Monday, 27 June 2011

Zhai Ga Li Fan

Browsing through the photographs I took this afternoon made me recall why I even had my lunch at this stall in the first place. While I was at Albert Centre Market & Food Centre in Bugis, I walked past a man who was having brown rice with mixed vegetables for his lunch. The chunks of chrome yellow pumpkins on his plate left me mesmerized. From where he was seated, I deduced that he ordered his food from the nearby Zhai Ga Li Fan stall. Sure enough, I saw this dish among the selections of vegetables.

Operated by a group of Chinese ladies, Zhai Ga Li Fan does not bother translating the name of the stall, which literally means vegetarian curry rice. In the Singaporean Chinese context, curry rice simply means plain rice drizzled with curry gravy. However if you do not take curry, you can order other sides. At S$2.30, one is entitled to white rice and 3 dishes. Brown rice is also available at an additional cost of 50 cents.

The Food

Judging a book by its cover might not be a wise thing to do, but I was glad that the pumpkins did not fail to meet my expectation. Quite a common selection in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian mixed vegetables rice stalls, the pumpkins were usually stir fried. Dried shrimps was, in my opinion, unnecessarily added in the non-vegetarian version. Personally I enjoy the natural sweetness of pumpkin, thus I do not appreciate the way the shrimps taint it with its fishy staleness. At Zhai Ga Li Fan, the pumpkins had a clean sweet flavor. With a general lack of oiliness, I reckoned that the pumpkins were steamed rather than stir fried, which happened to be my preferred way of having this vegetable. In addition to the good taste, the pumpkins were extra smooth and creamy.

Unlike the pumpkins, the cabbage and bitter gourd were normal tasting, with the bitter gourd being a little oily. Still they deserved some credit for contributing their brilliant colors to the meal that had somewhat compensated the sloppy arrangement of the food items.


The way Zhai Ga Li Fan presents itself creates an illusion that their food is dirt cheap. If you think rationally, this is the market price of mixed vegetables rice. Still, with the price of practically everything inflating in Singapore, a meal that costs below $3.00 can be considered inexpensive. I can't say the food at Zhai Ga Li Fan is impressive, but it is certainly a good place to have a budget and quick meal for the people hanging around that area.

Address:270 Queen Street
Opening Hours:-
Bus Service:-
MRT Station:Bugis

Friday, 24 June 2011

Healthy Vegetarian Handmade Mee Hoon Kueh, Ban Mian, U Mian

Sometimes one thing leads to another. While I was at the Vesak Family Day Funfair, the boss of Healthy Vegetarian was distributing the flyer promoting his food stall. Just like the way I deal with email advertisements, flyers given to me usually end up in the nearest trash can. On that day, I managed to hold back this reflex. Otherwise I would have missed this vegetarian stall. Instead of me having to actively search for relevant places to blog about, it's definitely more convenient for the mountain to come to Mohammad.

Initially I planned to visit this stall a week after my post about Vesak Family Day Funfair. However I was distracted by other vegetarian eateries, either because they are newly opened or they serve what was considered exotic to me, a.k.a. foreign cuisines. At this point you probably guess that Healthy Vegetarian sells local dishes. Yes, the stall sells local Chinese food in Berseh Food Centre along Jalan Besar. Going there by bus is the easiest since the nearest MRT, Farrer Park Station, is at least a bus stop away.

Instead of selling a medley of cooked foods, which has become a typical style of vegetarian hawker vendors in Singapore, Healthy Vegetarian more or less focuses on handmade noodles. As the name suggests, handmade noodles are crafted by a human’s hand, as opposed to mass production in factories. Somehow there's this belief that food made by bare hands has a more superior texture. Nowadays, in order to speed things up, most hawker vendors invest in machines to speed up certain processes, hence handmade noodles are seldom 100% handmade. It seems like as long as the vendor prepares the dough from wheat flour in-house, he or she is eligible to carry the name "Handmade noodles" name on the stall. In a typical handmade noodles stall, one gets to choose Ban Mian, U-mian or Mee Hoon Kueh. The shape of the noodles determines its identity. Ban Mian (Board Noodles) and U-mian (Fine Noodles) are strands of Mee Pok (Or Fettuccine) and Ramen lookalikes respectively. Mee Hoon Kueh (Flour Cake), the odd one out, are hand-torn from the dough and flattened into pieces of distorted squares.

The Food

By now a reader who has been following my blog will notice that I have a habit of deviating from the traditional way of having my dish. Even though the result may not always be positive, I enjoy the experimental nature of it. Mee Hoon Kueh is a soup dish, but I requested for the dry version, despite the boss' warning that it would not be as nice.

The major difference between Healthy Vegetarian's mee hoon kueh and the ones I used to know was the extreme flatness of each piece of flour cake. I could not help feeling that I was eating chopped up pieces of hor fun. Then again, making mee hoon kueh this thin might not be a bad idea after all. At least I did not get the sick and bloated feeling characteristic of eating too much of thick starchy dough.

My primary reason for having dry mee hoon kueh was to try the sauce, which the boss revealed was a blend of Chinese sweet sauce and ketchup. Not exactly a one-of-its-kind of formula, but the hint of ketchup flavor instantly won me, a tomato lover, over. At the same time, I discovered why mee hoon kueh is typically cooked in soup. The dry version became dehydrated and sticky after a while. I managed to salvage it by adding a few spoonfuls of the accompanying soup. Actually the mixture of soup and the oil from the sauce rendered the mee hoon kueh smooth and slippery. Of course the boss attributed this positive quality to his excellent noodle making skills. Well, as long as I enjoyed the dish, it did not really matter.

With the exception of economic mixed rice, hawker food tend to be lacking in vegetables. Therefore I always make it a point to ask for more. In order not to pay extra, I exchanged the mock meats, especially the deep fried ones, away for more greens. As with most vegetarian vendors, the boss of Healthy Vegetarian was more than happy to accommodate. He even added that he used locally grown chye sim, hence it was fresher and healthier. I definitely agreed with the fresh part. The health aspect was questionable. Locally grown and organically grown did not mean the same thing. Nevertheless, I am someone (Probably the only one) who like blanched greens, so the chye sim was the first to disappear from the bowl.

Due to the omission of mock fish maw, which happened to be one of the deep fried items, the soup was not as brothy as it should. Thankfully, the presence of seaweed and mushrooms provided some seafood flavor to the clear soup. Since my palate is light and it happened to be a scorching hot day, this would do for me.

Time and again, I complained about mock meats. More specifically, it was the gluten variety that I detested. At Healthy Vegetarian, they used the soy based ones, which was slowly growing on me. In fact I like the way they tasted more like tofu rather than meat. The vendor from the neighboring vegetarian store retorted that non-fried soy based meat tasted awful when I asked if they served steamed chicken rice. Well taste is subjective. As far as I'm concerned the soy based fish cake found in this bowl of soup was delicious.

Rojak is a traditional fruit and vegetable salad dish commonly found in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The non-vegetarian element of this side dish lies in the dressing which contained shrimps. Even before I adopted a predominantly plant-based diet, I seldom took rojak because I did not like shrimp paste, due to its stale flavor that arises from fermentation. Thus I had less reason to try the vegetarian version. However, rojak seemed to be one of the signature item of Healthy Vegetarian, I decided to sample it.

In my opinion, the most outstanding point of this side dish were the red and green apples. Being a non-traditional ingredient in rojak, I was amazed at how well they complemented with the sweet peanut sauce. Apart from the apples, the rojak contained cucumbers, turnips and you char kway, pretty much the usual stuffs. Ironically the absence of the shrimp paste flavor in vegetarian rojak made me a convert of this Southeast Asian salad.

I have to admit that the boss is not lying when he boasted about the popularity of his rojak. However I do not consume rojak regularly, so I am not sure if his rojak is really phenomenal or this is the typical standard you get from every decent vegetarian rojak vendor.


Very much like its non-vegetarian counterpart, handmade noodles are generally considered the relatively healthier dishes in hawker centres. Generally clean flavored, Healthy Vegetarian deserves its name if you do not compare it to the more expensive Organic cafes.

On a sidenote, the neighboring vegetarian stall has a greater variety of richer and deep fried dishes to offer. I remembered the vendor raving about her deep fried char siew that tasted like the ones from Hong Kong. Then again, which businessman would insult his own product? Well, if that kind of food is your cup of tea, you may want to try it.

Address:166 Jalan Besar #02-35 Berseh Food Centre S(208877)
Opening Hours:11.00 am - 8.00 pm
Closed on Sat
Bus Service:23, 64, 65, 66, 67, 130, 139, 147, 857, NR6
MRT Station:Farrer Park

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Cafe Le Caire

(Note: This is not a 100% vegetarian eatery. Their interpretation of a vegetarian diet includes eggs and dairy product.)

One Man's junk may be another Man's treasure. This saying is particularly true in email advertising. Every morning, my first task of the day in my office is to delete such emails before I start to read the ones relevant to my work. I choose to remain subscribed because once in a while, there may be some offers which interest me.

This time, the lucky ad that catches my attention comes from Groupon. Normally their food related advertisements end up in my trash folder, since the participating eateries usually serve conventional meat based food. Cafe Le Caire, the eatery featured in Groupon, is no different, however the second point of its highlights reads “Vegetarian options available”.

Situated along Arab Street, Cafe Le Caire specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine. Since this is not a culture I am familiar with, I can only rely on its menu to infer what their dishes are like. After all this cafe claims to serve authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. It seems like quite a number of their dishes, particularly the dips and salads, are made with plant-based ingredients, like chickpeas and sesame seeds, hence no modification is required to make them vegetarian. Olive oil is their preferred form of fats and spices are used to flavour the dishes. Hopefully that translates to little or better still, no MSG added. Although the vegetarian/non-vegetarian split is not even, with the scale tipping more towards meat based dishes, there are enough choices for the vegetarians. Upon request, they are also willing to omit cheese or eggs from some of the dishes to cater to the vegans.

The Food

Mezze is a good set meal to introduce Middle Eastern cuisine to someone new to it. Comprising of an assortment of dips, salads and pickles, they are served in small quantities so that one gets to sample as many different kinds of appetizers as possible, while leaving enough stomach space for the main course. At Cafe Le Caire, seven items from their dips menu are chosen to make up their mezze. All of them are generally suitable for the vegetarians. The only questionable item is Gibna Mahrus, which contains feta cheese. According to the waitress, it could only be substituted with one of the other six appetizers, instead of a totally different dip or salad of equal or lesser value. What a boring alternative! In the end, the dish was ordered as it was.

Mezze, S$ 16.00

Anyway, here’s the dishes, with the menu description in italics (Starting from top right hand corner).

1. Gibna Mahrus - Tangy feta cheese and tomatoes dip.

One has to like cheese to enjoy this salty and milky dip. There was hardly any tomato flavour. On hindsight I should have taken the waitress' advice to get this replaced.

2. Arabic Salad - Refreshing mix salad of feta cheese, green and black olives, capsicums, tomatoes, cucumbers and pine nuts.

When served as part of this mezze, feta cheese was omitted, much to my delight. As promised in the menu, this salad was indeed refreshing, making it an appropriate counterbalance to the richer dishes. Sighing at the cheesy Gibna Mahrus, I deeply regretted not exchanging it away for an extra serving of Arabic salad.

3. Babaganush - Dip made of oven roasted eggplant pureed with tahini, a sesame seeds paste. Served on a plate with olive oil drizzled.

According to the menu, this dish is one of the boss' favourite. I shared the same sentiment. The smokey flavor exuded by the roasted eggplant blended surprisingly well with the touch of sourness provided by the lemon juice, leaving me yearning for more.

4. Plate of Tahina - Smooth and thick sesame paste of ground sesame seeds

I was no stranger to Tahina. Afterall, I had a jar of Melrose brand Tahini at home. However I had to admit that this freshly in-house produced version was smoother and the bitterness was even fainter.

5. Hummus - Smooth chickpea dip with hints of tahini and mixed spices. Drizzled with lemon and olive oil

I would not be surprised if the mixed spices used here turned out to be the ones used in Indian cuisine. Without the lemon juice, I would have thought I was eating some chickpea masala. Nevertheless, it was satisfying enough for me if I stopped searching for that something special.

6. Hummus bil Tomato - Soft whole chickpeas with tangy tomato cubes and small cut chilli. Just a little spicy.

Contrary to the menu description, this dish was not spicy at all. In fact, it reminded me of the tomato paste used in Mediterranean dishes, such as pasta and pizza. Strong tomato flavor always works well with me, and this dish was no exception. Being a tomato lover, adding more of the "tangy tomato cubes" would significantly improve the dish for me.

7.Plate of Olives - Plate of green olives with pickles

These dishes, especially the dips, are meant to be eaten with the Arabic bread, which is inclusive in this set. Arabic bread is simple unleavened bread made of flour, water and salt. Since no yeast or leavening agent is used, the bread is quite tough to bite. Luckily whoever invented the recipe way back then had the common sense to flatten it. For a food that was not meant to be eaten on its own, I could forgive the bread for being plain and uninteresting.

Although Mezze did not manage to get a perfect score from me, it still ranked high with the better vegetarian dishes I had tried so far. It certainly did an above average job in the taste department. What I thought was even more praiseworthy was the creative Middle Eastern cooking method in turning the unassuming plant based ingredients into novel looking dishes, thus tempting me to pay more than usual just to try it. No regrets doing so though.

Foul mesdammes, S$ 4.50

Foul mesdammes - The national breakfast dish of Egypt. It consists of slow-cooked fava beans that have been partially or completely mashed.

At Cafe Le Caire, the creamy texture of this dish indicated that the fava beans were completely mashed. With a robust flavour that attributed to the use of aromatic spices, foul closely resembled a finely minced meat stew. This satiating dish definitely deserves its title of national breakfast dish of Egypt. At S$4.50, it is one of the cheaper yet filling dishes on the menu. Do remind the waitress to leave out the egg if it is forbidden in your diet.

Salata Laban Ma’na’aana, S$ 6.00

Salata Laban Ma’na’aana - Freshly cubed cucumbers topped with refreshing yoghurt.

Unlike the rest of the dishes, this cucumber salad was served cold. Submerged in a pool of plain yogurt, each individual cube inherited the tartness of the fermented milk. Pleasantly refreshing at the first few mouthfuls, the excessive amount of yogurt dressing made it a little sick as I progressed further into the dish.


If not for the S$25.00 voucher I paid $12.50 for, I would consider having a meal at Café Le Caire a luxury. Besides I am someone with a light palate, so I do not see myself eating such foods on a regular basis, no matter how delicious they are. Still it is a place worth considering to have a vegetarian meal on special occasions.

Opening Hours:-
Bus Service:-
MRT Station:Bugis

Monday, 6 June 2011

Xin Yi Vegetarian

Not long after I thanked VSS e-newsletter for introducing Hozen Vegetarian Cafe a couple of posts ago, the following issue alerted me to yet another newly opened vegetarian eatery. This notification landed me in International Plaza near Tanjong Pagar MRT station (Yay no more Bugis or Aljunied! ). With Loving Hut Cafe in the same building and Whole Earth nearby, this area is not exactly deprived of vegetarian eateries. To a vegetarian however, an additional choice of a place to dine at is never too much.

Based on what is printed on the shop front, I infer that Xin Yi Vegetarian is a subsidiary of Earth Kitchen, also in International Plaza. Unlike Xin Yi, Earth Kitchen is a non-vegetarian eatery. Since I went there with an empty stomach, figuring out the exact relationship between these two eateries was less important than selecting something to tame my hunger. After scanning through the extensive menu, I decided that the set meals were the more value for money choices. Call me stingy if you like but I do not pay anything above S$6.00 for a meal just to eat gluten or common hawker fare. Hence I ordered mini hotpot set. At a price of S$8.80, the set comes with a pot of nourishing (According to the Chinese name) mixed vegetable soup, a bowl of white rice and a small plate of tempura items. Upon request, one can substitute white rice with brown rice at an additional cost of 50 cents.

The Food

Mini Hotpot Set (White Rice Replaced By Brown Rice), S$ 9.30

Never underestimate the importance of reading fine prints. That's the lesson I learned at Xin Yi. When my food arrived, the tempura side dish captured my attention first because it looked nothing like what I saw on the menu (Click here to see the menu which opens up in a new window or tab. Pay attention to the footnote which reads “All pictures are for visual reference only”). Instead of tempura vegetables, all I had resembled shreds of tempura batter. Sampling a couple of them confirmed my observation. Crispy and a little heavily seasoned, I believed this side dish would be enjoyed by anyone who loved to snack on packets of salty titbits found commonly in Mama Shops. Unfortunately (But fortunate for my health), I preferred whole food to these “goodies” these days.

The mini hotpot soup itself contained a reasonable amount of mushrooms, especially the premium shimeji variety, to prevent me from labelling this set meal a rip off. Generously filling up the soup, the Chinese cabbage had a natural sweetness, meaning that the inner portion of the vegetable, also my favourite part, was used. Other born to be sweet ingredients include the chunks of pumpkin, sweet corn and taro. Herbal soup base was used to further justify the price. I’m sure Chinese in general would appreciate the health value of these herbs but to the non-Chinese, the flavour might be an acquired taste. What could have been the saving grace of this set meal was undermined by excess seasoning, particularly pepper. If I was not famished that day, I might have skipped the soup itself.

After finishing the soup, I felt rather warm despite the strong air-conditioning. Either the herbs used in the soup were of warming nature or there’s simply too much pepper. Therefore I do not recommend this set meal to individuals with a yang body constitution, aka “heatiness”. If you aren’t familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine, simply avoid this soup on a hot day. Nourishment, in the Chinese context, is very different from what we are taught in modern science.


Although it is partially my fault for missing out on the disclaimer, I still feel a little cheated because of the tempura side dish. Previously, when I dined at slightly more expensive places such as Honzen or Trust, what I saw on the menu was pretty much what I got. While I do not expect an exact replica of what is shown in the photograph, at the very least, the ingredients should match.

Normally I do not have much reason to travel to Tanjong Pagar. Price is also a deterrent. Hence I do not see myself returning to Xin Yi Vegetarian. However if I happen to be around that area on a weekday, I may try their slightly cheaper vegetarian curry rice, which is only available on the weekdays.

Address:10 Anson Road Internation Plaza #01-50A,
Tanjong Pagar, S(579903)
Opening Hours:Mon - Sat, 11:00 am - 3.00 pm, 5:00 pm - 11.30 pm
Bus Service:-
MRT Station:Tanjong Pagar