spunktitud3

Musings on Travel, Fashion & Fun


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Photography – The Oriental Pied Hornbills of Pulau Ubin

Banana Feast - Oriental Pied Hornbill

I journeyed to the island of Pulau Ubin in anticipation of seeing this magnificent bird. There I was, walking all the way with my eyes focused on the trees above, and I walked right in front of this little fella who was feasting on a bunch of bananas at eye-level in front of me.
Fingers trembling, I scrambled to change my telephoto lens to a shorter one, and managed only one decent shot before the shy bird flew off. Wow, what an exhilarating moment to remember! Morale of the story? Don’t walk with your nose up in the air, sometimes the best things in life are just right in front of you ;)

The Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) is a fascinating bird that is distinguished by its large down-curved yellow beaks and unique hollow structure (casque) above their bills. Common to Southeast Asia, there used to be three Hornbill species in Singapore until they became extinct in the 19th century due to hunting and loss of habitat. Years later in 1994, a pair of Oriental Pied Hornbills were spotted once more in Pulau Ubin, most likely flown in from Malaysia.

To survive in modern Singapore, these hornbills have learnt to live in ‘HDB apartments’ much like the rest of Singaporeans – while they generally nest in natural tree holes in the wild (which are very limited locally), they now live in artificial nest boxes put up by the Singapore Hornbill Project (a research collaboration between Jurong Bird Park, NParks, Nanyang Technological University and independent researchers Marc Cremades and Ng Soon Chye). Their ‘modern apartments’ are pretty hi-tech too – the nest boxes are equipped with sensors and cameras to help researchers study the species. Talk about the origin of reality TV lol.

The hornbill’s breeding habits are pretty intriguing – at the start of the breeding season, females seal themselves into a nest box or tree cavity using mud, vegetation and droppings. They stay there for three months to incubate their eggs and raise the chicks, and are solely reliant on the male partner to bring them food through a narrow slit in the seal. Luckily, hornbills mate for life, so the males are pretty loyal to their responsibility.

It’s heartening to see the efforts put in by a tiny island like Singapore to keep its biodiversity intact amidst rapid urban development. While it is inevitable that urban jungles quickly build up, we should never forget the greatest treasures that will last through time, are nature’s own.

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载顺 Zai Shun Curry Fish Head – One of the Best Places for Steamed Fish

Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
Steamed fish has always been a significant dish in Chinese culture (‘Yu’ 鱼 signifying ‘abundance’) and very often, one of the most expensive items on the menu. Freshness is of utmost importantance in a steamed fish dish, and Zai Shun, located in a humble coffeeshop tucked away in the Western suburbs called Jurong East in Singapore, is one of the best places to have steamed fish at competitive prices.

Zai Shun has an amazing range of fish to rival the best restaurants in town, some of them so exotic customers flock from all over Singapore whenever they are in stock. Make friends with the boss Mr Ong as he will call you when the best catch of the day comes in.
Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺

Coming face-to-face with the Emprau 忘不了 fish, the cream of the crop for the day. At $200/kg, this 1.7kg cutie costs S$340. This freshwater fish from Sarawak is most sought-after for its silky sweet meat texture from its diet of the Engkabang (butter fruit) flowers and fruits. Really 忘不了 (cannot forget) after eating – including the price ;p

Other exotic fish offerings at Zai Shun include the Sultan fish, shark fish head and the even more exotic (in terms of appearance and price) ‘Soo Mei’ 蘇眉 fish, a gigantic blue-coloured fish with super collagen-thick lips to rival Angelina Jolie’s.

Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
The entire coffeeshop only has one stall, and it is packed to the brim with every table proudly displaying at least one fish dish, often only left in a cleanly-eaten skeletal form.Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
Zai Shun opens at 7:00AM, and almost sells out by 11:00AM. So do come early if you want to try the popular dishes. Some people take leave just to come and eat, how crazy is that? Well, I took over two hours just to get here. I call that utter greediness determination lol.

Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
Zai Shun is essentially Teochew porridge style, where you pick out your dishes at the stall. You can also order dishes including sea cucumber, fish maw, pork tendon and shark cartilage. I heard the braised pork trotters are pretty good.
Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
All smiles when the dishes you want are still available, heh

Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
Not sure what to order? Take reference from the signboard above displaying some popular dishes.
Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
Order a creamy soursop drink to go with your food, it’s a great starter to prepare you for your feast ahead ;)

Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
Fried Bitter Gourd with Salted Egg
It’s a simple dish, but Zai Shun does such a mean combination of bitter gourd with  regular chicken and salted duck eggs, this is easily its most popular dish. I enjoyed the wok-hei paired with the creamy sauce and crunchiness of the bitter gourd.
Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
The humble fishcake, another popular dish. We had to reserve this beforehand, so crazy!

Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
Ngoh Hiang (Five spice prawn roll)
Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
Sambal sotong (squid)

Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
Another must-order dish – Stir-fried watercress with oyster sauce
I usually have watercress as a soup, so it’s quite refreshing to have this vegetable in a crunchy stir-fried version.
Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺

Hae Bee Hiam (Spicy Dried Prawn Sambal)
A dish that I’ve loved since childhood days (I used to eat it wrapped in a slice of bread), it’s rather hard to find a good one nowadays. Zai Shun’s version is not so oily with a fragrant crisp that pairs well with lime juice. It tastes good with just plain porridge.

Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
Dang dang dang dang – and now, the main stars of the day!
We ordered a grouper prepared in Hong Kong Cantonese style – also my favourite dish of the day. The lightness of the cooking method brought out the fresh sweetness of the fish and its springy meat texture.
Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺

Those with a slightly stronger palate would agree with the red snapper steamed with tau cheo (fermented soya bean paste), minced garlic, pork lard (yippee!) and lime juice.

Zai Shun Curry Fish Head 载顺
Since the stall is called Zai Shun CURRY FISH HEAD, it would be wrong not to order this dish lol. So we ended up indulging in three fish dishes in a single meal. It would be extravagant at other places, but at Zai Shun it just seemed so right. The curry fish head was decent, but I personally preferred the lighter steamed versions to fully taste the freshness of the fish.

Zai Shun would definitely be my go-to place for steamed fish. It is not exactly cheap if you opt for the exotic marine offerings, but it’s definitely much cheaper that what you would pay at a restaurant. The Teochew porridge dishes are also pretty decent, and the friendly staff make you feel right at-home. They are never pushy with their recommendations (maybe cos’ they are too busy and already do not have enough fish to go around lol) and will recommend according to your budget. At Zai Shun, the early customer gets the best catch, so make the effort to go early. And make friends with the staff. It’s worth it ;)

Zai Shun Curry Fish Head
Address: Blk 253, Jurong East St 24, #01-205, Singapore 600253, Singapore
Opening Hours: 7:00AM to 3:00PM; Closed Wednesdays
Tel: +65 6560 8594 (call to enquire about the day’s catch if you have anything specific in mind)