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MOS Burger

MOS Burger is so civilized. Sane portions, sodas served in real glasses with coasters, food brought to your table, spotless. I didn’t feel guilty or dinner-wrecking by stopping in for a late afternoon combo.

Mos burger combo

I’m not terribly adventurous because the first and last time I tried MOS in Singapore, I ordered the same thing: the spicy cheeseburger. Strange, because it’s mayonnaisey and that’s not a condiment I normally tolerate. The burger is so foreign that I just have to suspend my prejudices and enjoy the small patty doused in mild chopped onion chile sauce, and bolstered by cheese, a fat tomato slice and yes, that mayonnaise.

Spicy mos cheeseburger

If I ever find myself near a MOS Burger again, I will try one of the rice burgers using pressed rice spheres for buns. Ebi or unagi?

Mos burger coaster

Bangkok mos burger

MOS Burger * CentralWorld, Bangkok, Thailand

Speaking of Taste of Home

Egg & tortilla

I broke my five-day staying in the house streak yesterday and forced myself to go into the office. You don’t realize how obnoxious coughing fits sound (though I have an unusually low tolerance for the sound of coughing) until you’re surrounded by others in near silence. Today I am back at home where I can choke on food and hack up phlegm in peace.

Tuesday, I still had Sichuan leftovers in the house as well as some homemade pho from a not half-bad Cooking Light recipe (you never know with them). Normally, all I want to eat is Asian food. But both of those options sounded meh. What I really wanted and rarely ever think about was eggs and bacon in a tortilla. Meatloaf? Mac and cheese? No, not comfort food to me.

Who knew the foresight in my family? This slapdash meal that we frequently ate for both breakfast and dinner presaged the wrap craze and the breakfast burrito of the late ‘80s. This was a popular item in my household for obvious reasons: the ingredients are cheap, it’s easy to make—it was one of the few things my dad cooked, and my sister and I ate it without complaint, and we complained a lot.

The simple process involved warming a flour tortilla on a gas stovetop burner, then filling it with one fried egg, bacon (I say two pieces), grated cheddar cheese and a scoop of jarred salsa, probably Pace.

Open egg & tortilla

I think it’s the fried egg that makes it because logically you would use scrambled eggs in a breakfast burrito. Breaking the rules. I always had my bacon undercooked so it was still chewy and fatty (my sister like hers crisp), often the tortilla would be blackened in spots and the cheese never fully melted creating sharp orange patches. This wasn’t plate food—another advantage, no dishes—you would eat it wrapped in a paper towel. Inevitably, the yolk would burst and pool at the bottom, soaking through the napkin.

Recreating this special, I had to resist many temptations. No fancy cheese. I pushed aside the aged gouda and Manchego in the fridge, though I did deviate by using a slice of Kraft Deluxe American cheese for its melting properties (I have a sick obsession with these slices). I would also be inclined to use Sriracha, but used a bland watery jar of Target salsa leftover from Super Bowl. Besides, you need the tomato chunks; it’s not really about the heat. Sometimes we have nicer bacon in the house, but these low sodium strips from Costco did what they were supposed to. I guess freshly laid eggs, you know from the backyard chickens that everyone is keeping now, would completely gild the lily, but I don’t eat like that. I’m still not sure how brown organic eggs even ended up in the fridge. I think it’s because at Fairway, their house brand is the same price as a standard Styrofoam carton of eggs.

I also never said this was healthy, and it’s certainly isn’t helping with the ten pounds I vowed to lose in 2010 (sometimes I think I will just have to give up reading rood blogs—it pains me to eat my morning oatmeal when I’m constantly reading about things like peanut bacon Shake Shack burgers and artisanal egg and cheese biscuits). How hard can one pound per month be? I will eat fruit and yogurt for lunch and all will be well.

Feeling Good in Certain Neighborhoods

Chain restaurant queries that lead searchers here range from:

The typical
jose tejas coupons woodbridge nj

To the thought provoking (it doesn’t take much to provoke me). I never associated Cheesecake Factory with cheese.
cheesecake factory cheese platter

To the distressing. I tried Tyler Florence’s now-gone menu a few years ago at the Linden Applebee’s and will now associate this misbehavior with him.
semen in my food at linden applebees

It’s Always Cheesy in Philadelphia

I always look forward to my copy of Taste of Home. It only comes every other month and brings me a different joy than Saveur, which I intend to read but rarely get through, Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, which are skimmers or Cooking Light, the only magazine I regularly cook from even though it’s the least exciting.

Taste of Home’s foundation is every day meals, nothing wildly exotic or labor intensive with no fear of cans or packages. I could imagine the chicken & vegetable stir-fry or the apricot-glazed pork tenderloin ending up on my table if I were a child today.

I’m only on my second issue, but I’m already seeing themes emerging.

So bad it’s bad: alfredo sauce and cream cheese where they don’t really belong. In fact, there is a full page Philadelphia ad advising readers, “Make your pasta more primo when you stir in ½ cup of Philly.” There is a section on the Kraft Foods site called, “i never thought i could add Philly to..” The lowercase is supposed to make putting cream cheese in Cajun, Thai and Latin dishes to make the spice more palatable, seem innocent? And I just saw a TV ad where Paula Deen is encouraging the abuse of cream cream cheese, too. Actually, it’s a contest—I’m now going to think up the most inappropriate placement of cream cheese in a foodstuff. Caesar salad? Baked beans? Barbecue sauce?

In this issue, the soft cheese is called for in easy enchiladas, meatball sub casserole and pretty stuffed spring peas. Alfredo sauce shows up in a white chili (at least it’s not white from mayonnaise) and a chicken cordon bleu pizza invented by a teenage boy, so you kind of have to give him some props for experimenting in the kitchen.

Some things are put where they don’t belong but are genius. Yep, bacon baklava.

Peanutbuttertrifle So bad it’s good: peanut butter brownie trifle. This dish is simply mini peanut butter cups and brownies baked with peanut butter chips interspersed with layers of instant vanilla pudding and topped with frozen whipped topping, a.k.a. Cool Whip. Just as I didn’t know that wine coolers were malt liquor, I had no idea Cool Whip wasn’t a dairy product for many years. And I would totally eat a big bowl of this trifle right now and wash it all down with a Blue Hawaiian Bartles & Jaymes.

Bali Hai Seafood

1/2 Our last night in Penang, I went back to Gurney Drive to try the pasembur that I missed the first time. Sadly, the stall wasn’t open and on this weeknight, only half the seating was out creating a madhouse, scrambling for tables effect. What else was nearby? We walked down to Bali Hai, a sprawling outdoor seafood restaurant with a flashy neon sign and a wall of choose-your-own-creature fish tanks.

Bali hai sign

Also, popular in Hong Kong and Singapore, I’d always shied away from this style of dining because quickly calculating grams to ounces while simultaneously doing currency conversions makes me nervous and I’m paranoid that I will end up with a massive bill. This did end up being our most expensive meal in Penang but even with three large sharable Calsbergs (the territorial aspect of SE Asian dining always throws me. When approached by the Indian woman dressed in a green miniskirt ensemble we asked for Tiger beer, but she was the Carlsberg server. You had to order from the Chinese Tiger beer girl if you wanted Tiger. Meanwhile, there was a rogue satay guy who didn’t seem to have any affiliation with the restaurant) it was under $50.

Bali hai interior

The covered open space, sticky despite fans blowing water, was filled with large round tables, many occupied by groups of men, coworkers, showing a Westerner, maybe a boss, maybe a peer, a good time. The primo spots were thatched hut booths in the front. We had a roomy picnic-type table on the outer perimeter.

Bali hai mantis prawns

Mantis prawns. I’ve always wanted to try these giant crustaceans, despite their creepy name and buggy, armored appearance. Not inexpensive, these were about $10 apiece. The impenetrable shells come scored, diners are brought scissors. I copied the guy at a table near ours and scraped out the meat with a spoon. It turned out to be a lot of work for not a lot of payoff, like blue crabs. The chili sauce was barely touched because I couldn’t wrangle any tidbits substantial enough for dipping.
Bali hai live mantis prawns & geoducks

Here are some live mantis prawns in action. As you can see, they also had quite a selection of geoduck. The prehistoric-looking animals are often touted as a Northwest delicacy but I never encountered them in Portland and have still yet to try them. I’m not sure how they are served in Malaysia.

Bali hai kang kong

Kang kong, a.k.a. water spinach, prepared with shrimp paste and chile is a typical Malaysian vegetable. Accents are very subtle. Our waiter, who had to be sent over to our table because he was the only fluent English-speaker, had no idea what I was asking for when I said kang like in kangaroo. A’s are softer like in almond; his pronunciation was more like kong kong, the A barely different from the O. My pronunciation of pandan was corrected on my last visit to Malaysia, so you think I would’ve remembered. Normally, I hate stems and try to avoid them raw. This style of water spinach is so savory and hearty that I forgot about being scared of the hollow stems.

Bali hai sea bass

I picked out a sea bass that would be good for two, like I said, grams don’t mean anything to me visually. This fish, fried to a crisp, was amazing and almost Thai in flavor. It was served with a very spicy green mango slaw and lots of shallots and mint leaves.

Despite a substantial amount of blog posts and having their own website, I have no idea what Bali Hai’s address might be of if they even have one. Such details seem superfluous in much of Southeast Asia.

Bali Hai Seafood * Gurney Dr., Penang, Malaysia

Metro Cafe

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I haven’t left the house since Wednesday. Shuffling between my bed and couch, fevered, sore throat, sinuses infected, unable to concentrate, I’ve been going stir crazy. Maybe food would help?

Last night I was brought take out from Metro Café, the Brooklyn Sichuan/Japanese restaurant that I’ve been meaning to try. Obviously, I can’t speak to the décor or service.

I can speak to James knowing my taste. Even though he pestered me (I’ve lost my voice and trying to talk is excruciating) with five calls from Hong Kong Supermarket on subjects like, “What is a wide rice noodle?” Er, go to the rice noodle section and look for the least skinny variety. “What’s the difference between noya bok choy and shanghai bok choy?” I have no idea what noya is, I’m guessing a handwritten typo. “Do we have star anise? Limes? Cardamom pods?” Yes, no, yes. All I had to say in regard to what to order at Metro Café was, “something cold like tendon or tripe” and I was given pigs' ears. That’s definitely what I would’ve chosen if I had had a menu in front of me.

Metro cafe pig's ears

The ears, sliced into ribbons, were a nice balance of crunch and chew. I did not detect a strong peppercorn tingle, but I’m afraid that I’m missing out the full flavor spectrum. You would think that bold spice and chile oil would be the perfect match for a palate-dulling cold–I just nibbled a few bites of a chocolate bunny and could barely taste a thing–but I’ve encountered an inexplicable sensation, once before while at Sripraphai while sick, that hot food tastes even hotter, painfully so. I could only eat a few bites. Should I have new sympathy for people who claim to be unable to tolerate hot food?

Metro cafe cumin beef

Same with the cumin beef, which is similar to lamb preparations at other Sichuan restaurants (there is no lamb at Café Metro). I’ve never thought this was a punishing dish. Sure, there’s heat from the grilled green chiles; the overall sensation is an oily cuminy one, though. I’ll save this till tomorrow.

Metro cafe double cooked pork

The double cooked pork is always one of my favorite dishes, super unctuous, mixed with tons of grease-softened leeks. This pork was a little dry despite sporting fatty layers. Odd. Still pretty good. I could eat the savory, black bean-enhanced onion and leek slices all by themselves on rice.
Metro cafe water spinach

Water spinach, because you need a green vegetable.

I'll return for a dine-in version after I perk up. Chong qing chicken and a fish dish next time.

Metro Café * 4924 8th Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Aw Taw Kaw Market

Upscale is the adjective frequently used to describe Aw Taw Kaw, the wet market across the street from Chatuchak. The stalls are orderly and clean, the prices are elevated, but it’s not exactly like Aw Taw Kaw would be mistaken for the food hall at CentralWorld And your typical American grocery shopper? I think they’d have a hard time calling any store without air conditioning upscale.

Aw taw kaw food court

It is a great place for ogling produce, meat and prepared foods, even if you can sample a few things. I headed to the food court first. Unless you’ve spent some time in Thailand (a few weeks doesn’t count for me) or can read Thai, it’s not always obvious what each stand is selling just based on the observable ingredients on display. 

Aw taw kaw curries

You can see what others order or go the easy route and find a vendor with many sturdy pots out in the open.

Aw kaw taw catfish & pork

A generous helping of rice is spooned onto a plate and you’re given two choices to top it. I pointed at what appeared to be a dry, catfish curry with chile and basil and a soupier curry with fatty strips of pork and what I think was krachai, a rhizome that showed up everywhere in Thailand but is more elusive here unless you like it pickled in a jar. This was some of our favorite food in Bangkok. Curry on rice, simple. I guess we’re easy to please.

Aw taw kaw satay

I don’t think satay is ever very exciting even when it’s good. James tended to pick up a few skewers everywhere we went.

Aw taw kaw rabbit

A father and daughter next to us were playing with a rabbit on their table that I assumed to be a pet (you can buy them at Chatuchak) and not intended for a soup pot. I thought he was cute, at one point he jumped off the table and tried hopping away, but I gathered that animals on dining tables aren’t universally loved. A nearby woman wouldn’t stop glowering. In NYC people act like they don’t care about anomalies, in Asia no one has qualms about delivering an overt look of disapproval.

Aw taw kaw colorful rice

You may or may not know that I am obsessed with food in unusual colors (I don’t want to say unnatural because I suspect these hues weren’t from synthetic dye) so green, periwinkle and maroon rice completely wowed me. I wish I could’ve tasted the difference among all five styles but there is only so much eating one can do. Besides, I wasn’t sure how they were intended to be eaten.

Aw taw kaw things in bags

Taut plastic bags filled with unknown liquids.

Aw taw kaw dried fish

Dried fish and shrimp.

Aw taw kaw pork

So much pork. We did get some slices and chile dip to go.

Aw taw kaw som tam kits

Som tam kits. Maybe this is what is meant by upscale. Actually, now that I’m looking at this photo again, I’m not sure why I thought this was fixings for a papaya salad. There’s nothing papaya-ish about the mysterious brown squiggles on the upper right side of each package.

Aw taw kaw seafood

Grilled seafood.

Aw taw kaw thai marzipan

Thai marzipan, bean paste not ground almonds.

Aw taw kaw pork shanks

Pork shanks standing upright.

Aw taw kaw staff eating pizza

What does the staff eat on their break? Pizza from The Pizza Company.

Aw taw kaw melons

Giant melons.

Aw taw kaw curry pastes

Curry pastes packed into dense mounds much like mole in Mexico. We bought a few small packets but haven’t used them yet.

Chatuchak coconut ice cream

Something as simple as ordering coconut ice cream could end up being complicated. There were numerous tubs of white ice cream, each a different flavor from what I gathered were different varieties of coconut. I’ve never had a choice about what kind of coconut I’d like to eat. And then you are allowed to pick three toppings from an array of glass jars, maybe 15. This is tab tim grob, a.k.a. red rubies, a.k.a. water chestnuts coated in scarlet tapioca starch, candied slivers of pumpkin and something that they call sea coconut in Malaysia. I have no idea what it’s called in Thai…ok, now I do: look dtao, palm seed.

Aw taw kaw cat trying to stay cool

A convenience store on the perimeter had pay toilets and a cat trying to cool off. A lot of the cats in Thailand seemed as hot and beat up as I was.

Aw Taw Kaw Market * Phaholyothin Rd., Bangkok, Thailand

Tacos Nuevo Mexico

My level of interest in New York City’s most livable neighborhood is lower than I even thought. Just before Cinco de Mayo of last year, I noticed a “we’re closing for renovations” sign at Tacos Nuevo Mexico. Nearly a year later, and I’m witnessing the nuevo style for the first time.

Tacos nuevo mexico interior

Whoa. Taxidermy? Antler light fixtures? Wood, wood, everywhere. The only thing missing are the Edison bulbs. I’m digging the modern-ranchero style.

Tacos nuevo mexico martini list

The martini list? Not so sure. What's a Rob Roy doing on there?

Tacos Nuevo Mexico is a solid in-betweenie Mexican restaurant for those who don’t get off on forearm-sized rice-filled burritos (Calexico and Oaxaca, closer to me) and are feeling too lazy to go farther down Fifth Avenue to Sunset Park (though you should every now and then).

Tacos nuevo mexico gringa quesadilla

Sure, they are vegetarian-friendly (and you would be stupid not to given the area), you can get tacos with flour tortillas for $1 extra and fajitas are now being hyped, but this is still primarily Mex-Mex, which is scarce in New York City’s more livable neighborhoods. Inauthentic or not, I enjoy their gringas, my favorite cross-cultural mashup: a quesadilla stuffed with al pastor and pineapple. I appreciate the Mexican fondness for meat/cheese/pineapple combos, also one of my favorite trios.

My only beef with the South Slopeified menu is that at some point they stripped away the Spanish and when I look at the taco section I see roast pork, grilled pork and spicy pork.  I’m not sure which are meant to be carnitas and which are pastor. No matter, I still ordered one carnitas, one pastor and one lengua.

Tacos nuevo mexico tacos

Tacos are double-tortilla’d, wrapped in a cone and garnished with chopped onion, cilantro and an avocado salsa. Perfect.I’ve seen online complaints about the watery “guacamole.” This isn’t guacamole.

Tacos nuevo mexico enchilladas oaxaquenas

String-cheesy Oaxacan enchiladas were a special.

Tacos nuevo mexico facade

Previously on Tacos Nuevo Mexico.

Tacos Nuevo Mexico * 491 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Sunday Night Special: Penang Curry Mee

Curry mee

Sunday Night Special has fallen by the wayside. I can only focus on so many things and detailing cooking projects is low on my list. It's not like there aren't already thousands of recipe blogs to read. While I love looking at others' food-styled meals, I can't stand fussing with photographing the things I make at home.

But I did attempt to recreate the curry mee I recently had in Penang using a recipe from Rasa Malaysia. Yes, you can get it for maybe $5 a bowl in Queens, and I probably will next time given the time consuming nature of preparing this and many Malaysian dishes. It's fun to cook at least once, though.

Just beware; the strong fermented smell shrimp paste will take over your entire living space. It doesn't bother me in the least but James wanted to kill me when he got home from work, opening every window in the house, blasting fans. (I heard my neighbors coughing in the hall and half-expected a knock on my door. Frankly, I just consider it payback for using the space in front of my door as a stroller parking lot.) I had also been simmering shrimp head and shells for hours and soaking dried squid. It was cacophony of sea creatures. The only thing missing was the pig's blood cubes. I have no fear, but wasn't sure the best place to pick them up in NYC.

Fictional International Intrigue

I can only wonder if Hugo Reyes' fried chicken chain, Mr. Cluck's, is more Popeye's, KFC or Pollo Campero. Whatever style they serve, it's clearly a global hit in the alternate universe. 

Mr. cluck's paris
Baguettes not biscuits.

Mr. cluck's japan
You know they serve teriyaki-glazed chicken.

Mr. cluck's egypt
A halal bucket of chicken?