Three Notable Dishes in New York City

My trip last month to the East Coast ended with a weekend in New York City. Food was my focus and I ended up dining by myself a lot of the time. I was excited to try Miznon, an International restaurant serving Israeli street food located in Chelsea Market. This is the only location in the United States and they just opened this year so I felt lucky to have the opportunity to eat here. The other Miznon locations are in Tel Aviv, Paris, Vienna, and Melbourne.  

Miznon is known for their pita stuffed with fresh and seasonally inspired ingredients. I ordered pita with rib eye minute steak with tahini, tomato salsa, and pickles. I was in heaven as it was pure harmony, one bite after another. If I still lived in New York City, this would be a regular stop for me.

I have yet to travel to Japan, but this meal is one I would suspect would be a traditional one and why I think I would love traveling through Japan. I enjoyed brunch at Bessou on Bleecker Street. I ordered the Japanese breakfast set which came with sea bass, veggies, assorted pickles, a cold poached egg in soy, miso soup, and rice. It was fun to have a variety of food especially when I was eating by myself. I enjoyed the lightness and simplicity of my meal. Sitting at the bar, I watched a lot of food come out of the kitchen and next time I might go with steak and eggs or bananas foster pancakes!
After almost a week away from home, I was craving Chinese food. One place I had bookmarked was King’s Kitchen in Chinatown. I had lunch with my cousins who live a few blocks away. I ordered clay pot rice with preserved meats, which is a dish that always brings me comfort. It came with the usual Chinese bacon and Chinese sausage, but had the addition of taro which was nice. But honestly, you always find the best part at the bottom of the clay pot, the extra crispy rice.
I would say it wasn’t a bad way to spend a weekend!


Dol Ho(le in the wall)

Dol Ho in San Francisco Chinatown is the epitome of a hole in the wall. Every table could potentially become a community table, as I watched customers squeeze themselves in. My friend sat next to me, but strangers sat across from us.

Dol Ho is probably one of the last few dim sum restaurants that still have push carts. The majority of the customers at Dol Ho are at least 80 years old.  
  The most popular dish at Dol Ho is their spareribs over rice. Almost every table will order at least one of them. The spareribs are steamed with a black bean sauce and then a sweet soy sauce is poured over the ribs and rice. I often get an order to go so that I can have it for lunch the next day.
 My friend introduced me to a new dish at Dol Ho. It was a rice roll cooked with dried shrimp and chives. A sweet soy sauce is poured over these noodles and topped with cilantro. This dish is made to order which is nice because it comes out fresh and hot. I really enjoyed the consistency of the noodles and the flavors that the chives brought out.
 Those are the highlights of Dol Ho for me. We ordered a couple of other dim sum dishes that weren’t that interesting. It really only takes a few things to bring in customers to a restaurant. I will continue to get my spareribs over rice as take out, but it’s quite interesting to sit down at Dol Ho. You get a sense of Old Chinatown when you see the clients coming here on fixed incomes. They will come in using canes, walkers, and I even saw one in a wheelchair. Nothing will come between them and their spareribs over rice. The food at Dol Ho is authentic and cheap.  

Chilli Padi: Oakland’s One and Only Malaysian Restaurant

I still recall my first experience eating Malaysian food.  It was back in the year 1999 when I lived in New York City.  I made friends who introduced me to Nyonya.  My last visit to New York was less than two years ago, but I still made a point to get take out from Nyonya for the plane ride home.

There aren’t a lot of Malaysian restaurants in the Bay Area.  I have even seen a few come and go.  I am happy that one finally opened in Oakland that I can go to when I have a craving.  Chilli Padi Malaysian Cuisine is located in Oakland Chinatown replacing Szechuan Restaurant, a brunch spot I used to frequent.  I’ve eaten at Chilli Padi (CP) twice thus far and here is a summary:

One of my favorite Malaysian foods is roti canai, a kind of bread that is made up of a lot of thin layers and comes with a curry dipping sauce.  It’s a great starter.   

The samosas at CP were also delicious minus having to remove the excess oil with a napkin.  They are a cross between an egg roll and an Indian samosa.  The inside is filled with potatoes and vegetables and wrapped with the similar wrapping for egg rolls.  They are deep fried and comes with a sweet Thai chili sauce.   

On one of my visits, I tried the fried chicken wings.  If I made a list of the best fried chicken wings, these probably wouldn’t make the cut.  However, they had good flavor, no coating, and they were all wing, my favorite part.  There were no drumettes and no wing tips!     

A popular noodle soup at CP is the laksa mee.  It has a curry base that thickens the broth and comes with noodles, chicken, tofu, eggplant, green beans, and okra.  I love the flavor and all the ingredients.     “Kangkung” is a vegetable that was prepared in belacan or shrimp paste. I know it as “ong choy” in Chinese cuisine.  It’s probably not for everyone because of the unique texture and unusual flavor, but I love it. 

The coffee short ribs were finger licking good.  They had a delicious sweet glaze with a hint of coffee flavor.  I am a happy camper if all I had were the coffee short ribs and a bowl of steamed white rice.

The sautéed eggplant was also yummy.  It was cooked perfectly so it had a small crispness at first bite and was tender on the inside.    

After my dinner at CP, my party was given a free dessert and it was huge.  It was a bowl full of shaved ice, beans, and condensed milk.  Not being a big Asian dessert fan, it was pretty good. 

If you are looking for a Malaysian restaurant, look no further, Chilli Padi is here.

Tian Jin Dumplings: A Special Hole in the Wall

A “hole in the wall” is a small and unpretentious place often used to describe restaurants.  Tian Jin Dumplings in Oakland Chinatown is literally a hole in the wall.  You stick your face in front of a window (hole) and order your food for take out.  My coworker and I have been meaning to go there for awhile and finally went last week.  

There are only six cooked items on the Tian Jin Dumplings menu, and we attempted to get all six.  Unfortunately two of the six items had already sold out so we could only get four.  We had to wait about fifteen minutes for our food to be ready.  One could potentially eat in one of the two small tables on the sidewalk.  On this particular day, it was very windy, so we took our food to the Oakland City Center to eat.  

We started our lunch with the savory Tianjin crepe which is an egg based crepe with black sesame seeds filled with Chinese donut and preserved vegetables.  I thought it was quite unique in both flavor profile and texture.  It is actually one large crepe that is cut into two.  This alone could be a meal in itself.  My coworker and I only got through half the order.  

Next we tried the biscuit.  The biscuit was very boring and really a waste of carbohydrates.  I don’t recommend this at all.

The first dumplings we ate were the chive dumplings.  These pieces of wonderful are generously filled with pork and chives.  

The alternate dumplings were the cabbage dumplings, which I liked best.  They were moist, juicy, and some of the best dumplings I have had.  

Tian Jin Dumplings definitely impressed me as well as others.  I brought the leftovers back to the office and shared some of the remaining dumplings with two other coworkers.  After sampling, they both requested that I take them there In the near future, which I agreed.  But next time I’ll get there early so I can try the two sold out items – tea smoked egg and the Tian Jin pork bun.    

Another Dim Sum Blog

This is another blog post about dim sum. It’s a food that I am very familiar with because I grew up eating it and I continue to eat it to this day. I have had the pleasure of enjoying dim sum in Hong Kong, in Vancouver BC, in New York City, in Los Angeles, and of course San Francisco. My new favorite place for dim sum in San Francisco Chinatown is Lai Hong Lounge on Powell Street between Broadway and Vallejo Streets. The location holds a special place in my heart because it’s the neighborhood that I spent the first two years of my life before my family moved to Oakland. My family lived in an apartment directly across the street from Lai Hong Lounge.
My last visit to Lai Hong Lounge was with my mother, grandmother, and five year old niece. I think three or four is a good number of people for dim sum because items usually come in three or four. But with four people, you can afford to order a few extra dishes and get a better variety.

The most common items to order are the steamed shrimp dumplings (har gow) and steamed pork dumpling (sew mai). These are great for kids because they are very basic and not exotic in terms of flavor or ingredients. These were the first types of dim sum I ate as a kid. I know my niece liked them.
Popular at Lai Hong Lounge is the baked barbecue pork buns (cha siu bao). It uses the dough of a steamed bun, but has a nice sweetened crust on top.
My grandmother’s favorite dish is fried taro dumpling (woo gok). It’s crispy on the outside with a smooth taro and pork filling on the inside.
The general public might be grossed out by the steamed chicken feet (fung jow), but it’s one of my favorites. It’s very tender and flavored with black bean sauce. I was surprised that my niece was a fan. I know when I was five I wouldn’t touch it.
An item that my mother and grandmother ate was the beef tripe (ngau pak yip). To this day, I still won’t touch it.
We also ordered the turnip cakes (law bok gow). This is something my grandmother used to make during Chinese holidays. It is steamed and then pan fried to give it a golden color and crisp.
Another tasty dish we ordered was the rice rolls (cheung fun) with xo sauce (jeung). It’s a soft noodle with a spicy kick.
My mom wanted steamed custard buns (lai wong bai). It’s always good to end with something sweet, so these buns act as a desert.
I really like Lai Hong Lounge because the food is fresh and the prices are reasonable. I would definitely give dinner a try. Maybe have some Peking duck?

It’s Cold: Time for Jook

As the temperature drops below freezing in parts of the Bay Area, I am always seeking something warm to eat. Rice porridge also known as congee and called “jook” in Chinese is something I love to eat when it is cold.
The basic ingredients of jook is rice, water, and salt and it takes hours to cook over a stove top as the rice has to slowly break down. I have cooked it all day in my crock pot. In order to add flavor, you need to add other ingredients or toppings. Ingredients can range from the inexpensive pork and thousand year old egg to the pricier ones with abalone or frog legs. After Thanksgiving, my family has made a turkey jook and a ham jook. The bones of the turkey or ham add a lot of flavor.
My friend and I recently went out for jook on a cold evening. Hands down the best place for jook in Oakland is Gum Kuo in Chinatown’s Renaissance Plaza. We decided we would share a bowl of jook and a couple other items. It didn’t take long for us to agree we would have jook with filets of fish. The jook at Gum Kuo was super creamy. The flavor was plain tasting until we added the green onions, cilantro, soy sauce, and white pepper. It was tasty, comforting, and hit the spot.
The most popular thing you can order on the side to dip into jook is a fried savory bread stick also known as a Chinese donut. I only like a few pieces so I don’t tend to order it. Popular at Gum Kuo is their made to order rice noodle rolls. These are stuffed with different items and has a sweet soy sauce poured over the top. We ordered my favorite which has crispy roast duck, BBQ pork, and garlic chives. The three ingredients together were harmonious.
The final item we ordered was salty fish and chicken fried rice. You can get chicken fried rice at most Chinese restaurants, but they don’t always have the preserved salty fish for this dish. I can’t recall the last time I had this, but my friend and I were really happy we ordered it because it was the best thing we had this evening.
Gum Kuo is my go-to place for jook and other cheap Chinese comfort foods. Cash only.

Egg Custard Tart: A San Francisco Treat

Egg custard tarts, pronounced “don tat” in Chinese is a favorite of mine. Most often I enjoy some at the end of a dim sum meal at a tea house. The pastry shells are filled with a creamy sweet egg custard. They come in different sizes; and kids and grown ups love them.

Chinese bakeries are also a place you can find egg custard tarts. Every bakery makes them a little different. Some bakeries make them with a firmer custard and some make them with a softer, creamier custard. Some shells are made with a cookie or pie crust while others are made with a flakier pastry like crust.

Where can you get the best egg custard tarts? Of course, it would be in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Golden Gate Bakery almost always has a long line down Grant Avenue. What are the customers waiting for? Of course, it is for the hot out of the oven egg custard tarts.

I have heard of people making the trek out to Golden Gate Bakery only to find it closed. Yes, the bakery does occasionally close for a month at a time for vacation. For their successful business, they can! I just discovered a website that you can check to make sure they are open.

I don’t tend to go to Golden Gate Bakery very often because I don’t want to wait in a line that can take up to 45 minutes and the prices seem to go up a lot. I picked some up recently about thirty minutes before they were closing to find no line. Although I didn’t get them hot out of the oven, they were still slightly warm. I bought one to eat right away and had the others boxed up to share with the family. These had a flakey crust with a silken custard that was sweet and buttery. My mom thinks I am crazy to spend $1.35 per tart, because she can probably get 3 for that price elsewhere. I would spend more than that for a cookie at an American bakery, so it’s worth it to me.
With no line, I asked the owner in Chinese “How many don tats do you sell a day?”. She told me she can’t keep track because they have to make them so fast. She welcomed me to come on my day off to count! She made me laugh and the don tats made me smile.