With new year, comes new year resolutions. Chinese New Year, which falls on a Thursday (February 19) this year, is no exception. Prepare to kick of the year with a more healthful, greener eating from Spot Dessert Bar.
T-shirts devoted to pho-puns — Pho Sure, Pho Real, Got Pho?, What the Pho? Just Pho You? — offer a glimpse to how popular the Vietnamese noodle dish is. Rightly described by Peta Mathias, author of Noodle Pillows, as “Vietnam in a bowl, heaven in a spoon, culture in a sip,” the noodle broth comes in the raw beef version (pho bo tai) and chicken pho (pho ga).
My first unforgettable, I mean unphoghettable sip of omg-this-is-goddamn-out-of-this-world-amazing pho was at Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), Vietnam in 2011.
In fact, the alluring taste of the translucent, clear broth (comparable to consommé) that hinted sweet tender beef and aromatic herbs, had me revisit Vietnam a second time.
But I was forever cursed. For afterward, no matter how hard I searched, I seem forever sampling inferior copy of that pho. And did I mention after factoring in the exchange rate, the omg-this-is-goddamn-out-od-this-world-amazing pho costs only 75 cents?
Suspicious of the so-called tourist traps, albeit I am myself a tourist, I was never a fan of Boudin Bakery. For one, the 165-year-old bakery’s flagship store sits right on Fisherman’s Wharf. Touristy, checked. Animal shaped bread, including koala, turtle, and alligator, checked.
Very cliche. Plus, (nose upturned) the soup bowl was a-okay.
But I was wrong. Boudin’s sourdough is quite solid. If I were to judge the bread based on the following criteria: crust (crispiness, flavor), interior body (stretchiness, chewiness), aroma and taste, I would give my chowder bread bowl a 9. It was crispy, but not hard. Soft, but chewy, and carrying a hint of tangy aftertaste typical of sourdough. But I suspect my favorable review has to do with the fact I was at the bakery when it opened at 8 a.m. Guess early birds do get the worms, including good sourdoughs.
The San Francisco sourdough, which is basically a French bread made with a sourdough culture, dates back to the Gold Rush days. San Francisco-ans believe there are no place like the city that gives the bread its sourness. Supposedly it has to do with the makeup of the wild yeast strains native to San Francisco as well as the city’s air, temperature. But turned out that was what the natives would like to have believed. Continue reading
Yesterday was International Coffee Day!
Logically, I celebrated by purchasing a darn good cup of specialty brewed latte. I gloated over the fact that I, and I alone, was aware of the exclusive holiday. My euphoria lasted, well, precisely till 9:36 a.m. this morning when I mentioned nonchalantly to a co-worker, “Did you know yesterday was international coffee day?”
“Oh yes,” he answered perkily, “Did you go get free coffee at La Colombe?”
No… I did not know that. I also did not know that McDonald was handing out free small cup of coffee. And no, I did not know Dunkin’ Donut was giving out free medium cup of coffee.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed an amusing read from United Airlines’ Hemisphere Magazine (June 2014) on coffee beans. My favorite fact?
In 1991, the first webcam in the world was created at Cambridge University, to keep tabs on the level of an office coffee maker. Continue reading
Tall, lanky and thin as a pencil, Antonio “Sunny” Balzano is the beloved owner of Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Dating back to 1850s, the bar passed from his great grandfather to his grandfather to his father to his uncle and then Sunny. After taking over in 1994, Sunny unintentionally transformed the tiny bar into something trendy.
How? He and his friends — artists, musicians — simply hung out at the bar, drinking and having a grand time.
Grand, is one of Sunny’s favorite phrases.
Gentle and sweet, Sunny speaks with an Irish accent (even though he is Italian). “I love it” sounded like “I lurve it.” He attributes his accent to his early days as an aspiring actor and love for theatricality.
Dim street lights threw long shadows on graffitied walls, ghostly vapor veiled the alley… This is a perfect for a film noir, Hollywood crime drama popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Except, there was no crime, no detectives and no dead bodies. Instead, there was Freemans .
The low-profile Lower East Side restaurant scored high in terms of ambiance, service, food and WINE. The food was good, but the wine (a Merlot-Cab blend from Rome) was even better. Freemans’ charm, a great part of it, derived from the walk down the Freeman Alley — the journey to the end. I suspect other diners, like me, relish the thought that We, only we, are the privileged ones who know of Freemans’ existence.
“Not a lot of people knows this place. It’s great.”
“Yes, obviously only you, and me, and… well, all these other diners.”
Fall is my ultimate favorite season. With its arrival comes brisk weather and rich, vivid shades of red, orange and yellow. I love to inhale deeply the cold crisp air and feel it fill up my lungs, giving me a surprised shudder. To be shocked by the coldness! How alive one feels!
The season also invokes fond memory of places traveled, specifically Beijing and Seoul. When I studied in Beijing, I bought a lovely scarf that reminded me of Fall — carmine, deep orange-red). It matched the color of Forbidden City. As for Seoul, Fall is forever linked with the unbelievable fall foliage witnessed at Seoraksan.
The season, closely linked with harvest, calls for a feast. But instead of hearty meals, I crave something fresh, something simple…
Homemade tofu! Aburiya Kinnosuke, a mid-town Japanese restaurant, serves their tofu cold or hot. Cold tofu comes with three types of salt: ponzu, truffle and wasabi.
The tofu, firm, smooth, and clean-tasting, provides the perfect blank canvas for salt sampling. Ponzu salt, the least intrusive of the three, calls to mind sweet-sour plum powder. Both truffle and wasabi salt are full in flavor, the former fills your palate, nostril with nutty truffle fragrance whereas the latter offers a sharp kick.
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Recalling my one-month journey in Southeast Asia, wandering through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, I note, with a degree of whimsical irony, that I began and ended my travel with a bowl of noodles. I kick started my eating foray with asam laksa, a spicy and sour tamarind based noodle soup with explosive flavors in Penang. Then, coming full circle, I concluded with a steaming hot bowl of pho in Ho Chi Minh City. In a Proustian-like occurrence where taste begets memory, the city will forever be intertwined with lime juice, hot peppers and aromatic herbs.
Vietnam’s cuisine reflects not only its geographical position, but also incorporates Chinese (stir-frying, widespread consumption of noodles) and French (freshly baked baguettes, pâté) influences. Furthermore, regional differences also divide Vietnamese cuisine. South and central Vietnam have better access to an abundant variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as fresh herbs; thus, food tend to be more flavorful and robust than that of the north.