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Don't be squeamish, leap into some frog

IT'S all rather amusing how Westerners get hypocritical when it comes to food. More often than not, some gourmand will expound on his or her love for food yet rapidly turn squeamish when confronted with something not commonly eaten elsewhere in the world.

Breaking news: people in different parts of the world eat different things.

Sure, chicken's feet and duck's tongue, for example, may not be obviously appealing to most philistines, but there's no need to dismiss an entire culture because it upsets your delicate sensibilities. The very approach to food is fundamentally different and local foodies place varying emphasis on texture and marinade.

It is all too easy to forget that the best cooking in the world is peasant food. While the upper classes enjoyed the cr'me de la cr'me, the lower rungs of society were forced to live on scraps and find sustenance in unwanted bits.

Naturally this meant that people had to find creative ways to dress mutton as lamb. Spices and herbs were also expensive so classical cuisine often involved heavy sauces and cooking the heck out of the pungent, unwelcome flavors of discarded parts.

Over time, of course, the best recipes stood out, and these dishes would go on to form the cornerstones of many a country's gourmet stylings. Sauteed chicken liver in Lyon, France, offal in Britain, kim chi in Korea - these are examples of food that was consumed initially because of necessity but eventually became ingrained in people's consciousness.

There are few who could claim that these dishes, when raw, look perfectly appetizing but the same goes for many Chinese dishes. Frogs are another interesting specimen. Loved also by the French to be tenderly slathered in garlic, bullfrogs find themselves on many a menu here. The ubiquitous bullfrog cooked in hot oil is one of the most searched dishes on local food Website, enjoyed for its tender, springy meat and tiny little bones to suck on (again, the love for texture). It may not be as odd as, say, snake, but it's still enough to get the weak-stomached squirming.

Dyed-in-the-wool food lovers have been flocking to Sangu Bullfrog ("??–?§°÷°í???–?) for yonks and the popular Sichuan eatery has a second location I visited recently. Be prepared to wait during prime time.

The restaurant is a basically designed floral room, albeit a comfortable one. Lights are extremely bright and service is haphazard. Yes, this is very much a Chinese restaurant, take it or leave it.

This column may seem more concerned with the fine dining sector, but this is mainly because those establishments have more universal appeal. Authenticity is often confused with quality, and many who don't know any better are willing to pay for bad food just because it is cheap and cheerful.

If you don't speak or read any Chinese, you will struggle in Sangu. There is no English on the single-sheet, double-sided menu and no pictures. Why am I recommending the place? It's all in the name really.

Oddly enough, despite its moniker, only two dishes feature the amphibious critter but that's enough.

The stir-fired option (69 yuan/US$10) is a huge bowl of lovingly spiced bullfrog with loads of garlic, flat slices of lotus root and crispy sweet potato chips. Simply brilliant. The spice is nuanced and consistent while the combination of textures is outstanding. This is it, the reason alone for visiting.

The other dishes I ordered were hit and miss. The tea smoked duck (25 yuan) is an excellent choice, with the lightly-smoked bird retaining the aroma of the tea, while the wontons (12 yuan) are a suitable staple - good chunks of meat rolled into thick enough dumplings, even if the soup is rather bland.

Address: 3 Fenyang Rd

Tel: 6466-6155

Maine sea scallops

One of the city's most underrated restaurants is Napa Wine Bar and Restaurant in the ASC Wine Residence. A caterer in the heritage villa, Canadian chef Shaun Anthony has been tantalising foodies with his creative Pacific northwest-style dishes. Here, he shares a sea food recipe with a tangy passion fruit sauce. It serves six diners and suits a medium-dry German riesling.


12 Maine sea scallops, shelled and cleaned

1/4 watermelon, thinly sliced into traingles

2 kiwi fruits, peeled and thinly sliced

1 mango, peeled and thinly sliced

1 passion fruit

15g baby coriander leaves

1 lime, juice only

extra virgin olive oil

fleur de sel

50ml passion fruit sauce

6 honey melon rectangles

250ml passion fruit puree

150ml white wine

150g honey melon trimmings

15g Thai chili

5g Xanthan gum


Passion fruit sauce

Combine all ingredients except for Xanthan gum in a small sauce pot and simmer until the melon is tender. Puree in a blender for five minutes. For the last minute, add the Xanthan gum and continue to puree until thoroughly mixed. Pass the mixture through a strainer. Reserve in a squeeze bottle.

Honey melon rectangles

Halve a honey melon and cut out six rectangular shapes, 5 millimeters thick and long enough to place 3 scallops on top. Reserve the trimmings for the passion fruit sauce. Grate 30 grams of ginger into 100 milliliters of extra virgin olive oil. Warm gently until the ginger is translucent, then add the honey melon rectangles. Warm gently for seven to eight minutes until the melons have softened. Let melons cool in the ginger oil and reserve.

Thai chili tempura rings

Thinly slice three Thai chilis and remove any seeds. Reserve in a bowl with 100 milliliters white vinegar, 25 grams sugar, and 25 grams kosher salt for 10 minutes. Dust the rings with flour then dip into a tempura batter and fry in vegetable oil until crispy. Season with Kosher salt and reserve.

Coriander leaf chips

Pick 30 large coriander leaves and wash and dry them. Cover a dinner plate with a layer of cling film and very lightly oil it. Place the leaves on the cling film, then cover with another piece of cling film. Microwave for three to four minutes or until the leaves are crispy.

To assemble

Lay the scallops on a paper towel to absorb moisture. Place the watermelon, kiwi and mango into a bowl and mix together with lime juice and enough olive oil to lightly coat the fruits. Season with fleur de sel. In a non-stick pan on medium heat, lightly fry the melon rectangles until soft. Season with fleur de sel and drain on a paper towel. Season the scallops with Kosher salt.

Using hot, non stick pans, sear the scallops on both sides in a little olive oil until golden brown. Let the scallops rest in a warm place. Arrange the fruits on six warm plates. Dot the passion fruit sauce around the plates and finish garnishing with the chili tempura rings and coriander leaf chips. Place three scallops on each plate on top of the honey melon and add a few sprigs of baby coriander. Drizzle a little olive oil and serve.


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