Dimsum lunch at Koi Palace


There are a few unexpected things for me about Koi Palace. I didn’t expect it to be in the middle of PetSmart, Ross, 24 Hour Fitness, Outback, and CVS. Nor could I fathom why it was completely full at noon time on a Wednesday. People in Daly City don’t have to work on weekdays? What about schools? (plenty of school-age glanced at me mid-bites when I tried to spy the food on their table…) Inexplicable. Perhaps the food here is really so good that work is meaningless without it? Among the things we got, a few really gave us that instant burst of satisfaction like when you pop a bubble-wrap bubble and made me forget work for a second. Such as the grilled chive and shrimp dumplings. Each ball plops into your mouth and fills the void so perfectly, you sink into a plump piece of shrimp every time you move your jaw. It takes some time to chew, and you kind of wish it would last even longer. The espresso coffee ribs are another. You can definitely taste the coffee in that succulent, rich piece of meat. This is […]

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Recipe: Stir-fried bitter melon and egg (kho qua xao trung)


Bitter melon is another thing that you either love or hate. Among my friends and relatives who have tried bitter melon, 42 percent(*) find it too bitter to try a second time. My mom is a special case. She used to shun it, then little me got a bad fever and had to eat it to help lowering my temperature (bitter melon has medicinal effects), mom was so worried that I wouldn’t eat it (like every toddler, I didn’t like food), but I chowed it down at first try, mom got curious, tried and started liking it too. That’s the story she told me, but I think she started liking it because she started making it, and everything she makes tastes great. Even in the Bay Area, bitter melon is somewhat rare and expensive. The only restaurant I know of that has bitter melon is China Village on Solano, and a plate costs 10.95 with 70% egg and 30% bitter melon. Sushi California used to have it as an Okinawan specialty but had to cut it due to low demand. 🙁 […]

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Food and film: Rinco’s Restaurant


This movie is Slow Food personified. It is about food that’s cooked in a slow way (literally), and the movie itself is at a pace that could not be slower. Since childhood, the protagonist has always dreamed to make a restaurant. With the help of a family friend, she succeeded in converting her mother’s back shed into one, where she only serves one table per day, and the customer leaves it up to her to decide the courses. Her restaurant is named Restaurant Snail. As always the case with Japanese movies, there are several scenes that can easily be a painting. The cast doesn’t go the cutesy or glamorous way; in fact, they don’t make themselves beautiful, but the beauty comes from the realistic portrayal of people in their normal lives. The food is quite diverse, it’s not only Japanese food. I was surprised that Rinko can find some of the ingredients that she uses, considering that the setting of her town seems to be rural Japan. I mean, would we be able to find lamb chops and pomegranates in a local grocery store in Smallville, Kansas? Hmm… Continue reading Food and film: Rinco’s Restaurant

One Shot: Flower Bibimbap (꽃비빔밥)


It is finally spring in South Korea and the weather is beautiful – not too chilly and not too hot, just perfectly warm the way I like it. In other words, the weather is like Berkeley weather! After a long and cold winter, I definitely feel like I just awoke from hibernation. So when I was watching TV with my partner’s family and we saw a spotlight on 꽃비빔밥 (flower bibimbap), my eyes lit up. On TV was a beautiful bowlful of flowers that looked so beautiful! Right away I turned to my partner and asked him to go together. So off we headed to the city of Asan to the Asan Botanical Garden (아산 세계 꼭식물관), a 40 minute drive from my partner’s home in Pyeongtaek. Turns out the restaurant that was featured is part of a botanical garden, so we enjoyed the beautiful display of flowers on the way to our final destination: FOOD. Continue reading One Shot: Flower Bibimbap (꽃비빔밥)

Tycoon Thai, and memories of Mama Lan’s


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

63 Buffet Pavilion (63뷔페 파빌리온)


The 63 Building (63빌딩) is an iconic landmark in Seoul and it is situated in Yeouido. A few months ago, when I first arrived to Seoul, I was lucky enough to have my partner treat me out to their buffet! The restaurant is located in the ground floor of the building and is simply called the Buffet Pavilion. The restaurant definitely feels like luxury and we were seated right upon opening in a raised veranda. The view above us was gorgeous! Continue reading 63 Buffet Pavilion (63뷔페 파빌리온)

one shot: steamed rolls at Banh Cuon Thien Thanh


My love for these will never cease. I’ve written way too much about banh cuon (Vietnamese steamed rice rolls) over the years, and if we’re friends, it’s highly probable that I have made or will make you try them the first chance I get. How much you like them kinda determines how much I like you. Bánh Cuốn Thiên Thanh focuses on the northern-style(*) bánh cuốn Thanh Trì, where small, flat steamed squares (banh uot) are served with cha lua (silk sausage) and/or shrimp flakes on the side. They also serve 2 other types: rolls with pork and mushroom – banh cuon thit (pictured above), and rolls with grilled pork – banh cuon thit nuong. The owner told my mom that the younger kids (pointing at me) often liked the third type the most. I always stick to the second. Continue reading one shot: steamed rolls at Banh Cuon Thien Thanh

Sai the Izakaya


Izakayas in the Bay Area mostly target customers with a lot of money to spare (looking right at you, Ippuku!). Although there are merits to that (it costs to support local business and ethical ways of raising animals), a meal at these places is just not the same as sitting in a small neighborhood izakaya, talking to the chef who’s cooking 5 feet away from you, smelling the smoke from both the food and the tobacco of the nearby customer (who you may know by name), and inhaling your food, which comes in big bowls, to your heart’s content. I love neighborhood izakayas in Tokyo. Sai is one of them. This place jumps to mind when I think of izakayas nowadays. One big reason is that when I had a homestay in Japan, my host family took me there one night and it was a perfect family experience. If I had discovered the place myself (which I’m not sure is possible), I wouldn’t know what to order (the menu is 90% kanji @_@), I wouldn’t have had two parental figures to share the meal with (traveling alone makes you want […]

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Stuffed chicken at Yum’s Bistro

While turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole (which I haven’t had in years and REALLY want some) make up the traditional Thanksgiving feast, I will keep up the tradition of posting something different for Thanksgiving (like duck and avocado pie). Not necessarily better, just something different, because no Thanksgiving dinner is the same, right? 🙂 So here it is: the fried chicken stuffed with fried sweet rice at Yum’s Bistro in Fremont. Known on the menu as “crispy chicken with flavored sweet rice”. The sweet rice (sticky rice) with diced bits of Chinese sausage, chicken, shrimp and mushroom are made into fried rice the normal way, then stuffed into the chicken skin – a fully intact continuous chicken skin from head to leg – which is then fried or broiled. How they skin the chicken, I’m not too sure, this dish may only be feasible to make at home if you’re a chef… but it looks interesting, and it tastes GREAT. Continue reading Stuffed chicken at Yum’s Bistro