Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Naren: A Hearty Soup, Hands Down, At Uyghur Taamliri Central Asia Uyghur Food

According to some accounts Naren, the name for the Xinjiang Uyghur dish that was my soup du jour today, means "meat eaten with the hands" (the Chinese characters 纳仁 used to render the name are apparently mere phonetics). Roughly chopped mutton, tomato, carrots, and onions were traditionally mixed with handmade flat, wide noodles and eaten with the hands (sounds messy but fun, doesn't it?). The broth the mutton and vegetables were cooked in was served in a dish on the side.

That was then. This is now. Forks and spoons have replaced sticky fingers and the dish I had today at Uyghur Taamliri was all-in-one.  Toothsome hand-pulled noodles sat in a shallow pond of mutton broth, and were topped with a mixture of chopped mutton (or lamb), tomatoes, onions and bell peppers.  In traditional style, only salt is used in cooking the mutton, in order to keep the natural flavors, and black or white pepper added just before composing the dish to add a little personality. I can't confirm that Uyghur Taamliri stuck to this protocol, but the broth was very meaty and peppery from white pepper; with the meat, rustic noodles and familiar veggies, the overall effect was not unlike a Scotch Broth soup.

I couldn't let all the raw onions get by me without pairing them with fresh garlic, so I ordered an appetizer of "Mashed Garlic Cucumber."  It was as tasty as it was simple, just pressed fresh garlic and cucumber spears with a vinegary dressing, perfect for the 80+ degree day it was today.

As for my naren, one of the fragments of folkish wisdom I garnered from various sources was this proclamation: "It is the faverite dish of old people." This septuagenarian wouldn't argue with that sentiment.

Where slurped: Uyghur Taamliri at Chug Pub, 1849 Lincoln Way, San Francisco

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Coincidence Or Cosmic Synchronicity? My Summer Mutton Noodles At Shandong Deluxe On The Eve Of "Da Shu"

Infografic courtesy ECNS.com

The Chinese Agricultural (Solar) Calendar is divided into 24 half-month periods, with the hottest, Da Shu ("Major Heat") beginning this year on July 23.  There are different eating practices in different parts of China for this period, as shown in the above infografic: "People in Shandong drink mutton soup on Major Heat, which is called 'Summer Mutton Soup.' " Fitting, therefore, that I was sitting in a resaturant called Shandong Deluxe slurping mutton soup on July 22, the eve of "Major Heat" (actually already the 23rd in China). I'd like to think this demonstrates an intricate knowledge of Chinese customs, but in truth my visit was completely random, and I was unaware of the mutton-eating custom until I was doing some post-mortem research.

I had started out headed for the Uighur restaurant on Lincoln Way, but Muni and I were both running late, and I would have arrived at about 1:55 for the 11:00-2:00 lunch service. Not wanting to cut into the staff's chill time, I stayed on the #28 all the way to Taraval St. after deciding to make House of Pancakes Plan B. House of Pancakes, alas, is closed on Wednesdays as I had once discovered before (fool me twice, shame on me). Plan C was a no-brainer: Shandong Deluxe and its hand-pulled noodles, a block away.

No divine guidance was involved in my choice of mutton noodles: unless purpose-sent to try a different soup, I'll always go for a mutton or lamb option if avaiable, and the fact that they specified "mutton" and not "lamb" (the two have the same name in Chinese but not always distinguished on menus) was also a turn-on. I could envision wide, flat, wide, hand-pulled noodles in a milky, somewhat medicinal broth, with fatty chunks of mutton --- but wait, that was the Henan place in Flushing's Golden Mall; would I get something like it?

The flat, wide, hand-pulled noodles were the best part of my large bowl (nay, tureen) of mutton soup.  The milky broth was less medicinal-tasting than I expected and on the bland side, but easily remediable via the condiments supplied to the table.  My soup also seemed a bit skimpy on the mutton, coming with what you might call China-sized portions (China of the 1990s, that is) of meat. Not to complain, though; it may not have been quite the Henan wonder from Flushing, but price-wise and portion-wise, my "Summer Mutton Noodles" delivered great value.

Where slurped: Shandong Deluxe, 1042 Taraval St., San Francisco

Friday, July 17, 2015

Just Whistle A Happy (Moo) Toon: Pork Spare Ribs Noodle Soup at Tycoon Thai In The Tenderloin

I don't think there's really any need to feel afraid strolling through the Tenderloin, but the surroundings can be a little grim at times.  Instead of whistling a happy tune, look for a cheerful antidote of your choice from the panoply of inexpensive and delicious ethnic fare to be found in the 'hood. One such dish is the one Thais would call kuay teow moo toon, known as "Pork Spare Ribs Noodle Soup" at Tycoon Thai, the welcoming O'Farrell St. Thai/Lao bistro with the excellent draft beer and dratted Mason jars. It's what I had today when I paid Tycoon Thai an overdue visit.

"Moo toon" is't something hummed by a cow, or even a cartoon of a cow. "Moo" (or something that sounds like it) means pork in Thai, and "toon" means steamed or stewed, and the two together usually refer to pork spare ribs.  Kuay teow (however it's spelled) means rice noodles.

The broth used in kuay teow moo toon is a clear broth, subtly flavored, traditionally using cinnamon in the stock; if Tyoon Thai's broth has cinnamon in it, it''s thankfully so subtle I couldn't detect it; you Cinnabon dweebs can go away. Mild and vaguely medicinal, it benefited from a hit of chili paste. Although pork ribs are present, there's also pork pate meatballs and coarse ground pork as well; it could be called "pork three ways." The pork spare ribs were on the bone, but easily de-boned in the mouth.

If I had a complaint, it would be about too many noodles.  That's a complaint I rarely make (and would never make about hand-pulled wheat noodles) but there was such a mass of rice noodles it was difficult to stir in my choice of flavor enhancers from the condiment caddy.  But soldier on I did, and put the finishing touches on a hearty and satisfying bowl of happy moo toon noodle soup.

Accompanying my soup was a container of  sticky rice, which I can't resist ordering these days. Tycoon Thai doesn't provide jaeow bong (Lao chili paste) for dipping, so I mad do with a puddle of Chinese-style chili paste for this purpose.

Where slurped: Tycoon Thai, 620 O'Farrell St., San Francisco

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Sussing Out The "Süiqaş" Noodle Soup At Uyghur Taamliri Central Asia Uyhgur Food

After discovering the new Uyghur-only restaurant in our town and checking out the laghman, I was only too eager to return Uyghur Taamliri and try the only noodle soup on the menu (and incidentally scarf down a couple of samsas).

The soup in question, with the nearly impenetrable name of Süiqaş, is described on the menu as "lamb, onion, potatoes, pepper with lamb soup pulling dough." It's listed in Chinese as tang fan (汤饭), literally "soup rice," which didn't seem to make sense, because the noodles would surely be made of wheat.

Some assiduous Googling and sleuthing of alternative transliterations finally led me to the realization that Süiqaş is most likely a contraction of  suyuq ash (suyuq'ash) which, according to one source, means " 'liquid food', such as noodles in a soup." According to another source, "The Uighur suiqaš (< suyuq-aš) of the present day is characteristically a small square-shaped noodle.) The Chinese translation also began to make sense; fan in Chinese can mean food generally, or "meal" as well as rice. Tang fan ("Soup rice") could well be a literal translation ffrom the Uyghur. 

The noodles in my Süiqaş were irregular-shaped approximately half-inch squares which apparently were torn from a "sheet" (like Chinese man pian) or wide strip, rather than pulled like la mian. (They are not to be confused with the smaller, chopped square noodles in Xinjiang ding ding chao mian.) The soup was so thick with noodles it could indeed be considered a "liquid meal" (got that, Kenny Bania?). Lean, tender, roughly minced lamb sat in a hearty broth that was thicker (from potato?) but less fatty than the Şorpa from my previous visit.  The "peppers" mentioned in the menu description included chili peppers as well as bell peppers, and the server asked me how spicy I liked it. I said "very," but that is a relative term and, as you might guess, it wan't very "very." It was, however, pleasantly spicy and overall a soup that Kenny Bania would have loved, as did I.

I accompanied my süiqaş with two samsas and a salad listed on the menu as Pi-La-Hong. The samsas (empanada-like little meat pies) appeared to be pan-baked (pub kitchens in San Francisco are unlikely to contain cylindrical stone ovens). I found the wrappers to be a little oily and un-yielding; with a savory lamb filling they were tasty enough, but not likely to make you forget the ones you can find on a street corner in almost any Chinese city. The "Pi-La-Hong" was translated to Chinese as "Xinjiang Tiger Vegetables" (akin to the Shaanxi dish with a similar name). Carl, the operator/server confirmed that the name was the same in Uyghur. There was nothing exotic about it, just fresh, crunchy slivers of onion and red and green bell peppers (alas no cilantro) in a sesame vinaigrette, but for $4 who's to complain?

Where slurped: Uyghur Taamliri, 1849 Lincoln Way, San Francisco

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Chugging Down The Hand-pulled Laghman at Uyghur Taamliri Central Asia Uyghur Food

Getting wind that a new dedicated Uyghur restaurant -- San Francisco's only such establishment --- was up and running in the Sunset, I hightailed it to 20th and Lincoln Way for lunch today to check it out.

The restaurant is  Uyghur Taamliri -- Central Asian Uyghur Food but don't strain your eyes looking for a sign, as there is none as of yet, even though it's been open for  few days.*  It's inside a tidy but inconspicuous  pub called Chug Pub, and even once in the door the only signs you are in a restaurant is a stack of menus and a warm greeting from Carl.

Chug Pub, 20th & LIncoln
Carl is the American name of the young Uyghur from Xinjiang who created Uyghur Taamliri ("Uyghur cuisine").  He rented the restaurant's kitchen from the pub owner, a personal friend, and installed his father, who had cooked in Xinjiang, as chef.  Uyghur Taamliri's menu as of now is quite limited, but it's full of hard-core Xinjiang/Kazakhstan food, with no padding with pan-Chinese favorites.  It's casual, hearty, meaty, stick-to-the-ribs (and presumably halal) fare suitable to its surroundings; indeed, given the decor and high-stool seating, you can easily think of it Uyghur pub food.

I went there hell-bent on vetting the laghman, but Carl was so keen on recommending the Şorpa (a Kazakh lamb soup) I ended up ordering both.  (Fortunately, the plate dishes come in two sizes, so I was able to avoid over-stuffing myself by ordering the smaller-size laghman plate.)

Şorpa, Kazakh mutton soup
Şorpa, said to be a specialty of Kazakhstan, is rich lamb broth containing large chunks of lamb (neck?) both on and off the bone, as well as onion, potatoes, carrot and parsley, per the menu.  I also detected cilantro in mine.  The  broth is quite fatty, though it's a comforting fattiness from lamb fat, which happens to be my second favorite fat after duck fat. It's definitely a tonic for the flu or a head cold, or just the blahs; Xinjiang pencillin, you might say.

Laghman hand-pulled noodles
Laghman is a hand-pulled noodle dish (the name is Uyghur for la mian), which is served as a "dry" (i.e. sauced, not in soup) noodle dish. At Uyghur Taamliri you get a choice of beef, chicken, or lamb with noodles (hand-pulled by Carl's father), onion and garlic.  There are also vegetable "options" including "green pepper, red pepper, tomato, celery, Chinese cabbage potato, mushroom, black mushroom, oyster mushroom, black fungus, cowpea, eggs." Presumably one opts out, not in, as they all seemed to appear in my toppings.  As I've noted in other laghman discussions, the flavors in this dishare a a lot more suggestive of near Asian or Mediterranean cuisine than Chinese cuisine, and Uyghur Taamliri's was no different it this regard.  It had a soupçon of spice heat, which made it more enjoyable than the last one I had (at Shandong Deluxe). Overall, it reminded me of my first laghman, at Cafe Kashkar in Brooklyn several years ago, though I cannot recall its degree of spiciness.

Where slurped: Uyghur Taamliri, inside Chug Pub, 1849 Lincoln Way, San Francisco

*A chowhound.com poster informed me that there IS a sign on the 20th Ave. side of the building which I missed.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pretty In Pink: Hello Kitty Meets Cioppino In Kyu3 Noodle's Yen Ta Fo

There's something jarring about the Thai noodle soup dish Yen Ta Fo, and I think it has to with the way the unnatural pink color of the broth seems to magnify its dominant sweetness. Having gotten to know it, it's not one of my favorite soups, but curiosity and my blog demand that I experience this eccentric soup from the hands of the best Thai noodle soup mongers I know of; noodlesse oblige, one might say. And who knows, I might experience a revelation.

Having previously sampled the yen ta fo from Lers Ros Thai and House of Thai, I made it an excuse for returning to Kyu 3 Noodles & BBQ today, where it's listed on the menu as Yen Ta Pho (which it certainly is not).

As noted in earlier posts, yen ta fo is known for its plenitude of seafood ingredients, as well as the pink-to-red color which results from use of tofu that has as been preserved with red rice yeast (sometimes assisted by Thai ketchup).  In Kyu 3's version, the broth was a paler pink in color and sweeter (even with my eyes closed) than either LRT's or HOT's. It was almost a DayGlo pink, a shade that would make a Ladurée macaron blush (but I hesitate to call it a macaron-y soup).

This hot pink bath was home to jumbo shrimp, fish balls, calamari rings, sliced fish cakes, cuttlefish and what appeared to be shredded jellyfish (but may not have been). It was like Hello Kitty meets cioppino, the famous San Francisco mixed-seafood chowder.  Topping it off (and providing some color contrast) were dark green water spinach and cilantro, and yellowish fried wonton skins.

Compared to the versions at Lers Ros Thai and House of Thai, Kyu3's version was most similar to the latter's in the generosity of seafood inredients (and in broth color) but sweeter than either of the other two. I'd probably rank it third in preference, with Lers Ros' version first on account of its relative spiciness and lack of sweetness. I'me eager to try at least one more version of this dish, at Amphawa Thai Noodles, which so far has been the most spice-friendly of Thai noodle joints I have encountered.

Where slurped: Kyu3 Noodle & BBQ, 337 Jones St., San Frncisco.