Monday, July 24, 2006
taking the heat at singapore's banana leaf, farmers market.
(let's just get this confusing punctuation thing out of the way now, in case you'll be doin' some googling later: it's singapore's banana leaf, at the farmers market. possessive singapore, a large group of non-possessive farmers)
i have to say, i like hot summers in the city; there's something intrinsically sexy about it, in a dirty, sweaty, heaving, sort of way. i heart new york's lower east side, during those crazy, sudden thunderstorms that come in the middle of the afternoon, with steam rising from the asphalt, and everything going from yellowy gray to blue gray all at once; london's hampstead heath, with pasty gentlemen sunning themselves on striped lawn chaises on a vast green sea, little children running rings around them, and naughty boys trying to peek into brush surrounding the women's bathing pond; or dc, where the atmosphere is so heavy with humidity that you need to take a shower immediately after stepping out the shower, and the air is as thick as water and you can't breathe....okay, maybe i don't like that so much, but i do enjoy the seasonal heat and oven-like temperatures occasionally. (perhaps it's because i normally live in the equatorial tropics, which is like a perpetual steam bath.)
anyway, on one of the balmier nights, a friend and i headed to the farmers market for dinner, not really knowing what we wanted to eat. we walked by the all the stalls, and somehow, the crowd at singapore's banana leaf beckoned. eating la's pat saperstein is correct in saying that the food at the farmers market is rarely a stellar example of their respective cuisines, but they tend to fare well all the same; sbl is no exception to this. however, the weather, the cramped tables, and the bustling environs really capture the spirit of an asian market stall/street food vendor which only adds to its appeal. we placed our order, and beadily eyed the people who managed to get a table in front of the stall, until a couple finally left and we slid into their seats (yes, they were finished with their meal, and they ignored us, so there was no "go go mojo" going on).
the roti paratha--grilled indian bread served with a vegetarian curry sauce--was first, and it was okay. it was hot off the grill, and generous in portions, but slightly thicker than and not as flaky as i would prefer. the curry sauce lacked heat, but had a nice, mild flavour.
i enjoyed the gado gado, a salad of shredded cabbage, cut (frozen?) green beans, boiled potato, fried tofu, hard-boiled egg and bean sprouts, topped with a warm sweet peanut sauce and krupuk (shrimp chips). the thing that makes or breaks this dish for me is the peanut sauce, and i have to say i do like sbl's version. i reckon the sauce is made with peanut butter, but there are ground peanuts in it as well, which adds to the flavour's richness, along with the sambal belacan (shrimp paste), soy sauce and spices. the vegetables that were supposed to be cooked were the right consistency and didn't taste like they were pre-cooked hours earlier, and the fresh vegetables were crisp and new.
the laksa, a coconut curry-based soup with thick(ish) rice noodles, tofu, bean sprouts and homemade fishcake or chicken (i chose the chicken), was a bit of a disappointment. although the portion was quite generous, i found that the soup itself lacked a depth of flavour, underspiced, and perhaps not made with a fish- or seafood-based stock, which i am used to tasting under all the coconut milk and curry (perhaps it was missing sambal belacan??). i also found the noodles to be a slightly more al dente than i prefer.
the mee goreng, or indian-style pan-fried yellow egg noodles, was packed with onions, chicken, and tofu, but the spicy tomato-based sauce lacked that certain boldness of flavour i've come to expect in really good mee goreng (i'm under some suspicion that the secret ingredient in a good sauce is ketchup, eyuw, but hey, if it works it works), but the abundance of ingredients and relative lack of oiliness make this mee goreng a decent dish.
we capped our meal with ice kachang, a shaved ice concoction with sweetened preserved jack fruit, sweet beans, evaporated milk, rose and pandan syrups. now this was the business, and certainly welcomed on this steamy night. in fact, it was so successful, i believe half the people standing in line waiting for their orders and beadily eyeing us also ordered ones for themselves. good move, but we were so full that we didn't actually move off in a timely fashion to allow the next sweltering and starving couple to swoop in. we were happy where we were, and despite the "eh"-ness of some of the dishes, we'd be happy to return.
singapore's banana leaf
at the farmers market,
6333 w. 3rd street (x-street fairfax)
los angeles 90036.