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Sarawakian Experiment

Laksapaste_4Sarawak Laksa

300g Sarawak laksa paste (I'm keeping this metric because that's how the paste comes packaged)

8 cups chicken stock

1 cup thick coconut milk

16 oz thick rice vermicelli (I couldn't’t figure out how thick they meant, so I opted for the thicker of the two types I had in the pantry. I'm pretty sure Sarawak laksa doesn't use the round rice noodles, which are next to impossible to find in NYC anyway)


¼ cup beansprouts (you’re supposed to blanch, but I didn’t bother)

3 1/2 oz. chicken (half a medium breast) poached and shredded
5 large prawns cooked and shelled (I used half a pound of smaller prawns because I needed to use them up. Consider this an American adaptation, heavier on the protein)


2 eggs, cooked into an omelet and cut into strips
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped

3 calimansi, halved (I lucked out in finding these at the Elmhurst Hong Kong Supermarket, as opposed to my usual Sunset Park location. Lime wedges would also be fine)

Boil laksa paste and chicken stock together for 15 minutes. Strain into a pot. Add coconut milk and mix well. Season to taste with sugar and salt.

Briefly boil dried noodles to soften. Drain, and divide into serving bowls. Add toppings in order listed. Ladle laksa gravy on top.

Garnish with omelet strips and cilantro.

Calimansi_4 Serve with sambal and lime halves.

5 cloves garlic

2 shallots

Half a medium onion
¼ cup dried chiles, soaked in hot water
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, soaked and drained

5 tablespoons oil (the original calls for 6-8 tablespoons, but that felt excessive—hopefully, I didn’t ruin the flavor)
3 ½ tablespoons chile paste (I used sambal oelek)
1 tablespoon tamarind paste mixed with 3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

Pound garlic, shallots, onion, dried chiles and dried shrimp into a paste using a mortar and pestle. Or alternatively, use a food processor. I usually go for the mortar and pestle (it's easier to clean, and of course more traditional) but I don't have the patience to break down the dried chiles properly.

Heat oil and fry the sambal ingredients until brown and aromatic. Add chile paste and tamarind liquid and season to taste with sugar and salt. Continue cooking over low heat for 25 minutes.

Serves four.

Adapted from Savouring Sarawak, Flavours, July-August 2005.

I'm definitely neither food stylist nor photographer, but you get the gist.

I was lucky enough to be given a package of Double Red Swallow Sarawak laksa paste as a gift when in Kuala Lumpur. This is the good stuff, straight from Kuching. It's hard to find even in Malaysia, never mind the U.S. I hope I did it proud. As I've never had Sarawak style laksa before, it's hard to gauge how close my version comes to the original.

I do think I my sambal turned out hotter than what I'd tasted in Malaysia. I have a high heat tolerance and it still burnt the taste out of my tongue (I just ate some with chicken and rice for lunch and my mouth is now numb). I was trying to measure the dried chiles with a food scale, using the metrics from the original recipe, but I don't think the calibration is sensitive enough–no matter how many chiles I piled on, the needle barely budged. My 1/4 cup suggestion  is less than what I used, and probably wiser.

Tangra Masala

It appears that this Indian-Chinese thing is getting big. At least big enough to spawn a garish sprawling second location for Tangra Masala. I believe that the mirrors, columns, shelves of tchotchkes (Indian and Middle American—baby figurines in the bathroom?) and bonnet (yes, bonnet—theres a random straw hat with flowers hanging on the wall) only add to the experience. And the experience is still a little haphazard. Thankfully, I'd had a few drinks before dinner or else I mightve been miffed by the super slow service (a very large party of Indian folks at the long table next to us were still waiting for their food when we left and they were already seated when we came in). Everyone was pleasant, and everything eventually came, they just didnt seem prepared for the Saturday night rush.

We shared lollypop chicken and shrimp fritters for appetizers. The non meat eater had paneer-filled spring rolls. The sweet vinegary green chile dip that came with the fried items wouldve made anything taste good, but the stood on their own. Manchurian chicken and salt and pepper shrimp were my choices. I cant speak to tofu Manchurian, which wasnt my pick, or the pad thai beef (uh, neither Indian nor Chinese) which most definitely wasnt my doing. I hardly ever dine out with friends so I didnt want to make a stink over weirdo ordering, especially since one is a vegetarian and the other shuns spice for fear of bowel trauma (and you wonder why I rarely dine in their company?)
Tangra Masala * 39-23 Queens Blvd., Sunnyside, NYAzteca * ? Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Nights in Purple Satin

This past weekend at Target I was almost able to recapture the original joy I felt when first discovered purple spooky cat Peeps. Always a sucker for new merchandising gimmicks, I couldn’t resist the Peeps cat purple satin pillow. I don’t know if this is a new product or not, but I’d never seen it before. Never mind how disturbing it is to be faced with aisles of Halloween candy when it’s still mid-80s and humid, I still bought the cat (and somehow refrained from the sweets).


As I’ve said probably a million times before, I’m not much of a soda person (I wish I could say the same for other sweet junk food). I don’t feel the urge to drink many brands, but Jones Sodas always look so appealing that I couldn’t resist also picking up a mini four-pack of Halloween caramel apple flavor at Target. I had no trouble leaving the candy corn flavor on the shelf, however.

Shirley Temples are So Passe

Today I was reading about Kidsbeer and of course Americans are having a shit fit (despite the beverage not being sold in the U.S.). I guess it’s the same as the candy cigarette issue (which I think are also good clean fun). The best part is the Kidsbeer slogan “even kids cannot stand life unless they have a drink.” You said it.

I can’t read Japanese so the official Kidsbeer site from Tomomasu is kind of lost on me, though not that lost because the bizarre images and packaging are possibly better without explanation. I hate to stereotype, but the Japanese are, well, kind of weird. These drawings aren’t in the typical cute/oddball canon, but are kind of creepy and maniacal. Sort of Darger meets Dzama.

Book ‘Em

What did I buy on vacation? Er, not much really. Mostly books, which gives some people pause. And groceries (which I’ll go into at a later date). Clothes and shoes weren’t really worth the bother–I’m on the larger end of the sizing spectrum as it is in America, so Asia is kind out of the question unless I want to shop at British chains like Marks & Spencer (which I don’t really want to) or Top Shop (where I did buy a shirt). In fact, I spent so much on cookbooks that my credit card was frozen for fraud protection. (Actually, I didn’t spend that much, maybe $100, I think they would’ve frozen it anyway just because charges were coming from out of the country.)

Nonya Flavours: A Complete Guide to Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine
Food From the Heart: Malaysia's Culinary Heritage
Singapore Heritage Food: Yesterday's Recipes for Today's Cook
Malaysian Delicacies
Delightful Snacks & Dim Sum

Malaysian Cakes & Desserts
Homestyle Malay Cooking
Eurasian Favorites

Rasa Malaysia

And two bilingual books I found in the Chinese section of Kinokunyia that have zero web presence:
Moon Cake
Hawker's Kuih-muih Favorites


I find it irksome how New Yorkers are so tied to their neighborhoods, particularly Williamsburgers who treat the “nabe” like some hipster hobbit shire. I will gladly venture out of Carroll Gardens, though it recently struck me as odd that I haven't tried any of the newish restaurants in Clinton Hill/Fort Greene. In fact, I don't think I've set foot in the Pratt area since working there half a decade ago (jeez, its weird to quantify NYC time in terms of decades. It simultaneously makes you feel authoritative and really old).

For my first proper meal since my big S.E. Asian vacation I was aiming for something relatively local and recently opened. Little Bistro, Taku, Beast and Luz were the contenders, and somehow the latter won out.

The food is a Nuevo Latino mish mash, the décor modern and stylish, the clientele multicultural and both youthful and mature. It cuts a wide swath. James and I shared a trio of acceptable empanadas, tasty but kind of mushy. My entrée, a fairly traditional plate of lechon, plantains and rice and pigeon peas worked (and probably cost $5 more than at a Puerto Rican take out joint, a fair price for the ambiance). The pork was juicy and flavorful rather than dry and bland as it tends to be at these upper scale Hispanic restaurants.

James chose a weird dish of salmon crusted in brown sugar with something green and a lima bean puree. He wasn't fond of it, which wasn't surprising since it sounded a little off. The couple seated closely next to us ordered the exact same duo, he the fish, her the pork. Not that that's a testament to great ordering skills. I would suggest sticking to the less experimental dishes, and having a few strong caipirinhas.

Oh, and skip their version of a molten cake, which anyone with good sense would do anyway. I was just tempted by the accompaniments of coconut ice cream and caramelized bananas. James proclaimed the less-than-molten overcooked cake a “fucking muffin” which drew the amused attention of the loud Bay Ridgey girl right next to us (who'd replaced the earlier couple) who claimed to be an expert in molten cakes and joked that shed order hers “rare.” Unless you want to bond with your dining neighbors (and I know some people enjoy that sort of thing) keep quiet about your dessert's shortcomings.

Luz * 177 Vanderbilt St., Brooklyn, NY

And People Complain About “Gourmet”

Happy times, my fall Kraft Food & Family magazine has arrived in the mail. I was first disturbed/charmed by an unsolicited Spanish language edition that was mailed to me at my former address. The goal of this advertorial/publication appears to be using as many Kraft owned brands in a single recipe and convincing readers this is good eats. It almost makes Sandra Lee look like Thomas Keller.

My favorite recipe of this issue wasn’t only mildly grotesque: easy baked fish and chips using KRAFT LIGHT DONE RIGHT! Zesty Italian Reduced Fat Dressing (they love putting salad dressing where it doesn’t belong) to toss with the potatoes, and MIRACLE WHIP Light Dressing to swab on the fish before dredging it in SHAKE 'N BAKE Extra Crispy Seasoned Coating Mix (all Kraft products have very long names and lots of capitals). Surprisingly, they call for fresh fish, probably only because they don’t own any brands like Gorton’s.

While the savory stuff tends to be scary, the desserts actually look good. But my sweet tooth tends to run very mainstream, i.e. super sugary, fatty, lots of clutter. Basil pink peppercorn granita type concoctions just don’t do it for me like caramel cheesecake bars do.

Back in the Saddle

I haven’t had a chance to write anything substantial since coming back from vacation, but I did muster the energy to post photos. I’m so not a photo taker, so forgive the lack of interesting subject matter and technical skill. The fact that I even managed 100+ shots (though not all posted here) in nearly three weeks is a major feat. During my last lengthy vacation I only took twenty photos, if that. Sad, indeed.

Photo Albums:

Hong Kong


Predicting the future can be tricky. Theres no way I would have ever guessed that my final meal in Asia would be at an astronomically priced American steak house chain. We were spending our last day in Hong Kong trolling around Kowloon, and somehow got it into our heads that for dinner wed check out this massive mall food court I'd read about, a few subway stops further out at Kowloon Tong.

Well, the mall existed (complete with a university attached–odd) but this supposed fast food mecca was nowhere to be found. All we could see was a KFC, Café de Coral, Yoshinoya, a mediocre Thai place and a smoothie joint. We were starving, and by now it was too late to take advantage of another harebrained idea wed had–to hit Mortons during happy hour for their skyline view of Hong Kong and free mini steak sandwiches.

While I got something tiny to hold me over (four KFC Baby Wings, which are truly infantile, perhaps even premature–the point was not spoiling my appetite and they certainly didnt) James sorted out his credit card being frozen. After a little semi-desperate hemming and hawing, we realized it was getting late, we were in the middle of nowhere and we had to be up early to catch a flight back to the U.S. We said, fuck it, lets just go to Mortons and get a big, fat juicy decadent American meal.

Just a few days earlier, Alvin, James coworker and Singapore transplant, had been telling us how hed thrown a company Christmas party at Mortons and that the staff seemed sort of baffled by the meal. The massive portions and meat-centric concept kind of freaked the locals out.

What freaked me out were the prices. Wow. Ive never been to a Mortons so I dont know how Hong Kong compares to America. But I'm sure theres a mark up. That afternoon I had been staring longingly at the See's Candy display at Festival Walk. But at nearly $40 for a one pound box (which can be ordered online in the U.S. for $13.60), I just couldnt bring myself to spring for 16 ounces of nostalgia. Mortons has you over the same hump. Their porterhouse for two was HK1100 ($141). For comparison, Peter Luger, which many would say is America's, if not he world's best steakhouse, a total different league than Mortons, version for two is $75.

We put price out of our minds and drank up Bombay Sapphire gin and tonics and Johnny Walker Black (theyre obsessed with JWB in Asia) scotches and sodas. I got the $63 double cut filet mignon. We had giant salads filled with blue cheese and anchovies, sides of hash browns and of course, creamed spinach. My side of béarnaise ensured I was getting enough cholesterol. We couldnt even finish our steaks, but never relinquishing our thrifty cores, we got doggie bags and packed them in our luggage the next morning.

This was an atypical total high roller, power dinner, and it was really really fun. I'm sure a kick-ass sharks fin, birds nest, abalone and all Chinese banquet wouldve set us back as much and been more locale appropriate, but sometimes you have to go with your meat-loving gut and make chain-hating travel purists cringe.

Back in NYC: gnarly-looking nibbled-on leftover bone

Mortons * 20 Nathan Rd., Hong Kong

Victoria City Seafood

Supposedly this seafood restaurant is one of the best places to sample exquisite dim sum. I'm sure it is quite fine, but I'm just as happy with lower brow buns and dumplings. Subtlety is almost always lost on me, though—theres a reason Ive never been compelled to take a Japanese food vacation.

It was initially baffling because this isnt a dedicated dim sum parlor, you are handed nearly a dozen menus, some which contain small items that could be eaten in the yum cha manner. It took us a while to pare the choices down and decide. Really, I'd rather just look at whats on offer from an old fashioned cart. But menus were the point, I'd never tried the cooked to order style before and wanted the experience. Now I know.

We didnt go hog wild, it was a refined sort of meal with around five small plates of food including egg tarts. I say around because I cant for the life of me recall all that we ate. I know we tried salt and pepper shrimp, shrimp rice rolls, baked meat buns…er, and one more. Now I know why food bloggers are so snap happy. I could use a visual memory aid.

Ive heard complaints about the price, but I didnt find it to be outrageous. Thats the beauty of eating little things. Even if prices are double the more work a day venues, thats still only $5 per plate as opposed to $2.50.

Victoria City Seafood * 30 Harbor Rd., Hong Kong