Food Mission 2016: Ah Bong’s Italian

Finally a 1st food review entry for year 2016 after more than half the year has already gone by!

In the midst of daily life and the ups and downs experienced in year 2016 so far, new food and culinary experiences has been a bright spark that has brought some cheer into my life. And finally, I got to tick off Ah Bong’s Italian as one of the must-try on my list🙂

Its not easy to find tasty pasta that is at the same time inexpensive, and this is where Ah Bong’s Italian comes in to fill the void. Ah Bong’s started off as a small coffeeshop stall @ 56 Eng Hoon Street (it was the original Two Face coffeeshop with a day and night concept before being replaced by Two Face – another set of owners).

In the daytime though, the place itself is a coffeeshop where a famous Yong Tau Foo store resides (as you can see from the huge lunchtime crowd). While Ah Bong’s takes its place at the other corner of the coffeeshop.

Overall, I would say both stalls have their own set of loyal customers.

The reason why I ended up at Tiong Bahru / Eng Hoon Street on a hot Monday afternoon for lunch was due to a craving for creamy-based pasta. Thanks to their regularly updated facebook page, I knew Crabby Mac and Cheese was on their menu …… and this fitted my intention perfectly🙂

Unlike the typical Mac and Cheese which is usually very cheesy (i.e. has lots of thick cheese sauce) …… Ah Bong’s version differs quite a fair bit as they use a cheese sauce that is a lot less thicker, tinged with a mushroom taste. A note on the mushrooms – Ah Bong’s uses fresh mushrooms that come with a very earthly flavour. Thus overall, the lighter sauce will find flavor with some who prefer their sauces (and food) with a less heavy after-taste.

And yes, another important part of the dish is the crab meat. Unlike the foodcourt/coffeshop/hawker centre and even cafe pastas, this one comes with REAL crab meat (from crab legs) and not the manufactured crabs. For $12 at a decent portion, this made for a delicious and flavorful lunch!

I see that they have done well enough for themselves building up a loyal following amongst Singaporean food lovers (and on social media itself) to proceed on further expansion. This time to a eatery unit at Tan Quee Lan Street occupying the former GastroSmiths.

Just like their Tiong Bahru coffeeshop outlet, this cafe outlet is very simple (and almost no frills) in terms of interior …. which gives off a homely and rustic vibe. In that sense, Ah Bong’s has always been about serving good, unpretentious delicious pasta using fresh ingredients anyway.

This is what I had at Tan Quee Lan – Escaargot Pomodoro. Decided to try this at the waiter’s suggestion as it was late lunch post workout, and there were not many choices/ingredients left before the last order at 2pm. Besides, its pretty rare to have escargots together with pasta, hence something different for once.

Not only it was tasty, the escargots went perfect with the tomato sauce (freshly made and not from a can), with the taste further enhanced with fresh basil leaves. So once again, it does not feel overly heavy on the palate.

In case you are wondering where did the escargots go, they were hidden underneath.

Another reason why you MUST dine at Ah Bong’s – their everchanging menu that allow for experimentation and creativity. In addition, their Tan Quee Lan outlet offers starters and desserts to further enhance the dining experience …… which I will be back to check them out in the future.

Details:

Ah Bong’s Italian – Tiong Bahru                                                                                                             56 Eng Hoon Street #01-46                                                                                                           Singapore 160056

Opening Hours                                                                                                                                              1000 Hrs to 1430 Hrs, Monday To Saturday

Ah Bong’s Italian – Tan Quee Lan Street                                                                                                103 Beach Road #01-02 (Below Marrison Hotel)                                                                                 Singapore 189704

Opening Hours                                                                                                                                                Lunch: 1200 Hrs to 1400 Hrs                                                                                                               Dinner: 1800 Hrs to 2100Hrs                                                                                                                         Daily

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/abitalian

 

 

 

Michelin Half Star

One of the major news in July was the publication of Singapore’s first ever Michelin Guide.

https://guide.michelin.sg/

And one unique feature of Singapore’s Michelin Guide would be its Bib Gourmand section which includes more hawker stalls and restaurants that offer good value for money (capped at SGD45 max).

Co-incidentally in the week that the Michelin Guide raitngs were annouced (Week 3 July), I happened to have tasted 2 dishes in the guide itself.

One being my usual Ba Chor Mee (Minced Pork Noodle) at Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, and the other being my usual Fried Hokkien Mee whenever I lunch at Tiong Bahru Market (Hong Heng Fried Sotong Prawn Mee).

Only slight catch was that the Bar Chor Mee that I had was from a relative-run offshoot of the original Tai Hwa located at Hong Lim Food Centre. Thus this explains the blog title – Michelin Half-Star😛

There has also been a fair bit of discussion online on why this particular hokkien mee stall in Tiong Bahru Market was given the Bib Gourmand market made it to the list …… as versus to much more well-known & better rated Hokkien Mee from the likes of Nam Sing (Old Airport Road), Ah Hock (Chomp Chomp), Hainan (Beach Road), Geylang Lor 29. Well I would say its a decent plate of hokkien mee, where you can feel the wok hei, plus it is really reasonably priced with decent portions (starting from $3). Of course, having tried Ah Hock and Hainan, I have to say these 2 stalls are better in my personal opinion and are the ‘gold standard’ of hokkien mee in Singapore.

End Of An Era

‘Suffered’ a bit from a messed up sleep cycle at the start of the week …… and ending the week with slight flu cum sore throat which kinda sucks as I feel tired, sleepy and drowsy. And now sleep-less again after meds, post dinner nap and a late shower.

I had originally intended to blog about this earlier in the week but sleep (and everyday life) got in the way. After the uncertainty over the previous weekend with the sudden closure of California Fitness Raffles Branch, the final ‘death knell’ came with the official announcement on Wed morning (0000 hrs after to be exact) of the closure of the remaining Bugis and Novena branches …… which more or less signifies the end of California Fitness in Singapore as liquidators have been appointed to handle the closure of the gym.

To some of my friends surprise, my reaction to the gym closure was calmer than they thought (I suppose this is so after having to go through BIGGER issues over the past half a year). Rather than anger, I feel sadness at seeing the end of California Fitness, especially having been a member since 2003/2004.

Whilst JV Fitness (the management behind California Fitness) could have handled the situation more ethically …… while I have lost some money (since mine was a prepaid membership running till 2018), I feel a lot more for the staff (customer service, membership sales, trainers and instructors) who were totally kept in the dark about California’s precarious financial situation right till the end. As I blog this now, I can still remember the faces of the tower counter staff who have been with the Bugis Branch since Day 1 of its opening (in year 2005).

Do not have any plans to sign up another new membership for now. On a personal basis, it is indeed an end of an era, and one more change in the midst of the many changes I have been experiencing in year 2016 to date. Will definitely miss my usual Thurs spin class and recent Sunday workouts . As I told J yesterday, life will go on without a gym.

Thanks for the memories!

Recurring Dreams

What do you make of dreaming the same dream TWICE in a row in the space of 1 month?

Here’s a write-up on recurring dreams from Pyschology Today – https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dream-factory/201411/whats-behind-your-recurring-dreams

One key phrase that got my attention:

In general, recurring dreams indicate the presence of an unresolved and persistent conflict in an individual’s life, and the theme or Central Image of the dream provides a stage for this conflict to play out. The cessation of a recurrent dream may indicate that the conflict has been successfully resolved. Thus, being aware of and working with recurring dreams in your personal life or in therapy is a useful tool for resolving conflicts and improving well-being.

Well this happened to me twice within a month (mid may & early june) …… as both times, I had dreamed about losing a bag/baggage/luggage.

The 1st time – the dream was about losing my bag in a room …… and ended up going round and round to locate it (despite the fact that the bag was somewhere in the room itself).

The 2nd time – the dream was a clearer one.

As always, it is to the dream dictionary to decipher the meaning of the dream(s) as there is always a deeper/more significant meaning to it (to represent some part/unresolved issues in our lives). Also, this is the very 1st time I have dream of the same thing twice in a row – which does mean something very signifcant right?

From dreamscloud.com:

Bag – May represent the burdens and/or responsibilities you are carrying around; May also suggest a way to carry and find what you need in your dream at any given moment

Baggage – May symbolize (1) the problems and burdens you carry with you; (2) going on a trip; (3) extra or gained weight; (4) old hurts and emotions that you have not yet dealt with

There are also other themes, such as searching and wandering – with the general being about feeling lost/direction-less, searching for something missing in life (e.g. love, fulfillment), and even seeking a solution to a problem.

The dreamscloud explanation on the symbolism for lost luggage in my 2nd dream just confirms the pertinent issue that I have to deal with going forward, as below

A dream about losing your luggage may symbolize a loss of personal identity or belonging.

You may be feeling lost. You may be ready for change and prepared to redefine or “find yourself”.

Getting out of slumps, be it calling, work, personal, and to a certain extent even blogging. This has basically clouded me for a good part of June. As with getting out of slumps, June does feel like a long month indeed! Definitely, in a not-so-good way, the major issue from earlier in the year (i.e. branch issues) has not really gone away as the various negative feelings (hurt, abandonment, betrayal) re-surfaced again, as hard as I try to put them aside and move on.

Out of all these, I guess the most important take-away here at the end of everything is knowing the real issue at the core is the most important small step forward, before the next small step to resolve the problem comes ……

Can’t believe this entry took a good part of the afternoon to finish up. Well, this is one small step to reflect and get the issue out of my mind, as well as get out of my ‘blogging slump’ and start July on a fresh slate again!

Japan 2015: Kobe Re-Visited

Totally unplanned but ended up re-visiting Kobe (for myself that is, sis has not been to Kobe before) for a day trip on Day 7 of our trip. It was a last minute tweak to our itinerary as we had originally planned to visit Ise (from Nagoya) – only to abandon it due to the longer journey it would take if we were to cover it using the JR Pass all the way.

Originally, the initial plan was to stay in Kobe for 2 days, and from Kobe, do day trips to Osaka/Kyoto/Himeji. However due to difficulty in securing accommodation for Kobe on weekend dates, we ended up in Takayama instead. The journey took about 1 and a half hours, via shinkansen to Shin-Osaka, then direct rapid service all the way to Sannomiya Station – the main hub of Kobe City …… and all covered by the JR Pass.

Started off our Kobe daytrip with a visit to Ikuta Shrine, located right in the heart of Sannomiya.

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Ikuta Shrine is a Shinto Shrine that is one of the oldest in Japan, with a history of over 1800 years. Apart from protecting the deity of Ikuta (Ikuta means the place with vibrant energy), there is another interesting piece of history surrounding the shrine. In AD 80, 44 kambe (神戸) or court officials (fuko) who served shrines, were sent by the court to serve at this shrine. Thus gradually the area around the shrine became what is known as Kobe (神戸) city today. The shrine is also of great significance to the people of Kobe – as a symbol of resurrection …… as it has survived many wars and natural disasters over the years, with the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 being the latest.

Sources: Ikuta Shrine Official Website, Japan Experience

Thus it was also the place to offer some prayers right at the mid-point of our trip as well.

After visiting the shrine, crossed the road opposite to the huge Tokyu Hands – a building by itself about 5 stories high, with another basement floor. Looked around a bit before deciding to head off for lunch.

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Quaint looking European style shop/building in a corner of Sannomiya. Walked in to take a look and the shop sells exclusively Baumkuchen cakes.

We decided to get lunch in Sannomiya area itself. As sis does not eat beef, as such Kobe Beef is not an option , and eating at Wakkoqu was a no go! Did some googling and decided we could check out Nishimura Coffee for lunch – as they have an outlet right along the stretch beside Hankyu Sannomiya Station. Nishimura Coffee was also the same cafe where I packed a strawberry shortcake back to my hotel room during my last trip back in November 2013.

(Note: We did not manage to locate their iconic red brick outlet at Kitanozaka, which is around the corner from Ikuta Shrine)

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The cafe itself has a very 1960s vibe. And to our surprise, they allow smoking inside the cafe! So it was not that comfortable eating in a smoky cafe of sorts ……

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The dessert counter. Spoilt with choice with so many different varieties of cakes and pies to choose from.

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My lunch set! A little disappointed not to see any Kobe Beef on the menu ….. so opted for one of their set lunches instead. Can’t remember the exact name of this main course. Basically it is baked balls – one with bacon and cheese, another with an assortment of seafood ….. accompanied by a salmon & ham (within a jelly) ….. and minestrone soup. I must say the way they baked the balls is very creative & igneous …. retaining the western influence while incorporating some Japanese sensibility and creativity.

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Sis had a more traditional ham sandwich accompanied with salad and minestrone soup.

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Kobe – as a major port city, is also a gateway to western culture and influences. As such, they are well-known for their bakeries and pastries.  So having a dessert is a must! Got a baked cheese cake to share as it is not so rich/heavy as we were to take a fruit tart / mount blanc / cream-based cake ……

Off to Kobe Harborland after lunch ……

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The iconic ferris wheel right beside the Anpanman Museum ….. with the Old Kobe Harbor Signal Tower in the distance @ the end of the harbour.

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Takahama Quay that is right below the Mosaic shopping area ….. which overlooks Meriken Park and the iconic buildings that flank it – from left to right …… Kobe Port Tower, Hotel Okura, Kawasaki Good Times World (Maritime Museum) and the Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel (that I stayed in during my last trip).

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As you can see, it is also a cloudy and pretty ‘grey’ day, ready to rain anytime. Still feel the million-dollar night views that I experienced back in year 2013 were way superior …….

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Flowerbed at the other end of the quay.

We wanted to proceed to the Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens & Ropeway next ….. but by the time we reach there, it will be around 1630 Hrs. With sunset starting at 1645 Hrs and the Ropeway closing at 1700 Hrs …… and considering that its such a cloudy day with high chance of rain, went back to Sannomiya to do some omiyage shopping to end off the day trip (technically half-day only) to Kobe.

Food Mission 2015: Sakaguchiya

Ending of my Takayama series with a food review entry!

Sakaguchiya is another restaurant/eatery that we didn’t plan to visit initially. After reaching Takayama, we reviewed our hotel’s list of recommended restaurants, plus with some googling …… and from there, decided to pencil in a visit to Sakaguchiya for an early lunch after our morning walkaround the markets and in Takayama Old Town (Sanmachi).

It is also great that Sakaguchiya is located right in the row of old townhouses in the Sanmachi district ….. and which we will need to walk pass by again after visiting the Miyagawa Market and on route back to our hotel.

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Didn’t mange to snap pictures of the entrancce, but got some of the interior. The restaurant itself has a more rustic feel, in part due to the dark brown wood interior.

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After ordering and while waiting for our food, I ventured a bit around the restaurant and spotted this garden at the back of the restaurant. They did a great job in preserving this garden – as a reminder of Takayama’s history.

Based from what I have googled, Sakaguchiya is famous for their Hida Beef dishes. With reference to the English menu here – one can indeed be spoilt for choice😛

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In the end it was a close call between the Hida Beef Bowl, Hida Beef Steak Bowl and Hida Beef Soba. Since we decided in the morning to go back to Keichan-ya for dinner  to check out their other dishes (my plan is to try their Hida Beef with Hoba Miso) …… my final choice was to have the Hida Beef Soba – given that it was an early lunch, and my preference for something soup-based (after having buns, sandwiches along our walk).

The soba which most of us have more commonly will usually be cold soba (i.e. zaru soba), warm soba (with tempura), cha-soba (i.e. green soba). So to me, hida beef with soba is probably something different as I do not see this combo back in Singapore whenever I dine in Japanese restaurants.

The nice thing about the entire dish is that hida beef gives the broth sweetness – which is something different from the more common kake (hot) soba. However, with the hida beef in thin slices, it was a bit difficult to savour the taste and texture of it. As I blog now 6 months later, I regretted not trying the Hida Beef sushi or the Hida Beef Steak bowl to better savour the Hida Beef taste.

On another note, the local hida soba was very flavourful, together with the hida beef infused broth, made it a very refreshing combination.

Sakaguchiya’s menu has a great variety of items, including non-hida beef based items for some who may not want to have beef. All in all, one of the restaurants to visit if you are in the Sanmachi district.

 

Details:

Sakaguchiya 御食事処 坂口屋

90 Kamisannomachi, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 506-0846, Japan

Opening Hours: 1030 Hrs to 1500 Hrs, Closed On Tuesdays

Website: http://hidatakayama-sakaguchiya.com/

Google Maps – 10 to 15 min walk from JR Takayama Station into the Sanmachi Traditional Preservation ARea

Japan 2015: Takayama Highlights Part 3

Sanmachi – the old streets that is preserved and the iconic district for sight-seeing in Takayama as well.

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Sanmachi is also nick-named ‘Little Kyoto‘ as it gives off the vibe of a quaint historic district, with the nicely preserved wooden machiyas (townhouses) with various shops selling various stuff (there’s one shop as above that sells various types of sake).

I personally like the ‘small-village’ feel of the place which is a nice slowdown in pace and not as commercialized as Kyoto is …… although that may change in the future once the main JR Takayama station completes its re-development in year 2017 with a brand new station and a shopping mall right beside it (which will result in more tourist inflows).

Walked down the entire stretch before proceeding to the our next destination – Miyagawa Morning Market.

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Unlike Jinya-mae which we went earlier, Miyagawa Morning Market consists of a longer stretch of makeshift stalls set up right alongside the Miyagawa River. There’s more variety of stuff too ….. from food items to small trinklets to fresh produce etc.

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Various types of goods on sale ……

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There’s also a cafe building on the other side of the market.

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More stalls selling various types of items. The apples looked so fresh and crunchy that we wanted to get some to eat …. but decided not to due to the lack of a fridge.

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Some of the more interesting cooked food stalls – one selling tomato-based fried chicken, another organic herb tea stall and another one selling award-winning hot pudding.

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Got a bottle of pudding to try. The pudding is actually a ‘hot’ pudding that is freshly made and then soaked in hot water. By the time I consumed it post lunch back at the hotel lobby, it was more warm than hot. The pudding is actually softer (and sweeter), with a more tofu-like texture when consumed hot/warm.

The surrounding Miyagawa River. Clear day and specks of autumn foliage.

After our tour of Miyagawa Market, we slowly walked back to Sanmachi for an early lunch at Sakaguchiya (separate review as linked). Whilst checking my phone during lunch, saw on Facebook that there’s actually this one thousand year old ginko tree right in Takayama, at the compound of Hida Kokubun-ji Temple just 5 min away from our hotel. And so we walked there to take a look right before heading for our half-day tour to Shirakawa-go next!

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