‘Cross country Day 5: Beignets, at last

Two dollars for every three of them. A square, fluffy pillow of dough deep fried to flakiness and powder-sugared. Gripping each donut with two fingertips, I bend as close to the tiny plate as I can and hold my breath, the anticipation mounts as to not blow away the sweet white dust (and to avoid unwanted makeup powder on my face). We confectioner the year end with beignets from Cafe Du Monde in Metairie, Louisiana. And the six-hour drive just spirals off in the invisible gust of some unjustifiable self-indulgent joy. We’ve had beignets before, but these strike us differently: refreshing, comfortable, and better. They offer nothing more than a combination of leavened, fried and sweetened, but also nothing less than an immersion into the food itself, skillfully and quickly enough to make you forget your whereabouts. Continue reading ‘Cross country Day 5: Beignets, at last

‘Cross country Day 4: Chinese in Texas

There’s China in Texas, so we shall eat Chinese as we cross the state line into Texas. In fact, Little Mom turns down barbecue and steak even before the words can leave my tongue. And it’s not because the occasional wind brings a subtle wisp of cow across the fields onto the streets of Amarillo. We’re Texans, there’s barbecue for birthdays, barbecue for spring, barbecue for summer, barbecue for picnic, barbecue for Fourth of July, barbecue for end of school. Barbecue for weddings wouldn’t surprise me. So she wants noodles. And her words are weighed a hundred times heavier than mine, even when I weigh more than her. Pacific Rim looks more spacious and less greasy than most Chinese restaurants, and it’s not a buffet. The menu is large to suit its “asian fusion” strive, and I’m just thankful to see no Orange Chicken or Kung Pao Beef (they’re there, they’re just not spelled out). They also give us a basket of sweet rolls and butter to wet our appetite, not your usual Chinese ’round the block. Nonetheless, the casual fried rice and stir […]

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‘Cross country Day 3: Entering Southern Cooking

It takes us six years and a cross country drive to set foot into one of the Cracker Barrel, thanks to Mudpie waking up right as a sign comes into view to show which exit to take from I40. (In my defense, Cracker Barrel doesn’t show up in the Bay.) There are as many people in the store as antique candies on the tables and shelves near the cashier. We put our name on the list, then quickly merge into the buzzing about knick knacks and candles, preparing for a thirty minute wait. A mere ten minutes later our name echoes on the microphone, we get seated near the dining hall entrance, four menus swatted onto the wooden table, the waitress is a little disappointed that we aren’t ready to order yet. Then it comes our turn to wait for the food, and we play games. Continue reading ‘Cross country Day 3: Entering Southern Cooking

NOLA Christmas

Usually people go to church on Christmas Eve, but we (kind of) do on Christmas Day. At 9, we leave the hotel and beat the traffic to St. Charles Avenue, a historically elite thoroughfare delineated with mansions and century old oak trees, themselves decorated by dangling Mardi Gras beads from last seasons. Hardly any traffic presents, except for a streetcar chugging up and down the cable lines. If not for these black lines, the scenery would have resembled Tự Do Street (now labelled Đồng Khởi) in Saigon, especially with the Holy Name of Jesus Church looking out to Audubon Park, like the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica and the greenery to its left front side. Parting from the arches of oak branch weaving across the road, we head to the French Quarter. Hardly any trees now, but many more colorful skinny houses adorn the sidewalks. A flimsily dressed, green-shoed man jumps rope on Canal Street, in the mist and sprinkle of Christmas Morning, disturbed by neither cars driving by nor the onlooking of another man, black-jacketed and huddling to himself in the corner. A mule pulls […]

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Show me the meaning of sashimi

I don’t like the Backstreet Boys but when an apt title comes you gotta grab it. Last Sunday we were out celebrating ZuChu‘s birthday with her favorite: sashimi. I was fully expecting a glamorous meal since I’ve come to like smoked salmon and figured all thinly sliced raw fish must have that silky springiness too. Besides, there are those pictures of translucent peony and phoenix made out of fugu sashimi. The Japanese get you by the eye. This modest stop on Shattuck has the biggest selection of fishy cold cuts in South Berkeley, with 13 individual kinds and 2 combo plates. Word of mouth is it also slices up the freshest, gruesomest sashimi around. For $18.95 we preempt 16 chunks of maguro (tuna), shiro maguro (albacore, or “white tuna”), sake (salmon), and hamachi (yellowtail, but red meat). The salmon is best (just like La Bedaine’s smoked salmon, but thick). The tunas slide down my throat with some stickiness, as if stuff were crawling up… The hamachi fans apart into a string of cubes, each as bland and bare as the next. Suddenly […]

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‘Cross country Day 2: Desert towns

You may say it’s shabby, and in fact it is. The single restroom has a questionable floor, a toilet with enamel-cracked seat and a sign to forbid disposal of paper in the toilet, and a faded red door with a knob that doesn’t invite contact. On this windy Saturday late morning, a few pick-up trucks pull up, a few old, beer-bellied, bearded men in plaid shirts stand around to wait for their orders or chow down at the wooden tables and attached benches, crows and pigeons peck at the sandy surrounding parking lot, making this Original Burger Hut of Route 66 the most alive place in Needles. This hut is not related to these huts. This hut is a rectangular kitchen with one sliding window for taking orders, occupied by two women, a quiet chef that swings between the stoves and the counter where she rolls burritos and boxes up food, and a stern cashier that also fixes drinks. It takes ages for the burgers to get out the window, then again with roughly 5000 residents, time seems to go by more slowly in this town. Their […]

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‘Cross country Day 1 – Down the West Coast

For the past few days we’ve been behind the wheels from dawn to dust, making our way across three time zones. In the first, we happen to stumble upon the best seafood restaurant in Salinas, or so they claim. Sitting on a corner lot on Main Street in a peaceful little hometown of John Steinbeck and fewer than 150000 people, Salinas Valley Fish House looks homely attractive with an old-fashioned bistro touch. Little Mom instantly gives an approval nod as she walks into the spacious dining room, seeing fresh flowers on white cloth tables, and Santa hats on the fishes. It opens for lunch only during the week, good thing we drive by on a Friday. Despite being in a seafood restaurant in a seaside town, Little Mom fixates on an order of pork chop ($13.95), oak grilled, medium, no condiments. First time I see her liking a pork chop other than her (awesome) own. 🙂 Continue reading ‘Cross country Day 1 – Down the West Coast

A sticky crusty crush

Do you like that crisp, burnt, gochujang-dyed rice crust at the bottom of the dolsot when you scrape off spoon after spoon of bibimbap? If the answer is yes, I’m certain that you’d fall for this one too. Mom cooks her xoi in a non-stick pan, with coconut milk and little water. Somehow, without a precise recipe, she can make a shell of brown, sweet and crusty sticky rice every time. Then we fight each other for it when it’s still warm and just a tad chewy, leaving the soft innard xoi for my dad. Approximate recipe: Xôi cháy (literally “burnt xoi”, usually considered a point against the skillful xoi cooks, but I think it’s better than icing on a cake, it’s the best part of a perfectly cooked batch of xoi) – 1 lb sticky rice – 1/2 lbs mung bean (halved is fine, unscraped) – 1 can of coconut milk – 1/2 tsp salt – sugar (lots! ~ 8-10 tbs) Continue reading A sticky crusty crush

Curiosity saves the taco

It all happens because of the tongues. First I found out that Ashley’s and Kaily’s favorite is Mexican food. Except for one taco at Taco Bell a few months back when I was starving in San Francisco and unable to find any cheap and quick filler, I haven’t had Mexican food for a few years, simply because the burritos, tacos, quesadillas, tamales, and other Spanish names that crossed my path didn’t impress me the right way. Then I hear Michelle praises the churros with such enthusiasm that makes me rethink about the cooking affairs south of the Rio Grande. Then Mudpie’s birthday comes up, for which Mexican is the desired course, and Tacubaya the desired destination. Two things on the menu catch my glance: churros and taco de lengua (beef tongue taco). Heck, any tongue is worth a try. Once you’re there, you can’t just get one thing, especially when each taco is the size of a tea saucer. So we each opt for two soft tacos and share one sweet potato puree (camote). Camote (sweet potato puree, left) – $4.25, and frioles pintos (refried bean, right) – $2.95 […]

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Treasure in the Jung

Oakland Chinatown, except for places like Tây Hồ, Bình Minh Quán, and the Korean restaurant on 13th street, carried on its everyday business on Thanksgiving as if it were a town in China. The Chinese dedication is admirable and to be grateful for. Without it I would haven’t had two meals worth of $1.75 wrapped in bamboo leaves. Yes, two meals. Jung, as the lady at Sum Yee Pastry pronounced, is a heavy deal. At first I thought it was a Vietnamese banh gio, except for the leaf wrapper being dried instead of smooth, damp, and waxy. I asked her for the name and couldn’t make out what she was saying, I asked her to write it down but she didn’t know how, she then asked if I was Vietnamese and switched to my mother tongue in her mixed Chinese tongue to explain that this thing is eaten on May 5th just like banh chung is eaten during Tet. Aha, so it’s zong zi, the great great great grandfather of banh u tro! Turns out zong zi (just a different, and much more common, […]

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