recipes, and reading reviews on how good or disappointing they are. Too much reading is bad for you. This single video will sum it all up. *Psst… Special note to my husband, who loves to cook with his iPad.

#2 HOW TO UNDERSTAND YOUR FRIENDS WITH YOUR MOUTH FULL
Good friends understand each other without words. So don’t bother taking a break between bites to talk. Here’s how to rudely psychoanalyze your friends, while maintaining the upper hand on polishing off the most roast beef.

#3 HOW TO MAKE YOUR LIFE HAPPIER WITH THE NEW IPHONE
As they say, the key to being happy is surrounding yourself with positive people. Here’s how to get more people to constantly tell you how happy you are, regardless of whether that is true. Works every time.

Oh, and Happy Hunger Games! May the food always be in your flavour.

Sorry, that was lame.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, Y’ALL!!

XX, Annie