Friday, July 27, 2007

Bread, that Asian grocery smell, Pho, and Vietnamese coffee...

So tonight was a shopping night for Sunday lunch (which is happening...just with an unknown number of guests). First stop - the Vietnamese bakery we had Banh Mi in last night - Banh Mi are the Vietnamese equivalent of Po'Boys - tasty pork or chicken on a roll with pickled vegetables, cucumbers, jalapenos, mayonnaise (not the mess out of a jar this was homemade and decidedly different), and a hit of cilantro. All I can say is it's the best $2-$3 you can spend. I bought a dozen rolls for $3 - if you're in Atlanta get to Lee's Bakery on Buford Highway, just past the intersection of Clairmont Road. The bill for dinner (2 sandwiches and 2 bottles of water) was $6.50. Next stop - Atlanta Farmers Market (also on Buford Highway, just down from the bakery). Let me say two things about Asian grocery stores - first - I love them - I don't know what 80% or more of the goods are but I always have fun exploring. I also struggle to spend more than $20 and yet somehow I manage to leave with a cartful. Tonight was a partial basket. I'm doing my spin on the Banh Mi - I was going to get all fancy and make little meatballs out of chicken but it's going to be more finely chooped chicken in a sauce. I picked up green onions and daikon. I put the daikon with some carrots in a refrigerator pickle of 1T kosher salt, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 cup cane vinegar, 2 cups water, and 1/4 cup (plus a little) of light brown sugar. I warmed this for 30 seconds in the microwave to get all the goodies to dissolve and then dunked the chopped veggies (smaller than french fries and bigger than true batonette). Cover and in the fridge. So back to the store - I also picked up a bottle of Thin Soy Sauce (Healthy Boy brand from Thailand), Fish Sauce (Three Crabs brand from Vietnam), and Sriracha (Shark Brand from Thailand). The soy is amazing stuff...I'll never buy Kikkoman again...this is just too good (and dirt cheap). The Sriracha is amazing...flavorful, almost sweet, with a flash of heat well after you've swallowed it. Fish Sauce...can I just say this is the first real fish sauce I've ever bought...that's a smell right there. Wonderful salty lightly fishy taste but I have to hold my nose. I also picked up a packet of tamarind pulp (the sour kind) and a box of Sun brand hot tamarind candy (delicious in a kind of freaky way, sweet, salty, sour, then rather hot...but good...addictive sort of good). Total of $10.50. Now the second thing...what is THAT smell? If you frequent Asian markets you know what I'm talking about. It's not totally unpleasant but it's just odd. This store is cleaner than the American groceries I frequent (and they're pretty clean). I knew this was going to be a good trip...I could smell the store from the parking lot. According to these folks this is the #2 market in Atlanta for Asian foods. I have to agree. It doesn't have all the knick-knacks and toys that some of the others do but it's a great store. I'll be looking for it's equal in New Orleans soon (more on that in another post).

Pho - a dish that needs to be on more menus. I've never been so satisfied by a bowl of soup in my life. It's also the first time I've eaten soup with chop sticks. I stuck to just the beef...the tendon and tripe might have been excellent but I wasn't ranging far tonight. My father joined me for dinner as he was nearby waiting on my mother. He'd been to this place (or one very similar to it) many years ago and has been trying for all that time to get us there. I wish he'd succeeded before now. I hope we can get back this next week. We ate and had a good time catching up. He'd also mentioned Vietnamese coffee to me. Now I'm pretty much a coffee freak...there isn't much I haven't tried and I'm always up for something new. I had one hot and one iced tonight...imagine drinking melted coffee ice cream...and you get pretty close. Rich, sweet, intense, and with the caffeine and sugar I was buzzing for an hour afterwards.

So...I get my goodies home and I set to work. I've already told you about the pickle. Now...for the chicken...I mixed 1/4 cup of light brown sugar (at some point I'll get palm sugar and test it, but tonight called for what was in the pantry), 1/4 cup thin soy sauce, 1 1/2 T fish sauce (I almost ran out of the kitchen...I'll get used to the aroma over time but it was just rough tonight), 2 T tamarind pulp, and 1 T sriracha. I warmed this in the microwave for about a minute total and stirred to melt/dissolve/soften the tamarind from the seeds/membrane/inedible stuff. I let it sit for a couple of minutes and then I poured through a strainer and mashed on the solids to get all the good stuff...the verdict...sweet, salty, sour, and a little heat (just a sparkling heat, not really even a hit) - there's a hint of fishy but I think when it gets in with the chicken, lime, green onions, and garlic it'll fade fast. I'm going to tweak some Duke's mayo with some soy and sriracha for a little oomph.

On the New Orleans reference...yes...MAF is moving to the Big Easy. Posting will get scarce from the 3rd through sometime the next week. I'll be back...there's new foods to find and I'm assuming the cook's role in my inlaws house for a bit (they've opened their home until the loving wife and I get on our feet and find a place). I'm looking to broaden some culinary horizons and maybe slow down the eating out. I'll discuss more later.

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