one shot: Clay pot rice and beef


This is Vietnamese clay pot rice at Saigon Express. The pot comes sizzling hot, and after 5-10 minutes, we have a nice rice crust at the bottom, while the top is flavored with the sauce from the meat and vegetable. I wish there were more rice just because the sauce is so good, but I already get quite full with this portion every time. The closest resemblance I can think of is the Korean dolsot bibimbap. In this Vietnamese case, there’s no kimchi, no gochujang, you don’t have to add anything to the already well seasoned toppings. I like this completeness of the rice bowl, as they say about the donburi (watch this Shokugeki no Soma episode for the donburi reference – ignore the sexy stuff, though, just focus on the food). It’s amazing how much a restaurant can change over the years, or how much dining with a companion can change your perception of the restaurant (did they even have this clay pot rice back then?). I was not so impressed before. This time, it’s a change for the *much* better. Continue reading one shot: Clay pot rice and beef

Why I Love Fried Rice


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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Eating in Seoul: Spotlighting 4 Hongdae Restaurants


Since Hongdae is where I stayed in Seoul, this is where I had most of my meals. In this post I’ll spotlight 4 restaurants that stood out to me mostly because of the dishes that I had there. These include: Korean-style onigiri (rice balls), kimchi mandu (dumplings), vegetable and meat pancake, and gamjatang (potato soup) without the gamja (potato). #1 Kong’s Riceball It was my second day in Seoul and I was still very overwhelmed with being in South Korea. I had a pretty big lunch at the museum cafe in the War Memorial of Korea and on my way back to my hostel, I wanted dinner but just a small dinner. I remembered passing by this restaurant the day before when my friend was showing me around the area and figured today will be the perfect day to try it! Continue reading Eating in Seoul: Spotlighting 4 Hongdae Restaurants

Beyond Food Porn: Chirashi at Musashi


Mai has written quite favorably about Musashi in a past post but I have to write about a particular dish that has been about the best thing I’ve eaten in a restaurant lately.   Continue reading Beyond Food Porn: Chirashi at Musashi

Mai’s Restaurant – 35 years and counting


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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Burma Superstar and a review of my review style


It was 1 AM Wednesday night when I saw the text message from Chris, “hey Mai, do you expect you’ll have another review ready by tomorrow?” “Yeah I think so.” “Oh good. When can you have it in? It’ll have to be sort of early if we want to get it in Friday’s paper.” Chris is the editor of Eating Berkeley, and all of my publications with them so far are online, so it’d be pretty exciting to see my name in print. The problem: it was 1 AM and I had to finish a few scripts for my research the next day. The good thing: I just had dinner at Burma Superstar (the Oakland one) earlier that evening, followed by a LOT of puer, so my eyes were opening as wide as the Pacific Ocean and ready for no sleep. I started typing away about Burma Superstar. This morning I picked up a copy of the Daily Cal at the bus stop. It IS good to see my piece in print, although it’s on a B&W page and I don’t feel like they chose the best […]

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Summer Festival in Concord

Clockwise from top left: Master Hideko Metaxas (in blue) and two assistants arranging an example of Rikka Shofutai; a free-style arrangement in honor of the victims and the philanthropists in the Tohoku Tsunami 2011; an Ikenobo sensei arranging a free-style display; Shoka (left) versus Rikka (right) Learn something new everyday. At the Japanese American Summer Festival in Concord this year, I absorbed an hour of Ikenobo ikebana art, which is really, really, really rudimentary, but at least now I know that the Rikka style involves nine elements, and the Shoka style three elements (heaven, earth and man). That day was also the first I’ve heard of the “Three Friends of Winter” sho chiku bai (pine, bamboo and plum), and this astonished me because 1. I’d never encountered any old Chinese things that my mom hasn’t told me about, and 2. it involves plum blossom, which is my name. There’s no way I wouldn’t know that my name is part of a trio that appears in Asian arts and folklores at lunar new year time. My memories must have been failing. 🙁 Anyhow, Nancy made a beautiful onigiri box […]

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Com tam at a tiny joint in Oakland Chinatown

A guy waved a bottle in front of me. “Nesquik?”, he asked. I shook my head no thanks. Five seconds after he walked away, I realized my stupidity. I missed a free bottle of Nesquik! I don’t remember drinking Nesquik for the past 15 years, or ever, but I know what it tastes like, and I like chocolate. Why did I say no?! Because I live in Berkeley. One thing Berkeley trains you very well for is saying no. Each time you walk pass a homeless man or woman, whether he or she asks for spare change or curses you off or shouts “nice dress”, you silently say no. Each time an activist steps up to you and says “Hi how’s it going? Would you have a minute to talk about …?” and you can barely tell what it’s about because he or she squeezes those two sentences in the hundredth of a second you lift your foot, you say no, usually with a smile because you feel bad. So you prepare this automatic respond when a stranger sticks something under your nose: No thank you. And you end up missing the free Nesquik. But Berkeley also […]

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One Bite: Tteok bokki at Crunch

Thick sweet & spicy sauce. Soft chewy sticks of sticky rice. This is one heckuva tteok bokki. I can see myself going here for a tteok bokki takeout on movie weekends, and it’s only $7. Address: Crunch 2144 Center St Berkeley, CA 94704 (Downtown Berkeley) (510) 704-1101 This place used to be a sushi joint. I ate there once. I’m glad it has changed into something much better. Also, Crunch gave me a humongous plate of kimchi pork fried rice that was just three spoons above my limit and not enough to take home. What should I do? Cut down or increase my limit?

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