Saturday, September 23, 2017

What I had for lunch - Rolled-up Japanese goodness

Sometimes people ask me, "So what do you have for lunch?" While I'd love to put on my healthy-eater mask and tell them "Oh, I graze on greens" or "Oh, I nibble on nuts and fruits", I couldn't do it with a straight face. Truth is what I eat varies from day to day depending on where my busy day takes me.

Recently I met up with DDs for lunch at a food court and this is what we had:

Sushi. A visually attractive lunch option that I kinda enjoy now and then though I'm not exactly a big fan of the rice portion or the idea of stuffing the whole portion into my mouth which, I'm told, is the correct way to eat it. The rebel in me breaks the sushi in two with chopsticks and load ups on the wasabi (Japanese green mustard) and that's the way I do it!

Takoyaki. Octopus Takoyaki is our favorite but we recently tried Shrimp Takoyaki which is less chewy but pretty good too.Takoyaki is a dough ball made with a batter of eggs, soy sauce, flour and dashi (a Japanese-flavored broth) and crammed to bursting point with chopped green onions, pickled red ginger and the octopus or shrimp, then garnished with green dried seaweed, dried bonito flakes, takoyaki sauce and mayo.

Yums! Soft outside, crunchy and I don't even have to tell you when you get to the octopus inside, so good! What's amazing is how it's even possible to cram so much deliciousness into such a little ball. (Read my earlier post to see the pan they use.)

Though this was such a simple lunch, it was so good over a steaming hot cup of coffee. Now you know why I always look forward to lunch lol. I'll be updating you guys on what I have for lunch from time to time, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sweet and sour two ways

If you know me, you know I'm always talking about food. Never mind the fact that it's thundering and pouring outside (again!) and I've just snacked on a big bowl of bean soup, I'm about to start talking about a Korean-Chinese dinner we had in a busy expat suburb one weekend.

As is usual with Korean meals, first to arrive at the table are the side dishes meant to accompany the main meal. Here we got only 3 (instead of the usual 6-8) side dishes - kimchi (square bowl on upper right) - or fermented napa cabbage, a staple of Korean cuisine; yellow pickled daikon (blue flower plate) and pink radish kimchi - a fermented radish side dish. Kimchi and yellow pickled radish are common side dishes but not the radish kimchi.

We ordered sweet and sour chicken which is essentially boneless deep-fried chicken that came on a bed of lettuce topped with onions, peppers, sweet and sour sauce and sesame seeds.

I'm not sure why we ordered two sweet and sour dishes which are very similar in taste but yeah! So here's the other plate piled high with crispy deep-fried pork topped with bokchoy, onions, carrots and sweet and sour sauce, and (surprise!) a side of finely shredded cabbage with thousand island dressing.
These are huge servings meant to be shared and eaten with rice or as an accompaniment to alcoholic drinks, a common Korean practice. We, however, chose to savor them on their own sans rice or alcohol. Of the two sweet and sour dishes, I prefer the crispier pork and the shredded cabbage which was reminiscent of how it's often served with tonkatsu, or deep-fried breaded pork cutlet, at Japanese restaurants.

To round off the meal, we ordered jjampong, a seafood noodle soup featuring large shrimps, squid and mussels. There might've been fish slices in it as well, I'm not sure. As portions go, this is big and meant to be a serving for one person. But we asked for small bowls to portion this out. I like that the soup is spicy but I would've preferred it to have tasted (and smelled), um, a little less fishy.
It's interesting to see the similarities and overlaps in these orders of ours. First off, you have the Korean adaptation of the sweet and sour meat which is a big part of Chinese cuisine. And then you have the sweet and sour pork adapted from the Japanese tonkatsu complete with shredded cabbage. And then you have the seafood noodle soup inspired once again by the countless varieties and flavors of Chinese noodle soups. Well, I love Korean food and Japanese food. So this does it for me lol!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Where food lovers go

It's been raining for the better part of last night and into this morning. My alarm didn't go off. It's still set to Pacific time so maybe that's why it's going off at odd hours lol which is just as well that this is the weekend and going to the mall might not be such a good idea. So I guess I'll sit here and tell you about my latest foodie find which I'm super-excited about. Hopefully, talking about food will bring some sunshine into what's going to be a weekend of isolated thunderstorms.

 A few months ago, a girl friend took me to lunch at a cafe I never knew existed. It turned out to be a hole in the wall completely hidden from view on a relatively busy street. Based on its location alone, you'd never guess how quickly this place fills up with the lunch hour crowd daily. Then again, maybe it's because it has a big menu that offers local, Western and fusion fare as well as cakes and desserts, and prices are reasonable.

On that first visit, I was pretty impressed (for a fussy eater) and couldn't wait to take my daughters there. So we went. One of the items on their monthly house specials was the Grilled Fish which comes with a free drink (from the choice of 3, we picked the ice lemon tea) and free ice cream. The grilled fish turned out to be pretty good. In fact, DD2 (Dear Daughter 2) liked it so much she ordered it again on a subsequent visit.

DD1 had their Chicken Chop which is grilled boneless chicken served with brown sauce, mashed potatoes, a simple salad and slaw. Although Chicken Chop is a Western dish, many Westerners have apparently not heard of it. Word has it that it originated during the British occupation and was later made popular when the chefs who worked in British kitchens back in the day opened up restaurants and started serving this dish on their menu. These days, you can probably only find Chicken Chop at old school restaurants.

And I ordered the perennial local favorite translated loosely to mean "Fat Rice" or rice with lots of fat. People eat this for breakfast, lunch or dinner which makes it an all-day favorite. It features an overturned bowl of coconut rice (rice cooked in coconut milk - ooh fattening), chicken and potato curry (also cooked in coconut milk and we're officially in Fat City now), deep-fried anchovies and peanuts, cucumber slices and half a hard-boiled egg. No guilt, super delicious bwahaha!!

As portions go, this is considered fairly large by local standards. Just looking at this plate makes me feel full... and fat before I even dig in lol. Yet I can't resist ordering this every time I come here. It's like the fat is calling out to me. Omg, what am I going to do?!! Thankfully, since the serving sizes of the grilled fish and chicken chop are much smaller, my daughters can jump in and help me finish this. One thing I gotta say is, this is so-oo good. Burp! If you see someone shaped like a coconut rolling unceremoniously out the door to a car parked outside, that would be me lol.

Oh and not forgetting that this unassuming little cafe also serves pastas (we've tried their carbonara which wasn't bad at all), fried noodles and rice and desserts! Omg, did I mention we went out on a limb one time and ordered 2 slices of cakes? It's almost unheard of. When I was growing up, cakes were for special occasions and we rarely had desserts, and that's pretty much how my kids were raised too.

When we saw all these lovely cakes calling out to us from the glass display, we knew we had to come up with some special occasions (pronto!) to order not one but two slices of cakes. Okay, so this mocha caramel cheesecake was to celebrate the fact that I managed to find my way to this eatery purely from memory. Well okay, I did shoot past the junction I was supposed to turn into and had to make a U-turn back but we did eventually get there.

And this banana toffee coffee cheesecake was to celebrate finding a parking spot right outside the cafe. We'd gotten there early, the parking lot was empty and these cakes were delectable. So we're laughing!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The bakery that never stops

Whenever we hit the mall, there's one place that we must absolutely, definitely, totally stop at and that's the bakery. Of the 6-8 bakeries that typically dot a single mall, LB is the chosen one, the one I've been frequenting for years. It's operated as part of a popular Japanese grocery chain but over the years, it's matured into an identity of its own.

What I really like about this bakery is that first off, they have an insane variety of pastries, and second, they're constantly coming up with exciting new, mouth-watering stuff. So it's not like when you walk in, you find the same old stuff that was popular when your grandma was a kid although sure, you may have some well-loved items you hope they'll never stop selling. Here you walk in and you have the perennial favorites, and then you have the trendy fare that they introduce every so often and it's that element of surprise that elicits the oohs and aahs.

The pastry selection we saw recently had us piling our takeout tray faster than you can say wow! On the topmost shelf are the walnut raisin loaves, a well-loved favorite that we've seen going through a 'size down, price up' over the years but that still tastes so good. That said, their prices are reasonable and quality comparable with the other bakeries in the mall, so which would you choose?

And look, we found some new additions in the covered bins along the perpendicular side. This is the fruit cream danish with a cream filling topped with kiwi and strawberry slices and finished off with a drizzle of chocolate and powdered sugar. Looks yummy, will have to try it some time!

This is the open-faced danish topped with almond cream and orange slices.

The blueberry almond cream danish looks good too. Omgosh, what are we going to do? Everything looks so good lol.

In the front of the store are more rolls, muffins and baguettes. Daughter2 has tried their macha cream pastry and likes them. The macha (Japanese green tea) trend has been around for quite a while and is still very popular. Here you see someone with tongs in hand (circled) heading straight for those two-tiered baskets... only to find them EMPTY! OH NOoooo they're all gone!!!

Disappointed, she turns away with a sad face, only to return to the same spot a while later to find the baskets had been refilled with a brand new batch of macha pastries fresh from the oven (OH JOY!)...

 ... at which point, she quickly snags a couple before they're all gone again!! One thing to remember with this bakery is that their pastries go really, really fa-a-ast so if you don't grab' em quick, you'll have to wait for them to bake a new batch.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The mall thing

It's been cloudy these few days and now it's raining quite heavily, just enough to provide some much-needed cooling relief. So that's good, right? Lately the weather's been so unbearably hot and humid we're thankful for anything cool (which may or may not include a McD's strawberry ice cream cone ;). Only trouble is, when it rains, it gets even more humid. So that ice cream will work either way for sure lol.

Rainy days are best spent at home catching an afternoon nap or making up for that workout you skipped missed yesterday. Lately we've been 'hiding out' at the mall often to catch up on new eats under the guise of avoiding the intense humidity outside - shame on us! - which incidentally brings us to an old inside joke that the mall is the best place to be, if for nothing else, for the free air-conditioning.

Of course, there's never a lack of malls to hang out in. While online is predominantly the shopping method of choice in the Western world, malls in Asia are very much in vogue. In fact, trawling the malls may well be the national pastime for the whole family and for good reason...

Here the malls are a one-stop shop for everything from food and fashion to groceries and greenery. Restaurants, coffee shops, fashion stores, bakeries and confectioners, furniture stores, gyms, florists, pharmacies, music stores (some even offering music classes), grocery stores, telecommunication service outlets, pet stores, banks, cinemas, even a post office - pretty much anything you can think of, you can find under one roof.

So it goes without saying that the malls are massive, multi-storey affairs, some with offices and residential condominiums in high-rises above the mall. Some malls have outdoor gardens featuring exotic plants and aquariums. Others boast rooftop gardens and outdoor activity areas for rock climbing, paintball, etc. One mall even has an indoor roller-coaster (what's up with that?!).

So yeah, the mall purportedly has something for everyone so it's not surprising that as the weekend approaches, it starts getting busier and busier (read: crazier and crazier). Parking becomes a nightmare. The trick is to get an early start. I like insist on getting there by the stroke of 10:00 when the mall opens to ensure I get a parking spot instantly without having to circle round like a vulture.

Way back when my kids were younger, we would sometimes arrive at the mall an hour or more after opening time only to circle endlessly and finally leave and go home without securing a parking spot. What a waste of time! So no, we either get there at 10 sharp or we don't go at all, and that's House Rule #108.