Saturday, March 21, 2009

Familiar ground

When does comfortable become boring? One can be content in familiar surroundings but sometimes it reaches the point of boredom and same-old. I guess it comes down to where the comfort and contentment actually comes from - is it convenience or safety or some genuine spiritual fulfillment? The lesser of these would naturally drop into the boring, same-old category a little faster than others.

It's with an uninterested appetite that I have dinner this particular night. I'm not sure if it was the uninteresting falafel wrap I had at lunch or the same-old Chinatown area. In hindsight the markets in Dixon Street would have been a better bet for amusing eats, mostly on a stick, but not really the environment for chatting or chowing down on a bowl of noodles as a dining companion insists they are craving.

We hit Mother Chu's Taiwanese Gourmet on Dixon Street - the place of many a memory from post high school days, oddly enough. We used to come here and polish off dishes of pan fried dumplings and that glutinous rice stick with pork floss which I sometimes now still get a hankering for. Good old days.

My uninterested appetite struggles with the menu which consists of Taiwanese hot snacks, rice and noodle dishes, congees and desserts. There's the temptingly easy order of dumplings but frankly, they've reached same-old status.

I instead order their version of xiao long bao or 'little steamed buns' as they're listed. I think a few fears on the quality and satisfaction front encouaged me to order the green onion pancake as well. That or the appetite was well and truly confused.

Xiao Long Bao from Mother Chu's Taiwanese
Gourmet, Dixon Street, Haymarket

The xiao long bao arrive looking a little less than happy and healthy. They literally look deflated and squished. There's self-serve soy sauce, vinegar sauce and chilli sauce. I resort to getting all three in an attempt to liven and add inspiration to the dumplings.

The dumpling skin seems to be the same as the one they use for their normal dumplings - the one you can see being handmade at the front corner windows. The one that's nice pan fried but way too thick for supposedly delicate, steamed dumplings.

Despite the thickness a few of the dumpling skins have split, spilling their soupy fillings all over. Normally, this would be a travesty but the soup lacks a punchy flavour hit so there really is no point in crying over spilt soup in this case.

The meat filling is heavily seasoned with indiscernable contents and and eating is a process of soy and chilli on the skin, and meat dipped into vinegar. Repeat eight times. Or in my case, seven. It was probably the thick pastry but I just couldn't eat them all. Or maybe it was the yummy pancake distracting me.

Green onion pancake

It's thin, browned and boiling hot off the grill. It singed my fingertips even after a minute's wait or so. The pancake is flaky yet with slight glutinous character. Seems a bit of a food oxymoron. The flavour is a perfect combination of flouriness and savoury, the shallots serving a more visual than flavouring purpose. It makes the ideal dipping partner for the soup across the table.

Spicy beef noodles

I only have a taste of the soup of this dish, which has been requested at a mild spice level. The soup is overwhelmingly meaty. It's an amazing feat for such a thin broth - it quite shouts of beef, meat, tendons and all other things bovine. If I had to choose one word to describe the soup flavour it would be 'tendons' - not really your typical adjective for soup. The spice is indeed mild allowing for flavours other than the tongue-scalding to shine.

The beef is thin and covered in rivers of jelly-like tendons; the noodles are thick, white and chewy; the soup rich, made all the richer and spicier for being in a plump red bowl; and the companion happy.

As we leave comforted by dinner (some more than others) it's a question that plays on the mind: The comfort of familiarity - does that cut it anymore?

Mother Chu's Taiwanese Gourmet on Urbanspoon

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