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.

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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. 😊

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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.

Home

Home

Last weekend, I went home. Until  recently, I still felt very much a part of Los Angeles. I was beginning to adjust to this Bay Area life, only to be rocked by all the goodness that reminded me of the city I’ve known as home for 95 percent of my life.

Going back to my childhood house not only evokes nostalgia, it’s also very comforting (and frustrating – ha!).  That aside, each time I am back in LA, I have a checklist of things I want to do, see, eat — no meal goes wasted is my motto.

The Los Angeles food scene is as ever-evolving as the Bay Area’s. One thing I’ve learned to appreciate in my expansive city is the reliability in the unreliable. Such is the case for traffic (unlike what’s said in Clueless, it does not take 15 mins to get anywhere) and lines at restaurants. Timing is everything. I still have a hard time getting used to the incredibly packed lines at spots in the Bay Area.

Last weekend was very eat-ventful 😉 :

Friday:

One of the biggest phenomenons in Los Angeles are the food trucks. They started becoming popular about 4 years ago, when I worked in the Miracle Mile area and Roy Choi was just starting the now-infamous Kogi Trucks.  I worked out of my company’s Los Angeles office, located across from my favorite museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It’s always a sight to see the line of food trucks feed the hungry office workers for breakfast/lunch, and I happily become one with them each time I’m in the LA office. Today, it was a similar Korean-fusion dish: pork belly on a bun, with Asian-style slaw. Delicious (but sadly unpictured).

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Day or night, one of the most magical places to visit in Los Angeles: the permanent Lights exhibit in front of LACMA. Photo credit: Love Me Sailor

Friday night: I needed to catch up on the the newest restaurants in the area, and had been reading about a couple, so I met up with some former co-workers in downtown at Bar Ama. I’d been to sister restaurant Baco Mercat for brunch before, but not here. The restaurant had the same vibe, and the great company made all the difference. We caught up over queso, spicy mole (delicious – not chocolately at all), and this gorgeous creation: the Frito Pie.

IMG_7592Frito Pie at Bar Ama, Los Angeles

I’ll admit that when I read the description on the menu, it didn’t click to me they meant actual Fritos corn chips. I told the server it sounded dangerous and I was going to Pilates to ease the guilt. When the dish arrived, my Texas-native friend was so excited and told us the origin of the dish – a less fancy version, served in actual Fritos bags with said ingredients (cheese and chili, basically), and often eaten at sporting events/games.

It tasted like childhood. I often wondered how my favorite flavor of Fritos – chili cheese – originated, and there you have it: the Frito Pie.

After dinner and since I was in DTLA, I made an obligatory stop to Big Man Bakes. The cupcake trend is certainly hot in LA, too, but I am not a fan of Sprinkles (sorry). This local favorite wins my heart in Los Angeles. They aren’t kidding when they call it “Big Man.” The owner is 6’5″ and buff, but with a heart (and spatula) of gold. I love the different specials they have daily, my favorite being caramel apple. I picked up some minis in my husband’s favorite, the lemon.

IMG_7594Cupcakes at Big Man Bakes

Saturday:

We stumbled upon Wakasan, on the Westside, for lunch. I wasn’t quite sure how long it has been in existence, but I don’t recall seeing it from my days as a Bruin.  This was definitely an unexpected Japanese meal. With the last minute, ravenous decision by hubby, I didn’t have high expectations and had to say i was pleasantly surprised. The restaurant is decorated in traditional Japanese decor, and the food is also served in a traditional Japanese style. My husband ordered his favorite katsudon (fried pork with egg over rice), which was served in a most special way, with the pork/egg combo soupy and runny and perfectly delicious.

I had the shabu shabu set, which was unlike anything I’ve ever had. It was well presented, the tastes were delicate, yet flavorful. We both happily cleaned our plates, and I made a mental note to come back here for dinner.

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Shabu Shabu Set at Wakasan

After lunch, we headed to one of our favorite places to visit when in LA: The Annenberg Space for Photography. Aside from showing support for my other alumni (the one across town), I love photography and photo exhibits. It’s also located in the magnificent new(er) CAA building. I am still awestruck by this space after all these years, and Annenberg Space for Photography never ceases to impress. It’s always well curated, and the layout of the space changes with the exhibit. Right now, it’s a National Geographic spread, with cool animal photos and fascinating life depictions from around the world. Photos aren’t allowed, unfortunately.

Dinner was the meal we were prepping for the most, as it required a 45 min drive through Los Angeles traffic from my parents’ home over to San Gabriel Valley. Newport Tan Cang, or Newport Seafood (believe it’s another location), as we call it is always packed to the brim with hungry seafood lovers.  It’s a Vietnamese-style seafood restaurant in the bustling heart of the new Chinatown in Los Angeles. I braced my parent for the one-hour wait, but somehow managed to bypass it by calling and putting our name on the queue before we got there. We only had to wait 5 minutes, and my parents were over the moon. Newport Seafood is known for their crab and lobster, with a variety of preparation styles, from their house style to the traditional ginger and green onion, or a dry fried salt and spice. The house one, which is a recommendation on their menu, is my favorite.

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Wish there was a way to show the scale of these guys. Giant Alaskan King Crab adorn the cases by the lobby, where patrons waited for a table. How many people would it take to finish one of these crab?

Sunday

It was almost time to come back to my new home, but there were still a couple obligatory stops. The first being the newest location of the best xiao long bao (soup dumplings) I’ve had yet: Din Tai FungWhile my parents loved this place, they have lost their patience with the usual 90  mins. wait. However, I was so excited to hear they opened a location in The Americana mall. An odd location for this place, but I embraced it for its proximity. We were meeting two other couples and their kids for brunch, and managed to get a table fairly quickly since we arrived so early.

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I feel like the franchise is finally beginning to figure out what appeals to American consumers. This new location has a bar in the lobby area — perfect for waiting during lunch/dinner time. You can also go shopping at Nordstrom while you wait and have them text you (hoorah!). Also new to the menu here is the truffle dumplings which were so divine. A mix of ground pork with truffle, in a soup dumpling. Heavenly.

Xiao Long Bao (also commonly abbreviated as XLB) originated in Shanghai. Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung perfected it as a franchise, creating the perfect soup dumpling with not too thick of a skin or bite. They also have a dessert take to the XLB, with a red bean paste and a taro paste, both of which are delicious.

Since we were in the Glendale area, I felt it blasphemy to not stop at Porto’s. This ever-popular local Cuban bakery restaurant has the most unbelievable cheese rolls. Enjoyed in a few bites, they are equal parts flaky, lightly sweet and slightly savory — all parts delicious. I picked up a dozen (or two) for my colleagues and family. The potato balls, which are a savory fried potato ball stuffed with Cuban-style beef stew, are also a delicious option.

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Clockwise from top: Giant Alaskan King Crab at Newport Tan Cang, Lobster in the house sauce at Newport; workers at Din Tai Fung making XLB dumplings; the newest dumpling on the block: the truffle dumpling

All in all, it turned out to be a very productive visit home. I’ve yet to explore some of the new favorites like Bestia or Son of a Gun, so look forward to those tasty places.

EAT:

  1. Bar Ama – 118 W. 4th St, Downtown
  2. Big Man Bakes –  Downtown (2 locations – visit site for details)
  3. Wakasan – 1929 Westwood Blvd., Westwood (near UCLA)
  4. Newport Tan Cang – 518 W. Las Tunas, San Gabriel Valley
  5. Din Tai Fung – The Americana, Glendale (visit site for other locations in San Gabriel Valley)
  6. Porto’s Bakery – Glendale and Burbank (visit site for various locations)

EXPLORE:

  1. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) – Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile
  2. Annenberg Space for Photography – 2000 Avenue of the Stars (CAA Building), West Los Angeles

(Un)Domestic Goddess

(Un)Domestic Goddess

When I was growing up, my mom was a full-time working mother who also was a pretty darn good cook. While she believed in the process and diligence of details in cooking, like making her own coconut milk for desserts, having a full time job while also preparing a full meal for her family each day meant she took some shortcuts. One of the shortcuts I remember best that she still uses today, is chicken broth. While I’m a little more semi-homemade than Mom, I’ve certainly held to the chicken broth shortcut in making soups, porridge, and noodles.

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Noodle soup made with chicken broth, packaged noodles, meat balls, ground pork and pork spare ribs. Thanks, Mom.

I recently visited a new izakaya near my office that converted me to being a clam lover. I eat pretty much anything, except oysters, clams and mussels. Recently, however, I’ve grown to actually like clams and mussels (oysters I still can’t handle). Inshou made a sake clam dish that left me wanting to make asari miso soup, which is actually part of traditional Japanese breakfast.

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Sake clam dish at Inshou. The dish that began my obsession with Japanese-style clam soups. Equal parts sake, butter and oishi (delicious)

Along those lines, I wanted to make a Japanese soup one day that transcended the basic miso soup — no shortcuts. I know miso soup came from more than the freeze dried packages that were my shortcut. I owned the miso paste. But what else was involved in a true Japanese soup? I took to the Internet, of course, to find my answer and a recipe for asari clam soup. I came across the most amazing YouTube channel, teaching folks how to make simple Japanese cuisine.

What fascinated me most was this episode that has basically transformed how I see Japanese soups and clam preparation. The basics for any Japanese dashi broth begins with kombu, a kelp. If you’ve ever had plain shabu shabu and seen a green seaweed-like thing floating in the water, then you’ve seen kombu. After a hearty boiling of this kombu, the kelp is removed and replaced with kasuobushi, a salted, dried fish that is then shaved to paper thin slices I’ve known it as okaka until I was enlightened by the great David Chang.  If you’ve had agedashi tofu or okonomiyaki, you’ve probably had this as a garnish in its pure form. Like kombu, kasuobushi is also the base of any good Japanese broth.

The kasuobushi is boiled for a good 30-45 mins, then strained to create the base of the soup, to which you’d then add the miso. In this instance, I wanted to make asari (clam) miso soup. One of the best tricks I learned from watching the YouTube video was how to get the clams to expel sand: you trick the suckers to thinking they’re in their usual habitat being, well, happy as a clam.  Clams like shallow water, lest they drown, so prepare a shallow tray/bowl (somewhere where you can spread them out) with warm salt water — catch my drift here?

Then, place the clams in the water just so there’s enough water covering them. Cover with something so it’s dark and they think they’ve buried themselves in the sand. Keep it like this for at least 15 mins. You’ll start to hear movement and wonder if the dog’s gotten into your groceries again. Then, you’ll realize it’s coming from the clams and that they’re really alive.  Here’s a video from my Instagram of this whole process, with screen shots below. If you watch carefully, you’ll see one actually spit. This cleaning process happens as you’re waiting for the kashuobushi to boil.

IMG_7625Clockwise from top left: Getting clams to spit sand, boiling kashuobushi for dash broth, boiling the clams, final product of asari miso soup

The first time I made this dish, I swore up and down I wouldn’t make it again. The thought of the clams spitting traumatized me too much. But then, I craved this soup again, and thought about going a step further to creating Shio Clam Ramen one day when my new ramen spot was too full to accept our party (You can still be pretty sure I won’t be cooking live crab anytime soon). Shio broth is also made with a similar process, with the addition of another type of fish on top of the kashuobushi.

IMG_7445Homemade shio clam ramen with larger-than-life (ironically named) little neck clams a la Whole Foods

So, if you’re craving clams or Japanese food, I suggest you high tail to the links below. Ramen talk to be continued…

Eat: Inshou Japanese Cuisine, 2942 S. Norfolk St. in San Mateo, CA

Watch: The Mind of a Chef, Season 1 (also on Netflix – binge watch your way to food cravings!)

For step by step instructions on making asari clam soup: How to Make a Japanese Breakfast (YouTube Channel Video)

Noodlin’ Around (Part 1)

Noodlin’ Around (Part 1)

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Kakkemiso Udon at Sanukiya

Have you ever had something so exceptional and unforgettable that you often crave it, but are plagued with being unable to readily satisfy that craving? I’ve felt that recently with many of the meals I experienced on my last trip to Paris. You’d think it was a croissant or a macaron that has yet to be topped anywhere stateside (that, too), but it was actually a bowl of udon, done in a way that brought newfound respect to the noodle dish. I owe this craving to my good friend Jackie (as well as much of my food happiness while in Paris) and her 50 Things to Eat in Paris Before You Die. I can proudly say I checked off a few of those, friend. 😉

I’ve always really loved noodles, but my go-to Japanese noodle has been the ramen (more on that later). During my trip to Paris, while I picked up French words and phrases I used throughout my days there shopping and dining, I found it a bit trippy to be in a Japanese restaurant in France. My language association with Japanese restaurants has always been Japanese, of course, and English, having been to Japanese restaurants mainly in the states. So when we walked into Sanukiya after a laborious shopping day on St. Honore, it felt a little odd to still hear merci. My Japanese might be a little better than my French, when it comes to food and living, so it was almost easier to use Japanese words (and hand gestures) to communicate.

At any rate, Sanukiya did not disappoint (as my friend Jackie rarely does). One of the distinct things about Japanese food and culture is the meticulous time and dedication that’s taken to prepare and present a meal, even a bowl of noodles. The same can be said for French food, which is why the mutual love of Japanese and French does not surprise me. What I’m getting at is the presentation and amazing tastes that came from the bowl of kakkemiso udon in Paris. The noodles were perfectly al dente, served with a light shoyu/dashi broth, arugula (or rocket, as my Thai brethren call it), the most amazing flavorful pork I’ve ever had, and of course, the piece de resistance of any good bowl of Japanese noodles (as David Chang will tell you), a perfectly soft poached egg. The combination of egg, noodle, pork flavors and the surprising arugula has left me craving this dish intermittently since we’ve returned from Paris.

Along with this remarkable creation was also a frozen beer.  Eat your heart out, Homer Simpson. This was a draft Japanese beer, frozen to a slurpee-like consistency that ensured a cold beverage until the last drop.

That day, I left St. Honore feeling full and satisfied, as any great meal should leave you.

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Frozen Beer. Nuff said.