Thursday, February 28, 2013

Original South Indian Taste at Saravanaa Bhavan

Saravanaa Bhavan on West Broadway bills itself to be the "original taste of South India" and the regular line-ups of predominantly South Indian patrons waiting for tables confirm they live up to that title.
Saravanaa Bhavan Buffet!
Opened in Vancouver 2008, Saravanna Bhavan is part of a 32 year old chain empire expanding its spice route across the globe with 77 locations in South India, Singapore, Malaysia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, UK, Germany, France, USA and Canada.
Debbie & I enjoying a feast
I accompanied my good friend, who is of South Asian descent, and she gave me a quick education of how to eat Saravanaa Bhavan's buffet selection of vegetarian curries and chutneys. 
Appalam (Fried Chips made with lentil flour)
Idly (Steamed Rice Patties)
The small stainless steal bowls hold the various soups and chutneys (dips made with a mixture of spices, vegetables and fruits) while the six compartment mess trays help to separate the masalas, rice, and dahl (lentil based soup with spices) from mixing together. This way, you have pleasure of dipping pieces of appalam (thin fried chips made with lentil flour) or idly (steamed rice patties) into each dish and tasting their own distinctive blend of flavours.
Paneer Butter Masala (cottage cheese in cream sauce)
Chana Masala (chick pea curry)
You won't be disappointed to forgo tandoori chicken or lamb vindaloo once you've loaded up on velvety paneer butter masala (cottage cheese in tomato cream sauce) and spicy chana masala (chickpea curry). 
Potato Masala (mashed potato curry)
The potato masala, speckled with mustard seeds, and fluffy naan bread worked as the perfect eating vessels to scoop up the curries. 
Fresh Poori!
Poori (sweet puffed bread)
Dosa (lentil crepes with mashed potato)
Servers walked around regularly with fresh poori, round sweet puffed bread, and dosas, thin crispy lentil crepes filled with soft mashed potatoes, cheese and onions. 
Tomato Chutney
Coconut Chutney
Part of the buffet selection, the poori and dosa are tasty textural contrasts that are best eaten with the savoury tomato and onion and sweet coconut and lentil chutneys.
Fruit Pudding & Gulab Jamun (cottage cheese balls in soaked sugar syrup)
My buffet favourites were the desserts. The gulab jamun, cottage cheese balls soaked in sugar syrup were decadent and perfectly sweetened while the cold fruit pudding, made with cream of wheat and tart whole red grapes, was pleasantly light and refreshing.

Saravanaa Bhavan doesn't make any apologies for their use of hot spices in most of the dishes but take solace in knowing that creamy raita (yogurt with chopped veggies and spices) is readily available to cool the heat. 
Saravanaa Bhavan mess tray filled with deliciousness!
The $12.99 lunch buffet is affordable, delicious and available throughout the week and most of the a la carte menu items are under $9. Saravanaa Bhavan makes use of local ingredients by switching up the buffet dishes to keep the flavours fresh throughout the seasons and will surely satisfy and fill the bellies of vegetarian and carnivores alike. 

Candice's Recommendations:
Lunch buffet $12.99, Takeout Lunch Box $5 (choice of a main dish paneer butter masala, chilly mushroom, baingan bartha or palak mutter with naan, rice, potato masala & dessert), any variety of Dosa $8.95 & Poori (2 pcs) $6.50.

Saravanaa Bhavan
955 West Broadway, Vancouver
Saravanaa Bhavan on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 22, 2013

Singing Sinigang's Praises!

Sinigang, Candice's Cusina Style!
Sinigang, a tamarind-based Filipino soup, is comfort food at its best! Delicious, easy to prepare and versatile, you can use a variety of humble ingredients to create sinigang's signature sour and savoury soup medley that will tantalize your taste buds and provide warmth during these cold winter days. 

This popular indigenous dish from the Philippines, is comparable to the Thai Tom Yam soup or the Chinese Hot and Sour soup. However, iInstead of using lemongrass and lime (Tom Yam soup) or vinegar (Hot and Soup soup), sinigang's souring agent comes from sampaloc, tamarind in Tagalog. 

Did you know: Besides the tamarind, other fruits like guava, tomato, green mango, pineapple, kamias (bilimbi) and santol (wild mangosteen) can also be used as a souring ingredient in sinigang. 
Sampaloc boiling
If you'd like to make the sinigang's soup base from scratch, use unripe tamarind fruit. Boil the whole fruit until its brown skin separates, then remove the skin. Mash the fruit together with some water, then strain, leaving you with pure sampaloc juice! 
Sinigang Mix
You're able to skip this process because the sampaloc flavouring now comes conveniently in powdered soup mixes. You can stir in the mix in boiling water to create its distinctive mouth-puckering tanginess that quickly infuses in the broth and permeates into the tender pieces of pork and boiled vegetables. 
Unripe sampaloc
Did you know: When making the sampaloc broth from scratch, use unripe tamarind fruit. When unripe, the fruit is snug within its greenish brown pod and when peeled, the pulp should be bright and light green.

Like an instant time machine, one spoonful of this tart and savoury broth quickly transports me back to my childhood when my mom would make a large batch of sinigang to help soothe my sore throat and nurse me back to health. So when I moved out on my own, it was my mission to master this delicious remedy. To my delight, it's simple and easy to make!
Pork Spare Ribs
My mom suggests using pork spare ribs instead of pork belly because the ribs have less fat content but do not skimp on taste. As for the vegetables, she advises adding ingredients that will complement instead of overpowering the sampaloc flavouring. So greens and root tubers like spinach, long green beans, okra, diakon (white radish) and taro root work well in sinigang.
Sinigang ingredients
Like most Filipino dishes, there are no hard and fast rules of making sinigang, so naturally everyone has their own version. Enjoyed either on its own or accompanied with fluffy white rice and crunchy pieces of fried tuyo or daing (salted dried fish), try my version of the recipe and indulge yourself to a hot bowl of sinigang, the perfect companion for tasty comfort and warmth during this winter season. 

Did you know: Sour ingredients like green mangoes, guava, santol and tamarind are abundant in the Philippines, likely causing Filipinos penchant for sour foods like sinigang.

1 lb pork spare ribs, washed & dried
3 large tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp patis (fish sauce)
10 cups of water
1 packet of instant tamarind soup mix (i.e. Knorr, Mama Sita, etc.)
2 cup diakon, chopped
2 cups taro root, chopped
1 cup of okra, chopped
2 cups of long beans, chopped into 2" pieces 
3 cups of spinach or romain lettuce (chopped)
Patis, pepper & white sugar to taste

1. Heat a large 4 litre pot to medium heat with oil. Saute, spare ribs until then edges are browned, 3-4 minutes. Pour enough water (8-10 cups) to cover ribs then add the chopped tomatoes and patis for seasoning. Let simmer for 40 minutes, until the spare ribs are tender.
Spare Ribs with sampaloc seasonings & root vegetables
2. Once ribs are tender, add the tamarind seasoning mix, salt and pepper. Add a pinch of white sugar if broth is too sour. 

Add broth and sinigang veggies
3. Let the broth come to a boil then add the diakon and taro root, boil until tender for 3-5 minutes. Add the okra and long beans to the sinigang and  boil for another 3-5 minutes. Once all the vegetables are tender, add the spinach or romain lettuce, remove from the heat. Serve with patis, white rice and crunchy pieces of fried tuyo or daing. Masarup!!
Singing Sinigang's Praises!
Try this: Replace the pork spare ribs with pork belly, chicken, beef, shrimp, milkfish and/or tilapia.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Malaysian Thrill at Tamarind Hill

With the tastest Char Keuy Teow!
Born in Singapore and raised in Vancouver, I spent a better part of my childhood enjoying a delicious array of Malaysian food. Singapore and Malaysia were once a united country but remain close neighbours separated by the narrow Straits of Johor, so naturally there would be some Malaysian influences in Singapore's food.
With talented Chef Robert Phua!
To the delight of my taste buds, Tamarind Hill Malaysian Cuisine was highly recommended by my older brother and his good friend - both regulars at the New Westminster's location. With another location in North Vancouver, owner Louis Leung and highly respected head chef Robert Phua (former chef at the Banana Leaf restaurants) are the creators behind Tamarind Hill's authentic Malaysian dishes since its inception six years ago.

As we walked into the restaurant, we're greeted with an elaborate and impressive teak door positioned next to the bar. While glass chandeliers sparkled accents from the Asian decor and handicrafts, creating a warm and inviting family atmosphere to a full restaurant. We had a fairly large group dining for lunch so I knew we'd be in for a delicious feast! We would all have the chance to taste many of Chef Phua's signature dishes because we were dining family-style, where meals are shared communally with everyone at the table.
Roti Canai
We started with a few orders of roti canai, which are specially made-in-house. Just thinking about dipping this light and flaky sweet bread in its mild curry gravy makes my heart sing! 
Soft Shell Crab
The soft shell crab coated in a fluffy tempura batter was packed with meat and its flavours danced in my mouth with delicate sweet notes of Indian black peppercorns and garlic butter sauce. 
Crispy calamari rings dipped in tangy tamarind flavoured "house sauce" crunched their way onto all of our plates and into our bellies with little effort. We finished our round of appetizers with grilled chicken satays on bamboo skewers, topped with a scrumptiously thick peanut sauce. 
With the lunch crew!
Taking a small break to digest our appetizer course, conversations were aplenty and I learned about my brother's friend's apparent affinity to Tamarind Hill. The New West location was where he met then later proposed to his wife! Now with a baby girl in tow, the young family sees the restaurant like a second home and its staff like family. 
Char Kuey Teow
As the main courses arrived, I could hardly contain my excitement to dig into two of my favourite childhood dishes, Char Kuey Teow and Hainanese Chicken Rice. After one bite of Chef Phua's Char Kuey Teow, it can be easily labelled one of his master pieces! A must-order, the Char Kuey Teow is a mouth-watering medley of stir-fried flat rice noodles, glazed in sweet soy sauce, with generous portions of scrambled egg, fish cakes, sprouts, shrimp and cuttlefish. 
Hainanese Chicken with rice & side sauces
The juicy Hainanese chicken is best when dipped with its side sauces, ginger & green onion and homemade sweet chili, then eaten with its jasmine rice cooked that has been cooked in Hainanese chicken broth.
Beef Rendang
Fragrant Coconut Rice
Another must-order dish is the tender Beef Rendang paired with fragrant coconut rice. The richness of the red curry with the melt-in-your-mouth chunks of beef had a complex depth of spicy and sweet flavours that kept me wanting more! 
Coconut & Pandan Crepes
Of course, a large feast is never complete without a sweet ending. If there is one dessert worth ordering, it's the coconut crepes. These little bundles of bright green, aromatic pandan-flavoured crepes are stuffed with toasted shredded coconut and the perfect light treat after our colossal lunch.

Located next to New West's Royal City Shopping Centre, you'll find free parking in the mall and behind the restaurant  However, do make reservations if you plan to dine during weekend evenings to avoid line-ups. The food is fresh and flavourful and the service is fast and friendly. So make the trip to the New West or North Van's location to enjoy the authentic Malaysian thrill of Tamarind Hill.

Candice's Recommendations:
Roti-Canai (2 pcs) $6; Soft Shell Crab $8.95; Calamari $8.95; Satay Skewers (5 pcs) $6; Char Kuey Teow $10.95; Boneless Hainanese Chicken with Hainanese Chicken Rice $13.25; Beef Rendang $13.25; Coconut Crepes (4 pcs) $6.

Tamarind Hill on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 8, 2013

Celebrate with Leche Flan

Leche Flan
With Chinese New Year (Feb 10) and Valentine's Day (Feb 14) just around the corner, there is a lot to celebrate in February! So why not ring in the Year of the Snake with your sweetheart by making leche flan, one of the most beloved Filipino desserts served during special occasions. 

In my family, the creamy and smooth leche flan topped with a syrupy caramel sauce is a staple at birthdays, Christmases, holidays and fiestas - the dining table wouldn't be complete without it! 

Leche flan comes from a large family of caramel custards that originated from the regions along the border of France and Spain and was brought to the Philippines during the Spanish colonization. 

Did you know: Leche flan is the Spanish term meaning "milk custard". 

The Filipino leche flan is a richer and sweeter version than the French's crème caramel because it's made with condensed milk and more egg yolks. Canned milk is used in most leche flan recipes because it doesn't spoil as quickly as fresh milk, especially when there wasn't refrigeration in tropical climates like in the Philippines. If you have easy access to fresh milk, use it because it'll be just as good!

Photo: MyCustardPie
Did you know: Despite its many names, caramel custards, crème caramel and flans, they're essentially all custard-based desserts prepared using the same ingredients - eggs, milk and sugar.

Traditionally, leche flan is steamed over an open flame or stove top using llaneras (oval-shaped metal baking pans) but with modern kitchens, baking works well too. However, to prevent overcooking in your oven, the lechen flan should be baked in a bain marie (boiling water bath) to encourage gentle and even cooking. Also, instead of using a large pan to make my leche flan, I prefer using individual 3" ramekins because they're easier to serve and store.

Yummy Leche Flan!!
Leche flan recipe only requires a handful of ingredients, however, this is one Filipino dessert that takes practice and patience to perfect.  The magic of making leche flan is in the proportions of eggs and milk, preparation of ingredients and cooking time. You're eating the perfect leche flan when the custard has a deep yellow colour topped with a golden brown syrup while the texture is soft and creamy. Also, when you slice through the flan, it should be firm but barely quiver like jello.

Did you know: Traditional leche flan is made with duck egg yolks and carabao's (water buffalo) milk because they produce a smoother and silkier texture.

The beautiful thing about leche flan is that it's delicious on its own as well as as an added accompaniment to other popular Filipino desserts like halo-halo (mixed iced dessert) or macapuno (young coconut).  On Chinese New Year, Valentine's Day or any celebration, leche flan is the perfect sweet ending to any festive feast. 


8 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup condensed milk
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup white sugar + 1 tbsp water
10" metal round pan or 5 to 6 ramekins (3")

Caramelize Sugar
1. Caramelize sugar: Mix 1/4 cup sugar with 1 tbsp of water in your metal pan or ramekin and place over medium heat. Do not stir but move the pan around to ensure the sugar melts evenly and doesn't burn. When the sugar becomes thick and golden brown in colour 4-5 minutes, remove immediately from the stove top and pour caramelized sugar in pan or ramekins.

2. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. 

Mixed eggs, milks, lemon & vanilla extract
3. In a medium bowl, carefully mix in eggs, evaporated milk, condensed milk, lemon zest and vanilla extract. Do not over mix to prevent creating too many bubbles. Let rest for 20-30 minutes for mixture to become room temperature.
Leche Flan in Bain Marie
4.  Strain egg mixture for a smoother consistency then pour egg mixture into metal pan or ramekin moulds. Then place in a bain marie (roasting pan with 1" boiling water) and into the pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes.
Leche Flan in Bain Marie in oven
5. Remove from oven and let leche flan cool down before placing it in the fridge for 2-3 hours. 
6. When leche flan is completely cooled, run a sharp knife around the edges of the mould. Then get a pan of hot water and let the leche flan pan rest gently on this water bath for 1 - 2 minutes so that the flan is cold but the bottom is warm to help with the un-moulding. Then transfer leche flan onto a plate by turning the mould upside down. Fingers crossed, the mould will come out clean! 
Serve chilled with whipped cream and with macapuno strings, enjoy;)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Oodles of Noodles at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

It's usually a sure bet that a restaurant is worth the wait based on a consistent line-up of patrons waiting for a delicious meal. This is the case at Robson's Hakkaido Ramen Santouka. I went with my older brother, a reliable source for all things Asian cuisine. He highly recommended that we eat at Santouka because it's known to serve the closest thing to authentic ramen noodles you can find outside of Japan. 
Who wouldn't want to try authentic ramen, a Japanese dish made with wheat noodles served in broth? Especially on a rainy Vancouver day, cozying up to a steamy bowl of noodle soup seemed like the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. 

Opened in 2010, Robson's Santouka is a chain restaurant with locations around the world. They're internationally known for their broth recipe because they incorporate the same cooking methods used in Hakkaido, Japan. When making traditional Hakkaido broth, pork bones are slowly simmered for 48 hours and the soup should never come to a boil.
Santouka's delicious window display
While we were waiting for our seats, I spent my time wisely examining, and drooling over, what to order from the window display, showcasing replica wax dishes from the menu. 
Busy Santouka!
When our seats were ready, entering the restaurant was like walking into a hive with friendly but efficient workers buzzing through tight spaces to quickly clean tables, take orders and serve food. We were then seated at an oval communal dining table, rubbing elbows with hungry strangers as we were all united with the singular mission to feast on a satisfying bowl of ramen.
Pan Fried Gyozas
We started with the pan fried gyozas. The crispy gyoza crust against the succulent saltiness of the pork filing was delectable! For those heat seekers, dip the little dumplings in the chili oil and soy sauce supplied at the table for a spicy kick. 

As for the main ramen dishes, you choose your seasoned pork broth from four flavour options: *Shio* with salt; *Shoyu* with soy sauce; *Miso* with fermented soy bean paste and *Kara Miso* with hot spices and fermented soy bean paste.
Simmered Pork Bowl Combo
I selected the Shio Ramen simmered pork bowl combo which came with two side dishes: Japanese pickled plums with an egg and chashu rice bowl. The Shio Ramen was surprisingly creamy but light and rich in flavour.  While the melt-in-your-mouth slices of braised pork and crunch of the salty seaweed added texture and decadence to the soup. 
Shio Ramen
The star was the ramen. Gently wading in a hot pool of pork essence, these chewy, bright yellow noodles were cooked to perfection! Trying to savour every bite, I made sure I fished, pulled-out and slurped (acceptable eating practice in Japan) every single piece of ramen out of the bowl. 

Chashu Rice Bowl
The sour Japanese pickles side dish balanced the richness from the broth and I enjoyed the chashu rice bowl for the sweet and tender pieces of cubed pork. 
Lovin' the ramen!
From the raving reviews, food awards and regular lineups, Santouka's ramen seems to be the real thing. For someone like me who has yet to visit Japan, Santouka is the perfect place to indulge in a delicious, hot and tasty bowl of ramen. 

For more food photos and restaurant recommendations, visit Candice's Cusina at

Candice's Recommendations 
Simmered Pork Bowl Combo (choice of ramen with Japanese pickles, egg & chasu rice bowl) $14.50; Shio Ramen Bowl $9.95; Gyoza $5.50; Toroniku (simmered pork meat) $6.25
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka 山頭火 on Urbanspoon