Excellent Pork Chop House: Taiwanese Comfort Food

There are some people whose food instincts and advice I greatly respect. One of them is the voracious (and all-around awesome) Ed Lin, author of New York Chinatown thrillers “One Red Bastard,” “Snakes Can’t Run” and more.

So when Ed recently posted a photo of a bowl of noodles at his favorite Taiwanese place in New York, I immediately sat up. I trust Ed on all matters gastronomic — especially Taiwanese, a cuisine he knows inside and out.

Which is how a few days later, sous chef and I found ourselves wending down a narrow curvy lane in Chinatown, eyes peeled for one “Excellent Pork Chop House” …

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Thai Rock (Rockaway Beach, N.Y.): Sweet-Tooth “Thai”

Every few days or so, a craving will kick in.

If I haven’t been cooking or if I’ve been on the road, unless I’m in Asia, I’ll start to really need the taste of Asian food of some sort. So, after a few days of lovely fish sandwiches and hot dogs at Rockaway Beach, I started sniffing around for something a little closer to home.

And then I remembered a sign on a building by the water: “Thai Rock.” And off we went …

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Ganso: Japanese Comfort Food Perfection

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

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Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee: Singapore’s Best

For years, I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that the absolute best char kway teow in Singapore is over at Hill Street Fried Kway Teow

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.

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Mee Pok Ta: This One’s For Dad

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 …

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Spicy Sichuan Sesame Noodles: Chilled Lunch With A Kick

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 …

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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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Birthday Noodles: To Sweetness & Longevity


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One birthday is good, but two is always better.

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."

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Nantucket: The Art of Winging It


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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.

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The Breakfast Dinner


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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.

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