Rice Paper Kimchi Roll – a cross between ssam bab and fresh spring roll

How can you bring kimchi to lunch at work without the smell of fermented cabbage? I like the garlic smell of my homemade kimchi, but I’m not sure if I want my office to smell like it. Besides, I’m not a fan of bringing multiple containers to work. I don’t even want people to see me with a fork at my desk, and it’s even worse with an empty but dirty container. The ideal lunch is some kind of finger food, preferably balanced. One afternoon, I decided to make ssam bab, a kind of roll with napa cabbage kimchi outside and stir-fried rice inside that I first saw in Kimchi Family and never in real life. You can find kimbab (rice roll in kim – seaweed) for very reasonable price in the Asian Ghetto just south of campus, but no Korean restaurants in the Bay dish out ssam bab. The only problem: I cut the napa cabbage leaves in half when I made kimchi, so now the leaves are not big enough to wrap up the rice, and things fall apart. Well, if I can’t make it the Korean way, I’m making it the Vietnamese way. Continue reading Rice Paper Kimchi Roll – a cross between ssam bab and fresh spring roll

Pair Dim Sum with Tea at Shanghai Dumpling King

The waiter brought out a kettle of tea, but Nancy Togami waved him back, asking for just plain hot water. Carefully, she used her thermometer to check the water temperature. One hundred and eighty degree Fahrenheit, too cool to steep the Baochong and Phoenix Honey that she brought. But Nancy brought her own water too, which measured close to 200 degrees, so we used her water instead. I’ve never brought my own tea to a restaurant, but it makes sense: people bring their own wine to restaurants, and when you have good teas, there’s no reason to refrain from pairing them with good food. The dim sum at Shanghai Dumpling King proved to be perfect experiment material. Without Nancy, I probably would never have known of this hole in the wall way out on the west side of San Fran, and probably too lazy to get here because it’s not 2 blocks away from the BART and I’d doubt the dim sum would be worth anything farther than that. Now, dim sum are good. You have to really suck as a cook to make ground meat in a piece of […]

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Recipe for bánh dầy đậu – Vietnamese mung bean mochi

When I’m home, Little Mom pampers me with her food and sweeps me out of her kitchen, except when I open the fridge to snack, because her mind fixes on the idea that if she lets me touch the stove, I only make a mess. She’s right. Not to toot my own horn but when I’m home, I’m a lazy mess. So when I said Mom, let’s make bánh dầy đậu, she threw her hands up, said oh my sky there’s no more room in the fridge, made the bean paste herself, and only let me play with the dough. 😉 The mung bean paste filling is really the most important part of the Vietnamese mochi (similar to the Japanese mochi, but it’s 100% Vietnamese): you want it slightly savory, slightly sweet, and mashed. Little Mom is the queen of seasoning, so that part was flawless. My job was to knead the dough and roll up them balls. At least I didn’t have to pound steamed sticky rice into oblivion. I was kneading while watching TV with Mom. I was kneading when she sectioned her bánh bao dough into balls. I was still […]

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Alone in the Kitchen with an Onion

One of my onions grew a plump white sprout. So plump that I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. I left it alone for a week. Then two weeks. Continue reading Alone in the Kitchen with an Onion

Mom’s cooking #4 – Beef porridge

– Guest post by Mom, loosely translated by me – There are mornings, even on weekends, when I wake up feeling like a stone (Mai: she means it figuratively, the supermodel BMI runs in our family 😉) and still have to get out of bed because of the mountain of work waiting. Not work at work, but work around the house. Laundry, cleaning the bathrooms, tidying the bedrooms, grocery, and especially cooking even when I have no appetite. When those mornings happen, I think of something easy to make and easy to eat. Naturally, porridge comes to mind. My daughter doesn’t like porridge, but when she’s not home I can prepare it for her dad and me for lunch and maybe dinner, too. I like porridge: mung bean porridge, fish porridge, chicken porridge, pork porridge… and beef porridge for today. Beef Porridge (serving 3) – 1 cup cooked rice – 2 lb pork bone – 1 lb ground beef – 8 oz champignon mushroom – 1/2 sweet onion, minced – 1 tbs minced garlic – salt and sugar to taste (e.g., 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar) – a pinch of ground black pepper – green […]

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Miso Omakase at Nojo

Is it miso season? (Miso has a season?) Berkeley Bowl puts out about 10 different kinds of miso in their “international” aisle, and Nojo advertises a seasonal 5-course miso omakase menu on Black Board Eats. Usually the Black Board Eats emails go straight into the trash, which I kinda feel bad about because I signed up for their newsletter after all, but thank goodness I did read it that morning. That night I got the code, called my friend, and we went to Nojo. We were seated at the counter, but not the one facing the chefs, that would have been nice, this was a small counter facing the wall near the door. The wall looks pretty cool but we felt kinda weird at first, what with the other customers crowding the tables and here the three of us facing a wall next to a middle-aged man. We felt outcast. But Nojo doesn’t take reservation for party under 6, only a phone call an hour before you arrive to put your name on the waiting list, guess I should have called more than an hour earlier, what was I thinking following the rules? […]

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Kitchen hour: quasi-Osaka Okonomiyaki

When I walked down that aisle, I beamed with pride. In my hand, a bag of okonomiyaki flour, a bag of katsuobushi, bottles of sauces and aonori. Kristen took care of the cabbage and meats. Pancake day. Osaka style. At least that was the plan. We didn’t plan on being authentic. We couldn’t. An American-born Taiwanese and a Vietnamese who haven’t lived in Japan at all are not gonna make an “authentic okonomiyaki” on first try. That’s why we chose premixed okonomiyaki flour instead of grating a nagaimo, bottled mayonnaise instead of whipping up eggs and oil ourselves. But just the thought of making our own okonomiyaki in whatever shape we want and however we want it, not having to go anywhere and regretting over soggy, over-salted mashes called okonomiyaki, generated the we-can-own-this attitude that guaranteed pride no matter what the outcome. It’s a sort of defiance after too many letdowns. Instead of mixing flour with water, we boiled roasted corn and mixed flour with corn tea. Apart from that and the avoidance of green onion (I’d add green onion if I’m making pajeon – green onion pancake, but not okonomiyaki), and impatience – pouring more […]

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Sandwich Shop Goodies 21 – Bánh dầy đậu (Vietnamese mung bean mochi)

Legend said the first ever bánh dầy (pronounced |beng yay|) was a flat thick bun of cooked-and-pounded sticky rice, white and chewy and not recommended for dentures. The prince, taught by a Bodhisattva in his dream, made it to represent the sky, and bánh chưng to represent the earth. I don’t think the sky is chewy, but I really like it when it’s white. I also like banh day with silk sausage a lot. But somewhere along the history of Vietnam, somebody gave banh day a mung bean filling, softened the dough (which means more pounding for the sticky rice), rolled it into the size of a pingpong ball, and coated it with mung bean powder. I can NEVER get enough of this thing. $2 for 3. Found at: Alpha Bakery & Deli (inside Hong Kong City Mall) 11209 Bellaire Blvd # C-02 Houston, TX 77072-2548 (281) 988-5222 Unfortunately, I love them so much that the store-bought version just doesn’t do it for me. With Little Mom’s help, a batch has been made. A recipe is on the way. (UPDATE: the recipe is here.) Continue reading Sandwich Shop Goodies 21 – Bánh dầy đậu (Vietnamese mung bean mochi)

White Kimchi for amateurs and Kimchi Cabbage Salad

A week we waited. Today had the moment of truth arrived. Open the jar we did. Saw some white stuff on the top layer that initially worried us but turned out to be just bits of ground garlic. Off we scraped them anyway, and to check the pickle juice that heavy jar we tilted. Little Mom, who more than anyone I know carrots and bean sprouts and bokchoy pickled has, to me revealed that if the juice is cloudy, the smell “sour in a bad way” and the cabbage disintegrating, into the trash go the kimchi must. But clear is the juice, garlicky and sour in a good way the smell, and crunchy the cabbage. Few moments in life there are when I feel so happy that I get quiet for fear of having mistaken. This is one of those. Followed by a high five and a hug with Kristen. And yes, being someone who hardly ever cooks then succeeding at making kimchi on first try will make you speak like Yoda. On our side the Force is today. Okay, so we tried to follow Dave Chang’s recipe in Lucky Peach #2, but […]

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Little Cafe Du Bois in Kingwood

Little Mom likes Houston because it’s big, I’ve grown to like Berkeley because it’s so tiny I can get around without a car. Little Mom likes our big garden where she can grow 20 trees and who knows how many rose bushes, I’m content with my little dried-plum-container-turned-flower-pot in which I grow my onion. Point is, Little Mom likes big things, and I, well, sometimes like and most of the time don’t mind small things. But as often as she likes big restaurants, Little Mom likes little Cafe Du Bois in Kingwood. It makes me feel better than if I had liked Cafe Du Bois myself. The joy when you pick out a place and your company likes it, the more important the company to you the bigger the joy, and to top that with a company of people with sensitive, rarely pleased tastebuds, it feels like winning the lottery. And here my mom suggested that we should go to Cafe Du Bois again. She likes it for the roasted red snapper on rice with a light cream and tomato basil sauce, for being a mere 10 minutes from our […]

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