Lotus of Siam: The Best Thai Restaurant in America?


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When a nationally respected critic declares in only the most revered food magazine in American history that a restaurant is the "single best Thai restaurant in the country," it's hard not to sit up and pay attention.

Now, ten years after the Pulitzer Prize-winning Jonathan Gold penned those words about Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas in Gourmet magazine, the restaurant has opened a branch in New York

The excitement and the buzz has been palpable since its early November opening, naturally. So the first chance we got, the lovely and insatiable Gael Greene and I were making plans to meet there for dinner.

Would it live up to the hype? We were eager to find out…

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International Food Stall: A Nasi Lemak Breakfast


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It was at Nyonya, a Malaysian restaurant in New York City, that I recently found myself with the legendary and insatiable Gael Greene, trying to explain the wonder that is nasi lemak, a Malay dish of coconut rice topped with a fried egg, fried chicken, crispy anchovies, cucumber slices and fiery sambal chili sauce.

“We eat it for breakfast — or lunch,” I said, explaining that some Singapore hawkers will have packets of the rice tightly wrapped up in banana leaves set out in the morning, ready for the harried to buy and eat on the run.

“Breakfast?” she said, looking intrigued.

Granted, it’s hard to appreciate nasi lemak as one of the best ways to start the day when the New York version set before you is a mound of flavorless rice paired with a mushy mess of sodden chicken and anchovies that are limp and cold instead of crunchy and tongue-searingly hot.

But if you’ve had the real thing for breakfast while sitting in a humid hawker center in sweltering tropical heat, trust me, you’ll be a convert. Oatmeal and French Toast will be all but a distant, lesser memory.

In Singapore, one of my favorite places for the stuff is a little stall in Changi Village, a somewhat sleepy nook by the sea. It’d been many years since I’d been there — but I’d heard its lines remained as impossibly long. (Always a good sign.)

Clearly, it was time for a revisit …

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Lime-Coconut Cake: Conjuring Summer


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Yes, I realize with great sadness that summer is no longer with us.

But having grown up in Singapore, where it’s generally about 90 degrees all year round, I’ve always chosen to regard this little “four seasons” concept as more of a state of mind.

And my state of mind all year round tends to veer toward clear blue skies, suncreen and sand-between-my-toes kind of weather.

Which is how I found myself thinking about tropical lime-coconut cake all morning.

And, just when I thought I was being silly and a little too wistful about bygone pie-filled, scorching-hot days these sage words popped up courtesy of Gwen, a chef who blogs at Pen & Fork: “Ignore the calendar. Proceed full speed ahead with ‘put the lime in the coconut’ cake and eat it all up.”

Sound words indeed.

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Kueh Tutu: A Sweet Bit Of Heritage


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Among the many foods I obsessed over while growing up in Singapore, kueh tutu ranked high on the list.

This two-bite-sized spongy pastry featuring a steamed rice-flour shell filled with either sweet, shredded coconut or minced peanuts was already rapidly disappearing from the hawker scene when I was a child. (“Kueh” means cake or cookie in Malay; “tutu” is derived from the sound of the steamers that hawkers used decades ago to make them.)

Because kueh tutu is best eaten warm and freshly made (they tend to become hard and gummy if made even 20 minutes in advance), hawkers have to create them in small batches on demand. This makes them a rather expensive dessert to sell, given Singaporeans aren’t generally willing to pay more than 30 to 50 cents for one. (That would be about 20 to 35 U.S. cents.)

Even though some kueh tutu stalls have popped up in foodcourts recently, the pastry is still not exactly sold on every street corner these days. So whenever I spot a cart selling them, I drop everything I’m doing to get in line and buy some.

I can easily eat five or 10 of the sweet nubbins at a sitting — I wish I were joking.

On Day One of my current trip to Singapore for book research, while hunting down some roast duck for my grandmother’s dinner in the Ghim Moh neighborhood, the kueh tutu gods were clearly on my side.

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