Dong Xuan Quan (Berlin): A Vietnamese Pho Fix

It only took about a week into my visit to Germany but suddenly, there it was: My massive craving for a bowl of hot noodle soup.

Good thing I was in Berlin — I’d been told before getting here that there’s good Vietnamese food to be had in this city. Vietnamese immigrants, after all, have been a fixture in Berlin since as early as the 1950s, when East Germany began extending invitations to North Vietnamese to come over for training programs.

Where to go? All signs pointed to a spot in East Berlin’s Lichtenberg neighborhood named Dong Xuan Center …

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Solyanka: Russian Beef Soup for the Olympic Soul

Tropical girl that I am, the Winter Olympics have never held much fascination for me.

Yes, there’s figure skating — which I adore — but the rest of it usually goes by in a bewildering blur for me once the games start. (Of course, all of this could change should I ever decide to get off my tush and actually go skiing for the first time.)

Olympics-inspired food, however — now that fascinated me. So when our Let’s Lunch crew decided on an Olympic spirit-themed lunch to toast the opening of the Sochi games, I was in.

What to make? A certain Russian sweet and sour beef soup seemed just the thing for snowy conditions …

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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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John Searles’ Lentil Soup: A Toast to “Help For The Haunted”

Few things make me happier than tasting my friends’ cooking — especially if it’s a situation in which I had absolutely no idea that they knew how to cook.

Recently, I had the pleasure of making one such discovery about a dear friend of mine, a person I adore and whom I know mostly as a writer (certainly not a cook) — the novelist John Searles.

I made this discovery one chilly evening this spring when John’s partner, Thomas (the chef in that family), wasn’t around. Instead of ordering in, John decided to cook up some soup instead. I remain grateful for this decision as this meant that I got to taste his lentil soup, which turned out to be so hearty and tasty that I distinctly remember the delicious sensation of its earthy goodness warming me up from within.

So when fall and all its coolness arrived last week, this soup immediately came to mind.

Besides, I had a very special reason to toast John this month — his third novel, a gripping literary thriller titled “Help For The Haunted” just hit book stores! It’s only been out for a week and it’s already gotten rave reviews everywhere — both Amazon and USA Today just named it one of the month’s best books.

So cheers to the book and to my dear friend John. And of course, let’s not forget his lovely lentil soup …

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Belle Harbor Steak House (Rockaway Park, N.Y.): Back to the Basics

There’s something to be said for a solid, old-school meal.

What this means varies, of course, depending on where you are. In the U.S., I’ve always relished the mom-and-pop low-key restaurants that still roll out unfussy, decades-old standbys — hot turkey platters, melts, meatloaf and more. (If you’ve read “A Tiger in the Kitchen,” you’ll know what a meatloaf obsessive I am.)

I find myself craving these meals when it gets a little chilly. And so on a recent rainy day, we found ourselves heading over to a little restaurant called Belle Harbor Steak House in Rockaway Park, New York.

I’d caught a glimpse of the menu a few days before and it seemed like just the place to warm you up on a cold drizzly afternoon …

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Soondubu Jjigae: Korean Silky Tofu with Beef & Seafood, A Quick WeeknightTake

Fiery foods are never far from my mind — but the summer months are when this yearning really consumes me.

Perhaps it’s because spicy food and sweltering weather are so intertwined in Singapore, where I grew up. Regardless, whenever the weather turns hot in New York, that’s when my hankering for mouth-numbing flavors truly rears its head.

This week, this led me to try my hand at a dish that I’ve adored for years in Korean restaurants but had never considered trying: Soondubu Jjigae …

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Miso-Bacon-Corn Chowder: An Umami-Packed Liquid Lunch

The recipes, of course, have been lovely. As have the beautiful photos of creative dishes ranging from BLTs to kitchen-sink concoctions.

But in the close to two years that I’ve had a monthly virtual lunchdate with food bloggers spread out from California to Paris, the thing I’ve most adored is the friendships that have formed, firmly sealed via a shared love for cooking.

Over Let’s Lunch dates and regular Tweets, this trusty band of bloggers has gotten rather fond of one another. So when our dear Karen mentioned that she couldn’t join us for lunch in May because of a strict liquid diet due to cancer surgery, our decision was clear. If Karen had to have liquid lunches in May, then well, so would we.

What to make for lunch? After regretfully dispelling the idea of martinis — delicious, though probably not the most healthy — a filling, hearty chowder came to mind …

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Winter Melon Soup: Comfort, Simple & Clear


Among the many Cantonese-style soups of my Singaporean girlhood, the one I find myself craving once temperatures start heading south in fall is a simple one: Winter melon soup.

This broth, dotted with cubes of soft winter melon and bits of mushroom and pork, isn't an elaborate or fussy soup — it's what the Chinese call "cheng," or clear. The flavor is subtle; the experience is all about warmth and comfort.

So, when my Let's Lunch friends suggested doing a fall soup for November, I immediately started badgering my mother for her recipe

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Taste Good: A True Thing


Years ago, as a freshman at Northwestern University, I used to trek to the computer lab after classes to log onto a Web site and stare longingly at pictures of Singaporean food that someone out in the ether had taken the care to post.

I'm ashamed to mention how long ago this was, exactly — let's just say that this was the first year the university handed out email addresses to incoming freshmen and well, that this "Internet" thing was still new-fangled.

I've never forgotten the kindness of the person — whom I've never known — who put up that rudimentary site filled with pictures of dishes I desperately missed. The photos became my lifeline during that first bone-chilling Chicago winter — and I would spend the next 10-plus years looking for good versions of Singaporean chicken rice or spicy beef rendang in Southeast Asian restaurants across America.

After years of looking, I've finally found a place that I can whole-heartedly say is authentic: Taste Good in Elmhurst, New York. (And I'm not the only one who thinks so — the Singapore Permanent Mission to the United Nations often uses the restaurant to cater its events.) I won't go into all the details here — you'll have to check out my piece on the meal and my quest in the Atlantic Food Channel today — but I wanted to pay a little homage to that anonymous person who saved my sanity all those years ago.

So here's a little visual montage. Whoever and wherever you are, I hope you enjoy these pictures …

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786 Yassin Restaurant: “Drunk Food” To Remember


The moment I heard about 786 Yassin Restaurant, a place in Singapore that reputedly serves outstanding Indian mutton soup, I instantly begged to be taken.

When done well, soup kambing, as it’s called, is a hefty flavor bomb that’s hard to forget. It comes infused with coriander, cumin, cardamom, turmeric, nutmeg and star anise (among other spices) and dotted with crispy fried shallots and soft onion chunks.

This, no doubt, is the Chanel of soups.

When to have it, however, turned out to be something to consider.

“You can’t have soup kambing now lah,” said my friend Basil, who had told me about Yassin, prompting me to immediately suggest heading there for dinner. ”It’s mabuk food.”

Ahh, drunk food — the dishes that are the perfect panacea when you’re leaving a bar at 2 a.m. and looking for something to quell your hunger and sober you up. In the case of soup kambing, this heady concoction of spices does an especially efficient job of clearing your head and helping you wade out of your Chivas fog.

I didn’t want to have to get drunk in order to try Yassin’s though. So after some persuading, we were on our way.  

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