Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reflections: Top Ten Meals in Asia

(Note: Justin and I had this conversation over our Gmail messengers. I cleaned it up for coherence and added the hotlinks. Any errors are probably original, but I did improve the grammar/spelling that we rushed for time. And now, prepare to get much more inside our relationship than you ever probably wanted to be!)

Nana: We'll go your 5, my 5, your 4, my 4

Justin: sounds good. ready? 5. Onion naan and dipping sauces in Little India, Singapore

Nana: Ah. That's higher on mine. It was darn good.

Justin: More of a snack, I guess, but I'm counting it as a meal. I liked how light it was. The naan was spongy, the consistency of that Ethiopian bread. And the raw onions cut through the oil in the sauces.

Justin: The chana masala sauce was probably the best I've ever had

Nana: Yes. That's why it's higher on mine. My #5 is Japanese-style soy ramen with egg, Tokyo, Japan.

Justin: I thought about putting Tokyo-style ramen on my list. It was, like, 5a

Nana: I could drink that broth forever. I feel very strongly about salt.

Justin: Japanese ramen is so rich and subtle. There's a lot going on.

Nana: I still have cravings for it. And then I go get Korean ramen, and I am so depressed, because it's not even vaguely alike.

Nana: And the egg! Sort of semi-hard boiled. A perfect yolk.

Justin: Mine had egg-drop-style egg, and some fried tofu in it, and a big slice of mildly salted pork

Nana: I had mine at a Tokyo Disney hotel food court, so maybe my love is also connected to my DisneyJoy

Justin: actually, the ramen we had in hokkaido was as good, I think

Nana: I don't remember Ramen in Hokkaido

Justin: at the ski lodge

Nana: Oh, yes. Good, but not as good as my Tokyo ramen.

Justin: then again, everything tastes better after you've spent a morning in waist-deep powder!

Nana: Or spent the day at DisneySea!

Justin: okay, moving up the list: 4. Beef wanggalbi with Dr. Kim last weekend. A recent entry

Nana: Ah! My #4 is also Korean BBQ!

Justin: Which one? The one on the way to Vivaldi Park?

Nana: I couldn't pick - I'm bad. That was one of the three. Vivaldi Park BBQ, the orange Hagye restaurant, and the wood paneled restaurant here in Wolgye

Nana: The wood one is better for Samgipsal and the egg souffle

Justin: I never liked that one quite as much . . . though they DO have the best samgyeopsal

Nana: I love the gaedanjip/egg soufflé and the mushrooms. And that is the best samgipsal I've had in Korea.

Justin: I think I like galbi stuff better overall, so I lean towards the places with good galbi

Nana: Dr. Kim's had the best side dishes, I think.

Justin: Dr. Kim's place, though, wasn't just about the meat--those were the best Korean side-dishes

Nana: Ha! Read my mind!

Justin: I loved that spicy salad . . . the pickles . . . the pumpkin

Nana: What was the other one I liked so much... Oh, the horseradish (If that's what it was in English)

Justin: And that naengmyeon was incredible--I didn't even know there could be a difference with naengmyeon until then!

Nana: Yes, that was the best of that. But it wasn't as good as Japanese ramen!

Justin: I don't know--overall meal, I'd repeat Dr. Kim's KBBQ before I'd repeat the Tokyo ramen.

Nana: See, now that I think about it, I totally might switch ramen over barbecue

Justin: anyway- #3: Mongolian hotpot (in Beijing and in Shanghai)

Nana: DANG! That was on my list yesterday and I forgot it today! Good thing you're representing!

Justin: I love spicy food, and I'm a complete sucker for lamb--those lamb meatballs, mildly spiced--those things are delicious

Nana: I like the lotus root. It stays nice and crunchy

Justin: I liked the one I went to in Shanghai a bit better, I think, because you got to mix your own spicy sauce. I added a little sesame oil to mine, to round out the spice, and it was awesome. But the noodles at the beijing place were crazy, how they pulled them at the table.

Nana: I'm totally watching the video of that now (NOTE: At the above "Mongolian Hotpot" link)

Justin: The Shanghai place didn't serve noodles at the end--I missed that. So I kind of couldn't choose between the two. Oh, also--the broth was lighter in shanghai, not as oily. It meant you could eat more meat before getting full.

Nana: My #3 choice was the Chinese food meal we had that night in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Justin: oh, that was a good one. I forgot about that.

Nana: I really enjoyed the sweet and sour/hot shrimp, and I love teh tariq

Justin: Yeah, it was just very good, mild, simple Chinese food

Nana: and I loved playing with the stirrer with Gia and coming up with stupid things it might be, like a microphone or a miniature flagpole. They made very good fried rice, if I recall

Justin: oh, no--you're talking about a different night. Not the place in Chinatown?

Nana: No, not the little corner place. The big one with the lazy susan, where we all went as a groop.

Justin: The place in the mall by the Petronas Towers

Nana: Yes

Justin: he he, groop

Nana: Shut up. You spell "hee hee" wrong.

Justin: yeah, though that was more of a fusion place--they had Malay dishes, too

not just Chinese

Nana: That's why it was a good place. Lots of variety, and everything was good

Justin: I loved the beef rending, though it had coconut, so you couldn't eat it

Nana: That's not the dish's fault, though.

Justin: true

Nana: The strange thing is, I don't remember too many individual dishes from that night. (a hazard of dining out with Dr. Kim and his shotgun-spread approach to ordering). But I remember being thoroughly pleased with it.

Justin: man, I should have remembered that one. Though I don't know what it would have bumped from my list . . .

Nana: It's okay, we can poach from each other.

Justin: anyway-ready for #2?

Nana: Yes

Justin: #2: Sushi in Hokkaido

Nana: That's my number one. We'll have nothing to say about it when we get there. Thanks a lot.

Justin: The. best. sushi. I. have. ever. eaten.

Nana: Absolutely.

Justin: let's leave it at that for now.

Nana: Okay. My number two, though, we also talked about. It was the chana masala/poori combination in Little India, Singapore.

Justin: the onion naan?

Nana: No, I didn't like the onion naan as much.

Justin: yeah! We had poori, too. I forgot that

Nana: That chana masala was unbelievable. Chick peas are so frequently bitter, but they were butter-sweet.

Justin: yeah, the chana masala was the platonic ideal of chana masala. Sweet, a bit of sour, still that tangy-salty-mildly-spicy thing you get

Nana: If we lived in Singapore, I'd go there every week. I'd eat my way through the entire menu. And then go to that dessert place.

Justin: absolutely. I was torn between that place and the murtabak, but I liked the onion naan better

Nana: Okay. Your #1. I know it!

Nana: Your #1 is going to be Xinjiang food.

Justin: I know you know it! #1 XINJIANG FOOD

Nana: Ha!

Justin: it was like FOOD and GEOGRAPHY ALL IN ONE

Nana: Did you guess that mine would be the sushi?

Justin: Yeah, I knew yours would be sushi

Nana: I think I would love that restaurant more if we went back and ordered some less spicy dishes. And also if I didn't have a fever. I do remember that the bread was unbelievable.

Justin: There were just so many different flavors on the table. Chinese flavors, Indian flavors, middle eastern flavors, blended in so many unusual ways

Nana: It was a thick, spongy, almost focaccia-style bread, which I didn't expect

Justin: oh yeah, the bread. Like turkish bread

Nana: yes, that's it.

Justin: plus the little Chinese pocket bread, for the szechuan-style pork

Nana: I remember some terrific kabobs, right? Lamb.

Justin: Yeah, the lamb kebabs

Nana: You're such a sucker for lamb

Justin: wow. I am, aren't I?

Nana: Okay. My number one, Hokkaido sushi

Justin: yeah, it was a close second for me

Nana: I think this one wins overall champ, if you add up your placement and mine

Justin: It's actually difficult to describe why or how it was so darn good

Nana: I can! It was insanely fresh

Justin: But still tender--not chewy

Nana: The fish was sweeter than any fish I've had in sushi before or since

Justin: There were simply extra flavors in there somehow

Nana: Instead of a saltier fish in salty soy sauce, it was sweet fish in salty sauce with sweet rice and spicy mustard... it just combined so elegantly. I have to specifically shout out two sushi rolls: the mackerel first.

Nana: Which was not actually a roll, but whatever

Justin: yeah, I loved the mackerel

Justin: usually, you get mackerel and the fishy flavor is overpowering

Nana: yes, too fishy. But there it was perfectly savory

Justin: yeah, it was just right

Nana: And the other one was the Salmon roe

Justin: oh my yes

Nana: Never before and never since have I had salmon roe like that

Justin: yet again: often, it's overpoweringly fishy, but this stuff, the fishy stood to the side a bit, let the other flavors come out

Nana: Somehow it came out tasting sweet.

Justin: a bit of a champagne flavor in there, too. or sweet white wine. So good.

Nana: You bit down on the roe, and the texture was perfect - a perfect little pop - and out came this cold sweetness with just a hint of fishy. Fantastic.

Justin: Yeah, it's strange--those are two things I don't usually like at other sushi places, but they were absolutely my favorite things on the table

Nana: Okay. Now for the head smackers.

Justin: ?

Nana: The "D'oh, I forgot that!", or the "I'm surprised you didn't mention"s.

Nana: I'm surprised you didn't mention the Korean duck.

Justin: smack

Justin: I'd completely forgotten about that meal

Nana: You rhapsodized about that duck and the purple wild rice with beans that it was stuffed with.

Justin: That was really, really, really good. An unusually complicated flavor for Korean food--not bland, not sweet, not spicy

Nana: Sometimes, you call out its name in your sleep.

Justin: "DUCK!"

Justin: no, that's just my war flashback . . .

Nana: And I will never forget Naomi-sensei panicking because she thought we were going to a dog restaurant

Justin: oh, yeah. "duck" & "dog" = phoneticized the same way in hangeul

Nana: same as "tteok," too

Nana: The other thing, which doesn't really count for me probably because I had it the first time I came to Asia, was the Peking Duck in Beijing

Justin: Yeah, I toyed with the idea of including that, but it just didn't make the cut. It was a great meal, don't get me wrong--but I liked my five better

Nana: I really love Peking duck. The skin was so perfectly crispy, the pancakes were great and the scallions and hoisin sauce... yum yum

Justin: The hoisin sauce was really good.

Nana: whose dumb idea was it to have just five?

Nana: Oh, mine.

Justin: I don't know if I can think of any head-smackers for you

Nana: Chicken Tikka in KL?

Justin: maybe the Dongbei food in Beijing? The basement place with all the dumplings?

Nana: Barley rice?

Justin: we liked the barley rice, but I don't think it was top-5 material

Nana: The kaffir lime soup you had in Singapore?Again, good but not top five?

Justin: I was also tempted to include the mee siam (rice noodles in spicy-sweet kaffir lime broth)

Nana: HA

Justin: hey, I was just typing that

Nana: I can read minds.

Justin: yeah, it was really good, but I'm not sure it was quite top-5. It would be a staple of my diet if we lived in Singapore, that's for sure

Nana: OH. There was that OTHER Chinese food in Malaysia, too. The one we had the afternoon of the rainforest walk. That's the place with that pumpkin-battered chicken that I wanted to grow a second stomach so I could finish

Justin: oh, yeah. That was good. Wow! How'd we forget that?

Nana: I think it blurred for me with the other KL Chinese restaurant

Justin: that's going in at #6 for me

Nana: OH! And the Korean barbecue in Japan! Didn't you fall in love with the tripe?

Justin: oh, yeah, that was also really good.

Nana: So are you sticking to your choices or do you think you'd reorder anything after our conversation?

Justin: You know, I'm pretty satisfied with my list

Nana: Let's take a minute and use our conversation to expand to a top ten each, and we'll finish the post with that.

Justin: okay

Top Ten Meals in Asia: Justin

(Note from Justin: "My 1 and 2 are solid; 3-6 are a tier, followed by 7-10")

10. KBBQ in Japan--especially the tripe

9. Mee siam in Singapore

8. Breakfast curry and paratha in Singapore

7. Korean duck

6. The Chinese/Malay restaurant in KL we went to after the rainforest walk

5. Onion naan in Singapore

4. KBBQ with Dr. Kim

3. Mongolian hotpot

2. Sushi in Hokkaido

1. Xinjiang food in Beijing


Top Ten Meals in Asia: Nana

(Note from Nana: I'm pretty comfortable with 1 and 2, but 3-5, 6-8, and 9-10 could move around based on what I'm craving on a particular day.)

10. Korean duck with wild rice, Korean countryside, Korea
9. Korean barbecue - Hagye/Wolgye versions
8. Malaysian mix dinner, mall by Petronas Towers, KL, Malaysia
7. Ethnic Chinese food lunch post-Rainforest Walk, KL, Malaysia
6. Korean barbecue - en route to Vivaldi Park, Korea
5. Japanese-style soy ramen with egg, Tokyo, Japan
4. Peking Duck, Beijing, China
3. Chinese hotpot, Beijing, China
2. Chana masala and poori, Little India, Singapore
1. Japanese sushi, Hokkaido, Japan

So, the overall verdict for travelers to Asia? In Korea, try the BBQ. In Japan, get ramen or sushi. In China, check out the different regional foods - Mongolian, Dongbei/Northern, Xinjiang, etc. In Singapore, hit up Little India. In Malaysia, try for a Chinese restaurant with a mixed menu.

PHEW. So there you have it: we're a couple of amateur-foodie windbags (which may or may not be related to what's in the food...) But it was a really fun trip down memory lane for us, so I hope we weren't too self-indulgent.

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