Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pork Belly Confit | La Petit Paradis

Braised pork belly is a great traditional comfort food.

If you take your time to lovingly cook it, preferably until melt-in-the-mouth tender, the aroma fills the house, a bouquet of dark soya sauce and spices. A couple of slices of this simple delicacy over steaming hot rice and you have a dish fit for both a momentous occasion or a simple sit-down dinner with the family.

Now take that traditional Chinese braised pork belly recipe and give it a decidedly French twist and what have you got?

Pork belly confit! 

Conjured up by those evil gastronomic minds at La Petit Paradis, their pork belly confit dish is seasoned the traditional Asian way with star anise, cinnamon and cloves, then cooked slowly in duck fat for hours until meltingly tender.

La Petit Paradis' Pork Belly Confit

The cooking process also renders much of the fat away from the pork belly, so don't expect the familiar thick fatty layers of the Chinese braised version. But I can tell you that the almost liquified layers of fat that do remain are so smooth and delicate that you could slurp it up with a straw.

To finish off, the pork belly is placed in a high heat oven to allow the skin to crisp up for that all important crowning glory -- the crackling.

La Petit Paradis pork belly confit has everything you could ask of a good traditional braised pork belly -- fall away, tender meat you could pinch and pull apart with chopsticks and almost-melting layers of fat.

But that crackling. Now that's a masterful touch!

What really sets this version of pork belly confit apart from the French version is the combination of Chinese spices. If you grew up munching on Chinese-style braised pork belly, then this version will bring the familiar to whole new territiory.

La Petit Paradis serves their pork belly confit on a balsamic vinegar reduction spiced with cloves and star anise, with a side of mashed potatoes, salad and BĂ©arnaise sauce. Given the richness of this dish, I felt that the BĂ©arnaise was a tad overkill. 

But I've learned not to question genius when it presents itself. 

If you read my rave review about La Petit Paradis foie gras, their pork belly confit comes in a very close second on the scale of unctuousness.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your cardiac disposition, La Petit Paradis has taken their pork belly confit off the menu for the time being so you might have to wait a few weeks before you can sample this tasty morsel, if you haven't already.

Madness rating: 4.5/5 (0.5 points deducted for the fact that it's not a regular item on the menu!)

Le Petit Paradis
125 East Coast Road
Ali Baba Eating House
Tel: 64406147

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Murtabak | Non-Stop Prata

If you grew up in the Siglap or East Coast area in the late 60's and early 70's the name Dawood would bring to mind greasy plates of prata, briyani and murtabak. Murtabak, especially, seemed to be the hallmark of this Indian Muslim coffeeshop and was a very popular takeaway item for families, especially on those days when mum was too tired to cook.

Who could forget Dawood's murtabak with its generous filling of ground mutton and onions, all wrapped up in a blanket of dough that was crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside. I attribute much of the flavour of their murtabak to the generous use of QBB brand pure ghee.

Those of us old enough to remember will recall the ubiquitous, dark green cans of ghee, lining the wall behind the prata and murtabak station, ready to be popped open when needed.

Non-Stop Prata's Murtabak
These days, the better prata establishments use a 50/50 mix of ghee and vegetable oil. Since ghee is expensive, often more vegetable oil is used in the mix. The higher the ratio of vegetable oil, the farther removed from that wonderful prata and murtabak flavour of the good old days.

When Dawood Restaurant changed hands in the early 80's, the new owners kept the name, but somehow the food just wasn't the same. The prata, murtabak and fried noodle dishes become pretty much standard fare, perfectly edible but not outstanding. In its heyday in the 70's, Dawood's used to once draw patrons from the opposite end of the island who were willing to make that hour long drive (this was well before the days of the Pan Island Expressway) to the East Coast for their prata fix.

The Dawood's of the 80's and 90's seemed to just serve residents who lived nearby and when it went 24 hours, the place became the perfect hangout for insomniacs, musicians and other night owls who lived in the vicinity. Chatting over prata, Indian teh tarik (pulled tea) and cigarettes til the wee hours of the morning became a rite of passage for many a teenager breaking curfew for the first time. Myself included.

But enough about murtabak history, and back to our story..

Since the demise of Dawood's, many Indian Muslim restaurants have sprung up all over Singapore. Prata and murtabak are cheap and easy to make and provide a very decent turnover of profit, provided you can sell enough of them. The proliferation of 24 hour prata establishments these days gives the Singapore foodie almost too many options for that late night food escapade.

Along the famous food stretch of East Coast Road -- or Katong as it is more fondly known -- one prata eatery has cropped up that dishes out a murtabak that is, in my humble opinion, at least equal to that famous Dawood murtabak of the 1970s.

I wandered into Non-Stop Prata late one evening after a movie with the Divine Miss N, hoping for a decent cup of teh tarik and a small snack. The place was virtually empty -- not a good sign for a 24-hour prata joint.

We ordered a thosai and a murtabak to go with our teh tariks but from the look of the place and its total lack of customers, you could say that we weren't expecting much.

When the thosai arrived, hot, crisp and golden brown, with its tasty vegetable and lentil sides, I sat up in my chair.  One bite confirmed that this was the real thing, no shortcuts or skimping on ingredients or that all important ghee. My expectations for the murtabak immediately went up a couple of notches.

Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed. Just like the food critic Anton Ego in the movie Ratatouille, I was instantly transported back to my childhood with just one bite of that murtabak. Ok, maybe I exaggerate just a little.

But seriously, all the hallmarks of a great murtabak were there. Flavourful crust, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and absolutely bursting with a generous filling of minced mutton. They weren't heavy handed with the onions which were finely diced, accenting the mutton beautifully. And the best part is that the mutton was full flavored, nicely spiced with coriander and cumin and, most importantly, not overly dry.

I'll finish off by saying this -- if you weren't born in the 60's and never got to try the famous Dawood murtabak in its heyday, you owe yourself a favour by checking out Non-Stop Prata's murtabak.

Madness rating: 5/5. But go easy if you have high cholesterol!

Non-Stop Prata
57 East Coast Road, Singapore 428773

Non-Stop Prata Flipping!