We Ate Real

Last weekend we went to the annual Eat Real Festival in Oakland. They had it for three days, we went two. And we still couldn’t stuff everything down. The idea is to show that real, good food can be affordable like fast food. The reality is no matter how small each portion was, we ended up walking slow. Some things were delicious. Like the Korean BBQ tacos from Seoul On Wheels. Ebony loved the chicken, Mudpie swooned about the spicy pork, I adored the bulgogi, all served on a corn tortilla with some lipsmacking sauce for $3. Follow their tweets to know their locations. Near Seoul On Wheels were Curry Up Now and a Whole Foods‘ truck. Mudpie just couldn’t resist a chicken tikka masala burrito ($5), then drank a whole bottle of water afterwards. I was enticed by the hiramasa (hamachi) ceviche and grilled figs from Whole Foods, $3 each, served in a cone with tortilla chips for dipping. Continue reading We Ate Real

Down the Aisles 5: It’s It

Two oatmeal cookies sandwiching a scoop of vanilla ice cream, everything encapsulated by a dark chocolate shell. Chocolate shell with ice cream isn’t really my thing, because stuff breaks and spills, like you’re eating a hamburger and look down and see a salad on the burger’s wrapper, except now the melting ice cream replaces the lettuce and mayo. Oatmeal cookie is another not-my-thing, as it’s just too crumbly. But somehow this combination works. The chocolate keeps the oatmeal cookies from turning into oatmeal, and the oatmeal cookies are soft and chewy enough that they don’t push ice cream out in the back (as much) when you take a bite. No wonder It‘s survived since 1928. It predates the Golden Gate Bridge by 9 years. Continue reading Down the Aisles 5: It’s It

Sandwich shop goodies 10 – Bánh chuối nướng (Vietnamese banana bread pudding)

Every now and then I feel blessed to grow up in the tropics. It doesn’t let you wear scarves and gloves, but it has bananas. Many types of bananas. There are at least 10 common cultivars in Vietnam, most are for eating fresh as a fruit, some for eating raw as a veggie with wraps, and one is particularly favorable to be cooked in desserts. And desserts with bananas are just about the most addictive thing out there. Take this banana bread pudding for instance. I intended to cut one little slice each day to savor it for over a week, but next thing I knew I was gorging half the slab after dinner. The bread is part chewy, part spongy, mostly firm, juiced up by a semisweet layer of sliced banana on top. It needs no sauce, no ice cream, no chocolate. It is good both at room temperature and right out of the fridge. The description simply can’t capture how delicious this thing is. And it’s not even a well made banana bread pudding, you know, the type of treat that grandmother would make at home or the recipe that a vendor […]

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Cheap, healthy, small

That pretty much sums up the In-N-Out buns. Those burgers are not merely a matter of recharging one’s battery, though one of these joints might have been quite crucial to my friend’s survival on his way from coast to coast, as it was the only oasis between miles of burnt brown hills and deserts after he crossed the state line into The Golden Bear. His uncle always compares other burgers to In-N-Out’s, so when his dad visited the area, the man shrugged “well, I guess I should try it”. His friend, who later came here for conference, felt the same obligation as the other non-Californian conference attenders checked out lunch at In-N-Out. By hook or by crook, this chain gets the reputation of conjuring up a regional specialty that everyone should have while staying in California. After living here for a year, I obliged. It was a sunny day driving back and forth between Milpitas and Berkeley, when I had zero gourmet craving and a simple need to eat a basic lunch. That’s a debatably good time for fast food. Don’t know if most people don’t get cravings, but In-N-Out was […]

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Eat to your cart’s content

This Saturday August 21 (11am-7pm) there’s some massive fun street food fest going on in the Mission District, next to Garfield Square, San Francisco. I counted 52 “vendors” for the chow, which spans all five continents (well, not including Australia, and Europe and Asia are two) and covers the menu from appetizers to desserts. The majority power seems to split between los cocineros of Hispanic descent from the Southern hemisphere and the culinarians of the Far East. Colorful dapples here and there are West African (Purple Hibiscus of Nigerian American chef Chukuduwebe), classic Southern comfort (Zella’s Soulful Kitchen of chef Dionne Knox), hot dogs (Let’s Be Frank) and waffle sandwiches (Brass Knuckle), just to name a few. Tasty. I can’t go, due to graduate school difficulties. (Why is it one day only?) Which is why I will make it to the Oakland’s Eat Real Festival (ERF) the weekend after against all odds. Mark my words. Continue reading Eat to your cart’s content

Pret A Manger – Ready to Eat

– Guest post by Paul Simeon – This name may sound foreign to you, unless you happened to see it in the UK, New York, DC, or Hong Kong. It’s a British chain, with a French name, that’s slowly coming to America (and elsewhere). The private company has decided not to franchise, so it’s not spreading as fast as other fast food places, but they’ll slowly populate the States; Chicago is next this Fall. Pret, as it is called by many, is like the ready-to-eat sections, as the name suggests, of cafes and food shops. They have a myriad of salads and sandwiches on the shelf that you can grab and take to the cashier. It’s about as fast as fast food can be. They have soups, fruit, baguettes, sushi, wraps, smoothies, yogurt, etc. They make everything in the kitchen each day and give the unsold items to charity at the end of the day. The other thing one should say when describing this place in such a quick manner is that they stress that everything they sell is natural — no artificial preservatives, flavors, […]

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Pie and mash – The Ship and Pieminister

– Guest post by Paul Simeon – After seeing Stonehenge with a large group of friends, we went in search of a place for lunch. We were looking in a nearby village and happened upon a nice-looking place called The Ship Inn in Upavon. I don’t know how it got its name, being far from water and not resembling a ship. It did have a castle right behind it, which provided a nice setting for a midday lunch in the back patio of the place. Let’s get down to business, the food. Many people got hamburgers. Someone ordered a ploughman’s lunch, which was a big chunk of bread with large wedges of cheddar and brie and a few slices of ham. Apparently cheddar is uncommon in some parts of Europe as some hadn’t heard of it. I was in England, so I had to get something distinctly British — steak and kidney pie. It looked like a quarter of a full pie, with a side of vegetables and mashed potatoes. It was good, nothing unexpected, nothing disappointing. There wasn’t much kidney, but that wasn’t a problem. I much prefer […]

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Venus and the Casual-Cali dining trend

In foodie talk, Berkeley is synonymous with Chez Panisse: there’s hardly a writing of Bay Area cuisine without the mentioning of Alice Waters and her propriety. But as attractive as the local and sustainable idea sounds, places like Chez Panisse are clearly not in the accessible range for everyone’s weekly, or even monthly, savour. If it’s not what the locals regularly eat, how can it represent the local cuisine? The common Berkelers don’t make one month reservation to eat at a cafe, they instead would rather make a line on the sidewalk, waiting to be seated in 25 minutes or so-told by waiters with tattoos and spiky hair. Such casualness, though paired with obvious reduce in taste innovation and price, defines the Berkeley dining spectrum, with the holes in the wall like Razan’s Organic Kitchen and Gregoire at the cheaper end, to more comfortable sit-downs like Herbivore and Venus at the other. I call it a sit-down because Venus is barely bigger than a classroom, and diners are spaced more snugly than students on exam day. Its rectangular base holds a kitchen-cashier combination and roughly 40 […]

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Sandwich Shop Goodies 9 – Bánh bò bông (Steamed sponge muffin)

Does this happen to you often? You give a friend something to taste, he says “It’s good. What’s it called?”. You’re stumped. The English translation is easy, but it would make no sense because the name matches neither the food, the ingredients, nor the method of cooking. It happens to me quite often, and usually I shut off the questions with “Just eat it!”. But I wonder, too. Southern Vietnamese folks have a niche for obscure naming scheme. The names could have sprouted from some jokes, some overly simplified impromptu description they thought of at the moment, some mispronounced foreign names, who knows. The result is intelligible and untranslatable, like bánh khọt, bánh tét, chả đùm. The translatable-but-not-always-understandable cases happen when they attach random verbs after the categorical nouns to make a new name, like bánh xèo – “sizzling banh”, bánh lọt – “falling-through banh”, bò né – “dodging beef”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Bánh bò belongs to this flock. Cow bánh? Unlikely, the thing is vegan to an n. I even thought about the possibility that the name is derived from its resemblance of the cow’s tripe, but they would have called it tripe […]

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From popadom to Bombay pizza

– Guest post by Paul Simeon – The Indian meals following Cous Cous Cafe‘s takeouts and dinners at Oxford during his two weeks in England. Saturday night I went to Mirch Masala. It was an Indian/Pakistani place. I later found out from the servers that the owner was from Pakistan, and the wife was from India. While I was waiting, alone, the server offered to get me some popadom (it has multiple spellings, but this is how their menu says it). I didn’t know what it was or if it were complimentary, so I just said, “no, that’s alright.” He brought it anyway, and it was quite nice. It was a thin, crisp flatbread, like a cracker, and it had three toppings for it: chutney, chopped onions and coriander, and some green mint sauce. The chutney was quite good. I didn’t finish all of the popadom by the time the main dish came, Murgh Makhani (Tandoori chicken off the bone cooked in butter, yoghurt, cream, cashew nuts, powder and masala sauces) with a side of paratha (rolled out Indian bread made on tawa, spread with ghee) to […]

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