Category Archives: duck

Just Ducky

Chinese-style duck at Ros Niyom

Chinese-style duck at Ros Niyom

Because it’s so hot, I’ve been even lazier than usual about getting out and about with the street food. It took a handful of text messages and maybe a phone call or two before my friend Chris could gently pry me off of my couch and into the real world, where people move around on sidewalks and take crowded Skytrain rides and, yes, even sweat. Although Chris swears that the temperature in Bangkok has only been hovering around the mid-to-late 30s (and where else can you say “only in the mid-30s”? Very few places), I swear this city is the hottest its ever been, and that it’s foolish to even pretend to go about your daily business, because the world is crumbling down around our very ears (earthquakes? A tornado? Never before in Thailand, in my lifetime).

A good meal will make your forget these things momentarily. So will a good drink, but it’s noon, and things are not (yet) as dire as all that. So when Chris takes me to the far end of Nana (past the entertainment complex, past the various Indian restaurants, and what appears to be a fairly new gigantic Subway), we end up in the kind of relatively quiet, sedate neighborhood that you’d expect to find much further from the pulsing heart of the city’s nightlife center. Right before the street dead ends into a factory sits the Thai-Chinese restaurant Ros Niyom (172-174 Sukhumvit 4 Nana Tai, 02-255-0991), an aharn tham sung (made-to-order) spot that specializes in pet palo, or duck braised in 5-spice sauce. You can tell this is what to order from the ducks hung from their necks in front, where a fairly taciturn lady silently dissects duck meat and skin for practically every table in the restaurant. And it’s not just the duck meat that’s in demand here: also a specialty, the congealed blocks of duck’s blood served swimming in a duck broth, its jelly-like texture contrasting with the sour chili sauce ladled over the top.

Duck blood in a bowl

Duck blood in a bowl

The essence of everything that is ducky, with a generously-sized plate of rice and maybe a stir-fried garlicky bitter gourd shoot or two, and you’ve got a substantial lunch that could see you safely to dinnertime. Throw in a couple of bowls of beef noodles, the highly-recommend hae gun (deep-fried shrimp dumplings) and a couple of beers, and you can just forget about venturing out  from under the safety of that restaurant awning for the next few hours, or, at the very least, until the next torrential downpour comes to take some of the bite out of this heat.

 

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, duck, food, restaurant, Thailand

When it’s time to break up

roasted duck

(Photo by @SpecialKRB)

This is the duck we never had. But I should start from the beginning.

Relationships with restaurants are like relationships with people. There is the flicker of interest, the sideways glance, the feeling that maybe you should check that out sometime. There is the lust. And then there is falling in love.

Like anyone who lives a lot in the past, I remember the details: 1997. Paris. Le Grand Vefour. Plaques marking where past patrons once sat — I sat at Colette’s place, but I also remember a Napoleon. A platter of velvety, almost candied pigeon. A wine like leather and mushrooms. And a Swiss financier who sent over a bottle of dessert wine, simply because we “looked happy”. I remember a vista had spread out before me of previously unexplored things, at least for a culinary student living on hard-boiled eggs in a 5th-floor walk-up on the edge of the Greek Quarter. I do not go back to Le Grand Vefour very often, but I will always love that restaurant because of that feeling.

At least, I think I will always love that restaurant. Because, like for any relationship, the threat of a break-up always looms. They can be clean and clinical; a bad meal, bad service, and you simply never go back. They can be contentious: he said, she said sort of stuff, requiring the intervention of a manager. And they can be ugly.

When you have driven for hours from Rouffillac to Paris, enduring Opera-area traffic, drunken throngs in the Greek Quarter, and a winding queue down the sidewalk, and it’s already 9:30 and you’re bone-tired, you want some TLC. You’ve seen the guys at Mirama before; you lived just around the corner, for Chrissake, you remember being a loyal customer even though you never really counted Hong Kong-style duck and egg noodles as one of your favorite dishes.

It’s kind of jarring when they start picking and choosing from the line in front of you. But it’s okay; they said two tables of five, and that’s fine, it’s understandable. It has now been an hour, you’re next, and the group behind you that has just sidled up is big as well — eight carefully-coiffed blondes in the kind of scarves that suggest they are “slumming it” for the evening on the Left Bank.

So it feels like a punch in the gut when the group behind you gets called, and you’ve been waiting for over an hour. The celebratory whoops are salt in the wound. You are being taken for granted. The wise thing to do is to walk away. But you can’t help it. You march into the restaurant and confront the 60-year-old, balding, stressed-out Chinese man, who explains they don’t seat tables of 10. He is now telling lies. The Chinese man is now like all those other guys who tell tales when confronted: she was just a friend, he was alone that night, she meant nothing.

Walk away, walk away. So you do — for two seconds. You double back again. He needs to know it’s wrong. You need closure. You tell him. He doesn’t seem to register what you are saying. It feels like talking to a brick wall. So then, you walk away. But because you just can’t help it, you walk back again. You need to know. “Is it because she’s blonde?” you say. “No, no,” he says, and you think he’s lying, yet again.

You walk away for the last time, only to hear your name after you’ve crossed the street. “He can seat four!” someone calls out, and it’s the final straw, the last insult — he couldn’t seat 8 of you, but now 4 is okay? “He can kiss my ass!” you scream across the rushing traffic on Rue St. Jacques, convinced you will never, ever return. You turn around and seek out the next best thing, Roger Le Grenouille, and he is kind and welcoming, and the frog legs are great, and things are okay. But you will always remember Mirama’s rejection, and how that stung, a little bit.

Mirama

(Photo by @SpecialKRB)

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Filed under Asia, bamee, Chinese, duck, food, France, Hong Kong, noodles, restaurant

My lunch at Michel Rostang

Every time I go to Paris, I try to go to at least one nice place a visit. This time, we made it to Michel Rostang, a two Michelin-starred restaurant with a menu that changes seasonally.

My husband and daughter, Nicha, asked for canard au sang, a dish they were initially discouraged from ordering because it was very “special”, a word the French use to describe something that is potentially disgusting. It turned out to be thin slices of very rare duck breast, bathed in a foie gras sauce thickened with blood. The legs are then poached in duck fat, shredded and encased in a razor-thin potato “tower” — a great reminder of why people love French food.

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Filed under cooking, duck, food, France, French food, restaurant

Glutton Abroad: Doing as the French do

sunflowers

Sometimes I am perfectly happy acting like a tourist, out with my big old map and geriatric footwear, embarrassing all and sundry with my lack of knowledge about how to act in public. But once in a while, I’m tired of my day-to-day life in Thailand. Sometimes, I want to spread my wings and travel a bit. That’s when I go abroad — this year, to France. Our trip, via @SpecialKRB’s fantastic photos:

1731

La Vigerie

We stayed in the “Perigord Noir”, so named because of the abundance of prehistoric dwellings in the area and known for its delicious walnuts, lamb, ducks, geese — and, of course, this:

foie gras

Staying in a house allowed us to delude ourselves into thinking we could act just like the locals — zipping to and fro in tiny little cars, wearing berets and making fun of other people just like us (for the record, they really do wear striped shirts!). So we did just that, even after getting back to Paris, using the ample time at our disposal to do Frenchie French things like:

Buy lots of cheese at Barthelemy
Fromagerie Nicole Barthelemy

Pretend to buy expensive macarons at Pierre Herme
Macarons from Pierre Herme

Gorge on lots of lovely meat
steak au poivre at Chez George

Dine on mussels, even though I think they are Belgian
provencale mussels at Leon's

Order delicious escargots at every meal
escargot

Uh, eat lots of frogs
Roger La Grenouille frog legs provencale

Partake of the local fruit and liquor, at the same time
Melon au Port

Appreciate the local art
our shy sexy sculpture

Mess up our recycling
taking out the trash 2

Try out the lovely French squatters (for the record, far more challenging than the Thai ones. The footrests are lower in level than the surrounding basin, ensuring that you will most certainly splash your own feet — lovely.
French squatter toilet

Dislocate your shoulder and visit the hospital (sorry, no photos. FYI, the hospital trip: 23 euros. Excruciating pain: priceless.).

And, finally, sup at one of the most popular restaurants in all of France
obligatory McDonald's meal

Bon appetit!

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Filed under duck, food, France, French food, restaurant

Glutton Abroad: Full of crab in HK

I never miss hairy crab season in Hong Kong. For the past six or seven years, when the “cold” weather comes around, I have faithfully trekked to this sun-soaked little spot in South China. The thing is, I sometimes end up having to do some strange things in order to get to that hairy crab (without having to endure a corresponding dent in my bank account, that is. Ahem).

Which brings me to this packed supermarket in Wan Chai, staring at a row of beer bottles, and debating whether to choose the popular Tsingtao or the vastly less expensive Pabst Blue Ribbon (half the price of the Chinese beer, to be exact). Not a beer drinker myself, I am tempted to spring for the PBR and let the chips fall where they may. I then remember that I will soon be sailing in the middle of a very large body of water, and that some people on board will want to throw me into it.

We are buying supplies for a boat race from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, a boat race that ends up not being a boat race (at least on the first day), halted by authorities of something for some reason or other in the hours before it is due to start. My heart silently lifts, thinking I will be spared a five-hour boat ride to the mainland, only to plummet minutes later when it is decided: we will “go at around the same time other people go, to the same destination”, my husband acting in some important sailing capacity and me as weight.

I could bitch and moan for pages about the rest of that trip; how I endured moments of terror each time our boat tipped through another white-lipped swell, and how later, when I got sick, I didn’t care what happened to us.  But I’ll leave it at this. I’m still alive. And I had plenty of hairy crab to console me.

Holy crab!

Hairy crab, also known as “freshwater crab”, are called that for the seaweed-like “hair” around their claws, and come from eastern Asia. They are prized for their sweet, tightly bound meat and, at around the end of each year, the dabs of glutinous rice-like eggs underneath their carapaces, which are too yummy to be adequately described. The best and biggest, I am told, are said to come from a certain lake near Shanghai, where the “slime” at the bottom is apparently ample, giving each crab a proper workout. Although hairy crabs are sourced from all over the place, only a handful of HK restaurants have a certificate allowing them to purchase crab from this one lake. The following place is one of those restaurants.

Hang Zhou (1/F, Chinachem Johnston Plaza, Johnston Rd.)

Before I start, I’d like to talk about an invaluable tool to anyone who wants to ensure they get a good meal in Hong Kong (aside from very accommodating and generous friends, which we also had): www.openrice.com. This site recently started up an “English” version, enabling tourists to get the nitty-gritty from the locals.

However, I put “English” in quotation marks, because a lot of the time what is said is a little too local. For example: “I ate (insert Chinese character here), which was so so good! Make sure you (insert Chinese character here)” — turning a lot of reviews into a sort of madlib in which you can feel free to insert whatever your heart desires at the moment. I find this strangely mirrors a lot of interaction in HK nowadays, where people seem to speak a lot less English than they used to (“why don’t anyone speak amerikin, goddamit?!”), making verbal interaction a sort of mental madlib where there is only one right answer.

Ordering in Hang Zhou — and everywhere else we went, for that matter — went a little like this: “I would like honey ham.” “Huh? Somethingsomethingsomething ham somethingsomething pork?” Then you would be forced to repeat “honey ham” over and over again like an idiot until someone said “Ah! Honey ham!” In a way, it was a little like ordering in Thailand for me, but in English instead of Thai.

So, here, we did finally get that honey ham: slivers of ham paired with crackling skin, shoved into a steamed white bun and dipped in the ham’s honey-like sauce. There was a succulent baked fish with halved cherry tomatoes for eyes; a virtuous mound of braised spinach; shell-on shrimp in a shallow pool of tea; and row upon row of hairy crab. There was also what we were told was a “beggar’s chicken”: an entire bird wrapped in lotus leaf and baked — easily our favorite discovery here.

The "special baked chicken"

Him Kee Hotpot (1 & 2/F, Workingfield Commercial Building, 408-412 Jaffe Rd)

Woman need not live by hairy crab alone. This friendly and, uh, aromatic hotpot place allowed us to order a host of ridiculous things and two different broths (one, mild with corn and carrots; the other, thick with the tongue-numbing, thick-shelled Sichuan peppercorns). We ate many things, most of which we did not finish: a mountain of tofu, platters of mushroom caps, baby bok choy, slivers of beef, and goose intestines — delightfully springy and creamy, all at once. My favorites were the pre-hotpot offerings of snails, slathered in chilies and deep-fried garlic. But — sob! — the plates of bacon were left half-eaten.

An immobile feast

A new thing for me: chicken testicles. They ended up being surprisingly big, if I may say so myself (a little bigger than the pad of my thumb). Blanched in the broth, their tense, elastic texture gave way to a creamy burst of liquid when bitten into (and this will be the first and last time you read a sentence like that on this blog).

Dude, where's my balls?

Spring Deer (42, Mody Rd., 1st Fl., Tsimshatsui Kowloon)

I had been looking forward to going to a Peking-style hotpot restaurant ever since reading about it on @e-ting’s blog. How bitterly disappointed I was, then, to discover that it was FULL on the only day I was free to go. Thinking I would then end up wandering around the Elements mall, the lovely concierge at the W pressed this card into my hand and said, “This is very traditional. I will make a reservation.”

Needless to say, I lurved it. And not really for the food. Spring Deer is mainly serviced by a staff of white-coated old men, reminding me of the very old restaurants in Rome where the average age of the server is around 55. Unobtrusive, swift, and discreet (no guffaws of incredulity at the amount of food we order, the server simply tries to run away when he thinks we’ve had enough), the service here is among the best we’ve ever had in HK, and that’s including Caprice et al.

The signature dish, of course, is the “world famous Peking duck”, a dish we’re told requires two staff cooks who make 100 ducks a day. It’s different from the kind we get in Bangkok: rounds of smoky flesh are still attacked to the crispy skin and wrapped in thicker, floury pancakes with slivers of cucumber and leek and an inky plum sauce.

Spring Deer's Peking duck

Aside from a multitude of other dishes that I’ve clean forgotten (unable to gauge when a lot is too much, we usually stop ordering when the waiter tells us “I think that’s enough”), we ordered deep-fried mutton, not as nice as the duck. Chewy like a sort of makeshift jerky, it’s paired with a vinegary sauce that is meant to cut through the fattiness but doesn’t quite manage it.

Deep-fried mutton

Yung Kee (32-40 Wellington St.)

Everyone knows Yung Kee. But I’d never eaten here before. I am ashamed to say I can’t tell you how many times I passed by this restaurant on my way to some dodgy place in Lan Kwai Fong. So when our friend suggests going here, there is nothing to do but agree.

This restaurant is, obviously, an HK institution — the equivalent of what La Tour d’Argent used to mean to Paris. We’re told it seats thousands of people per meal, and that the higher the floor, the better the food. Of course, the dish we are all supposed to order is the roast goose. So we do, and we do again (no one here stops us, or even blinks an eye). We order deep-fried spare ribs, goose webs in abalone sauce, sauteed scallops in XO sauce, deep-fried beancurd, eggplant with mushrooms, braised duck in orange peel and platter upon platter of garlicky greens. We order until we can’t bear to look at our plates again, and after that, we order mango pudding. We order a lot.

Goose, goose, deep-fried beancurd

Kam Fung Cafe (41 Spring Garden Lane)

Our last meal before boarding the plane involves sweet, soft hot buns split and stuffed with heart attack-inducing slabs of salted butter, surprisingly savory eggy tarts that break apart when you bite into them, and cup upon cup of milky tea. We’re at Kam Fung Cafe, sharing tables with strangers who are surprisingly friendly, and watching locals consume bowls of what appears to be an HK-style version of Western food: soupy macaroni or egg noodles, topped with a runny fried egg or slivers of cooked ham. The ultimate in comfort food, after days of fatty fowl and chicken balls, trekking from Shenzhen to HK and back again, enduring seasickness and a rugby game where I am accidentally doused with beer by an irate NZ fan aiming at a gloating Aussie (in all fairness, he was pretty annoying). I am tempted, but still too full.

Breakfast

Next up, I will embarrass myself not once, not twice, but FIVE times on various golf courses throughout the Pacific Northwest, all for the privilege of dining at Portland’s Castagna and Seattle’s Lark. Because someday, eventually, I will be hungry again.

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Filed under Asia, beef, chicken, Chinese, dessert, duck, food, Hong Kong, pork, restaurant, seafood

Markets: the Original

Where I grew up, there where a place where the cool kids used to hang out called “the O”. It stood for “the Original”, although to be frank I have no idea how many versions of this Pittsburgh hot dog shop had to exist in order to necessitate singling yourself out as the “original” one. It’s not like Pittsburgh is awash in hot dogs — although I do remember fondly the O’s “disco fries” (our version of the Canadian “poutine”, which does not seem like a very evocative name for these cheese-slathered, bacon-topped deep-fried potato slivers. Heaven on a plate!)

What’s that? I’m supposed to be talking about something you might be interested in? Oh yes, that’s right. This:

Thai "pla tu" on sale at Nang Lerng market

It’s Nang Lerng market, located in the Banglamphu area on Nakhon Sawan road. This is supposed to be the very first wet market to ever sprout up in central Bangkok. What I do know for sure is that, like all of Thailand’s wet markets, it’ a load of fun to visit and the go-to place for some pretty hard-to-find old-style delicacies, such as the glutinous pork-filled rice balls, eaten with lettuce leaves, fresh coriander and chilies — a sweetly piquant mass of satisfying goo in the mouth.

Or old-style haw mok (steamed seafood mousse in banana cups), a Portuguese-influenced concoction combining local ingredients with European technique:

Steamed seafood mousse topped with coconut cream and shredded kaffir lime leaves

Then there are the delicacies that you actually do want to eat, like coconut ice cream trad-style, in a little plastic cup and festooned with roasted peanuts.

Fresh coconut ice cream

But if you do make it over there, do not miss Roongroj, the duck noodle shop at 141,143 Nang Lerng market. A popular with politicians who send their drivers over at noon for some lunchtime takeaway, Roongroj deserves its reputation as a shop with an extensive menu, efficient service and generous portions of sweet, toothsome duck.

Egg noodles with duck

The choice is extensive: stewed duck, braised duck, duck in pullo (Chinese five-spice and cinnamon broth) are all there, plus stewed chicken, barbecued pork and some very  nice giew (Chinese dumplings). Yes, if the duck or noodles haven’t tipped you off already — this food is Chinese. But then again, what noodle stand in Thailand ultimately isn’t?

Three different orders at Roongroj duck noodles

It’s open every day, and from late morning to well into the evening, so it’s hard to miss out on getting yourself a bowl. Do yourself a favor and trek over into the old part of town; basking in the atmosphere of the “original” wet market is worth it.

(Photos by @SpecialKRB)

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Filed under Asia, bamee, Bangkok, Chinese, duck, food, food stalls, markets, noodles, Thai-Chinese, Thailand

Road trip up north, Part I

Waiting on a bowl of noodles in Nakhon Sawan

A terrible, unexpected thing happened that necessitated a trip up north (what a horrible sentence, I know. It will have to make do). What this … happening … underlined was that, if you can forgive the old saw, life is short, and that it should be spent doing the things that make you and the people you love happy.

So that is what we did. Maybe this was just an elaborate rationalization that people like us concoct in order to feel good about eating our feelings, but when faced with the tiny little fishballs adorning the snow-white egg noodles at Goniew in Nakhon Sawan after a crappy 24 hours and a long road ahead, the way of least resistance is also the tastiest.

Duck stewing in a vat at Goniew

Goniew is a marvel in more ways than one (and easily found. Ask anyone in Nakhon Sawan and they will tell you where it is). Not only does it offer some of the tastiest, cutest little fish meatballs around, but it also serves up a gorgeously braised bowl of duck noodles, duck and barbecued or crispy pork on rice, and a decent Hainanese chicken rice. It also offers daily noodle specials (our day, an unusual choice: duck beak noodles). And it is open at 7 in the morning, an oasis in the desert of highway minimarts after a 4:30 wakeup call with no breakfast in sight and a heavy heart.

Khao soy at Khao Soy Islam

To me, khao soy is one of the more interesting dishes in Thailand. Often mistaken for something Burmese, people are sometimes puzzled as to why they can’t find something similar to this dish in Burmese restaurants. But it’s actually “Haw”, a Chinese-Muslim group originally from Burma that gradually settled in parts of northern Thailand, bringing with them this delicious soupy mix of spice and starch. Their Muslim heritage explains why the dish, if authentic, comes in only beef or chicken, and the Chinese part possibly explains the inclusion of egg noodles.  Strangely, the “Haw” attained a reputation for bland food despite the invention of khao soy. Even now, northern Thais call something bland “haw”.

Certainly not “haw”: the thick, pungent stew-like concoction available at Khao Soy Islam in Lampang, famed for its horse-drawn carriages and the coin-shaped rice cakes cooked in watermelon juice. Both chicken and beef versions are similarly earthy, almost musky, but the beef — which appears to have been marinated in something strong and aromatic — is almost gamy, thick with spice.

A steamerful of ganjin in Chiang Rai

Finally, at our destination, Thailand’s northernmost city and my birthplace: a quick, hurried meal at Pa Suk, the city’s best and most well-known purveyor of that hard-to-produce noodle delicacy, kanom jeen nam ngiew. It’s hard to go wrong with either the pork and beef versions (pork is milder and fattier, beef more pungent), and both kinds are full of strength and authenticity — finally, after months of weak-kneed imitations back in the capital! But my favorite is khao ganjin, modeled after the Shan dish in which rice is cooked in pig’s blood and steamed in banana leaves. Here, it is served with green onions and deep-fried garlic oil, a punctuation point to the perfect “welcome home” meal.

Pork nam ngiew at Pa Suk

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Filed under Asia, beef, Chiang Rai, chicken, duck, fish, food, food stalls, noodles, Northern Thailand, pork, Thailand