(Z)aru Soba #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.

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The first time I tried zaru soba or cold soba noodles was on an airplane heading to Tokyo. I was 15 and tt was my first trip to a country which I’d grow to love. I was travelling with my sister, younger brother and father, to visit my mother who was in Japan for a one-year study tour.

Similar to the cold soba served in-flight that I had years ago

During the in-flight dinner service, we were each given a tray which had a bowl of green noodles (which I later learnt was soba), a bottle of sauce labeled ‘noodle sauce’ (duh), a small sachet of wasabi and a small empty bowl containing a packet of small pieces of dried seaweed and slices of spring onions. Thankfully, there were no quail eggs in sight.

My siblings and I had no idea what we were to do with this concoction. My father, who sat in the aisle across from us, pointed at the different bowls on our tray and mimed some actions, which none of us could decipher. He then took out a pen and started scribbling on a paper napkin. He reached across the aisle to pass the napkin to us, and we saw that he had scribbled instructions including drawings for how to eat cold soba! I wish I’d kept that napkin, his instructions were hilarious.

However, since I no longer have it, here’s a How-to video for those of you who’re never tried cold soba – The Right Way to Eat Cold Soba Noodles.

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Yummy (Y)uba #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.

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Yuba, or bean curd skin, refers to the film that forms atop soy milk when it is heated. 

Tofu skin (or foo chok) which are sold as dried leaves or sheets, is quite a common ingredient here. I’ve added it to soups and canned sardines. However, I’d not tried fresh tofu skin, or yuba, until I visited Nikkō, a city almost a 2 hour train ride from Tokyo.

Walking through the streets of Nikkō, most of the eateries featured yuba, as it is the city’s local delicacy. There was deep-fried yuba, yuba sushi, yuba gyoza, yuba burgers, Japanese curry with yuba, yuba with jelly, yuba soup, yuba-don, and yuba cream inside rice cookies!

Our primary destination that day was Nikkō Tōshō-gū, a well-known Shinto shrine located in the city. But before heading there, we wanted to give yuba a try, so we started looking around for a legit-looking restaurant that served it and that’s how we ended up in 神橋庵 (which Google translate tells me is Ryo Takahashi), a soba noodle shop, along the main street.

We were lucky to have found a seat in the restaurant when we did because just as we entered, it had begun to rain and tourists looking for shelter started queuing to get in.

Like most restaurants who relied on income from tourists, they had an English menu and we ordered a yuba appetiser and two bowls of yuba soba (hehe it rhymes).

I expected yuba to taste strongly of soy milk but I was pleasantly surprised that it just had a clean and nondescript flavour. Dipping it into the sauce that accompanied the appetiser added to the dish and the pickled daikon radish on the side suited it well. We polished off everything we ordered in no time at all! Yes, the yuba was yummy!

A quick search revealed that there are plenty of recipes detailing how to make your own yuba, which is good since I have no idea when I’ll be able to reach the city of Nikkō again.

Are you a fan of tofu? If yes, what’s your favourite tofu dish?

Getting into the (X)mas Fruitcake Mood #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.

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It’s not unusual for me to get into the Christmas mood by June every year. I’d start playing Christmas songs in the car, and make lists for presents and cards. Some years though, I dreaded Christmas and only got into the festive mood when I started my holiday baking.

One of my favourite things to make for Christmas is fruitcake. In my family, I’m the official Christmas fruitcake maker. A title I bestowed upon myself. For a long while though, I kept calling it Christmas pudding, I didn’t know that there was a difference between a Christmas fruitcake and a Christmas pudding since they seemed similar to me. This article set me straight.

There’s something about starting the process of making fruitcake which puts me in the holiday mood. One of the first steps in the recipe I’ve stuck to religiously for years, is to rehydrate the dried fruits. I like my fruitcake boozy so I tend to soak the dried fruits in more than the accepted amount of brandy.

There was one year, I made seven loafs of fruitcake which I gave to my colleagues at work. Some years, I insist on only making enough for the family. One year, my local liquor store asked if I’d make a batch for them to sell at their store for Christmas. They discovered I make fruitcakes when I bought the brandy I needed from them.

Writing this, I realise that I can’t wait for Christmas fruitcake making season to come around. Only several more weeks to go.

Which do you prefer – Christmas fruitcake or Christmas pudding?

(W)ingstop (W)ings #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.

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One mild evening in Houston, my sister announced “Let’s go, we’re going to get takeout from Wingstop.”

“Wingstop?”

“Yeah,” she said, “they have one of the spiciest buffalo wings I’ve tried. I think you’ll like it!”

And off we went to the nearest Wingstop, about a 15-minute drive away. When it was our turn to order, I remember my sister asking for one portion of wings with a non-spicy sauce (for my brother-in-law and the kids) and one portion with their uber spicy Atomic sauce. At that point, the employee behind the counter asked us to read the warning taped to the counter which apparently was targeted to customers ordering the Atomic sauce wings. I don’t quite recall what it said precisely but it was along the lines of “We shall not sue Wingstop if our tongues get burnt off by the Atomic sauce.”

That was when I thought Whoa, this must be serious stuff! Can’t wait!

When we got home, we sat around the coffee table with our bounty of buffalo wings. My sister even cooked plain white rice just in case the heat got too much.

I picked up my first Atomic chicken wing and bit into it. Mmmm… delicious and moist. Okay, it’s a little spicy, but still tolerable. I was waiting for the Atomic-ness of the sauce to kick in but it hadn’t yet.

It was towards the end of my second wing when I finally felt the heat. I made the mistake of licking my lips, since that action caused my lips to tingle. And not the good kind. The heat didn’t falter but kept increasing. I wanted to stop eating, but I kept reaching for more chicken wing. I was a glutton for punishment. I took a spoonful of rice to temper the fire that was building in my mouth and continued. This was heaven/ This was hell!

After my last wing, I took a big gulp of ice cold water and fell onto the couch, satisfied even though yes, it felt like I ate the sun.

When Wingstop finally made its way to Malaysia recently, the first chance I got, I rushed over there and ordered the Atomic chicken wings. In the privacy of my home, I grabbed the wings to relive the agony of that first bite all those years ago. The familiar heat that I’d been dreaming about for so long, came flooding back. I went to bed that night, stomach full of fiery chicken wings, mouth swollen and throbbing. Nirvana.

Are you a fan of really spicy chicken wings? Have you tried the Atomic chicken wings from Wingstop?

Bo(V)ril #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.

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At the back of my pantry, there’s a small bottle of Bovril. Just in case. I don’t really eat it as often as I used to but I like to have it on hand, in the event I wake up in the middle of the night and crave something unctuous and salty.

Mmmmmmm…

When I was young, one of my favourite meals was white rice mixed liberally with a tablespoon (or more) of Bovril. I could just have this concoction without anything else, and go to sleep with a full stomach. On days when I had no appetite, my mum would make this for me, and my appetite would miraculously reappear.

In Malaysia, Bovril is stirred into rice porridge (yum) and coffee.

I’ve also tried Bovril diluted in hot water too, which is apparently its original method of consumption. It tasted really beefy, hearty, good for a really cold winter’s night if you’re wintering in Winterfell, I’m sure. For tropical Malaysia? Not so much.

Have you ever tried Bovril? Or something similar like Marmite? Did you like it?

(U)lat Sago #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.

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This is ulat sago, or sago worm. Though I prefer the term, sago grub because it makes those wriggling, fleshy, white larvae, seem cuter than they actually are.

When my brother was quite young, he kept a sago grub as a pet. My mum had bought a bag of live sago grubs from the market, and let him have the fattest one. We had an old, small fish tank which became its temporary home. He furnished the tank with a variety of leaves and bits of fibre from the sago palm that came in the bag with the grubs.

As for the rest of the sago grubs – my brother’s pet sago grub’s pseudo-siblings – well, my mum gave them a rinse and threw them into the wok with hot oil. After a quick stir fry, with a little chili and lemongrass, we had those grubs for dinner. I took the smallest one, used my spoon to cut a little piece, gave it a quick chew, swallowed quickly and I was done. The rest of my family popped them into their mouths like the grubs were popcorn.

My brother’s sago grub pet, well, it lasted a day in the tank.

Have you ever tried to eat a worm/ grub?

Deep-Fried (T)urkey #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.

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“Do you want me to make the turkey for Christmas?” I asked my sister. 

“It’s okay, I ordered a fried turkey from HEB. Can you pick it up on the 25th?”

“Fried turkey????” I thought I’d misheard.

Apparently, I didn’t mishear and yes, we did have fried turkey for Christmas. Deep-fried turkey. It must be a Texas thing. Or perhaps an American thing because this was the first time I’d heard of an entire turkey being deep fried, and that it was an accepted main dish for a holiday like Christmas. Sure, we had deep-fried chicken carcass here, but nope, not deep-fried turkey.

So, off I went to HEB, again driving carefully in my brother-in-law’s car, which I had entered into on the wrong side earlier. When I arrived, I handed over my order to the folks behind the counter and was given a big cardboard basket which was heavier than I expected.

When I was finally home, driving as slowly as the law would allow, I brought the cardboard basket into the kitchen and opened it up to see what was the deal with the deep-fried turkey. What greeted me was the biggest turkey I’d ever seen! It was as huge as a newborn baby!

We had the turkey on boxing day, alongside my French onion soup. I grabbed the drumstick and bit down on it. Yum, the skin WAS crispy! And the flesh was still as tender as if it’d been roasted instead. Between the four of us adults and my two little nieces, we finished more than half of the turkey. I’d taken both drumsticks.

That was my first and last deep-fried turkey.

Have you ever tried a whole deep-fried turkey? Eating it? Or making it?

A Second Chance at (S)teak Tartare #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.

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When I was younger, I watched an episode of Mr. Bean having a meal in a fancy restaurant. He ordered steak tartare. When it arrived, he looked surprised because it was raw, he thought he’d ordered an actual cooked steak. He tried a mouthful of it and immediately regretted his order. He then tried to hide pieces of the steak tartare in various places, including inside a tiny flower pot on his table! It was one of the funniest Mr. Bean episodes I’d ever watched. Since then, I’ve been dying to try steak tartare.

Steak tartare is a dish of finely chopped beef, served raw and mixed with any number of accompaniments but most commonly egg yolk, Worchestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, fresh herbs, and other seasonings.

I’ve tried steak tartare precisely twice in my life, and both times, I was fortunate to try this dish in Paris.

The first time I tried it, also coincided with my first trip to that city with my father, brother and sister. I was in my young teens. We went for lunch at the restaurant in the hotel we were staying at he and encouraged us to try typically French dishes. I saw steak tartare on the menu, and knew that was what I wanted to get. My dad ordered it too. When the waiter brought our meals, I couldn’t wait to dig in. It looked more appetising than the one Mr. Bean had. It was a perfect circular construct of raw, shiny meaty goodness. I had my first bite and was pleasantly surprised that I couldn’t taste any “raw-ness”, instead I tasted the mustard and the herbs. Several spoonfuls later though, I was full, and I’d barely eaten half of the “steak”. Who knew raw meat could fill you up so quick! But I persisted, however my persistence turned into struggles. I glanced at my dad and he too was trying hard to finish his steak tartare. We should’ve just shared the one. Towards the end of the meal, I too wanted to stuff pieces of my steak tartare inside the vase on the table.

Steak tartare, pomme frites and a glass of cold beer – lunch of champions!

The second and most recent time I tried steak tartare, was in 2016, the same trip I tried escargot. My mum and I stumbled into a traditional-looking French restaurant, Le Saint-Amour, around the corner from the Printemps Department Store on Boulevard Hausmann. We hung up our coats, got seated and offered menus. Under Plats et grillades I saw it –
steak tartare haché minute. It’d been a long while since my last steak tartare. I was certain that having this dish now as an adult would mean I’d enjoy it more. I’d concluded that my teen taste buds weren’t sophisticated enough to appreciate this delicacy then. My steak tartare arrived in a timely fashion and I attacked it with gusto. I tasted onions, mustard, herbs, the raw beef itself, so sweet and tender and before I knew it, my plate was clean. My second time around with this dish – a success!

If you haven’t watched the episode with Mr. Bean and his attempt at eating steak tartare, you can find it here. Enjoy!

Ever had a dish that you didn’t like the first time, but when you gave it another chance, it turned out to be absolutely delicious???

Janice’s (R)oast Beef #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.

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The January after I spent Christmas 2008 with my sister in Houston, I went further north to Vancouver to visit old friends made during my days at York University. At the time, I hadn’t seen them since we’d left one another in Toronto in 2002.

My first few days in Vancouver, I stayed with Janice and her family, whose house was close to downtown Vancouver. They had a little attic space in their house which doubled as the guest room. It was one of the cosiest spaces I’d slept in though I recall the wooden stairs going up and down creaked a little too loudly.

During one of the evenings, we stayed in and Janice and her mum (who came over to meet me) made dinner. Her mum had come over with groceries which included a significant cut of beef tenderloin for roasting.

“Is there anything I can help with?” I asked, feeling uncomfortable just standing around.

“Sure, you can help slice the carrots for the vegetables which will go with the roast beef,” Janice suggested.

And so, I began to peel and cut carrots, happy to have an active part in coming up with dinner that day, instead of just eating it. It’s always strange to insert oneself into a family’s every day life, that’s what it felt like for me that day, but Janice’s easygoing ways made me feel at ease.

The roast beef I had at Janice’s house was exactly like this. So yum.

After several hours of prep, and waiting for the beef to roast, it was finally time for dinner. Janice pointed me towards my seat at the table, a seat that had my back to their yard, while the rest of her family – her husband, her mother, Janice and their son – took their regular seats. Janice’s husband carved the roast, which was a near perfect medium rare. We had our dinner with a delicious bottle of red wine, and I was grilled by Janice’s husband about who discovered Malaysia. It was a strange, and memorable evening.

Are you a fan of good roast beef like me?

No (Q)uail Eggs with My Cold Soba Please #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.

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One of my favourite dishes to order when I’m at a Japanese restaurant is cold buckwheat noodles or cold soba. I like that it’s an interactive dish, requiring the diner to prepare the dipping sauce to their own taste, after which the cold noodles are dunked into.

Sometimes, the dish is served with a raw quail egg which is intended to be added to the dipping sauce. I tried doing that once, dipped my cold noodles into the cold sauce which had the raw egg, sliced spring onions and grated white radish in it and tasted it. And almost puked. All I could taste was the raw egg. And every time I licked my lips, more raw egg. So much ugh.

Since that one failed culinary experiment, every time there was a quail egg served with my cold soba, I’d pass the raw egg to one of my siblings to add to their cold soba. They seemed to think nothing of the egg-y taste in their dipping sauce. Ugh. Recently though, since my siblings aren’t around when I indulge in this favourite dish of mine, I’d just glare at that raw quail egg wishing it wasn’t there.

Have you ever eaten (or slurped) a raw egg? Did you like it? (Ugh)