Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dracula Romanian Food


Hungrygowhere reports the demise of the improbably-named 'Dracula Romanian Food', a hawker-centre stall at Singapore's Alexandra Village neighbourhood. The title on the page is now prefaced with a curt 'closed', and any time you try to access a review you're festooned with annoying popups screaming at you, in case you missed the point, that 'This establishment is no longer in operation'. One review, dated just a month after my last visit there, indicates some reasons why: a tedious story involving cost-cutting, substituting experienced staff with cheaper (and correspondingly less competent) replacements, and (horrors!) so steep a drop in food quality the reviewer actually contracted food poisoning. A sad way to go for an eatery I used to be rather fond of.

I came across the place towards the end of my stay in Singapore. At that time I was staying at a condo called Gillman Heights, one block of which NUS used as a graduate students' residence. (Gillman Heights is also history now. Thanks to an en-bloc sale, we had to vacate the place within weeks of my last visit to Dracula. The old flats have been pulled down now, with something called 'The Interlace', which looks like a tribute to disjointedness, coming up in its place.) Dracula was walking distance from Gillman, just across the Ayer Rajah Expressway. But because it was tucked away behind an HDB block, it took me till June 2009 to discover the place, almost a year since I had shifted to Gillman.

My first impressions were not particularly favourable. Invoking the Dracula name smacked of blatant attention-grabbing (but then this was before I found out several other joints exist all over the world both named and themed after that (blood)sucker). The faux-ness was underscored by a tacky plywood cutout of a castle stuck in front of the counter. Or to be strictly accurate, one half of the counter; the other half was given over to an Italian joint called 'Funny Lasagna by Peter Bontoi'. A menucard was stuck onto the quasi-drawbridge, you gave your order through this large slot masquerading as the castle entrance, and then collected your food through the same aperture.

A copy of a newspaper report framed and displayed prominent gave me some background info. Bontoi was born in Romania and worked as a chef in Turin for many years. He then shifted to Singapore and got into the restaurant business, but after facing partner troubles he decided he was better off running hawker centre stalls instead. So he set up Funny Lasagna, specialising in Lasagne, Pasta and Pizza. The article does not mention when the Draculanian side of things was started. But I presume at some time he must have realised there was a market for Romanian food too, so he partitioned off his stall into two halves, and so forth.

The first time I went there I ordered Cirnati de Pork, or handmade Romanian pork sausage. Somewhat expensive at S$8 for one large sausage on a flatbread, a small portion of salad, two slices of tomato, a few scraps of leafy veg, and also a complimentary bread basket containing about four slices of good multigrain. The flatbread was the most intriguing. Its name was not mentioned, but in all likelihood it was an unstuffed Placinta (nowhere near as gross as it sounds like). It looked very much like a Paratha, if a bit more severely circular in shape, but its taste was different, denser and fattier, presumably because they used refined flour and also greater amounts of shortening. The salad was excellent. The sausage left me marginally let-down; maybe the exotic surroundings and the Romanian antecedents had goaded my expections to unduly high levels. It was certainly good, no doubt. Just that it didn't taste very different from any other well-made sausage. The portions also generally tended to be on the smaller side, especially given the price. Apart from these nits, I enjoyed myself enough to go back three days later.

On this occasion I opted for a Friptura de Pork, or Romanian pork chop. They took some time to prepare it, time I spent most enjoyably chatting with the manageress and the lady who ran the drinks stall next door. I got a little more bang for my buck (ok ten bucks) this time round: two generous pieces of pork smothered in mushroom sauce, a roll, a helping of salad, and again those bits of tomato and leafy veg. Three bucks extra fetched me a potato salad, which was nothing short of excellent, but then I've always had a weakness for potato and sour cream. The pork chops were excellent too, very soft, excellent meat, well cooked. As was the gravy rich and flavourful. But once again, not much different from any other decent chop anywhere else.

That was my last visit to Dracula. In less than two weeks Gillman Heights shut down for good, and we all had to relocate. I left Singapore in end-August. These last few weeks were extremely hectic, so I couldn't go back for another visit. It remains one of my most vivid memories of Singapore, and I wonder why. The food was certainly good, but not wildly exciting. I guess it was the fun of the whole thing, the quirky name, the gimmicky castle, and the very nice people running the show. Yes, an easy conviviality, an informality, that you don't often come across in Singapore. I shall miss it.

10 comments:

Unknown said...

Short one but good one - and the size of those pork chops looks really generous! I was wondering if, when the posts turn out short like this, it would make sense to bunch a few neighbouring food places together in one post, to give a bit of ambiance of the locality, sort of sociological profile thingi :P
Anita

Abhik Majumdar said...

Thanks for the comment, Ani.

> and the size of those pork chops looks really generous!

Oh yes, the chops were pretty decent sized. Nice to the taste too.

> I was wondering if, when the posts turn out short like this, it would make sense to bunch a few neighbouring food places together in one post

Valid observation. I've done that in the past, check this one:

http://foodscapes.blogspot.com/2007/06/hari-mirch-keema-rewri-ke-samosey.html

At times, though, you don't feel like writing about other places in the neighbourhood. Let's face it, the shops in the vicinity of Dracula were all run-of-the-mill, nothing to write (home) about.

And yes short posts take lots less hard work than longer posts do. And given that the blog was in doldrums, I thought a few short posts would might get me into the spirit of things.

Lastly, Ms Guest Blogger, how about another post from you?

madhulikaliddle.com said...

I have to admit to being a complete sucker when it comes to pork chops (sausages not so much, though I'm not averse to them). But chops and ribs, any time - and that photo looked pretty good.

Sad, when a place goes downhill like that. In Hauz Khas, there used to be this really nice tea shop called Elma's that we loved. Now its food and service have deteriorated to the point where we don't even think of visiting. :-(

Abhik Majumdar said...

Thanks for the comment, Madhu. I freak on pork chops too. Re sausages, have you ever had them home-smoked? I do it pretty often whenever I'm in Delhi, convert a karhai into a smoker and all. Of course, what I really freak over is bacon, lots of bacon, and the greasier the better :)

Does/did Elma's serve pork chops? I am slightly wary of ordering chops in India, given the number of times I've had to saw through gristly, stringy meat. This has happened in both Delhi and Bangalore.

madhulikaliddle.com said...

No, I've never tried smoking sausages at home, though that sounds like a great idea. Incidentally, my absolutely favourite sausages are the ones they make in Calcutta's China Town in winter - those wine-soaked ones, dried and fatty and luscious. I love bacon, too, by the way. :-)

No, Elma's don't do pork chops, at least not as far as I remember. Their cakes and pastries and scones were the good bit about them, though they did do a very good hot bacon loaf too. I've had some frightful pork chops in Delhi, but some places offer truly sublime chops and ribs: Rosang Cafe has a particularly succulent one, served with a raja mirch chutney. Oh, and Guppy by Ai do a super pork belly, as does Indigo Delhi - all good.

Abhik Majumdar said...

> No, I've never tried smoking sausages at home, though that sounds like a great idea.

I was about to say, I'm heading for Delhi within this week, and why don't you drop in at our place when I'm there? But then I got a phone call just now, thanks to which it seems my Delhi trip is postponed to the middle of December at the earliest. Damn!! I was looking forward to revisiting Delhi.

> my absolutely favourite sausages are the ones they make in Calcutta's China Town

Those are the ones I used to live on in Singapore. Love them, ditto the fat, non-dried ones them Chinese make. Check Part II of this post:

http://foodscapes.blogspot.com/2008/04/of-street-walkers-and-bbq-crocodile-i.html

> Rosang Cafe has a particularly succulent one, served with a raja mirch chutney.

Haven't heard of this 'un. Where is it? And Raja Mirch being the Naga stuff? Are the proprietors from there, or is this just an inspired piece of pairing?

> Guppy by Ai do a super pork belly, as does Indigo Delhi - all good.

That does it. I'm coming down to Delhi.

madhulikaliddle.com said...

Rosang Cafe used to be in Hauz Khas; they've recently opened in Green Park Extension - the Uphaar Cinema Complex. And raja mirch is the Naga stuff. The proprietors are from the North-East; which state, I have no idea, but Rosang Cafe serves food from all 8 NE states (Sikkim included), and very good stuff it is, too.

http://madhulikaliddle.com/2014/06/07/restaurant-review-rosang-cafe/

Abhik Majumdar said...

Just read your review, thoroughly enjoyed it (have commented there also). Rosang looks extremely tempting. And one thing: I am crazy about fiery peppers. I tend to be fairly friendly and informal with my students, particularly postgraduate students. And one happy byproduct is that the Ahomiyas among them would ensure a steady supply of Bhut Jolokia :D A friend tried his hand at growing them here in Cuttack. The plants are still alive, but have yielded so far only a pair of stunted, tasteless fruit.

madhulikaliddle.com said...

By the way, a bhoot jholokia hot sauce is now available, at least here in Delhi. Very fiery. I can only manage it as part of a dressing for a potato salad.

Abhik Majumdar said...

So many things to look forward to in Delhi! Maybe I should also take a look at the state emporia on Baba Kharak Singh Road, and see if they sell any sauce or pickle made of any of these peppers.