Top Asian Comfort Foods

When we think comfort food, most of us revert back to the dishes our moms made us. Here, we salivate over home cooking-from-another-mother. 

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PORK ADOBO BY CHEF CHARLEEN CAABAY, KAINBIGAN 
by Kristine Ortiz.

In the Asian food scene, Filipino food is like that last person picked for the dodge ball team: under-recognized and little appreciated. Despite Filipinos being the second largest Asian ethnicity group in the United States today, the culinary landscape has yet to reflect its ever-growing population. Even in the Bay Area, an area home to some of the highest concentrations of Filipinos outside of the Philippines, there are only pockets of Filipino food wastelands.

This is where chef Charleen Caabay of Oakland’s Kainbigan comes in. She started out cooking pinoy food for friends, and after seeing the lack of Filipino culinary offerings in the region, she opened her restaurant this past August. “As diverse as Oakland is,” says Caabay, “they don’t have enough Filipino food.”

With a name that means “Let’s eat, my friends” (in Tagalog, pagkain means food, kaibigan means friend) and a straightforward, stick-to-your-ribs menu, Kainbigan is not one of those places with too-fancy offerings and sky-high prices. Rather, the restaurant specializes in home-cooked, straight-from-the-heart Filipino food, which is characterized by its salty, sour and sweet flavors and Chinese and Spanish influence, remnants of the country’s trade and colonial histories. Take the adobo, arguably the national dish of the Philippines. Meat is marinated and cooked in a blend of soy sauce and vinegar alongside black pepper, bay leaves and garlic. While the chicken adobo (the most common and recognizable version) is absolutely delicious, Caabay is most proud of her Pork Adobo. It may seem like a simple marinade, but “the way it’s cooked and how long you braise it for — when it’s cooked for just long enough, the taste is amazing,” says Caabay. Served in a wooden bowl atop a heaping cloud of white rice, meant to soak up the expertly balanced sauce, the adobo is comfort food 101, filling you up in the most delicious way possible through a flavor profile that is as complex as it is appetizing.

Another standout item at Kainbigan is Caabay’s own unique creation, Crispy Chicken Adobo over Garlic Noodles, an interesting take on pancit, another Filipino food staple. Instead of the typical rice noodle, Caabay opts for an egg noodle, the chef’s personal favorite, which is combined with the flavorful house garlic sauce and topped with bits of crispy adobo. “I think that’s one of my best dishes because I created it here, and it has a little bit of everything,” she says with a smile. It may not be your typically dry pancit, but the flavor profile of the Garlic Noodles is purely pinoy.

Caabay’s passion for traditional Filipino culture is something she wants to share through the meals she serves. “If you were at home, this would be how mom or lola [grandma] would make it,” she says. And her challenge to potential diners? “Come with an open mind and a big appetite, and I can guarantee that you’ll leave here feeling good.”

 

 

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PHO BY CHEF KIMMY TANG, 9021PHO
by Anna M. Park.

When it comes to comfort food, chef Kimmy Tang knows a thing or two — as owner and chef of 9021Pho in Beverly Hills, Calif., her whole career revolves around hers, the Vietnamese noodle soup known as pho. “Pho is like your breakfast,” she says, “very nutri- tious and energetic. It sets your energy for the rest of the day.” In addition to traditional beef pho and chicken pho, Tang offers a spicy pho that is reminiscent of the southern style of pho she loved in her native Saigon. “Northern Vietnamese cuisine is often less spicy and is not bold in any particular taste,” she explains. “Southern Vietnamese cuisine is often vibrant, flavorful and sweeter than other regions.” Either way, what makes pho is the broth, and for Tang, “the broth is a labor of love. It’s cooked slow for a long period of time, about eight hours.” She also carefully selects lean, high quality meats and offers reduced fat and low-carb versions to cater to the local clientele.

Surrounded by pho day in and day out, does Tang ever tire of pho? Apparently not. “I get my [serving of] daily vitamins with small portions of pho throughout the day,” says Tang. “The concentrated broth is full of vitamins and nutrients and gives me a nice dose of energy, the healthy way.”

 

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CAMBODIAN SOUPS
by Kanara Ty.

When people want comfort food, some may reach for a calming chicken soup or greasy fried chicken. I turn to Cambodian food. I crave things that pack a lot of flavor, and Cambodian cuisine incorporates a lot of spices (often made into a spice blend known as kroeung). And with cold weather around the corner, I know I’ll want a particular kind of Cambodian comfort food: the hearty soups.

During the winter in any Cambodian American household, hearty soups are always on rotation for any meal of the day, with plenty to go around for everyone (including our neighbors, who also make more than enough food). Noodle soups (like kuyteav) and rice porridge (babor) make for popular breakfast dishes, while sour soup dishes
like somlaw machu kroeung, which incorporates ingredients like kroeung paste, turmeric, morning glory, coriander, stewed beef ribs and tripe, make for a great main dinner course. Another popular dish is somlaw machu youen, which incorporates fish, shrimp, pineapple, tomatoes and the celery-like bac hà in a tamarind-flavored broth.

For me, the one soup that represents the epitome of Cambodian comfort food is the national dish somlaw koko (Cambodian ratatouille). It’s perfect for anyone who likes to savor the discovery of various ingredients in a complex dish. With your first sip, you’ll be overwhelmed by the layers of contrasting flavors and textures of lemongrass-based kroeung paste, prahok (fermented fish paste), palm sugar, ground toasted rice, assorted veggies (including kabocha and Thai eggplants), and meat (most Cambodians prefer pork spareribs cut into bite-sized pieces). I also eat the soup with a side dish of fish sauce (chopped with Thai chilies) and serve it over rice — the perfect way to enjoy the ultimate Cambodian comfort food.

Dying to try somlaw koko? Check out elephantwalk.com for recipes, or Sophy’s in Long Beach, Calif. (sophysthailongbeach.com).


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SOUP DUMPLINGS, DIN TAI FUNG
by Anna M. Park.

Mention soup dumplings as gourmet fare, and one immediately thinks of Din Tai Fung. The Michelin-star Taiwanese restaurant that sparked a million lines around the world (there are more than 80 locations globally) has just opened its fourth U.S. branch at The Americana at Brand in Glendale, Calif. Go for their Juicy Pork Dumplings, which burst with flavorful soup in your mouth. Just make sure to do it the proper way: make your dipping sauce 80-20 vinegar to soy sauce, cool the dumpling in the sauce, and then eat whole (do not bite and do not slurp soup out!). unless, of course, you’re having their coveted Truffle Dumplings, normally reserved for dignitaries and exclusive to The Americana branch — that you eat straight out of the bamboo steamer.

 


This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

 

How to “Cut The CRAP” Out of Your Life in 2014

Story by Anna M. Park.

You’ve partied all season, and now you’re bloated, breaking out and just plain blah. Is a detox in order? Is it just a fad? Does it even work? We ask Nona Lim, creator of Nona Lim Delicious Detox, because a detox sounds really good right about now. Start the year right and cut the CRAP (Caffeine, Refined sugar, Alcohol, Processed food).

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Audrey Magazine: Why is it important to detox? How often should we do it?
Nona Lim: Detoxification is a natural process where the body neutralizes and eliminates toxins that have accumulated from stress, food allergens, preservatives, water we drink, medication, skin products and pollution in the environment. When the overall toxic load is more than our liver and kidneys can handle, the accumulation can lead to inflammation and manifest into a variety of health problems. The good news is the body will detox itself if given a break and a helping hand, something Delicious Detox is designed to do.

How often we cleanse would depend on how exposed we are — for example, if you are highly stressed and do not have a clean diet, you may want to detox more often than someone who is already eating an organic diet and does not have a lot of stress in her life. At the minimum, it would be good to detox at least three to four times a year to help reset your body. I use my Delicious Detox and abstain from alcohol once every season to reset my system and to gain that clarity, energy and focus.

AM: Why is going gluten-free during a detox important if I’m not allergic to gluten?
NL: Foods containing gluten tend to be full of refined carbohydrates or processed foods, which we steer clear of during a detox. Secondly, we want to eliminate all common allergens during a detox, as any mild sensitivity or intolerance can also cause inflammation in your body. So going gluten-free gives your body a chance to reset, and you can then introduce gluten after to see how you feel.

AM: After the holidays, is a one-week detox sufficient?
NL
: If you indulged during the holidays with all that good food and wine, one week isn’t enough to go through a complete reset. We would recommend three weeks to reset your body and also to get back into the habit of good eating. Our one-week Delicious Detox program is great for someone who is already on a pretty clean diet and wants to go on a cleanse as a routine tune-up. It’s also a great way to jump-start a practice of eating healthier and more mindfully for those who don’t have time to commit to a full three weeks.

AM: If someone is on a budget but interested in detoxing, what would you recommend?
NL
: If you have a lot of time, but not the money, I would recommend getting Dr. Mark Hyman’s ultrametabolism cookbook. You would still need to invest in good quality ingredients like organic produce and meat.

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IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT EATING BETTER. NONA LIM’S TIPS TO DETOXING RIGHT.

1. Cut the CRAP (Caffeine, Refined sugar, Alcohol, Processed food) by weaning yourself off of caffeine, soft drinks (even diet), alcohol and other processed foods a week before you start your detox. This will help you make an easier transition and minimize any unpleasant side effects.

2. Take it easy the first few days to allow your body to adjust. Your liver and other organs will be working pretty hard the first week, so don’t forget to pamper yourself. You’ll be feeling more vibrant and energetic by the second week.

3. Stay hydrated throughout the detoxification process (add lemon, fresh fruit or veggies like cucumber or mint to your water for added flavor). Sweating helps with the elimination of toxins, so exercise or go to a sauna. Get plenty of rest to help the body repair itself.

4. After your detox, introduce “challenge foods” (gluten, dairy, etc.) slowly back into your diet to monitor any reactions and possible food sensitivities.


 

Nona Lim
Nona Lim knows good food. Born in Singapore, she grew up with the famous hawker centers where amazing food is served up from modest food stalls. But after moving to the Bay Area, Lim gave up a career in tech to start her own food delivery program. She started out renting space in a communal kitchen, hand-preparing and delivering detox meals to friends. As her clientele grew, she partnered with top-notch health advisors and nutritionists, refining her meals to what has now become her signature Delicious Detox program (trust me — it’s yummy!). She also has a line of fresh soups available throughout the West Coast. Details Nonalim.com.

 

This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

Audrey’s Top Restaurant Pick: Hakkasan

Story by Anna M. Park.

Dining at Hakkasan Beverly Hills, the newest location of the esteemed Michelin-star Cantonese restaurant that opened in London in 2001, is not so much dinner as it is an event. Walk past the crowd of paparazzi, there every night, into a labyrinthine interior cloaked in sexy, moody lighting and electronic dance music. For almost every offering, two servers are required, whether it’s the Smoky Negroni cocktail with its post-pour infusion of woodsy smoke from a decanter, or the Hakka Steamed Dim Sum Platter (one dumpling with squid ink) and its variety of tasty sauces.

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On a menu helmed by the Michelin-star chef Ho Chee Boon, the Crispy Duck Salad is a must-try and a good introduction to that lesser known bird. For true duck lovers, the Black Truffle Roasted Duck is almost an embarrassment of riches with its sizable slivers of black truffle atop perfectly crisped duck skin, a thin layer of fatty goodness, and then tender, juicy meat. If you’re not a fan of poultry, try the Grilled Seabass with Chinese Honey, a succulent alternative, or the Roasted Silver Cod with Champagne, a favorite among the wait staff. Skip the noodles altogether — everything is so rich and juicy and fatty (and the portions are hardy), you don’t need any carbs; just a veggie side dish should do. In fact, a couple of Shiso Gimlets and Black Sesame Crémeux with Yuzu Ice Cream for dessert offers a much needed palate cleanser to offset all that decadence.

Details Hakkasan.com/beverlyhills/

 

This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

Hot Beverage: World’s First Sriracha-Flavored Vodka Launches (Yes, Really)

While an LA judge may have just ordered a Southern California sriracha hot sauce factory to partially halt its operations after complaints from neighbors, it seems like there is a new, and definitely interesting, way for us to get our spice-fix.

In what may be the most genius (or horrifying, however you look at it) alcoholic concoction, Phillips Distilling — the same company that has debuted other flavored vodkas like UV Cake and UV Espresso — has just released UV Sriracha Vodka.  As stated by the company’s press release, the vodka has a blend of “chilis, garlic and vegetables” that “honor(s) the traditional sriracha hot sauce.”

UV recommends putting it in a Bloody Mary or a strawberry margarita and offer recipes on their website.  Of course, you could also take a shot of it straight on like other vodkas or put it on your food like regular sriracha, but we don’t necessarily suggest that.

As unique of a concept as it is, we have to ask, would you take a sip?

Image of The Day: Totoro Cream Puffs in Miyazaki Themed Cafe

So first there was Miyazaki-themed cosplay. Then there was fashion inspired by Miyazaki. Then there were Totoro parodies.

Clearly, the Ghibli fandom is no where near finished even though Miyazaki has announced his retirement. The 72-year-old confirmed that his film The Wind Rises is his last. The film, which focuses on a fictional biography of Japan’s Zero airplane creator Jiro Horikoshi, has already become a box-office hit in Japan since its release in July.

So what’s next from Miyazaki fans? How else will they show their love for the timeless films?

Through food of course.

A city in Japan named Setagaya City holds a themed cafe called White Beard Workshop. Among the various Miyazaki sweets, a certain pastry has been catching social media attention.

The cafe sells adorable Totoro cream puffs. Each puff includes a leaf or hat to represent the flavor of the cream inside. Of course, a treat itself isn’t even the fun part. Upon purchasing one of these cuties, the puff is cut open to reveal the custard creme and give Totoro a big smile.

If you’re ever in Japan, be sure to pick up some of these. Be warned, they may be too cute to eat!

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The Ultimate Cookbook: Edward Lee’s “Smoke & Pickles”

Story by Kanara Ty.

We check out the debut cookbook of the three-time James Beard finalist (Best Chef, Southeast) — and yes, it’s a culinary classic. 

When I saw that Edward Lee, executive chef of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Ky., opened his Southern Asian fusion cookbook with an homage to a bowl of rice (“the fundamental Zen of the Asian table”), I knew Smoke & Pickles was going to be something special. For me, a clear indicator of a good cookbook is the amount of personal stories that are juxtaposed with the recipes. This is something Lee does skillfully as he takes us on a culinary journey of personal family stories (with photos and Korean superstitions) and his own relationship with the kitchen, writing, “My relationship with food developed in three stages: (1) as a memory, (2) as a history, and (3) as an ingredient.”

Lee’s voice is rather poetic throughout the book, making the anecdotes for every chapter a pleasure to read from beginning to end. (He was an English lit major at NYU.) One of the more enjoyable stories is from the chapter “Pickles and Matrimony,” where he describes how he and his wife Dianne were accepted into each other’s families through pickled cabbage: his parents first welcomed Dianne (who’s Jewish) into the family after she ate a pound of kimchi, while Dianne’s mother blessed their courtship with six jars of her homemade sauerkraut.

As for his culinary concoctions? They’re full of hearty recipes, all made with a lot of heart. For anyone who loves fried chicken, the Adobo Fried Chicken and Waffles definitely does not disappoint. Also give the Chicken-Fried Pork Steak a try — the crust is made with dried ramen noodles! There’s a lot for the kimchi lovers out there (he dedicates quite a number of recipes to kimchi), including Red Cabbage-Bacon Kimchi and Collards and Kimchi. And Lee is quite open about his love affair with bourbon, including a number of cocktail recipes featuring the dark spirit, like my personal favorite, the Kentucky Mule.

With every single one of Lee’s recipes, you can tell that he put a lot of thought into the process, learning from experimentation with different ingredients. Another thing I love about his cookbook is his non-intimidating approach: he’s welcoming and accommodating — no doubt a reflection of his Southern hospitality. Details Hardcover, $29.95, Chefedwardlee.com.

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TIPS FROM THE CHEF

1. Cilantro stems are edible! Instead of discarding them, snip the stems as you would do with chives, and add them to your dish along with the leaves for delicate crunch and added flavor. You can keep cilantro fresh for up to a week by storing it in a glass of water in the refrigerator.

2. A pinch of salt can be the difference between a good dish and a great one. Slow-cooked meats and stews change so dramatically every few minutes that it’s important to season them right before the dish is served.

3. When shopping for asparagus, be sure the asparagus tips are tightly closed, the stems firm, and the color bright green. Excerpted from Smoke & Pickles by Edward Lee (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Grant Cornett.

 

 

 

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here

My Melody Pop-Up Cafe in Toyko

There are a number of Hello Kitty cafes worldwide, but what about the other adorable Sanrio characters? Don’t they deserve some pastries in the shape of their face too?

Apparently Japan shared our sentiments. This time around, a My Melody pop up cafe is available for a limited time in Daikanyama.

My Melody is one of Sanrio’s most popular figures after Hello Kitty herself. The rabbit, who covers her ears with a pink or red hood, was released the same year as Hello Kitty. In 2005, an anime series based on My Melody was aired in Japan and My Melody also stars in a number of video games.

Now, My Melody is featured in a popular limited-time only pop-up cafe in Tokyo. The cafe was originally set to begin on October 10th and end on October 31st, but the popularity of My Melody has forced the cafe to extend this date. If you happen to be in Tokyo, you can catch this cafe until November 5th.

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Image of The Day: Unbelievably Cute Food Art

Move over adorable rice pandas, we’ve found something even more squeal-worthy. Samantha Lee, a Malaysian mother-of-two, claims that she is not a professional chef and has not been to culinary school. Despite this, she has been able to produce some of the most impressive works of food art.

Lee began Bento making in 2008 while still pregnant with her second daughter. With a new baby on the way, she needed a method to encourage her eldest daughter to start eating independently. This is when her creativity and skilled hands took over.

Using ordinary household tools such as knives and scissors, Lee began turning her daughter’s food into adorable works of art that featured popular characters from mangas, movies, cartoons and more.

“I’m just an ordinary, regular and average mom, crazy about making mess in the kitchen.” Lee says. But thanks to this “mess,” Lee has become an international media sensation. Lee has grabbed the attention of people worldwide and is now a kids party planner.

Check out her must-see collection of food art. Trust us. After seeing these images, you’ll be positively envious of her daughters.

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Image of The Day: These Amazing Food Miniatures Are The Ultimate Tease

It’s a sad day when you see such appetizing food and there is no way for you to eat it. First of all, most of the food you see here is made out of polymer clay. While it looks lovely, we highly doubt that the clay would satisfy your taste buds. Secondly, these things are all about 1-2 inches each. What a tease, right?

The e-commerce site, Etsy, which focuses on handmade and vintage items, has been exploding with tiny polymer clay figurines. Simple enough to use, the modeling clay is shaped then simply placed in the oven to harden. Within a few minutes, your art piece is complete.

The clay is a relatively new medium for arts and crafts. Although it does not contain any actual clay minerals, the plastic can be shaped and re-shaped. Previously, polymer clay was a favorite among jewelry makers and even used for christmas ornaments.

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But now polymer clay fanatics have taken this art onto a much more serious (and cute) level. A simple scroll through Etsy will lead you to a number of minuscule figurines featuring everything from fandom characters to cute Asian food.

The amount of detail on these food pieces clearly require skilled hands and keen eyes. The attention to detail is nothing short of impressive. Sushi, steamed buns and dim sum are only a few of the Asian food items that have been skillfully created.

 

Check them out for yourself:

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Image of The Day: Japan Introduces The World’s Laziest Burger

See that? Doesn’t it look like it’s only two inverted buns with a sliver of ham between two slices of cheese? Well.. that’s because it is two inverted buns with a sliver of ham between two slices of cheese.

Next Friday, McDonald’s Japan will introduce the “McToast” to the public. From the looks of things, McDonalds has run out of ideas.

Although this sandwich looks tragically simple, it may not do so bad. The “McToast” holds quite a bit of resemblance to the French “Le Croque McDo” (picture below) which has done surprisingly well in Europe.

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“Le Croque McDo” has done well by focusing on its simplicity. The website openly states that it is merely two slices of melted Swiss cheese, a slice of ham and toasted bread. It then points out, “It does not take more to be good.”

Lets hope the simplicity, or laziness, of the “McToast” thrives just as well.

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