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A Singaporean banquet – in North Carolina

A Singaporean banquet – in North Carolina
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  • A Singaporean banquet – in North Carolina

    Post #1 - April 11th, 2006, 2:09 pm
    Post #1 - April 11th, 2006, 2:09 pm Post #1 - April 11th, 2006, 2:09 pm
    A Singaporean banquet – in North Carolina

    Last Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending the first ever gathering of Chapel Hill-area chowhounds. The dinner was organized by Nab, who posts as tatterdemalion here on LTH, and was held at Merlion, a Singaporean restaurant in the Southern Village development south of Chapel Hill. It was a wonderful evening and a memorable feast! Nab and Melinda, the manager of Merlion, came up with an excellent selection of dishes. I will try to list them all below, with photos – those of you with more knowledge of Singaporean cuisine than I (hello, CrazyC!) please correct and amplify what I say below.

    Also, I must apologize for the poor picture quality of many of the photos. :( Next time I will know to take lots of shots of everything…

    We had 11 eaters and 1 baby at the table: Chowhound posters David A (with wife and baby), Rory (with parents), Nab, SarahJane and Chapel Will, D Hound, and me (accompanied by my mom).

    The meal started with a couple orders each of some appetizers: curry samosas (filled with curry beef and potato) and stuffed you tiao (deep fried ‘doughnut sticks’ filled with shrimp paste).


    Also in the first round of dishes was a beef mango salad:


    Yes, there is beef in there:


    Next came two noodle dishes and a rice preparation: Char Kway Teow (flat rice noodles and egg noodles in a rather sweet sauce, with shrimp, bean sprouts, and Chinese sausage):


    And Hokkien noodles (also a mixture of rice and egg noodles, with shrimp, squid, and egg, in a broth):


    And nasi lemak – coconut rice with squid, shrimp, eggplant, and a hardboiled egg:


    After the noodles and nasi lemak, Melinda brought out tofu goreng, filled with julienned cucumber and bean sprouts. This was an off-menu item prepared especially for us.


    The éclair-like shells are fried tofu, topped with chopped peanuts. Barely visible at the bottom of the serving dish is a soy-based sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds.

    Next two whole deep-fried striped bass were brought out:


    And then “Merlion Golden Shrimp”, coated in crunchy oat cereal, and served with fresh chile pepper and what I thought were basil leaves, though I now see that the menu states curry leaves.


    Next up was Kahlua Pork, dramatically presented surrounded by flames:


    Inside the foil wrap were fried pieces of pork in a sweet-ish dark sauce flavored with Kahlua.

    The last savory dish we had came out as two foil packages in the shape of ducks:


    But inside was sambal fish and vegetables (cooked with coconut cream, turmeric, ginger, and a little chile, plus other ingredients I’m sure):


    Though some of us thought we couldn’t eat another bite, Melinda urged us to share a few portions of a Singaporean dessert, sago pudding:


    Melinda was right to cajole us into this final course. The dessert was amazingly light and refreshing, made from sago (like pearl tapioca), with a white coconut cream sauce and a dark gula melaka (palm sugar) sauce poured over the sago.

    All the dishes in the meal were exceptionally enjoyable, and Merlion really made a great impression on a group with high expectations for their meals. My favorites of what we had were the sambal fish, the nasi lemak, and the you tiao appetizer. The service was great, ample beer was supplied, and best of all was the company. It was delightful to meet the local chowhounds in person!

    So, LTH-ers, if any of you find yourself in the Triangle area of North Carolina (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), I would recommend Merlion without hesitation. I’m looking forward to my next trip.


    Merlion Restaurant
    410 Market Street, Suite 320
    Chapel Hill, NC 27516
  • Post #2 - April 11th, 2006, 3:22 pm
    Post #2 - April 11th, 2006, 3:22 pm Post #2 - April 11th, 2006, 3:22 pm
    Everything looks so good, Amata... I am so envious... I actually have a countdown clock on my computer, ticking down the seconds before I board the plane home!

    Singapore food is a mix of Indian, Malay, Chinese cooking. Some of the dishes you had are actually pretty new creations. Stuff that I did not have growing up, but have had in my visits home. The stuffed you tiao and the oatmeal shrimp, for example...

    The Char Kway Teow looks authentic enough. The sweet sauce is actually a sweet thick soy. I have seen it in the stores in Argyle labelled as kecap manis. My aunt's family is in the soy sauce business, and I will be lugging a few bottles home in June.

    The Hokkien noodles on the other hand looks authentic enough, but the description is throwing me off. The noodles are supposed to be wet, but not in a broth. Was it more of a sauce, or was it drowning in liquid?

    Nasi Lemak is the best travel food. Traditionally wrapped in a banana leaf that doubles as packaging AND a plate! Usually I see dried anchovies, sambal paste, peanuts, and an egg... This is the poor man's meal you see... But this version is definitely pumped up!

    The oatmeal shrimp was perhaps the newest dish I saw in my last trip home last year. Think salt and pepper shrimp, but with sweet crunchy oatmeal.

    Sago gula melaka is my all time favorite desserts. The dark palm sugar is what makes it great. I find that Malay palm sugar is darker and more strongly flavored than the Thai palm sugar. But that could be because of the palm sugar we get there in the US.

    Amata, I am so jealous!
  • Post #3 - April 11th, 2006, 3:56 pm
    Post #3 - April 11th, 2006, 3:56 pm Post #3 - April 11th, 2006, 3:56 pm
    Thanks for putting up the photos, Amata. It certainly was an enjoyable meal, to say the least.

    To give some context behind the outing, every so often the discussion of non-Indian Asian food comes up, and it's usually fueled by our ongoing bickering of not being able to find much beyond crab rangoons and General Tsos. A few places, however, seem to reveal a glimmer of potential in their cooking, but they never seem to branch out, due to what they state to be the demands of the general population. Places like Merlion tell me that nobody wants whole-fish, shrimp with their heads/shells on, or even bone-in chicken. So Amata suggested that we show our support for that flavor by selecting such a place that seems to have high potential, and Merlion def'y fit that bill.

    CrazyC, thanks for your insights too. Regarding your question about the Hokkien noodles -- they say they stir-fry and then "steam-cook" them in a house-broth. The end-result is that it's not quite a soup, but there is def'y liquid at the bottom of the bowl, maybe 1/3rd of the way up the bowl, in fact. The liquid thickens some though, and I find the best way to eat them is in a bowl, and to blend in a healthy spoon of the sambal paste they provide, alond with a few squeezes of lemon (we were given plates, which didn't maximize the enjoyment). I really like this dish.

    I'm eager to get back, and have been urging Melinda to bring the Teochew porridge back on the menu. And Amata, we're all eager to have you back and join us again soon !

    Since I'm talking eager, I can't wait to come back to Chicago in a couple of weeks. Need to strategize ......


  • Post #4 - April 11th, 2006, 10:02 pm
    Post #4 - April 11th, 2006, 10:02 pm Post #4 - April 11th, 2006, 10:02 pm
    I totally agree with CrazyC. While the foods that you had bring you closer to typical Singaporean food, some of it seems a bit new-fangled.

    As I'm sure people are tired of me saying, my hubby grew up in Singapore, so I can only speak from my learnings from him, other Singaporeans, and my personal travels there. Although these deviations exist in your meal, it definitely looks delicious. I wish we had more Singaporean/Malaysian restaurants here in Chicago. Penang does some dishes decently, but there are some others that I can safely claim that I could make better at home myself, and my hubby could put them to shame with some of his culinary skills or sometimes even by cheating with some packaged sauces and mixes purchased at the store.
  • Post #5 - April 12th, 2006, 4:50 pm
    Post #5 - April 12th, 2006, 4:50 pm Post #5 - April 12th, 2006, 4:50 pm
    Wow Nab! looks tasty! So you still trying to get to Chi-town? I'm about a month from moving. Drop me a line so we can grab some chow!
  • Post #6 - September 28th, 2010, 8:39 am
    Post #6 - September 28th, 2010, 8:39 am Post #6 - September 28th, 2010, 8:39 am
    its really great place to visit in North Carolina to enjoy great delicacies
  • Post #7 - September 28th, 2010, 8:58 am
    Post #7 - September 28th, 2010, 8:58 am Post #7 - September 28th, 2010, 8:58 am
    yeah, this all looks great, but I would say that the plating is very differnt from what you'd get in Singapore - only a couple of those dishes look like they would in Singapore, in muy opinion - not to suggest that they wouldn't taste the same or better, but the presentation was really eleborate here.

    looks like a great meal. its the type of thing that I would love to share with my wife, who hasn't been to Sing.