(Please Don’t) Melt My Icy Heart

(Please Don’t) Melt My Icy Heart

Perhaps it’s my biased love for the food, but when I first moved to San Francisco, I noticed the surplus of ice cream shops (to my delight). This city is known for fresh foods, made from locally sourced, organic ingredients and sweet treats are no different. The variety of ice cream shops that vary in flavor specialities to techniques is so vast that you’re sure to find something to please everyone. Last year, I sought out to complete this post by the end of summer. With the middle of “summer” (because it doesn’t get truly hot here til at least September) looming near, here’s a quick-and-dirty of my ice cream votes:

WHEN IN SF: MY TOP 5 MUST-TRY PLACES

Bi-Rite Creamery

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I credit my friends Jackie and Row for introducing me to this place before I even moved here. Known for their seasonal favorite flavors like Ricanelas and Balsamic Strawberries, along with popular signature flavors like Honey Lavender (my favorite), their first shop is located by Dolores Park in the Mission and can be spotted by the line wrapping around the block. The shop has since expanded to include soft serves of their most popular flavors, and another mini stand in their market on Divisadero in NoPa (a not-so-hidden gem!).

Humphrey Slocombe

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Best known for fun, interesting flavors with kitschy names (Jesus Juice, anyone?), most notably their Secret Breakfast: a combination of whiskey and corn flakes. The flavors are fun, but not too sweet and overpowering. Here, I had the Oolong tea, which reminded me of a good milk tea, frozen to ice cream consistency. The true taste of the tea stood out well. Their original location is in the Mission, but I love walking to the Ferry Building location and browsing the shops while I enjoy this cool treat.

Mitchell’s

A true San Francisco establishment, Mitchell’s has been around since 1953. You’ve probably unknowingly had some of their ice cream if you’ve had dessert a la mode at a restaurant here, as they sell their ice cream by the gallon as well. On the border of Bernal Heights and the Mission, this place is almost always packed. They operate with a queue system like the deli, where you take a number and patiently wait, drooling while staring at the cases and cases of ice cream. Their menu is HUGE so they really have a flavor for everyone’s taste, from classic flavors like grasshopper pie to Asian favorites like Filipino Ube and Halo Halo, two kind of coconut ice cream (macapuno and buko), and fruit sorbets that fly under the radar but are my favorite.

Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous

Mr. and Mrs. is the quintessential small batch shop. Located in the Dogpatch, the shop is open Wed. – Sun. for about a 6-hour window. The flavors are constantly changing, and if you’re going to make the trek, might as well check their Facebook page to make sure they’re open. When there, you can easily spot it by the line wrapped outside the shop. My most favorite flavor I’ve had there thus far was a seasonal mango that tasted like home.

Smitten

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What screams tech town more than ice cream frozen with liquid nitrogen? Smitten’s menu is small but mighty, with recommended sauce and topping pairings. I loved when they offered flights, so you can try the entire menu, but still good nonetheless. The liquid nitrogen makes the ice cream silky smooth, yet still rich. I love the original Hayes Valley location (literally like a shack), but they’re now on Fillmore and in the Peninsula in a Whole Foods as well. Here’s their version of balsamic strawberries with a handmade waffle cone.

MY FAVORITE ICE CREAM SPOTS

While some of those SF staples do rank as my favorites, these are also some underdog winners:

Marco Polo 

I think my parents may be Marco Polo’s biggest fans. Located in the Sunset, Marco Polo makes Italian gelato in both classic gelato flavors, but also hard-to-find Asian favorites like taro, durian (mom’s fave – hold your nose), lychee, and jackfruit. The texture is unreal — true gelato style that is thick, yet light and airy. The last time my parents visited, they asked us to take them back for another helping before leaving.

San Francisco’s Hometown Creamery

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Perhaps my most frequented ice cream shop at the moment, thanks to my husband (that’s him staring down the flight) who is enamored by their sorbets. The newcomer in this list, SFHC just celebrated their one year anniversary — Happy Birthday! Started by two brothers, one who worked across the street and loved the location in the Inner Sunset, the two set out to do ice cream right. Everything is made from scratch on site in a Japanese-restaurant-turned-ice cream shop. Their menu is a good sized, but not overwhelming, and they also have seasonal flavors. When Prince passed, they created the Purple Rain (first one on the left in the flight) as a tribute — a blueberry cheesecake style ice cream. If you’re a chocolate fan, you have to try their chocolate sorbet, which is essentially how a frozen dark chocolate bar would taste. One of the best parts of SFHC — the handmade cones are free!

Twirl and Dip

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I had a soft serve phase, and this place was a novelty to me more than anything. It reminded me of King Kone in Los Angeles, and was fun to line up in Golden Gate Park to get ice cream. Apart from soft serve, they actually also serve Mitchell’s ice cream on the truck.But my favorite from this truck are their handmade lollies, which are basically fruit sorbets. They’re refreshing on a (rare) hot day, and have real chunks of fruit in them.

NON-ICE CREAM ICE CREAM TREATS

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some of my favorite ice cream treats not found in an ice cream shop:

Blue Bottle Affogato

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Sometimes, a classic can be done so right you wouldn’t dream of having it anywhere else. San Francisco’s famed Blue Bottle offers an affogato at select locations. It’s two shots of espresso, poured over brown butter gelato, presumably from Humphrey Slocombe. The bits of butter that still linger in the gelato make all the difference in the world to cut the bitterness of the espresso.

Souvla Greek Frozen Yogurt

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With its original location in Hayes Valley, Souvla is known for their Greek salads and wraps and this signature dessert: Greek yogurt made into soft serve. You can get it with a few different kinds of toppings: Greek honey, Greek cherry syrup, baklava crumbles or my favorite olive oil and sea salt (pictured here). The tanginess of Greek yogurt is unlike any frozen yogurt you’ve had and will make you opt for this over your Oikos, Chobani or Fage.

Happy National Ice Cream Day!

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Oso Perezoso

Oso Perezoso

There is irony to one of the most sought after restaurants, requiring a month’s advanced booking, being called “Lazy Bear.” Lazy one cannot be to get a reservation here. As a result, my visit to Lazy Bear had been a long time coming. A girlfriend and I were intrigued to try it when we first heard about Lazy Bear while attending a foodie tech panel, where Chef David Barzelay (Get it? His name spells “Lazy Bear.”) was participating. If a restaurant has survived as an underground supper club for years before finally finding a brick and mortar home, I was intrigued. Communal tables and conversing with strangers also was intriguing to me — like Thanksgiving! But with strangers. I liked the idea of dining with others who appreciated good food enough to seek after a ticket to this restaurant AND foot the roughly $150 price tag (pre-booze) for it.

The Process

If fancy dining with strangers is your forté, here’s how it works. Lazy Bear opens up reservations for the following month around the middle of the current month (ie. if you’re looking to book for June, wait til about May 15). Once you’re able to log on and find a suitable day, pick what time you want to dine: the first seating of 6pm or the second seating of 8:15pm (note: allot about 3 hours for your meal). Then, proceed to pay, in full, for your meal. Yep, before you dine. This isn’t a novel concept — Chicago’s Alinea has been doing this ticketing system for quite some time now, and The French Laundry will also be adopting this system once it reopens this fall. In fact, it was one of the primary topics of the foodie tech panel we attended.

I can see the reasoning behind this. On Lazy Bear’s website, they posit, “Think of it like buying a ticket to a concert, baseball game, or movie,” where you’d buy the tickets beforehand. There’s no knowing who will win a game when you buy a ticket — same as Lazy Bear. You won’t know what you’re eating until your auspicious day arrives. If you’re gluten free (by choice) or paleo, forget it. Lazy Bear was very generous to cater to food allergies, which my girlfriend had, but they won’t cater to preferences.

After you buy your ticket, mark every single calendar you have and remind yourself to fast for the meal.

The Meal

We were expecting a dining experience, and that we certainly received. Since we set foot, the entire atmosphere was cozy, as if you were at home. The red and black plaid motif also helped. The Foie Prohibition had recently been lifted in California (hoorah!) so we were excited to see if any foie gras would be making its way onto the menu. Our dinner was the second seating, and we arrived a little early and were escorted upstairs to the “living room” for some refreshments and h’ordeuvres. The living room area reminded me of the Park City cabins we used to rent for my days at Sundance — cozy and woodsy motif. We had some complimentary punch, followed by delicious small bites on this house charcuterie plate, one of which included the anticipated foie. Not pictured below was also the broiled shigoku oyster, some of the best smoky oyster I’ve had (from someone who doesn’t usually eat oysters).

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After about 45 minutes, we were asked to make our way downstairs. The dining room was comprised of two long, whole-piece wood tables, with the open kitchen in the background. I’m told this is Chez Panisse style (I have not been fortunate enough yet to dine there), but I loved how the chef would present each dish before the course, interchanging among all the chefs so that you could see it took a team to create the glorious meal presented to us. Each place setting also had a small notebook with the night’s menu, a golf pencil and space to write notes about each dish. We were encouraged to come up to the prep station to ask questions and check out the dishes being prepared. My girlfriend and I went up at one point during the night, to which I commented to Chef David that I recognized his aprons were from Hedley & Bennett (I recognized their ampersand!), and he mentioned they were custom made for the restaurant, with signature “family tartan.”

Meal details

File May 28, 10 59 39 PMSome of my notes from dinner, mainly my fascination with the ingredients

Dish One: Grilled Seaweed Focaccia

It was hard to not like every dish that we had. The first dish was a grilled seaweed focaccia, made with a rye and buckwheat flour, kombudashi broth and cultured butter. Those who’ve read my posts on ramen know my fascination with kombudashi, so this bread was EVERYTHING. Light, fluffy and the creamy texture of the butter that made me want to lap up every bit of it.

Dish Two: Sweet Pea Custard

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It was the start of spring when we dined at Lazy Bear, so pea season was in full swing. I have dreams about this sweet sweet sweet pea custard. I’m usually not a huge fan of peas, but these were so fresh and the taste so crisp, I have become a convert to pea snaps. The light, yet creamy texture of this custard made it hard not to appreciate and savor.

Dish Three: Broth of Toasted Grains

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My egg dining experience will never be the same. This is the dish I went up to see the chefs preparing. It was served in a bowl, then the chefs came around and poured the broth into the bowls. It was sweet, creamy, yet warm and comforting.

Dish Four: Halibut

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I’m not going to lie. By the time this dish came around, I was getting pretty stuffed. Perhaps the two alcoholic drinks, one of which hocontained a homemade jelly (like boba), were to blame. So like the 7×7 reviewer, it was starting to become a haze — a fluffy, delicious, hollaindaise-covered haze.

Dish Five: Rabbit

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Meat course two, and I’m trying not to think of my friend’s pet bunnies. I’ve had rabbit before, but it isn’t exactly my meat of choice. This was not gamey, however, and the fava bean puree was delicious. The morels were from Mt. Shasta and were so fresh, perfectly paired with the puree.

Dish Six: Lamb

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Meat course three and my girlfriend and I are starting to drift into food coma. I am fascinated to learn that the Romans also had fish sauce, called Garum (scribbled into my notebook)! I am having a hard time finishing this because I’m so full, but it’s tender and savory nonetheless.

Dish Seven: Strawberry Dessert

Photo Apr 23, 11 35 47 PMI really appreciated the Asian infusions to select dishes throughout the night. It wasn’t your typical soy sauce, haphazard “Asian fusion.” This was the real deal. Like this strawberry dessert, where the soymilk, frozen cold, was homemade and infused with genmaicha (toasted brown rice tea – my fave). I also loved hearing that the chefs were inspired to make this dish while eating at another restaurant – made me think of artists and painters.

Dish Eight: Cinnamon Dessert

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Remember when i said I was full? I think there’s a separate stomach for dessert. This was delicate and lightly chewy (as pavlovas are) with the freshest blueberries I’ve ever had. And the fun fact: pavlovas are inspired by belly dancers!

The meal was topped off with a plate of treats (not pictured: devoured too quickly) which included a mint julep macaron and a s’mores ice cream with smoked salt – delicious!!

In all, we had a memorable experience that I’m glad I was able to have with one of my very good foodie friends who appreciated a good meal and was willing to try unconventional dining. After “testing the waters” of this restaurant, I’m excited to try it again for a special occasion and during another season to see what they have in store. While there are favorites from that meal that I would undoubtedly love to savor again (sweet pea custard!), it’s only a truly innovative restaurant that can come up with a meal from the resources they’re presented with each day, and that I can truly appreciate.

Lazy Bear

3416 19th Street (in the Mission)

Pre-paid dining seats: One month in advance, usually the 12-15 of each month (check Twitter).

Worth…Queueing?

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Line for cruffins outside of Mr. Holmes Bakehouse on a Monday morning.

The other day, a girlfriend pointed out that San Franciscans (I guess I’m one now) are made fun of because we like to wait in line for things. In fact, we watched this video while we also were waiting in a line.

Compared to my expansive hometown of Los Angeles, San Francisco occupies a tiny space of roughly 49 miles (hence the 7×7 reference), with an ever-growing (hungry) population, looking to sample the best/newest/hippest things. It’s no wonder there’s a line everywhere you turn. In fact, I skipped out on Outerlands today for this sheer reason — I was too hungry, impatient and unprepared to wait. However, to say that this waiting game is played only in SF is a little unfair. The fact is people will go to great lengths for good food, no matter where you live.  

To that end, I made it a point to spend my 10-day staycation doing just that: experience the good food I’d normally have to wait for. Some of these places I’ve frequented, but others I’ve shied away from because of their lines.

Operation Line Hack: Los Angeles

For my roughly 6-day trip home to Los Angeles, I scheduled in quite a few meals to make the most of my trip, planning to beat the line at places that normally would have 30+ mins wait time.

Din Tai Fung at the Americana

Dessert Xiao Long Bao: red bean and taro filled dumplings
Dessert Xiao Long Bao: red bean and taro filled dumplings

Din Tai Fung is quite possibly one of the handful of restaurants my dad will wait for. I’ve been to a few locations, and like that this one is adjacent to a mall, so I can spend my time in Nordstrom while I wait my turn. I went with my parents on a Monday afternoon, and we were still met with a roughly 20 minute wait — the lunch crowd — but not as bad as the usual 45+ min wait on a weekend. And for those of you in the Bay Area, no fear! The soup dumpling chain is finally making its way to us, after much anticipation. Get ready to queue up this winter, while you browse the luxury collection in (former client) Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose :).

Verdict: Duh.

Eggslut

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Left: The Fairfax, soft scrambled eggs with chives and cheese, with bacon added, on a brioche bun. Right: The Slut, a specialty coddled egg in a jar with whipped potatoes, with a salad instead of a baguette.

Downtown Los Angeles is certainly making a comeback, and nowhere have I seen this more than in the Grand Central Market – hipsters rejoice! I’ve been itching to try Eggslut for some time now, but the last time I was in LA for a three day weekend, the line was too long to wait for, and we ended up at the equally delicious Sticky Rice for Hainam Chicken Rice (my kryptonite). This time, we were determined. A girlfriend and I stopped by on a Tuesday around 11am. Forgetting about the lunch crowd, we encountered a line that seemed to move pretty fast as we caught up over G&B lattes. The best part of the weekday trip to Eggslut was how easy it was to get a seat at the counter. It really didn’t disappoint, but I think you can’t go wrong with eggs, if you like eggs and breakfast as much as I do. I got the Fairfax sandwich, and added in a slice of bacon — best decision ever.

The next day, I found myself in downtown again with another girlfriend visiting from NYC. We walked past Grand Central Market and saw the empty counter and line-less Eggslut. Thought we just had lunch 2 hours before, we couldn’t resist. This time, I tried the Slut, an interesting take on coddled eggs, mixed with whipped potatoes (and copious amounts of butter, I’d assume). It’s usually served with a baguette, but i got it with a salad instead, having devoured the brioche bun the day before. No wait and still tasty. I’m not sure if I’d wait in a 45 min line for Eggslut — Fred 62 has pretty unbelievable breakfast sandwiches and are open 24 hours — but it was worth the trip.

Verdict: Would wait no more than 30 mins.

Salt and Straw

Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons
Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons

Larchmont Village has always been one of my favorite parts of town, and it’s changed so much since I’ve left, including the addition of this Portland-native ice cream shop. I stopped by on a Wednesday night with two friends after an indulgent meal of truffle pasta at Angelini Osteria. But, as everyone well knows, we women have a separate stomach for desserts 😜. The stantions outside of the ice cream shop indicated that long lines were inevitable, but seeing that we arrived 30 mins before closing, we lucked out on the lines. I’ve patiently stood in the Bi Rite Creamery line time and time again, so waiting for ice cream wouldn’t have been a problem for me. No wait was even better and it really did not disappoint. I got one of the shop’s best-selling flavors, the Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons, which was a perfect blend of salty sweet. I especially loved the partnerships the shop did with local schools to create ice cream flavors — very clever, though I was not adventurous enough that day to try.

Verdict: Would wait for ice cream.

Pok Pok Phat Thai

Pad See Eww with Pork
Pad See Eww with Pork

I’ve been highly fascinated with Chef Andy Ricker for quite some time now. Mainly, because his grasp of the Thai language is pretty excellent, as is his understanding of Thai, particularly Northern Thai cuisine. I have yet to make a trip to his first restaurant in Portland, Pok Pok, so was so glad to see he opened this hawker style/street food Phat Thai place in Chinatown (a neighborhood also going the hipster route). I met up with a few friends on a late Thursday night, around 8pm, and we didn’t have to wait in a line. However, the tables outside were in a wind tunnel, so we did sit in the cold to eat (did not feel like Bangkok). I appreciated Ricker’s attempt for the Thai-style feel: the self-seasoning of dishes, throwback Thai-style decor, and drinks that took me back to Thailand. And perhaps it was my fault for not ordering the namesake Phat Thai (I’m usually not a big fan of Phat Thai) and getting my staple Pad See Eww instead, but I was sadly not enamored. Yes, I believe you should season dishes to your taste before you eat them, but they usually do come seasoned to a degree. It also might be that I’ve just returned from Bangkok, where I had my favorite Pad See Eww of all time at Ma Yord Phak. Good stir fried noodles need to have that wok-burnt charred taste, which this was lacking.

Promisingly, I’ve heard positive things about Pok Pok in Portland and look forward to trying that, which has a wider selection of dishes.

Verdict: Drive a little further into Thai Town. Don’t wait in line.

Operation Line Hack: San Francisco

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Cronut? Cruffin? Come again?
Cronut? Cruffin? Come again?

Back home for a few days before I embarked on my next career adventure, and i found myself in the line I mentioned at the beginning of this post. A girlfriend thought it’d be a great idea for us to finally try the highly hyped cruffin at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. We met at 8am, when the shop had just opened, and proceeded to devour croissants and coffee before getting in the cruffin line. Cruffins came out of the oven at 9am, and there is a 2 per person limit. That day’s cruffins were brownie, so the filling was chocolatey. We were about the third group of people in line, happily filled our pastry boxes, then trekked to Grace Cathedral for a good walk to burn off the previous baked good before devouring another.

Mr. Holmes should get credit for their other baked goods as well. The regular croissant I had was on par with the ones I’ve had in Paris. The California Croissant was an interesting take on smoked salmon sushi in a croissant, and the Ferrero Rocher Choux Bomb was pretty….well, bomb.

The cruffin was indeed tasty, and interesting. The flaky croissant layers enveloping a cream filling was more of a dessert than breakfast to me, with its sugar sprinkled exterior.

Verdict: Try it once, but come back for their other pastries.

4505 Burgers & BBQ

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That same day (yes, after eating all those pastries), my girlfriends and I walked down to 4505 Burgers & BBQ. I hadn’t heard of this place before, but have always joked that if I wasn’t Thai, I’d probably be either Korean or Southern — I love BBQ and Southern food! The four of us got a few different items to try and share. The ribs and brisket were tasty, but I must admit, the burger was surprisingly amazing — juicy and prepared at just the right temperature. The sides were also to die for — the baked beans had pieces of pork in it, the coleslaw was creamy and peppery, and (not pictured) there was a fried mac n’ cheese side dish with hot dog bits that was delicious with some Crystal hot sauce sprinkled a top.

Verdict: How long is this wait, exactly?

Brenda’s French Soul Food

Crawfish Beignets
Crawfish Beignets
Pork Belly and Grits
Pork Belly and Grits (Not pictured: Tums for indigestion post-meal)

I couldn’t let my last day of staycation go to waste. After running a few errands about town, I plotted where I wanted to go eat — it was a toss up between Orenchi Beyond, one of my favorite South Bay ramen spots that just opened in the Mission, or this gem, Brenda’s French Soul Food. I’d heard so many great things about this place – including the inevitable weekend line. On a Tuesday afternoon around 1:30pm, there was no line in sight, so after a (heartracing) walk through the Tenderloin, I plopped myself on the counter to try what all this hype was about. I must’ve looked like a lunatic because in addition to the watermelon sweet tea (delicious) that I ordered, I also got an order of crawfish beignets and the pork belly and grits — enough food for two. (No, I didn’t eat it all, but also doggie bagged it for hubby to try 😉

The crawfish beignets were surprisingly delightful — i’ve never had savory beignets, but the bread was still a slightly sweet cornmeal. You really can’t go wrong with grits and a poached egg, so the pork belly dish was amazing, though a bit heavy for me, given all the fatty pork belly. I need to go back and try the gumbo and shrimp and grits.

Verdict: I’d wait patiently for 30-45 mins for this!

I still have about a dozen hyped, line-lingering places to try in San Francisco, but in all, I’d say most of the places I’ve been to have been worth the wait. I’ve waited for food in a few different cities — all with folks who love to eat, so really, it’s not just San Franciscans that “love” waiting in lines. It comes down to how patient you are for the prize 😉

Vampire Tendencies

Vampire Tendencies

Trying to get back into a regular cadence of posting. Being on vacation more than a month ago and the curveballs of life have thrown me off from daily routines (including proper diet, sleep and exercise)….

Eating pig parts has never seemed “exotic” or weird to me, as it’s something I grew up with. My mom often says that the Chinese (and those cultures with Chinese-based population, including Thailand) don’t let food go to waste — every part gets used. So when pig ears became popular at new restaurants, I had to chuckle a little bit. They’ve always been a favorite of mine growing up. Something else I grew up eating lots of was pork blood. Eaten in many different forms by many Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, I grew up with it in soups and some curry dishes. One of my favorite comfort foods, often served at breakfast, is a soup with ground pork, pork blood, vegetables and pig parts, usually kidney, stomach, intestine — you name it.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized a popular Northern style noodle dish (not khao soi) used pork blood as well.

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kanom jeen nam ngiew: a Northern style curry noodle dish, with a tomato-based curry containing pork, pork blood and eaten with pickled cabbage and bean sprouts. Here, a homemade version from Mama V 🙂

You’ll be surprised what other Thai favorite dishes contain blood. I mean, how do you think boat noodle soup is that color? Granted, the versions in the US aren’t really heavy on the blood.

As I began exploring other culture’s foods, I was pleasantly surprised to see other countries didn’t waste their food either. Morcilla, or blood sausage, is also a favorite of mine. Somehow, having the blood mixed in with the sausage provides depth and texture to the meat. The Taiwanese have also perfected the culinary art of transforming pork blood into tasty forms by mixing it with rice cakes. I first was introduced to this form by some Taiwanese friends while we were at Taiwanese hot pot (which should never be confused with Japanese hot pot, but is equally delicious). The pork blood is mixed with glutinous rice cake, masking the iron-y taste of the blood but producing a unique flavor that is delicious in hot pot, but equally as tasty in a street food version.

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Tawainese style pork blood cakes, here in a street food version. It’s sprinkled with peanuts and eaten with a thick peanut sauce.

Perhaps my favorite pork blood product is in (surprise) Korean food. I’d first heard of soon dae from Korean dramas, then had to look it up to see what the big deal was about. Made with pork blood, rice and Korean vermicelli noodles, when done correctly, soon dae should be flavorful and not have an overpowering iron-y taste. It’s often served as its own dish, with other porky friends — heart, lungs, intestines, kidney, liver — a soup, or as a spicy noodle dish (soon dae bokkum).  It’s eaten dipped in a Korean sea salt/pepper mixture, with  Korean spicy sauce, and sometimes a Korean shrimp paste.

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A typical soon dae plate. Counter clockwise from right: Soondae, lungs, heart, stomach

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Left: A Korean fermented shrimp paste, eaten with the meats. Right: Korean Salt and Pepper to also eat with the soondae

I’m used to fermented shrimp paste, as Southeast Asians consume a version called kapi. This version was much more pungent and equally as tasty. If it weren’t for it’s saltiness, I’d tried to consume it plain.

One of my Korean friends, Sun, took me to the best soon dae place I’ve ever been to, of course in Los Angeles. Eighth Street Soondae is a mom n’ pop run shop in an unbeknownst area, off the normal beaten path of Koreatown.  And because I can’t always go for soondae while I’m in LA, I’ve finally found a place in the Bay Area to satisfy my cravings (suggestions always welcome for new soon dae places to try!). Obok is located in the small Korean community area of the South Bay. I’ve realized that soon dae restaurants don’t get many reviews on yelp, so I gave this place with only 5 reviews a shot. Gladly, it did not disappoint. Now, I just have to curb my visits here (to get back into the aforementioned diet/exercise routine) for when I really want some comfort food. 🙂

International Dumpling Party

International Dumpling Party

Spring forward! It’s been quite awhile since I posted. Lots to update on my trip to Thailand/Hong Kong, as well as some other fun things. But first, a party….

My mom once told me that she loved eating wonton soup when she was pregnant with me, so my love for minced meat wrapped in pastry of different forms doesn’t surprise me. Last month (while eating a gyoza), I was marveling about how many different types of dumplings existed in the world. There was the gyoza I was eating (Japanese), xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, which originated from Shanghai, but became popular through a Taiwanese chain called Din Tai Fung. Then, there were mandoo, the Korean version, a bigger more plump dumpling, eaten steamed, pan fried or in a soup during the new year. So many different types of Asian dumplings! And if you think beyond that, there’s ravioli, European dumplings, western dumpling soup — possibilities are endless!IMG_7618Din Tai Fung’s mascot

With that, I decided to throw an international dumpling party a couple of weeks ago. We’d help make a few different types of dumplings and enjoy them all together. I thought I’d kick it off by making Korean mandoo with a beef filling. Dumplings are such an ideal food — they are packed full of goodness in such a small package, but little did I realize the work that goes into them!

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My first attempt at making mandoo. Tip: read instructions carefully!

I won’t place blame on one thing in particular, but the extreme jet lag I was still suffering, along with the full work week did not help with my already lacking skills in following detailed instructions (I hate putting together IKEA furniture for this very reason!). I forgot to par-boil (in Thai, ลวก) the cabbage before combining it into the mixture. You’ll also notice the giant batch here — I tried to double the batch, but did it wrong and added way too much of one thing (onions – oops) and way to little of another for it. I ended up picking out the onions (which were supposed to not be raw, another oops). I also improvised and added in some shitake mushrooms (yum!) and shredded carrots (bad idea – see below). I spent about 3-4 hours putting all the dumplings together, from prep to wrap.

The mandoo turned out decent, but I came away with many lessons from my first attempt:

  • While you may not hold to this rule in your other dishes (like me), it’s important to follow directions on dumplings, especially in measurements!
  • Chop everything in bite sized pieces — that means shredded carrots, too. Having carrot pieces poke through the shell will make the dumplings fall apart easier
  • Don’t overstuff! If you feel like you’re trying to get back for all the times you ate an under-stuffed dumpling, now is not the time. Overstuffing the dumpling causes it to explode when cooking
  • If you want to save the dumplings, best to cook them first, then save them, especially if the skins are fresh and very soft (like these were). Or, dust with some flour to make sure they don’t stick — yet another “why didn’t you read the instructions, Taya?” moment :/

My friends and partners in dumpling-making crime the next day were much more successful. They followed the instructions in their recipes (and were also already-skilled cooks).

Photo Mar 08, 6 18 01 PMDumpling makers, hard at work on shu mai 

Photo Mar 08, 6 51 34 PM Photo Mar 08, 7 26 20 PMShu mai from my very talented homemaker friend.

Photo Mar 08, 6 18 17 PM

Gyoza from my partner-in-crime and co-host, Rose

In total, we had 4 different kind of dumplings: my mandoo (Korea), two different styles of shumai (Hong Kong), a gyoza (Japan).  We also had some Taiwanese sticky rice, egg noodles and roast duck to round out our feast.

I almost feel like Sandra Lee (gah!) or Ina Garten for saying this, but throwing a dumpling party doesn’t have to be as time consuming as I made it. The fun was in making the dumplings and eating it together. 😊

Noodlin’ Around (Part 2): Alkaline

Noodlin’ Around (Part 2): Alkaline

This one’s a little long to make up for the fact that I’ve been delinquent about keeping my New Year’s resolution of at least one post a week. It’s been a bit hectic lately, but still determined to keep on. Lately, it seems the ramen craze has really taken off, like that of cupcakes and macarons. I’ve been on that bandwagon for quite some time, and after almost a decade of eating ramen in all varieties (not counting the top ramen of my youth), I get picky.

While my discovery of ramen beyond the packaged kind began in Los Angeles, I’ve found that there’s so many more ramen shops up in the Bay Area, at least when I first moved here. After eating hundreds of bowls of ramen, I’ve concluded what makes me appreciate this noodle soup the most.

1. Broth

Like pasta sauces, ramen broth and flavors vary by region. Here are some of the basic flavors:

  • Shio (Salt): A clear broth

IMG_7445Shio clam ramen made by yours truly

  • Shoyu (Soy sauce)
  • Tonkotsu (pork bone broth) – not to be confused with tonkatsu, which is fried pork cutlets

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Orenchi ramen’s signature orenchi ramen, a tonkotsu broth

  • Miso (soybean paste)

Tonkotsu is my running favorite right now for broths, with shio a second runner up given my current obsession with shio clam ramen. The flavors that comprise a tonkotsu broth done right really hearken what the Japanese call umami – the fifth taste. This flavor can be found in the dashi broth base of Japanese soups, and also more commonly in foods like Parmesan and cured meats.

2. Noodles

In Italian pastas, al dente is the term used to describe noodles that are firm, but not hard — the perfect texture for one to bite into the noodle and be able to taste the sauce along with it harmoniously. LIkewise, in ramen, a noodle must also have this al dente texture. As I’ve learned from David Chang on The Mind of a Chef, alkaline is what makes a good noodle hold itself together in a brothy soup. The amount of alkaline in noodles such as ramen and egg noodles prevents it from crumbling, getting soggy, and absorbing all the liquids, thus producing that bite pasta/noodle lovers so seek in the perfect noodle.

3. Egg (Ajitsuke Tamago)

IMG_7687The perfect ramen egg in Orenchi’s ramen: flavorful, just right yolk

I saved this one for last, because it’s my favorite part of the ramen. There’s a reason that Chef Jiro Ono’s sushi apprentices must learn how to make the perfect tamagoyaki before they can move on to anything else. I love eggs – they are a fascinating food. When done right, you can come up with a myriad of creations, or simply poach and sprinkle some sea salt or black pepper and Maggi for a simple breakfast.

But I digress. To me, a perfect ajitsuke tamago is the test of good ramen and its authenticity in the time they took into creating the egg that goes perfectly with your ramen. It’s ramen perfection. The egg that comes with ramen should be soft boiled — a yolk that runs when you pierce your spoon/chopstick/teeth into it (choose your weapon). It is full of flavor because it has been marinated overnight, just like the broth.

Modern Ramen

There are some modern variations to an already more “modern” Japanese food that are delicious, and some I’m not so much a fan. Karaage (fried chicken) has always been an interesting and hearty addition, but big changes on one of my classics is usually a no-no in my book.

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Ramen Dojo: Love corn and butter in my ramen. Surprised by the saffron, and quail egg seems like a (high cholesterol) fancy cop out for soft-boiled marinated chicken egg. Also confused by lettuce garnish.

And sometimes, novel takes on a classic just are done right and you are hooked:

IMG_4867Yakitori Kokko’s spicy black sesame ramen: love at first bite. A surprisingly good combo of flavors and sauce. And notice the egg is still runny, although poached here.

What’s your favorite part of a bowl of ramen?

EAT:

Orenchi Ramen: 3540 Homestead Road in Santa Clara. Thanks to yelp, be prepared for the longest line of ramen in the South Bay of NorCal.

Ramen Izakaya Kagura (not pictured): 279 Baldwin Ave. in San Mateo. This little gem opened up literally down the street from my office. They still need to work out some kinks, but my favorite thing here is not their signature hakata ramen, but their spicy shio clam ramen that reminds me of Tom Yum noodles.

Himawari (not pictured): 202 2nd Ave. in San Mateo. Fun fact: Himawari means “sunflower.” Before Ramen Izakaya Kagura, this was my go-to ramen joint by my office, and it still sometimes is. The Tantan mien is a favorite in my office, but I actually really like the agedashi tofu and their fried rice with pickled vegetables and chasu pork.

Ramen Dojo: 805 S. B St in San Mateo. Can you sense we really like to eat ramen out here in San Mateo? This is another “wait-in-line-cuz-it’s-so-popular” place. Quail egg in my ramen weirded me out, but broth and noodles passed.

Parts Unknown

Parts Unknown

Recently, my husband and I have been on a Middle Eastern food kick. I have always loved Persian food, but have recently discovered Afghan and Pakistani food and noticed many subtle resemblances. I realized that there was much more I wanted to, and really, felt obligated to learn about the culture, history of this region to really understand and appreciate this glorious feast.

I know a lot about Asian foods — the nuances of Southeast Asian cuisine, influences by East Asian foods and how they are related. But I have so much more to learn about the Middle Eastern culture, traditions and food.  I’m really excited about this journey, which I know will be a lengthy process, but i’m also excited about the  hands-on “research” I’ll be doing. This is  what I really was interested in doing when I started this blog — to encourage myself to stay curious (and yes, stay hungry) and to explore these parts that are unknown to me.

So, rather than a traditional restaurant review, I leave you with some of the dishes that piqued my curiosity from a little gem we discovered in the South Bay of Northern California 🙂

20140106-214349.jpgChicken Biryana. Fluffy, flavorful basmatic rice topped with well-seasoned chicken breast pieces. The ultimate test of a chicken dish is how well you can season and bring flavor to white meat, and this dish wins it.

20140106-214438.jpgBeef Kebab Fatoush Salad. One of my favorite Middle Eastern dishes is a Persian grilled meat, koobideh, which is very similar to this. It’s a ground, well-seasoned meat that’s skewered and served atop rice or salad.

Eat: Gulzaar Halaal, 1880 W. San Carlos St. in San Jose

Tips: They’re closed Sundays. Also, if you’re going for dinner, best to call first and make sure they’re still open as they close once they run out of food.