Thursday, November 28, 2013

Getting A (Duck) Leg Up On Thanksgiving Feasting At Hai Ky Mi Gia

I've established a personal tradition of having duck for my fowl of choice on Thanksgiving, and with the jury (of Shanghainese in-laws) still out on dinner plans, I decided to get a leg up at lunchtime with a trip to Hai Ky Mi Gia.

Hai Ky Mi Gia, which I previously visited in an official blogger capacity for the mee pok, is a Chaozhou Chinese (by way of Vietnam) establishment in the Tenderloin  that ranks up there with Chinatown's San Sun as one of the great bargain dedicated Asian noodleries of San Francisco.  More than any other eating establishment in town, it is associated with duck legs.  Though only three of the 31 soups on HKMG's menu feature a braised duck leg, nearly 60 percent (29) of the last 50 Yelpers to review it mention having (or having had) one of them.  Hai Ky Mi Gia is a hole-in-the-wall-and-a-half is size and is always busy, so that adds up to a lot of duck legs.  You can get the braised duck leg with wontons and noodles, ho fun noodles, or egg noodles (choice of thick or thin). You can also get a duck leg on the side, in case you want a two-legged bowl of noodles.

I hadn't bothered to check if HKMG was even open on Thanksgiving Day, but was guessing that they were. At it turned out, they were open for lunch but closing at 3:00, as were some others of their Larkin St. noodle neighbors. When I arrived at 1:30, the restaurant was packed, and I had a short wait before I was given a seat at a communal 6-top.

As is probably evident to readers of this blog, I have a bias toward wheat noodles over rice noodles, and for robust noodles over dainty ones, and  predictably ordered the braised duck leg with wide egg noodles. Hai Ky also offers the option of having your noodles "dry" (i.e. broth on the side) but I figured getting the duck leg in the full soup would ease the task of stripping the meat off the bones by softening it further. I'm also a noodle eater who typically drinks the bowl dry (after playing with spicing up the remaining broth) and looked forward to the duckiest possible infusion.

It took about 10 minutes for my bowl of noodles to arrive, accompanied by a small saucer of carrot shreds and cucumber slices.  After tasting the broth, I added a little chili oil and a couple of squirts of what I think was oyster sauce from an unmarked mystery squeeze bottle. I eschewed the carrot shreds and chewed the cucumber slices, but declined to add either to the bowl, which was adorned well enough with my favorite rabbit food, cilantro.

The duck leg in my soup was as advertised: lean, meaty and falling-off-the-bone tender (or at least easily pulled off the bone with chopsticks).  It was seasoned with what appeared to be five-spice seasoning, but delicately so, not so intensely as to taste medicinal.  The noodles, of which there was a copious supply, remained chewy to the end.  The broth was rich, tending toward salty, and chicken-y with duck overtones, more so than seemed to be accounted for by the presence of the duck leg. (What happens to the rest of all those ducks, anyway?) I emptied the bowl of everything but the bones, and left Hai Ky Mi Gia sated. It's easy to see why one or another duck noodle dish from this corner of noodle heaven ends up on nearly everyone's bargain bites list.

Where slurped: Hai Ky Mi Gia, 707 Ellis St; at Larkin St., San Francisco

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Call It Mellow Yellow: Ohn No Khao Swe At Sapphire Asian Cuisine

The color of the Burmese noodle soup called Ohn No Khao Swe comes from turmeric, not saffron, but eating it at Sapphire Asian Cuisine today had the 1966 Donovan hit playing in my head (where it's still playing as I write). I've blogged previously about Sapphire Asian Cuisine, the Chinese food steam table joint with a separate menu of made-to-order authentic Burmese food as a seeming afterthought, and of Ohn No Khao Swe, the dish that by all measures should be ranked a close second to mohinga, the catfish chowder considered Burma's national dish.

As was the case with Sapphire's mohinga, their version's broth was as good as any I've tried, even if some solid ingredients had a more meager presence than in some more expensive versions elsewhere. In particular, very little chicken is to be found it it, with as much of the protein coming from the boiled egg slices and the yellow chick peas. It's simply called "Coconut Noodle Soup" on the menu after all, and there is a separate "Chicken Noodle Soup" (which I have yet to try) which presumably has more chicken. The broth. on the other hand, was a remarkable "mellow yellow" mild curry delight which yielded happily to enhancement by the addition of some red chili flakes and an extra squeeze of lime.  Needless to say, I drained the bowl.

Here's a video lesson on making Ohn No Khao Swe, taught by none other than Yadana Nat Mai, alias June Bellamy, last princess of Burma:

[Added 24 November]

Another video lesson for making Ohn No Khao Swe from the younger generation, in the person of London blogger/author MiMi (@Meemalee on Twitter) and a favorite resource for Burmese food knowledge:

Where slurped: Sapphire Asian Cuisine ....Taste of Burma, 475 Sacramento Street, San Francisco

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Cool Mie Tek Tek "Kuah" At The Lime Tree

I was looking to add an Indonesian arrow to my quiver of noodle experiences in the form of Mie Tek Tek and my immediate choices were the venerable Borobudur, it of the $28 rijsttafel, or the newer, more snackish The Lime Tree.  Since Mie Tek Tek is a quintessential  Indonesian street food, the $7.99 version in the casual, fast food-like confines of Irving Street's The Lime Tree seemed a more appropriate choice that the $10.50 version in the more imposing downtown restaurant.

That mi tek tek is a street food above all is evidenced by its very name.  While "mie" simply means noodles, referring to the yellow egg noodles always used, the "tek tek" refers to the sound of  itinerant street vendors tapping their woks with their spatulas to announce their arrival. There are two types of mie tek tek: mie tek tek goreng, meaning "fried" (think chow mein) and mie tek tek kuah, meaning "in soup."

While more often than not "mie tek tek" without qualification refers to the fried version, the "Mie Tek-Tek" on The Lime Tree's menu board is "egg noodle, chicken and vegetable in spicy soup," or mie tek tek kuah, as qualified by its description Along with my mie tek tek I ordered a roti pratha, a layered flatbread which came with a green curry dipping sauce.

At The Lime Tree, You have the option of ordering your soup mild or spicy, though "spicy," as I ordered it, means "not very." There are no condiments on the tables, so it's advisable to put in a request when you order for "extra spicy" if that's what fuels your boat. The not-too-spicy broth came with a copious amount of yellow ramen-like egg noodles, topped with shredded chicken, tomatoes, fried shallots, pickles and crunchy cabbage that I could  detect.  The noodles were nicely chewy, the topping were a nice mix of textures from sost and tender to crunchy, and overall it was a comforting, belly-pleasing bowl, lack of chili assertiveness notwithstanding.

Mi tek tek goreng from Sataysfied
My only previous mi tek tek experience was with a goreng (pan fried) version served an an Off the Grid event by Sataysfied.  That one, topped with soft-cooked quail's egg, was comforting in a blander way, more  like a pancit offering than a spicy East Indies effort.  I'm not sure it was intended that way, but noodles are noodles and I like them all. (Well, almost all.)

Where slurped: The Lime Tree, 450 Irving St., San Francisco

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Slurp du Jour: Braised Beef With Hand-Pulled Flat Noodles At House Of Xian Dumpling

I hadn't had a bowl of noodles, not even home-cooked, for nearly a week and so my internal GPS directed my feet toward House of Xian Dumpling, even though it wasn't lunch or dinner time.  My choice this time was Braised Beef Noodle Soup, with "hand-pulled flat noodle," i.e. biang biang style, if you will.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon and uncrowded, so my bowl of soup came with alacrity. It came well-adorned with cilantro and some stalks of bok choy lurking in the depths of its broth, which seemed more beefy and less medicinally aromatic than the broth in the beef tendon noodles I had on a previous occasion.  As with my first experience, though, the broth had a nice default level of spice heat.  It was certainly not Spicy enough enough to melt your face off, but spicy enough to tell you the chef is in charge here.  The beef, which appeared to be brisket, was lean, tender, and plentiful, though on balance I think I prefer the chewy beef tendon from my first visit. On the other hand, I definitely prefer the wide noodles, especially when cooked perfectly "QQ," as the Taiwanese say. Next time I will have the right combination in mind.

In my first post about this restaurant, I remarked that much of the ambitious menu seemed to be under construction. The proprietress, who must have seen my blog post, made a point of telling me that most of the menu is now available. As this would include the likes of xiao long bao, shengjian bao and xian doujiang, I can see myself returning frequently (but always reserving room in my belly for hand-pulled noodles).

Where slurped: House of Xian Dumpling, 925 Kearny St., San Francisco

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Mohinga At This FiDi Fast Food Joint Is A Diamond, Er, Sapphire In The Rough

When you walk into Sapphire Asian Cuisine in the heart of the Financial District you'll be greeted by the sight of a line passing the cafeteria-style steam table displaying glistening entrees (one item with rice, noodles or vegetable for $6.59, two for $7.59 or three for $8.59).  Your expectations, understandably, might not be high, especially if you've read the pithy caveat of one Yelper:
"The concept is quite similar to Panda Express yet the food isn't even a tenth of Panda's taste and is instead 3/2 the greasy fattiness. Again, I love greasy fattiness but I love it only when it tastes amazing! Usually greasy fattiness and delicious taste tend to go hand in hand (it's one of those culinary unfairnesses) but it was quite far off here."
Fortunately there's a benign "gotcha" here in the restaurant name's extension, "....Taste of Burma." This taste is not found in the Orange Chicken, Broccoli Beef or Thai Basil Pork from the steam table, but in an a la carte menu above the steam table, titled "Made to Order." Made to order (or at least assembled to order) they are, and include a range of Burmese classics like Mohinga (catfish chowder), coconut curry noodle soup, samusa soup, tea leaf salad, rainbow salad and  Shan tofu salad, to name a few.

I chose to first test the mohinga, because a) this is a noodle blog, b) mohinga is considered Burma's National dish and therefore merits one's first attention, and c) I've been on a fishy soup kick lately in any event. I placed my order with the cashier, paid, and found a table where I waited for it to be brought to me, which happened about 10 minutes later.

Mohinga is a chowder made from shredded catfish in a lemongrass-infused broth thickened with yellow chickpea flour, served with rice vermicelli noodles. Garlic, onion, ginger and fish paste and/or fish sauce are also typically used in the broth, and the dish is served with a variety of garnishes which may be already included or served on the side.

My mohinga arrived with a small dish of crushed red chili peppers and a lime wedge on the side. Toppings on the soup included the obligatory cilantro, spring onion tops, fired onions and what appeared to be bits of samusa skin.  As an added bonus, sliced hard-boiled eggs and yellow chickpeas, which are sometimes optional add-ins at extra cost, were included in my $6.59 bowl of soup. 

After tasting the broth, which was complex, citrusy, and slightly fishy, I added a squeeze from the lime wedge and half the crushed dried chilis (which were joined later by the other half).  Although not a lot of tangible shredded catfish was evident, and the noodles were a little too soft (as they could hardly escape being, given their thinness) it was overall a very stout bowl of mohinga, with a broth that was as good as I have had, and well worth returning to. And there wasn't a touch of greasy fattiness (of either the good or bad variety) to it.

Where slurped: Sapphire Asian Cuisine ....Taste of Burma, 475 Sacramento Street, San Francisco

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Swell Ohn No Khauk Swe' From The Lil Burma Food Truck

I've blogged before about my initial encounter with Ohn No Khauk Swe' (a. k. a. Ohn No Khao Swè and other romanizations) and how the Burmese Kitchen version endeared itself to me despite my not being a big coconut fan.  It's a dish that seems tailor-made for cool weather (despite the fact that Burma has precious little of that) and today's slight crispening of our Indian summer's air was excuse enough to intercept the Lil Burma food truck at SoMa StrEat Food Park and try its version on my way to Costco.

As described in my earlier post on the dish, ohn no khauk swe is a chicken noodle soup that features wheat noodles in a mildly curried, turmeric-tinged coconut milk and chicken stock broth thickened with garbanzo bean flour. Garnishes include cilantro, lime, shredded red onion, fried shallots, chili oil and presumably fish sauce. Sit-down restaurants offer hard-boiled egg slices and fried split peas as optional add-ins, but were these were not offered in a food truck environment.

Overall, Lil Burma's version stacked up well to the restaurant version I previously enjoyed, being rich hearty, and savory. As served, it was perhaps too timidly spcied, but extra chili is available for the asking, which I will certainly do on a return visit. The noodles were a little soft to my tastes, perhaps a victim of food truck logistics, or of my ordering past the lunchtime peak. These small faults aside, it was rewarding enough to keep me enthusiastically on the ohn no khao swe trail, which will lead me to other Bay Areea Burmese venues .

Where slurped: Lil Burma Food Truck, SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428-11th Street, San Francisco