Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

An Asian Eating Adventure


BryanZ
 Share

Recommended Posts

Bryan, I'll add my thanks for this fantastic, mind-blowing pictorial. I confess that your pictures from Sushi Dai brought tears to my eyes - I found them absolutely beautiful. I mean, all your pictures are fabulous but that sushi!! just delightful.

I was expecting to see some poh piah in Singapore. Maybe just wishful thinking, it was my favorite snack there, couldn't pass a stall that made it without getting another one (and the poh piah available in NYC is nothing like the one in Singapore).

Lovely trip, thank you again for sharing.

Oh, and I very much appreciate that you mention the prices. Extremely helpful for anyone who would plan a trip like yours.

The human mouth is called a pie hole. The human being is called a couch potato... They drive the food, they wear the food... That keeps the food hot, that keeps the food cold. That is the altar where they worship the food, that's what they eat when they've eaten too much food, that gets rid of the guilt triggered by eating more food. Food, food, food... Over the Hedge
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Would that be considered kaiseki?

I'm not BryanZ, but assuming that he is not capable of deciphering the written menu, I think I should answer the question.

Yes, it is kaiseki. It starts with sakizuke (appetizer), includes yakimono (grilled dish) and nimono (simmere dish), and ends with mizu gashi (lit. watery sweet, usually fruit). To be more precise, it is restaraunt-style kaiseki, not tea ceremony kaiseki (aka cha-kaiseki, which starts with a bowl of rice and other dishes and ends with tea and a sweet).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Would that be considered kaiseki?

I'm not BryanZ, but assuming that he is not capable of deciphering the written menu, I think I should answer the question.

Yes, it is kaiseki. It starts with sakizuke (appetizer), includes yakimono (grilled dish) and nimono (simmere dish), and ends with mizu gashi (lit. watery sweet, usually fruit). To be more precise, it is restaraunt-style kaiseki, not tea ceremony kaiseki (aka cha-kaiseki, which starts with a bowl of rice and other dishes and ends with tea and a sweet).

That's a little unfair. I couldn't read the menu, either, but I knew it was kaiseki.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Whiskey and water

gallery_58755_6695_92012.jpg

(Whose brand was this?)

Indeed, it's a Suntory product.

Wow Bryan thanks so much for writing up your eating adventures in such detail.  The tempura meal that you had reminds me very much of the one we had in Ginza Ten Ichi last year. I know exactly what you mean when you say a tempura meal is a whole other experience.  $120 dollars though!!  And I thought the 8300Yen we paid for our meal was steep.

We planning another trip this year to Tokyo so all this is invaluable reconnaissance.

The cheapest meal here was Y11000, so with the exchange rate just north of $120. I didn't think it was so bad when you figure tax in NYC runs about 9% and one has to tip 20% on top of all that.

Menu

gallery_58755_6695_90937.jpg

Even for native Japanese, near impossible to decipher.

Come on, I can read most of the writing even though it's a little blurry. I think I could read almost all of it if it were clearer, and I'm not particularly good at Kanji.

You've got my mother and grandmother beat then. I think the issue wasn't so much the general description of the dish, but the specifics of provenance, accompaniments, and cooking method.

Would that be considered kaiseki?

Yes, that is correct.

I was expecting to see some poh piah in Singapore. Maybe just wishful thinking, it was my favorite snack there, couldn't pass a stall that made it without getting another one (and the poh piah available in NYC is nothing like the one in Singapore).

Not sure why we didn't get any popiah. An oversight on my part, I suppose. Next time?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Going back a bit, what were your overall thoughts about Singapore? I had heard from someone that the food there is boring compared to the rest of Southeast Asia, but your report looks pretty good to me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not sure boring is the best way to put it. I, for one, really, really enjoyed Singapore's food. It's perhaps not as vibrant as Thai or Vietnamese, but it's certainly more diverse. One can really see the influence of a whole host of unique cultures coming together in such a small place. It's also not so raw and visceral, but that's largely a function of vendors being moved off the street and into small restaurants and hawker centers. For some, this could certainly be a boon, as it was for my mother. She appreciated the relative cleanliness of it all. For others, however, I can totally understand how it might seem less authentic and less exciting. Singapore is more developed so visitor's aren't as likely to see those living photographs of quintessential SE Asian life that seem to be par for the course in, say, Hanoi.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bryan, how long in advance did you reserve Tempura Kondo? It's been on my "to do" list for a long time, but I still haven't gone. I usually end up at French-influenced places when I'm in Tokyo.

I've not been to Menya Kissou, yet. Ramen is usually way down on my "to do" list when I'm in Tokyo. I'm only willing to wait a long time for cakes and pastries or Neapolitan-style pizza, but not ramen. Maybe next time I'll make the trek. I do like ramen, just not "90-minutes waiting in line" much.

I think you should try Malaysia the next time you're in SE Asia. I've always loved Singapore, but I thought KL really out-did Singapore in terms of food. The only problem is that transportation is more difficult in KL and the rest of Malaysia than it is in Singapore. Getting a chauffered car rental is a very good idea.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We were able to secure a spot at Tempura Kondo the night before, but only got our three seats at their first seating. We were seated in the second room, not with Kondo-san, so if that's important to you, you might try reserving in his area. Seeing as we were a last-minute reservation we took whatever they could give us. Like I mentioned we were the first party in the second room, but it had nearly filled by the time we left.

Alas, I wanted to get to some of the French-ish places, namely Ryugin, but it was not in the cards. Too expensive given the money we'd already spent on the previous weeks of accommodations, entertainment, and food. There will definitely be a next time for that place.

I'm really of the opinion that Menya Kissou was the most compelling and memorable place we ate at. Period. One can debate whether it's worth the 3 hours of my life it took to eat there, but I'm glad I went that once.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Atami, Japan, cont'd.

We woke up the next morning, visited the baths, then sat down to breakfast. While not as elaborate as dinner, traditional Japanese breakfasts are certainly a multi-dish affair.

We were offered a choice of fish species, but the rest of the meal was selected for us and presented at once, on a large laquer tray.

Breakfast

gallery_58755_6695_50461.jpg

Rice, miso soup, many types of pickles, grilled fish, omelet, fish roe, fried tofu, braised potato. Traditional, very nice.

After breakfast we headed back to Tokyo station to then catch our train to Narita. At Tokyo I popped in to a typical curry shop for a hearty plate of rice, curry, and katsu. Japanese curry is something of an acquired taste, as it's really nothing like Indian or SE Asian curries.

As sustenance for the plane ride, a stop at a Japanese bakery was in order before we stepped on the Narita Express. Naturally, I went for some of the more interesting items.

Hamburger pastry

gallery_58755_6695_23747.jpg

Korroke pastry

gallery_58755_6695_17019.jpg

Bacon-cheese bread

gallery_58755_6695_25047.jpg

Kind of like the "volcano" popular in Korea and, now, at Momofuku Milk Bar, this was a potato bread with a cheese and bacon filling.

Edamame-cheese bread

gallery_58755_6695_35147.jpg

As is the case with almost anything edible in Japan, the quality was very good. Given their somewhat strange nature they over-delivered. Breads like this don't really exist in the US.

Loaded with our pastries, bags, and countless cheap souvenirs we boarded our plane and set off toward home. This trip was surely delicious but also eye-opening. Yes there were new dishes and flavors, but what really struck me about SE Asia was just how SE Asian it felt. In old and new areas alike, there's something very alive and real about the region. It's fragrant, hot, humid, noisy, crowded, a sensory assault. I had been to Japan many times before, so the the idea of "Asia" itself was not particularly exotic. Looking back, it seems foolish to have so superficially grouped four countries under one label. In fact, now it's plainly clear to me just how starkly different the various regions in each of the countries were.

Thanks to those who have come along on this trip report. I hope you enjoyed it, got to experience some of it, and perhaps learned or saw something new. Of course, I'm happy to field any questions waiting in the wings.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bryan, thanks for the detailed report. I'm getting ready to take a similar trip this fall (Bangkok, Phuket, Siem Reap, Hanoi, Tokyo). Your descriptions of Bangkok and Hanoi will surely be invaluable. That said, I am wondering if there was anything you'd do differently in retrospect.

Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bryan, thanks for the detailed report.  I'm getting ready to take a similar trip this fall (Bangkok, Phuket, Siem Reap, Hanoi, Tokyo).  Your descriptions of Bangkok and Hanoi will surely be invaluable.  That said, I am wondering if there was anything you'd do differently in retrospect.

I'll echo that, Bryan. Which parts did you feel were the highlights, and what parts would you have done differently?

A great trip, indeed.

Cheers,

Peter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Now that it's been a few weeks since returning my experiences have had more time to settle.

From a food perspective, the best dishes were those that were new and unexpectedly delicious or those that raised the bar with a food item I thought I knew quite well. And they had to be deliriously tasty, of course. So, if I'm going to compile a list of The Best Dishes of the Trip they would include the following:

-Ramen and tsukumen at Menya Kissou (Tokyo)

-Chile crab at Palm Beach Seafood (Singapore)

-Red curry crab at Samboon Seafood (Bangkok)

-Beef pho at Gia Truyen (Hanoi)

-Grilled prawns with rice powder, chile, garlic, and herbs at Lek Seafood (Bangkok)

-Uni, scallop, shrimp, kanpachi, cured tuna at Sushi Dai* (Tokyo)

There were surely many, probably dozens, more extremely tasty/interesting dishes that I'm craving at this moment, but one has to limit such a list somewhere. If I'm allowed to note the most memorable eating experiences, however, I should definitely note how much fun it was to eat our way across the Old Quarter of Hanoi in the pouring rain. Also, the whole meal at Huen Phen in Chiang Mai was just so surprisingly good and so staggeringly cheap that I have nothing but praise for the place. Samboon Seafood in Bangkok also sticks out in my memory because it was our first dinner in Thailand and, more importantly, because the food was so tasty and bold across the board. Menya Kissou and Sushi Dai will also not be forgotten but probably as much for their inconveniences and quirks as for their delicious wares. Finally, each kaitenzushi I've ever been to in Japan holds a special place in my heart. I maintain and defend my irrational love of the concept to all challengers. From a more practical perspective, however, Tenkazushi Dogenzaka would be a fine and affordable stop for anyone hanging out in Shibuya looking for a cheap meal.

When reviewing my favorite dishes and most memorable eating experiences, it becomes clear that there's not a lot of correlation between price and enjoyment. Our two most expensive meals, tempura at Kondo and kaiseki at Atami Sekitei, were not among my favorites. Objectively they might be considered the best in ingredient quality and service, but they lacked the sense of discovery or visceral satisfaction that some of the other meals provided. To others these highly refined examples of Japanese cuisine might certainly be among the best meals of the trip.

This gives rise to yet another point I kept returning to while enjoying the variety of food I sampled. Those who lord Michelin stars over the rest of the world as the be-all end-all of dining, just like those who unequivocally dismiss those same stars as elitist excess miss the point. I confess to initially trying to come up with some kind of calculus that might compare a $300 lunch to a $3 one but quickly realized it's pointless. I don't think the great toques of France need to worry about a sidewalk pho vendor stealing their business, but those vendors might put out a dish that's just as enjoyable for a mere fraction of the cost. With that said, I still believe that the highest pinnacles of the gastronomic experience are largely the domain of high-end kitchens. It would, however, be a sad world if both did not exist.

Since this trip report has presumably been about food, I'll be briefer in addressing the locations themselves. Each has something to recommend it, but each has drawbacks, too. If anything, I wish I had more time in Asia on the whole to spend more time in the places I visited and also make it to new destinations. As it was, we had less than a day-and-a-half in Chiang Mai, Saigon, Singapore, and Tokyo. Malaysia and Sri Lanka sound fascinating. And I still haven't been to China or Korea.

In general I preferred the street food in Vietnam to that in Thailand. Thai restaurants, however, were probably of a marginally higher standard than Vietnamese ones. This of course refers to low- to mid-range restaurants, as we did not seek out particularly expensive ones in Bangkok or Saigon. Tokyo and Singapore obviously take the cake in the restaurant department, however. In fact, I firmly believe that Tokyo is one of the great cities, eating and otherwise, of the world.

Bangkok kind of reminded me of Tokyo in a sense, just not as nice nor as friendly nor as clean. I just got this big, sprawling Asian city vibe from it. Both cities have impressive temples, but the ridiculousness of Bangkok's are certainly worth seeing. Somehow Saigon escaped this comparison, perhaps it felt more uniquely Vietnamese.

Krabi was just absurdly beautiful, and I would go back just for the scenery even if the food was just alright. Still, I've had much, much worse for more money in less beautiful resort areas in the States and Caribbean. I've been to a lot of beaches in my day, and the karsts just put the scenery on another level.

Like I mentioned Hanoi was dirty, dingy, and super cool. Saigon was also a memorable place to visit but certainly felt bigger. While not as dirty-cute as Hanoi and more difficult to get around, the wide range of development made for a city of many faces. Vietnam, on the whole, however has perhaps fewer cultural attractions than Thailand. We didn't have much interest in seeing war museums and attractions of that ilk. Halong Bay was also beautiful but in a grand, mysterious sense rather than a tropical paradise sense. We preferred Krabi, but the cruise was a fun, if quirky, experience.

Singapore is kind of devoid of tourist culture in the sense that there aren't many ancient temples or anything like that. The food was good, and it's a cool, superlatively clean and modern, city to see. Probably more a stopping point for a couple of days than somewhere I would plan a full vacation, too. I could've easily spent three weeks in Thailand or Vietnam or Japan.

*In a literal each of these pieces might count as a single dish, making Sushi Dai, by the numbers, the best meal of the trip. This literal counting isn't really fair, however. Nor do I think the meal was the best meal of the trip for a couple of reasons. While I firmly believe that fantastic sushi is one of the world's great meals, regardless of price or provenance, I also believe that a sushi meal can't be directly compared to a meal in which a wider number of cooking techniques are used. And, like I mentioned above, waiting 2.5 hours was certainly memorable, but it was not enjoyable.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

So interesting.  Entirely rice flour?  Is this practice widespread in Vietnam?  How about beyond?

In NYC, fans of "authentic" banh mi have a hard time finding baguettes with rice flour (Banh Mi Saigon is one of the few spots doing it). A typical Vietnamese baguette is made with 50 per cent rice flour and 50 per cent wheat flour, although there's a bit of contention even within the Vietnamese community as to the "right" flour to use.

"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Atami, Japan, cont'd.

As is the case with almost anything edible in Japan, the quality was very good.  Given their somewhat strange nature they over-delivered.  Breads like this don't really exist in the US.

I encourage you to stop into Cafe Zaiya for lunch at some time.

"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the info. on the Vietnamese baguette. Indeed, there was a big difference in bread between NYC and Vietnam.

I should have qualified by Japanese breads statement. I meant to say that American bakeries (in the culinary, not geographic sense) don't seem to feature the strange bread products found in Japan. Back in the day, when Mitsuwa was Yaohan, they had a much more diverse bread selection (in addition to korroke and other quirky yoshoku treats) than they have now, including some of the items I picked up at Tokyo station. And, of course, NYC, LA, SF, Seattle, and probably a few other cities, have Japanese bakeries that specialize in said pastries, too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the info. on the Vietnamese baguette.  Indeed, there was a big difference in bread between NYC and Vietnam.

I should have qualified by Japanese breads statement.  I meant to say that American bakeries  (in the culinary, not geographic sense) don't seem to feature the strange bread products found in Japan.  Back in the day, when Mitsuwa was Yaohan, they had a much more diverse bread selection (in addition to korroke and other quirky yoshoku treats) than they have now, including some of the items I picked up at Tokyo station.  And, of course, NYC, LA, SF, Seattle, and probably a few other cities, have Japanese bakeries that specialize in said pastries, too.

Glad I stopped by and saw this! I did a similar trip to the first part of yours--Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Halong Bay and Hanoi--about 9 months ago. It was fun to read your adventures, how much was similar, how much was different. I definitely preferred Chiang Mai to Bangkok, but for me Hanoi was a revelation in terms of the quality of food, it truly was like you could eat the passion everything was made with. The pride oozing from street vendors was palpable. We too thought Bun Cha was one of the best things. If anyone is interested in some very similar experiences, but also quite different, here are my blogs from the trip. I used a lot of egullet knowledge to find my places, so I have to thank everyone here once again!

http://thegastrognome.wordpress.com/2008/1...od-post-part-1/

http://thegastrognome.wordpress.com/2008/1...ed-to-try-more/

http://thegastrognome.wordpress.com/2008/1...ake-up-for-pho/

http://thegastrognome.wordpress.com/2008/1...-in-chiang-mai/

http://thegastrognome.wordpress.com/2008/1...for-chiang-mai/

http://thegastrognome.wordpress.com/2008/1...d-pics-bangkok/

And everyone who is heading there, if you have any questions or want to know where places are, I'm happy to do my best to remember, but you'll love it!!!

Gnomey

The GastroGnome

(The adventures of a Gnome who does not sit idly on the front lawn of culinary cottages)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

....

I think you should try Malaysia the next time you're in SE Asia.  I've always loved Singapore, but I thought KL really out-did Singapore in terms of food.  The only problem is that transportation is more difficult in KL and the rest of Malaysia than it is in Singapore.  Getting a chauffered car rental is a very good idea.

i have just stumbled on this very interesting thread, and its taken me awhile to read thru it all. I agree with prasantrin in that if food is the main objective then visit Malayisa, instead of Singapore (ideally, visit both if you have the time and can then compare and contrast, the food and everything else). For SE Asian 'fusion' food, dont miss Penang, and Melaka.

Yes, public transport is more difficult in Malaysia, but taxis are cheap enough, IF you have agreed on the price to the destination before getting into the taxi, and even if they say that they will use the meter (hotel concierge will usually give you a good idea on what to expect). Of course a chauffered car rental is fantastic (and lots cheaper by 'western' standards) but will still be more expensive than individual taxi trips, from my experience. By contrast, Singapore taxis, in my experience, are among the most honest in the world, equal or better than taxi drivers in Sweden and scandinavian countries, but lots cheaper. Taxi drivers in singapore do not expect or accept tips, at least during the times when i visited.

I believe the chilli crab is now a Singapore "national" dish? ie, an over-hyped, over-priced, tourist trap? I have had chilli crabs and variants in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, and the only difference appears to the the quality of the crab itself, rather than the spices, cooking techinque, or country/city where cooked/eaten, etc; and its usually cheaper in Malaysia/Thailand than in Singapore for the same quality of crab.

It's dangerous to eat, it's more dangerous to live.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Like so many others, I have just come across this thread, and I was quite pleased to read of your experiences in Singapore. We also had the chili crab at the marina and the fish head curry on the banana leaf. For me, however, was the minced pork and noodles (dry version) at the Hill Street Tai Hwa. I think it cost less than $3.00 and was one of the best lunches I have ever experienced. I don't suppose you know where a recipe could be found? Thanks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...