NOTE TO BLOG VISITORS - I am not currently doing noodle restaurant visit reports, but focusing on diving more deeply into noodle research, so this blog will be updated less frequently. For the latest Asian noodle news, and features from external sources, follow
Saturday, February 28, 2015
Jenny, my recently enlisted Thai noodle soup consultant (see previous post) Skyped me pics of two noodles dishes she had just cooked for her family (not available in her restaurant, which only serves Boat Noodles). One of the two looked particularly interesting, and some tweaking of her spelling and Googling proved it to be a dish I will call Guai Jubb. I vowed to find it in San Francisco and sure enough, Amphawa Thai Noodle House, where I previously experienced my first sukhothai, came through again.
Guai Jubb (Amphawa's spelling), or guay jab or kuay jub or jab, is a soup featuring pork offal and thin rice flour noodles, often of a distinctive fomation. Some local colloquial names for it include "Vietnamese" rice noodle soup and "sticky"soup, though I didn't find anything Vietnamese or sticky about it other than some 5-spice notes in the broth, and the fact that it's definitely a "stick-to-the-ribs" noodle soup.
Amphawa's menu describes the soup as "Square rice noodles in House special broth with pork entrails, crispy pork, egg, and pork blood pudding." The square noodles were in fact thin rice noodles alost the size of won ton skins, rolled up like a carpet or a cigar. (I'm not really sure if they were square, as I found recipes that called for triangles, but I didn't unroll one to check.)
There were pork entrails a-plenty, mostly unidentifiable by me but tender and tasty, and some hearty congealed pork blood cubes. The "crispy pork" consisted of crumbles of crispy cooked pork belly, a nice contrast in flavor and textures. Protein variety was enhanced with the addition of two photogenic boiled egg halves. The broth was soy sauce based, slightly tart, and slightly peppery, with a faint aromatic cast. It didn't seem to be as characteristically peppery as some descriptions of the dish would have you believe, but along with the usual three-compartment relish caddy, the server brought a container of the super-potent house-made green chili sauce. I took this as a hint, and a little dab of this made the whole concoction really sing.
I ordered a "Thai Iced Tea Lemonade" to wash it down with. It was similar to Tycoon Thai's Thai Lime Tea, but with lemons instead of limes and sweeter. It was, in fact, a little too sweet for my taste but I would order it again if I could specify a lesser degree of sweetness.
Over all, it was an exciting bowl of noodles and a likely shoo-in for my "Best of 2015" list (if I do one). I'll be back, Pilgrim. Rustle me up some jubb.
Where slurped: Amphawa Thai Noodle House, 5020 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco.
[Addendum: Another correspondent, Thai food scholar Leela Punyaratabandhu advises that Guai Jubb is based on a Chaozhou Chinese dish, kway chap (粿汁). That makes sense, since 72% of Chinese in Thailand are Teochew (Chaozhou) or Hakka Chinese. It also may have brought to parts of Thailand via Vietnam by migrating Teochew or Hakka Chinese, which would explain why some Thais call it "Vietnamese" soup.]
Friday, February 20, 2015
|The noodle shop's festive front|
|Jenny's Boat Noodles|
It began as a random on-line meeting:.a casual glance across the room that is the Internet, a nod, a smile, and in no time at all, Jenny in Thailand and I in San Francisco were conversing intimately.about.... noodles.
I had broken the ice by telling Jenny how much I liked Thai food, especially noodles. I boasted about my noodle blog, and sent her a link. Finally I got around to asking her what she did.
"I'm a merchant, I have a small shop selling noodles and coffee," she wrote.
"What kind of noodles? Pad Thai?" "Wait a sec," she wrote, and sent me a picture. I stared at it.
"Boat noodles!" I exclaimed. "Yes," she wrote.
It was foodie love at first Skype!
|The noodle shop's serene interior|
Jenny's soup comes with a broth that is enriched with with pork blood in typical Boat Noodle style; .I know of quite a few Asian soups that use cubes of congealed pig's blood as a garnish, but not many that I am aware of use it as a key ingredient in the broth base. This may seem off-putting to a Westerner, but it makes for a smooth, rich soup and you wouldn't even know it was due to animal blood if no one had told you.
There are only the two traditional Boat Noodle protein choices here, beef or pork, though you'll find pork meatballs in either, along with complex seasoning and garnishment, When it come to noodle styles for your soup, there is a wider range of choices. You can have thin or wide (flat) rice noodles, Chinese-style egg noodles (which Jenny seems to prefer), bean thread noodles or instant noodles. There's coffee to be had, but more importantly (to me at least) beer. The house beer is Leo, which is Singha Beer's little brother. Judging from the video call snippet Jenny treated me to, there will also be some spirit-lifting Thai pop music.
Now that I've "adopted" this modest Thai noodle shop as my blog's cyber-penpal, I plan to be checking on it often. Look for Full Noodle Frontity to report back from time to time with as many pictures, stories, and videos I can coax out of Jenny (and who knows, maybe even a recipe or two). If you find yourself in her neighborhood, seek her noodle shop out, and show her how crazy for Thai Boat Noodles a foodie can be.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
What is it with Asian restaurants and Mason jars? One would think an Asian restaurant in San Francisco that served all its drinks (including local craft beer) in hipster fetishist Mason jars would be serving dumbed-down, er, "gateway" Asian food. If I'd bet on that assumption, I'd be 0-for-2 by now. First came O'Mai Cafe at the trendier end of Clement, where my Vietnamese iced coffee was served in a Mason jar alongside my anatomically correct bun bo Hue. An now comes Tycoon Thai, in the Tenderloin, no less....
Champa Garden (SF) and Maneelap Srimangkoun.
Tycoon Thai is all tall tables and bar stools, and on arrival I perched at a window counter to watch O'Farrell St. life go by. After being brought my menu and a glass of water (startlingly served in a Mason jar) I ordered the kao piak along with a cha ma now (Thai lime iced tea), which also was to come in a Mason jar. I normally would have added an appetizer, but at Tycoon Thai they all seem priced and sized for sharing, not for solo diners, so the sai ua and the som tum Lao will have to wait for further visits.
Overall, Tycoon Thai's version was quite similar to Maneelap Srimongkoun's version. Though the latter did not have or offer pig's blood, both versions came with chicken on the bone, and wide, flat rice noodles. Champa Garden's version had neither pork blood nor bones in the chicken, and came with round, not flat, rice noodles (all three venues promised house-made noodles). The broth at Tycoon seemed a bit saltier and deeper in flavor, and definitely had a bit more of a cilantro kick than Maneelap's. If there was one fault to be found with Tycoon Thai's kao piak, it was that they seemed to skimp on the noodles, and I didn't see a kaedama option on the menu. I could have eaten a lot more, and if TT covers that, it will clearly have my favorite version among the three (bearing in mind here that kao piak itself will never be my favorite noodle dish, except possibly when I have the flu, due to its grandmotherly chicken soupiness).
Where slurped: Tycoon Thai, 620 O'Farrell St. (next to Lahore Karahi), San Francisco
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Six months ago I discovered Kuaytiaw Sukhothai (pegged in a CNN Travel post as "the best Thai dish you've never heard of)" at Amphawa Thai Noodles in The Richmond and it earned a spot as one of my 10 most memorable noodle experiences of 2014. At the time I determined that Amphawa was probably the only place in San Franciso that carried this dish, When I recently heard about a newly-opened Tenderloin restaurant, Kyu3 Noodle & BBQ, that also had it on its menu, a trip to Kyu3 became my #1 noodle priority.
I ordered Sukhothai Noodles and a Thai iced tea, eschewing an appetizer as a nod to my teetering New Year's diet resolutions. As described on Kyu3's menu, their version of Sukhothai Noodles includes "Small rice noodles (Recommended) pork, dried shrimp, fish balls, pork liver, BBQ pork, green beans, green onions, cilantro and parsley." Included in the "pork" category were some crispy pork nuggets, akin to chicharrones, which my Thai friend calls "Thai gribenes." Also present though not mentioned on the menu were the crushed peanuts, probably de rigeur for Sukhothai Noodles in any event.
Kyu3 Noodle & BBQ is a bright and cheerful well-scrubbed spot in the midst of a pretty grim area, across Jones Street from Father E. Boedekker Park, and its menu holds many other inducements, besides noodles, for a return visit.
Now about that squid ink fried rice......
Where slurped: 337 Jones Street, (between Edddy and Ellis), San Francisco
Monday, February 2, 2015
The recently opened "The Market" in the Twitter Building isn't the kind of place you are likely to find me hanging out or buying my groceries at. It is indeed a market, where you can get a jar of McClure's Pickles for $17.99 (the same pickles one can get for half the price, including shipping, directly from the source). It's the trustafarian love child of Bi-Rite Market and 7-11, and there to serve techies with stock options who work at Twitter upstairs or at Uber down the street, and miscellaneous denizens of NEMA across the street, where you can rent a nifty studio apartment for $4000 a month. Like a 7-11 you can also get prepared foods; there's a tapas bar, an oyster bar, sushi, charcuterie, and, for those with more proletarian tastes, a sandwich bar where you can make a $14 sandwich.
And then there's Azalina's.
What's most remarkable is that Azalina's spiffy new takeout and counter establishment in a cozy corner of The Market is that it retains much of the night market vibe of her previous manifestations -- the menu of close-to-the-bone Malaysian favorites, the explosive flavors she coaxes out of her ingredients, and, perhaps most of all, considering the environment, the pricing. My bowl of curry laksa was the same price as last I enjoyed it standing and shivering at Fort Mason.
In addition to curry laksa, which I chose to celebrate her opening with, perched on a counter stool overlooking the Stevenson Street Astroturf lawn, Azalina's offers Hokkien Mee, Nasi Lemak, and Roast Chicken Rice. There's also Malaysian Pineapple Tea Salad and, for dessert, fermented sticky rice. You can wash it all down with her trademark Pear Ice Tea.
The Market in the Twitter building is unlikely to find me as a regular shopper, but as long as Azalina is there in her cozy corner keeping it real, they'll have a shot at me.
Where slurped: Azalina's, The Market, 1355 Market St. (Twitter Building), San Francisco