Ssäm @ Marina Bay Link Mall: Korean-Mexican Kitchen Does Fusion SO WELL! [Updated]

Picture pulled from Ssam's Facebook
Picture pulled from Ssam’s Facebook

This lunchtime, I had an epic Pork Belly & Shoulder Salad bowl from Ssäm! Specializing in Korean-Mexican fusion food, this tiny hole-in-the-wall is sandwiched in between Four Seasons Gourmet Market and Viet Baguette Cafe of the Mall. Ever cognizant of the market like a true savy investor, thankfully Ssäm does salad-based bowls too. The Korean influence is present in the protein options (such as Bulgogi beef and Kimchi add-ons) but Mexican at heart (Burritos and rice bowls).

I am so happy because my lunch was filled wtih the most delicious flavours and exciting textures. I was literally jumping for joy after! More importantly, so satisfied and satiated that I did not even need dessert after. Now I can’t stop thinking of my lunch and already planning my next trip! O_o

Ssäm means wrapped in Korean, though it traditionally refers to wrapped in lettuce leaves. What we we have is pieces of delicious meat delicately nestled between the bosoms of a warm tortilla and a spicy blend of pickled veg. This combination of Korean Galbi with Mexican salsa and spices is a match made in food heaven.

Picture pulled from Ssam's Facebook

Picture pulled from Ssam’s Facebook

The ordering is pretty easy, choose a base: a burrito, rice bowl (Cilantro Rice or Kimchi Rice), or a salad. Then choose between 4 staples of the menu which are the proteins: they have Korean-marinated Beef, Crackling Pork Belly & Shoulders, Grilled Chicken, and Soy-marinated Tofu. Finally finish things off with your choice and any amount of Basil Leaves, Cabbage Kimchi, Spring Onion Kimchi, Candied Lotus Roots (highly recommended), Seaweed (highly recommended), Scallions, tomato salsa (highly recommended), Kimchi salsa (highly recommended), and a dressing. Scrambled eggs, boiled eggs or Guacamole are available at an extra charge. The concept is not novel. It is exactly the same method as Chipotle in the USA. But who cares, it works!

Picture pulled from Ssam's Facebook

Picture pulled from Ssam’s Facebook

Affordably priced at $8 for all protein save for the beef ($9) without the extras, my hearty lunch was a huge portion. I was stuffed beyond words. My lunch was a Salad Bowl with Crackling Pork Belly & Shoulder, with Kimchi, Seaweed, Tomato Salsa, Kimchi salsa, Lotus root, and Sesame Seeds. My lunch companion’s bowl (top in the first picture) consisted of a rice bowl, beef, fried scallions, onions, and seaweed with guacamole added in. Needless to say, she couldn’t finish either.

I thoroughly enjoyed my choice of protein: pork belly & shoulder as the meat was cooked to tender-perfection, packed with flavour and… BITS of PORK CRACKLING sprinkled throughout. Every bite had a crunchy bit – sublime. I could not stop. Plus my side components were absolutely delightful with punchy flavours and crunchy textures. If you work in the area, GO TRY! I can’t wait to try the other proteins.

A word of advice: GO EARLY. I went at 1.15pm and got the last portion of salad! Plus a lot of other components were out too. Further this place is tiny. Be prepared to not get a seat inside but there are long benches just outside. Those are comfortable and great for people watching!

[Updated on 4th May 2015]

So I returned for my Ssam fix this afternoon. For the sake of research, I got the beef. Unbelievably, it was more fabulous than the pork belly & shoulder! I could not believe what was in my mouth. The tender-thin slices of beef were so flavourful. However unlike the pork, the Korean-style sauce was on the sweet side. But it was a harmonious sweet-savoury contrast. Two visits and I have not craved for a dressing yet.

I am so in love this with little spot. Can you tell?

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Guzman Y Gomez @ Asia Square Tower: Carby but YUMS

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FINALLY! After months of procrastination, I finally got my hands on Guzman Y Gomez in Asia Square’s Food Garden and was impressed! From the fragrant, saucy and tender slow roasted pork sandwiched in the impossibly-crisp Fried Taco shell to the Spicy Grilled Chicken Burrito that was jam-packed with large cubes of juicy chicken, black beans, rice and cheese with a spicy sauce harmonising all components, my best friend and I were blown away. Our two dishes were perfectly seasoned and aromatic! I craved for no additional salt. After my dismal meal in Mex-out, my expectations for Guzman was low but the obvious high quality food offered has now set my Mexican-food-standard very high. You know what else was pretty spectacular? The three complimentary sauces that was addictive and one could help yourselves to their heart’s content. Ranging from tongue-numbing spicy to a slightly-sweet BBQ-like sauce. My bestie and I found ourselves eating the thick sauces straight out of the small cardboard sauce bowl. Guzman Y Gomez has gotten me very excited about food again!

Mamasita, Melbourne, July 2013

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If there was only one place I had to visit in Melbourne, this was it. Everyone I knew who lived, worked or visited in city made me swear I would try this Mexican eatery. With the pathetic state of Mexican eateries in Singapore, few and good ones being crazily overpriced, I knew Mamasita was going to be the place to hone my South American gastronomic skills. With the knowledge of legendary queues, proper planning was needed and by 5p.m, I was delightfully ushered to a bar counter seat. I love counter seats, I get to watch my food or drink being prepared, and especially in Sydney, the place where you can get extremely close to the chefs and they throw you more food or an extra drink. At that time, the restaurant seemed empty but the bartender assured me soon it will be otherwise. Sure enough at 5.30pm, the restaurant was full and there was a queue down the stairs. The eatery was surprisingly small. And there the murals were pretty! There was a large window to the kitchen and the Bartender and I had a good chat on the action within during the weekend. But I was not there for the murals or bright yellow theme, I was there to work up an appetite!

Sitting at the counter provided me with the opportunity to chat with the Bartenders and their recommendations were so important in ensuring a lone diner like me was able to leave with the best from their extensive menu. That early evening, I had three different tacos for starters, Mole Negro Con Pollo (black mole with raised right confit chicken maryland) for my main course, and a Mezcal Margarita to accompany the food.

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For the tacos, from left, the bartender recommended the de Camarones (marinated prawns, red chilli & chipotle almond salsa), de Pescado (grilled fish, lime, achiate paste, red onion salsa & chipotle mayo), and de Lengua y Chachete (braised ox tongue & cheek, pickled veg & ghost chilli mayo). All three were encased with the softest warm shell and heaps of shredded lettuce. Of the three, the de Lengua y Chachete was most memorable. It was supposed to be braised but I was astounded by the crispy smoky beef parts with its rich beefy flavour; wagyu beef has never been my thing. If there is ever a reason to return to Melbourne, it would be that ox tongue and cheek tacos.

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I had the most hipster Bartender taking care of me that night. Up for anything, he recommended Mezcal, a smoky-like tequila. But Mezcal is not Tequila. According to the internet: “mezcal and tequila are two completely different liquors. Tequila may only be made from the blue agave in government-specified areas of Jalisco, Mexico, while mezcal may be made from any variety of agave.” (For more information on Mezcal, read here!)

Tequila is not my thing but a smoky tequila was all new and moments later, a tall glass of light green cocktail with a thick salted-vanilla rim was placed before me. The Mezcal Margarita was potently alcoholic. The Mezcal was harsher and more in-the-face than tequila. Plus it left the same strong smoky aftertaste the way aged Whisky does. The agave syrup provided subtle deep sweetness as opposed to in-your-face-white-sugar. It was wonderfully unique. My Asian redness revealed itself midway through the drink and I was all giggly and flirty. When I am drunk I also become more adventurous and greedy which led to…

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Mole Negro Con Pollo (black mole with raised right confit chicken maryland). The Bartender insisted on this even though it was a main course and I had just wolfed down three tacos but Mole sounded all so foreign and I could not resist! I was glad I ordered this because my friend Google told me the recipe calls for strange sounding chillis; ingredients that would be impossible to find in Singapore. When the plate-bowl arrived, it looked so grim and I wondered if I made a mistake. The blackness was a stark contrast with the seasame seeds and sliced red chilli. It wasn’t just black, it was pitch black and thick like stuff that I bomb out after eating bad food. And the blackness meant I could not even decipher the chicken parts; visually the most unappetizing stuff I have been served (note, not including those I make). But boy was it delicious! My tastebuds could detect deep hints of cinnamon and chilli; so exciting! And the perfectly cooked chicken pulled away easily from the bone. The meat was so moist and smooth; it just slithered and danced around my mouth. Oh yums! This dish was truly joyous.

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And now photos of the restaurant:
Pretty hot lady reclining enticing you to order more…
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The small main area of the restaurant which was probably the reason for the legendary queues.
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The window to the kitchen where great meat were being grilled.
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Mamasita was just great. Had my first Mole, my first smoky tequila (and actually enjoyed it), and the most outstanding tacos ever!