Sunday, January 27, 2008

Warm up with porky broth - Restaurant: Haru Ichiban

Once in a while, a craving creeps up on me so suddenly yet so intensely, my life nearly comes to a halt until that craving is satisfied. The cold and gloomy weather last week brought on such an all consuming craving for ramen. Not just for any ramen either, my little heart was set on a steaming bowl of chewy noodle swimming in a rich tonkotsu broth.

For days, I just couldn't get my mind off the luxurious porky broth, almost creamy white from having extracted all the wonderful piggy goodness in the stewing bones, trotters, and other wiggly parts. Sadly, I had nowhere to go near my downtown office or midtown home for a bowl. After failing miserably at trying to fight off the craving, I finally made the long drive to Duluth to get what my stomach so desperately desired.

This would be my very first time trying the ramen at Haru Ichiban. On previous visits, other items on the vast menu such as miso grilled cod always appeared more attractive. On this visit, I was a woman on a mission. Nothing but tonkotsu ramen would do.

The happiness of finally having the boiling hot bowl of salty piggly goodness close enough to give me a facial was only topped by the pleasure of taking that first sip. Intensely savory, perhaps a bit too salty, but with a depth of flavor only the noble pig could deliver. Hog essence, it's a beautiful thing. The add-ins were also good, especially the slightly crunchy bamboo shoots. They introduce a bit of that pickled flavor, which helped to cut through the richness of the broth and textually compliment the chewiness of the ramen. The funny thing was while I get full rather quickly on pasta, I slurped down the entire bowl of ramen without feeling a thing. Go figure.

Haru Ichiban
3646 Satellite Blvd
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 622-4060

Saturday, January 19, 2008

To Havana with love - Restaurant: Havana Sandwich Shop

Why did it take me three years to go inside Havana Sandwich Shop when I have driven by it a hundred times? Insanity? Probably not too far from it. This place is awesome! Just look at that Cuban sandwich. The bread alone is worth the trip. So well toasted and crispy, it literally shattered between my teeth. I loved the additional crunchiness from the pickles, which also provided a bit of acidity to the saltiness of the ham. The half sandwich looks tiny in this photo. I regretted not getting a whole one right after the first bite. Although my stomach was relieved that I didn't rush to place a supplemental order. This baby was quite filling with all that ham and roasted pork. I can't remember much about the rice or beans. It's probably not because they were less than good. I might just have been suffering from slight sensory over stimulation after the sandwich. :)

Havana Sandwich Shop
2905 Buford Hwy NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
(404) 636-4094

Friday, January 11, 2008

Feasting in Singapore (Part II)

Often times fantastic street eats go hand in hand with less than desirable eating conditions. This is especially true in Singapore, where both temperature and humidity consistently go into the 90s. Not one to sweat easily, I have no problem tracking down and chowing down at the various legendary stalls peppered throughout the open air hawker centers (congregation of food stalls specializing in various regional Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Western eats). This is not to say that I don't appreciate finding exceptional eats in a pristine and air-conditioned environment. I absolutely do, especially when I am trapped inside the vast shopping mecca that is Orchard road.

Stomach rambling, I found myself wondering the Food Republic inside Wisma Atria around 11 am. While most stalls were just setting up, a line ten deep had already formed in front of Thye Hong. Always a tell-tell sign of good eats, I got in line without knowing what food was being served. Luckily the folks of Thye Hong were not shy about self-advertising. Clippings on the stall window soon made it clear that this is the reincarnation of a famous fried prawn mee stall from the well-known Newton circus hawker center. Seeing that everyone in line was getting the same prawn mee, I felt confident doing the same. Boy, was that the right decision. The simple looking fried noodle smelled superbly and strongly of the prawn shell broth used to bring the noodle to al dente. Just enough bean sprouts gave each chopstickful a delightful crunch. And the real star of the dish, the chili sauce provided way more than just heat, but also awesome umami flavor found in the shrimp paste that is the trademark of Southeast Asia.

The above looks like a simple lunch plate. In a way, Nasi Lemak, which translates to savory rice, is a simple composition of rice, chicken curry, ikan bilis or tiny anchovies, hard boiled egg slices, and cucumber. What is not simple about the dish is the taste of the items on the plate. This particular version at Madam Kwan's inside the KLCC shopping center attached to the famous Petronas towers did Malaysia's national dish right. The plain looking rice smelled and tasted unmistakably of the sweet coconut cream in which it was steamed. It went wonderfully with the also creamy dark meat chicken curry. Unlike many ikan bilis served plainly fried, Madam Kwan's version was cooked with generous amounts of onion and mixed with sambal, the requisite chili sauce that often came separately.

Nyonya Kuih (small glutinous cakes of mixed Malay and Chinese origin) is another obsession of mine. The dominating flavors are those of coconut cream and fragrant pandan leaves (what make the cakes green). The varieties are mind boggling and can be found at most hawker centers. My current favorite version of ondeh ondeh were obtained at a hole-in-the wall shop called Galicier, introduced to me by ieatishootipost. What's so great about this particular ondeh ondeh? Imagine the softest sweet potato/glutinous rice mochi covered in grated coconut with a hidden center of glorious liquid gula melaka (smoky dark palm sugar). Upon piercing the outer cover, the gula melaka squirts dramatically into your mouth, onto your face, and down your shirtfront in a great gust of sweetness. That's gooooooooooood!!!!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Escaping the ATL cold spell to feast in Singapore

I make two annual pilgrimages to Singapore, the little dot on the other side of the world to see J's family, to attend lots of weddings, and most importantly, to eat! So let's dive right in!

If the only things you can focus on in the above photo are the scary teethes, then fish head curry is not for you. However, for those who drool at the thought of slurping out all the gelatinous bits bathed in fiery curry inside a fish skull, this particular dish at Ya Kwang, in Singapore's red light district, is sure to satisfy. The coconut milk-thickened curry delivered a dose of sweetness that soothed the throat after the initial intense chili blows. The freshness of the fish head was evident in the creaminess of the surprising amount of flesh found around the neck region. If you love hamachi collar, this melty flesh is a dream. The generous curry were mopped up with hot fried sweet buns. The combination may not be good for the heart, but it definitely was good for the soul.

The same Cze Char (Hokkien for boil and stir-fry) stall also specializes in crabs. Apparently, the stall owner Jason also owns a nearby seafood wholesale, so the freshness of his dishes are not to be questioned. The sauce on the chili crab was so thick from the generous addition of crab roes, I could almost pick it up with chopsticks. The flavor was not dominated by sweetness like at lesser places, but rather delivered a complex combination of spices. Again there was plenty of sauce to dredge more of those fried sweet buns in.

Yup, we got more crabs after the chili crabs. How could we not when such large Sri Lankan crabs exist only in dreams back in the ATL? And this Crab Tang Hoon is a must try course at Ya Kwang. A Teochew (a region in Canton) specialty, the tang hoon noodles acted like sponges to soak up all the wonderful juices from the crabs. The particular tang hoon used here was a bit thicker than what you usually find in similar dishes. A feature I particularly liked due to the extra chewiness.

I absolutely cannot drag myself onto the return flight without getting my fill of roti pratha whenever I am in Singapore. J has raved about Prata Shop outside of his army camp (all Singaporean males must serve for 2 and a half years and are in the reserve until their 40s) many times, but it's out of the way so we have yet to visit after my six trips to Singapore. Instead, we settled on a quick stop at the 24 hour pratha place after long hours of NYE partying. The place was full at 3:30 am! We waited for twenty minutes for our pratha, but the satisfaction was worth every minute and the memory of which sustained me through the 24 hour journey back to the atl soon after. This particular version was not the super crispy type. Instead, many ghee (clarified butter) fluffed layers were hidden under the crispy outer cover. The pockets between the layers were super at absorbing the curry dip served along side. Until the next trip, I'll be living on this memory for a while.

It's hard not to adore a man who hardly thinks about food on his own, but drags his jet lagged self out of bed at 7am to go on a hunt for the perfect bowl of Bak chor Mee (ground pork noodle) for the food obsessed one. Luckily, the perfect bowl is not hard to find at Seng Kee on Changi Road. We opted for the mee pok, a wider noodle than is normally used by this stall in their bak chor mee. The mee pok was perfectly al dente or QQ as the Singaporeans say. The sauce had incredible depth of porky flavor, which is further enhanced by the clusters of ground pork and slices of liver. An additional surprise was the soup served along side. Not at all an after thought, the broth was very savory and again porky but had no hint of MSG.

So much more to eat on my always too short and hectic trip to this part of the world! I'll save the rest for a second post soon.