The Coffee Struggle


Starbucks is not my “standard” coffee choice.

Are you surprised? I don’t think so.

In Singapore at least, Starbucks is not the leading coffee provider.

Who is then the top coffee provider in Singapore?

Not a single name crops up, though there are a number of global/regional chains competing in the market place, such as Spinelli or Cedele or Coffee Bean, etc., My favourite coffee maker is Spinelli, but unfortunately they are not omnipresent in Singapore. Coffee Bean comes next, followed by Cedele and then finally, may be Starbucks, if there is no other option.

Why is this the status for the number #1 coffee chain in the world, which is dominant in the U.S. and China and in several other countries? I know that in China, Starbucks is opening a new outlet every 15 hours – yes, you heard it right, every 15 hours. I have been to China many times in the past couple of years, and I have witnessed the fact that the Chinese folks are friendly towards Starbucks, and it is their favourite coffee brew. We even have a new Starbucks outlet in our own office building!

What about the U.K., a close friend of the U.S. where you would normally think and expect that Starbucks would be the #1 coffee shop?

The answer is no, they are not. In fact, I saw that the Brits favour their own coffee chains such as the ever present Caffe Nero coffee chain, Costa Coffee, and of course, the famous Pret A Manger chain. In all these coffee shops, you get good food choices, whereas in Starbucks London outlets, the food choices are bad. One of my ex-colleagues working now in London in fact stated that Starbucks has been fast losing market share in London because of just one fact – they do not offer a variety of food options which the Brits love. If I may add, the Flat White Coffee at Caffe Nero or Costa is far better than the Starbucks factory produced coffee!

Let us now come back to Singapore. Starbucks did not customize its offerings for such a sophisticated market, and that is very surprising. What you get in Singapore is almost exactly the same as what you would get in the U.S. In countries like India, Starbucks learnt its lessons fast, and started offering a variety of local Indian food options along with its expensive range of coffees. But not so in Singapore. The Starbucks coffee is not “strong” enough for the Singaporean palate, which is used to the “Kopi” offered in the local Kopi Tiam coffee shops, which is a strong brew with a variety of variations such as “black without condensed milk”, “regular with condensed milk”, “regular with less sugar”, etc., Singaporeans like their coffee to be very strong – almost dark brown, and I have seen people drinking their bitter coffee which is dark brown with hardly any milk in it. It goes with a variety of foods popularized by local chains such as “Toast Box”, which is one of the most preferred breakfast and coffee places in all of Singapore. I do not like to eat or drink at the Toast Box as it is always super crowded and the coffee is a bit too strong for me! Further, I do not eat the toasted bread with peanut butter that is almost standard fare out here at the Toast Box!! As I mentioned above, I like the Spinelli coffee the most, and sometimes walk into the specialty coffee shops which dot the island, which provide interesting variations to the standard coffee offerings.

While Starbucks is betting on China as its most successful and critical markets for the future (they plan to have 6,000 outlets by 2022), the world does not end in China. There are a whole lot of other countries which are important, though not as big as China market for coffee. However, I am afraid that Starbucks is not reading market needs well, at least in Singapore. In China, I do not have much choice, so I walk into the nearest Starbucks in Beijing or Shanghai, which is probably less than 500 metres away! In Japan, I do have choices for other coffee providers, but invariably there is a Starbucks nearby. However, if you can find it, I would recommend the Blue Bottle Coffee which is amazing.

There are so many options for good coffee anywhere you go, and I am now more tuned towards craft coffee makers, and tend to avoid Starbucks as much as possible. The food options in Starbucks Singapore outlets are not great and do not meet my needs anyway.

So, in a nutshell, if you are a coffee lover, I see no reason why you would spend on a Starbucks coffee when even your own office can probably produce a nice Italian coffee! Not always, and not for every office of course!! The other dimension that you would like to keep in mind (especially during weekends) is that you would find more interesting people in more sophisticated coffee places as compared to Starbucks with people busy on their laptops even during the weekends. If you want to strike a conversation with the barista or the server, then Starbucks is not the place, you would agree with me on that!!!

I bought some excellent coffee from Kenya, Ethiopia and Honduras during my recent trip to London, and more about my experiments with such coffee in my future blog posts.

Cheers, and have a great weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th November 2018

Some useful snacks


I come back to one of my favourite topics: healthy food. How to keep ourselves satiated with good snacks without the extra sugar and bad elements which affect our health?

I hope you have read my post on “Kale”. While it is not a snack, it should form part of your primary meal – either lunch or dinner, at least 2 to 3 times a week. Today, being Sunday, I had the pleasure of having a Kale salad – mostly kale, but with cherry tomatoes, avocado, beetroot, etc., mixed with millet (which has become my favourite grain) and balsamic vinegar. On top of these ingredients, I added pomegranate seeds and sprinkled cinnamon powder. It was quite a filling lunch.

Now, back to snacks. Usually mid-morning, I have some tea without milk and put together a melange of my nuts (pistachios, walnut, almonds, cashews, hazel nuts – 8 pieces each) and also add a little bit of sunflower seeds & pumpkin seeds. This is quite a filling snack and goes down well with some flavoured tea (my choice today was peach tea).

I thought it would be appropriate to share the results of some of my additional experiments on snack foods. It is hard not to be careful while selecting snacks, as mostly the pre-packaged snacks available widely in supermarkets have undesirable ingredients. I am very discerning in rejecting most of these snacks without mercy, and consistently put most of them on my “snack black-list”, so that I do not keep wasting time again and again.

My new list of some excellent snacks as follows:

  • Goji Berries (also known as Wolfberries) – the variety I like is “Dried Tibetan Goji Berries” from Nature Super Foods in Singapore – just 1 or 2 tablespoons
  • Blueberries – we know this for a long time, but I am now consciously having this great nutritious fruit – available in most supermarkets: take just 15 to 20 pieces
  • Whole Grain Rye Bread / Pumpernickel Bread from PEMA Germany – just one thin slice, topped either with hummus or gouda / feta cheese – have this at around 6 PM; if this particular brand is not available, you should be able to find some equivalent easily: this is a very light snack but you will feel “good”
  • Pomegranates – amazing fruit with incredible properties – just one small cup or may be 4 tablespoons
  • Dark grapes – black in colour and really luscious: take just 10 or so – again grapes have amazing properties

There are many more, but then we cannot confuse our body mechanisms by putting in too many of these good things as well. The key thing is to drop the bad stuff – do not eat fried snacks for instance.

Apart from snacks, I have come to depend on key addition to my food habits – just before going to bed, I either have 4 teaspoons of Apple Cider Vinegar (about which I have written earlier), or a cup of unsweetened almond milk of the organic type. There are several brands available from Australia mostly. I alternate between the Australian variety or the U.S. made almond milk – please note that the sugar content should be zero. Almond milk provides protein which is necessary for my food mix. You may or may not need it, but then it cannot be harmful to anyone.

While I used to snack at odd times in the past (6 months ago), I have conditioned myself to expect snacks at scheduled times through the day. This conditioning helps, but it gets affected while travelling, which in  my case, is quite often. I try to adhere to the schedule most of the days, and very firmly avoid the food that I have put in black-list. And, that list includes long-standing favourites such as pasta, bread (not the ones mentioned above), rice, naan, chappathi, and other high-carbs foods – these are completely out.

With this approach, I am finally gaining some control on my body. I think it is essential, and sometimes I ruminate on the lost opportunities in my life so far to do such things which are effective from the perspective of one’s own healthcare. I recall that I hardly looked at any info’ on diets and their effects on health. I would say that it was stupid to have dropped the ball on this aspect of healthcare for a long time, as what goes in affects your health for sure.

I am encouraging you to do your own research before changing your long-established food patterns, which are also dominated by culture and habit. I could make the changes that I determined would be necessary for my own good, implement the same rigorously, and track the results on a weekly basis. I am now only on my 14th week of such tough food regimen, and I can tell you that the results are there – without any medications whatsoever. You can drop all your medicines if you control what goes inside your body, and also understand the implications. Of course, this applies only to those folks who are more or less fine with some struggle in terms of arresting some of the “curves” – I mean graphs not body curves!

Make your own decisions and choices.

Hope you enjoyed reading this post, have a wonderful week ahead.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th September 2018

Kale – a superfood


I have become a fan of Kale, having known it only for the past couple of months! I was ashamed that I did not come to know of it much earlier in life. It is an amazing superfood that every one should have almost every day. Why almost? That’s because it is expensive compared to the usual greens that you get at your usual supermarket. Kai-lan, a derivative of Kale is much cheaper, and is a preferred veggie for Chinese food, along with garlic. Both Kai-lan and garlic combine to give a nutritious and delicious veggie, and I like to order it whenever I visit a Chinese restaurant.

I have come to like the taste of Kale as part of my salad preparation, though I did not like the Kale juice which I made a mistake of buying in the Organic Foods section of my supermarket of choice – which is Fairprice in Singapore, where I shop almost every weekend, along with my wife. It is almost a regimen, much like most people of Singapore. Coming back to Kale juice, it was horrible – the taste was something that I could not stomach. So, I abandoned Kale juice, and chose the greens for direct contribution to my salad.

Kale is one of the most “nutrient dense” food in the entire planet, packed with vitamins and minerals. It is high in fiber, potassium, calcium, antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin B6, iron, beta-carotene,  manganese, copper, etc., Consuming Kale is good for almost fixing any health problem! Please do your own research before you start on your Kale regime, but I am very well into it. It handles all kinds of major health issues such as diabetes, cancer, cholesterol problems, vision-related problems, bone mass issue, liver function problems, heart disease, and so on. The health benefits of Kale are far too many to be listed out in one blog post.

In one single word to define Kale, it simply boosts your immunity and well-being. Very few veggies offer such huge range of health benefits as Kale does, and it is now an integral part of my (almost) daily food routine.

The other veggies with similar characteristics belong to the same cabbage family like Kale – some of these are broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower, mustard greens, watercress, arugula, etc.,

In salad preparation, I try to make it an interesting concoction to savour, using a variety of ingredients every time. Of course, you start with lettuce (not too much of it like what they do in the salad shops, filling the bowl mostly with it), or arugula, or spinach, or a combination. Then I add onions, cherry tomatoes, broccolis, beetroots, bell peppers, zucchinis, cucumbers, half cup of millet or quinoa, a variety of nuts such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts and hazel nuts, some goji berries, blueberries, and top up the whole thing with sauteed kale, black olives, with the dressing simply by adding 3 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar. You can add flax seeds and chia seeds, and sprinkle some cinnamon powder as well.

There you go – one of the healthiest salads you can prepare on your own with fresh ingredients, and never mind the cost – it is not going to be as expensive as having a half-done salad in a high-end restaurant. The labour of preparation is your own, which cannot be costed. Well, I forgot – just add some mild and crumbly Greek Feta Cheese on top of the salad.

I am having this kind of salad (or a variation of it) every day, in place of the usual dinner. I can tell you that the benefits of such a salad are amazing. I feel better and energetic from 7 PM till whatever time I want to be awake. I do not feel drowsy, and I feel “full”, not hungry at all afterwards. The salad is healthy and it is also “light” on the stomach. It provides all the necessary nutrients that the body needs every day – I cannot say the same thing of the heavy carbs-oriented food that we all consume for dinner every day.

Further, it is a “perky” kind of food – you are up and ready to go early next morning. The trick is to make it yourselves with your chosen ingredients in a manner that you like, and have it just before 7 PM, consistently every day.

The question often arises – what do I do when I travel, which is quite often. It is of course, a big challenge. However, I find that most 5-Star hotels have a good salad offering on their menu. You won’t be able to get all the ingredients that I have described above, however, you need to be satisfied with their generic menu items, but you can always ask for extra add-ons, which they will be pleased to provide (such as nuts, fruits, etc.,). Adding lemon juice instead of apple cider vinegar is clearly a good and easy option when travelling. Just squeeze the lemons on to the salad! Avoid adding heavy salad dressings which are always available in hotels – these will take away all the health benefits of the raw salad that you have ordered.

In a nutshell, Kale on top of your salad is an outstanding combination, offering superfood benefits to one and all. Try out Kale, sooner than later!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th September 2018

 

 

 

Low-Carb Dieting


I thought it will be a good idea to report back on my experimentation with low-carb diet.

This is my third month of experimentation.

No rice, no pasta (my favourite for a long time!), no bread, and no other carbs except for fruits and millet.

It has been challenging for sure.

However, I am now getting used to such a food regimen.

I have added good fats like feta cheese to the millet meal with coloured vegetables (such as beetroots, yellow and red capsicum, broccoli, carrots, etc.,). That is the only full meal which needs to be taken before 7 PM everyday.

Lunch is salad with quinoa if available, otherwise the usual vegetables or chicken.

Breakfast is just two egg whites, either boiled or as omelette, sprinkled with cinnamon.

I noticed that I have been able to curb my cravings between meals significantly, which means I am not raiding the fridge for something to eat. Of course, I have tea between breakfast and lunch during the weekends with some nuts or biscuits. Need some spice to keep the taste buds going!

My objective is not to reduce my weight, though there has been a drop of some 2 KGs only – not the rapid drop of over 10 KGs that many people have reported in just 8 weeks of low-carb or keto dieting. My goal has been to control parameters that tend to go wrong or in the wrong direction, and the jury is still out at this point in time. I need to complete three months of dieting in the same consistent manner, before I will go in for a full medical checkup. Medicines of any kind are not required to be taken during this dieting procedure, though I would caution that it is my own decision, and it should not be followed by my audience without proper medical consultation.

What essentially this means is that I am in my own world of diet experimentation which I have arrived at after a long research. I mentioned it to my family doctor, and he encouraged me to follow the low-carb diet without any changes. I was surprised, given that he was a typical Singapore doctor (the doctors in Singapore tend to be over-conservative and cautious in any drug administration), but then he said that no harm can possibly come to me if I followed this diet. So there I went into a serious adoption of what I had crafted all by myself.

Of course, my wife was fully supporting me in this experimental diet adventure, and continues to support, though she had misgivings in the beginning. Now she has started seeing the positive effects of such dieting, though no one else in my family (including her) is following such a program. That’s fine, it is my own program and I have to prove it only to myself that I made the right decision and chose the right kind of diet for my own benefit.

As I am progressing through my third month, I am also seeing that certain ingredients such as cinnamon (on top of egg white omelette and millet meal), ACV (Apple Cider Vinegar) preferably before each meal, and plant nuts play a significant role in curbing hunger and avoiding any kind of health issues such as inflammation. There has been no pain in my legs after long walks or after working out in the gym. There is no incessant hunger to always eat something when not doing anything (which used to happen often in the past). Looking at food does not cause hunger. I have stopped wine consumption in a huge way which means alcohol’s effects are going away. All these practices contribute to eliminating health problems in the long run, as advocated by reputed medical research studies which have been published in reputed journals. So all this is not hogwash, these things are practical and useful for anyone, and except for the low-carb aspect, also useful for youngsters.

I am trying to market the idea to my own family and some friends, but there are no takers so far. I intend to research more into this fascinating area of diet control, which also illuminates the long-standing practice of fasting in various cultures, though I am not fasting under any circumstances!

It is critical for us to understand our own body and its needs and problems. One does not have to be a doctor to do so. I firmly believe that there are more than enough resources available to anyone who cares to look, and it does not have to be a tedious process.

So, kudos to low-carb diets, though I will report in due course what are the real benefits of following one such program.

Cheers, and have a good weekend folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 September 2018

Ending Poverty Vs Military Spending


The world spent approximately USD 1.7T on military expenditures in 2017 as per data published by SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). A little over one-third was spent by the U.S., followed by China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and India among the top five military spenders in the world.

It has been estimated by SIPRI that just 10% of this expenditure is enough to end poverty around the world (more than 800M people are below the poverty line) in just 15 years, meeting the U.N. goal to end poverty and hunger by 2030.

Does the world need to spend around 2.2% of its GDP on military expenditures which does not have a measurable ROI apart from waging wars and killing people? Is it necessary to keep investing in military R&D and expansion of war machinery especially when the entire world is hungry for peace? Was there any tangible benefits reaped by mankind by conducting destructive wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen?

In other words, the world can reduce its military expenditure not just by 10%, but by half and still have a decent defense mechanism against enemies. If the world wants peace, where are the enemies anyway?

We are going to finish the second decade of the 21st Century in couple of years. It is a shame that there still are hungry people around the world. It is a big shame that many people still do not have a roof over their heads, or do not know where their next meal will come from. There are millions of children suffering from malnutrition due to lack of food and milk. Poor people exist even in developed countries as we can see them under bridges in many first world cities in the West – the homeless folks beyond even the fringes of the moving world economics and society.

The collective conscience of the world should be focused on solving this intractable problem of poverty and hunger, instead of focusing on increasing the possibility of conflicts and wars by spending more on military. Is there a ministry for resolving human hunger and ending poverty in the major countries around the world? We only see defense ministries who are drafting the next year’s budget with a potential 5 to 10% increase.

World leaders meeting in the U.N. should make a choice between ending poverty and increasing their military expenditures. Even if the regular annual increases are scrapped, enough money will be released to take specific actions in humanitarian relief. If the military budgets are cut by 10%, that would release USD 170B towards poverty alleviation. If this money could be targeted at helping poor children, that is going to create a healthy workforce for the future. Think about it.

It is highly irresponsible for countries to spend more than 2.5% of their GDP on defense expenditures, when the allocation for poverty alleviation projects is not even 0.5%. What are we talking here? What about allocation for education and healthcare? What about allocation for eliminating hunger? Why are governments not allocating enough of their budgets to address the needs of poor people?

For most of us in a secluded area of society, the impact of poverty and hopelessness and hunger hardly strikes home. We rarely ever think about these things. We are happy if the government reduces our tax burden, leaving more money in our hands to spend. So, how are we different from our own governments? Governments spend money on things that they prioritize, not what citizens wish for. Citizens of any country would want better quality of living, better transportation, better roads and infrastructure, better access to education and healthcare, less poverty and less hunger. Are governments providing for these things everywhere around the world?

Poor people do not worry about taxes or at other items of government expenditure. They are worried about getting through today and then tomorrow – day by day. Most of us are not looking at our lives with the same lens – we have been lucky and fortunate to get through life in an easier manner. Have you ever felt hunger with no access to any food at all? Never. That is not the case for poor and hungry children all around the world.

So, we as educated citizens of the world, need to push our own government to reduce military expenditure and redirect the released funds towards eliminating poverty and hunger from our societies. This is the most important thing that a government can do during its term of office. If it does everything else well, but not do this one thing, that would mean it is a heartless government which has wrecked its legacy.

We do not get many chances to address the problems of poor people. The focus is not on them. Let us try to bring it back towards the objectives outlined in this note. United Nations better take action immediately instead of just lecturing in its hallways.

Have a good weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th July 2018

The magic of Low Carb Diet


I have been following a Low Carb Diet for the past few weeks and the results have started coming in. Of course, the impact is positive.

I tend to experiment often with various things, otherwise life gets too boring and staid with no extra results or impact over and above the normal. As we say in corporate life (and also at the gym), “no additional pain, no gain at all”. My gym instructor keeps saying that he wants me to go a little bit beyond what I could possibly take. I have been struggling with that concept at the gym – how could I lift more than my maximum limit? I then slowly realized over the past couple of months that my “maximum” has been set by me in my own mind, not by anyone else. I might struggle to cross more than 15 repetitions with a specific maximum weight, but it is an artificial limit about which my brain intervenes to inform me that I have either reached the maximum weight possible, or I have reached the maximum number of repetitions.

I am following a similar concept when it comes to dieting which in my case, is not for reducing weight, but for gaining control over my body parameters. I went through extensive health tests both in India and Singapore, and analyzed the comparative results, and identified parameters that I need to focus on (I did get some consultation with qualified doctors both in India and Singapore of course). In order to tackle these identified parameters, I chose special diet advice over the possibility of medication.

There are various online resources available today to craft your own diet plan. I did extensive research, studied testimonials, consulted university hospital articles and advice, talked to doctors, and then hit upon a specific online tool which has helped me devise a plan for my own special situation. I did not follow all the inputs from the tool, and other resources, but devised a plan which seems to be working. Of course, I will continue to make changes as I go along in this journey.

The one key thing in this plan is to reduce calorie consumption from an average daily of 1,600 calories to less than 1,000 calories (specific numbers are unimportant as long as you realize that you do not need 1,600 or more calories to live, and can comfortably reduce the same). This, in turn means that I have to reduce my carbohydrate (carb) consumption dramatically – so I pushed out rice, pasta, french fries, potato wedges, chapathis/naans, and the like almost completely out of my menu. I did keep some “parboiled” basmati rice in the menu as it is far better than the regular rice, but the quantity of consumption is far lower than what I was accustomed to in the past. May be just two cups of cooked rice should be enough.

The other key factor is protein. In my regular food in the past, protein consumption was low. I increased it to some 40% (from 10%) while watching certain health parameters at the same time. Egg Whites (two or three, throw the yolk away) with Cinnamon powder sprinkled on them have become a staple for me for almost every breakfast, along with almonds and an apple. I also focus on Milk, Greek Yoghurt (a lot), other plant nuts like Hazel Nuts, Walnuts, and Pistachios, Broccoli, and White Chicken. I also like Salmon and White Fish, which are excellent sources of good protein (as well as good fat).

The other almost funny factor is “good fat” – I have been avoiding fats for a long time. In the process of going to gym, I learnt that one should not avoid good fats, and not all fats are bad. I started researching on good fats, and now have arrived at a somewhat interesting list of avocados (hardly tried it before), feta cheese, more extra virgin olive oil, full fat / whole cream milk, plant nuts, etc., I have stopped having coffee with low fat milk, and have switched to full cream milk in less quantity.

For me, I think I have stuck upon something which is working out finally. One critical observation is that I do not feel hungry all the time anymore – I feel good and satiated after a minimal meal, and my runs to the refrigerator have reduced or almost gone. Which only means my cravings for something with high carbs in it have dropped off significantly.

While I cannot recommend any such meal to my audience, I can only say with confidence that the positive impact of a low carb diet is amazing to say the least, both in terms of healthcare parameters as well as in the mental make-up of how we perceive food as such. The downside is the caution that one has to exhibit to others about the food choices that one is constrained to follow at every meal. But that is one’s own choice. Let us not forget the fact that what goes in makes you at the end of the day.

I would suggest you look at resources such as the Diet Doctor online [Diet Doctor) and many other such high quality resources before making any changes to your diet plan. Of course, consultation with your doctor is necessary. Or else, you are happy with yourself and your food as you are, and do not need to make any changes at all!

Have a wonderful week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

1st July 2018

 

The Leaf Healthy House


We visited this nice little restaurant in the heart of George Town, Penang, yesterday for lunch. Of course, we chose this restaurant based on some recommendations as it suited our preference after some heavy foodie kind of stuff the past couple of days. We wanted something healthy, made of natural ingredients with less or no salt, etc., and my wife found out about this place and we decided to give it a try.

We were not disappointed.

After some 30 minutes of drive from Kek Lok Si Temple, we reached the Little India area of George Town but got lost during the search for The Leaf Healthy House. Finally we found it, hidden somewhat, behind some leaves and shrubs!

It is a nice cosy place with no ostentation. The menu provided lot of details, and each one of us selected different kinds of dishes. I wanted to have some hot tea, so I started with “Rosehip & Hibiscus” Flora/Herbal Tea. It had a nice fragrance but otherwise it was just a hot drink, nothing special though the menu claims it reduces blood pressure and cholesterol. Each food item or drink had a rationale behind it which was fascinating to read, though I am not sure as to the veracity of the claim.

I ordered the following food items for myself:

The Leaf Spaghetti with Basil and Pine Nuts sauce – my rating is “very good” – since I was not feeling full after this small portion of spaghetti, I decided to order another main course which was the “Rainbow Mix Rice” which had brown rice with fibrous burdock root – my rating is “excellent”. I loved this burdock based rice. I also shared some boiled Edamame.

My family members were unanimous in their verdict – this was probably the best vegetarian food that they have had. The ingredients were fresh and natural, the salt content was low or non-existent, the taste was good and the selection of food was fantastic. Even the fruit juice that my wife had was “cold pressed” natural juice which means that no nutrients were lost due to heat, and there was no sugar or the sugar syrup that most other restaurants add to their juice offerings.

I was wondering why such restaurants do not exist in other parts of the world. Given the inclination of younger folks towards health food, this must be a no-brainer. Singapore should be having some place similar, only I haven’t come across it so far.

The food and tea/juice costed approximately SGD 22 for three of us, and we just could not believe it. I should say we briefly bought health for lunch at a throwaway pricing. The food was filling and healthy, and I was not surprised to see the restaurant filling up with office goers and young people at lunch time. We were fortunate to get a place, as were a little early – it is not a big restaurant. They had less than 30 seats.

If you are travelling to Penang, please try to visit this restaurant. You will not regret it.

Enjoy healthy food.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th May 2018

The most expensive city


According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Worldwide Cost of Living Survey 2018, Singapore has been ranked as #1 most expensive city in the world. If New York’s cost of living index is taken as 100, Singapore works out to be 116, topping the list. Paris and Zurich are at 112, and Hong Kong is at 111. Seoul is at 106 and Sydney at 102, amongst Asian cities.

According to the EIU Survey, a bottle of wine (my favourite topic!) costs USD 23.68 on an average in Singapore, while it costs only USD 11.90 in Paris, the second most expensive city in the world. There are many things which are more expensive in Singapore than in other countries, like clothes and cars. Certain things are fine to be more expensive, as land-strapped Singapore needs to control the population of cars and road usage aggressively. Clothes can surely be cheaper – it makes no sense to buy branded clothes in Singapore when the same brand costs less than half in the U.S. for instance. But then not everyone travels, so locals look for heavy discounts and bargains; sometimes the same brand is made available at half the big store prices, via a third party in an industrial estate outlet (akin to the outlet malls in the U.S., but the ones in Singapore are just single makeshift places in a very cheap location and exist only for a couple of weekends). Since Singapore needs to import almost everything, prices tend to be higher, but the extent of price increase in the hands of the consumers is sometimes not acceptable, but we have to carry on with our lives in any case and need to buy at least the essentials.

The tag of the “most expensive city” in the world is unpalatable to most locals, as that designation just tends to increase the costs further. Expats who come to work in Singapore get increasingly higher salaries based on the EIU’s Cost of Living Index for Singapore (it is a popular survey), and that action increases the cost of living further, as the expats are just willing to pay more for everything. This in turn, increases the cost for everyone living in Singapore.

The demand for quality accommodation has pushed up market prices of housing in Singapore over the past year or so. All in all, Singapore is surely an expensive place to live, but is also probably as safe as Tokyo, which is widely regarded as the safest city in all of Asia. Rule of law and enforcement of law dominate the city state, keeping most people honest, whether they are locals or foreigners.

Coming back to the issue of cost of living, I “feel” that Tokyo is much more expensive, especially when I am having lunch or drinking coffee. I get the same feeling in Hong Kong. Clothes seem to be expensive everywhere, except in Vietnam and India. So, the major aspects afflicting Singapore with regard to cost of living pertain to things on which nothing much can be done – personal transportation when it involves owning a car, and accommodation. Wines and cigarettes will continue to be expensive, so the only way is to curb their usage. I believe hawker centre food from ‘A’ category outlets still remain affordable in Singapore – it has gone up over the past decade, but still manageable. A good quality plate of Chicken Rice can be had for around S$ 5.50 and a Bento Box of Teriyaki Chicken can be had for S$ 7.00 in most hawker centres. I am afraid when these prices will double making them unaffordable for most people. Foreigners tend to spend more than S$ 10.00 to 15.00 for daily lunches, but locals are sensitive to the S$ 5.00 mark. I see this everyday. It is sometimes funny to notice that the locals would not mind spending S$ 2.00 or more for a bus ride to their favourite hawker centre, as food plays a central role for them (like it is for most of us). I consider myself as a “local” for all practical purposes, so I tend to adopt similar benchmarks as these help when you are with Singaporeans going for a lunch session.

Cars are expensive, and enough has been written about cars in Singapore, so I am not spending any more time on this topic. I see some people shifting to App-based taxi usage away from their personal cars and other modes of transportation, and this is increasing the traffic density in an already crowded city. However, traffic flows along almost smoothly due to a very effective implementation of traffic rules. These are getting affected a bit by the big number of cycle riders who are using the same road space in a city where the average car speeds are in excess of 60 KMPH. Then there are also these personal mobility devices – like e-scooters, and you have the most infamous bike riders who twist their way between two high-speed car lanes at tremendous speeds, which will not be an acceptable way to drive in most developed countries.

Cost of credit is cheaper in Singapore than in most other developed nations, so that could be a positive. Food, as I stated above, for common daily lunches/dinners are not that expensive, but beer and wine are very expensive. Electronics items are reasonably priced, though not as cheap as in Hong Kong.

Hopefully, Paris will overtake Singapore in the next EIU Survey – most people recall the #1, but not the #2 and #3 ranks, so it is better for Singapore to slip to #2 or #3 rank soon.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

18th March 2018

 

Coda Di Volpe Review


We celebrated my wife’s birthday at Coda Di Volpe Southern Italian Restaurant located in the Lakeview area on Southport Avenue of Chicago last evening.

It was a fabulous choice with a very attentive service staff and fantastic food. Our family always loved Italian food, but we have not experimented that much with Southern Italian food with its distinctive flavours and superb taste. This was probably the first time that we delved deep into that cuisine, I would say.

I did not drink wine during the dinner (is that not very surprising), but my wife and daughter tried a Pinot Noir, the Terre Nere Nerello Mascalese 2015, which they said was excellent.

Our selection of dishes was amazing – for appetizers we selected the Bruschetta di Burrata (the puglian Burrata cheese is rather enticing) and Vegetable Antipasti. The Antipasti comprised of marinated black and green olives, pickled veggies, eggplant and grilled summer squash – a great choice for wine drinkers, I would say.

For the main course, we ordered two pizzas and two kinds of pastas. The pizzas were Quattro Formaggi and Funghi – both vegetarian, and the pastas were Bucatini Pomodoro and Ricotta Gnocchetti, again both vegetarian. All were outstanding – flavourful, tasty, and healthy. I loved the Funghi Pizza which had roasted mushrooms (I have always love mushrooms), cherry tomatoes, mustard greens, garlic, oregano, fior di latte cheese, and pecorino blue cheese. My son went for Chicken Diavola which he said was very good as well.

Since this was a surprise dinner ahead of the actual birthday, my family arranged with the chef for bringing out a nice cake at the end of the dinner with a candle on it, and my wife was very close to guessing it. However, before any further deliberations, the cake arrived, with again a detailed explanation of the constituents of the cake by the senior service staff member who attended to us throughout the dinner. This is a big difference from anywhere else – knowing that most of the clientele are not well versed with the unique characteristics of the exotic food from Southern Italy, the service staff are trained to explain every nuance of all the dishes in great detail. I believe that such explanations go to serve a greater understanding of what we were having for dinner, and develop a keen sense of appreciation for specific food choices. The knowledge of food makes us wiser when suggesting restaurants or food types to our guests – be it in corporate or private setting.

Overall, Coda Di Volpe was an excellent restaurant with great service. If I have to call out one deficiency, it was the portion size for Pastas – too small for one person I should say. This forces people to order the bigger portion, which is probably the right size for one person!

I would strongly recommend this restaurant to all Italian food lovers.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th June 2017

Dallas Food


On the first day of our visit to Dallas, we wanted to try out Indian food (this is the default choice when there is a group of Indians trying to explore the local culinary scene, I am sure you can believe this!). We asked the concierge at our hotel, and he said that there is only one in the downtown area within walking distance and so we set out to discover how Indian food is faring in the heart of downtown Dallas.

We went to “Spice in The City Dallas” on Commerce Street. The restaurant looked stylish and different from the regular run-of-the-mill Indian restaurants. It looked like a fine dining restaurant from the outside surrounded by office blocks.

We were hungry and did not waste time exploring the whole menu. We ordered Papad Basket, Saag Paneer, Vegetable Korma, Yellow Lentil Dhal, and Garlic Naans. We were surprised and disappointed when the dishes arrived at our table.

The Papads were extremely oily (dripping with old oil). None of the dishes were tasty and each one of them lacked even little amount of salt or spice or chilli. The dhal was a huge disappointment with the lentils individually sticking out of the bowl with no creamy hold on the dhal surface providing an even taste. The korma was messy. The naans were actually thick flatbreads. Overall, it was a bad lunch. I don’t understand how Trip Advisor and Yelp could have given such positive ratings. We later told our colleagues to give this restaurant a miss.

On the other hand, our experience at Cafe Herrera and Meso Maya, both serving Mexican food in downtown Dallas, was very good – the food was excellent, the service was great, and the menus were comprehensive. Mexican food is a good alternative to folks seeking spicy food, and we were not disappointed. The only challenge is that the wrong choice of sauces could send you scattering looking for an exit, so be very careful when you insist on spicy sauce for the Mexican main course. It could simply stun you out of your senses. There is nothing like that in Indian or Chinese food.

We thought the hotel food (at the hotel where we were staying in downtown) may not be great, but we were surprised to see a fantastic breakfast spread for USD 15 (cold) and USD 22 (hot). There were some unhealthy offerings at the breakfast, but then most of the choices were good – like the amazing variety of expensive fruits for example, hot potatoes with red skin, hot medley of vegetables with lots of onions, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, scrambled eggs, omelettes made to order, a variety of breads, nuts, yoghurt, etc.,

Dallas is a great place for Mexican food – of course, I have not tried much of the other foods that Dallas offers, but my guess is that Dallas specializes in Mexican.

One of our colleagues had brought MTR fast food from Singapore, and so we tried that food in our hotel room late into night along with some drinks, and that was an outstanding experience as well.

It was good to be back in Dallas after a gap of two years.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017