Monday, September 26, 2011

Soup dumplings at Dumpling Cafe

I have a soup dumpling (xiao long bao, 小籠包) addiction. If it's on a menu, I will necessarily order it. Thankfully, looking for the best soup dumplings in Boston isn't difficult... the field is really only limited to two places: Gourmet Dumpling House and Dumpling Cafe. I love both places, but Dumpling Cafe really takes the... dumpling.

It's newer, cleaner, and let's face it, has better food. When my mom visited over Labor Day, I took her there, and she absolutely loved it (more than GDH). And as a Chinese mother, she has major street cred.

We started with bubble tea - I went with your classic milk tea with pearls, and my mom went with taro slush with pearls.

Both were good, but not particularly amazing. We'll leave the bubble tea for our experts at Juice Bar, another Boston Chinatown establishment.

We started with the roast beef wrapped in scallion pancakes.

The pancake was lightly crispy on the outside, pillowy on the inside, and served freshly hot. The beef was really well-marinated, and there was just the right amount of plum sauce + scallions inside. We were impressed.

Next was the Chinese zucchini with salty duck egg. I'm a fan of putting
salty duck egg on all vegetables.

This was a really light and refreshing dish, the kind of dish that would come from my grandmother's kitchen. That is always a good thing.

My mom loves squid, so we got an order of squid with leeks.

Again, this was light yet quite flavorful. The squid had a perfect bouncy texture, and the leeks added a nice little crunch to the dish. My grandmother would approve.

And of course, the soup dumplings!

These were sooo much better than GDH's version. The skin was thinner, the soup was tastier and more plentiful, and the ground meat itself was more flavorful. GDH's version has too much meat inside each dumpling. These had the perfect amount.

Also, the dipping sauce is key.

Soy sauce + vinegar + ginger... that's the classic sauce for soup dumplings. Where GDH doesn't provide you with sauce, Dumpling Cafe gives you these, and they don't skimp on the ginger. Just lovely!

After this perfection of a meal, we walked through Chinatown, and I just had to try the famous egg puffs. These are sold all over the streets in Asia, and I ate them all the time as a kid, so I was so excited to try Boston's version.

Egg puffs are made from a sweet pancake/waffle-like batter, and half the fun is that they're bite-sized. When served right off of the iron, these are pretty much unbeatable.

Moral of the story: Boston's Chinatown might be small, but it's definitely got some gems... check 'em out!

Dumpling Cafe
695 Washington St.
Boston, MA 02111

Dumpling Cafe on Urbanspoon

Egg puffs cart
42 Beach St.
Boston, MA 02111

Thursday, September 15, 2011

California ! Randy Doughnuts!

It's been awhile since we've talked doughnuts!  Let's take care of that!

In Diana and my ongoing quest to complete the Top 10 Doughnut Places in America, I managed to convince Greeshma on our past trip to California, to take me to Randy's Donuts immediately after my flight landed at LAX.  On these eating marathon trips, there simply is no time to waste!

Literally minutes away from LAX, Randy's Donuts is a bit of a national icon with its 32 foot tall namesake donut which has been featured in several movies and televisions shows, including Iron Man, The Simpsons and Arrested Development.

Lovely Greeshma in front of the donut landmark
Mid-afternoon, there were no line to be had at this 24-hour donut shop, so Greeshma and I were able to take our time to contemplate the menu and peer through the walk-up window at the racks and racks of doughnuts.

Racks and racks of doughnuts

Everything sounded great, so we just ordered a bunch willy nilly!

Of course, the classic glazed:


it was truly a classic glazed doughnut - every bit as yeasty as one should be with a thin sugary glaze, totally decent, but not as extraordinary as beloved Voodoo Doughnuts.

Crumb cake doughnut:

Easily my favorite with its streusel-topping and cinnamon-spice flavor.  That pretty dusting of powdered sugar surely helped win the vote also. 

The buttermilk:

Thick and heavy - this was one dense mutha.  Okay texture but just a bit filling.

The maple iced long john:

The layer of maple icing was mega thick, cloyingly sweet without much hint of natural maple sweetness. It had the aroma of maple syrup but just not the right taste.  The yeast base was the same as the classic glazed.

And finally the apple fritter:

An incredibly fried puck of apple bits mixed in glazed doughnut batter.  Okay flavor, but a bit hard for my liking.

It is clear that Randy's Donuts is an iconic doughnut spot dishing up old-fashioned, traditional doughnuts.  The ones we didn't care for might be best had with a fresh batch, but the classic glazed and crumb cake are solid choices to order when checking out this landmark doughnut shop.

805 West Manchester Avenue, Inglewood, CA 90301

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Creepiest and Most Interesting Thing I Ate in India: Hyderabadi Haleem from Pista House

I had a daily driver named Prasad during my four weeks in India, and for some reason, he seemed like a fine person from which to trust food recommendations.  It was only because of him that I decided to try out a local favorite dish, haleem.

Now, let me summarize the key haleem facts for you:
  • Haleem is a Hyderabadi specialty popular among the Muslim population, offered only during the month of Ramadan 
  • Haleem is essentially a wheat / meat paste; the traditional cooking process is a whopping 12 hours involving typically two men cooking 24 hour-soaked Haleem wheat, lamb, spices, dried fruits and ghee over a low flame, stirring it with wooden sticks during the 12 hours until it develops a sticky-smooth consistency.  It is then topped with fried onions and cashews.

Prasad took me to Pista House to try my first haleem.  For about three dollars, he went to a roadside stand alongside the street and came back with a plastic bag holding this small container:

Pista House appears to be world famous, but my colleagues told me that their quality has declined a bit in recent years.  Still, they are super mega popular.  Actually, every roadside haleem stand seemed to have a healthy congregation of folk digging into these plastic pints.

Not knowing what to expect when I opened the container, I seriously did not expect this.  Oh sweet ghee!

And then I certainly didn't expect this consistency...

Heaping gobs of the gooiest meat glue you can imagine.  

Once I got over the strange texture: a mushy sticky mess where I cannot tell just how they managed to get the meat so smooth and creamy, I must admit that haleem has some tasty flavor!  The slow cooking technique infuses a nice spiciness throughout the cup.  Still, the texture is hard to overcome.  I could not imagine eating this entire container myself (and this is a typical single serving!), so I called it quits after about 4 spoonfuls.

Prasad tells me that haleem-tolerance is acquired, and over time I would be able to finish the containers up for multiple meals a day.  I will just have to trust him on that!

Pista House
Multiple locations throughout Hyderabad

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Last Ode to Summer Smorgasburg's Landhaus, Good Batch, Nana Bananas and Gimme Coffee!

In my effort to catch up on everything that I have eaten this summer, my heart looks fondly upon this set of photos from my last summer visit to the Smorgasburg where we all tried a few new things:

Landhaus maple glazed bacon: grilled on the flattop, dusted with paprika and drizzled with maple syrup
Landhaus lamb burger with the fixings

Oozy, messy beyond belief and quite good.  Not very gamey!! Quite juicy!
Grilled peach buttered corn on the cob.  I forget who was dishing this up, but they were next to Landhaus.  The peach notes were not too strong, but the butter sure was!  You won't need any lip balm to keep your lips moist after gnawing on this cob.
Market Share brings a variety of local artisan goods.
I grabbed the "Doc," a root beer flavored ice pop.
Strong emphasis on the ice.  This sucker was frozen way solid.  I wish it was creamier and softer.
Meat Hook was offering pig head parties, good for six people who want to sit around and eat the meat/fat off a pig head.  Some big Filipino ladies were totally diggin' that kind of face-fest.
Grilled peaches topped with coconut cream and basil? herbs? from Bite Size Kitchen.  Solid.  (Grilled peaches - you can't eff that up!)
Thanan wolfed down the takoyaki balls from the Takoyaki stand.  He ate all of them but said he didn't like them as much as Otafuku.
Stroopwafel ice cream sandwcih from the Good Batch.  If these are still available at the Smorg, I would definitely recommend it.  The  spiced stroopwafels and the salted caramel drizzle were mmmmlicious.
The chocolate covered frozen banana dipping process at Nana's
Toffee is one of the variety of toppings you can select from with a variety of bright colored sprinkles

Toffee and sea salt banana - Nick thought it was a bit too much salt, but otherwise good.  Oh, Arrested Development memories!
Gimme Coffee! just opened up a new branch a half block away from my apartment.
Ice coffee latte
This is my new favorite ice latte in the city.  It's so creamy and doesn't quite taste like coffee.  Not sure if that's how it should be, but boy do I love it!

These pictures make me miss summer in the city!  Hopefully this winter will be a warm and fun one.

N7th & Kent

Roebling & N6th