Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Laos

After Chiang Mai, Thailand, Charlie and I set off for Luang Prabang, Laos.  We took a 5 hours bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong, and then took a boat across the Mekong River and the border to Laos.  Then we took a 12 hour night bus from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang.  

We quickly fell in love with Luang Prabang and Laos.  We arrived in Luang at around 5 am and came across a morning market with locals selling everything from live frogs to noodle soups.  We tried a few different restaurants in Luang, but our favorite was a little outdoor place called Morning Glory.  

On our first visit to Morning Glory, Charlie ordered the Luang Prabang sausage fried rice, and I ordered a chicken panang curry.  His fried rice was delicious and we were really excited to try the sausage that we saw hanging in the sun all over town.

My panang curry was really spicy and full of fresh green beans.  I fell in love with panang on the streets of East London on Sunday mornings, and was so happy to see it on the menu in Laos. 

In Luang Prabang, we also had the chance to experiment with street foods.  During the night market each night a food market sets up down a narrow side street selling everything from spring rolls to barbecue kebabs.  We tried fresh and fried spring rolls for about 10 cents each.  Each was served with a small plastic bag of dipping sauce that was thrown together before our eyes.
Fresh Spring Rolls
Fried Spring Rolls
We wanted to try some traditional Lao food while we were in Luang Prabang so we went to a restaurant called Cafe Toui of which I had heard good reviews.  We ordered a traditional dish called laap, which is made of any of a variety of ground meats and spices tossed with lime juice, fish sauce and herbs like mint.  Laap (or larp) is regarded as the national dish of Lao.  We had pork laap and it reminded us of ceviche.
We also ordered Tom Yum soup with duck and banana leaves stuffed with chicken.  The tom yum was mildly spicy and sweet and Charlie didn't like it as much as I did.  The banana leaves were steamed and the chicken stuffing was kind of a weird consistency but I thought they were good and every time I saw them around they reminded me of the zong-zi that I had in NYC.
One of our final meals in Laos was one that I will never forget.  By the time we got to Don Det in the Si Phan Don area on the Cambodian border of Laos, Charlie and I had both been sick to our stomachs for a few days due to the low quality of food throughout the middle of Laos.  I was finally able to eat again when we got to Don Det after 3 days of misery, and besides eating at our guesthouse restaurant neither of us wanted to take any unnecessary risks.  However, we kept hearing from other travelers that Jasmin's Indian Restaurant was really good and cheap.  We tried it out for dinner one night, and we were so satisfied that I dragged Charlie back the next day for lunch.  We ordered a few curries the first night with a side of garlic naan and some exceptional vegetable samosas, but on the second occasion I went straight for the chicken korma and the garlic naan.  The naan was the best I have ever had.  It was crusty on the outside yet still fluffy and moist on the inside.  There were large chunks of sweet garlic on top with just the right amount of oil.  I will never forget this naan.
Garlic Naan and Chicken Korma at Jasmin's

One of the most quintessential experiences in Laos was the beer.  Throughout the whole country, we only noticed two local types of beer: Beerlao and Namphong.  I saw Namphong once; the rest was Beerlao.  Many Lao natives, including our 8 hour long mini bus driver, only knew how to say one word in English: "beerlao."  Beerlao awnings and tarps sheltered every house from the sun and the brand donned every restaurant and guesthouse sign.  It was between $1 and $2 per bottle, and it was pretty damn good.

Writing about all of this food brings back great memories, even though my trip only ended a week ago.  You can expect a post about Cambodia soon.



Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bubba's Burrito Bar

Bubba's has been a mainstay of Islip's main street for a few years now and I have been lucky enough that my sister has worked there on and off the whole time.  Bubba's gets mixed reviews throughout the community: people like it for being different from the other food options on main street and for its tasty and diverse tex-mex concoctions.  Others complain that the wait for food is too long and that some menu items are bland or over priced.  I have found that while Bubba's can be hit or miss, most of the time it is a fun, tasty and even social experience as you are bound to see like 8 people you know during the time that you wait for or eat your food.

My order at Bubba's varies but can range anywhere between a chicken or shrimp quesadilla or a Bub salad to a Land and Sea Burrito or my favorite, the shrimp taco.  I will take a bite of anything I can get when Emeline brings home her dinner after her shift.  

I have found that the chicken quesadillas in particular are very hit or miss because while the chicken is always marinated in teriyaki sauce as it is cooked, the degree of how much sauce is used always seems to vary, sometimes leaving a bland taste in the otherwise plain quesadilla.  The Land and Sea Burrito can also be on or off depending on the ratio of rice to steak and shrimp and baja sauce; I usually ask to add guacamole to the burrito which can counter an instance of too much rice.  The shrimp taco, however, always seems to be delicious with a perfect combination of shrimp, cabbage, pineapple and baja sauce and I usually order 2 or 3.

The other night Em brought home what I expected to be the holy grail of quesadillas, the lobster quesadilla.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was generously filled with pieces of lobster and avocados, but I found myself wondering where the cheese was.  Either way, anything with lobster is delicious (see lobster mac and cheese,) and I def enjoyed it.

Bubba's Burrito Bar: 513 Main St., Islip, NY 11751 (631) 650-6333

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thailand

I am home from Asia and jetlagged.  I ate so much there.  I have so many photos to share and I have decided that I think the best way to organize them on here is by country with also a few extra posts on other little tidbits.  I will start with Thailand.

My trip began with a 24 hour delay at New York's JFK airport and a miserable night in an airport hotel in Queens.  With the generous $6.00 dinner voucher that Delta provided I bought myself half of a cheeseburger in the hotel restaurant (supplemented by a few of my own dollars of course.)  While I truly enjoyed this cheeseburger and sleeping in the DoubleTree hotel on the BQE there was a part of me that really wished I was eating a curry in Bangkok like I was supposed to be.

Anyway, I landed at 11pm one day late in Bangkok and after one night and no days there Charlie and I flew to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.  Northern Thailand is known for its spicy curries that are made without coconut milk, and we became completely addicted.
Shown here are green and yellow curries from our guesthouse restaurant in Chiang Mai.  The green was made with deliciously sweet and distinctive Thai basil and had little green baby aubergines, carrots, beans, and LOTS of chili.  The chili provided a big kick to the back of the throat but I found that the more curry I ate the more my tolerance for spiciness went up.  The yellow curry was not spicy at all and was made with potatoes, carrots, beans and chicken.  It had more of a sweet taste to it.  As you can see, both curries were of a very thin consistency and had no coconut milk.  This green curry was our favorite of the entire trip.

At the same guesthouse I also had a dish of wide noodles with vegetables and a fried egg in a brown sauce, which was very similar to the Pad See Yoo dish available in many Thai restaurants here in the states.  It had cauliflower, beans, tomatoes, carrots, onions and cabbage.  This dish had lots of fish sauce, which we learned basically goes into all of the food in Thailand and subsequently got soooo tired of.
Later on our trip while on the island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand we had some delicious noodles at a little shop off the main road in Hat Sai Ree called Noodle T.  Charlie had roasted duck over noodles and I had a roasted pork and dumpling noodle soup.  I preferred Charlie's dish-- the duck was sweet and tender and it was nice that there was no broth because the climate there is so hot that sometimes soup is too much!  The pork soup in the first photo below had fish balls and fish cakes similar to those that I always eat around in ramen in NYC.  I wasn't too crazy about them in Thailand either.
Our other memorable meal in Thailand was that on our last night in Bangkok before leaving for home.  We went to Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao in the basement of the Erawan Bangkok Hotel.  I had heard that this Singapore based chain has great dim sum and noodle dishes.  We had the xiao long bao (soupy pork dumplings which the restaurant is known specifically for and named after,) and two noodle dishes including a roasted pork la mian and a stewed beef with wide noodles. 
The xiao long bao (in the basket on the left) were absolutely delicious.  The thin dumpling skins were just thick enough to hold in the enormous amount of juice that saturated the pork filling and exploded in your mouth.  The beef and noodles on the right was also great-- the noodles were obviously homemade and the beef was very tender and sweet.  We racked up about a 900 baht or $30 bill on this meal but that was our most expensive meal of the entire trip!  Everything was super cheap.  For perspective: the curries at the top of this post in Chiang Mai were about 45 baht each.  There are 30 baht to $1, making each of those curry dishes only a little bit over $1 each.

One thing I did not expect to see in Thailand: 7-eleven, but they were everywhere!  It was interesting to see the differences of the store in another part of the world.  Instead of a slurpee station, they had a spot where you could add hot water to your recently bought cup of noodles.  They also had a glass case of steamed buns and other little Asian snacks.  I bought this package of dried vegetable tempura with sweet chili sauce:
Thailand is also obviously known for its street food vendors.  Bangkok was swarming with street carts selling everything from sausages to dried pressed full squid and a lot of stuff that wasn't even recognizable!  We found ourselves nibbling on sausage sticks while walking through the congested streets and being hawked by people selling pad thai or fried fish.  I wish I had more time in Bangkok so I could have explored its culinary scene much further, but I got a great taste for the city in the little time that I was there.

OK so I realize this was a lot but there was so much great food in Thailand.  I'll post about Laos next and soon!



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