Little Monk Pretzels – Burnaby, BC

Little Monk Pretzels
Metropolis At Metrotown
101-4820 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 434-1090

The other day I made soft pretzels at home as I suddenly had a craving for it on a lazy weekend afternoon.  In a wild coincidence, on a shopping outing at this busy mall recently, I came upon this little stall called Little Monk Pretzels near the end where you find the Superstore, that makes pretty much the same thing I had baked up in my kitchen.  With a few other fast food/treat options in this alley of  Metropolis at Metrotown, I’m sure it catches quite a few customers coming out of their grocery shopping excursions with food on their minds.  Now what monks have to do with pretzels, its unknown to me, but seeing a group of customers congregating right in front of the food stand, it got me curious…

A rather simplistic production, as I could see a man in the back who was laying out pre-made dough, all cut up into bite sized pieces and running them through a little oven-like machine that operated with a conveyer belt.  After getting a verbal order from the people manning the cash machine, he would run some product through – on this day its these little balls of soft pretzels that were most popular.

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Madam Kwan’s – Kuala Lumpur, MY

Madam Kwan’s
Unit 1.16, The Pavilion Kuala Lumpur
168 Jalan Bukit Bintang
Kuala Lumpur 55100, Malaysia
+603 2118 8833 (main mall)

Observing people easing into a new cuisine that they are unfamiliar with is an interesting study in personality. Some will boldly leap into a hot dish without hesitation, seeking that thrilling, first time experience of new flavors and a jolt to their mundane eating experiences. Others will meekly play with their utensils and anxiously pick away at the foreign food on their plate, and look around as if hoping someone will bring them something they are much more comfortable eating. Do you fit one of these profiles?

Some restaurants are very good at helping neophytes to ethnic cuisine, by introducing menu items that are generally mild in nature and visually appealing. Usually this will comprise staple dishes that have been proven to be popular among Westerners, be it in the native country or in North America, with the intent to appeal to a wide audience. To help accomplish this, businesses will often tend to invest in a more refined dining environment (location, design, etc.). As such, simple dishes that one could find in more “local” spots or even on the street (though vendors, etc.), are often more expensive than they should be – or cost more than a native would find normally acceptable – with the debate of which is better in terms of quality, also wide open.

Madam Kwan’s to me, fits this description. Taking up locations in Kuala Lumpur within major shopping centres (Mid Valley Megamall, Suria KLCC, and The Pavilion), this operation has established their outlets where heavy foot traffic is guaranteed, as well where many foreigners are known to visit. With a spacious, clean interior, featuring tables on the open floor as well as some more secluded dining rooms for larger groups/parties, Madam Kwan’s offers what it calls “Truly Malaysian Cuisine”, featuring dishes such as Hainanese Chicken Rice, Nasi Lemak, Fish Head Curry, Laksa, and desserts such as Cendol, etc. It also tends to be a popular place for the locals, who are out and about, perhaps shopping in these centres, as they have always been boisterous whenever I’ve passed by or eaten in.

I thought this dish, the Nasi Bojari, is one of the most popular items on the menu, judging from scans of other tables on two occasions, and would be a safe bet for those new to Malaysian cuisine to try. It features a large lump of fragrant rice on a banana leaf, surrounded by a sampling of Beef Rendang, a fried chicken drumstick, Assam Prawns, slices of veg (cucumber, tomato), and half boiled egg. In terms of proportion, it is quite large (even for a hungry adult male). The spicy Assam Prawns are my favorite item on this plate, whereas the chicken thigh is not overly exciting (not bad though), and the Beef Rendang perhaps a tad dry for my liking, though its clearly soaked up the coconut milk and spices that is was cooked in. The price was about 20 Ringgits, which is a notable premium over the street hawker version of this same dish.

I am sure the more adventurous among us will cringe at the thought of places like Madam Kwan’s that are “selling out”. I’m among them for sure, with this place being a safety blanket whenever I am taking a finicky newbie to Malaysia out to try some “local” food. I suppose places like this do have value, if it helps appease a diner that I am stuck with for the night, and has a lot of dislikes when it comes to food, but when I still want to avoid the dreaded hotel restaurants. If I’m on my own, I’d rather hit some back alley or side street, getting my meal cooked up in the humid conditions of KL, by some middle aged man wearing an undershirt and sweating profusely while standing near the hot wok. Sound appetizing, perhaps not. But I guarantee the food does! And it will hit your wallet a lot softer than the pristine, air conditioned, modern designed restaurants of the city.  Which generally means, more meals for me. 🙂

Food Junction – Singapore

Food Junction
5th Floor, Funan DigitalLife Mall
109 North Bridge Road, Singapore
Tel: +65 6336 8327 (Mall Customer Service)

Whenever I am in Singapore, as I am this week, eating and shopping tend to be my favorite off-time activities.  Where else can you get such an abundance of both, and at such a great level (in terms of quality and price) that is the envy of the world.  Granted, there are some places where this bar does come down a notch or two, but still thinking in terms of what you get in North America for almost the same thing and the large drop off in price found here, you are still getting away with a fantastic deal.  And for anyone that knows me, high tech gadgets and electronic goods are some of my most favorite things, and here in Singapore, they make sure to also have a well stocked food court in the IT-dedicated shopping centres.  What more could you ask for?

The Funan DigitalLife Mall (sometimes referred to as the Funan Centre, or Funan IT Mall) is a popular place for both locals and tourists alike, especially those looking to purchase a new laptop computer.  Frankly, I don’t know how one can differentiate between one store and another that is carrying the same product.  Price negotiation skills are paramount, in order to get the best deal in the house.  And after all that back-and-forth with salespeople, you tend to get hungry.  And after spending a small fortune on a new electronic toy, well perhaps your budget for your post-purchase meal needs to take a hit. No need to fret, as the Food Junction comes to the rescue!

This food court located on the fifth floor of the mall, is quite generic.  By this I mean, each station is not a separate tenant with their own restaurant/brand name.  Rather, the stalls are segregated by type of cuisine, and named as such (eg. Chinese food, Indian food, Korean food, etc.).  As you can see from the image, a simple, understated plate of Hainanese Chicken Rice.  Served with a bowl of steaming chicken stock soup, and a sampling of the dipping sauces one usually requires.  All this for SGD 3.80 (equivalent to 3 Canadian dollars at today’s rate).  Throw in the air conditioning in the seating area, and the fellows around who are quickly cleaning up tables and clearing away trays, and it makes the amount I paid feel even better.

For this quantity and cost, you are getting what you pay for.  It comes out quick, slapped down on your cafeteria plate by some young kids behind the counter.  For the dipping sauces, you pour what you want from the bottles into a small dish, and taking everything away on your tray to an available table on the floor.  The slices of chicken breast meat are thin, with the gelatinous skin on top very limited.  The rice was surprisingly good though, very fragrant and not over/under cooked.  The accompanying bowl of soup was very pedestrian.  But when you think about how much I paid for it, and the equivalent of what I could have gotten at say McDonald’s (yes, located down on the main floor of this mall), I’d say I made out well with a conservative sized meal that did put a dent into my hunger, after an hour of so of patrolling all the floors in this building looking at expensive toys.