Singapore Adventure

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Asian Breakfast Buffet - Part I
by venitha

Jim and I agree that the appeal of the Asian breakfast buffet is decidedly on the wane. Foods that mere months ago were exciting and different have now become mundane and unappealing, if not downright disgusting.

There's congee, occasionally, to our bemusement, labelled gruel, and the Japanese voluntarily eat it, in spite of not being orphans on the streets of Dickensian London. A soupy rice porridge, it may be topped with dry shredded chicken or fish floss, dried ummmm... seaweed?, and various unidentifiable and revolting pickled condiments. I am qualified to use the word revolting only because, yes, I have actually tried them. [Side note: I no longer have to try anything pickled. Chiang Mai really pushes one's tolerance in this regard.]

There's always Chinese stir-fry, comprised of various noodle and rice dishes, which, if my Chinese co-workers are any indication, are common breakfast foods. Of perhaps more morning appeal to a Westerner is the pau (steamed bun), though the quality (doughy and dried out?) and the filling (sweet bean) make these very easy to resist.

In Malay hotels, there is nasi lemak, rice cooked in coconut milk, which has its appeal, though its condiments are downright perplexing to an American's breakfast sensibilities: hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, other and larger dried fish, chili, cucumbers, peanuts, and very heavy and spicy gravies.

Even salads, which I am occasionally able to talk myself into for breakfast, are fairly repellent when the two toppings for the iceberg lettuce are cold kernels of corn and kidney beans.

Nestled innocently in among the bad and the ugly, there is also the good, and we approach each new hotel's offering with the hope that something will measure up to the ambrosial coconut milk muesli that we gorged ourselves on at Singapore's Shangri-la back in January.

Our favorite discovery outside of Singapore is kaya, a regular addition to the Malay breakfast buffet. A local jam made of coconut, it is vastly superior to orange marmalade. The challenge, however, is to find something to put it on. Breads and pastries, of course, abound at these buffets, but left exposed to tropical humidity, they quickly lose their appeal. We were even treated to stale, and I mean really stale, Ritz crackers at the breakfast buffet at the Taroko Gorge's Grand Formosa Lodge, a 5-star hotel. They were labelled biscuits.

The one redeeming quality of each and every breakfast buffet, and thankfully one that stifles my complaints and impels me to load up my plate, is platters and platters of fresh and delicious papaya, watermelon, rock melon, dragonfruit, kiwi, grapefruit, oranges, guava, grapes, ... and, of course, our favorite here, pineapple.