Tuesday, June 26, 2007 5comments No tags Permalink 0

The following evening we had dinner with a long lost aunt who currently resides in Bangkok. It was a reunion of sort, given that we hadn’t seen her in over 18 years. I also got to meet with my grandpa’s sister, who I’ve only seen in old family photos. And it turns out that I seem to have relatives all over the world. They all started in Vietnam as one big clan, then when the war broke out, everyone scattered about, some ended up in Hawaii, others in Australia, Paris, Germany, London and a bunch more in Bangkok, Cambodia, and parts of China. None stayed or went back to Vietnam.

That night we ate at a restaurant about thirty minutes outside the city, near my grandaunt’s home. I’m afraid I didn’t pay too much attention to the meal, as I was more eager to talk with my aunt and grandaunt. But we did eat quite a few very interesting dishes…

Baked snake and eggs, anyone? Little nuggets of chopped snake meat blended with egg yolks, mushrooms and spices to tie in all. I can’t figure out what the white foam on top was made of, but I suspect egg whites. It was a satisfying dish, like a rather bouncy meatball nestled in boiling sweet juices, not too chewy nor very meaty. It’s hard to explain, you should try it for yourself.

Pad thai wrapped inside an egg omelet
Off to the right is a little packet of chili and sugar. They give you sugar with everything here! I sprinked the sugar over the pad thai, just to give it a try, but I think I prefer my pad thai less sweet than others.

Som tum

Tom kha gai – a tangy sweet/sour soup made from a coconut base with plenty of kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass. Those little things you see bobbing around are fishballs, shrimp and mushrooms.

Deep fried frogs topped off with an amazing nest of fried garlic and peppers. We just picked up a frog piece (some legs, others body parts) and ate it like fried chicken, making sure to pick up as much of that flaky garlic nest along with the frog. I’m not a huge fan of frog, but it was the surely the combo of the garlic frogs that had me picking at this dish till the end.

Curried crab

Quick boiled clams – this dish became somewhat of an obsession for my father (along with baby oyster pancakes) during our stay in Bangkok. He just had to have this dish everywhere we went, sometimes cleaning out two plates on his own!

Monday, June 25, 2007 6comments No tags Permalink 0

If you ask my mom to name her favorite foods in Bangkok, she’d start rattling off a long list, “durian, rambutan, longan, lychee, mangosteen…” allllll fruits, and indeed, we ate plenty of fruit that week!

Fruits that are typically expensive or infrequently found in Hawaii overflood the produce section in Bangkok supermarkets and everywhere you turn, street vendors push carts filled with these sweet jewels.

A pound of fruit often costed less than a bottle of water!

The floating market just an hour outside of Bangkok.

Rambutans!

Rambutan Innards

Lychees

Lychee Innards

Mangosteens from a Chinatown vendor

Mangosteen Innards

And the best fruit ever…DURIAN!

Of all the fruits I could have eaten, durian remained my steady favorite. I loved it so much that we bought an entire fresh durian at the market and had them chop it up so I could take it back to the hotel.

Needless to say, we stunk up the taxi and hotel room. But I suppose ‘stunk up’ is rather subjective, cause to me, the scent of durian is mighty attractive! I like my durian cold, soft and creamy.

It has the texture of pudding in your mouth and the velvety mouthfeel of whipped avocados. A frozen durian in Hawaii runs near $15, and you can forget about finding a fresh one.

Sunday, June 24, 2007 7comments No tags Permalink 0

Okey doke, we’re off to Bangkok now! By the time we arrived in our hotel it was way past midnight, and I was hungry. So we hopped into a taxi in search of night market food. Traffic in Bangkok is crazy, and seems to only get worse as the night wears on. Our driver took us to this small street where I found this dish of cha kuay tieu. All concerns of not being able to order food due to language barriers wore off when I discovered a good percentage of the population speaks Teo Chew! I’m not fluent in Teo Chew, but know it well enough to carry on a decent conversation, and most importantly, order food :)

The noodles were just what I needed at the moment, flat, wide, slippery, salty with plenty of galan choi, slices of beef and egg. For a mere 5 baht more, the guy added a generous handful of chopped chicken feet into the dish.

Whereas the kuay tieu dishes I’ve had back home had a 80:20 ratio of noodles to veggies/meat/egg, this dish (and as I would soon discover, most stir fried and soup noodle dishes in Bangkok) has a much more agreeable 50:50 ratio.

But portions seem small to me cause I grew up in this sumo sized eating country called America. And I was still hungry. Two stalls further up the road was a group of guys hawking hainan chicken rice. And man did those fresh chickens look good! So I had an order.

My grandma and mom used to make this dish quite frequently at home and my favorite part was never the chicken, or the side dish of broth, it was always the rice. Wonderful things happen to rice in this dish. Instead of being cooked in plain water, fresh chicken broth is used along with ginger, garlic, and five spice. The end result is this fragrant, savory dish. The rice could be a meal on its own. I always find the side of cucumbers unnecessary, but then again, that’s just me. This dish also comes with a side of chicken broth, confidently seasoned and ‘finished’ with cilantro and a side of peppers. The steaming soup was given to use in a plastic twist tie bag that was mighty difficult to drink from (I’m surprised the bag didn’t melt!), but who is to complain? The chicken is less meaty, more juicy, and not soft like what my cousin calls, “American Chicken,” hahaha.

The next morning when I wandered into the airtrain station I found…

…waffles!

I didn’t come all the way to Bangkok to eat waffles, but you must believe me, the smell was so intoxicating I couldn’t help from purchasing three pieces. They were all different flavors, of course: the original plain (with a touch of honey), maple, and sesame seed & salt.

My favorite of the trio was definitely the sesame seed & salt. It had the awesome, ‘dessert but a little salty’ vibe found in all my favorite Asian sweets. The waffle’s deep grooves were especially efficient at harboring the wealthy of white sesame mixed with coarse salt. If only the breakfast places back home would serve something like this. Not too much to ask for, right?

We lunched at the basement of the Siam Paragon, which is pretty much a (slightly) more sanitary version of the outdoor food markets. We liked this basement so much that we ended up coming here for either breakfast or lunch three days in a row. Don’t worry, we did more exciting stuff during dinner time.

It was at this basement when I had my favorite dish of pad thai throughout the trip. I had pad thai in restaurants, the night markets and various street stalls, but only this dish reached my ideal balance savory and sweet. There was a good mix of tofu, chicken, green onions, bean sprouts, and egg, the sauce was relatively light, not sopping wet and sugary like what I often find back home.

I split an order of boiled clams with my mom. The clams are boiled just so that they are safe to eat, but still raw enough so that fresh blood drips out as you rip them from the shell in a dip into a chili based, vinegar and sugar dip. No matter how big the order, you gotta eat them quick, they’re no good once cooled.

My parents developed an obsession with this dish here. I can’t remember the name of the noodle soup, but is consisted of triangular shaped noodles. They looked like small white pyramids in a dark sweet broth, with a vinegary tang, completed with cubes of pig’s blood, a variety of fishballs and meatballs, tripe and intestines.

For dessert I had this crepe/pancake like object. It was my least favorite dessert of the trip, though it was intriguing to see how they utilize the egg yolks and whites separately in the dessert. The orange strands in the middle are egg yolks topped with raisins, and beneath that is a mound of meringue. Crazy, yeah?

My favorite food item of the day, perhaps even more than the sesame seed and salt waffle was a container of durian sticky rice! I love durian to bits and pieces. And in every single form possible: durian ice cream, durian candy, durian gum. But of course, the best form of durian is au natural. Unless. Unless it comes fresh, on a mound of steamed sticky rice with liberal quantities of fresh coconut cream soaking into every open crevice, and a dash of toasted sesame seeds. After this first container, I decided that my motto for the rest of the trip would need to be, “learn to share,” lest I insist on putting on another 20 pounds.

Which is why I glady accepted my sister’s offer to share part of the pandan toast, essentially a thick slice of bread toasted and buttered to death before a slather of warm kaya jam. Thick enough to save itself from sliding off the bread, but still oozy enough to resemble some alien non-food object.

Well I have to leave for dinner now, but I’ll be back soon enough to finish the post! :)

Thursday, June 21, 2007 7comments No tags Permalink 0

We’re about to part ways with Tokyo and leave for Bangkok, but before we do so, care to heard what else we’ve eaten? ;)

We left for Narita early in the morning, but late enough so that the bento shops were well stocked! I picked up this bento you see here, I admit, due to aesthetics alone – so colorful! But the junky part is that I didn’t eat it. It was stored in my mom’s carryon and my sister got to it before me, claiming that she didn’t know it was mine. That’s what they all say. But I suppose it all worked out for the best cause I found…

…takoyaki at the airport! And not just the normal kind takoyaki but squid ink takoyaki! After being somewhat puzzled with the squid ink soft serve near Tsukiji, I wasn’t sure if I wanted squid ink takoyaki. So I compromised and ordered half squid ink, and half normal.

The takoyaki guy was so nice that he added in two extra pieces, saying “you are fun to talk too.” Hehe. He was fun to talk to also. But the takoyaki was not so fun.

I like takoyaki innards to be more solidified, and I guess what some would consider overcooked. But I do not like squishy innards when it comes to these little orbs. The squid ink innards were slightly bitter and nearly spewed black goo when I bit it in half. The ‘normal’ takoyaki was better, but still, I couldn’t get over the super wet, near liquidy innards. I went to McDonalds afterwards to get a chocolate milkshake just to clear my mouth of the lingering taste. I know. I cannot help it. I just really, really needed a milkshake.

My mom had been eyeing this musubi place near our hotel since the first day we arrived. And although we never found the chance to stop by for a light meal (too many good options here!), she made sure she got her fill by purchasing five different musubis for the plane ride.

Here’s what the picture of the musubi looked like.


And here’s the real thing.

I ate the salmon and ikura musubi for breakfast. Salmon musubis are common in Hawaii, but I’ve yet to see the salmon and ikura combo. It was so delicious, biting into salmon and a generous quantity of cool ikura popping in your mouth, nestled within the warm shield of rice and nori. I’ll definitely be making my own version of this for breakfast when I get back home!

The day before we had a late lunch of ramen and gyoza near Harajuku.

Te gyoza skin was on the strangely chewy side, but the innards were well packed and very moist. Everything I have ramen, I feel the need to get gyoza, it’s like the both go hand in hand and I can’t have one without having another. And even if I had gyoza and rice, I feel the need to have at least a small bowl of ramen on the side. Am I the only one with this habit?

I wasn’t expecting too much from the ramen after a bit of the gyoza, but then the waiter laid out this bowl, and oh man, it was the best bowl of ramen I’ve had in a super long time. It was the broth that did it for me, it was thick, almost curry like rich in sesame seeds, both ground up and tangled with the noodles. It reminded me of a cross between satay and curry with the addition of minced raw garlic and plenty of spice for heat. The broth, so thick, I don’t know if you could properly call it ‘broth’, would have been awesome poured over a bowl of hot rice!

For dinner that evening, we had barbeque near the Hanzomon station. We were wandering around the area around dinner time, and this intense smoky smell of grilling meats was positively intoxicating. So we wandered up the stairs and straight into the restaurant.

We had a great waitress who, though Japanese, just happened to be fluent in Mandarin and saved us a great deal of work in trying to decipher the menu. The plan for the evening was…

…spicy tofu chiage

…a variety of meats to grill. The one you see here is beef tongue,

kalbi…

…and you’re going to hate me for this, but I can’t remember which is what, but I know that we had a mix of beef, pork and chicken.





But I can tell you this: all were fatty in the most wonderful way. None of this lean meat business we’re so used to in America. The fat sizzled like crazy on the grill, leaving each cut of meat with a near crackly crisp shell and moist, savory innards that practically needed no chew, and each bite so purely decadent. I’m not usually such a meathead, and would usually pick fish over beef, but this was crazy stuff! I like the compromise made here: eat more fatty and rich meats, but eat less quantity-wise.

and an order of ground raw beef with a raw egg, daikon, and cucumbers. Just crack the yolk, mix and eat with the daikon and cucumber. My mom wrapped hers in nori, but I wasn’t sure what was the proper way to eat it, so I just put a little of everything in my mouth at once. It’s not a dish I would crave again, I never get hankerings for raw eggs or beef, unless it’s the Vietnamese nem, but that’s more or less cooked. Even though it’s raw. But not really. Am I confusing you? Go have nem for yourself and you’ll see what I mean :)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007 7comments No tags Permalink 0

We didn’t have plans for breakfast in Asakusa the next morning, but all turned out well as we encountered plenty of treats on our way to the Sensoji Temple.

First up was Ningyoyaki!

The line was particularly long at this stand, so every customer was ensured a fresh batch of ningyoyaki, sold in packs of 10 or 20.

These little red bean stuffed cakes are seriously addicting, and go quick in just a bite and a half. A little dabble of asuki bean paste hides inside each ningyoyaki, some shaped like ducks and others like people! They’ve got the texture of pound cake without the butteryness…which just means that you can eat more, and not feel all weighed down and gross afterwards ;)

Just a few steps further down, were fresh kibidango skewers dusted in kinako.

The millet based skewers came in five stick to a pack, making it the perfect walking snack, seeing as there was no where to sit. Like all the other desserts and sweets we’ve had in Tokyo, everything we just at the perfect degree of sweetness: just enough and not too much, why, I almost felt healthy chomping down on these little marbles. So ono!

Here’s a little Japanese tale involving kibidango if you’ve got extra time on your hands :)

We cooled the morning heat with cups of lightly sweetened matcha tea.

The tea was so refreshing that my mom insisted on buying home six packs of their tea powder! It’s a very simple mix of matcha with a bit of sugar, and even though I don’t like any added sweeteners with my tea, I have to say it had just the right balace.

Ever had fresh osenbei?

I grew up eating the packaged ones from Shirokiya, but these were sure something else! Crispy shell with a slightly sticky sweet brushing of shoyu, the innards were still chewy, almost to the point where it resembled hot mochi.

Closer to the temple we found deep fried mochi in a variety of flavors…

On the left is the green tea mochi and to the right is the peach mochi. Neither really tasted of green tea or peach flavors, tasted more like plain colored mochi more than anything, but the cheery, appearance of these soft pastel orbs made me just so happy for no reason at all.

Our last stop? A shop specializing in furikake!

You can mix and match your own blend, or choose from a wide set of preblended packs.

Seeing as I’m not the furikake blending expert (but I’m a pretty darn good furikake sprinkler!), we opted for one of the set preblends to take home. Haven’t eaten it yet, but I’ll let you know how it goes!