Trip report - Seoul (18 h layover), Palau, Singapore, Penang
I didn't take notes for every meal. Here's what I can put together from my cryptic notes.
Started out in Seoul on a VERY cold day (even for these Bostonians). Lunch at To Sok Chon. The specialty is samgyetang (young chicken soup with ginseng). I didn't feel ready to tackle a whole young chicken (I eat only seafood, but I was prepared to eat meat for this trip), which is how this dish comes out, piping hot in a traditional Korean hot stone bowl. B gulped it down. We also ordered pajeon - honestly, my mom's is much better. Dinner was at a cute place in an alley off Insa Dong Gil that specializes in house-made tofu. We sat traditionally on the floor, which was heated - we wanted to lay down right there! Dinner was warming - B got bulgogi bowl and I had the soft tofu chigae. Plenty of ban chan, including the ethereal fresh tofu, dipped in soy sauce.
Next stop was Palau - not much to report for food. We stayed at Storyboard on Peleliu - ok food...all cooked by the managers. Some nights (fresh fish but, unfortunately, fried; delicious crab) were better than others (spaghetti with bolognese...not what I want when I'm in MIcronesia!). Bento box lunches on our dives/snorkel excursions that hit the spot - had a Korean/Japanese bent. Dinners on Carp Island were good once the small Japanese tour groups arrived - some of the freshest sashimi I'd ever had, fresh whole fish prepared simply, hijiki salad, etc. Really wonderful last dinner in Koror at Penthouse Hotel/Restaurant (rather a misnomer). We got the spicy mangrove crabs (the coconut crabs were already sold out) - wow. Huge, messy, and delicious! Pricey and worth every penny ($18/lb for ~ 3 lbs of crabs).
Singapore - Met my brother and SIL in SG, who were traveling from their holiday in Thailand. Started out with beautiful glasses of wine at Esquina. We headed out before snacking since it was NYE and we wanted to situate ourselves somewhere, anywhere (The Club). Post-NYE dinner at a Korean place (don't know the name) for more chicken soup and snacks and soju. We played it a bit safe since my bro had a bout of Montezuma's revenge in Chiang Mai. We had nice knife-cut noodle soups at Food Republic, drinks at Lantern, a dinner at Gluttons Bay (delicious roti prata, perfectly cooked whole fish, fatty pork belly, nasi goreng - mostly ridiculously good to our Westernized palates!). Our last meal in SG was at, of all places, Pizzeria Mozza in Marina Sands. We had no plans to eat there, but we were in the mall, coming from drinks at Ku De Ta and the bar looked so welcoming. The grilled calamari with fagiole was good, but rather small. We shared the stracciatella white pizza and had a nice bottle of barbaresco. Pizza was just ok - not what I would expect in the States, especially at these prices. But we had a fun night regardless!
Penang - Char kway teow and mee goreng at Esplanade hawker court which were just ok. Lots of stalls closed - is this because of the New Year's holiday, or are most open at lunch only? We walk to New World and most places are also closed. "Passions of Kerala" (I giggled at the name!) was open and looked air-conditioned. Decent banana leaf cuisine and B gets a squid curry dish. Cafe lattes at Coffee Atelier are pricey but good. We learn that coffee beans are cooked up with butter and sugar instead of being roasted. Lunch at Hameediyah - veggie murtabak, chicken tandoori, garlic naan. Best thing about the meal I thought was the curry dipping sauce. I was rather surprised at how characterless the naan was - we can get better even in Boston! We decide to try Red Garden food court for the heck of it and had decent chee cheong fun, mee curry, and asam laksa. One lunch at our beautiful hotel, Muntri Mews. Expensive asam laksa but delicious. B's gado gado is pretty good, too. One last meal in KL at Old China Cafe. Very touristy, but we loved the atmosphere and the Nyonya food. "Top hats" - fried cups that you fill with minced chicken, julienned cukes, and bean sprouts then douse with sweet chili sauce were fun to eat. B got beef rendang which he loved. The coconut rice that he gets is so fragrant and accompanies the beef perfectly. I had the dry Nyonya laksa noodles which I thought captured what I was looking for in char kway teow. Previous versions were smoky from the wok but lacked flavor - not this version. One final meal at KLIA - more asam laksa at Nooodles (at 7 am! Love that!). Geez, even the noodles at the airport are better than what we can get at a proper restaurant in Boston. We can't wait to return to this part of the world. Amazingly, I didn't get to sample neither chendol nor ais kacang. And we have to finally go try a Malaysian place in Boston, called Bubor Cha Cha, which I also didn't try.
As a footnote, overall, we ate much more conservatively than normal. Based on some wicked illnesses on recent past trips to SEA (B, not me!) and on bro's recent gastrointestinal suffering, we decided to play it (too) safe. Reason enough to return to SG and Penang to really delve into the food and culture.