Monday, April 28, 2014

One For The Asian Chicken Noodle Soup Files: Coconut Shoyu Ramen At Kaiju Eats

A recent Daily Meal featurette about chicken soups around the world merely scratched the surface of Asian chicken noodle soups, a few of which I have covered in this blog, and I've been pondering doing a compilation of same. This was undoubtedly in the back of my mind when I settled down at a two-top at the new Lone Mountain eatery, Kaiju Eats, and my eyes fell on Coconut Shoyu Chicken Ramen on  the menu.

Kaiju Eats, which bills itself as a ramenya/izakaya, opened little more than a week ago in the space that was until very recently Ramen House. "Kaiju" means monster, and monster style is in mind with the graphics of the hand-drawn menus and business cards, and with the food itself, one might say, with the likes of monstrous Kaiju Roll and the "Godzilla" roll.  But I was there with my noodle hat on (or at least my noodle T-shirt).

Kaiju Eats currently has a dozen ramen choices on the menu, nearly all new-style or having unexpected toppings, though there appears to be an unreconstructed tonkotsu for the less adventurous ("same is lame" says Mr. Williams).  Prices range from $8.50 to $12 (for "The Kaiju").  With my mind still on chicken noodles, I asked the bubbly server if the reactions to the coconut shoyu ramen had been positive, and she gave me the go-ahead. I ordered it spicy (when she offered me the option) and a side order of agedashi tofu.

Agedashi Tofu
My ramen came piping hot. The broth (which had a faux tonkotsu-like appearance and texture from the coconut milk) hid a plenitude of thick (by ramen standards), curly alkaline noodles  Toppings included crispy (pre-fried?) slices of lotus root, bean sprouts, and half a poached egg. Also lurking below the surface was a generous amount of freshly cooked dark chicken meat; definitely enough protein there to make you feel you've had a meal.  The broth took a little getting used to; from the appearance you expect an unctuous, fatty soup, but instead get a cleaner, sharper (thanks to the spicing) sip.  The noodles were chewy, almost to a fault, but that's the way I like them. Overall, it was a hearty and satisfying bowl of ramen.
The agedashi tofu was also tasty and a generous portion for $4.50.  The Kaiju Eats menu has a wide-ranging selection of appetizers, salads and side dishes including skewers. Non-ramen eaters will also find teriyaki, donburi, and even a whole menu section for clams (there's a clam ramen as well).

Check it out!

Where slurped: Kaiju Eats, 3409 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Brrrrr-acing Bowl of Shenyang Cold Buckwheat Noodles At Made In China

Made In China Restaurant is one of the new kids in town, having planted its flag in the fertile soil of the 19th and Taraval vicinity just eight week ago. That flag, you might want to know, is a Manchu banner; Made In China features the rare-to-San Francisco cuisine of Shenyang, the largest city in the area of China once known as Manchuria.  (It also features a roster of uncommon and elaborate Hunan dishes, but that's a mystery for another day.)

One thing that seems made in China at Made In China is the translation of the menu from Chinese to English, with totally unintelligible results in some instances (or maybe it's obvious that "Acid Droplets Beans Pork" means stir-fried pickled long beans with pork). That menu is making for slow going for me, but I'm slowly making progress in sussing out what the hard core Shenyang dishes are. Being a noodle guy. I've begun by homing in on something called "Shenyang Cold Noodle."

"Shenyang Cold Noodle" on Made in China's menu is the terse translation for a fearsomely long string of Chinese characters, 沈陽西塔朝鲜大冷面, or Shenyang Xita Chaoxian Da Leng Mian.  In English this is "Shenyang West Tower Korean very cold noodles." Xita (West Tower) in this instance is the name of a street at the heart of Shenyang's Korea Town  (yes, there is one).  A little research will show that this is a very famous dish in Shenyang and, as the name implies, is parallel to a Korean noodle dish, naengmyeon, only much sourer.

My Xita cold noodles (shall we call them that?) came as vermicelli-thin buckwheat noodles in an ice-cold broth. The broth is said to be beef-based, but so sour from vinegar (and a bit spicy at the same time) that it was difficult to distinguish  Supplementing the noodles were half a boiled egg, slices of what appeared to be a pork terrine, kimchi, fresh cucumber slivers, daikon, cilantro and sesame seeds. The coldness and tartness made it a truly bracing bowl of noodles, one that I'm going to run for the next time we get 90°+ weather in San Francisco

The one downside to the dish was that I could not bring myself to drink the remaining broth, exhilarating as it was, once I had cleared out the solid ingredients on account of its exreme tartness. It would have been like downing the bottle of vinaigrette dressing after eating one's salad.  Maybe the hardy Shenyangers do so, but I don't have enough yang for that yin.

Where slurped: Made In China, 1033 Taraval St. near 21st Ave.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Last Of The Mohingas: Yamo (Mohinga VII) And Little Yangon (Mohinga VIII)

Mohinga & side order of palata at Little Yangon

My successful quest to become Lord of the Mohingas by conquering all eight versions in town took me to the very edge of the San Francisco mohinga universe -- and a tiny bit beyond. I say so because mohinga #8 was at Little Yangon, which technically is in Daly City, not San Francisco. It's at "Top of the Hill" (Hi there, Steven Matthew David!) which is as much a part of a San Franciscan's geographic vocabulary as "South of the Slot," and just a few steps from the end of a Muni line, the #14 Missiion. Besides, with the most charming decor and homiest service of any area mohingeria (yes, I made that up) you'll want to take Little Yangon home with you, too.

My mohinga (that's a Burmese catfish chowder, if you are playing catch-up) at Little Yangon came in a ceramic chafing dish-style bowl (an appropriate beanpot-like touch).  It had a plenitude of spaghetti-sized rice noodles and a whole half of a boiled egg (rather than the egg slices one sometimes sees in mohinga). The chickpea fritters and cilantro were served on the side, along with a wedge of lime. I gladly made use of all these add-ins to the fullest extent. The broth was deep and rich, more tart than some, and had a nice shrarpness to it with a rare hint of spice heat.  I ordered a palata (paratha) with my soup, and it was one of the better versions I have had, browned to a slight char and not at all greasy.  It proved useful for mopping up the bottom of the bowl, which I reached in short time.

Mohinga at Yamo
A week before, I had stopped in at Yamo, the beloved Mission District lunch-counter Burmese food venue I described in an earlier post, for its version of mohinga. As might be expected, Yamo presents the biggest bargain for a mohinga (though not necessarily the best value), with a washbasin-size bowl for $6.00 including tax.  Yamo's broth appeared a bit on the starchy side, possibly because I had it at early dinner time instead of my usual lunch time, and it had been sitting on the stove all day; on the other hand, it may just be Yamo's style. The noodles obviously hadn't been sitting in the broth, as they were not overcooked even though they were of the thin, vermicelli style rice noodles. Yamo's mohinga may not be the most elegant version around, but it's a solid, stick-to-the-ribs big bowl of soup, and you can't go wrong  for the price.

Thus endeth my grand mohinga tour (though I'll be posting an overview of all eight I've come across shortly). I look forward to giving full attention to my hot list of other noodle delights to try.  But if another Burmese restaurant suddenly materializes in my town ans says "Try me!" I'll be SO there.

Where Slurped: Little Yangon, 6318 Mission Street, Top of the Hill, Daly City; Yamo, 3406 18th Street at Mission St., San Francisco

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tucking Into Tibetan Thain Thuk At Tashi Delek In El Cerrito

Tashi Delek's Thain Thuk, up close and personal
It's not often I get coaxed outside the boundaries of San Francisco for some noodle goodness, but I couldn't resist the prospect of a family-style hole-in-the-wall Tibetan restaurant with a hard-to-find noodle soup dish.  The restaurant in question was Tashi Delek, in El Cerrito, and the noodle dish Thain Thuk.

I found Tashi Delek a 10-minute walk south from the El Cerrito del Norte BART Station along San Pablo Avenue, next to a pupuseria called Taqueria El Salva Mex. Tashi Delek (the phrase is a generic Tibetan well-wishing greeting) promises "Tibetan, Indian and Nepali Cuisine" according to its store sign. (There are Bhutanese dishes on the menu as well; perhaps they couldn't fit Bhutan on the sign.)  Make no mistake, though, this is a restaurant that leads with its Tibetan foot, featuring dishes like the noodle dish I was seeking, and snack favorites beyond momos like shogo khatsa and sha bhaley which I've previously only scored from the Tibetans of Himalayan Heights, Queens, New York. The proprietors/operators of Tashi Delek are Kunkhen Sherpa and Pasang Lama, and I can't think of two better names to be getting my Tibetan food from.

Thain Thuk literally means "pulled noodles" and is pronounced something like "tain took." (With that knowledge, read the post title again and appreciate my pun.)  They're not the showy pulled noodles you may be thinking of, but flat strips of dough pulled thin, then torn into approximately rectangular pieces and tossed into simmering broth, a meat or vegetable stock with ginger, garlic, onion, tomato, spring onion, salt and a splash of soy sauce, according to one recipe. To this is added, along with the noodles, beef or chicken (or vegetables for a vegetarian version) and thin slices of daikon. A generous topping of spinach and cilantro completes the dish.

I ordered the beef version, based on the recommendation of Ms. Sherpa, who was the entire "front of the house" at that time of day on a Tuesday. When my bowl arrived, I first tasted the broth.  It had the depth and complexity one would expect, but was a little on the bland side, I thought. Ms. Sherpa, who watched me tasting it, read my mind and offered me a pot of chili paste. A couple of tiny spoonfuls made the broth right, and I tucked in to my thain thuk. The noodle pieces were delightfully chewy, and the beef bits fresh and rare, like you might get with a good bowl of pho, but thicker. Overall, it was a hearty and delicious soup, one that can, according to one website, keep the nomads warm during the long Tibetan winters.  It was El Cerrito and 65° F, but it worked for me anyway.

Where slurped: 11224 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito CA (near El Cerrito del Norte BART Station)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Mohinga Tour VI: Mohinga At Pagan Restaurant Is A Pagan Pleasure

My Great San Francisco Mohinga Rally finally delivered me to Pagan Restaurant in the Outer Richmond, for stop number six of eight.  It was a while coming, because Pagan only has lunch service on weekends, and lunchtime is when I do most of my exploring.  Besides, mohinga is generally considered a breakfast food.

Pagan, now called Bagan, is an ancient city in central Burma known for its many pagodas. (Yes, I know it's Myanmar, not Burma, but I'll be damned if I'm going to write about "Myanmar-ese food.") Pagan, its namesake San Francisco restaurant, serves both Burmese and Thai cuisines, neatly segregated on the menu, but it's clear from the  images adorning its coyly rustic walls as well as from its name which cuisine is in the hearts of its Burmese-by-way-of-Thailand owners.

Pagan was nearly full at 1:15, but they managed to find a table for me. The nearly all Caucasian lunchtime clientele seemed mostly in the younger Gen X and older Gen Y age group, possibly graduates of Burma Superstar. (I've grown accustomed to being the oldest person in the room, and that's the only way I would have it.) As near as I could tell, most of the orders were for Burmese food, though in many cases it's hard to tell at first glance. Service was diligent but dilatory, as there was but a single server for the whole room.

I ordered mohinga with a side order of palata (a.k.a. paratha, prata, etc.), a pan-fried flatbread. I won't explain mohinga again (there's a search box aove for your convenience)!  The mohinga, when it came, wasn't the prettiest I've been served (the few egg slices, for example, were buried in the tangle of thin rice noodles, not laid out neatly on top) but was definitely among the tastiest.  The rich catfish broth was intense and garlicky, though perhaps a little too salty, and there was a plentiful supply of yellow chick peas as well as chick pea wafers.

I also liked Pagan's version of palata. They were very thick and well browned, and not overly greasy. The main drawback was their very heaviness; I was unable to finish one side order along with my bowl of soup.

This pagan is eager to return to Pagan for their ohn no khao swe (coconut chicken curry noodle soup) and other noshes once he's finished his mohinga round.

Where slurped: Pagan Restaurant, 3199 Clement St., San Francisco

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Winning the Xi'an Trifecta at Terra Cotta Warrior With Qishan Saozi Mian

Yes, three of my last four posts have been about the same restaurant, but I do have an obsession with the cuisine of Xi'an and Shaanxi province, arguably the seat of noodle culture in China, and was eager to vet what I consider my three benchmark bowls for this cuisine at the recently opened Terra Cotta Warrior. (Not to mention that I was hankering for another lamb roujiamo.) The first two benchmark dishes, reported on above, are you po che mian and mian pi; the third, and perhaps the most spectacular is Qishan saozi mian, appearing in English on TCW's menu as "Qishan minced pork noodles."

Qishan saozi mian is a venerable dish, with a history of more than 2,000 years. It's actually named for Mt. Qi in Baoji, about 100 miles west of Xi'an in Shaanxi province, but claimed by Xi'an restaurants. It is somewhat inelegantly described by People's Daily Online thusly:
Qishan Saozi Mian (Qishan-style noodles with minced meat) has a long history. It began as early as in the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 256 BC). It is a kind of noodles poured with pork soups (Saozi means diced meat) plus tofu, dried lily flowers, agaric, kelp, carrots and Chinese chives or garlic sprouts and tastes sour and hot, leaving people delicious aftertastes. Qishan Saozi Mian is well-known far and near for its “thin, pliable, smooth, sour, spicy, scented, hot, watery and greasy” features.
There are a lot of variances among versions, particularly in the type of noodle used, the prominence of the chili oil in the broth and the complexity of the toppings (the version at NY's Xi'an Famous Foods is somewhat lazy in that regard).  Some versions are served in a shallow bath of broth, others as a full-fledged bowl of soup. Pork is the standard meat ingredient, though beef or lamb may be used in muslim areas.

Terra Cotta Warrior's Qishan saozi mian uses long, fat, hand-pulled noodles in a soup bowl, and in general seems true to the form described by People's Daily in terms of it ingredients. It used finely minced pork (consistent with the vegetable cutting) and most or all of the vegetal ingredients called out (the "agaric" being wood ear mushroome).  I also detected doufu pi (a.k.a. yuba). I'm not sure about the kelp. Chili oil was used liberally, which did make it a little on the oily side, but heck, it's (presumably) vegetable oil. I'm guessing vinegar was also used as it was sourer than the garlic chives would account for. Overall, it was as intriguing taste-wise as it was visually, and a dish I'll be gad to return to.

The Qishan saozi mian at Terra Cotta Warrior came through for me and I've won the Xi'an trifecta!

Where slurped: Terra Cotta Warrior, 2555 Judah St. at 31st Ave., San Francisco