(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?

(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?

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?

Rafaella’s Spaghetti alla (P)uttanesca #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 lived in Toronto with Rafaella, she introduced me to her homemade limoncello.  As I gingerly sipped the lemon liqueur from the tiny glass she served me, I asked her if it was a family recipe.  No, she said, the nuns in convent, they teach me to make the limoncello. And now, I teach you, yes?

Yes, I replied, but then that day I learned to make her Spaghetti alla Puttanesca instead and never got the limoncello recipe that the nuns taught Rafaella.

The only spaghetti alla puttanesca recipe I’ll ever need

We were in her kitchen which were up the steps from the ground floor I sublet from her. She had her pots on the stove and had started to mince garlic. I had my recipe book in hand and scribbled as she explained to me what she was adding to the pot and how long something had to simmer. With her thick Italian accent, sometimes I had to ask her to repeat what she’d said more than once.

After scribbling furiously for maybe 10 minutes, trying to keep up with this diminutive nonna, Rafaella’s spaghetti alla puttanesca was done, and she was dishing it into two small bowls.

I’d been bombarded by the smells from her cooking the entire time I was taking notes and couldn’t wait to dig in. We sat at her kitchen table and I slurped the pasta down. She asked me if I would be able to make the dish next time on my own, I looked at my notes and then at her, and told her that every time I did, I would remember this evening with her.

Do you have a favourite pasta dish?

French (O)nion Soup #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 Christmas Eve and I’m making French Onion Soup.

I spend nearly two hours peeling and slicing hundreds (okay, more like 10) of Bombay onions the size of my cat’s head, and he’s a big cat, nearly 10 kilogrammes. Onion-induced tears stream down my face as I slice. Oh joy to the world.

This may look like too much onions, but for French onion soup, there’s no such thing as too much onions, as I discovered

The last time I made this particular French onion soup, this exact recipe from the original domestic goddess herself, Martha Stewart, it was 2009 and I was in Houston spending Christmas with my sister and her family.

Well, not quite `spending’ Christmas with them as I was alone on Christmas day while they were in Las Vegas. They were returning the evening of Boxing Day and I had spent the morning of the 26th, driving gingerly to Krogers (driving on the other side of the car on the other side of the street was nerve-wrecking) to get all the ingredients. After my successful trip to the grocery store, I spent the rest of the day in the kitchen preparing all the yummy food I’d seen Martha Stewart do the night before. It was one of the most peaceful Christmases I’ve had in a long while.

Back in the present, I wait for the onions to caramelise and release its sweet fragrance before I add the liquids – dry sherry and heaps of store-bought beef stock.

I remember when my sister, her husband, their two kids and my sister’s mother-in-law finally sat down to a belated Christmas dinner, the first dish they tried was the onion soup that had simmered for almost three hours. Like Martha, I’d added shavings of Gruyere and placed the individual bowls of soup under the broiler to allow the cheese to heat and bubble, encasing the soup in delicious cheesy goodness. Within minutes, everyone’s bowl was scrapped clean.

As I whisk my soup gently, recalling the satisfied and peaceful demeanour which settled on the faces of my relatives and pseudo-relatives, I resolve to make French onion soup a Christmas family tradition.

I place the bowl on the table next to the roast turkey and wonder how my sister and her family is doing.

Are you a soup person? What’s your favourite soup to have?

(N)oodles in Phnom Penh #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 was the first day of my first visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and I was curious to find out what Khmer cuisine was like. So, that first evening, a few of us decided to seize the moment and try the local street food. We’d seen a stall doing brisk business across the street from our hotel, so that was our destination. First, we had to survive crossing the street.

Let me tell you, crossing the street in Phnom Penh required a considerable amount of skill.  We saw the locals saunter casually across the street, while cars and motorcycles zipped and swerved around them, without slowing down.

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Finally, we did it. We got to the other side, after much hand pulling, hand holding, squealing and sprinting. It took us probably 10 minutes, and once we even almost gave up.

To be honest, the street stall, which was already quite full with perhaps only one or two tables left unoccupied, looked more appealing from across the street. There were crumpled tissue papers littering the ground at every table, and geckos (lots of them!) clinging to the wall where some tables leaned against. Ugh.

The guy manning the stall, approached us, probably recognising us as tourists, and asked us in his broken English, “We famous for beef noodles!  You want?”

We were quite hungry (crumpled tissues and geckos be damned) so unanimously we said, “Yes, we want.”

So, we sat at a corner table which had the crumpled tissues beneath it and ordered.  He came by and asked again, “You want noodles with bowl?”  “Err…,” I said, “ok, noodles with bowl.” I thought he meant if we wanted a soupy noodle, which would come in a bowl.  I was proven wrong later for it was fried noodles and `the bowl’ was a bowl of soup.  Oh well.

Another thing I remember about that meal was that the wall next to our table had perhaps more than 10 geckos staring back at us. I was silently praying that none of those geckos fall into our meal or drinks or self. I didn’t want additional protein other than the one served by the street stall.

I wish I could say that the beef noodle was delicious but it was just mediocre. I was expecting lots of spice and heat since the country shared a border with Thailand, however, the food did not singe my tongue in the slightest.

We left dissatisfied culinary-wise but happy because the dinner conversation was good. Then, we realised that we had to cross that darn street again to get back to our hotel.

(M)artinis with Annie #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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Annie was in my course at university and we had a few classes together. My first impression of her was “Yikes, she’s so super-enthusiastic!” I remember when we were first introduced, she couldn’t help but extend her hand in friendship and suggested we get lunch on campus.

Among the many friends I made in Toronto (most lasting until now more than 10 years later), she was the person I thought of as my “step-out-of-my-comfort-zone-with” friend. 

You can never go wrong with a lychee martini

Annie said she’d heard of a cool martini bar in downtown Toronto and asked me if I wanted to check it out. At the time, I’d never had a martini ever, so the idea of having a martini at an actual martini bar, in a foreign country, sounded appealing. “Yes, let’s go!” I said to her.

The bar was dark (as bars often are) with artfully placed candles in various locations, designed to make one look mysterious when bathed in the yellow glow. Most of the tables were occupied but we managed to find one located next to the bar. The first martini I tried was a lychee martini, which the waitress pronounced as “lee-chee” and when I was done with that, I had the chocolate martini, which frankly was too much chocolate, not enough martini.

I also remember in between my martinis, Annie decided that she saw someone cute and worth speaking to at the bar, and she immediately headed over and chatted him up. They exchanged numbers, of course, that was Annie.

Now, whenever I order a martini, I remember that blustery night in Toronto when Annie dragged convinced me to enjoy a few glasses of martinis with her.