Grocery shopping is not supposed to be fun. For most people, it is drudgery to be endured while stumbling through a harshly lit store, dodging people.
But something has happened to supermarkets. Something good.
The newest one to explore is FairPrice Xtra at Parkway Parade, where you can spend a good number of hours checking out all the amenities.
These include an in-store bar with craft beers on tap and craft cocktails; a dine-in area where you can get steaks, seafood and vegetables from the store cooked to your specifications; a coffee bar for your caffeine fix; and enticing food, pastries and desserts. You can even get a rempah or spice paste made for you on the spot.
And for posh noshers, the store is a wonderland of things to discover. These are what caught my eye.
Stop No. 1
LNX DRIED SCALLOP HAE BEE HIAM
($15.90) Who knew actor Li Nanxing had a killer recipe for hae bee hiam? Who even knew he cooks?
But, well, stranger things have happened and his Dried Scallop Hae Bee Hiam is sold in jars now.
I did an XO sauce taste test a few months ago, and wish this had been available then. It would have fared pretty well against the ones I tried.
What I like is not seeing an oil slick on top of the hae bee hiam when I open the jar. The texture is pretty homogeneous.
If you are into chunky textures, you might be disappointed. But there is no faulting the flavour. Dried shrimps come through more forcefully than dried scallops, and the balance of heat and sweetness tilts towards heat, which is a good thing in my books.
There are many applications for it. At the store, you can have mini croissants stuffed with the condiment at House Of Bakers. At home, serve alongside fried rice or eat with hot, plain rice.
I am hoping to make milk buns stuffed with the hae bee hiam, and a grilled cheese sandwich with generous dollops of it inside.
Stop No. 2
TUNGSAN SEASONED SOYA SAUCE FOR SEAFOOD ($3.30), TERIYAKI SAUCE ($5.35) AND CHILLI CRAB SAUCE ($3.10)
I go often to Tungsan's store in Ang Mo Kio to load up on prepared sauces for curries and other dishes. It's a treasure trove of delightful things, many of them available in retail and commercial sizes.
And now, they are available at FairPrice. The products I pick are ones I have never tried before, and I will have to add some of them to my shopping list.
Seasoned Soya Sauce For Seafood is great on steamed fish. It is mighty salty, so a little goes a long way.
The Teriyaki Sauce, I am pleased to report, is more savoury than sweet. I usually make my own because most commercial ones are just full of sugar.
The Chilli Crab Sauce is not the best I have had, but in a pinch, you can use it as a base for a spicy seafood pasta sauce, adding it to canned chopped tomatoes.
Or use it as a topping, together with shredded cheddar cheese, for nachos. Dollop with sour cream and sprinkle with chopped scallions when it comes out of the oven.
My favourite Tungsan product, however, is the Curry Lontong Vegetable Paste. I use it for curry yong tau foo with long beans, carrots and brinjals.
TWIN ANGEL BRAND TRADITIONAL NANYANG COFFEE POWDER ($5.15)
When my colleagues and I started working from home, I developed a new routine.
On the way back from my morning walk, I stop by the hawker centre to get a kopi-o kosong to go. I have a coffee habit I just can't break. The jolt of caffeine revs me up for the day and I have come to look at it as fuel.
Recently, I was out doing interviews and grabbed an Americano from a coffee chain. It tasted like dishwater - insipid, completely lacking in character and depth. Once you go kopi, it's hard to go back to Americano.
Home-grown company Ebenezer Coffee Manufacturer makes the kind of kopi I like and this product is very good fuel indeed.
Follow the instructions to use 12g of coffee for 180ml of boiling water, and brew this in a coffee sock, the way kopi is made.
Then wait for the fireworks. Awake now? Good.
Stop No. 3
MOONZEN THUNDER GOD ALE AND JIANG XI SALTED MANDARIN IPA ($7.20 EACH)
Champagne, I can drink it all day long. Beer, not so much.
But Moonzen, from a micro-brewery in Hong Kong, looks so interesting, I cannot just walk past without grabbing a couple of bottles.
Beer brewing has taken off in a big way in Asia - Singapore included - and it is beautiful to see and taste ingredients from this part of the world worked intelligently into beer and other alcoholic drinks.
Take the Jiang Xi Salted Mandarin IPA or India Pale Ale, which has a heady citrus vibe and bitter notes to anchor it.
The mandarin is not in your face, but you can imagine biting into just that sort of salty dried orange you might buy from a stand selling preserved plums and such.
The Thunder God Ale is the brand's flagship beer and it is no wallflower.
This would stand up to the strong and robust flavours of zi char, or chilli and pepper crab.
MALLETS CIDER ORIGINAL ($4.25)
To go with the grilled cheese sandwich, I'd crack open a can of this cider. Alcoholic apple ciders abound in supermarkets and liquor stores and this one from Britain has a crisp, fresh taste that will wake me from my food coma.
I like that it tastes tart rather than sweet, and how it is so good with potato chips.
I'd also wager that the cider would be great with pork chops. Saute wedges of peeled Granny Smith apples with butter and onions, add some cider, reduce until thickish, add a splash of cooking cream, and salt and pepper to taste.
Stop No. 4
ORXATA HORCHATA SELECCION ($9.90)
Every year, it seems, people rediscover some ancient ingredient, which then becomes the hot thing in food. We have gone through quinoa, acai, spelt, freekeh, maca, amaranth and goodness knows what else. And now, it is chufa's turn to shine.
These legumes, which look like shrivelled-up chickpeas, are touted as a superfood. They are said to improve digestion and heart health, strengthen the immune system and reduce blood sugar levels.
Chufa, also called tiger nuts, are chewy and starchy. The store also carries chufa nuts for people who want to add them to food or eat as a snack; and chufa nut flour, which is useful for gluten-free baking.
The quickest way to decide if you like it or not is to drink it. Horchata is a drink I love, but I have ever only had the Mexican version, which is made with rice.
In Spain, it is made with ground-up chufa and this is the version available at the store. Despite its sweetness, the drink has 83 calories per 100ml, which is not too bad.
I like it with the Byron Bay Macadamia Muesli (see Stop No. 5), which has no added sugar. I have also used it to make a smoothie with frozen banana and passion fruit pulp.
Stop No. 5
BYRON BAY MACADAMIA MUESLI ($15.90)
I suppose when people talk about luxury food, they think about champagne, caviar, sea urchin, fatty tuna, maybe abalone.
For me, though, luxury is finding macadamia nut halves in my cereal. Byron Bay's Paleo Mix muesli is full of them - buttery nuts I cannot get enough of.
In the mix also are sunflower and pumpkin seeds, shreds of coconut, almonds, pecans, sultanas, pear, apples, goji berries and flaxseeds. There is no added sugar, so whatever sweetness there is comes from the dried fruit. This mix is very good with Greek yogurt, or have it with milk or unsweetened soya milk.
We are in the midst of serious Chinese New Year feasting. Every time I feel like I am on the verge of hitting a wall, I reset my palate with a small bowl of this cereal.
THE LUCKY TACO JALAPENO HOT SAUCE AND CHIPOTLE HOT SAUCE ($11.95 EACH)
These seasonings from New Zealand are very versatile. How, I wonder, does a country not well known for Mexican food come up with such authentic-tasting condiments?
The smoky, earthy flavour of the chipotle (say chi-POAT-lay) hot sauce makes it perfect on grilled meats, or to add depth of flavour to a roasted tomato salsa.
Bright heat is what I get from the jalapeno (say hala-PEN-nio) version, and this is delicious on fish tacos. In fact, if you're having fish and chips, replace the tartar sauce with this hot sauce.
T2 MELBOURNE BREAKFAST ($9.90)
Oh, how I long for a Melbourne breakfast. Not that there's anything wrong with a Singapore one, I hasten to add. I guess I have a serious case of cabin fever.
When I had a sip of this tea, there was an intriguing floral flavour rather unusual in a black tea. It turns out to be vanilla and I have taken to drinking a cup every day because it is so soothing.
Try this with the animal-shaped biscuits from Friend Of The Ocean (see other story) - it's a cup of comfort any time of the day.
I like it at 4pm, when the munchies hit.
FRIEND OF THE OCEAN RICE CRACKER ($16.90), KANI PIE ($8.90) AND AQUA TERIA TEA ($9.90)
In a nod to the store's location in Marine Parade, FairPrice sourced these sea-themed treats from Japan. They are perfect for tea time.
First, make yourself a cup of Aqua Teria's blue pea flower and lemongrass tea. These are not Japanese flavours, but each cup is perfectly perfumed with the lemongrass.
Then there is a choice of what you'll have with your cuppa.
The label for the sea creature biscuits is puzzling. You won't find rice crackers inside. Instead, there is a selection of crisp sables and puffy pastry bites. Nothing is too sweet, you'll be pleased to know.
This is also the case with Kani Pie, crisp and crab-shaped. As lovely as the pastry treats are, I prefer the sables - they are so delicious dunked in tea.
WHERE: 03-28 Parkway Parade, 80 Marine Parade Road OPEN 8am to 11pm daily