Monday, July 31, 2006

Gastroliterary 44: Japanese @ Shimbashi Soba

Shimbashi Soba at Paragon can be guaranteed to serve fresh handmade soba. A live Japanese chef can be seen kneading the dough in the display window. It is quite a pity that this restaurant does not grow their own soba.

The soba served is interesting because it is accompanied by the fried batter left behind while frying tempura. Very interestingly, they make a good combination; very different from the usual spring onions. The thinly sliced, smooth noodles comes a subtle sweetness of the soba wheat.

A set dinner cost approximately $20. Other than the wonderful soba, nothing else could possibly leave an impression.

Monday, July 24, 2006

This is life 12: Food and Culture 3 in Great China

Any traveller to China who knows not any Mandarin will face an increase in difficulty in navigating around and for efficient communication. Being a Singaporean where most people speak sufficient Mandarin, is actually quite a blessing.

Indeed, it is a blessing especially one is able to understand the propaganda that is sticking around every corner of the streets, in major road junctions and basically everywhere that catches the wandering eye. This poster that is found in a train cabin, illustrates positive propaganda.

More of this positive influences are to be seen on roads on every busy streets.“ ‘文明在我脚下’,骑车,走路不闯红灯!” This is where citizens are encouraged to lead a more civilized life that do not necessary ''progress'' when a country is get wealthier.

And as this great country dives ahead economically, the coffee culture of the West is sipping into the society. In many malls, Starbucks and the likes can be seen where a cup coffee can easily cost over RMB20. A price that is worth more than half a day of the average Chinese's workers pay.

It includes this Western-style cafe that is well-integrated into the local culture. The culture of emulation the great.

China, a country of diversity, a country of culture, a country that comes with everything massive, a country of ironies, bids their visitors goodbye by charging a cup of coffee at RMB60 at the Pudong airport.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gastroliterary 43: Japanese xi @ Kazu Sumi-yaki

Kazu-Sumiyaki located at Cuppage Plaza brings an exciting experience for all diners right at the doorsteps. There would be a crowd waiting eagerly at the entrance before 6.30pm when this restaurants opens. Before opening, there would be an interesting show where the chef will be lecturing the waitresses out loud. Corporate Japan, it brings one to think of.

This restaurant specialises in barbeque but includes some other Japanese cuisine like tenpura in its menu. One extremely interesting item is basashi, or horse sashimi. In Singapore, horse meat can be considered very unique, and of course, unique stuff always comes at a unique price.

The meal opens up with delicately-made appetisers, with an orchid to add in an extra uniqueness. Of course, it would be a great idea to have sakura instead. But having an orchid instead, will be more unique. The ''tofu'' like object, taste more like cheese cake rather than egg or bean curd. It is a unique way to surprise diners. This restaurant not just surprise diners but also challenges diners into guessing what mysterious items made up these appetisers. Whether it is the squid in musty mysterious sauce or the fried vegetable with a unknown substance, this is not just a tasteful experience but also an intellectual journey.
The main course of yakimono, that supposedly attracts many diners to its barbeque repertoire, even though this restaurant is located at quite a secluded corner of Singapore. It has a wide array, ranging from the simple chicken, to more exotic items like black pork and different organs of a chicken carcass. This proof to be not only gastronomical but also quite an anatomical experience. However, the yakimono does not taste as wonderful or surprising as the appetisers. Actually the different sticks,though with different pricing, tends to taste very similar with each other and does not to leave much of a strong impression. Probably ''acceptable'' would be the best description for their trademark items. With the appetisers, eight sticks of barbequed sticks, rice and soup, it still cost a reasonable $23 and above for the whole set.

This rice in a hot pot, with wild vegatables, salmon and roe dish, while cooked nicely, it can considered to be a little pricey at $22, because of its relatively simple ingredients. The set meal is therefore of a better deal.

Judging from the crowded conditions of this restaurant, and that even ethnic Japanese visit this place, this place is probably authentically Japanese. Waitresses speak some Japanese adds on to the ambience. And in this small restaurant, they play American music which further enhances its Japanese flavours.

Service here is mostly friendly. The waitresses will patiently explain to their guest which part of the chicken they are serving. They are willing to go for the extra mile where they will scoop up the rice from the hotpot into a small bowl. Perhaps this restaurant would be better off if they are armed with more menus for their customers. Oolong tea taste of good quality and here it cost nothing and that they are frequently filled up. The fresh cabbage served to their customers
before they start ordering and the napkins they provide are absolutely free. Definitely a display of authentic Japanese ethics of honesty, which unlike some certain restaurants who charge their poor customers for stuff they have no knowledge of ordering. Perhaps it is also reflecting the customs of these certain cultures.

Overall, this restaurant is fairly good but does not quite deserve the hype and attention that it is getting. Probably an authentic restaurant to experience Japanese barbeque in tropical Singapore.

Food: 7
Service: 7.5
Ambience: 7.5
Overall: 7

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Durian Daily 33: Singaporeans the least happy people in Asia

Does rankings affect one's happiness? Hopefully, in this case, it does not.

Jul 13, 2006 The Straits Times

LONDON - OF ALL the countries in the Asean region, Vietnam has the most to smile about and Singapore the least, according to a list of the happiest countries on the planet.

A new study published yesterday ranked the small South-east Asian country as 12th on a list of 178 nations, beating big-economy behemoths such as Britain and the United States in a survey that measured people's well-being and their impact on the environment.
Singapore, on the other hand, fared the worst of all the Asean and Asian nations ranked, coming in at 131st.

Compiled by the British think-tank New Economics Foundation (NEF), the Happy Planet Index painted a different order of world wealth.

Abandoning what it termed 'crude ratings' of countries according to economic indicators like gross domestic product, the NEF intended the new index to strip life back to the basics - measuring life satisfaction, life expectancy and environmental impact.

Island nations did well in the rankings, with the tiny South Pacific nation of Vanuatu topping the list. 'People are generally happy here because they are very satisfied with very little,' said Mr Marke Lowen of Vanuatu Online, the republic's online newspaper.

Industrial countries, perhaps unsurprisingly, fared badly on the index - Britain came in at 108th while the US ranked 150th. Most of the bottom 10 countries were African nations, with Zimbabwe coming in last.

'The order of nations that emerges may seem counter-intuitive. But this is because policymakers have been led astray by abstract mathematical models of the economy that bear little relation to the real world,' said NEF's policy director Andrew Simms. -- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

Friday, July 07, 2006

Durian Daily 32: Progress Package

Part of Singapore's progress package? To find out just how much Singapore has progressed, visit:

Monday, July 03, 2006

This is life 11: Great Shopping in Great China 2

If there is only one place to visit in Shanghai, that place have to be Xiangyang market. This market is named to be the greatest infringement of copyright laws and nothing can be more sinful than that. It appears to be a sensational experience to explore the country's sinful scenes, while the liberated self, of the oppressed Singaporean, awaits for freedom. Dropping a piece of rubbish on the streets feels totally therepeutic. Unfortunately, this Xiangyang market has closed down on the last days of June 2006, and the image of sinful Shanghai is set to improve superficially.

Once any foreigners approach the market or just step out of the taxi, flocks of traders will swarm over, offering their goods, from watches, bags, pens. Obviously, the good are the tempting counterfeits. However, how tempting or how irritating this may be, do not attempt to follow these people. Because what they are offering is the same as anywhere found in the market, only that they will bring you to walk a long distance for that. Once inside the market, all morales run loose just as vendors run towards the potential customers. Copyright or infringement? It only applies back at home, not in China defintely.

Customers, mainly tourists, whether Europeans, Singaporeans or Koreans, are mostly attracted to the goods that the market provides. Everyone knows that all goods are fake copies of the authentic stuff but hardly anyone could resist when these products cost only a fraction of the real goods. One might imagine that these goods are mostly of poor quality, that breaks down after several usage. True, but the quality of many products comes close enough to pass off as authentic. Include some service-oriented stuff, plus some packaging, no one can suspect these goods can be fake. Previous visits to Thailand markets provides similar attractions, but the quality of goods in Xiangyang way surpass that of Thailand. It is hard to imagine, but this is the truth.

However, one needs to bargain through to get the goods reasonably cheap. Because the vendors will sell their goods at a very good profit margin. For example, one should try to cut the offered price down to at least one-third or one-quater of the price offered. Now, the art of negotiating starts. Of pretence, convincing speech, trickery, persuasive acts, sweet talking, are some important skills to learn and put into practice. One can be sure that these vendors use the same tricks to counter the customers by selling them their products. Of course, the faking of not interested in the offered price for the fake goods and pretending to leave the shop, is totally useful because the vendors are likely to chase after the customers. When attempting this act, one must always remember that there are one hundred other stores that sell the exact same item. Do not turn heads once leaving the store, in order to appear most convincing. This is business and nothing personal.

The stereotype of Caucasians being morons at bargaining or being generous is quite untrue. In this place, Caucasians, male or female, engage in aggressive bargaining. If they cannot get the goods at their desired cheap price, they will just turn and walk away. No hard feelings. But the vendors will pull them back to try to make their sale. However, being Caucasian in this market, means that one is more likely to be pestered by vendors into purchasing their stuff. Asians are perhaps less popular. There was an interesting negotiation being two Europeans who bargain their way when they finally whip out their truimp card, the Euro, and the vendor accept it immediately, even though the absolute amount is lower.

With proper Chinese shopping malls charging obscene prices, Singaporeans or any tourists can certainly get to spend their RMB freely in this bargin market. And it will be one of those few places left, where one is able to practice the way of negotiation, while bringing pretence, counterattack, shrewdness to the next new level. However, this market will be closed at the end of June 2006, so bargain-hunters or immoral shoppers have to obtain the name cards given by these vendors in order to find similar tempting stuff at other locations when the market closes.

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