Category Archives: beef

Hustling, HK-style

A trio of cold appetizers at Da Ping Huo

Our mission, if we were to accept it, seemed simple enough: in 48 hours in Hong Kong, stuff our faces with as much interesting food as we could. Full of hope and empty of stomach, James and I boarded a plane at daybreak, me slightly the worse for wear after an anniversary dinner at a roadside Isaan stall. The places we were to try were all new, completely blank slates; the food, a staggeringly large amount. If there ever was a time for James to decide he couldn’t stand me and try to drown me in the nearest vat of leftover congee, that time would be now.

A hurried dash through the airport, a quick hop on the train and a confused cab ride later, we wandered along Ship Street with luggage in tow, stopping only once (or maybe twice) to ask for directions. Our destination: Bo Innovation, which, like pickled field crabs, or fermented anchovy, seems to inspire strong feelings in all but the un-foodiest of diners. Labelling itself as “X-treme Chinese cuisine”, BI is helmed by chef Alvin Leung Jr., who “does to Chinese food what Picasso did to art” — impressive indeed. It’s also the kind of outrageous claim that drives diners of a certain unpleasant temperament (me) to find nitpicky fault with everything to emerge from the kitchen.

Trompe de l'oeil "shrimp head" at Bo Innovation

There is no need to be nitpicky here: it is not hard to find fault with the food at Bo Innovation. It’s like Chef Alvin is a “Top Chef” contestant, it’s the Quickfire Challenge, and he whipped up a few dishes that “tell you something about who he is and where he comes from” in 2 hours’ time. A sliver of steak with soy-truffle sauce, predictably yummy save for the addition of “rolled” noodles which add nothing to the dish; “molecular” xiao long bao, or steamed soup dumpling, a spherified jelly that manages to mimic the real thing, but with much less flavor; the pretentiously-named “Dead Garden”, a green savory mousse topped with “soil” and dried enoki mushrooms (is it safe to say we should cool it with the neo-naturalist interpretations of Asian cuisine? They never work). Finally, a a chocolate dessert that James says resembles the Halloween chocolate you find at the back of your closet in April, stale and crumbly; the best thing I can say is that it was not served on a bed of dry ice.

This is the thing about “extreme cuisine”. Except in very rare cases, a lot of it begs the question: Why? Why’d you do it? Only a few chefs are able to answer that question. That’s not to say I hated it; actually, I had a very nice time complaining about stuff. I liked the handmade “lo mein”, part of a dish which mimicked (that again) the flavor and aroma of dried shrimp; the timings were excellent, with hardly any wait between courses; and, coming from a country where the vaunted service often means “smile and run away when someone asks you a question”, the service was smooth and efficient. Needless to say, it is an extremely well-run restaurant, and a fun way to pass the day, once, if you are willing to spend a whole lot of money while passing it.

A place I’d have no problem going to again is just as touristy, but more upfront about it. Da Ping Huo (L/G, Hilltop Plaza, 49 Hollywood Road) is a private kitchen that mixes some pretty tasty Sichuan cooking with an ambiance that veers between “homey” and “down-at-heel” and genuine hospitality from the husband-and-wife team. Despite being completely useless with my chopsticks and splashing my Golden Girls-in-Boca-Raton ensemble with glass noodles, I was charmed by a whole litany of things: the mouth-numbing ma bo tofu, the unctuous stewed “chili beef”, the, er, unusual wall paintings, which resemble what Han Solo and Princess Leia might have had made to commemorate their wedding, and of course, the chef’s opera singing at the end of the evening (what range!).

Da Ping Huo's chili beef

There are things we didn’t get. A soup of what appeared to be purely lettuce looked like “something out of the Moosewood cookbook,” said James. There was also a duo of steamed pork and taro that resembled something the Pennsylvania Amish might have served up on barn-raising days. But these are small quibbles, and so not that much fun to complain about. It was worth every minute it took to find the place, wandering the streets in high heels and praying to God I don’t fall on my face onto Lord-knows-what smeared onto the sidewalk.

Finally, there is The Chairman, for which we prepared by WORKING OUT IN THE FITNESS ROOM (don’t say we didn’t try our best). This was the only place we didn’t find Japanese executives, or tourists of any kind, really. Perhaps this is why they appeared extremely reluctant to let us through the door. After making a reservation for noon, a server came out to tell us that the restaurant was open at 12:15, blatantly disregarding the sign in front listing the opening time as “12:00”. After planting ourselves in the doorway and refusing to budge until they relented (hey, we were hungry), we were ushered in a few minutes later, and kindly shown a menu from which our server pointed out his recommendations. What he advised: a delicious passel of clams in chili jam, accented with Thai basil and red chili a la hoy pad cha; roasted lamb belly, thick and slightly smoky; deep-fried pork spareribs coated in a sauce James likened to “what you’d find in a pu pu platter”; a soup that “tastes like something you’d eat during a famine”, said James, who was not turning out to be a great fan of Chinese soups. ┬áThe waiter also relented and allowed us to order a cold Sichuan-style salad of julienned pig’s ear and tripe, paired with slivered Chinese pear, which ended up being underwhelming despite the textural diversity (moral of the story: listen to your waiter!)

Clams at the Chairman

I am ashamed to say this was the last big meal we could manage in HK. For dinner that night, after an uncomfortable few hours toddling through a mall and a dyspeptic spell in a movie theater, we settled down at the nearest place we could roll ourselves over to — an Irish pub — and consoled ourselves with salads.

Later that night, I was so hungry, I ate my complimentary fruit plate.

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Filed under Asia, beef, Chinese, food, Hong Kong, restaurant, seafood

What’s Cooking: Larb Dib

When I order steak tartare at French restaurants, I am invariably told by a worried waiter that the dish I have just asked for is raw. Do I want to rethink my order a little bit?

Raw is, in fact, what I’m looking for. There is that feeling of being an animal, of tearing into something in its “natural” state, untouched by flame, uncivilized. I don’t think I’m the only one. Thanks to the rise of the Japanese sushi bar, tartare of some form — beef, tuna or salmon — is a fixture of pretty much any Western restaurant across the globe: studded with avocado, dusted with pink peppercorns, or, if you are particularly unlucky, bulked up with ketchup.

Since tartare is pretty much ubiquitous, other types of restaurants have had less trouble serving raw meat to diners previously considered “too skittish” for such savage fare. Nadimo’s features a “raw kibbee” dish that is made up of minced lamb cut with bulgur wheat and accompanied by a garlicky puree. It’s unusual and surprisingly delicious, an example of how good raw meat can be.

Raw kibbee at Nadimo's

Thai food boasts its own raw dishes — in this case, larb dib nuea, or “raw minced beef salad”. Its nature changes depending on the region; in Isaan, it’s tart and fresh, leavened with ground rice grains and lots of pak chee farang, the sawtooth-edged leaf reminiscent of soap. In the North, it’s something brusque and brawny, with lots of dried chili, a hint of pork blood and a shrimp paste-based sauce. The Northern Thai one is the version I’m trying today.

Larb Dip (for 4 people)

– 400 grams good-quality raw beef, hand-chopped (I chose a Thai-French tenderloin from Villa Sukhumvit 33)
– 100 grams thin beef tripe, sliced and boiled

– 8 Tablespoons fried garlic
– 1/2 stem lemongrass, sliced and fried
– 4 Tablespoons thinly sliced shallots
– 4 Tablespoons shredded coriander
– 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
– 1/2 cup pork blood (optional)
– 1 teaspoon pork bile (optional)

For larb muang paste
– 25 pieces grilled dried chilies
– 10 cloves grilled garlic
– 15 cloves grilled shallots
– 1 piece grilled galangal
– 1 Tablespoon shrimp paste, wrapped in foil and grilled
– 1/2 stem lemongrass, finely sliced
– 1 Tablespoon roasted makwaen, or a northern Thai peppercorn (I could not find it on short notice, so I substituted Sichuan peppercorns, roasted and ground)

Directions:
1. After having grilled most larb paste ingredients on an oven on full whack, pound into a paste with mortar and pestle alongside lemongrass and roasted makwaen or other substitute.

2. Mix beef and tripe with larb paste mix. If using pork blood and bile, add now.

3. This is optional, but you can cook your larb dib bleu by adding vegetable oil and giving the meat a few stirs with a wooden spoon. Otherwise, you can leave the lovely deep ruby color by leaving it completely raw.

4. Season with salt and fish sauce to your taste. Top with sliced shallots, fried garlic, fried sliced lemongrass and shredded coriander. I also topped mine with lots of mint, even though it’s more Isaan and less muang (Northern), simply because it’s one of the few things we have managed to grow in our garden! Look at these beauties (I know it just looks like regular mint to you):

My finished larb looked like this:

My raw beef larb

5. Serve accompanied by sturdy lettuce leaves, cucumber slices, blanched green beans, boiled pumpkin and any other fresh vegetable you may fancy or have lurking somewhere in your refrigerator. Don’t forget the sticky rice.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, beef, cooking, food, Northern Thailand, recipe, Thailand

Why Food

The unseasonably wet weather and ensuing traffic snarls have put me into a meditative mood. So indulge me for a moment as I blather on like your 84-year-old great-aunt, the one who doesn’t see people very often and puts SWAT-team-level preparation into “going out”.

Because that is how I feel nowadays. My Thai has never been the greatest — conversations frequently turn into an unwieldy catalogue of what has NOT been said, a litany of all that has NOT been communicated. I am literally two-dimensional; beyond initial remarks on the weather, what to eat and where to go, I am cashed out of words, making do by playing the role of the dim-witted auntie, a role I am getting unnervingly good at.

This is leeching into my English language communication, which is fast becoming a halting negotiation of what to express and what to leave out. Interaction is Thailand is an unspoken deal: say the expected things at the right time and you will have passed. Saying something different means you have not kept up your part of the bargain. This is something that has taken me years to learn, but is somehow understood by Thais who have grown up here — just like everyone knows you don’t eat durian with alcohol, or without mangosteen, or that you don’t transport it on the Skytrain because then people will look at you like you just took a baby, a kitten and a puppy and forced them to listen to the Black Eyed Peas’s latest album. All Thais somehow know these things.

So food is a wonderful oasis for me. When you are cramming your piehole with stuff, you don’t have to talk. When your table is groaning under the weight of tasty food, people around you are happy. When you venture to talk about this dish or that, people are invariably willing to discuss it — food is a fine, happy place, where everyone loves you, as long as your plate is still full.

It’s logical, then, that I would love Restaurants of Bangkok, which offers a nifty monthly program they call “Running Dinners”. Every course — appetizer, main, dessert — is offered at a different restaurant in the same area. Despite the logistical difficulties of herding up to 20 increasingly inebriated people to different places every hour or so, it’s surprisingly well-run, and a great way to feature restaurants that are new or easily overlooked. (In the interests of full disclosure: next month’s dinner includes dessert at Maduzi Hotel, which belongs to my husband’s family.)

Blurry photo of dessert course at Philippe, taken after fourth glass of wine

But I’m an equal-opportunity gobbler (uh, duh). I obviously like to go the opposite end of the spectrum too. Sometimes you need to work a little for your food fix, just sayin (don’t you hate it when people write “just sayin?” Like, didn’t you already just say it? I see it more and more frequently, and it is almost always preceded by something semi-obnoxious — “BLAH BLAH STUPID STUPID MOUTHFART MOUTHFART. JUST SAYIN.” Blech. Okay, rant over.)

So the beef noodles on Sukhumvit Soi 16, across from the Korean restaurant, are also a wonderful refuge for the socially impaired. Beloved by office workers and motorcycle taxi drivers alike, it is the “we are the world” food stall of that particular road, where people can set aside their various color allegiances or complete and total political apathy (I’m lookin at me, Bangkok Glutton) and jostle each other for bowls of delicious beef water instead.

Options are rice vermicelli (sen mee) or thick noodles (sen yai), or no noodles at all (gow low). Open 7am-1pm, closed on Sundays. Call 087-564-9469.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, beef, dessert, food, food stalls, French food, noodles, restaurant, Thailand