March 24, 2011
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…you’re watching Tony Bourdain in Vienna and you say, “He’s drinking out of a Spiegelau wine glass! It’s an “Authentis” Burgundy glass! Why is he drinking white wine out of it? And hey, I’ve even got one of those glasses”!
That’s when you say to yourself, “Have I’ve gone too far? Am I a lost boy”?
That’s on top of me going to a new Vietnamese restaurant this afternoon and being disappointed with the Bánh mì sandwich and the vermicelli dish that you find in most Viet restaurants (you know the one – it’s got cut up pieces of spring roll, cilantro, grated carrots, “BBQ pork”, ground peanuts and a side bowl of sweetened fish sauce. First of all, the Bánh mì barely had any crunchy bits like cucumber and carrots, and had some very stalky cilantro stuck in the middle. The pork was the requisite reddish color but had hardly any flavor. Plus, it wasn’t even cut in the middle. Sad. Then, the vermicelli dish had some sad bits of cilantro and a sprinkling of carrots and almost indiscernable cucumber, the fish sauce tasted more vinegary than sweet, and the spring rolls were basically Chinese spring rolls (I don’t know what makes them different, but the Vietnamese spring rolls you usually find in the dish are far more succulent and tasty). But the final insult was the fact that the vermicelli was overcooked and comprised most of the bowl instead of having a good ratio of noodles to “good bits”. Oh wait, I forgot – I had to send back the lemonade because it was a commercial mix instead of that really good “homemade lemonade” that you find in a good US Vietnamese restaurant. Hell, it even said “homemade lemonade” on the menu. I told my waiter that it tasted like Countrytime and she told me that it was actually Minutemaid.
I turned into one of those passive-aggressive diners that we waiters all hate, only I dropped the “aggressive”. I couldn’t bring myself to tell the very nice, accommodating waiter that it wasn’t her fault but her restaurant’s cuisine sucked eggs. I was hard enough for me to send the flipping lemonade back ($2.75 – are you kidding me??!!??)
I feel badly because I won’t be going back, especially since there are three good Vietnamese restaurants within 3 blocks of there. I feel especially bad because I didn’t have the heart to tell my waiter. I’m a baaaaddd diner. But even worse, I feel weird that I had such emotions over a $10 lunch. I guess that makes me a foodie of sorts – a foodie on a budget.
God, somebody please help me…
September 5, 2009
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Andrea Nguyen has borrowed a spicy, Asian-styled ketchup recipe and shared it with us.
September 03, 2009
Spicy Umami Ketchup Recipe
I’ve been on a condiment jag lately, if you haven’t noticed. With Labor Day weekend coming up, I’ve been dreaming of the summer’s last official barbecue – hamburgers. I love hamburgers and when we were kids, my mom would sometimes fry up burgers in a cast iron skillet and we’d gobble them up on Sunday mornings after church. To me, homemade burgers were nearly as good as homemade beef pho noodle soup. It’s no coincidence that both are ‘have it your way’ kinds of foods.
Like Vietnamese pho and banh mi sandwiches, I like to personalize my hamburgers, dressing it with carefully layered accoutrements before taking my first bite. On the bottom half of the bun, lots of rich mayonnaise touching both sides of the sliced tomato. On the top half of the bun, the tomato ketchup should flavor the meat, onion and cheese with its tangy, salty, heady edge. Ketchup punctuates a hamburger with brightness.
I’ve tackled homemade mayonnaise, Vietnamese chile garlic sauce, and Thai-style Sriracha sauce but I didn’t think of making ketchup myself until I noticed Saveur magazine’s umami ketchup recipe in the September 2009 issue. The fanciful ketchup recipe comes from the popular Umami Burger restaurant in Los Angeles. What made it umami? For one, ripe tomatoes are extremely umami laden, and the restaurant includes oyster sauce, tamari, Worcestershire sauce, and anchovies for extra savory depth. The use of salty, briny ingredients in the recipe reminded me of traditional Vietnamese tomato sauces employed to nap fried whole fish, tofu and the like. In fact, in Rick Stein’s travel show on Vietnam, he makes that kind of sauce, seasoning it with fish sauce for savoriness. Stein uses fish sauce just like a Vietnamese cook would. Ketchup’s East-West connection got me to thinking and researching.
Read the rest of the post here:
Image courtesy of http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/ and Andrea Nguyen
July 22, 2009
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I’m fond of the bastardized version of the original Thai chili sauce that’s found in Asian restaurants everywhere (the ubiquitous squirt bottle is actually a Vietnamese interpretation that’s actually made here in the States, as she points out). You know the bottle – it’s the one with the rooster on the bottle. I like using it in tandem with sambal, that rough-textured hotter, oily sauce that you often find on the table. The sambal has a more direct, hotter flavor and “Sriracha” is a bit more laid back. Unlike her, I do like adding it to my pho, although I’m discrete with both chile sauces. I don’t like overwhelming the delicious broth, but I like tailoring it to my own tastes.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what chile sauces I can find at my local market and I hope I can find the “Shark” brand that she discusses.
Another great, informative post from Ms. Nguyen. She really does have one of the best foodie sites on the web and I’m looking forward to her dumplings book.
Photo courtesy of Andrea Nguyen, www.vietworldkitchen.com
July 16, 2009
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If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I love not only Vietnamese cuisine, but also Andrea Nguyen’s wonderful blog, Viet World Kitchen . You’ll find the link in my blogroll and if you plug her name into my search engine, you’ll find both reviews of her book Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and her comprehensive and sweeping blog. If you type in pho, you will find my rather overheated defense of phở , done in the early days of this blog and reprinted from a music mailing list that I was participating in, back before I realized that I could cut and paste the word phởfrom Nguyen’s blog to get the Vietnamese character. Maybe some day I’ll go and clean it up, but it was itself a cut and paste job from a mailing list post. Perhaps in the spirit of authenticity, I should leave it alone, resisting the urge to tighten up the overheated rhetoric as well.
If you love the heaping fresh herbs that accompany such dishes as phở and bánh xèo (sizzling crepes). Nguyen has an article that you’ll want to check out:
It links to her July 15th article in the Los AngelesTimes food section about an appreciation for Vietnamese herbs. And the post also has a link to an article about growing Vietnamese herbs. Since finding a variety of fresh Vietnamese herbs is a challenge at best and impossible at worst, this is an article worth checking out. Herbs are fairly easy to grow, even if you only have a balcony and she gives you the rundown on easy ways to grow them in and around the home. she also has a link to a “Vietnamese herb primer”, where she goes down the list of important herbs.
If her blog isn’t on your subscribed list, it should be. And if you don’t have her book, what in the heck are you waiting for? She’s got a new book on dumplings coming out in next month as well.
Photo courtesy of The Coriander Leaf, the Singapore “Asian Food Hub”
Oh yeah, this is post number 200!
June 23, 2009
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A World of Curries: From Bombay to Bangkok, Java to Jamaica, Exciting Cookery Featuring Fresh and Exotic Spices (Paperback)
by Dave DeWitt and Arthur Pais
Publisher: Little Brown & Co (P); 1st edition (March 1994)
If you say “curry” to the average American, they’ll think of curry powder and curried rice or chicken. Say “curry” to a Brit and she’ll think “Indian”. Say “curry” to the average foodie and the mind wanders to Thailand and Vietnam in addition to India. But there’s a whole world of curries out there that’s just begging to be exposed. And Dave DeWitt, the famous chile pepper author-dude, is just the guy to do it, with a lot of help from Arthur Pais.
If there’s a more comprehensive book on curries around the world, I don’t know what it might be. For instance, there’s a whole chapter just on Spice Island curries, in which they roll in most of Indonesia (Bali, Java, Malaysia, Sumatra, etc.) There are discussions and recipes of Caribbean curries, a detailed roll-call of African curries, from the well known Saharan harissa and ras-al-hanout based dishes to the more exotic Nigerian and Ethiopian varieties of curry dishes. Fiji gets into the act and even New Zealand and Australia aren’t exempt. Obviously, there’s a lengthy discussion of Indian and Thai, and includes other neighbors such as Laos, Sri Lanka and Myanmar (formerly Burma). It includes in its recipes the main difference between Vietnamese and its close cousin Thai (the addition of potatoes/taro root/sweet potatoes in Vietnamese is one of the things that differentiate the very similar flavor profiles, although some US Pho shops seem to unfortunately take the easy way out and do bascially a Chinese curry powder verson). Cambodia is even covered.
Hell, there are 6 pages just on the origins of the word and the various internecine arguments between cultures as to what a curry is (and isn’t). Each region gets a comprehensive history and cultural lesson that’s as complete as an Encyclopedia Britannica entry (probably more so). Lots of antique woodcuts of camels and Rajes and no photographs of dishes at all. This is pure knowledge at its best.
Well-researched and well-written, this is the one book to own if you were to only own one book on curry.
Indonesian Chicken Curry (Kalio Ayam)
Photo courtesy of Dhita Beechey. See her great cooking blog, Cooking Etcetera at http://www.cookingetcetera.com/