Friday, 26 December 2008

Feeling Down At The Koi Pond House

Compared to last year, the mood at KY's Xmas eve party was subdued. Some of the usual suspects were missing, but that wasn't all.

Wildguy recalled that the previous ones were bigger. They weren't just parties - they were all-out bashes. With real food. More babes. This year though... . Sure, we're entering the biggest economic recession in living memory, but is that why the atmosphere was relatively down? And no police car stopped by - at least not before I left.

There were chocolates - those you can only buy at an airport. Half the items in the Secret Santa event were lingerie, which livened things up a bit. And the SixthSeal guy dropped his pants (I so did not need to see that). And Wildguy provided entertainment with his take on current affairs.

Suertes summed it up nicely. "We're getting old."

I guess we are. 2005 wasn't that long ago, was it?

Friday, 12 December 2008

Adieu, Suzhou

I didn't know when the Suzhou Noodle House first opened, but it seemed like a long time ago. Then it packed up and disappeared, and in its place was the increasingly kitschy and still inexplicably open Star Village Restaurant (formerly Honey Star). Then a few years later, I found it at OUG's Citrus Park, and after a square meal, returned on occasion for the noodles, rice, tea and pumpkin cakes.

If the manager can be believed, all the dishes come from the Chinese province of Suzhou, reputed abode for China's fairest maidens (something similar has been said about Ipoh). Some of the dishes served up at Suzhou Noodle House are quite oily, but mostly good. The noodles deserve particular mention. Square-ish rather than cylindrical, firm and made without jian shui (an alkali solution, probably sodium carbonate), it went surprisingly well with the stock, which was just Goldilocks right. Eaten plain, the noodles were great for convalescing foodies.

The noodle "varieties" are created by pairing the noodles with sides: braised duck, sweet and sour pork ribs, and spicy chicken. I wouldn't recommend it with the fried pork or chicken cutlets, those roof-of-the-mouth slashing horrors. For a while, they had smoked fish and fatty cured pork belly, but they had to drop it from the menu because the supplier didn't do smoked fish any more.

The teas were unique. The Biluochao broad-leaf green tea had a strong tannic overlay which made it a powerful palate cleanser, and a pleasant groundnutty aroma. It takes a while to steep, and supposedly gets stronger with each refill, but the taste declines noticeably at the fourth refill - or maybe I just wasn't patient enough to wait. They also had the more expensive Biluochun variant, which I never tried.

Given the oilyness of some dishes and desserts, the tea was a welcome relief. I specifically remember the fried, red-bean-filled pumpkin cakes. At three or four pieces per serving, you'd want to have a light meal beforehand. Other dishes I fondly recall are the xiaolongbao soup dumplings, the gulaorou (sweet and sour stir-fried pork) rice and their fried noodles.

After all that it may be surprising to hear I'm not giving out any numbers or addresses for this place. Not that it would have made a difference - the place closed its doors more than three months ago, probably for good.

The last time I went there was in July, and I took some pictures. The place looked rundown and I could hear the scurrying of some animal from the water-stained ceiling boards. I hated to think it, but I could see it coming. Like the restaurant-heavy Taman Tun Dr Ismail, competition is stiff, and their place was tucked so deeply into the complex, with a hard-to-find entrance. When I returned in October, a day spa was being set up in its place. The labourer said Suzhou Noodles packed up around two months earlier.

I was sorry to hear the news, and sorrier for not rushing to push it into the limelight. I loved (some of) the food, the tea, and the quiet cosyness, which probably wasn't a desirable attribute for a restaurant. The manager, a Ms Phang, was good to me, especially when I was recovering from some bug or other illness. I don't normally grieve over a restaurant's packing up, but this felt like the loss of a relative.

But if I had, could I make a difference?

If only I had tried to find the answer; now it may remain a mystery.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The Serama Breeder

Vox Pop: "Serama Breeder & Operations
Director", Off The Edge, December 2008
A regular feature of Off The Edge is something called the "Vox Pop" - profiles of people who generally don't make it to the news, but whom we see often. It could be anybody.

The interviews are quite enlightening. The lives of people that are usually referred to as "normal folks" can have extraordinary chapters. Their backgrounds, lifestyles, experiences and work... I've learned a lot more from these than I could ever glean from online research.

One such interview was a great example. The serama breeder and operations director of Serama Corp is an expert in his field who has won competitions and met the King of Thailand. Many folks I know haven't had that opportunity.

Look how proud he is of his birds. He has several reasons to be.

I still remember the shrill crowing of the tiny roosters, and I still get gaping jaws and saucer-sized eyes when I recount the tale of the RM2,000 pint-sized chicken - edible, and reputedly possesses medicinal properties. An adult serama is about half the size of an average chicken, and its survival rate is lower. The animal does take some dedication to raise - how many would want that kind of life?

This was also one of the few pieces that used my photos, taken with my Canon Powershot A580. The crowing serama rooster is one of my best to date.