Top ten dishes of 2015

2015 was a glorious year of eating and downright gluttony. I’ve gained a few kilos, so here’s a look at some of my top dishes of the year.

In no particular order.

Knafeh – the erm, knafeh.

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The cheerful (and bearded) lads at Knafeh.

Arguably one of the biggest social media hits of 2014. Or was it 2015? It’s hard not to be skeptical, judging by the gushing reviews littered all over the Internet. And the constant posts on Instagram. I mean, a bunch of ridiculously good looking dudes – all sporting Adonis-like bodies and THOSE hipster beards – dancing around, clapping their hands and still managing to cook just one dessert. Seems like a gimmick if I ever saw one.

But I’m happy to report, this place is legit.

Everything about Knafeh is brilliant; from the cheeky dancing, music blasted over the speakers, bonfires for a chilly night and all-round jovial mood.

And the knafeh itself? It is glorious. Cheese-like, but also resembling a kind of custard, it is sweet and savoury and with the drizzle of syrup on top, it is the icing on the Middle Eastern cake.

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Bad pic, delicious knafeh.
We need more Knafeh-style eateries in Sydney. And I think we are going to get them. There are hundreds of thousands of second-generation Aussies who are strikingly proud of their heritage, and also food and drink, and hopefully they want to share that with other Sydneysiders.
Location: All over Sydney. Keep posted on their Facebook.

Kagari, Tokyo – chicken ramen

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Kagari’s soulful chicken ramen.

Michelin recently handed a nondescript Tokyo ramen shop one star, but I’m surprised it’s taken this long for the inspectors to go down this path. Ramen is like a religion in Japan, but also around the world too.

Kagari in Tokyo’s affluent Ginza district is tucked off the main street in a little alleyway. If you’re there around lunchtime, just look for the long snaking queue out front.

This tiny eight-seater specialises in tori-paitan (chicken broth). Think of a homemade chicken soup with oodles of umami and perfectly cooked chicken. Oh and the noodles. A must if visiting Tokyo.

Neighborhood, Hong Kong – black pudding

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Not your ordinary blood sausage.
I’m a bit torn about including this in my list. The service at this restaurant was abysmal, but the food itself was very good.
With that being said, the boudin basque really stole the show during my meal here. It is unlike any other blood sausage I’ve had, and the mash on the bottom was devilishly rich.

Daiwa Sushi, Tokyo – sushi set

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#nofilter
 

Sushi Dai or Daiwa Sushi. That is often the dilemma that travellers face when visiting Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, looking for some place to chow down on the world’s freshest sushi.

I went with Daiwa, simply due to the significantly shorter line.

Fair enough it is mostly tourists eating, but there are specks of locals who dine at Daiwa. I spoke to a chap in line who had broken English, but he managed to communicate to me:

“Ginza sushi, very expensive,” he said, while giving me thumbs down.
“Daiwa Sushi. Cheap and very good,” he continued. Thumbs up. Well that was enough endorsement for me.
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Toro aka sushi aka the best thing I’ve put inside my mouth.
It’s a tiny place. Two sushi counters, with no more than 10 seats on each side. Order the sushi set and you’re away. The chefs are warm and welcoming, so you’re not going to get all the typical stiff Japanese stare down.
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And the sushi? It’s all brilliant. Three types of tuna (yes toro included), scallop, squid, uni, horse mackerel and more. No extra soy sauce and wasabi required.

The sushi makers are jovial and a delight. Don’t expect any dilly dallying. Wolf down your sushi and off you go back into the chaos of Tsukiji.

Here’s a great post about the Sushi Dai vs Daiwa Sushi dilemma.

Tabibito, Hong Kong – mentaiko pasta

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Brunch, but not as you know it at Tabbibito
 

To pastafarians, Japanese pasta is sacrilegious. The use of cream and combining Japanese ingredients to traditional pastas is perhaps rather jarring for some.

Since moving to Hong Kong, Tabibito’s mentaiko pasta has kept showing up on my Instagram feed.

After Googling what the hell mentaiko actually is (marinated pollock roe FYI), I imagine cooking the dish is simple and may be done at home.

But enough about that. Tabibito really nailed the flavors on this one. Not too creamy, not too salty, but an ideal juggling act. Worth the trip to this tiny cafe alone. Also, their other Japanese-inspired brunch dishes are delicious to boot.

 

Sin Hoi Sai, Singapore – Singaporean chilli crab

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I still salivate just thinking about this meal.
 

Chili crab is probably the first thing people will recommend you eat when you go to Singapore. Or perhaps Hainan chicken. Or maybe some satay. I can’t decide, because all of it is so damn good. Unlike Hong Kong, Singapore has embraced its hawker centres and the result is cheap, quick and bloody tasty fare. Not sure what to eat when you go to Singapore? Just point to a hawker centre on the map, and you’re sorted.

But to the crab. Sin Hoi Sai Seafood Restaurant was where I was epically crushed by the chili crab and also the salted egg crab. Plus other seafood goodies.

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Holy Jesus.

There is an overwhelming sense of achievement when a group of friends are silent, and all you can hear is crabs being cracked, slurped and chewed, complete with beer glasses thumped onto the table. Bloody glorious. Oh, and don’t forget the fried mantou (Chinese bread) to dip the crab sauce.

Definitely one of the best meals of my life.

Locale: 55 Tiong Bahru Road (Opposite Link Hotel)

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken, Singapore – Hainan chicken

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A must-visit in Singapore.

It is perhaps one of the most posted about eateries in Singapore, and in my opinion, deserves all the social media accolades it gets.

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken often has a huge line snaking out of the Maxwell Hawker Centre complex. And so it should.

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That. Glorious. Skin.

It’s not ”just Hainan chicken”. There’s something in those goddamn birds. They’re incredible juicy. Also, the chicken is swimming in its own broth, which makes it extra juicy.

Do yourself a favour and go with a few mates and order a whole chook.

Locale: Maxwell Food Centre, 1 Kadayanallur Street.

Oi Man Sang (愛文生), Hong Kong – beef and potato 

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Potato…in a Chinese restaurant? Yes, it’s a thing.

In the generally working class neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong, Oi Man Sang (愛文生) has been churning out legit dai pai dong dishes since the 1950s.

I love the frenetic energy and pace of the DPD; from the sweaty cook manning the on-street wok, to the ladies in gumboots chucking stacks of dirty dishes in massive buckets to wash later. It’s loud, frantic but most importantly, the food is delicious.

It’s all about the stir-fried beef fillet and potatoes in black pepper sauce at Oi Man Sang. The potatoes are nice and crispy on the outside, but pillowy soft inside. Much of the stir-fried beef in Hong Kong is not the best quality, but this DPD brings the beef in this dish. There’s a very umami, peppery coating of the beef which makes you go back again and again.

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Order the pork knuckle. The chicken ain’t bad either.
An honourable mention at Oi Man Sang is also the black pepper pork knuckle, served with an Asian sizzle.

肉圓 in Douliou, Taiwan

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Deliciously ugly.

Translating to ”meat dumpling” this Taiwanese dish is not a pretty sight.

It is a meatball wrapped in a translucent, gooey, starchy mess and topped with chilli sauce. It’s lightly fried and cut up before serving.

At about a buck each, they’re an ultimate comfort food for Taiwanese. Don’t judge a book by its cover…but get ready to struggle with the chopsticks when you figure out a way to gracefully eat this damn thing. In this version, the meatball is a delightful array of bamboo shoots, garlic and pork.

Shoot me an email if you want the locale to this one.

O Crab – Cajun crab pot

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Crab pot takes centre stage.
 

Two crab dishes in the top ten? You bet.

Full disclaimer. My good friends and overall legends ”The Pans” own this fine establishment.

I’m all about getting together a few friends and crushing some food over some drinks. O Crab does it spectacularly well.

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The cajun crab pots are particularly fun – filled with swimmer crabs, snow crabs, prawns and other goodies. Oh, and the craft beer list is killer.
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