Noodle soup: Banh canh Que Anh & Que Em

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Quite possibly the cheesiest name of a store I’ve ever seen: Bánh Canh Quê Anh & Quê Em – “bánh canh [from] your hometown and my hometown” (it doesn’t sound cheesy translated into English, but trust me, it’s like Twilight’s Edward Cullen in noodle soup form). Which is actually fitting, since banh canh is commoner’s grub, not a bourgeois lunch. You won’t find a classy madame dressing up just to go out for banh canh. The poor thing will never be elevated to the level of pho. I love it. I grew up eating it before I was born (literally). Backstory can be told in person, but despite eating so many bowls, I never knew that there was so many types of banh canh. Que Anh & Que Em offered 30 types (see menu at the bottom), 14 of which are no more traditional than the Spider Roll, but the other 16 are attached to geographical regions in Vietnam, and thus, in this case, more meritable. Banh canh is a thick, chewy, slippery rice noodle (with tapioca starch). It’s similar enough to udon in appearance and texture (as the shop aptly translates it [...]

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one shot: homemade hu tiu

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From Mom: hủ tíu bột lọc. Hu tiu is a common type of rice noodle in Southern Vietnam, often served in noodle-soup form, the noodle soup dish is of course also called “hu tiu“. The usual hu tiu noodle is characterized by its thin shape and chewy texture. Vietnamese love chewy noodles just as much if not more than any other country, so people began using various methods to make hu tiu (*) chewier (the soaking time before grinding, the grinding, washing the rice flour, the mixing ratio with water and other types of starch, the thickness to spread the mixture into a film, the temperature and time to steam it). Bánh bột lọc(**), a type of savory snack, is made with tapioca starch (cassava flour), so I guess hủ tíu bột lọc also contains tapioca starch. I spent an hour googling but expectedly found little and contradicting information about hu tiu bot loc – nobody in the business would reveal their secret. What I found online is hu tiu bot loc originated from Cần Thơ, and what I found in my bowl are fat (and flat) strings, whose color [...]

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Comfort food at the Taiwan Restaurant

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Partly because of my busy schedule, partly because of the lack of good Vietnamese food in Berkeley, I haven’t had Vietnamese food for months. I miss it, of course. Luckily, the neighboring cuisines share so much similarities that my “comfort food” category has steadily expanded to enclose most of East Asia. If for some reason America and I don’t get along, I think I can happily merge into Taiwan and Japan (not sure about Korea – their food is too spicy…). So when I crave comfort food, if it’s Sunday or Monday and Musashi is closed, I go down University Avenue to the Taiwan Restaurant. It’s the purple building next to Anh Hong, and it’s another case of generic-names-hence-don’t-go-there type of restaurant. However, two Taiwanese told me that it was “good enough” – the owner of Asha Tea House across the street, and Kristen. As with any Asian eating establishment, you have to know what to get at the Taiwan Restaurant, otherwise you end up with oily overload. I haven’t strayed once out of the usuals. It’s comfort food, there’s no need to change it. In fact, [...]

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Why I Love Fried Rice

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Yangzhou fried rice, kimchi fried rice, chicken and salt cod fried rice, whatever-that’s-in-your-refrigerator fried rice…I love it all. Fried rice is the ultimate comfort food – it’s filling, healthy-ish (if you put in a lot of vegetables), and just hits the spot every time. Perhaps the best thing about fried rice is how easy it is to make at home! As someone who is still really learning how to cook, trying out a new recipe usually means that I’ll be spending anywhere from 30min – 2 hours in the kitchen (actually sometimes it takes me 30min just to prep everything because of my lack of knife skills). So for me, when I want a quick meal because I need to get back to reading or studying, or just because I don’t feel like devoting that much time to cooking, my go-to is always making fried rice. It usually takes me 15-20 minutes to cook fried rice at the most and while it probably is not the healthiest meal to eat every day, I usually end up making some kind of stir fry or fried rice at least 3-4 times a week because of how easy it is. Also, since [...]

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one shot: Salmon ramen at The Ramen Shop

Hokkaido butter corn miso ramen with smoked king salmon, pork belly, soy-marinated egg, snap peas, chrysanthemum greens, and shiitake.

Hokkaido butter corn miso ramen with smoked king salmon, pork belly, soy-marinated egg, snap peas, chrysanthemum greens, and shiitake. ($16) Okay so, The Ramen Shop is not a place I would go alone. I think eating there alone would be particularly wonderful because ramen is the type of food to be eaten alone, and although the lighting might be too low for reading, it’s hard to read while slurping noodles anyway. BUT, the wait is just too horrible. This place has been hyped up since its opening in January, and it stays hyped. No sensical lone diner should wait an hour for a bowl of ramen. It’s good ramen, though. I didn’t expect too much, and I was satisfied. [...]

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Breakfast at Jodie’s

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Friday. Nancy messaged Kristen and me that we should meet up early the next morning for breakfast at Jodie’s. We love breakfast. “How early, though?”, I asked. – I could pick you all up… Mai at 7:45, Kristen at 7:50 ish… – I have to say, this is insanely early, maybe I would just skip sleeping… – Well, it is a TINY place next to a salon, I believe. It only seats eight at a time. The shop opens at 8 AM… There is the possibility of going later – 10 ish – but we would have to wait for “turnover” and wouldn’t be sitting with each other… – … – They have a table outside… it might be cold… They said they can’t predict if there will be only a few people or a lot… so we could always go a little later, but then we might have to wait for the table, but at least when that happens, we could still all sit together… Shall we try for 8:30 then? A bit of a compromise – 7:45 or 8:30 are the same to me, so let’s do 7:45. Now, I’m an astronomer and a [...]

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Sushi California – great sushi, even greater korokke

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For a while I knew nothing about Japanese food, then within less than one year, I’ve found three places in Berkeley to satisfy my Japanese cravings. To get yakitori, guaranteed quality and to impress friends, I go to Ippuku. For a homey meal at affordable price and convenient distance, I swing by Musashi. For sushi and croquette, Sushi California tops the list. Its name is generic and its location rather hidden, had Kristen not shared a Berkeleyside review on my Facebook wall some time ago, I would never have noticed Sushi California, much less tried (I tend to stay away from generic names because they often imply generic food). Then Kristen totally forgot about the place. One day I asked her “wanna try Sushi California?” – What’s that? – The place you posted on my wall… – … The biggest reason that I remembered Sushi California before going there was this line in Anna Mindess’ review: “Chef Arakaki admits that he used to offer other Okinawan classics like goya champura (sautéed bitter melon) but they did not sell well.” I love bitter melon, and even more than [...]

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Mai’s Restaurant – 35 years and counting

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My junior year of high school was my first year ever in America, and I was still learning the rope of living here, high school dance among other things. A friend invited me to Homecoming. For the pre-dance dinner, he talked about going to a Vietnamese restaurant named Mai in Houston. I didn’t know exactly where it was or what it was (this was 2002, Google Maps and Yelp didn’t exist), but I thought that was considerate of him. In the end, we went to a steakhouse instead, I thought it was because Mai was a bit too far away, and I was left wondering what Mai was like. A few years later, my host parents mentioned Mai again in passing conversation, and suggested we went together sometime. The place, dated back to 1978, is known as the very first Vietnamese restaurant in Houston, and pretty much every Houstonian knows at least its name. My parents and I were interested, but again, days passed and we forgot. One day in early 2010, news came that the restaurant had been destroyed by a fire. We sighed, somewhat regretful. Luckily, it reopened. I forget how and when we [...]

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one shot: Bun Rieu at Ba Le Sandwich

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Good ol’ tomato and crab noodle soup from Southern Vietnam: bún riêu (pronounced |boon rhee-oo|). The broth looks alarmingly spicy but this soup is actually never spicy. The orange red color comes from tomato and annatto seeds, and if you’re lucky, crab roe (if fresh crabs are used for the soup). The sweetness of the broth comes from freshwater paddy crabs, where the whole crab (meat and shell) is ground to a paste and strained for the juice. It’s a delicate, distinctive sweetness that can’t be reproduced with dashi no moto, meat bones or mushroom. To deepen the flavor, the cook adds some mắm ruốc, fermented krill paste, to the broth. Traditionally, bun rieu has crab meat and tofu for the protein part, but bun rieu at Ba Le Sandwich is ladened with cha lua, pork and shrimp. [...]

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Hai Ky Mi Gia – more noodle soups

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Like many small businesses in the so-called “Little Saigon”s throughout the states, Hai Ky Mi Gia is operated by Chinese immigrants. Originally, Hai Ky Mi Gia is a popular noodle soup joint in District 5, Saigon – the Chinatown of Saigon – before 1975, and it remains popular today. When Saigon fell, the Chinese immigrants in Vietnam left the country with the Vietnamese and became associated with Vietnamese political refugees in foreign lands such as America. These Chinese Vietnamese immigrants continue speaking both languages, opening businesses under the established names(*) in Saigon and catering to the homesick Chinese Vietnamese and Vietnamese alike. Whether this Hai Ky Mi Gia is in any way related to the Hai Ky Mi Gia in District 5 or other Hai Ky Mi Gia’s scattering across the US, its patronage doesn’t seem to care either way. To the Chinese Vietnamese and Vietnamese immigrants, it’s a name they’re familiar with, so they feel at home. To the rest of the patronage… well, I can’t speak from their point of view, but I guess the low price and the popularity raved by Yelp, InsideScoop SF, Continue reading Hai Ky Mi Gia – more noodle soups

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