Why “Off the Grid” in North Berkeley?

After so many years, and it’s been only a little over three years for me, of actively paying attention to food, I’ve become, unrighteously and shamelessly, somewhat of a food snob: very few things can excite me. And yet, it doesn’t take much more than a sandwich to keep me up at night (that, and my research). Originally, I had a draft for Off the Grid in North Berkeley, then I let it stew for centuries because I thought oh well, it’s just a food truck event, a new fad in town, who knows how long it will last. I still don’t get the name of the event: ten or fewer food trucks and hundreds of Berkeleyans gather where Shattuck meets Rose every Wednesday evening, from 5 to 9. Lines form, some short, some long. I still don’t get all the raves for Cupkates (or any cupcake trucks for that matter). There were things I regretted buying, and things I would never stand in line for. But there’s this sandwich, powerful enough to drag me back to Off the Grid, to stand in line, and to finish my draft. Continue reading Why “Off the Grid” in North Berkeley?

The trick to a good bowl of Mongolian grill

Great Khan is big, clean, American-looking, and in Houston. Little Mom took me here. It’s an ideal place to get glutton and gain some weight, that probably was her intention for me. The idea is splendid: ~$8 for the first bowl, which includes a small bowl of meat, a small bowl of vegetables, rice or noodle of choice (or both), and an extra $2 for unlimited extra food if you’re still hungry. The “wok” masters gather at the big grilling platform in the middle (no wok), waiting for you to hand over what you think would constitute the best bowl of Mongolian grill. Confronted by rows of shining vegetables and meats and a dozen kinds of sauces, you’re tempted to pile and press as many different things as possible into the little bowls. Over the years, I’ve had my share of stirfries (a Mongolian grill is really a stirfry). To put it more bluntly, I’m Vietnamese, I know stirfries. Truth is, a good stirfry is a simple stirfry. 0. The starch: choose thin rice vermicelli That stuff soaks up the sauce the best and meshes well with other things texturally. Thick noodle would be too bland […]

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Tofu misozuke – the vegan cheese

Tofu misozuke. Image courtesy of Rau Om Every Saturday in Sunnyvale and every Sunday in Palo Alto, Oanh sets up the tables. She hangs a white banner with a simplified lavender elephant and the word “Rau Om” in calligraphic green, and a poster featuring a little mouse prancing with a block of tofu on his back, with the word “Mice eat Rau Om’s Tofu Misozuke” below. Then she arranges dozens of little bamboo and plastic wrap packets on the table, each containing a block of tofu in beige paper, about as big as a match box. Then she’s ready for the Farmers Market. And the tofu is ready to be sold out, every last one of them. Over two years of experimenting, Oanh says, including lots of PubMed searching, an 18th century manuscript in old Japanese, and who knows how many pounds of firm tofu. It all started with an accidental find in Tokyo’s night food scene in 2009, and here they are, at a Californian Farmers Market, offering a Japanese elder a taste that brings her decades back home. It’s like the tofu has achieved its American dream. Continue reading Tofu misozuke – the vegan cheese

Maria’s in Santa Fe

A Facebook ad reminded me of this place. Words of mouth from the previous conference attendants say it’s *the* place to go to in Santa Fe if you like “real” margaritas. It’s also the place where I first learned that tequila is made from the blue agave plant, which is *not* a cactus, and that there’s a spirit called mezcal, which is not as popular as tequila but seems to taste better. When you sit next to someone you just met for the first time but feel like having a meaningful conversation, food and drink makes an educational topic. Because Little Mom would be scolding me as soon as she reads this (for good reasons), I should tell her now to rest assured that the highest quantity of alcohol I’ve ever had and will ever have is in her red wine pineapple dessert. Although I don’t drink, I do feel like I should know something about the alcohols, just the way I did my high school research projects on psilocybin mushrooms and corundum. Information is fun. And so was the trio that played music for us at Maria’s that night. […]

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Black tea rice

Vietnamese Something occurred to me within the last month: I probably should learn to pair drinks with food, but I hardly drink anything beside water and soymilk. Now I would *love* to learn about the different kinds of water, but living in the city makes it a bit difficult, and soymilk can’t be paired with everything like wine (yet). Coffee, alcoholic beverage, juice? Didn’t quite catch on. So what does that leave me? Tea. A quest takes form: Mai is going to learn tea. And Mai will cook with tea, too. Because boiling water to drink tea takes some work, I might as well make it worth a meal. How much influence the ochazuke at Mifune had on me, I’m not sure, but during the two minutes of wringling my brain out for some easy way to use tea in food, the first thing that came to mind was cooking rice with tea. Now that’s the difference between my tea rice and the ochazuke: my tea rice is rice cooked with tea, and the ochazuke is rice eaten with tea, like a soup. As with everything, there’s the easy way and the […]

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Mifune’s uniqueness

I’m trying to think of the reasons I keep confusing myself between Mifune (San Francisco) and Miyuki (North Berkeley) when I tell people about them. Admittedly they share some obvious similarities, as much as any Japanese restaurant would be similar to another Japanese restaurant. Miyuki is for donburi, and Mifune is for udon and soba. Not only that they’re totally unrelated, I also remember them for different reasons. But that in itself is another similarity: what makes me remember them is not the focus of their menus. When I think of Miyuki, I think of its eggroll and mango icecream dessert. When I think of Mifune, I think of its green tea rice. Ochazuke (green tea rice) is not uncommon among Japanese and those who know Japanese food, but it’s uncommon in Japanese restaurants in America. In fact, I just now looked at every available menu in San Fran Japantown, and found no ochazuke. Mifune doesn’t have its menu online. Like kimchi fried rice (and really, any kind of fried rice), ochazuke makes good use of leftover rice. Unlike fried rice, ochazuke is not fried. It’s […]

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one bite: Miyuki sweet

Who goes to a sushi and donburi house to get dessert? Me. It got it all. Tropical, fried, icecreamy, salty, nutty, fruity. It’s the dessert of Miyuki. Miyuki sweet: eggroll filled with banana and pine nut to pair with vanilla and mango ice cream. Ah, and a dash of chocolate syrup, of course. Address: Miyuki 1695 Solano Avenue Berkeley, CA 94707 (510) 524-1286