DSC00509 (Edit)

Lake Toya, Japan

Spot of Tranquility.

IMG_8185 (Edit) (2)

Little India, Singapore

Spices, gold and splashes of colour!

IMG_7713 (Edit) 2

Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay

Garden City, City in a Garden.

IMG_6839 (Edit) (3)

Bryce Canyon, USA

Thor's Hammer

IMG_5531 (Edit) (2)

Chocolate Test, Singapore

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." -Charles M Schulz

Sunday, August 6, 2017

9 places to get your birthday cakes

Probably two decades ago, whenever my family celebrated birthdays, the birthday cake was always the same, no matter which family member, year after year.

But nobody complained because this was our favourite cake - mango cake with a thick layer of sponge and generous slabs of mangoes neatly arranged on the cake, topped with a layer of jelly. The cake was home made by a lady who stayed around a 7 minute walk from where we stayed. Sadly, she passed away due to cancer and we never found another mango cake remotely close to those that she used to make.

Every time I have to buy a birthday cake, I have to think hard. Here is a compilation of my favourite cakes (and will be happy for suggestions too!).

1. Awfully Chocolate

The first time I tried Awfully Chocolate's cakes was when my university classmates celebrated my birthday. If you are one for good old fashioned chocolate cakes, Awfully Chocolate offers precisely that. The All Chocolate Cake ($34 for a 6 inch cake) is no-frills and moist.

Credit: Awfully Chocolate
I like their Chocolate Banana Cake ($36 for a 6 inch cake) as well- I mean it's moist upon moist! Bananas and chocolates are a match made in heaven and the sweet banana adds a kick to the otherwise bittersweet chocolate cake.


2. Chateraise

Chateraise, a Japanese bakery, is a new discovery.

I tried the Crispy Chocolate Cake ($40). Typical of Japanese cakes, the white chocolate fresh cream was light. Using good quality Belgium Couverture chocolate, this was a decadent chocolate cake topped with chocolate balls.


3. Four Leaves

Four Leaves is so common until sometimes, we forget that common bakeries can also produce good cakes.

Coco Exotic (21 cm X 17 cm for $38) is one of those cakes that no one can complain about (unless you really hate chocolate). The sponge cake is layered with light chocolate mousse and the best part is of course the crispy hazelnut flakes lining the bottom of the cake.


4. Windowsille pies

If you want a break from cakes, how about try some pies? This is an especially good option for young people who want to take capture instagrammable food pictures and just want to try a bit of every possible flavour.

For my birthday last year, I requested for the Assorted Pie ($70) which had 10 slices and I asked everybody to choose what flavour they wanted beforehand so you could be sure that no one would be getting what they don't like! My favourite flavours include the Strawberry Lemon and Sparkling Yuzu because they bring that sour tang to the pies.

Credit: Windowsille Pies 
5. Stuttgart Blackforest Boutique S-Cafe

My husband does not have much opinion about food. But, he swears by Stuttgart S-Cafe's Black Forest Cake ($125). We have never bought the whole cake because of the hefty price tag and will usually order one slice for two to share.

This Black Forest Cake is serious business. The cherries are not only abundant, but abundantly soaked in kirsch. This balances out the sweetness of the cake and is an absolute delight.

Credit: Stuttgart Blackforest Boutique S-Cafe
6. L'atelier Tiramisu 

L'atelier Tiramisu is my favourite tiramisu place in Singapore. I do not know how an authentic tiramisu tastes like. But the Classico ($30 for 500 gram) suits my tastebuds the best- the right proportion of mascarpone to lady fingers, the lady fingers thoroughly soaked in aromatic coffee and the bitter chocolate to top it off.

Credit: L'atelier 
They also offer other flavours such as lychee, matcha, dark cherry etc. but classico remains my favourite.

7. Pine Garden 

I have never heard of Pine Garden until family members started ordering huge cakes from Pine Garden for their kids' birthday celebrations. Pine Garden is one of those old school bakeries which has more than 32 years of history. If you are one for old school cakes with a twist, this is for you. Popular cakes include the Lychee Martini ($48 for 1 kg).

My favourite is the Orange Zest Chocolate ($48 for 1 kg) while my mum's favourite is the Pulut Hitam cake ($44 for 1 kg).
Credit:Credit: Pine Garden
8. Island Creamery 

Eating Swensens' ice cream cake used to be a real treat. However, after growing up, I realised that there's certainly more to ice cream cakes than Swensens. 

The Mudpie Cake ($48 for 8 inch) consists of layers of chocolate, cookies & cream and burnt caramel ice cream topped with Oreo cookie crumbs. If you are both a cake lover and ice cream lover, this is the perfect way to enjoy the best of both worlds. 


9. Cedele

I refused to try carrot cakes (the Western one, not chai tow kway) because carrots and cakes just sound really weird together. However, upon much cajoling, I tried Cedele's Carrot Walnut Cake ($52 for 8 inches) and could finally understand why people enjoy this cake.

I have to admit that I am still not a fan of the sweet cream cheese frosting but then again, I generally do not like frosting and cream cheese. The carrot cake, thankfully, tasted nothing like raw carrots. It is dense, moist, tasted of cinnamon and contained lots of walnuts and carrot shreds.

Credit: Cedele

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel

We had a free one night stay at a junior suite in Marriott as we had booked a package with them last year.

1. Location 

The location can't get any better. It is located in the heart of the shopping district and is incredibly near to the MRT station.


2. Room 

To our pleasant surprise, we were upgraded from the junior suite to the Premier Suite, which rate was more than double that of the junior suite! I can only say that it was a very luxurious experience. Located next to the pool, the room was adorned tastefully.

The bed and pillows were so comfortable and we had a good night's rest.


From the room, we had a view of the swimming pool. It's not like we really want to see the swimming pool (thinking of those vacations where we were in close proximity to the ocean!), but I really have nothing to complain about.


Besides the sofa area, there is also a dining area and a desk for you to do your work (complete with a TV).


3. Toilet 

The toilet was very spacious, with demarcated areas for the toilet bowl, basins, bathtub and shower area.

It's impossible not to fall in love with that toilet, not only for its furnishing, but also for its wonderful smelling and good quality Thann toiletries. These toiletries , I later found out, are natural aromatherapy products made using botanical sources. As a general rule, I bring my own toiletries when I travel because (1) I don't like the smell of the toiletries provided by the hotel or (2) the toiletries make my hair / skin rough. These Thann toiletries here have a refreshing orange smell and made my hair and skin smooth after shower. I know I have gone a little off tangent, from talking about the hotel room, to talking about these shower products. But these stuff are really good.


The bathtub is really there just to make people feel like every hotel stay after this will just be a bad one. There was a container of bath salt next to the bathtub and you could watch television as you bathed.


If you are not one for soaking in bathtubs,  there is also the shower area (with good water pressure).


Outside the room, there is a veranda and whirlpool. I mean, if there is a swimming pool outside your doorstep, I am not sure why anyone needs a whirlpool. I guess it's nice for two people to enjoy the stars at night in the whirlpool (I'm kidding, you probably can't see many stars at night from the hotel given that there is plenty of light pollution in Orchard road).


4. Executive lounge 

The room was fantastic but another highlight was the access to the executive lounge. From 530 pm to 730 pm there were complimentary hors d'oeuvres and from 730 pm to 930 pm, there were complimentary desserts. There are also drinks (including cocktails) and nuts available. We enjoyed the executive lounge because it had a very chill atmosphere with light music playing in the background and good service.


We went to the hors d'oeuvres expecting some small appetisers and were prepared to go out for dinner thereafter. What we didn't expect was that the amount of food was sufficient for dinner! They had both hot and cold food. Hot food included satay (which meat was in large chunks, well-marinated and very juicy), samosas and fried rice. Cold food included salmon, vegetarian rolls, sushi etc. They kept replenishing the food when it was running low. The desserts selection was not as impressive as the hors d'oeuvres and they did not replensish the desserts. The desserts were clearly not their forte.


The next morning, there was complimentary breakfast. Breakfast selection was not as wide as that at Marriott Cafe but nonetheless still made for a decent spread with muffins, croissants, bread, smoked salmon, limited dim sum and an omelette station.


There was also a selection of fresh fruits and yoghurt.


5. Amenities

There is a swimming pool, which is not large and not deep but good enough for a dip. There is also a gym which we didn't visit.


6. Conclusion 

Overall, the stay was very luxurious and we felt so pampered! 

The only small glitch is that we weren't sure whether we could go for the breakfast at Marriott Cafe (which definitely had a much wider spread). As such, we told the waitress our room number and asked her whether we were entitled to breakfast at the cafe. However, we were told that we were only entitled to the breakfast at the executive lounge and took her word for it as we didn't have a copy of the gift certificate. 

Honestly, we didn't mind breakfast at the executive lounge as well because the food was satisfying as well. However, after I checked out and checked a copy of my gift certificate (the original has been kept by them), I noted that it stated that we had a buffet breakfast for two at the Marriott Cafe. Maybe it's because they gave us executive lounge access so they cancelled our entitlement to breakfast to Marriott Cafe? We didn't pursue it because we weren't hard up for the breakfast at the Marriott Cafe in any event but just felt that this was all a little confusing.

Something that I was surprised about was the lack of complimentary wifi, in this day and age at a five star hotel. 

Otherwise, a great stay.

Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel
320 Orchard Road
Tel No: 6735 5800 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lake Bohinj (Slovenia)

On the day we went to Lake Bled, there were hundreds of accordion players, both young and old, playing tunes throughout the day, to celebrate the start of summer season events. It was festive and fun. 

The next day we went to Lake Bohinj and it was a complete contrast- so tranquil and not filled with people at every corner. 


Lake Bohinj is the largest permanent lake in Slovenia. When we were there in May, the weather was a little temperamental. One moment, we were greeted with beautiful blue skies. The next moment, the showers descended upon this tranquil place.


We stopped along the way to get some groceries for a picnic. We spent some time at the benches and the only visitors who were intruding into our personal space were the ducks which were waddling around and waiting for some food to come along their way.


We came across a shop renting equipment to canoe, kayak etc. The lady in the shop didn't look too pleased having to do business, but that was fine by us. We rented a canoe and spent an hour on the lakes. We were the only people on the lakes and the calm waters gently pushed us along, as we admired the spectacular landscape around us.


Wildflowers are always my favourite. They don't need careful manicuring or tender loving care by humans. They grow freely and goes where nature takes them.


It should take around half an hour from Lake Bled to Lake Bohinj. If you are an adrenaline junkie, there is probably not enough to offer you at Lake Bohinj. 

Tip: Do find an appropriate parking spot where you want intend to stay for some time because I remember we were paying quite a bit for parking here. 

Prima Tower Revolving Restaurant

Prima Tower Revolving Restaurant is one of two revolving restaurants in Singapore. It offers good views of the port and Sentosa and don't worry, it revolves slowly enough such that you wouldn't get nauseous while eating. 

The restaurant has been around since 1977 and has that old school feel.  

For Father's Day, we ordered the set menu for 6 ($288++) and the menu looked promising (later, I found out that it does not help to have high expectations). 

The meal started off with Shredded Scallops with Fish and Egg White. While the smooth consistency of the dish was enjoyable, the egg white taste started to overwhelm the taste buds after a while such that the entire dish tasted predominantly of egg white. Some might also find this a little too mushy. 


The Fish Maw & Seafood in Thick Soup was average.


The Stewed Pork Ribs was one of the better dishes- it was not tough and tore easily.


The Authentic Barbecued Peking Duck was disappointing. Peking duck is typically served without the meat- look from the picture how much meat came out together with the skin. The skin was also not as crispy as it ought to be.


The vegetables were again average.


I didn't enjoy the noodles at all. I have a particular aversion to yellow noodles which have that slightly bitter taste. Needless to say, I barely ate a few mouths of this.


The fish came out right at the end, around the same time as dessert. If this is not poor planning, I don't know what it is. I found the fish lacking in freshness although it was not to the extent that it will cause a stomach upset.


The dessert was Osmanthus Jelly. Given that I have tried to make Osmanthus Jelly, I know how inexpensive and quickly this dessert can be made, despite restaurants making this look like a high-end dessert. This osmanthus jelly didn't have a strong osmanthus taste. Presentation was awful as well.


Food is not great, not value for money. For that price, you are better off somewhere else unless you are paying for the views. Staff generally looked like they were owed wages.

Prima Tower Revolving Restaurant
201 Keppel Road
Tel No: 6272 8822 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

9 Food Souvenirs to Bring Back from Singapore

Everytime I go travelling, without fail, I will google what are the best souvenirs to bring back to Singapore from that country. And of course, food often ranks high on that list.

Instead of telling you to buy merlion fridge magnets (what?), here is a list of 10 food souvenirs to bring back from Singapore- from a Singaporean's perspective (i.e. I do not consider the Singapore sling a worthy souvenir).

1. Kaya 

Kaya is a coconut jam spread, that it is made from coconut milk, sugar and eggs. There are recipes online (for example, Rasamalaysia) but really, I am not going to go through all that effort to make kaya.

My cousin who stays in Germany recently requested that I bring 3 bottles of kaya when I visited. The family of 2 adults and 2 children finished one bottle in 2 weeks!

I have Glory brand Nonya Kaya at home, and know of others who have this brand at home too. At less than S$3 for a 400g jar, this is an inexpensive souvenir.
Credit: RedMart

Alternatively, if you are looking for something more presentable, and possibly more reputable to foreigners, you may want to go for Ya Kun's kaya at S$4.80 for a 290g jar.

Credi: Ya Kun 

Alternative:


If you know Ya Kun, you probably would know Toast Box as well.

I was very intrigued by the Sprouting Kits sold by Toast Box. Firstly, this is a charitable effort where they help to raise funds for Abilities Beyond Limitations and Expectations. Secondly, you may say ahh this does not fall under the food category! Well, the sprouting kit comes with soil compost processed from Toast Box's recycled coffee grounds, together with seeds for growing the sprouts, so yes, it kind of counts as food.

I know for a fact that the plants that my friend grew in an office environment had sprouted uncontrollably, meaning that these are really easy plants to care and maintain for.

The sprouting kit is sold for S$5 each and 100% of the proceeds go to charity.

Credit: Toast Box 
2. Pandan Cake 

CNN has named Pandan Cake as Singapore's national cake- you may therefore want to bring a box of it back. Do ask about its shelf life beforehand.

Pandan cake is a chiffon cake made with the juice of the pandan plant. CNN has specifically named Pine Garden and Bengawan Solo for their pandan cakes. I have tried both and both are great. But if you don't want to specially go out of the way to get your hands on some pandan cakes, Bengawan Solo is a better option because there are many outlets in Singapore, including the airport.

At Bengawan Solo, one slice costs S$1.50 and a whole cake costs S$15. At Pine Garden, it costs S$9 for one cake. (P.s. You may also want to get the kueh lapis / pineapple tarts / chilli prawn rolls from Bengawan Solo.)

Credit: Bengwan Solo
Alternative: 

If you are one who really enjoys baking, instead of buying the pandan cake, how about buying the pandan leaves themselves! You can find these useful green leaves at markets or supermarkets such as NTUC. Pandan leaves are not just meant for baking or cooking soups- they can be insect repellants as well. Check out their many purported uses here.

3. Bak Kwa

Bak Kwa is essentially barbequed meat which is sweet and salty, or otherwise known as jerky. They may be pork, chicken or beef.

You can either eat them piping hot on the spot, or if bring some back to share (are you sure you really want to), you can buy those vacuum packed ones which are really convenient. These are pricer than your normal food souvenirs- it costs S$38.40 for 600g of these vacuum packed goodies.

Credit: Bee Cheng Hiang

You may get them at Bee Cheng Hiang or Lim Chee Guan.

Alternative: 

Instead of barbequed meat, how about some floss? It has a light and fluffy texture and goes well with anything plain tasting (e.g. porridge). If you have eaten Thai pineapple fried rice, you probably would have seen this sprinkled on top of the rice.
Credit: Seriouseats 
4. Pre-mix

Wow, there are so many in this category, I don't even know where to begin. Basically, if you are lazy to cook things from scratch but really want to try some Singapore food, here are some of the pre-mixes that you can easily buy off the shelves of supermarkets in Singapore.

(a) Bak Kut Teh

Bak Kut Teh is essentially pork rib cooked in a broth full of herbs and spices. It literally means "meat bone tea" - there is however no tea in the dish. The tea is served alongside the soup as it is believed that the tea can help to dissolve the fat in this dish.
Credit: NTUC
(b) Chicken Rice

Unless you haven't been on the hunt for local food, I am sure you would have come across this dish.
Credit: NTUC
Bonus: Believe me, no chicken rice is ever complete without chilli sauce.
Credit: Shermay

(c) Laksa

Laksa is a noodle dish served in a soup of rich curry coconut milk - it's one of those dishes where you will wonder whether the numbers on the weighing machine will shoot up after drinking that delicious curry gravy.
Credit: Redmart 
(d) Chilli Crab

"I hate chilli crab"- said no one ever.

Chilli crabs have been a real treat since young. It is both sweet, salty, sour and spicy all at the same time. Best enjoyed with deep fried buns.

Credit: Jumbo

5. Irvin's Salted Egg Fish Skin


This is certainly a new addition to the souvenir list. This is not something that one would traditionally buy from Singapore as it was quite recent that the salted egg yolk craze hit our shores.

Honestly, I am not sure what is weirder- salted egg or deep fried fish skin. All I know is that this is a very addictive snack. One moment, the packet of fish skin is in your hands, the next moment, like magic, it mysteriously disappears.

Back in the days when they first started and rented small carts, the packets flew off the shelves and you had to be put on a waitlist to get your hands on a packet. Nowadays, they are doing so well that they actually have physical stores in big shopping centres.


6. Biscuits

Just like how there are biscuits from overseas you can't find in Singapore, the reverse holds true as well.

This tinned biscuits formed a large part of our childhood. However, I am not sure when, but these are now "retro" biscuits. They are cheap, sweet, unhealthy and satisfying.

Credit: Makansutra
One of the all time favourites remains the gem biscuit. These are fluorescent little sugar gems dropped from the celestial skies! I used to exclusively eat the sugar. Now that age has caught up, I throw most of the sugar away and eat the biscuits. You can get these from supermarkets, for example Khong Guan brand.

Credit: Thefoodpornographer
7. Tau Sar Piah 

Two of the most well known Tau Sar Piahs are in Balestier - Loong Fatt Tau Sar Piah and House of Tau Sar Piah. These are old-school shops and you can choose either the sweet or salty green bean-based pastries. Best eaten hot!

Credit: Burpple

8. Janice Wong's sweets 

If you find that your wallet is dripping with money, and you really want to impress your friends with some chocolates, but not those from Godiva which is available in so many countries, you may wish to buy some exclusive Janice Wong chocolates.

I have heard from my friends on how delicious and beautiful her desserts are, but never tried them due to the price. But really, look at these beautiful treasures. Guess what, these chocolates come in local flavours, including chilli padi, gula melaka, mango curry and salted egg etc. If you want the more normal flavours, they have it too!

Credit: Janice Wong
9. Instant Teh Halia 

Starbucks sells pumpkin spice latte, chai latte etc. Here, at Singapore, we have teh halia which is essentially ginger tea. No need to labour over making the tea from scratch- here, for less than S$5, you can get 20 satchets of instant teh halia. If you are not a fan of teh halia, you can consider getting the teh tarik as well.
Credit: Cold Storage