Dumplings with wings
I have often wondered, when eating hanetsuki gyoza, what the gossamer thin, wing-like pancake connecting the dumplings is for – apart from making dumplings look pretty.
And then I have similar dumplings at DaXi, a chain of casual restaurants in malls. Its signature dumplings can be had in various ways. If you order the pan-fried version ($11.80), the five, good-sized dumplings come hanetsuki style. Except that instead of a paper-thin pancake, it is a thickish, honeycombed and very crunchy wing. I love it.
The textural contrast between soft dumpling skin and filling and the lacy pancake is fantastic. I love how the pancake softens when dipped in black vinegar and ginger. These are wings that can really take you places.
The fillings I have tried – Original Pork, Smoked Duck and Chives & Pork – are juicy, which is a basic requirement. The duck one has a whisper of smokiness, and a strong garlic vibe runs through all three. These are robust, heartily flavoured dumplings, sized to fill you up.
The Original Pork dumplings can also be had with egg ($11.80). The dumplings sit on beaten-up egg – beautifully crisp along the circumference – with a shower of lettuce and a mayonnaise-based dressing in the middle.
Two other things are worth ordering.
The first, and I dream of it far too often, is the Japanese Cucumber With Cherry Tomato Salad ($7.80). Cold ribbons of cucumber and little tomatoes – peeled – sit in a light dressing made with salted plum. It is a little sweet, a little tangy and I cannot get enough of it. The tomatoes are especially juicy because they soak up the salted plum goodness, unimpeded by skin.
The second is DaXi’s Taiwanese Lu Rou Fan ($5.80), which is more substantial and yet cheaper than the salad. It is one of the better ones I have had in Singapore. The strange thing about this Taiwanese dish is that despite being made with pork belly, the meat is sometimes dry. Not at DaXi, or at least, not when I had it.
I know I am smitten by a dish when I finish it. I am not much of a finisher, but I inhale the salad. And come very, very close to eating all the pork and rice.
In Australia, where I had my first banh mi decades ago, shops selling the Vietnamese baguette and charcuterie sandwiches often have a sign saying Hot Bread.
At 233 Banh Mi in Joo Chiat, the bread is actually hot and it is the reason I keep haunting the place. It is a literal hole in the wall. There is one table outside, usually strewn with bread crumbs. But I refuse to do a takeaway. I need to have that bread hot.
The shop does not make its own baguettes, but whoever is toasting it does a perfect job. It is crisp on the outside and the inside is not the usual cottony crumb of banh mi rolls. It is a little more substantial, but not so dense that the sandwich is unbearably heavy.
Traditional Vietnamese Bread ($6), or Banh Mi Cha Lua Thit Nguoi, is my default order. A smear of pate, slices of ham and pork, daikon and carrot pickles, sliced cucumber, red chilli and fresh coriander leaves sit in between the halved roll. 233 gilds the lily a bit with strands of meat floss. Each bite is perky and rich, sweet and savoury, hot and cool. It is perfection. The Vietnamese BBQ Beef Bread ($6) has a generous helping of garlicky yakiniku and I love how the marinade soaks into the bread.
My other order is always the Vietnamese Iced Milk Coffee ($2.50) – thick, strong and sweet. This banh mi and ca phe combo is why I drag myself to the gym.
Where: 233 Banh Mi, 01-07, 216 Joo Chiat Road
Open: Mondays to Saturdays, 10am to 7pm. Closed on Sundays
Eat your cup
Does Singapore need another coffee place? Yes. Competition keeps everybody on their toes and coffee drinkers reap the rewards. Who can say no to better coffee?
Puzzle Coffee from Melbourne, which opens on Tuesday at Ion Orchard, is one of the new entrants to the market. The brand is new, even in Australia. It opened its first shop there in 2021, and there are now four. The Singapore outlet is its first one overseas.
The White Coffee ($6) is a little milkier than what might be served in a Melbourne cafe, and the owners say Singaporeans prefer it that way. A more bracing cuppa would be a Magic ($6), milk and a double ristretto – espresso shots made with less water.
Eco-conscious coffee drinkers can have their coffee in an edible cup for $3 more. Yes, the cup – made with oats and other grains – is edible. Sort of like French pastry chef and cronut inventor Dominique Ansel’s Cookie Shot – milk served in a “shot glass” made with cookie dough.
Sort of because Puzzle’s cup is not at all sweet, and it is sturdy, so the coffee does not make it soggy and you can finish the drink without the cup turning to mush. Of course, I break off chunks of it to taste. Breakfast on the go.
Like this edible cup, the brand’s biodegradable cups and straws can also be composted, and Puzzle plants one tree for every 100 cups of coffee, bag of coffee beans, or each item of merchandise sold. The wall cladding and stools are made with recycled wood.
Where: Puzzle Coffee, B1-38/39, Ion Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn
Open: 10am to 7pm daily