19 September 2014

Highlights of Nagoya April 2013

Yes, you saw the title correct. This trip was taken during last April, more than a year ago! The photos were sitting in my draft for the longest time and I was seriously thinking of abandoning this post altogether! Have been focusing so much on cooking posts that I totally neglected my passion for travel writing, my travel journals which are an important aspect of my life and this blog as well. I still have several trips to blog about, enough of the procrastinating!

Ok, enough of the blabbering, actually this was hubby's work trip and I shamelessly tagged along because I hadn't been to Nagoya before. We didn't have time to extend so it was just 4D3N; hubby went for his meetings whereas I focused on zakka shopping! kekeke :p Honestly couldn't remember much of the details so I'll just do a brief through.

We stayed at the Nagoya Marriott Associa Hotel which is conveniently located right above JR Takashimaya Dept Store and directly connected to Nagoya train station serving the Shinkansen and several subway lines like Meitetsu line.

Our twin room was very spacious based on Japanese room standards, probably coz it's an international hotel.

Furnishings looked a little dated but totally speck and clean. Was glad to have such luxurious space because usually the rooms we stayed during personal trips tend to be smaller.

More space for me to pack my shopping. Haha. Brought along my pink lady though it was such a short trip and as usual gonna lug 30-40kg of stuff back home!

Bathroom was big, unlike the usual tiny Japanese cubicle bathroom.

The Nagoya station is well-connected with several underground shopping malls and arcades and I spent a lot of time shopping and getting lost in the myriad of shops just underground alone.

Let's talk about food first.

After checking in to our hotel, we were wandering around looking for lunch and discovered this quaint sushi shop at the underground mall (I think near the entrance of Meitetsu Department Store supermarket). This shop left quite an impression on me because the sushi served was quite special; each serving of sushi had an unique sauce or topping to accentuate the taste of the raw seafood.

Couldn't remember what fish this was, I think some sea bream. Raw inside with exterior slightly burnt with a blowtorch. Topping was some spring onions and yuzu jelly. Very delicious!!

My favourite ume shiso handroll, not many sushi shops in Singapore have this. I think the only sushi restaurant that I know sells this is Ikeikemaru Ryoshi Sushi.

 Another of my favourite ikura sushi, a must to eat since it's so much fresher and cheaper to eat in Japan.

 Hamachi sushi with grated radish. Another perfect combination.

The hotate sushi was so crunchy and sweet!

Totally love this sushi shop and if I were to go back to Nagoya again, would definitely visit this shop again. Above were just a few plates of sushi I managed to shoot, we ate much more than these I can guarantee. Haha. 

One of the dinners we had at a Tonkatsu restaurant at the Sakae district.

Spring special set meal. I always order seasonal special sets or ladies' sets when I see them because they are usually made with seasonal produce and limited edition :)

 The portion was just right for me, although I couldn't finish the rice :( I know it was a waste not to finish the yummy Japanese rice but really couldn't.

Loved my set with breaded prawns, pork fillet, baby corn and a few other items I wasn't sure about.

Hubby ordered his usual pork cutlet set.

The quality was needless to say, and best of all, very value-for-money!

This was a nice breakfast I had myself at one of the bakery cafes at the underground shopping arcade near the hotel. Had a yummy salad and chicken karaage sandwich with tea. Yummy! Wish there are more of such bakery cafes in Singapore!

For lunch, just went into a random eatery at the Takashimaya Department Store basement food hall. The curry rice looked so tantalising and to lessen my guilt of eating curry rice, I selected a vegetable set. The vegetables were so fresh and sweet!

For dinner, I packed some food from the department store food hall and enjoyed them back in the hotel. (No photos as the hotel room lighting was too dim for nice shoots). Managed to get some good deals coz usually food halls would give good discounts towards closing hours.

Another lunch at a Kishimen shop located right inside the Nagoya train station. Kishimen is a famous local dish of Nagoya.

The noodles were flat and broad, unlike the usual udon, ramen or soba. I usually don't like udon but this Kishmen was yummy! And I also added the Nagoya Cochin which is a special breed of free-range chicken (cross-bred between a Nagoya chicken and a cochin). The chicken meat was more chewy and very flavourful.

One of the dinners I had with hubby was at an Italian restaurant also within the Nagoya station. We saw quite a nice crowd and decided to give it a try.

Salad nothing to shout about.

Seafood paella was ok quite flavourful, but surprised that some of the seafood wasn't very fresh :(
The Margarita pizza was better. But this meal didn't leave very much impression. I guess we should just stick to Japanese food. Haha.

Now to the shopping! I visited mostly zakka shops which are located nearby Nagoya station and Sakae district.

One of my favourite zakka shop - Natural Kitchen. Located at 5F of Meitetsu Department Store.

There are several Afternoon Tea Living stores at Nagoya, I went to the ones at Takashimaya and Meitetsu.
 Chanced upon this 3-storey Francfranc store at Sakae district.

LACHIC mall. There are several zakka shops at the basement area.

 Studio Clip - combination of home, living, kitchen and fashion.

 Croissant croissant with same concept.

 Shinzi Katoh Design, stationery, living goods.

Karel Capek tea shop.

212 Kitchen Store.

Another of my favourite zakka shopping selling homeware, living goods, stationery etc, something like Daiso. All items cost 3 coins which is 300 yen (before tax).

I think I visited more zakka shops, and not forgetting the underground food halls/supermarkets but didn't take photos for those.

Ok, that's all for my Nagoya highlight, pardon me there weren't more details but it was a very short trip and hence I focused most of my time on shopping :p Not sure if I have chance to go back again but once again I say, any place in Japan is nice to me =D And I miss Japan a lot.

18 September 2014

Mui Choy with Pork Belly 梅菜扣肉

Mui Choy with Pork Belly (Mei Cai Kou Rou 梅菜扣肉) is another of my favourite childhood dish. This is a traditional Hakka dish; although our family is not Hakka dialect, we love it a lot. I remember my mum used to cook a large pot of it and we would have this dish for at least 2-3 days with either rice or porridge. By day 2 and 3, the mui choy and meat were so tender and flavourful that I couldn't resisting eating more rice.

Indeed, rice or porridge is essential to go with this dish because the taste is rich and salty.

Different households have their own methods of preparing and cooking this dish. Some used a combination of sweet and salted mui choy (preserved mustard green); some just stuck to one type. Some used the steaming method whereas some used the braising method.

I decided to use a combination of both sweet and salted mui choy; bought mine from my friendly auntie grocer at the wet market.

It's important to remove the leaves from the mui choy stems, piece by piece and wash thoroughly with water to get rid of excessive salt and sand. Thereafter, soak the mui choy for 30-45 mins. Some recipes recommend soaking the mui choy for 3-4 hours but I attended a cooking class conducted by a chef before and he mentioned that if we wash each mustard leaf carefully, it's ok to soak the mui choy for shorter period.

Other ingredients include garlic, ginger and pork belly of course, which I asked my butcher to cut into 3 strips for ease of blanching and pan-frying.

After soaking the mui choy, rinse and cut into small pieces and squeeze dry the mui choy as much as possible. Then in a frying pan, dry fry the mui choy. This step is essential as the mui choy would be able to absorb oil/fat from the pork as well as soup stock during braising and become more flavourful.

For the pork, I blanch it in boiling water for a min, pat dry and then pan-fry each strip with a tablespoon of cooking oil until both sides are slightly browned. Once the pork belly is slightly cooked, I cut it into slightly bigger than bite-size pieces as the pork would shrink a little after cooking.

I was deciding between steaming and braising method and went for braising this time. The day before I cooked a pot of superior chicken stock using kampung chicken and chinese ham, and I believe the meat stock would make this dish irresistibly flavourful :p

The preparation method for superior chicken stock is adapted from Annelicious blog. I changed the proportion as my soup pot is not big enough. I used 1 kampung chicken, 1 kampung chicken carcass, 100g chinese ham, 3 slices of ginger, 2 stalks of spring onion and 3.2L of water. After 4hrs of simmering, I got about 2L of superior stock. Used about 600ml to cook the mui choy pork and froze the rest.

 Cooking the mui choy pork itself is quite straightforward. In a deep heavy pot (I used my new cast-iron pot =D), add about 1-2 tbsp of cooking oil and pan-fry the ginger slices and garlic till fragrant, then add the pork belly, mui choy and seasonings. Stir-fry for a minute and finally add meat stock and some water. Bring to boil and then turn down the heat to gentle simmer for about 1 - 1.5hrs till meat is tender.

Mui Choy with Pork Belly  梅菜扣肉
(reference: Chinese Heritage Cooking by Christopher Tan)

  • 560g pork belly, cut into 3 strips
  • 200g sweet mui choy
  • 200g salted mui choy
  • 40g ginger, sliced
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp chinese cooking wine
  • 1/4 tsp sesame oil
  • 25g sliced brown sugar
  • 600ml superior stock
  • 150-300ml water
  1. Remove each leaf of mui choy from the stem and wash thoroughly to rid excess salt and sand. Soak for at least 30 mins. Thereafter, rinse and cut into small pieces. Squeeze dry the mui choy pieces. Set aside.
  2. Blanch the pork belly in boiling water for 1 min. Drain and pat dry.
  3. In a frying pan, dry fry the mui choy pieces. Scoop up and set aside.
  4. In the same frying pan, add 1 tbsp of cooking oil and pan-fry the pork belly on all sides till slightly browned. Then cut the pork belly into slightly bigger than bite-size pieces. Set aside.
  5. In a deep heavy pot, add 1-2 tbsp of cooking oil, add garlic and ginger, fry till fragrant. Then add the pork belly pieces, mui choy pieces and the seasonings. Stir-fry for a min.
  6. Add the superior stock and water. Bring the mixture to boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
  7. Simmer the pork and mui choy for 1 - 1.5hrs, till pork is tender.
  8. The dish is best eaten the next day to allow full flavours to develop. Serve hot with rice.

After braising for 1.5hrs, there's not much gravy left, as the gravy has all been absorbed into the mui choy. Hence the mui choy is so flavourful and rich. Overall, the taste is rich and full-bodied but not overwhelming or excessively salty or sweet. Perfect with a bowl of hot rice! I ate it for lunch (next day after cooking) and gonna have it for dinner as well =D Love love love it! Next time, probably gonna try the steaming method to see what's the difference :)

Update 15 June 2017

My friend Annie of Annielicious Food blog has started a new venture Eat Matters and her newly launched product is Collagen Bone Broth which is simmered over long hours using hormones-free, antibiotics-free chicken, bones, seafood and even filtered alkaline water!

I used the bone broth to make the Mui Choy Pork Belly this time. My whole house smells heavenly when I was cooking it last night (eat the next day for flavours to develop). OMG it was sooooo flavourful and I couldn't resist eating more rice!

With such a convenient option that's packed with nutrients, I don't even have to make my own superior stock now (which is super tedious by the way)!

11 September 2014

Pork Belly Bun 扣肉包

Since young, one of my favourite food is Pork Belly Bun 扣肉包. There are two versions locally; an enclosed version (braised pork enclosed within a soft and fluffy bun/bao) that's typically sold at coffee shops, in those steamer racks together with char siew bao, chicken bao, siew mai, lor mai gai etc. Another version is wedging a sliced of braised pork belly in a "Ho Hup Bao" (similar texture to chinese bao, shape like lotus leaf) with some local lettuce, cilantro and red chilli, much alike a chinese burger.

I adore both versions and would savour each and every bite of the juicy and tender meat along with the fluffy sweet bun, even though I know these are very fattening.

Most enclosed pork belly buns sold at coffee shops are not nice these days, the meat usually too dry and hard, and the bun texture coarse and rough. However, there's one shop opposite Clementi Central specialising in baos and they sell excellent pork belly buns (as well as char siew buns). Their pork belly buns (enclosed version) are made slightly smaller than the average, bun texture is very soft and fluffy and the pork belly is succulent and melt-in-the-mouth. I can eat two to three pieces at a go! So whenever I have cravings for pork belly bun, that shop is the place to go.

The second version is usually homemade, although these days a lot of chinese restaurants and even cze char stalls sell them. The advantage of homemade is naturally the ingredients used, I could choose the best cut and freshest meat, and adjust the marinade and seasonings to taste (not too salty and heavy - there's one so-called famous brand of pork belly bao in Singapore which I think the pork belly taste too sweet and salty).

Here's the marinade for the pork belly. The pork belly was first blanched (to rid smell and dirt), lightly pan-fried (firm up the meat), cut into desired size then marinated, so that the flavours could be immersed into each and every slice of meat.

After marinating the meat for at least three hours, the pork belly slices were then steamed for about two hours. Yes, I prefer the steaming method because the meat juices were retained, resulting in very succulent and tender meat which retained the shape well and didn't disintegrate.

I tried braising the meat before but it's really hard to gauge the water and heat level and sometimes before the meat could be sufficiently tender, the water ran dry and I had to top up with more water which affected the overall taste and texture.

With steaming, I didn't have to add a single drop of water to the meat (see picture above where marinade just covering each slice of meat and steam like that). And from the picture below, the amount of liquid that was "purged" during the steaming, all natural juice from the meat.

Tedious part during steaming was checking the water level (for steaming) and topping up with boiling water to minimise disruption to the steaming process. On the right picture below, I used an electric cooker to steam the meat, had to top up water once. On the left picture, I used a steamer wok and had to top up water two to three times. The pork belly after cooked, is best left overnight for flavours to fully develop.

Forgot to mention about the "Ho Hup Bao". Usually I use store-bought ones which are readily available at the wet market and supermarket, but they can be made at home as well.

Pork Belly Bun 扣肉包
(reference: The Little Teochew, Delicious Asian Food)

  • 1 block of pork belly (about 700g)
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tbsp huatiao cooking wine
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce (I use black bean soy sauce)
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp five spice powder
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 25g rock sugar
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 2 slices ginger
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  1. Blanch the whole block of pork belly in boiling water for 1 min. Drain and pat dry. Poke as many holes on the pork belly skin as possible.
  2. Heat up about 1-2 tsp of oil in a pan and pan-fry all the sides of the pork belly until each side is slightly browned and firmed up.
  3. Drain and let cool slightly. Cut the pork belly into 1cm thick slices.
  4. Mix all the ingredients for marinade thoroughly and pour them over the pork belly slices, make sure each slice is well-covered with the marinade sauce. Transfer to fridge for at least 3 hours.
  5. About 30 mins before steaming, remove the meat from the fridge to bring back to room temperature.
  6. Arrange the pork slices in a steaming tray and steam for 2 hours. *if necessary to top up water for steaming, use boiling water to minimise disruption to water temperature
  7. Off heat of the steamer, and let the pork belly slices sit overnight flavours to develop.
  8. Next morning, heat up the pork belly slices for about 10-15 mins and they are ready to be served.
  9. To serve, sandwich a slice of pork belly in a Ho Hup Bao, add a few leaves of local celery, cilantro and red chilli. Best eaten warm.

See how the meat is glistering in oil? Meat was totally succulent and melt-in-the-mouth with just the right flavour that I like (not too heavy). One bite and I know I'm in pork belly haven! I've served them many times during parties and gatherings and they proved to be favourites among my friends so I guess I'm not the only one who love pork belly bun =D

03 September 2014

Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai)

Besides Sweet & Sour Pork, another of our favourite Cze Char dish is Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai). According to ieatishootipost July 2014 poll on Singapore's Top 10 Cze Char food, Har Cheong Gai turned out to be the most popular! My Sweet & Sour Pork came in fourth only :(

Well, actually Har Cheong Gai is more of hubby's favourite. If I were to make a choice between Har Cheong Gai and Sweet & Sour Pork, the latter wins hands down =D

Ok, anyways, back to Har Cheong Gai, Dr Leslie Tay (ieatishootipost) also posted a recipe which according to him is the Cze Char version that he managed to put together after asking many chefs.

Using the same batter, I tried both deep-fried and air-fried methods to test the difference between the two. As far as possible, I hope to minimise deep-frying so if air-fried method could achieve a satisfactory texture and taste, I won't mind so much (and of course it depends very much on the hubby's preference).

For the air-fried version, the crust was more crunchy and heavy. Taste-wise the prawn paste was slightly subdued.
For the deep-fried version, the crust was crispy and light; and taste-wise the prawn paste came through more distinctly.

After hubby did the taste test, he was ok with both versions (unlike the sweet & sour pork where he felt that deep-fried version was better). I's also important to eat the chicken freshly fried because I tried one piece that was fried in the afternoon and naturally didn't taste as good anymore.

The preparation was fairly easy, just that I disliked the deep-frying part.

For the batter, I tried following the recipe as close as possible making very slight changes. Shrimp sauce is the key ingredient here; I bought my shrimp sauce from Hong Kong earlier this year. The recipe calls for potato starch but I ran out of it and substituted it with tapioca starch. Not sure if it would make a difference, would probably test it out next time.

For the marinate I was actually quite tempted to add some oyster sauce, but resisted because I was keen to stick to the recipe for a start.

Special mention, my new air-fryer grill pan came in useful. The batter didn't stick as much, unlike the original wire basket.

Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai)


  • 10 pieces chicken wings (about 700g), separated into winglets and drumlets
  • 2 tbsp shrimp sauce
  • 2 tbsp chinese cooking wine
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 50g plain flour
  • 50g tapioca starch
  • 1 small egg
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 50-60ml water
  1. Mix all the ingredients for the marinate and coat the chicken wings evenly.
  2. Mix all the ingredients for the batter and stir till smooth paste and add to the marinated chicken.
  3. Mix well, store in container and marinate the chicken wings for 8 hours or up to 2 days in the fridge.
  4. Deep-fry version: Heat oil on medium heat and fry the wings till golden brown. Drain.
  5. Air-fry version: Place wings on grill pan, cook at 180 degree celsius for 15 mins, turning once in between.
  6. Best serve hot.