Along with cooking we also learned how to carve these carrots out of flowers. Can you tell which one is Shefali’s and which one is mine? (hint: mine looks like it was carved using a knife and not my teeth)
I’m sure if you saw the previous post about pad thai, you’re aware of how highly I regard Thai food, both for its preparation and its dynamic flavors. Also, I’m a fan of employing badly shot vacation video from almost two years ago to give the few lucky readers of this blog an opportunity to savor more Thai food and watch Shefali and I stumble through the preparation of some basic Thai dishes. You see, the summer before last, before Kaya and her voracious appetite made themselves known – actually, I think Shef was in the early stages of pregnancy with K (aka “The Eater”) – we were fortunate to find ourselves in Chiang Mai, Thailand, recuperating from our trip to India. Believe me, Northern Thailand is the place to go for relaxing and eating. As full fledged tourists, we enrolled in a one day cooking class at the Siam Rice Thai Cookery School. Now, I fancy myself as somewhat knowledgeable about food and the way its prepared – Asian food in particular. Oh, I don’t know, maybe because I’m ASIAN? Sheeit! So I didn’t know how much I’d really get out of this class. Well, feed me some humble pie, because I got a whole lot of spicy goodness out of it. It was great! The recipes were obviously dumbed down for farang students, but what really came through (bubbled up to the surface as it were) was the importance of using the freshest ingredients and cooking things quickly and with the intensity of high eat to seal in flavors. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but some of dishes I cooked in this class, I’d consider among the best Thai food I’ve eaten. So without further ado, please enjoy these two videos which chronicle both our trip to the market and our cooking class. Please enjoy!
About a month ago Shefali, Kaya, and I had the pleasure of spending almost twenty hours on two planes (with one layover) to travel 8,651 miles to Bangkok, exactly twelve hours ahead (timewise), where we would spend four short days before another two and a half hour flight (on one plane) to Hong Kong for another four short days. Then we came home. End of story. Actually no. We went to Bangkok and Hong Kong to spend our winter break with Shefali’s family in Bangkok and my family in Hong Kong. But more on that in a future (possible) post wherein I just talk about all the “first” foods that Kaya ate. Yeah, I’m that dad.
This post is about pad thai, specifically the pad thai found at Luang Pha Pad Thai restaurant in Bangkok. You know, that place on Maha Chai Road, a stone’s throw from the Wat Saket? Yeah that one. Ok, to be honest, we had some insider knowledge. Shefali’s sister (not Thai) and her husband (Thai) told us about this place a year and a half ago when we visited them. And boy were we appreciative. The flavor of that pad thai and the simple but elegant way it was prepared were etched into my memory. Plus I took lots of photos.
Shef wants this pad thai and bad… This is from our first trip to Luang Pha.
This small woman is a giant among cooks
But seriously, watching this diminutive woman wielding this massive wok reminded me of what a pleasure it is to watch someone who is really good at what they do. Each gesture and motion is effortless, the perfect expression of thought into action. There is no wasted effort – efficiency epitomized. Or, maybe it’s because this is her job and she does it everyday. In any case, the results are ridiculously good. So, this past trip, Shefali and I brought her mom and her sis (and of course Kaya) along to experience quite possibly the perfect pad thai. Please enjoy some photos and be sure to watch the video above which shows this awesome cook in action. You might even learn how to cook some real pad thai. Though good luck finding the shrimp fat oil…
Luang Pha on busy Maha Chai Road. Because pad thai should be enjoyed with the soothing sounds motor scooters zooming by.
This year, pad thai was a family affair
View of the kitchen
Tools of the trade.
This is how she does it.
Mmm… shrimp fat oil.
The stove: an electric fan that blows air into a wood fire to increase the heat. Genius!
Pad thai wrapped in an egg omelet.
Saheli holds Kaya who wishes she could eat this.
Me and the cook. I’m not really a giant. She’s just tiny.
Hey Everybody! Long time no blog. Yeah, life has a way of taking over when one isn’t blogging. And also, one is kind of lazy. But one – okay me, well I’m back and I’ve brought with me an actual cooking video. As we find ourselves firmly entrenched in fall with winter on the horizon, I give to you the gift of chile verde. It’s a spicy and savory pork and chili stew – I prefer the Spanish spelling when naming the dish, the Anglo spelling when talking about actual chilis. It’s the perfect meal to keep you warm and satisfied on the inside and happy to be alive. Yeah, it’s pretty powerful stuff. Also, it’s bien rico (rather, extremely delicious).
I first encountered chile verde as a wee lad growing up in San Jose, CA when my parents took my sister and I to our favorite Mexican restaurant, El Burro. Now having experienced a lot of good (and terrible – in NYC for sure) Mexican food, I’m not sure El Burro would necessarily hold up as a great Mexican restaurant. But there’s something about that dimly lit cavern of a restaurant – with it’s big leather bucket seats, the pictures of bull fighters and rustic country scenes on the walls and the tortillas chips served with the most watery and bland (in retrospect) salsa – that holds a special place in my heart. I remember my dad would always order the chile verde which consisted of tender cubes of pork served in a sea of really hot (temperature-wise) mildly spicy green sauce. In between mouthfuls of chorizo enchilada (my go to dish at the time) I remember tasting the stewed pork and thinking, “not bad, not bad at all!” Since those formative years, chile verde has become one of my go to dishes both when I order it, say stuffed inside a chimichanga or as a stand alone stew that I love to cook myself. So, what follows is my version of chile verde, a recipe that I’ve kind of developed over the last few years through trial and error and tasting of other versions of chile verde. For example, I used to not use tomatillos but after eating chile verde with tomatillos, I now find them to be a a vital ingredient imparting the necessary acid or tartness that counter balances the spiciness of the chili and the richness of the pork. So without further ado, here’s the recipe:
Ingredients: (as usual amounts are approximate)
1 head of garlic
2 mid sized onions
5-6 poblano chilis
1 1/2 lbs of tomatillos (can use tomatillo salsa)
1 1/2 pounds of potatoes
4 lbs of pork shoulder meat
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Oregano to taste
2-3 tablespoons of vinegar (for marinating the pork)
It might surprise you, as it did me, that MY mom is not the only Chinese mom in the world who knows a thing or two about cooking. Imagine. Well according to my friend Jason, HIS mom makes a mean dish of chow mein that blows the socks off of Chinese restaurant chow mein – that is if chow mein wore socks. Well, fortunately for all of us Jason convinced his mom to cook up a batch. And even more fortunately, he made a video of her doing it so we may all learn how to make this mean dish of chow mein. I’ll let Jason do the honors of introducing his mom’s chow mein. Enjoy!
I luckily grew up in a household with a loving mother who happened to be a great cook. Lacking her cooking prowess, I finally asked my mom to teach my wife and me how to make one of her best dishes: Chicken Chow Mein. My mom agreed and showed up to our place ready to cook! She didn’t know we would be putting her instructions on video and posting it to the rest of the world. After a few grumbles about her appearance, she agreed to be on camera and started instructing like a pro.
We picked this dish because I have never found Chow Mein like hers. She uses standard size noodles, but pan fries them until they are crispy. When the crispy noodles soak in her incredible gravy/sauce, magical things happen. I am very happy we got her instructions on video and will be shocked if we can ever duplicate what she does so well.
Okay I think I’ve done it. At seven months since my last post, I’ve broken the record of the longest time between blog entries in the history of blogging! It seems rather appropriate since personal blogs seem to be becoming historical relics in and of themselves. No matter. I’m back. And I come bearing excuses for my absence. First of all I’m lazy. Second of all, I’ve been working pretty much straight for the last 8 months which is kind of an anomaly for me and has left me with little free time to blog (I’m lazy, remember?) And third of all, the main reason why I’ve been lacking in time is Shefali and I went and had ourselves a little dumpling! That is, we had a baby girl almost three months ago. Her name is Kaya. And to judge by her size at birth and and her prodigious growth these past few months, my girl is an eater! Ok, it’s been all breast milk thus far, but we’ve been eating the same variety of delicious food so hopefully it’s all filtering through mom’s boobs and into Kaya’s stomach so that when she does start eating solid food, she’ll be well primed to eat good tings! I must say, it’s true all those clichés about the life altering aspects of having a child. I have never loved anyone like I love my daughter. She is the best thing I’ve ever had a hand in creating (and I really didn’t have to do that much). But one of the things I’m most excited about is introducing her to the world of food, cooking for her and of course eating with her. For now, please enjoy a few photos of our dumpling. As a new dad, I can’t resist.
Kaya dumpling. One day old and all wrapped up and ready to go home.
Kaya dumpling does her best impression of a burrito.
A week old and Kaya dumpling is already getting big
Kaya does her best impression of the Pope flashing a “westside” gang sign while also summoning the waiter, “Eh, garcon!”
Kaya’s first dim sum with her Mama and Yeye. She slept through it.
Kaya’s first Chinese takeout.
Kaya’s first taste of smell of roasted brussel sprouts in a tahini sauce. Delish!
Kaya’s first (and definitely not last) meal at Tanoreen. She slept thought it.
Kaya’s first hamachi special sushi plate. She slept through it.
Kaya’s first pastrami reuben at Tom’s Diner. She fussed through it.
Kaya’s first hipster food festival with special musical guests, Hall and Oates!!! the food fest? M’eh. Hall and Oates? Awesome. She slept through them.
Kaya’s first amazing wedding reception. Our friend’s James and Christine didn’t mess around for their reception. Tthe appetizers consisted of among other things, a pasta station where they made fresh mussels and pasta to order and passed around whole lamb chops as finger food. Stupendous! Kaya awoke to the smell of lamb.
Kaya’s first filet minon. Again James and Christine did me proud with the food at their wedding. It was top notch. Kaya was awake but let me eat. God, I love her.
Latkes: deep fried and delicious... and nutritious because there was a little bit of zucchini in them.
This past weekend was a weekend of good eating. Chief among the the good eats were the latkes at Adam and Alicia’s apartment for Latke Fest 2011 (Hebrew calender 5772). The call came later then usual (we were all secretly worried that perhaps there would be no call at all) but when the call came, we answered. According to Adam, this was the fifth annual latke get together. Unfortunately, there was no duck fat frying as there was last year. Instead, Niels brought figs and parmesan wrapped in prosciutto – not the most kosher of appetizers - but delicious nonetheless. The latkes, as usual, were divine. Fried to golden perfection and served with the requisite sour cream and apple sauce they were a crispy, savory and mildly sweet delight, I sense G-D him/herself was beaming down in approval. Oh yeah and there was matzo ball soup and Katie made these ridiculous macaroons half dipped in chocolate that were like mounds candy bars for rich people (hmmm… candy for the 1%). I left that night with the cholesterol of an eighty year old man. Holiday food kicks ass! Check out the vid for a sense of what I’m talking about. Unfortunately you can’t smell the deep fried goodness, which on second thought is probably a good thing for your clothes.
Tourists of the desert: Shefali and I show off the latest look from the Thar desert. Okay, maybe not so glamorous but we did avoid major sunburn.
As I mentioned in the last post, one of the more touristy and totally worth it things we did in Rajasthan was an overnight camel trek in the Thar desert outside if Jaisalmer. It was basically like backpacking except with camels doing all the hard work of carrying all of our stuff and also doing all the walking. Oh don’t get me wrong. We’re still hardcore. I mean it was really hot – being the desert and all. We had to drink a lot of warm/hot plasticky water that had been roasting in the sun, not to mention having to reapply sunblock like seven times. Also, riding camels is really hard on the groins.
Shefali and I with our camel trek guide/ cook extraordinaire: Amaan
Fortunately, we had an excellent guide named Amaan who prepared all of our meals and was generally, a very upstanding young man. And by young I mean he was only 20 or 21 and newly married at that. Please enjoy the following video of my our amazing camel trek lunch prepared by Amaan and eaten by us.
After the rainy coast and mellow vibe of Goa, Shefali and I made our way to one of the more picturesque and well touristed states of India: Rajasthan. Rajasthan translates to the Land of Kings (or kingdoms) so, every couple days we went to another city (formerly it’s own kingdom) and checked out the old forts and palaces that these Rajput kings built over hundreds of years. I will remember this part of our trip as Rajasthani Fort Tour 2011 (RFT 2011). (Please view scores and scores of fort and palace photos.)
Our first stop was the capital city Jaipur which was decidedly less mellow than Goa. Known as The Pink City, Jaipur could also be known as That Crazy City Where People Hustle You All The Time (especially if you’re a tourist). Don’t get me wrong. I would have hustled me too if I could have seen how clueless and touristy I looked half the time. Once you pass the city walls and enter the Old City, Jaipur is a feast for the eyes, the ears and the nose: women in bright colored saris buy produce of all sorts, cows amble by sharing the road with cars, rickshaws, scooters, bikes and people and vendors sell everything you can imagine from mountains of chilis to sewing machines and salvaged and “refurbished” umbrellas. Though a bit jarring, especially coming after mellow Goa, Jaipur was in retrospect a good entry point into Rajasthan because it’s where we fully embraced our tourist status and took to site seeing like it was a full time job visiting all the major attractions (Juntar Muntar, Amber Palace, Jaigarh Fort, Nahargah Fort, etc) in just two days. From Jaipur, we took a train (an interesting experience in and of itself ) to the desert city of Jaisalmer where we toured the old city fort and went on one of those touristy camel tours which actually ended up being super fun. Then we trained it to the Blue City of Jodhpur which turned out to be my favorite city in Rajasthan because most of the forts and monuments were within easy walking distance – thus no haggling with a rickshaw driver – and I enjoyed navigating the narrow alley ways of the old city. Our final stop on the Rajasthani tour was the picturesque lakeside city of Udaipur, most well known among Westerners – and touted by all the hotels and guest houses in town – because much of the action of one of the best James Bond movies starring Roger Moore was shot there. I’m of course speaking of “Octopussy“.
It’s fair to say that by the end of RFT 2011 tour I had pretty serious case of fort fatigue. I mean they were amazing places to behold, but after the umpteenth viewing of the various Rajputs’ dedazzled private chambers or ornate public meeting hall, I just couldn’t find it in myself too get excited. But fortunately, we had ample food to fuel us on our site seeing adventures. I can’t necessarily put my finger on what Rajasthani food is and how it differs so much from other Indian cuisines. We ate a lot of thali dinners with their combindation of dhal, rice, chapati or naan and veggies. Sometimes we’d seek out nonveg places to get our fix of chicken tikka or lamb saag (spinach). While it didn’t blow me away, there were some stand out meals. I especially enjoyed the all you can eat thali dinners at a very local restaurant called Chandan Shree, in Jaisalmer and which became our go to spot in the desert town. I also enjoyed the spicy lamb and chicken at Kashmiri Spice Dhaba, a dive joint in Jodhpur where I stuffed my face sweating into my food while Shefali got more and more heated (pissed off) by the unwanted oggling of a drunken customer seated behind me. Also, the snack foods (samosas, aloo tikki and other deep fried treats) were really good. Please enjoy the following photos of some of the more memorable meals.
A cyber cafe in Jaipur that serves deep fried snacks!
Fresh produce in the old city of Jaipur
Bags and bags of chilis
This guy has a strong neck.
The ubiquitous street snack, pani puri.
Snack shop in Jaipur
Samosa and aloo tikki stuffed with lentils.
Our first thali dinner at an all veg restaurant called the Four Seasons.
I orderd this massive thali dinner at Chandan Shree in Jaisalmer.
Chandan Shree: our favorite restaurant in Jaisalmer.
Shef poses with our regular waiter at Chandan Shree.
Camel riding in the Thar Desert outside Jaisalmer.
This was where we stopped for lunch.
Amaan, our resourceful camel guide and cook.
Desert linch: spicy vegetables, Maggo noodles and freshly made chapati.
Amaan prepares a dinner.
Laal maans (spicy mutton) and butter chicken at Kalinga restaurant in Jodhpur
Kashmiri Spice Dhaba: total dive but tasty food
Kashmiri spice was no joke. This food was off the hook spice-wise.
Perhaps you want a little lamb wit your chili oil?
I’m feeling the spice!
Deep fried chili pepper: what’s not to love? (my mouth waters as I type).
Shai Samosa: these guys know how to fry!
These samosas were the best we had on our entire trip. So fresh (and hot!) and so good.
After Bombay, Shefali and I spent a few days days visiting her cousin who teaches at a school at an ashram about an hour’s drive outside Coimbature, Tamil Nadu. Spending time in an environment dedicated to the spiritual teachings of a single guru was “enlightening”, to say the least, but the communal eating part of the ashram, while enjoyable – like one enjoys school cafeterias – left me wanting. Specifically, I was wanting to eat meat. Fortunately, our next stop was Goa where we hoped to chill on the beach and eat delicious food. We were fifty percent successful in our plan. You see, while we knew traveling in India during the monsoon season would make for some rainy and wet weather, we did not quite anticipate how much the seasonal storms would affect the normally crystalline waters and tranquil beaches for which this Indian state is known. The ocean was rough and choppy, with dangerous riptides. So while there was a pseudo-romantic walk or two on the beach ( view more Goa pictures), there was no beach lounging or swimming. We had to drown our sorrows, by snacking a lot. We ate plenty of regular Indian fare or course. For example, we found the best kathi roll of the entire whole trip in Candolim at the only restaurant we could find open (it was surprising how many businesses were closed during the monsoon season). But as a former Portuguese colony, Goa has a rich culinary traditional blending the bold flavors and wine and vinegar marinades of Portuguese cooking with the spice of Indian cuisine. So we made a point to seek out Goan dishes and order them if we could. We didn’t always strike gold but that could have been due more to where we were eating (again, it was tough to find open places during the low season), but there were definitely some stand out fantastic dishes. Unfortunately I didn’t document them so well, but they were (in no particular order of preference: pork vindaloo, chicken cafreal, pork balchao. The high point was eating at Viva Panjim in Goa’s capital city of Paniji. It’s run by this wonderful woman named Linda D’Souza who retired from teaching in Bombay to open up her restaurant in her family home and based many of the dishes on family recipes. She was super cool. Please enjoy the photos below for more visual stimulation. Be sure to click on the thumbnails for full sized photos and more in depth descriptions.
Cow statue a the Ashram
Clarence tries to teach..
Lunch time at the Ashram
Amazingly, everyone did their parts by washing their own dishes.
Shefali enjoys a kingfisher beer at our first dinner in Goa
Shefali inhales some porky vindaloo
We also got some fish curry with the pork.
Goan sausage cooked in chilis and fried bhindi (okra)
Linda’s Viva Panjim Family Restaurant
Pork specialties. Need I say more?
Chicken curry (can’t remember which kind – it was okay) and pork balchao (awesome!)
Here’s my plate of food. Let me repeat, the pork balchao was freaking amazing.
Goan coconut pudding
Linda spends her time behind her big desk talking to customers and overseeing the action
I pose with Linda. I think maybe we’re related. At least our shirts are.
Long time no write blog, huh? Well, fortunately for me “long time no blog” does not mean “long time no eat”. In fact, I’ve been eating quite well these past few months and it’s high time I reported back on what all I have been shoveling into my mouth and stomach. Let’s talk India. I had the great opportunity to accompany my wife, Shefali , on a trip to India where we visited family and played the part of tourists for five weeks. So how do I even begin to describe this vast country and it’s wide variety of food? Rice and beans. Yeah basically, it’s like Mexican food. Okay, not really… but kind of. Bear with me and my amateur analysis of one of the world’s great cuisines. As I see it, like most of the world’s cuisines, Indian food has at it’s base: starch – in this case rice (and to a lesser degree wheat). As a majority Hindu country, much of the population is vegetarian and does not even eat meat (which is more expensive anyway) so the protein in Indian meals comes in the form of legumes – mostly lentils. But don’t get me wrong. In my limited experiences eating in India, by no means did I find the food bland. It is the opposite. It is fresh, vibrant, at some times subtle, at other times bold and at all times delicious. The wonder of Indian food is in fact the variety and depth of flavors that can be derived from basic ingredients and the ingenious blending of aromatic herbs and spices. At least that’s what I found during our first five days in India (spent mostly in Bombay with a couple days in Pune). Now, since we were visiting Shefali’s family during this time, we ate mostly home food which, as we all know, is often the best. Although to be honest, home cooked in many families, often means a cook prepares the meal and serves it to the family. It still comes from a place of love, but it’s more in thinking up what’s for lunch or dinner and the creation of the menu than the execution. Anyway, please enjoy some photos and descriptive captions of some of the delicious things we ate in Bombay and Pune.
The cook at Shefali’s Aunt and Uncle’s place prepares fresh chapati or rotli.
A nice light lunch…
Dinner at home…
A light dinner with Shefali’s family
Idli and coconut mint chutney and chili
Another meal with Shefali’s family
A Gujarati specialy: undhiyu
Mota Masi serves up a feast
Relaxing at Chirag and Mitika’s, Shefali’s cousins’ place.
Toasted chili/ garlic chutney and cilantro chutney
vada pau: potato patty served on bread
Come cooked lunch in Pune
My plate of lunch: chicken curry, eggplant, raita, rotli
Eating lunch with the family.
Fancy dinner at the Taj with family from Shefali’s father’s side.
pretty fancy, chocolaty desserts
Women selling these massive skates.
Sorting shrimp on the deck of a shrimping boat.
This is how they moved the catch from the boat to the doc,
Our one restaurant experience at Trishna which specializes in seafood.
Rachita eyes this ridiculous platter of garlic butter crab