One Hot Pot & Grill: countryside taste for city price

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These days I keep craving noodle soups. There’s just no end to it. Plus, it rained this morning. If I were in Houston, I would go downtown to get this: a crab noodle hotpot (lẩu riêu cua đồng). The crabs are tiny freshwater paddy crabs, pounded into a paste and strained to make the broth. Throw in some crab meat and fried tofu, some light seasoning, and you get a bubbling soup to dunk your noodles and vegetables. The size of the hotpot in this shop is enough for two, you have to pay a few dollars extra for some chrysanthemum greens (cải cúc or tần ô) and some thin rice vermicelli (they absorb the broth better than the flat kind), but the package doesn’t taste complete without them. What does this hotpot taste like? Imagine yourself in a remote area on a mildly hot day (not blazing though), sitting on a low chair under the shade, looking out to some green rice paddy in Can Tho, a canal in Giethoorn, or some other kind of open field with flowing water. You’re hungry but not famished, it’s hot enough that you just want […]

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Tycoon Thai, and memories of Mama Lan’s

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Living in the Westbrae area of Berkeley, I used to drive past Mama Lan’s daily. In its heyday Mama Lan’s was a great example of a neighborhood cafe – terrific dishes that satisfied with affordable prices. Mama Lan passed away before 2000 and her son took over the shop, keeping it open for a few years after. During Mama Lan’s time in the kitchen, the Vietnamese/Thai menu skewed French in an elegant way – she had a light touch with the hot peppers and garlic and her dishes often had a sweeter, more herbaceous profile. Seafood (crab!) was her specialty, coupled with rich chicken or pork – based broths, rich in ginger, cilantro, lemongrass, lime and coconut milk. A version of the Thai coconut milk and chicken broth soup with mushrooms and vermicelli noodles, and all the aforementioned seasoning (tom kha) was served piping hot and super thick from the noodles. I LOVED that soup. Green papaya salad containing both shrimp and julienned pork was tangy with lime, not hot, and umami- rich from the pork- it was addictive. After Mama Lan died, the dishes were substantially changed: the tom kha mainly tasted of evaporated milk […]

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Kaze: the place to go when you crave ramen in Berkeley

Tonkotsu ramen with a side of gyoza. ($10.99)

Kaze, Berkeley: tonkotsu ramen with a side of gyoza. ($10.99) This little shop opens sometime last winter, it looked unassuming then, but now it is packed every time I come, so I think it’s safe to assume that it’s packed almost everyday if not always. People on the East Bay think of The Ramen Shop when they think of ramen, simply because until now there has been no other shop that really specializes in ramen. There’s ramen at sushi places, izakaya places, and some random places that should have nothing to do with ramen. Hence, the consistently ridiculous 2-plus-hour wait at The Ramen Shop. Now, let’s do a check-and-compare list between Kaze and The Ramen Shop (TRS): […]

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Chuseok Meal: 칼국수 (Kalguksu)

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Chuseok (추석) is a major holiday in South Korea; this year the holiday fell on September 8th. Chuseok celebrates the harvest and is referred to as “Korean Thanksgiving” and is similar to other harvest festivals that follow the lunar calendar, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节, zhongqie jie). It is seen as a time to spend with family and so people usually leave the major cities (such as Seoul) to go back to their hometowns to spend time with their families. This Chuseok, I had the pleasure of spending time with my partner’s family. We ended up eating out on Chuseok day itself and to an amazing restaurant, both in taste and in the amount of food! The restaurant is large and spacious. The name is 황도 바지락 칼국수 (Huangdo pajirak kalguksu…I’m not sure if this is the right romanization, so please correct me if I’m wrong…I’m still terrible at translating Korean sounds ㅠㅠ). […]

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Flavor Japan – Noodles

Unagi rice with cold soba (680 yen) at some noodle shop on Waseda Dori, Chiyoda.

Unagi rice with cold soba (680 yen) at some noodle shop on Waseda Dori, Chiyoda. When I was slurping ramen with Mai at The Ramen Shop, I vowed to drown myself in ramen when I get to Japan. When I’m in Japan, I get so overwhelmed that I resign to konbini foods. It is too easy to find a soba, udon or ramen joint in Tokyo, the former two often together. Every 20 meter is likely to pack a few shops, and any shop we see likely serves superior fares to the places we’ve tried in the States. June air in Tokyo is as heavy as the steam from the bowl, but it never stops our appetite. One minor setback: the order machine. It’s simple enough: you decide what you want, insert the money, push a few buttons (or one, if you don’t want to add anything to your order). The problem is reading the all-Japanese labels. I always feel like an idiot when I stare it down for minutes when everyone just punches away. Granted I’ve never taken less than 2 minutes with a candy vending machine in the States […]

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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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One shot: Ramen Underground ramen

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This ramen shop in the Financial district looks cute. Black walls with Japanese writings, a clock with numbers spelled out in hiragana, and a t-shirt that (I assume) sells for 3000 yen (~30 USD). The owners seem to try keeping it as hole-in-the-wall as possible (to make it appear authentic?). Of course, despite what the name might suggest, it’s not actually underground, nor do you need any special thing to get in. All basic ramens are $8 with $1 toppings. The basic ramen contains your choice of broth, pork (chashu), scallion and mushroom. My miso ramen with extra kakuni (braised pork belly). The mushroom is raw (not only is that just wrong – think about cold mushroom in a luke warm broth! bleh!, enoki would have made a MUCH better ramen companion than portobello T_T). There’s ONE puny slice of chashu. The broth is fine but it’s missing something… (more pork, probably!!!) At least the noodle is chewy. […]

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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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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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