Professor Hong Hai, senior fellow of Institute of Advanced Studies, adjunct professor at College of Business in NTU, and TCM physican, opens a cafe on the second floor of his clinic in a shophouse. Like Luke Skywalker who brought balance to The Force, the recipes are concocted to bring balance to flow of blood and qi in the body to prevent ailments. Because every bodily constitution is different, you may consult Sue, a TCM graduate and assistant manager of the cafe, if you’re not sure the food is suitable for you.
A set lunch ($15) includes rice, a soup and a stir-fried dish. You can also order a afternoon tea set ($7 alone or additional $5 to set lunch), which comes with a refillable pot of herbal tea and a muffin.
The best thing about the set lunch is the rice. The rice is fluffy, and the olive rice, rich with omega-3 to reduce heart disease, more flavorful and complex than the sweet pumpkin rice. In general, we find the food slightly sweet, instead of the usual savory. Such as the stir-fried dishes, asparagus with black fungus and lily bulbs and fish with dang gui (Chinese angelica) and mushroom. (Black fungus and dang gui are good for blood flow.) But the sweetness comes from the ingredients and lack of salt, so it is healthy.
Like the side dishes, the soups are sweet such as almond aloe vera soup (for skin and lungs), “cooling” old cucumber duck soup, and green apple fig soup (for lungs and to reduce phlegm). The exception to the rule is bittergourd soup, our favorite, for “cooling” and strengthening lungs. While we like our stir-fried dishes to be light, the light soups are not flavorful enough for us. “不够入味,” The Ex says.
From the afternoon tea set ($7), the red dates muffin is better than the black sesame muffin. While both are warm and moist and not-too-sweet, there are bits of red dates in the muffin so the date taste comes on strongly, but not for the black sesame.
The herbal teas are also delicious, with just a thumb of rock sugar. There is a tea for clear vision, and a tea for calming purposes, but we choose the floral Yang Gui-fei tea, #1 beauty in ancient China, (naturally for beautifying purposes), and the Gentleman tea 君子茶, with dendrobium, American ginseng, and other herbs for revitalizing. Hey, when a gentleman meets Yang Guifei, he needs all the revitalizing he can get. Even for someone like me who don’t like ginseng, the balanced teas come across as sweet, refreshing and delicious.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.
ps: Thanks, Sue, for the invite.