Monthly Archives: October 2008

Identity and The Comfort of Food

I can haz Cheezburger? At Burger Joint.

As a 12 –year-old living in America, amid a tempestuous sea of change, the one thing I missed most was the food from Singapore, my home. I was in a new environment, a different culture with unfamiliar people. I would crave, yearn for a simply plate of chicken rice; the familiar taste of the subtle ginger scented rice cooked in the chicken stock and the lovely mouthfeel of the fatty gelatinous chicken skin. I longed for a plate of Chai Tow Kueh, the smooth white radish and rice flour cake cubes, fried with sweet black sauce and eggs, from the stall near my grandparents’ home on Upper Thompson Road. My family had been going to that stall since I could remember. The husband and wife team always prepared my Chai Tow Kueh specially for me, with extra sweet black sauce and would always smile when I ordered.

Yet the years abroad slowly weaned me off my pining for Singaporean comfort food. I realize that when I want to eat something reassuring, I turn to the simple and hearty food of my adopted home. In college, my favorite comfort food was a greasy and heart attack inducing Wendy’s Triple or Buffalo wings from Wingz, a delivery place near campus.

I thought that the lack of Singaporean food in Syracuse caused my defection. But even when I moved to New York City after college, and I could find authentic Singaporean food in Flushing, Queens where I spent my first three months living at the Y, I still preferred simple western food. In fact, after Flushing, when I moved to the financial district with my college buddies and all my money seemed to go to rent and bills, my favorite dish to cook was a hearty bowl of spaghetti. The sauce was from a jar (whichever brand was on sale) and it was mixed with minced beef and doused in Kraft parmesan, Reggiano, being a luxury I wasn’t willing to spurge on then, especially when I had other priorities like beer.

As I sit here in Singapore typing this, having been back for a year, I find myself drawn more and more to the burger for comfort. There is nothing I find more satisfying than a burger with a thick patty, one made with a lot of fat, some lettuce, a tomato slice, a little mayo for extra body and ketchup for a tart saucy counterpoint, all on a lightly toasted and buttered bun. I find it strange that I no longer seek my chicken rice or Chai Tow Kueh when I’m looking for comfort food. Perhaps its like when someone has mastered a new language and the language of their dreams change.

If comfort food is about something reassuringly familiar, then I wonder just where home is. 

Le Parker Meridian Hotel on West 57th St. Can you find Burger Joint?

This is what it looks like behind those brown curtains.

And I Haz. But only if you follow their strict ordering procedure.

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Weird Food: Ox Penis

Try putting that in your mouth… Not for me!

Back when I was in New York, I’d stop by Chinatown during the weekends on my way home after soccer at Monica’s amazing beginner’s league, and rugby in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. I would wander around, looking for the best roast duck to take home for my roommates, searching for snacks that reminded me of my former home or food from Asia that I could introduce my friends to.

In my wanderings through the food filled alleys, I discovered a wide repertoire of ingredients that aren’t available at your local Whole Foods or bodega. One of this was Ox Penis. Yes that’s right. Ox PENIS.

The Bovine Jimmy looks very weird. I mean you could strangle someone with that. That thing in the package is one single, continuous piece. I have no idea how you would even cook it. I’m pretty adventurous when it comes to eating, but I draw the line at putting some animals’ genitalia in my mouth.

Monica of Monica’s Amazing Soccer League left a comment on my Facebook picture of the cattle cock. She said:

“You’d think they would come up with some euphemism for this – like Ox Member, or Ox Parts, or Ox Rox…”

My vote is for Ox Rox.

How To… Dress a Crab

Preparing Chili Crab in my former Brooklyn apartment.

No, not like the tranny on Eighth Avenue, but how to kill, clean and breakdown a crab for cooking.

Always buy crabs that are alive. First, they taste better and second, dead crabs deteriorate rapidly. I wouldn’t recommend crabs that have already been cooked too, even thought they might be cooked fresh off (sometimes even on) the boat. The crab is often overcooked and you are limited to eating steamed crab, as opposed to a stir-fry or some other cooking technique. 

Feisty!

When buying live crabs, choose active ones and ensure that all it’s legs and claws are intact. When I was in New York, I bought my Dungeness crabs (which are the best for Chili Crab since you can’t find Sri Lankan or Mud crabs in NYC, thanks Fatty Crab for the idea) from a small hole-in-the-wall seafood stall on Mott Street, in chinatown. The crabs were relatively cheap there and always vigorous. Once I bought three crabs to take to Boston. I put them in a bag full of ice, boarded the Chinatown bus and they survived the whole trip. 

“I’m Freeeee!” This one crawled off the counter. You can run Crabby, but you’ll only die tired.

Are you ready?

The first time I had to kill something for cooking, I almost freaked out. It was a lobster and as I was putting my knife though it’s head, it started frantically writhing in my hands. I think I threw up in my mouth a little. I subdued it again and plunged my knife into the shallow wound I created earlier. I wanted to end it as quick as possible. You have to have a certain violence of action to dispatch the crab as quickly as possible so that it won’t suffer. As Sean Connery said in The Rock, “You must never hesitate.”

Ready now?

First turn the crab on its back. There should be a little slit right between and below its eyestalks. This “mouth” is the easiest opening for your knife. Force your knife sharply through in a downward stabbing motion and then cut to the direction of the eyestalks where its “brain” is located.

 

Twist your knife to the side so that it enlarges the wound. (You can thank the army for teaching me that.) The idea is cause as much damage as possible, and to increase your chances of destroying its “brain” in the least amount of time. Hopefully you would have killed the crab almost instantaneously. This is probably the most humane way to kill a crab.

 

Even with a gaping hole, the crab might still be twitching. It’s already dead; its body just hasn’t gotten the message yet.

 

Next, pull off the top carapace from the main body. Take the top carapace in one hand and the main body in the other, now pry them apart. (This is probably the grossest part.)

 

The top carapace should come away as one piece.

 

 Pull off the gills, also known as dead man’s fingers from the crab.

 

The de-gilled crab. It might look unappetizing, but fresh crab is really delicious. It’s worth the effort! 

 

Now locate the “mouth plate” at the front of the crab.

 

Pull it out.

 

At this point your crab is more or less cleaned. Some people like the tomalley, the yellow-green stuff left on the body, others think it’s a health risk because there might be a build up of toxins if the crab lived in polluted waters. Discard it if you want. All you have to do now is split the crab in half.

 

Use a cleaver or a heavy chef’s knife and press down right in the middle of the crab. You should be able to slice cleanly through.

 

Your crab is now ready to be cooked. Happy eating! 

In a New York Minute (Actually Day): DB Bistro Moderne

It’s almost 2 p.m. and K-Dubs and I have just finished lunch at davidburke and donetella. We were stuffed but we had a 5: 15 p.m. reservation at Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne.

I made the call.

“Allo DB Bistro Moderne,” a male voice with a French accent answered.

“Hi, I have reservations for 5:15, but I think I’ll have to change that to a later time. Is that possible,” I replied, conscious now of my American accent.

“Zusht ah minuit. Euuh what time aRe you coming in?”

“Uh… I don’t know exactly… I’ll be watching a show… Monty Python’s Spamalot. And I don’t know what time it ends.”

“Spam-a-lot? Euh, let meh check… No I hav no, euh, Spam-a-lot. Iss itt even ah Broadway play?”

“Yeah I guess so, it’s like right down the block from you guys.”

There was a pause for a while; the man on the phone seemed perplexed. I could picture him thinking:

Qu’est que ce spam-a-lot? Ne pas arriver trop tard ou je vais couper le fromage dans votre direction générale!

The man told me when the kitchen was going to close but reassured me that if it was on Broadway that I would have enough time to get to the restaurant after the show was over.

So after a brilliant show, (I’m usually not interested in musicals or plays, but Spamalot is different) we coconut-cantered to the restaurant.

We made it in time and were seated by an impeccably dressed Frenchman. (The same one on the phone? Luckily he didn’t “coupe le fromage” in our general direction.)

Our waiter, another Frenchman took our order.

I Heart Foie Gras

I had the foie gras torchon to start. It was good, but foie gras usually is.  My main, a duck dish, came with a breast that was expertly roasted and a braised leg.

Duck with crisp skin and tender medium rare meat = the best way to do it.

Too beaucoup! Too beaucoup! Thats what she said.

K-Dubs had the famous $32 DB burger. The patty was huge, I don’t think I’ve seen bigger and it consisted of a core of foie gras and black truffle, surrounded by braised short ribs, which was then encapsulated with ground sirloin. They sandwich that bad boy between a Parmesan bun. It truly was decadence in a burger. K-Dubs liked the individual elements within the burger, but taken as a whole, it was a bit overwhelming and unfortunately slightly dry.

Like a one night stand, it was good but I forgot its name.

Their desserts were smart, succinct and satisfying. I had a good meal and liked Chef Boulud’s concept of a classy French-American bistro. We wanted Daniel, but without the fuss, time and price tag (although it was still slightly pricey,) and Chef Olivier Muller does a good job on delivering. 

You can’t go wrong with chocolate, peanut butter and bananas.

Halfway through dessert, we decided to end the eventful day with a glass of Sauternes. It was almost eleven as we picked through the mignardises that the kitchen had sent out and indulged in the sweet, luscious wine. At that moment, between fatigue and contentment, I wanted so much just to stay in New York. I remember the first time visiting, my freshmen year in college, and was so taken with the city and its buzz: its pulse of life, its vibrancy. And today after an excellent lunch, walking around the city and soaking in its vibe, a great show on Broadway and a good dinner, it reminded me of all the reasons why I love this city.

 

DB Bistro Moderne

55 West 44th Street (Between 6th and 5th Avenues)

New York, NY 10036

(212) 391-2400

http://www.danielnyc.com/dbbistro/

Breakfast is served Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., and from Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Lunch is served Monday to Friday from noon to 2:30 p.m. Dinner is served seven days a week. Sunday and Monday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Tuesday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Price Range

Appetizers from $14 to $25. Mains from $29 to $45. Sides are $9. Desserts are $12.

Dress Code

Don’t let the word bistro fool you. Everyone is dressed up here.

Yummy Honeys: Sandra Lee

Image from http://www.sandralee.info 

Sandra Lee. I’m afraid I’ll lose all my foodie street cred if I do a post on her. A lot of foodies dislike her, intensely. But you know what? She’s hot! I mean if my wife looked like that at Sandra’s age, I’d come home for lunch everyday to get some lunch loving.

“Hey Dave, we have a client in today, can you take him to Le Bernardin and expense it.”

“Sorry, but you know the drill, I’m going home for lunch.” 

Image from Netglimse.com Sandra Lee at the 11th Annual Race to Erase MS Hosted by Nancy Davis and Tommy Hilfiger 

Foodies bemoan the fact that her cooking show and books are causing a regression to the processed and unhealthy food of the ‘80s, and that with a little more effort you could be serving up tastier, healthier not so semi-homemade cooking. Cool whip? Cheese Whiz? Fuck that. I only eat clotted cream and a nice Fourme d’Ambert. But that strikes me as a little snotty. Sure we can be food snobs, but what about the 90% of us that don’t live the fabulous foodie life, that come home from work exhausted?

Image from People Magazine 

I remember visiting a close friend and her ordering pizza because, I suspect she was embarrassed about her mom’s cooking. But her mom works insane hours and I’m surprised she has the energy to even cook at all. The food was, I admit, bland. But she just didn’t know/have the energy to spiffify her steamed salmon. The consequence: A half eaten dinner, and the family gorging on junk food later. At least Sandra gives you ideas to cook quick semi-good food.  She gives people confidence to go into the kitchen. And once people realize that cooking isn’t all that difficult, their cooking will improve. Think of Sandra as Pot, she’s the gateway drug to cooking.

But you know whom I’m really envious of? Bryce. Man I wish I could have a hot, boozy, big-boobed aunt who cooks for me. I think you’d just want to hug her and bury your head in her beautiful and amble bosom-scape.

Check out excerpts of her show and why she’s a Yummy Honey:

 

Sandra talks about her rough childhood and how she had to take care and feed her four siblings while on welfare: