I'm a big fan of mala (numbing and spicy) dishes, be it the addictive mala xiang guo (a stir-fried version of mala hotpot) or the fiery steamboat soup base.
At Gong Yuan Mala Tang in Heartland Mall, I get the best of both worlds. It is a soup version of mala xiang guo - think yong tau foo with a mala soup I can drink without losing my tastebuds or voice the next day. This is unlike the soup at steamboat restaurants, which generally has a layer of chilli oil and plenty of chilli and peppercorns floating on top.
The soup does not numb your senses, but is no less flavourful. Like with yong tau foo and mala xiang guo, you pick from a variety of meats, seafood and vegetables. Pricing is by weight - $2.28 for 100g of ingredients. Add $1 for a bowl of rice.
Two other broths are also available and my pick is the pickled vegetable soup. I like the suan cai (Chinese pickled cabbage) soup at steamboat chain Haidilao and this comes close, with a good combination of hot and sour notes. If you cannot handle the heat, stick to the pork broth.
WHERE: 02-15 Heartland Mall, 205 Hougang Street 21 MRT: Kovan WHEN: Noon to 9pm daily TEL: 6385-7865
Over the year, hotdog joints have come and gone. With veteran Swiss-born chef Otto Weibel creating the new menu for Hotdogs Inc, hopefully this one stays.
I like the kurobuta pork roll ($8.80), which comes with a choice of Asian (tomatoes, carrots and XO sauce), German (sauerkraut) or Japanese (seaweed and bonito flakes) toppings.
The kurobuta pork sausage is thick, juicy and goes well with all three toppings, though my favourite is the traditional sauerkraut.
I like the inclusion of XO sauce for the Asian topping, but would have liked more.
Go the whole hog with the Man's Jumbo Special ($14.80), a 30cm-long weiner. Choose from beef, chicken or pork.
There is also a beer garden menu with offerings such as slow-roasted pork knuckle ($12), traditional German curry sausage ($8.50) and housemade potato salad ($3).
All the sausages are from Swiss Butchery and tucked into freshly baked buns.
WHERE: 01-23 PoMo Mall, 1 Selegie Road MRT: Dhoby Ghaut WHEN: 11am to 9pm (weekdays), 11am to 5pm (Saturdays), closed on Sundays and public holidays TEL: 6265-0433 INFO: www.facebook.com/hotdogsincsg
SOBA SO GOOD
Soba - ramen's less popular relative - finally gets to be in the limelight at soba specialist Nadai Fujisoba Ni-Hachi.
The soba chain has 119 outlets in Tokyo and makes its noodles in-house with wheat flour (20 per cent) and buckwheat flour (80 per cent). The 82-seat restaurant here offers a wide variety of soba served four ways: warm, cold, maze (mixed) and mori (dipping).
One of my favourites is the dry kamo maze soba ($16), with sliced duck meat, half-boiled egg, duck meat balls, snap peas, yuzu and soya sauce. It is best eaten with all the ingredients mixed together.
Another interesting item is the deep-fried soba with savoury spicy seafood sauce ($18.50). The sauce is poured over the crispy fried noodles and the dish reminds me of local zi char favourite sang meen (Chinese fried egg noodles). It is a sizzling spectacle and comes in a generous portion.
My stomach gravitates to the hot mentai cream soba ($17), soba in a creamy mentaiko soup. But this is very rich, so it is best to share. Or pick the dry mentai maze soba ($14), which works like a mentaiko pasta.
Save space for some sides - a fragrant truffle dashi maki tamago with Japanese sauce ($15) and sauteed sobagaki and foie gras with kaeshi sauce ($17). Sobagaki is made with the same buckwheat flour used for the soba, but the flour is usually mixed with hot water or broth and served like mashed potatoes. The kaeshi sauce (concentrated soup base) flavours the sobagaki and is certainly a different way to eat buckwheat flour.
WHERE: 03-14 100AM, 100 Tras Street MRT: Tanjong Pagar WHEN: 11am to 3pm, 5.30 to 10pm daily TEL: 6443-8827 INFO: www.facebook.com/FujiSoba
ENTER THE DRAGON CHAMBER
If you are bored of traditional banquet-style Chinese restaurants, head to the secret speakeasy concept by the TungLok Group - The Dragon Chamber.
I enter via a secret entrance in Chinese-American restaurant Lokkee in Plaza Singapura and am immediately transported into a new space. It is dimly lit and has graffiti-painted walls. Very hipster indeed.
While you can still order food from Lokkee, there is a special menu just for The Dragon Chamber, with more exotic fare.
Don't be alarmed by the appearance of the Dragon's Claw ($60), which is crocodile foot braised in herbal sauce and served on kale. It is tasty and reminds me of herbal chicken. I'm told it is full of collagen.
There is also Josper-grilled pig's tail ($26), where the meat is shredded and served with lettuce wraps and chilli fish sauce. Probably the smartest way to get me to eat pig's tail.
My favourite dish is the mala Irish duck ($36 for half, $60 for whole), where the roast duck comes with a fragrant and spicy mala sauce - a perfect combination.
And of course, you will not get the usual hor fun here. The wagyu truffle hor fun ($50) includes crispy fried hor fun strips, poached egg and truffle gravy. Very decadent and pricey, but certainly delicious.
WHERE: 03-01 Plaza Singapura, 68 Orchard Road (entrance inside Lokkee) MRT: Dhoby Ghaut WHEN: 11am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 9.30pm daily TEL: 6884-4566 INFO: www.lokkee.com.sg