Sunday, December 4, 2011


Hummerstons is a pretty new restaurant opened by the ex-PS cafe chef. It has the same casual laid back feel of PS cafe and tasteful, homely decor. I definitely wouldn't have visited it if Julie hadn't suggested it cos I'm so tired from work and not on the active lookout for new food places.
Their signature dish is the poutine, which is a home style gravy with potatoes dish with a variety of toppings. Their best seller is the Montreal poutine ($19++) which comes with a decadent combination of foie gras, mushrooms and emmenthal cheese. It looks boring and browy but is indeed a lethal combi and tastes great - thick cut potatoes immersed in tasty gravy and a soft wobbly blob of foie gras and tender juicy mushrooms. And as you eat the foie gras, its lovely fatty oils will ooze out and drip over the potatoes making it even more yummy.
Smoked duck quesadilla ($27++) didn't fare as well as the poutine. I thought it was way overpriced. It was interesting that they paired the smoked duck breast with sweet roasted pears but taste wise, it was very average.
The Chimichurri Lamb short ribs ($32++) were not bad, but not spectacular either. The lamb ribs were well marinated and soft, but a bit too oily and fatty for my liking. It comes with Jamaica Honeydew slaw (tastes just like regular coleslaw, maybe a bit more sour - wasn't very remarkable or I'd have remembered) and a twice baked potato.

I suppose I would revisit Hummerstons again to try other dishes, but price wise it's pretty steep. The Montreal poutine itself is totally worth coming back for!

11 Unity Street
#02-14 Robertson Walk
Tel 67378863

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bhutan - Last post

Onto my last Bhutan post (been backlogging all the restaurants I ate at before gg to Bhutan).
I've gotten quite a few emails enquiring about travelling to Bhutan so I'll briefly mention a bit more about booking a tour there at the end of this post.
When we were there the guide kept asking if we want to have tea. Tea consists of hot tea either with milk and sugar or with butter and salt (this is their local tea, but I didn't like it). The butter tea reminds me a bit like the Werther's Originals (the buttery sweet) but just a salty version.

The meals were all included in the tour price - one reason for this is that they think that tourists won't like their local Bhutanese food cos they use alot of oil, salt and chili. Also, the hygiene level is very questionable as quite a few of their local restaurants don't have running water, and the food is usually pre-made so it sits there for quite a while before consumption. So your guide will try very hard to dissuade you from waltzing into a local restaurant and ordering a meal...
Our first dinner there - it's like a typical Asian meal with rice and dishes. Sometimes, the rice is broken rice but most of the time, tourists get polished rice. The food looks like a typical Chinese meal, but the taste is very different. For example, the bottom most dish is actually chicken, and looks just like sweet and sour chicken but it's just chicken with sauce. The cooking is very simple with salt, chilli and cheese being the main marinade.

Their main staple dish for any meal is chilli with cheese (ema dashi), which is something like Kimchi to the Koreans. The cheese they use is a plain fresh cheese very much like cottage cheese and the chili can be really spicy.
Most of our meals consisted of rice, vegetable dishes and one meat dish (usually chicken or fish). One of the other staples was deep fried potatoes. Bhutan produces lots of potatoes (usually a small variety) which are very much like new potatoes. Another thing that we had with every meal will be a vegetable dish cooked with cheese (as seen above) - either gourd with cheese or some dark leafy vegetable with cheese. The other vegetable dish will usually be a stir fried vegetable and the last one will be ema dashi. And potato. Throughout the whole tour, we had minor variations to these, but it's really essentially more or less the same. Sometimes, it'll be a buffet style meal where lots of tourist will congregate and have our non-spicy, less salty meal.
Variation with sliced potatoes and eggplant. The rice here is their local red rice. Sometimes, we would also get rice mixed with maize (cos rice is more expensive so sometimes, they use maize to bulk up the rice).
My best meals in Bhutan was in Bumtang Valley, at Wangdicholing Resort. It's a family run resort on top of a small hill overlooking the valley and a nice meandering river and many mountains and blue skies. If I'm not wrong, I think my guide mentioned that she was trained in Switzerland or had been to Switzerland and learnt to cook there.
A speciality of that region in Bhutan is their buckwheat produce. The first meal we had there was not very remarkable - cauliflower with cheese, cucumber salad with yogurt, fried soba noodles. Some of the American tourists had a pizza look alike, but we didn't get it the first day there.

We had buckwheat pancakes for breakfast - it's a very dense, clay coloured pancake but the best part of it was the locally produced Bumtang honey (which we kept drinking with hot water) and the resorts home made jam (bought back 2 jars cos it's really very nice - hand picked wild type strawberries from the resort's garden). Also, the chef made the yogurt in-house - and it was very creamy and delicious and went really well with the honey and the strawberry jam.
The first meal we had there, she cooked something similar to rosti (potatoes, egg and onion pancake) which I devoured after slowly starving for the last few days. The dried mushrooms with cheese (bottom left) was pretty good too. The lentil soup tasted like the Indian curry which comes with thosai.
The next meal we had there was spectacular. We were utterly miserable cos we weren't used to the food so we told our guide and he helped us ask the cook if she could give us something more suited to our palates for dinner. The hotel happened to have very few guests for dinner and the cook outdid herself. We got french fries (!) which tasted extremely good after eating roasted potatoes day in day out. French fries always taste good. And they even have their local Druk brand tomato sauce. Yum! I think that was the best french fries I ate. In fact, the other tourist in the same dining hall spied our fries and asked how come he didn't get any :P
And we got the pizza which was remarkably good considering that they don't have an oven there!
One of their local soba dishes (actually, I should stop calling it soba - it's actually handmade buckwheat noodles) is soba with curd and it's serve cold with some preserved vegetable which looks very much like konbu (though I'm very sure it's not cos it tastes like ?onion)
Our pizza :D Devoured all 3 slices. Best ever!
And despite being stuffed full, we had a fruit salad for dessert - fruit cocktail with vegetables and papaya and a vanilla custard. We were so stuffed that night and slept very well.
The Bhutanese people are very friendly and we were invited to a distant friend of our driver's family's friend (so they're actually unrelated) house warming. In Bhutan, the houses generally have 2 storeys, but only the upper storey is for living in. There's 4 rooms in each traditional house - one kitchen, one bedroom and 2 prayer rooms (which are usually connected). The toilet in the village houses are usually outside, but in some modern houses, the toilets are built in. I suppose it's quite tough to cook cos you'll have to carry buckets and buckets of water up and down the house to wash your dishes...
We were given some snacks during the house warming - from left to right - some deep fried rice crackers, rice puffs (which were plain and quite oily) and my favourite snack of fried puffed rice with butter and sugar. And milk tea.
Another local dish was this quite tasty boiled rice with milk and sugar. Reminds me of oats but it's creamier (probably cos the rice was boiled quite long?).
We had pork momos (like dumplings) which were extremely nice, much nicer than the ones we had at the hotels. It's very much like our gyozas/guo ties in Singapore just that they don't use vinegar as a dipping sauce.
Some beef dish which my friend said was very tasty but I didn't eat it.
The house warming party lasts for days and they have monks to pray and bless the house, and they also invite the local ladies to sing some songs and dance as part of the celebrations.
More momos - this ones beef from the trek up to Tiger's nest - smelt really nice but I didn't eat it :(
Charcoal roasted corn - we stopped by this makeshift stall along the road - the corn is not very sweet and much drier than the type that we get locally. I was totally convinced that I would get gastroenteritis after eating this but in the end I didnt!
Drying chillies on the roof top - the Bhutanese like to dry their excess food for storage purposes. Alot of times you will see them drying meats and vegetables to store for winter.
Rice fields where most of the harvest is done by hand
Black pig at Punakha - Bhutan only had black pigs and no pink pigs, and these pigs love to eat the marijuana which grows like a weed in Bhutan.
Another one of their interesting local dishes is beaten rice. It's made from unripe rice and these greenish grains are first dry fried over a charcoal fire. After which, they are placed into this stone with a hollow and pounded.
After the pounding, it's winnowed and the rice is then either kept or served as a snack.
The accommodation that we had was simple but comfortable, and the hotels were clean. Other than the hotel in Thimphu which had a lousy shower, the rest were really not too bad and exceeded my expectations. Most of the rooms had a television set, except for the one at Bumtang. The weather was cool so there was no need for airconditioning, though we had to use the heater on some of the cooler nights.
The bathroom - this is the at the same hotel in Paro - not all the hotels had bath tubs - most had showers.

I really enjoyed my trip in Bhutan and so far, it's my best holiday (other than my cherry blossom grad trip to Japan, where I got to lounge around in the onsen) and it has changed my life perspective (though my happiness index is probably negative 50 at this current moment).

Fortunately, I went to Bhutan before Khaw made his stupid idiotic comment on Bhutan or I'd be too embarrassed to say I'm from Singapore! But then again, reading about his comment online lead me to this nice Bhutanese blog which I visit from time to time.

I won't recommend the tour company that I used to book my tour cos they gave us quite a fair bit of grief, but the Bhutan tour company is called Thoesam Tours . If you're planning to visit western and central Bhutan (which is what I did) you'll need about 7 days minimum. I went for a total of 9 days.

If you're young and healthy, I would strongly suggest that you take a trek which can range from 3 days (the easiest is supposed to be the Druk path trek, from Paro to Thimpu) to >24 days cos the country is really so beautiful. I'd definitely come back and do a trek. It's a refreshing change from just visiting cultural sites. The altitude is about 2000 above sea level and it's not high enough to get altitude sickness though you'll feel a bit breathless on exertion the first few days.

If you're Bhuddist, then good for you cos you'll get to see all the extremely sacred relics and sacred sites like where the Guru (born from a lotus leaf) left his body print and hand print etc etc etc and you can buy lots of blessed good luck charms.

From next year, the Bhutanese government will be raising the visa prices from USD $200 to $250 per day per visitor, and there's a surcharge of about USD $30-40 for groups of less than 3.

However, this price is supposed to cover their local hotel (simple accommodation, not the high class world renown luxe hotels), the guide and the driver.

After paying for the tour, there's actually not much you'll need to bring for expenses (unless you're planning to buy lots of souvenirs and other than tips, we spent less than USD $30 (for drinks, snacks etc).

To get there from Singapore, you'll need to catch a connecting flight from Bangkok. Only their local carrier, Druk Air, flies to Bhutan, and there's a short transit (about 30-45min) at Calcutta (or some part of India - I was sleeping both ways so I'm not very sure abt this). There's only one flight per day, and for our trip, that was the limiting factor cos we couldn't get a flight on the day we wanted. The Druk air flight leaves in the wee hours of the morning so what most people do is to transit one day in Bangkok and stay at a hotel really near the airport so you can get up at the unearthly hour to catch a flight into Bhutan.

The peak travel seasons is from Oct to Dec (after which it gets to cold and rainy) and I think it'll be miserable being in Bhutan during the rainy season cos everything will be muddy and slippery and there'll be land slides. Even when we were there, the road was sometimes blocked off by land slides and the roads are already narrow and windy and it's quite treacherous at some points.

Do bring a long sleeved T-shirt cos you're not allowed to enter government places such as the fortresses which are in use (you'll know this when you see the Bhutanese flag raised on a flagpole).

I really had trouble appreciating their food so I'd suggest to bring your own cup noodles (though their local grocery stalls do sell instant noodles) if you're fussy about your food like me.

Other than that, go in with an open mind and you'll have an experience of a lifetime in this deeply religious, hidden country:)

Marmalade Pantry's Lemon tart is back!

I'm so happy I'm having this weekend off (except for abt 2 hours this afternoon)... And I've caught back on all my sleep! Best weekend so far :D
Marmalade pantry's lemon tart is back! It's probably the only lemon tart I like (since I don't really like lemon to begin with) but it's missing the slices of strawberry at the bottom and I think it's slightly more shallow than the one they had a long time ago. I still think the sticky date pudding is the best dessert there!
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wok and Barrel

I'm back (after such a long hiatus) and I've been (barely) surviving my first 2 weeks in the busiest team. I went home when the sun was still up for the first time in 3 weeks (never ever see the sun in the mornings!) today! And I was actually happy to be stuck in rush hour traffic (as opposed to leaving after the jams clear)... I've actually got one last post on Bhutan, but it's too depressing thinking of the land of Happiness (esp since Khaw Boon Wan's tactless remarks in the newapapers), and my happiness index is probably minus 100 now
Lunch time at Wok and barrel - they don't serve their other interesting dishes like their Bak Chor Mee pasta but they have Nasi Lemak (about $8-10) with an assortment of sides. The nicest one was the mutton rendang which had an intensely fragrant and thick sauce. We also had the chicken curry (also as fragrant, but I like lamb more).
The Asian coleslaw has a sourish vinegar-base dressing and was refreshing especially after all the oil from the nasi lemak and the curry.
The ikan billis was fried to a crisp and nicely salted.
The Shendol dessert which is a twist to the usual icy chendol dessert. It's more like coconut panna cotta with gula melaka and a cloyingly creamy (couldn't finish this) scoop of coconut ice cream (red bean was sold out).
The decor is simple, clean and service is quick and friendly. They serve complimentary iced water (if I remember correctly, it's self service).

I would definitely return to try their lamb charsiew and special blend of spiced crackling pork and of course, their famed bak chor mee tagliatelle.
Popped by to Flor which is just a few doors down and tried their chestnut cake. Too full to appreciate it fully tho!

Wok and Barrel
13 Duxton Hill
Singapore 089507
Tel 62200595

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bhutan 2 - Central Bhutan: Bumthang, Wangdue, Punakha

Central Bhutan is even more beautiful then western Bhutan (Paro and Thimpu).
Shop in Bumthang with yak cheese hanging by the windows. All the Bhutanese buildings have these painted decorations.
Bhutan has many many dogs all just lying around peacefully - they curl up in the sun when its cool in the morning , and lay in the shade when it's warm at midday. The Bhutanese believe that dogs will be reincarnated into human beings after they die, so all dogs are treated with respect. The dogs aren't the rowdy, noisy strays that you find usually, but instead, they will just mind their own business and not bother you. Occasionally, the shop keepers or monks will feed them food so they're always well fed. Btw, if someone accidentally knocks a dog down and kills it, they will light a butter lamp at the temple for the dog.
There's lots of construction going on in the town square in Bumthang. They're in the midst of building their domestic airport. Most of their construction works are from India. Construction is one of the least desirable jobs to the Bhutanese, and most Bhutanese aim to be government officials. If they do well at school, the government will sponsor them fully for their university education after completing the compulsory 12 standards in school. There was a recent fire which burnt down most of the town so they've got a firetruck now. If I'm not wrong, its a gift from India. Bhutan has a very good relationship with India, and there's even Indian troops stationed in Bhutan for military protection against China.
The one and only Bumthang post office. You can get really nice stamps of Bhutan's festivals, flora and fauna here.
We stayed in this nice quiet hotel overlooking a beautiful valley in Bumthang. It was my favourite hotel for many reasons but the main reason was because the cook there was superb. It's called Wangdicholing Resort and the head chef was trained in Switzerland so she cooks really well. They make their own yogurt, strawberry jam (from strawberries grown in the hotel), buckwheat pancakes (very dense, grey coloured pancake shaped), pizzas, pound cake and she even made us french fries just because I was dying for familiar food (there were only about 8 guests that night and she had time).
Bumthang is also known as 'Little Switzerland'. It's really extremely pretty and it reminds me of New Zealand without sheep or Norway. You can see the town in a distance. This is the view from Wangdicholing Resort.
The temperature in Bumthang is much cooler than Thimpu. It was quite chilly the night we got there but our room had a traditional warmer (the Bhutanese have one of these in every house. They use wood shavings and firewood.
Our room got supremely overheated (no adjusting knobs to adjust the temperature) and felt exactly like a sauna cos it's made of wood, so we opened the windows to let some cool air in and the whole colony of insects descended upon our room to enjoy the lights with us. Gave us a lot of grief the first night cos we couldn't get rid of them :( Thankfully, they somehow disappeared or died after the first night and so we had a peaceful second night. (I was just reading some reviews on Trip Advisor - the beds are comfortable and the shower is decent, hotel staff are friendly +++)
Another view from the hotel - we took a walk back from the town square to the hotel and walked along the river.
More views of the Bumthang valley cos it's so pretty. I imagine that it's what the 'Land of milk and honey' looks like. Bumthang is also famous for producing honey and I bougth a few jars home.
Soccer match between 2 schools - I think nearly the whole town came to watch and support the local school team in the finals of this competition. The Bhutanese enjoy archery (their national sport, though it's not like the Olympics kind of archery) and soccer. There's only one soccer stadium in Bhutan, and it's located in Thimphu. Many of the Bhutanese have cable TV from an Indian company and they have all the channels under one package deal (unlike in Singapore, where you have to pay for a basic tier and pay even more to get the premium channels) so they have AXN, Star world, HBO and all the sports channels.
A house with a large vegetable garden along the way back to the hotel. The red stuff on top is chilies drying on the roof top. The Bhutanese eat whole chillies with nearly everything and their staple dish is chillies with cheese.
Dog with puppies - the dogs in Bhutan look nearly all the same and comes in various colours.
The Burning Lake in Bumthang which got its name from this story: it was prophecized that the lake had a holy treasure in it, and the disciple of Guru Padmasambhava (the one who has 8 forms and was born from a lotus leaf) had jumped into the lake with a lighted butter lamp to retrieve it. Under it, he saw 100 doors, and one of them was lighted up. He went into this one and retrieved a holy scroll, and when he returned to the surface, the butter lamp was still lighted. For the record, no one has gone swimming or scuba diving in this lake, so we will never know if there's really 100 doors under water - it's really very dark. It gets rather dangerous when it's crowded cos there's this outcrop of rock which you stand on to admire the lake and there's no rails. An Indian tourist died here sometime last year cos he fell in.
More chillies drying on the house. If you look carefully, there's a long piece of wood below all the chillies which prevents them from rolling down.
Trongsa Fortress, which was built by the great-grandfather of Shabdrung (this great king who unified the country). The day that we were driving back to Wangdue, we decided to trek across from the fortress to the view point (where this photo was taken) and our guide kindly obliged us even though the trek wasn't in the itinerary and we were super tired from sitting in the car.
This is the river seen from the fortress, we basically trekked down from the fortress and climbed back on the other side after crossing the river (there's a proper concrete bridge at the bottom). After hating trekking for nearly my entire life, I have now learnt to enjoy it -but only when the weather is extremely cool (hate being hot) and there are no frogs or toads lurking under mossy rocks. I have been so un-enlightened all these years, maybe because the only trekking I ever did was up Bukit Timah Hill (equivalent to torture in my secondary school days) and in McRitchie reservoir which was always muddy and slippery (during the obligatory annual cross country run, also in secondary school). Miserable days since it's always hot and humid.
Spider's web
Lingzhi look a like mushroom
Domesticated yak that we saw on the way back to Wangdue - they're really smelly and when the wind blows there's many tiny specks flying out from their fur - I don't want to know if it's dust, dirt or fleas or one of the many assorted insects flying around them and they're quite smelly, just like yak cheese. More yak - btw the yak cheese which I tried (the hard white rectangle thing that I wrote about in the post before this) had a strand of hair so I wasn't really enthusiastic about chewing it in my mouth (also the idea of the white powdery thing being mould wasn't a very pleasant one). The yak come down from higher altitudes when winter comes. The yak herders are quite rich now cos they also sell cordyceps which is in high demand overseas.
White languar (which looks like a monkey) that we saw on the car journey - both to and fro from Bumtang. The Bhutanese believe that it's a lucky omen - we saw a whole hoard of them just chilling by the side of the road. Apparently, spotting the golden haired languar is an unlucky omen!
This is a stupa that we passed in Trongsa, which is a replica of a Tibetian (or was it Indian?) one, and the make actually carved it onto a turnip so that he could replicate it back in Bhutan.

We return to the Fortress in Wangdue, where festive celebrations were happening cos an ancient scroll had been rolled out. It occurs only once a year, and throngs of people will flock to Wangdue to see it. We had to get up at 6am to see the ancient scroll (whoever sees it will be blessed++) and since it's so ancient, it cannot be touched by the full sunlight and will be rolled up. Again, even though it was massively crowded, there wasn't any pushing or shoving, though these policemen had to make a human barrier to prevent too many people from being too near the scroll.
People of all ages queue up for really long just to walk infront of the scroll and to receive its blessing. They will do this bowing ritual in front of the scroll, which involves them bowing down (forehead all the way to the floor) for a total of 3 times.
The monks at the festival.
The extremely sacred scroll which only comes out once a year. I suppose these monks are going to make it their handphone wallpaper? The scroll is supposed to be hundreds of years old but it's really well preserved (asked our guide if it was preserved or retouched but he said no, its holy so it doesn't decompose. I think the biggest figure is Guru Padmasambhava (the one who was born from a lotus leaf) but my knowledge of all these things is appalling despite my guide's numerous attempts to explain it to me repeatedly (until he started saying 'the one who unified our country' or 'the one who was born from a lotus leaf').
Old monk watching the celebration from on top
This was a masked dance (not sure if it was at Wangdue) and it's supposed to chase away the demons.
Young monks resting in the shade - the Bhutanese are really friendly and will turn and smile for the camera.
Marijuana plants grow in the wild - in fact, it can be found nearly anywhere in Bhutan. Apparently the pigs love to eat them (but cows don't) and it's illegal smoking the weed.
At the Chimi Monastery near Punakha. It's the Divine Madman's temple and it was where he subdued a demon and kept it within the black chorten. Women wanting to have children will come to the temple to get blessed.
Local cow herder with a very interesting cap
Golden rice field in Punakha
Happy black pig resting in the shade - it's really hairy and black and big. Apparently there aren't pink coloured hairless pigs in Bhutan. I imagine this is what kurobuta pigs look like? When the locals slaughter pigs, they will use a piece of wood to whack the snout - apparently all of the pig's life force is concentrated in that snout and the pig will instantly die, after which they will soak it in hot water and shave the hair off and eat nearly every part of the pig - the cheeks are the most prized part.
Punakha fortress, where the King just got married today! It's a national holiday for 3 days to honor the event. Punakha is really a very beautiful place and it's very serene too. When we were there, the Punakha fortress was all decorated in preparation for the royal wedding.
One of the many interesting things in Bhutan - they have phalluses painted in front of their houses and it's believed to bring the houses good luck, thanks to the Divine Madman and his unorthodox teaching methods. If you look closely at the masked dance picture a few photos above (near the divine scroll) you can see that he is also holding a phallus...
Drive back from Wangdue to Paro
Bhutan is super quiet and serene (if you're not in the town center) at night and the next day you get to wake up when the sun is slowly rising and there's mountains, trees, blue skies and fresh air +/- a clear river. They really make an effort to preserve their culture and traditions (the locals favourite tradition is chewing betle nuts!). The first day after Bhutan, when I was in Bangkok it struck me how different it was waking up to tall grey buildings, grey skies, traffic jams and the hoards and hoards of people. The people here have their needs met and no one is in the highly stressful rat race. I don't think they're deliriously happy but they're contented.
Last time, I used to think that it was terrible to live in a developing country with no modern medical facilities - if you got knocked down by a truck you'd surely die cos there's only very basic medical facilitis, but I think it's better to die happy and have lived a fufilling life rather than to aim to accomplish millions of things and then get knocked down and die just before you achieve that. Or even worse die from some ruptured aneurysm from all the stress at work.

I'll be posting more on the food and the accommodation in the third and last post.