Random—this was just decided Monday—but I’m off to Puerto Rico tomorrow morning. I’ve never been, I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, though I hope to explore the mythical “La Ruta del Lechon.” Four days of pork! And rum?
Much of the food at the touristy Hua Hin night market is unremarkable, and whatever you do don't get suckered into one of the "Western" sit down restaurants along the perimeters hawking steak and potatoes to Germans and Swedes.
Steak was a prominent marketing buzzword in Hua Hin. I guess they've determined that foreigners really want their beef, and not in a Thai salad.
There was no resisting the novelty of having a 100 Baht ($3) whiskey sour at one of the three-seat bar stands, though.
It took strength to ignore the pink lady on the menu. Surprisingly, no grasshopper.
This nam prik stall was mobbed the night before. I pushed my way to the front to sample some chile pastes and ended up buying a sweet, fishy one. I later saw the woman running the operation and in the picture on top of the stall, on a billboard. I guess this a well known brand, at least locally.
We picked up some unusually expensive pork jerky (front and center). Fatty and unchewable at the same time.
I stayed away from the seafood, as I was certain it came with a marked-up price.
Churros? Churrooo? It's all about love.
This was more my speed. Nothing makes me happier than rows of curries. Two stands compete for attention at the far end of the market where the crowds aren't.
Fried catfish with chile and basil and something porky with green beans. Regular Hua Hin cuisine was not timid with spice. The razor clam curry we ate at La Mer, some street som tam and this duo all surprised with their powerful burn. We ate refined Thai-esque fare at our hotel's luxurious Oceanside restaurant, right on the beach, our last night and wished we had came back to the market for more $2 curry.
Hua Hin Night Market * Petchkasem Rd., Hua Hin, Thailand
As much as I love the malls of Asia and organized hawker centers, there is something to be said for the weak breezes of an electric fan while sitting on hard wooden booth in a well-worn shophouse. Cooling off with an ais kacang, of course.
Kek Seng is perfect for a traditional Penang experience…like putting vegetables and legumes in desserts. This bed of shaved ice came smothered in creamed corn, rose syrup, red beans, a layered agar-agar jelly and best of all two scoops of durian ice cream.
The durian ice cream, which does have a distinct natural taste unlike some duller durian-flavored sweets, is optional. You shouldn't pass it up, though.
The shockingly bright aftermath.
Cooked food is available from the stands out front.
Kek Seng * 382-384 Penang Rd, Penang, Malaysia
Having started with the Gurney Drive hawkers, then moving onto more modern Northam Beach Café, New World Park was the next logical step. Only a little over two years old, this complex is home to casual upscale restaurants like Shanghainese Rou Gu Cha King and Sri Batik Nyonya Café, as well as this tidy hawker center, all signage homogenized into one distinct style.
The popiah stand was popular and I hadn't tried any on this vacation. I'm not sure if it's the nature of popiah or just this version, which were freshly made on the spot, but I found the rolls kind of bland. I think it was the jicama-heavy filling.
We ordered roti canai from the Indian Muslim stall. The sauce was redder than anything I've encountered in the US, and I think vegetarian. Then again, roti canai here isn't the same since most Malaysian restaurants are run by Chinese.
And a shrimp fritter too.
James ordered char kway teow because…he usually did in Penang.
New World Park * Burmah Rd., Penang, Malaysia
I knew I would like the food at Fatty 'Cue even if it was my third choice. Friday night I went looking for fried brains and bone marrow poppers at St. Anselm but they didn't appear to be in business yet. Foie gras pierogies will have to wait. I put my name on the list at Pies & Thighs, then before even sinking into the 15-person-crowd out front, gave up. At 8pm, a table for two at Fatty 'Cue down the street, was no problem.
My hesitation, why Fatty ‘Cue wasn’t destination one or two, stemmed from the spate of early online criticism. And after eating there myself, I am torn. I love the concept. And I love funky Southeast Asian flavors made American without being dumbed down. Pok Pok, the wildly popular Thai restaurant in Portland, is a stellar example of a restaurant doing this right.
Lightly spicy, fish saucey, palm sugared pork ribs used the flavor combination of my dreams. But $4.67 per rib ($14 for an order of three—everything is served in threes, which makes splitting between two awkward and impossible among four) did seem a bit much.
Everything comes as it pleases, which is to say mostly all at once. Fun and festive or disorderly, depending on your perspective. Four dishes plus plates for eating won’t fit on a table for two.
I didn't get a distinct coriander taste from the thick, meaty bacon, as was advertised, but definitely got the smokiness. The little cup contained steamed custard flavored with yellow curry, like a savory flan. It’s meant to be spread on the toast points and topped with the bacon slices.
The smoked eggplant and anchovy nam prik is one of those dishes that would stymie a diner expecting more traditional barbecue menu, Asian-inflected or not. Nearby customers seemed confused by tamarind in the ice tea, so I imagine that this Thai-esque platter would be more challenging than baked beans for some. Sour green mango is one of my favorite vehicles for chile hot, fishy nam priks. This dip was more earthy-salty, nice with grilled garlic, blander radishes and crisp bok choy. Kind of healthy if you gloss over the chicharrones.
Smoky was the theme, also with the clams, rife with bacon and sitting in a pork bone broth. Texas toast was the most American part of the meal whether or not they call it dragon pullman toast.
Shoofly or s’mores pie just seemed weird, but I still wanted something sweet. The dark chocolate bar seasoned with Aleppo pepper, almonds and sea salt did the trick even if it felt more like you were eating a souvenir than a dessert proper.
Fatty 'Cue * 91 S. Sixth St., Brooklyn, NY
While McDonald's Germany names cupcakes after New York City neighborhoods, in Switzerland, the burger chain is celebrating the diversity within their own borders. Their "Swiss Weeks" promotion features three burgers, each based on a region of the country. The most interesting aspect is that the ads are in the language appropriate to each.
The McRomandie, using Gruyere and Paillasse bread is advertised in French, the McBärn with bacon, a hash brown patty and Emmentaler is in German, while the basil, mozzarella and tomato topped McTicino is in Italian.
In case you were wondering, the Swiss McDonald's site is in German. You can watch the ads there.
It would be one thing for NYC to get two new pasta chains, but two French pasta chains? That's just weird.
Hello Pasta is planned for a midtown, 640 Lexington Avenue, opening in June with nine more locations to follow. Third Avenue at 44th Street and Maiden Lane at Water Street are listed on their website. No clues about the menu.
Nooï, an already existing French chain, will also be opening on Lexington, 340 Lexington Avenue to be precise. "Indian and Mexican sauces" will be among their 15 offerings. I do see a Bollywood sauce on their French menu, which appears to combine curry powder, chicken, yogurt and lime.
I'm not really much of a pasta eater. Flam's, the French flammkuchen chain from the Nooï folks, sounds much more interesting. Alsatian pizza is definitely a wide open market in NYC.
Kim Gary serves Hong Kong-style cuisine in Malaysia and Singapore. Chinese with last-century Western touches like the cheese-baked rice dishes on many tables. So many layers, so completely un-American. We ate in the middle of a mall in Penang.
You are handed like five different laminated photo-filled menus. It’s overwhelming; the food is nonsensical as it is. I’m still not clear if the diner is supposed to mark off the items they want on the black and white order sheet or if the waitress is supposed to. We let her do it.
“Borsch” comes with the combo meals. Bastardized Russian food, the product of mid-century émigrés, still lingers in Hong Kong. I don’t think a beet had come anywhere near this soup. This was tomato-based and had a few soft carrot coins floating around.
Shanghai ribs were nothing special, tough meat in sweetish soy sauce atop rice with corn and broccoli.
Meat fries because why not?
Kim Gary * Gurney Plaza, Penang, Malaysia
As I begin to wrap up my dutiful What I Ate on Vacation Coverage (jeez, it’s almost May and I’ve been back since early March—I really do think I’ll wake up one day, realize I’m 50 years old, and freak) the strays start surfacing.
I wouldn’t bother mentioning La Mer, the only restaurant at the top of Khao Takiab, a site known for its Buddhist temple, statues and wild roaming monkeys, because it screams tourist trap, literally. If driven up the windy road to the top of the rock, there’s no place else to eat within reasonable walking distance. We had half about 40 minutes to kill before being picked back up.
On the other hand, La Mer has the distinction of serving the hottest food we ate in Thailand. We had to remind ourselves that it was clearly geared toward Thai tourists, not New Yorkers. We got ice for our beer like the locals and tried to fit in.
This soupy tangle of razor clams, basil, chiles and krachai was powerful, peppery. The chewy mollusks delivered the kind of heat that creeps into your ears and won’t let up. Cold beer and a big bowl of rice, the best remedies.
This papaya salad with seafood, a dish I ate quite a few times in Thailand, was at least four times hotter than any we were served in Bangkok. Not unbearable, just very sharp and a nice complement to the crisp tart shredded fruit.
By the half-way point of our trip, sitting outside became more tolerable, though not preferable. It’s not like there was air conditioning inside anyway.
La Mer * Khao Takiab, Hua Hin, Thailand
Today marks the birth of a mind-blowing Japanese hybrid: MOSDO! A combination MOS Burger/Mister Donut. We only have Taco Bell/Pizza Hut, a pathetic duo not even close to competing with the Japanese capacity for novelty (though it is the perfect subject for a ridiculous catchy song).
From what I can visually deduce, sets are being offered: three burgers that can be paired with three doughnuts and a drink. They also have something called Hot & Cool, a doughnut cut in half and topped with ice cream and a fruity sauce, which I did not see at any of the Bangkok locations last month. (It’s hard to believe that CentralWorld, home to MOS Burger and Mister Donut, and countless hotels are currently closed due to the political unrest in Thailand. This time it’s red shirts. Bangkok was essentially shut down during my originally planned visit late 2008 by yellow shirts. I did find an email from one of the hotels I had booked kind of charming, “Your money has been refunded due to the political.” I have referred to this situation as “The Political” ever since. And yes, I realize there are more serious subjects than burgers and doughnuts in the world but this is a food blog.)
You know that this is a Japanese venture because they don’t mingle the two brands too closely. It’s still pure. We would take the next logical step and put a MOS Burger inside a Mister Donut. Duh. It only took a week before the Double Down got Krispy Kreme’d. [Japan Today]
Photo from Yomiuri Online.