As someone who writes about food, I’m always thrilled to hear of a cookbook author opening a restaurant.
I find the idea that a writer who has invested time and sweat in mastering a cuisine has the guts to apply some of that knowledge and passion to a restaurant setting hugely inspiring. And so when I heard that Harris Salat, the fabulous author of several terrific Japanese cookbooks, had opened a little ramen shop in Brooklyn in September, I knew I had to stop in.
On a recent drizzly night — perfect weather for a hot bowl of noodle soup — it seemed like the time had come. So, we bundled up tightly and headed over to Ganso …
It appears, however, that I have been speaking out of turn. On a recent trip to Singapore, chef Willin Low (of the always impressive Wild Rocket restaurant) decided to correct me, putting me in his car and taking me to Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, a busy hawker center near the heart of Chinatown. Once there, we wended our way among the little stalls until we found one that had a line with more than a dozen people in it.
“Quick,” he said, shooing me to hurry over to Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee. “Get in line!”
This, apparently, was the best char kway teow in Singapore.
People often ask me what’s the first thing I have to eat when I step off the plane in Singapore.
It’s impossible to say because the answer really is, everything.
Right up there, though, is mee pok ta (also known as ta mee pok), a dish comprising al dente tagliatelle-like egg noodles tossed in a spicy aioli together with fishballs, sliced fishcakes, minced pork and crispy cubes of fried pork lard.
The dish has special meaning for me — in Singapore, my father and I love nothing more than to get in the car first thing in the morning and drive over to our favorite mee pok place nearby for breakfast. There, as each fiery bite of noodles sinks in, we’ll slowly wake up.
So when my international Let’s Lunch group of bloggers suggested posting a Father’s Day-inspired dish for June, mee pok came to mind. I had never attempted to make it before — it’s so inexpensive (about U.S. $1.50 or $2 a bowl) and easily found in Singapore, no one needs to bother.
In New York City, however, it’s an entirely different matter. So with a bag of fresh noodles from New York Chinatown in hand, I decided to give it my best shot …
If Achilles had ever cooked, I’m convinced noodles would have been his heel.
Getting noodles — especially Asian-style noodles — just right has always been a bit of a mystery to me. In fact, nailing the consistency of noodles — just a smidge over al dente — is so daunting that I tend to avoid making pad thais and Southeast Asian mee gorengs at home. (My first pad thai attempt years ago, after all, resulted in me using chopsticks to pull apart gummy ropes of noodles that had been welded together into a mound. I’ve never tried to make this dish again.)
After a recent lunch at a Sichuan restaurant in New York where I had a fiery and ginger-speckled dish of spicy chilled sesame noodles, however, I simply couldn’t stop thinking about them.
So when my Let’s Lunch group of bloggers around the world who gather for a monthly lunch date suggested making cold entrees for August, I decided to get back on that horse …
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.
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…
Growing up in a Singapore, a country that follows the lunar as well as the Western calendar, celebrating two birthdays each year was always a given. Cake, flowers and presents are lovely for Western birthdays. But for lunar calendar birthdays — or Chinese birthdays, as my family calls them — things are several notches simpler. The star of this show is always a bowl of noodles, symbolic of longevity, a pair of hardboiled eggs, representing fertility or life. And all of this comes in a sugary soup — "so the whole year will be sweet," as my mother says.
For too many years in America, my Chinese birthday — which I'm fortunate to be able to remember easily because it falls on Diwali each year — passed with little fanfare. Sure, my parents would call New York to wish me well. But the noodles, the eggs and the sweet broth — that always seemed like just a little too much trouble.
This year, however, as Diwali began today, I found myself temporarily stranded in Singapore due to unforeseen circumstances. So for lunch, my mother had a little treat planned: birthday noodles. "You must eat this," she said. "For luck."
I’ve always envied people who can look in a fridge, grab a bunch of things and whip together an impressive meal.
The times that I’ve done that, I’ve managed to oh, muster up a ham scramble.
As someone who entered the kitchen fairly late in life, my insecurities always get the better of me. So when it comes to cooking, I’m much more of a planner — I like to think things through a fair bit first if I’ve never made a dish before. I’ll look up dozens of recipes before settling on what to make. And I’ll read a recipe several times over to plan any changes or additions before setting foot in the kitchen.
But, watching the ease and freedom of chefs who cook purely by instinct — that confidence always gets me. I can’t help but feel like the child on a tricycle, watching far braver kids whizzing past on ten-speed bikes.
How to bridge that gulf?
In the kitchen of a little beach cottage on Nantucket, I started taking baby steps.
In every relationship, there inevitably is that one early thing that you disagree on.
Ours was pancakes.
Mike, he’ll eat them any and every day of the week for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Me, I love me my sweets but even at brunch, give me noodles or a hunk of red meat and eggs over pretty pancakes anytime.
You learn to compromise, of course. And so over the last eight years, Marion Cunningham and I have become well-acquainted.
I was at a New York dinner party a few years ago when someone noted that he thought Singaporeans were "weird" because of their breakfast choices. "They eat noodles for breakfast," he said. "That's WEIRD."
I refrained from saying anything about how, when I first came to the U.S., I had thought that big hunks of steak breaded, deep-fried and served with a massive glop of fatty gravy and eggs were a rather odd choice to start one's day myself.
But hey, I'm a polite person who keeps an open mind. (And besides, having tried it, I'll now happily order chicken fried steak and eggs whenever I see it on a brunch menu.)
And so it was that I was thrilled to see Saveur's "A World of Breakfast" October issue on how different countries and cultures kick off the day. With features devoted to breakfasts filled with "the spicy tang of fresh chile sauce in Indonesia, the briny bite of
plump olives in Turkey, the sweetness of just-picked peaches on a
California farm," the issue aimed to show that "the diversity of breakfast foods prepared around the
world is proof of one thing: that the first bite of the day is also the