Friday, November 11, 2011

Food Truck Friday - The Best Doughnut I Ever Ate

One of the most exciting things about my new hometown of Austin are the food trucks. There is a constant stream of new trucks and new dishes to taste and my husband and I try to get out pretty regularly to prowl the streets for great food.

Because food trucks are such a prominent part of my new life here I've decided to institute Food Truck Friday so I can show off some of this delicious food. I want to make this a participatory event, so get ready to hunt down some food trucks and do some blogging!

If you want me to add your food truck post to my Food Truck Friday roundup, just send me an email with your name, the name of your blog, and blog url, along with the url of your post on food trucks. I'll put my post together on Friday at noon central time, so make sure to post your blog sometime before that and send me your information!
The Flying Pig Doughnut - Gourdoughs Food Truck Austin, TX

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What is That Smell?

One of the most unique dishes I've ever experienced is stinky tofu. I'm pretty sure you can find it in several Asian countries but I'm told that it is traditionally a Taiwanese dish. It basically smells like feet, really really stinky feet. You can smell the stuff before even approaching a stand or restaurant.

Deep fried stinky tofu with sauce and pickle
The idea is that the tofu is fermented in a brine for several days or even several months. Each vendor has their own brine which is responsible for any flavor differences you might find. The brine is a pretty ugly sludge of vegetable, spices and herbs, and sometimes meat material. After the tofu is soaked for the required amount of time it is either steamed, stewed, or fried (my favorite kind). It is usually served with some sauce and some very vinegary cabbage pickle.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Food Markets, Taiwanese Style!

 A couple of weekends ago a friend of ours met us out early on a Sunday morning in the rain to walk us through a food market in Taipei. I'm pretty sure the trip was fueled by my recent posts of French and Spanish Food Markets that she'd seen. She wanted to show us what Taiwan markets had to offer.

A rainy day at the market
Meeting us on the corner, she warned us that it wouldn't be anything like the European markets she saw on my blog - this quickly proved to be true.

As soon as we walked into the market we found this gentleman. At first glance there's not much to see - a bunch of bottled water. But oh no! This is actually home-brewed rice wine. Easy to sneak into the boring afternoon meeting or class. I know a few people from college that would have been regular customers.

Several stands sold fresh seafood. And I'm talking fresh. One in the middle of the road had a bucket of large shrimps that were literally jumping out and onto the ground. That is until they had their heads ripped off by the proprietess.

A few more oddities you would definitely have a hard time finding in Europe - a stand of all tofu products, blocks of taro cake bigger than your head, and brains on hooks.
All vegetarian products - mainly made from tofu
Slabs of taro cake
There's nothing like brain on a stick to make a person feel primeval
And since I've gotten you all disturbed with that last picture I might as well go into the most disturbing part of all - the chicken slaughter. I eat a lot of chicken. I know where it comes from. I'm not an animal rights activisit or anything, but this seems a little extreme and cruel to the chickens.

It goes like this - there is a big cage with a bunch of live chickens stuffed inside, squawking and stepping on one another (sorry about the picture quality - there was a lot of bustle around the stand and hard to get a steady picture).
Above the cage you may notice a yellow tray on which several chicken organs rest. The smell of blood and sounds of murder surround these chickens - they know what's in store for them. The smack of the butcher block above brings them one step closer to the bloody and horrible death that's already come to their friends and neighbors. There is no way to escape your fate buddy.

On a happier note, there was a lot of really beautiful produce - fruits I'd never seen before, piles of ridiculously cheap herbs (an entire basket of basil for about 30 cents US), and long poles of sugar cane and taro, dumplings and cakes. Stunning variety.

Dumplings and shu-mai
Hibiscus flowers
Our friend was right - the market was nothing like the ones I experienced in Europe. But this is a good thing! So much variety in what people eat around the world is exciting and inspiring. There's so much out there to try - it's a big world with lots of great food!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Spanish Food Markets

 After France, my friends and I traveled through Spain for about a week. I'd been amazed by the French Food Markets, but they did little to prepare me for what I found in Spain. I can understand now why many of the food magazines and foodies are saying that Spain is the new food capital of the world. I had some of the best food of my life on our trip through Spain and I would recommend it to anyone.

Our first stop was in Barcelona where we visited a large indoor daily market. I can't even imagine what I might do if this market was near home for me. I would certainly gain weight. Not only do the vendors in this market sell raw ingredients, but you can sit down and have a glass of wine or some tapas if you're in the mood. What could be better while you're shopping for your day's groceries?

A few more fantastic pictures from the market. Warning: some sad-ish pictures of little piggies ahead.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

French Food Market

I've been touring through France and Spain for the last three weeks and have had some fantastic food experiences that I will definitely be writing about. The first one I want to share is French food markets. A friend and I started out in Strasbourg, near the border of Germany, and drove through the country, ending in Provence and the south. We were hoping to catch markets in a few cities but ended up only visiting two because they kept closing before we could get there.

Our second day in Strasbourg we were lucky enough to find a street market and the food was absolutely amazing - I wanted to eat everything I saw. The variety of vegetables was fantastic and together with bread, cheeses and sausages of all sorts, I was definitely ready to eat.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

You Had Me at Sushi

Oh Japan! Why did you have to create such good food? I was already sold at sushi - determined to love you forever. Did you really need to add one more thing to push me over the edge?

Tonkatsu. Fried pork cutlet chopped up and served with a cabbage salad, miso soup and condiments.

Sushi had already changed my life. After the initial shock of something so foreign it became my favorite food and because of it I will be  forever in love with Japanese cuisine. But then this tonkatsu stuff came along and I don't know if my life will ever be the same. I might have to pick up and move to Osaka. Don't tell my husband.

We went to a chain restaurant here in Taipei called Saboten. We first got a big bowl of thinly sliced cabbage and a small bowl of white and black sesame seeds with a wooden mortar. The bowl the seeds were in had little grooves all throughout so when you grind the seeds they mash up very nicely.

You grind up the seeds, then add this amazing sweet barbecue like sauce, and some vinegar if you want. This becomes a salad dressing for the cabbage and dip for the crispy fried pork. I don't know how to describe it except to say that it is amazing! Sweet and a little spicy, salty too. The perfect accompaniment to pretty much anything.

We were also served a small dish of pickled daikon radish cubes and these amazing black beans that I'm craving right now writing this. The beans had a really chewy texture, almost like mochi, and tasted just a little bit sweet.

After the salad the main course came out. I got pork and prawn, both had a perfectly flaky and crisp outer crust and tender inside. My side was a potato salad which was an excellent balance to the salty fried meat. I am in love with this stuff! I just hope I can find it back in the U.S. when I  come home...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Penang Market

Fish for sale. This one looked like a whopper - I can't imagine what I would do with it. Also on offer are some stingray, small sardine like fish and various other seafood delights.

On one of our last days in Penang we visited a local Chinese market where our friend was going to pick up some groceries for the week. I always love going to local markets when I'm traveling - you get a much better idea of how the locals are eating than if you just stick to restaurants. This market was really amazing. Not only was there a huge array of fresh produce but seafood like I've never seen, roasted meats, flowers and the fish balls and cakes that are so popular in Chinese cuisine.

Fish and squid balls, stuffed okra, other rolled and stuffed things unimaginable

We picked up some of the roasted pork when we first walked into the market and walked around eating it out of a little pink plastic bag. It was fatty and crunchy, a little bit sweet in that characteristic Asian meat sort of way. The sound of the massive cleavers whacking at the wood cutting boards followed us throughout the market. The meat is really popular and I don't think these women ever take a break from their chopping.

The meats, seafood and vegetables were all in one big open covered space. The concrete floor near the fish was wet and slippery as the ice melted down onto the floor. Not the best place to be wearing flip-flops (although I noticed most of the locals were wearing flip-flops or sandals)

In a second building fruit and flowers were sold. Asian fruits are so exotic and interesting. I've tried many of them now and know what they taste like but I still get drawn to them every time I see them. The hairy rambutans beg for a light brush of the fingers. The spikes jutting from the hot pink dragonfruit bodies catch my eye.

Rambutans (back), Mangosteens (front) and Longyans (right)

These flowers are made into long wreaths that Hindus offer to their deities

It's hard to imagine markets like these in the U.S. The roasted pork vendors would be shut down immediately - the local food police certainly wouldn't approve of the meat hanging in the open air on a hook, women chopping them up with their gloveless hands. Even worse, the seafood dripping its fishy ice water all over the ground just feet away from vegetable stands. But the locals in Penang don't seem to mind (and don't seem to be getting sick). They have fresh seafood and produce available any day of the week that us American foodies can only dream of. I wonder sometimes if our ultra paranoid approach to food is really a good thing.

If you want to know more about my trip to Penang please visit my travel blog A Day in the Life, where I've written a series called Penang: A Food Story

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chicken Soup for the Expat Soul

I know it's been forever.  It's almost like I dropped off the face of the earth.  I'm sorry for my neglect.  I just got caught up in this crazy new life I'm living.  So what have I been doing the last two months I haven't been blogging?  Traveling (San Francisco, Malaysia), eating of course, a very little cooking (it's still pretty tough to cook around here), and writing, although obviously not my blog.  I've been working on a new project, a food book for Taiwan along with a few other things.

But this post wasn't really going to be about me.  It was going to be about soup!  One of the first meals I made here in my new kitchen was this chicken soup.  We were going through a little bit of a rough patch, homesickness sticking to us like peanut butter sticks to a three year old.  So I decided to make some good old fashioned chicken soup to cheer us up and scratch our homesick itch.

It turned out really well for the most part.  I didn't have the patience or refrigerator space to make homemade stock, so I looked around our local supermarket for stock or boullion cubes or chicken base.  This is what I came up with.

It did taste a little like chicken, but it was also really salty, so I couldn't use a whole lot.  I have a feeling there was some serious MSG action in there too.  A side note - I am not against MSG per se.  However, it does tend to make both my husband and I swell up like balloons and give us raging headaches, so I try to stay away if I can. 

Anyways.  I used this as the base for my chicken soup.  I thought about going for the whole chicken and cutting it up to make the soup, but I was deterred by the chicken's head.  I can get used to a chicken's feet still being attached, but when he's got eyes to stare me down as I hack apart his body, that is a line I'm not ready to cross.  So I used a few different cuts.

I also found some really nice looking vegetables, all the things I would use for chicken soup back home - carrots, celery, onion, potato.

I basically just threw it all together with some herbs and some garlic and let it get happy.  And when it was done it made us happy.  It's nice that although we can't go home, we can have a meal from home every now and then.  Maybe not everything we want from home (especially without having an oven), but some things.  And that's good enough for us.  Well, for now at least.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Spicy Hot Pot - Oo La La!

Okay, this is one of my new all-time favorite things to eat.  One of our friends took us to a spicy hot pot restaurant and now I can't stop thinking about it.  You sit down at a table and get a bubbling vat of broth.  It's separated in the middle; on one side is mild but delicious broth, kind of like a light chicken broth and on the other side is deep red beauty of spicy broth, large chunks of tofu and duck blood (resembles the tofu in appearance, texture, and taste).

They set the cauldron on a burner in the middle of the table to keep warm and you go up to coolers to choose meat, vegetables, tofu, noodles, or any other number of things you might want to add to the broth.  The place we went to was all you can eat, so you could just go up and try anything you wanted.

We chose some meat and seafood, vegetables and dumplings.  You dump it all into the broth until it's cooked then enjoy!  At the we put a package of ramen type noodles in, and they just soaked up the broth and all the flavor from the meat and the vegetables we'd cooked.  It was a slurpy delicious finish to the meal.

By the way, as far as the title of this post goes - no I did not have a momentary lapse and think I was in France and not Asia.  La is the Chinese word for spicy :)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Making Cheese

I was going through some of my old pictures this morning and found a few good ones I never got around to posting before we left America.  It made me really nostalgic to look at my own food, which sounds kind of funny I guess, but it's the truth.  I really have missed cooking.  It's been over a month.  Which is grievous.

On a happier note, our shipment of things from home arrived yesterday.  It was mostly stuff that doesn't fit in our apartment or that we would never use here, but I did get some kitchen stuff I was immensely happy about.  Coffee maker, pot, real knives.  I can't wait to start cooking again.  I think I'll go to the store tomorrow and get as much food as I can fit in my dorm-sized refrigerator and get to cooking!

So anyways, on to the old pictures and the cheese making!

I've been wanting to make cheese for years.  My husband is terrified of it.  I think he thinks I'm going to poison him somehow.  So I made this cheese when he was away on a business trip right before we left home.  It was really amazingly easy, and didn't even involve any bacteria, so nothing to be wary of.  I found the recipe here and was totally drawn it.  It looked so easy!

So I boiled the milk and the buttermilk and some fresh thyme from my garden (oh how I miss my garden!) and salt and pepper.

After it reached the right temperature and started separating in strange ways I strained it through cheese cloth.

I wrapped it up and let it drain for a little while.

After it drained I just unwrapped it and ate it with crackers.  Almost as easy as boiling water.  I would definitely recommend this recipe to anyone who has the slightest desire to make his or her own cheese.  It's so simple and delicious.  And it's always fun to tell people you've made cheese!

The taste is kind of tangy, texture is something like a cross between cream cheese and mozzarella.  I love this recipe because you can add all kinds of things to it to make it different flavors - nuts or dried fruit, spices and herbs.  The website where I got the recipe has some good ideas on what to add.  I hope you'll try it!