Tag Archives: food

Glutton (sort of) Abroad: Best Laid Plans

 

 

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I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. Last week, I finally bought the ticket. It’s non-refundable. So I’m doing it. I’m finally going  on my very first barbecue tour in the southern US this July.

Unlike most other things I do, where I just sort of throw things at the wall and see what sticks, I am actually trying to plan this time. It’s not easy for me, because I am a spaz. I will start researching something, only to find myself clicking on the crazy True Detective theory website, or looking up songs from the “Sixteen Candles” soundtrack. I have the attention span of a gnat. So it is really very slow going. But it’s (sort of) set. I’m focusing on what is called “real” barbecue, in the so-called “barbecue belt”. That means Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas. That’s it. Really, Texans.

Barbecue means pigs. Pigs are, somehow, intrinsically connected to the Southern identity: a cheap source of protein for centuries, pigs were allowed to run semi-wild in the woods up to the turn of the 20th century, making them easy game for hungry hunters with a halfway decent knowledge of how to start a fire. Although it is back-breaking and time-consuming work manning the pit, it also requires little more than experience: the more you barbecue, the better you get at it. And it is a relatively cheap pastime, breaking the tough or stringy pieces of meat into something that collapses into a velvety ooze. Each region boasts its own sauce, and even, in the case of Texas (beef) and Kentucky (mutton), different protein. But bona fide barbecue deals in pork, and smoke, and fire.

The act of barbecuing is said to have been the glue that kept Southern society together. Any big event — political rallies, church gatherings, etc. — featured one, and all and sundry would show up to socialize and have a little taste of the pig. The word “barbecue” supposedly comes from the West Indian term barbacoa, but Southerners have managed to take this cooking method and knit it securely into their own identities. To provide barbecue, real barbecue, one must be Southern, and understand the tradition of it. And any permutations, variations, iteration must be debated ad nauseum by anyone with even the slightest claim to Southern heritage, because to know about barbecue and its traditions is to be Southern. In this way, barbecue in the South is comparable to street food in Thailand, to me at least. Thais love to debate the merits or demerits of a particular version of any street food dish. They love to cast aspersions on another region’s treatment of the same ingredient. It’s like the social, conversational form of trading cards. This is how you show you are plugged in. Only, in the South, it’s the different ways someone slow-roasts a pig, instead of how someone cooks noodles.

I will start in Nashville, where I’ve never been. I must admit it’s not the barbecue that is drawing me here: it’s something called “hot chicken”, or fried chicken with hot sauce on it, which may be the best thing I have ever heard of. I LOVE FRIED CHICKEN. Next comes St. Louis/Kansas City, where a sweet, tomatoey sauce ladled over slow-cooked ribs is favored. In Memphis, the pig is “pulled” (shredded with a fork) and the sauce has molasses in it. In Alabama … I hear there is something called “white barbecue”, or a mayonnaise-based sauce (YIKES). In Georgia, the barbecue is served alongside “hash” — the Southern version of Scrapple. In South Carolina, the pork is sliced or chopped, and the sauce is piquant and mustardy. And in North Carolina, the “home of barbecue” to many, the sauce is either vinegary and the ‘cue served with hush puppies (on the east coast), or tomatoey and peppery, and served alongside a faintly terrifying dish called “Brunswick stew” in west North Carolina.

Do you know barbecue? Do you, like me, wonder how the different ways people roast pigs reflects the environments they live in? Do you have a favorite barbecue place? This is my tentative itinerary, and my very first attempt at crowdsourcing. If you have any opinions at all — even if you are not a Southerner — please let me know what you think.

TN

 —  Jim Neely’s Interstate (2265 S. 3rd St., Memphis)

—  A&R BBQ (1803 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis)

—  Jack’s (416 Broadway, Nashville)

—  Siler’s Old Time BBQ (6060 Hwy 100 E., Henderson)

—  Prince’s Hot Chicken (123 Ewing St., Nashville)

—  Hattie B’s (112 19th Ave. S., Nashville)

MO

—  Arthur Bryant’s (1727 Brooklyn Ave., Kansas City)

—  FIorella’s Jack Stack BBQ (101 W. 22nd St., Kansas City)

—  Pappys Smokehouse (3106 Olive St., St. Louis)

—  C&K BBQ (4390 Jennings Station Rd., St. Louis)

 

KS

— Oklahoma Joe’s (3002 W. 47th Ave., Kansas City)

— Woodyard (3001 Merriam Lane, Kansas City)

 

SC

— Scott’s BBQ (2734 Hemingway Hwy, Hwy 261 Brunson Cross Rd., Hemingway)

— Martha Lou’s Kitchen (1068 Morrison Dr., Charleston)

— Home Team BBQ (2209 Middle St., Charleston)

 

NC

— Allen and Son (6203 Millhouse Rd., Chapel Hill)

— Lexington BBQ (100 Smokehouse Lane, Lexington)

— Stamey’s (4524 N. Carolina 150, Lexington)

— Wilber’s BBQ (4172 Hwy. 70 East, Goldsboro)

— Skylight Inn (4618 S. Lee St., Ayden)

— The Pit (328 W. Davie St., Raleigh)

— Scott’s (1201 N. William St., Goldsboro)

— Bill’s (3007 Downing St., Wilson)

GA

— Gladys and Ron’s Chicken and Waffles (529 Peachtree St., Atlanta)

— Pittypat’s Porch (25 Andrew Young Intl Blvd., Atlanta)

— Fat Matt’s Rib Shack (1811 Piedmont Rd., Atlanta)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Street food celebrities

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Deep-fried sea bass at Jay Maew Seafood in Samut Songkhram

Gordon Ramsay. Jamie Oliver. Anthony Bourdain. You know who these guys are, right? Everybody does. And, if you like reading about food, chances are you have your own favorite celebrity chef whom you hope to meet one day and become best fwends with forever and ever (mine is Martha Stewart. I know. But the lady looks like she wouldn’t shy away from a drink and likes to have a good time. What can I say? Love has no logic, okay?!) 

The relatively tiny little world of Thai street food (or, as tiny as hundreds of thousands of street food stalls in Bangkok can be, anyway) also hosts its own celebrities. Everybody who has lived in Bangkok for some period of time knows about the dude who sells moo ping (grilled pork on skewers) at the Convent/Silom intersection late at night, greasy sweet manna for the high school-age revelers who are just stumbling out of Soi 4 (and with that last sentence, I have officially entered Middle Age). Many know about the guy who plies customers at his cart just off of Saladaeng Road with great yen ta fo noodles and carefully selected snippets of abuse. And of course, there is Jay Fai. So there are Thai street food celebrities out there. And, it would seem, the grumpier they are, the bigger the accolades. 

Jay Maew seems to fit into this mold. I have written about this fantastic seafood place in passing before, but after a recent trip there I think they deserve their own post. Like many professional chefs — and I am only just getting this — Jay Maew is a control freak, happy to bust out of the kitchen with a schmatta on her head to direct your car to a new parking spot if she thinks your parking skills are subpar (which must make her a lot of friends). She likes to tell customers that she is going to close soon, or is close to retiring, or maybe she will serve lunch, but just for you, because she likes you that much. Then you show up at the restaurant and see that lots of other people are already there. Why you gotta toy with my emotions like that, Jay Maew? 

Her other regulars like to tell me that she does this whole song and dance every time you make a reservation because she is trying to limit the number of customers she has, otherwise she gets flustered and stressed out — which, for a professional cook, sounds batshit crazy. Isn’t that what cooks do for a living? Serve customers food that they’ve cooked? But once the food comes out, it doesn’t really matter what uncharitable thoughts you had before, because everything is genuinely that good. There are always the stews — the bright, pungent gaeng som, the slightly sweet and meaty tom som, and of course the all-star tom yum — all thick with deftly cut hunks of pomfret or whatever other fish is a specialty that day. The gaeng kai pu — full of crab shells encrusted with orange bits of crab egg — will bring a tear to your eye. 

There is more than just the stuff that is thom (boiled).  There’s also the stuff that is pad (fried): a whole battery of different greens, my favorite being the young pumpkin shoots and acacia leaves, and the Chinese-y fried shrimp or crab dumplings accompanied by a homemade plum dipping sauce, and plump bits of crab as big as the pad of your thumb, stir-fried with garlic and chilies. 

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Jay Maew’s stir-fried crab with scallions and onion

I’ve only ventured a little ways through the menu here because I always end up sticking to my favorites, and let’s face it, that is way too much food to order in one sitting. I haven’t even mentioned the grilled tiger prawns, or the simply steamed fresh crab, or the steamed Chinese-style fish with either lime and chilies or pickled plums or soy sauce, or the deep-fried anything that you can think of. Although it’s an hour-and-a-half trip out of Bangkok on most days, it’s worth it — as long as you can get Jay Maew to agree to seat you.

How to get there: Get on the expressway to Dao Khanong. From Dao Khanong, go towards Samut Sakhon. From Samut Sakhon, head towards Samut Songkhram. Look for the sign for the Maeklong River, and then exit towards Maeklong village, where Jay Maew is located. Go under the bridge, turn left at your first left, and it should be on the left hand side. If you or someone you know can speak some Thai, you can also call 034-713-911.

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Glutton Abroad: Bongiorno Lampedusa

Tuna skewers and white mullet dusted with pistachio, garnish of the gods

Tuna skewers and white mullet dusted with pistachio, garnish of the gods

I have known The Italian for 22 years. During our freshman year at Bryn Mawr, she lived at the end of my hall in Pembroke West. Even then, she was an effortlessly chic little blond tornado, a glamorous chain smoker with an Italian-accented Stevie Nicks croak, a high-heeled aficionado of Valentino and Missoni at a time when I was still wearing red plaid pinafores from Talbots picked out by my mother.

So when the time came for The Italian’s 40th birthday party, I was on board. A shame it was at a place that the Italian embassy workers in Bangkok claimed didn’t exist. “Lampedusa?” they said. “No, that is not in Italy.”

We checked our birthday invitations again. “But it is Italian,” we said. “It’s an island that belongs to Italy.” But only a phone call from an actual Italian person would persuade them. Even then, they were skeptical. No one had ever heard of this little island before, including me.

It turns out Lampedusa is the southernmost part of Italy, a pebble skipping off the toe of the boot, landing somewhere between Tunisia and Sicily. The island spans nearly 8 miles, and is home to about 4,500 people, who speak “Lampedusan” — a mish-mash of Italian, French and Arabic that is incomprehensible to the regular outsider. The dry, rocky soil means vegetables can be hard to come by, as is most meat (although a herd of goats did live nearby, roaming the hills around our rented cottage in an area charmingly known as “the Bay of Death”). The only thing this place abounded in: seafood, and plenty of it.

While Lampedusans may be considered a breed apart, their cooking is purely Italian — Sicilian, to be exact. The mussels and clams that proliferate in the azure waters around the island are melded with scampi, garlic and tomatoes in a sauce for pasta. Sometimes, bits of tuna or red snapper are mixed with spaghetti and crowned in pistachio dust in the way a Roman would scatter grated Parmesan. Mullet and tuna are simply grilled, or, if it’s a fancy place, once again dusted with pistachio (and then grilled). Bits of octopus and/or scampi are marinated and served as a ceviche; rings of calamari are lightly breaded and deep-fried.

A photo of marinara sauce on the boat, blurred by the tossing waves

A photo of seafood marinara sauce on the boat, blurred by the tossing waves

As for the sweets, fuhgeddaboudit (I’m sorry. This is the last time I do that, I promise). There is a ton of gelato, of course (I am told the best “tests” of a gelato’s quality are the pistachio and banana flavors). There is Sicilian-style granite, or finely shaved ice (coffee is, inexplicably, the most popular flavor, it would seem). There are ice cream cakes mixing coffee, pistachio and strawberry flavors. So there are all these things, but only one thing matters to me, and that is cannoli: tubes of fried dough that are filled with a ricotta-augmented cream. They are super-sweet and occasionally delectable treats while eaten at a place like Veniero’s in the East Village; in Italy, they are the greatest things to have happened to the world since Michelangelo and da Vinci.

Sicilian-style cannoli at Pizzeria Dell'Amicizia

Sicilian-style cannoli at Pizzeria Dell’Amicizia

But all this fabulousness has a price, of course. Over the week, I hit a bit of a seafood wall — there is just too damn much fish. TOO MUCH FISH! Fish, everywhere, forever and ever, purple mountains of it, and fruited plains too. You see, Lampedusans love their seafood, especially their sgombro — a bonito-like fish of which they are inordinately proud that is eaten in everything including sandwiches, paired with capers and onions. Let me tell you how much they love their seafood: there are SEVERAL types of fish-based baby food. Mull(et) over that for a while.

Fish baby food on the supermarket shelf

Fish baby food on the supermarket shelf

Meanwhile, if the water is a little rough, ships can’t cross over, and you are left with a few heads of wilting romaine lettuce, a couple of withered Sicilian cucumbers, and the disheartening sight of NOTHING at the meat counter:

Karen, in line for nothing

Karen, in line for nothing

At a low point, my husband and I stop at Gerry Fast Food, where we are told we can get a fix of some sweet, sweet, meat. What we get: boiled beef lung and tongue, spritzed with lemon juice and enclosed in a plain hamburger bun. We eat all of it. But we never want to go back to that ever again.

 

 

 

 

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What’s Cooking: Elvis Suki

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Scallops ready for the grill

(Photo by @karenblumberg)

Elvis Suki (Soi Yotse, Plabplachai Rd., 02-223-4979, open 17.00-23.00 daily) is one of my favorite places to take visitors from out of town. Its specialty — the Thai-style sukiyaki after which it is named — is an unglamorous but delicious goop of glass vermicelli, a blank canvas on which a yin-and-yang-likedrama is played out nightly: blanched seafood or meat versus the vibrant thrashings of a spicy-sweet-tart chili sauce, like the Meg underpinning a buoyant Jack.  That said, it’s still the Cleveland of street food dishes, solid but unlamented, probably a nice place to live but unlikely to haunt your dreams.

Their scallops, however, are another story. Other people make scallops like these: an unlikely pairing of scallops and a dab of pork, minced or otherwise, both doused liberally in a sweet, garlicky butter. Yet somehow no one can hold a candle to Elvis Suki’s version.  Maybe it’s the atmosphere? (no-nonsense open-air shophouse or, if you are fast enough, no-frills air-conditioned room?) Maybe it’s the people? (A mix of families and office workers). Or maybe it’s the service? (Probably not). In any case, few diners leave Elvis Suki without those scallops.

 

Elvis Suki’s grilled scallops with pork (makes 4)

What you’ll need:

–       4 large scallops

–       1 slice (about 60 g) pork neck

–       2 Tbs butter

–       2 large cloves garlic, finely minced

–       Salt and pepper (to taste)

–       Sugar

To make:

  1. Make garlic butter by mixing garlic with softened butter
  2. “Dry brine” pork by coating in salt for 15 minutes. Before using, pat dry.
  3. Clean scallops and place 1-inch-long piece of pork alongside scallop on the shell. Season both with salt and pepper.
  4. Dot with dollops of garlic butter and sprinkle both scallops and pork with ¼tsp of sugar.
  5. Grill or broil in oven for about 5 minutes, keeping a close eye so that the scallops do not burn.
  6. Take out and serve while hot.
The grilled scallops at Elvis Suki

The grilled scallops at Elvis Suki

 

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A spoonful of sugar

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The formidably cluttered work station at New Chu Ros

The first time we set out to find this place (and by the first time, I mean: the first time after the four times I’d been there before while researching the first book), we got lost. I thought this old Banglamphu standby — located deep in the bowels of a covered-walkway market specializing in bits of fabric and ladies’ undergarments — was located in Little India. Pahurat somehow figured in the location of the place, I knew (I am not very good at directions). All I needed to do was to find the outdoor market.

Except … there are a whole lot of outdoor markets. All over Pahurat. And all around Banglamphu, too. Because the second time, we were lost irreparably — this time in a random alleyway around the corner from the old-style shopping center known as Old Siam (incidentally, a great place for coffee, juices and a bathroom break if you ever find yourself in the area). The third time, I found it. And it was closed. And the fourth time, I forgot where it was and found myself in the same random alleyway again. Yes, I know.

The fifth time, it was open, AND in the place we thought it would be (after going to the wrong market one last time. Because, we are us). It’s in a place called the Pahurat Market, yes, but really, how helpful is that? Better yet: across the street from the KFC at Old Siam (the actual KFC, not the sign, don’t use the sign). More specific? After crossing the street, turn right, and then turn the corner, and the market will be the first on your left. It’s a proper market — no listless little alleyway with cutesy stationery shop and a couple of sad old vendors selling incense here. It’s lined with fabric shops and jam-packed with stalls selling girdles and nightgowns and the odd touristy knick-knack or two. And it’s there — about 30 meters in to the left, or, if you want a shortcut, directly through the shop specializing in dancers’ traditional Thai headdresses and to the right upon exiting.

If you are still confused, there’s the voice — the proprietor of the shop has a very distinctive voice that really defies description. Any pedestrian within hailing distance will get an earful, exhorting them to come in and listing the specialties of the house: in this case, noodles, every kind, in a pork or tom yum or fermented red tofu broth.

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A bowl of yen ta fo with iced coffee

My favorite order at these kinds of noodle places is yen ta fo — the red fermented tofu-based sauce paired with fish meatballs, slippery slivers of squid, deep-fried pork bits and blanched morning glory — without broth or noodles. I don’t need the yen ta fo garnishes to have to share the spotlight. I find yen ta fo is a maligned sauce even among Thais, many of whom say they won’t eat it because it’s too sweet. I find that funny because, well, have you had Thai food lately? I think that the real measure of whether you’ve transitioned to becoming a true Bangkokian today is when you start sugaring your noodles. Anyone can revel in the dirty trashcan stink of fermented fish sauce or bomb their palates to Neverneverland with the typical assortment of chilies and spices … but it takes a true Bangkokian to add a heaping spoonful of sugar to all that drama. No longer can we have the savory without the sweet, and (maybe) vice versa.

I’ll admit it: terrible yen ta fo is indeed too sweet. But the very best ones, like the bowl at New Chu Ros, throw in plenty of tart and a tinge of spice, making yen ta fo a literal party in the mouth of textures and flavors. So if you are intrepid enough to brave the Pahurat market, and willing to possibly get a little lost, try out the bowl at New Chu Ros. Girdle optional.

(All photos by @karenblumberg).

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What’s Cooking: Bamee Slow

My stab at "bamee kai", or egg egg noodles

My stab at “bamee kai”, or egg egg noodles

It’s on. Stress has taken hold, and I am feeling overwhelmed. As deadlines loom and previously-unforeseen hitches suddenly rear their little heads, I find myself reacting in strange ways. Please don’t be alarmed. If you see me staring at you, I am not contemplating you for dinner. I don’t see you at all. If you are foolish enough to say something to me, do not be startled if I spout even more rubbish than usual. I am trying to work something out.

In my present state, I have discovered some people enjoy my company more than usual. These are twisted and strange people. They are also food lovers. Because, in an attempt to keep from creeping as many people out as I usually do, I have retreated to the kitchen, where I can be as weird as I want and as brave as I like. It’s all OK, you see. My inevitable failures here won’t be as heartbreaking. And the results, as pitiful as they are, can be shared by everyone.

Today, I am attempting to replicate one of my favorite comfort foods, the bamee kai (egg noodles with, um, egg) from Bamee Slow, officially referred to as  “Bamee Giew Moo Song Krueang” (open after 8pm at the entrance to Ekamai soi 19). Diners who like these noodles enough to queue up for them — and Thais have a hard time lining up for anything — affectionately call this place “Bamee Slow” because the khun lung (old “uncle”) manning the stall makes every bowl one by one, and it can take up to half an hour to get your order (for the record, the longest I have waited is 22 minutes). He has since stepped back from the soup vat and his daughter has taken over, and I am told she is a bit faster. But their noodles are as popular as ever.

What I love are the al dente, silky noodles, coated with the unctuous yellow yolk that eventually spills out of every unlucky egg plonked into each bowl. Slices of red pork, sturdy bits of Chinese kale, crumbled minced pork bits: none are immune from the reach of the yolk. This is what I am trying to capture, in my own small way.

Before starting, you need to make sure you have a big enough strainer that will hold all your noodles while ensuring that all the starch washes away, so that your egg noodles are not a smooshed-up Jack Sparrow-like bird’s nest, rendering your entire bowl a sad mess like the remnants of my career. Also, like the people at Bamee Slow, you should make up each bowl one-by-one: it really does make for better noodles.

I boiled a handful of pork soup bones in water with some garlic and white peppercorns for an hour, skimming periodically, and then flavored the broth with soy sauce and roasted chili paste (the ingredient that I think lends the toxic orange color to Bamee Slow’s broth). However, if you don’t have the time or inclination for this, pan-fry some minced pork with or without pork soup bones first, then cover with water and boil for a few minutes before starting. Or, simply get a couple of pork bouillon cubes into some hot water and proceed without delay. It’s all up to you.

Bamee Slow’s egg noodles (makes 2 servings)

– 200 g pork soup bones

– 500 ml water

-2 garlic cloves

– 5-10 white peppercorns, depending on how peppery you like it

– 1 tsp nam prik pow (roasted chili paste)

– 1 tsp salt

– 3 Tbs soy sauce

– 200 g minced pork

– 200 g fresh egg noodles

– 4 stalks Chinese broccoli or kale

– 2 eggs, soft-boiled (boiled for 3-4 minutes), cooled in an ice bath, and peeled

– Sugar, chili powder, fish sauce, white vinegar (for garnish)

To make:

1. Boil first four ingredients for an hour, skimming periodically.

2. Season with soy sauce, salt, roasted chili paste and more white pepper. Adjust to your taste.

3. Add minced pork and allow to boil for a few minutes until pork is cooked, skimming scum off of surface.

4. Add your greens.

5. Place half of your noodles in a strainer and immerse in the broth, skimming more off the surface if needed. Wait 2-3 minutes for noodles to “cook” and lose their starch.

6. Place in a bowl and ladle broth with minced pork (but without pork bones) over the noodles. Garnish with egg and greens and, if you have it, a few slices of Chinese-style barbecued red pork.

7. Serve alongside sugar, chili powder, fish sauce, white vinegar (with or without sliced or smashed chilies) and ground peanuts, if you like.

 

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That time of year again

Big Bite Bangkok

The scene at last year’s Big Bite BKK

Like taxes, like school, like that rumble in your tummy … the time for Big Bite is coming ’round again like clockwork. This year promises to be at least as fun as last year — even without yours truly manning the chilli dog stand.

We will be enjoying the culinary stylings of folks like Appia, Opposite Mess Hall and Urban Pantry, as well as treats of a more liquid nature from Twist and The Alchemist. Even better, Monsoon Winery has agreed to sponsor us, so you can rest assured that there will be plenty of quality wine on offer too! Donations from the event benefit In Search of Sanuk.

What: Big Bite Bangkok

When: Sunday, July 14, 11am-2pm

Where: Maduzi Hotel

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