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Malawry

eG Foodblog: Malawry - 34 hungry college girls

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My name's Rochelle. I think I had the original foodblog here on eGullet--I blogged twice a week for six months while I was a student at L'academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, MD. (Lookie here if you're interested.) I go back and read that blog sometimes and I'm amazed at how many stories are within--my journey from amateur to professional started there, yes, but I was also journeying from vegetarian to omnivore.

Culinary school isn't the end of the story--not by a long shot! I've been busy working on all the things I wanted to do in the culinary field since graduating. I have a steady cooking job, I teach little kids cooking skills at a day camp in the summertime, and I started writing for a new local magazine on area food recently. Cooking, writing, teaching--these are the reasons why I wanted to go to culinary school, and I'm fortunate to be able to do them all.

So what do I do for my regular job? I am the chef for the sorority Zeta Tau Alpha at the University of Maryland. I embody the cliche chief-cook-bottle-washer. I control the food budget, I set the menus, I order the food, I put the food away when it arrives, I cook the food, I wash the dishes afterwards. I can't blame anybody but myself when things go wrong. My boss, the "house mom," is not a cook--the few times I've been unable to make it because of illness or weather, I've ordered food from a place near campus and arranged to have it delivered. (Big food budget bite--that's a last resort.) I love the level of responsibility this job requires, and I enjoy getting to play around with food for the 34 girls who live in the house. They're good eaters--many do watch their weight, but others tuck enthusiastically into beef burgers or linguine alfredo.

I cook lunch and dinner, Monday-Friday for them. There's no dinner on Friday, so Friday's a short day (thank God, my feet are starting to kill me by then!). I rarely work into the night or on weekends, but I plan to go in for a few hours tomorrow to start getting ready for Tuesday, when I run two special events in one day (a record for me!). But more on that later.

When I'm not at work, I don't cook all that much. I used to, but I'm a little more tired of it than I was when I started this job. I cook mostly simple American food at home. It's easy and satisfying. I still haven't decided what to make for dinner tonight though, so we'll see what happens. My parents are visiting next weekend so I expect to cook something a little more interesting for them. I have two ducks in the freezer, so they're sure to figure prominently. Suggestions welcome.

So far today, I've consumed a bowl of oatmeal (the rolled kind, from the bulk bins of the natural foods coop we belong to)--with a touch of butter, a little milk, Trader Joe's Golden Berry Blend, Penzey's cinnamon, and a tiny bit of brown sugar. Big mug of coffee alongside, which I am nursing as I write this post. I was working my way through some coffee with chicory from Community Coffee but I ran out. So today's is the dregs from Costco's in-house coffee roaster. I have a big sack of beans from the local Mayorga Coffee Roasters which I am eager to break into. Hopefully tomorrow. I am a big fan of coffee though I am no coffee connoissuer. I drink decaf almost exclusively. I have enough energy without the drug.

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I will try to get photos into this blog when possible, but I make no promises. There's only one computer in my house with photo-editing capability, and my spouse is on it most of the time since it's his desktop. (He's a doctoral candidate in the school of music at UMD, which makes my job super-convenient. When he's on spring break, so am I. We shared a langorous winter break together recently--five delicious weeks, two of them in Paris.)

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Looks interesting.

What is the budget for the house food? Do the students have to pay for all meals, or only the ones they eat? Do they have to eat some minimum number a term in the house, and can they bring guests, and are there special feast nights? What about boy friends/partners?

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Hey Rochelle:

Looking forward to hearing all about your (obviously) well fed girls. Do they know how lucky they are to have such a well trained professional taking care of their dietary needs? What's the food like at the other sororities? I'd think Zeta Tau Alpha would be a popular place to rush because they've got a CHEF!

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The budget is about $36k/semester (USD). I'm way way way under budget--I've been trying to find ways to spend more, but I'm hampered on some levels by fridge and freezer space. You'll see some more luxury type foods this week, which reflects my efforts to get the girls to eat the budget up. (It's not like I get it, or they get it back, if I don't spend it.)

Sisters pay a flat fee. If you live in the sorority house the fee includes room and board, if not it allows you to eat 2 meals a week in the house. (One is supposed to be Monday night, when the chapter has its weekly meeting.) You're technically allowed to bring a friend or SO once a week if you live in the house. There's no penalty if you don't eat in the house, and there are girls who rarely eat my food for whatever reason. These rules are not strictly enforced, but if somebody starts abusing it I can talk to my boss who will intervene on my behalf. A couple girls abuse it but I figure it equals out with the girls who never eat with me.

Special feast nights: Why yes. Tuesday is one long special feast. Stay tuned for details.

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This is going to be really interesting.

I went to college( cal state Long Beach) when I was 30 and I actually lived in the dorms. I had the full meal plan and I was in constant contact with the food service director because I was a foodie even back then and I didnt eat red meat. I think they liked to see me coming( or maybe I just thought that). I requested grilled chicken breasts, low-fat cheese, 100% whole wheat bread and low sugar ice-cream. The director ordered all these things for me.

I stayed in the dorm, but I left on the weekends and stayed with my then partner at the time. I was able to cook on the weekends and have my meals prepared during the week which I found super convenient.

Awww, the good old college days. Now, as much as I love to cook, I do 100% of it. Id love it if my SO picked a day to prepare dinner!! Im keeping my fingers crossed.

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I am so looking forward to this. Blog on!!!

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I'm so happy you're blogging! I was disappointed when the biography forum was deleted because I was enjoying reading your thread about cooking for your girls. This is a nice bonus.

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Do they know how lucky they are to have such a well trained professional taking care of their dietary needs?  What's the food like at the other sororities?  I'd think Zeta Tau Alpha would be a popular place to rush because they've got a CHEF!

There's a catering company that runs the food service in several of the Greek organizations. They used to have my house, but the girls and the house director didn't like the product after a while so they didn't renew the contract and they hired me instead. When I interviewed for the job they were still cooking for ZTA, and I remember being horrified to look in the freezer and see prefab chicken cordon bleus, frozen broccoli, and other insta-food. I vowed to feed them well right then and there. (I do use shortcuts occasionally, as you shall see when this week progresses, because I'm only one person.)

I am good friends with Stewart, who is the chef for the sorority next door. Like me he's a C-school graduate with a fine dining background. Unlike me he has an impressive resume from a long tenure in the business. He's fantastic--we've become close, and we talk a couple times each week. He's my first resort if I find I'm out of something I need for dinner. We compare menu notes often, and he's a good sounding board when I'm frustrated about something. I'm lucky that he's around and appreciate his friendship tremendously.

I like to think the chef aspect is an attraction for potential new members. But all of the houses have either a catering service or a cook or a chef of some sort, and the food is apparently better than food service in all of them. I like to think I'm a cut above most, but it's hard to say. During rush, what the sororities can serve rushees is pretty tightly regimented--there's nothing but beverages allowed at some earlier events to prevent wealthier houses from steamrollering the process. I work a lot of extra hours during rush week and bid day to provide something special when food IS allowed though. It's in my best interest--if they don't get enough girls in the chapter, there won't be enough girls to occupy the house. And if there aren't enough girls to fill the house, the sorority loses the house since they can't pay their rent to the university. Which means another Greek organization moves in and I lose my job.

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Very much looking forward to this blog. Sorority life will be a whole new window into a different world for this prairie woman! :smile:

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I ate an apple with some sharp cheddar earlier, and then I went and did some grocery (and other) shopping. I stopped by Han Ah Reum, a big Asian supermarket just north of downtown Wheaton, MD. I love Han Ah Reum because it's bright, clean, has an amazing produce department, carries wonderful and cheap fish, and plays 1980s pop music. I don't like how crowded it is on weekends, so I normally try to visit on weeknights instead, but I needed some things for work for Monday night.

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Purchases included scallions, Shanghai cabbage, Thai rice stick noodles, some filleted cod, Italian flat-leaf parsley, shiitake mushrooms. Normally I buy a lot more but I just went last Wednesday. I was planning to make some Thai-style food Thursday night, but I didn't cook dinner Thursday due to snowfall in my area. (I refuse to risk my life on the roads. I went to college in the mountains and have a healthy respect for snowy weather.) So it's back on the menu for Monday--except since the whole chapter meets Monday nights, I will need to make twice as much of everything. Hence, I picked up a little bit of extra stuff for Monday. The cod, scallions and parsley are for tonight's dinner.

A few errands later, I went by Giant, an area supermarket chain. I bought some apples, pretzels, marshmallows, caffeine-free diet coke, light bulbs, and three cartons of Breyer's CarbSmart low-carb ice cream. My husband does a basic low-carb diet to control his weight and he loves this ice cream. I try to eat reasonably low-calorie and sometimes eat the low-carb ice cream as a splurge. (I'll probably have some later tonight.) We didn't really need more, but when it's on sale 50% off I try to stock up. The marshmallows and pretzels were for work, as you shall see later this week. Muah.

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Im curious, do you ever have girls that make special requests? Do you have any diabetics? Do you do baking as well?

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Sure, sometimes they make special requests. I try my best to accommodate them. I have two vegetarians and one girl on Atkins who I manage to accommodate daily. There is one girl who does not mix meat and dairy, and two who do not eat pork (one's allergic, one is Jewish). One girl was avoiding sugar Monday-Friday last semester since she was trying to stop being such a sugar freak, but that appears to have been discarded this semester. Several of them are Catholic and are observing various lenten guidelines (especially Fridays). One of those cut out caffeine and meat as her lenten vow, which means she won't even eat chocolate right now and she's exploring the world of Boca burgers and mushroom pizza. No diabetics.

I'm always open to suggestions--indeed, I try hard to encourage as many suggestions as possible and then do everything I can to make those suggestions a reality. Most suggestions these days are along the lines of, "Can we have Swedish meatballs for supper sometime?" (I made them about two weeks ago.) Back when I started I got a lot more suggestions, because when they hired me the girls got a lot less service from me than they were used to from the catering service. (The service had three people in the kitchen much of the day, and they had a fryer. I'm only one person, and I am glad to be without a fryer. Without a fryer I can't offer fries and chicken fingers at lunch, though, which they clearly miss. I do tater tots sometimes in the oven and fry a couple times a semester in a pot on the stove, but that's it.) Over time I grew into my job and came to the point where I was able to do many (but still not all) of the things the catering service did. I like to think I do everything I can handle better than they had it before.

I am supposed to provide dessert twice a week, which I almost always manage. Dessert is my lowest priority, so if I'm running ragged it's the first thing to go. Usually I serve ice cream with assorted toppings once a week and then make a scratch dessert some other night. Sometimes it's something interesting like a mango granita with almond cookies to finish an Indian meal, or coconut pudding with bitter chocolate sauce. But it's usually something more simple like chocolate chip cookies or brownies. I do all my baking from scratch. Once a semester I make pizza from scratch, and a couple times each semester when I offer "breakfast for dinner" I make assorted breakfast breads. I recently baked three varieties of scones (apricot, cranberry and choc-chip) and some banana bread for one of those dinners, which I supplemented with purchased donuts. They loved it.

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We just finished dinner. I prepared a "duet of cod": a cod cake and a piece of bacon-wrapped cod. The cod cake contained the cooked, cooled, shredded tail and trim from the two pieces of fish I'd bought at Han Ah Reum today, combined with scallion, celery and red pepper. There was a bunch of mustard and some mayo to hold it together, and then I coated the outside in breadcrumbs. I let them set in the fridge. The bigger pieces of fish were wrapped in thick-sliced Smithfield bacon. They, too, set in the fridge. I made two salads for my sweetie and I and then I seared off the fish and the cakes. Didn't suck.

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...Once a semester I make pizza from scratch...

Wow. I woulda thunk that you'd make pizza a lot. Pizza is popular and easy-- a great combination. And you could make them to order, since they cook quick. What am I missing? Am I just a bread nut? I make pizza all the time.

Good to see you blogging, Rochelle.

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Good question. And it deserves a complete answer.

Making the dough is a PITA, frankly. I do have an industrial mixer at work, but I don't want to burn the motor out on pizza dough. I usually start the dough in the mixer and finish kneading it by hand. Then there's shaping, topping, baking it. For dinnertime, when all the girls usually come at the same time, there's no way to do food like this to order. It might be possible at lunchtime, but I only get to work 90 minutes before I start service and I have a buttload to accomplish in that 90 minutes every morning. So no, it's not so simple.

One of the things I have to consider when setting menus is how much time it takes to make a large quantity of food, and then how to store it. Pizza for 34 takes a lot more work than pizza for 4. I can't get pizza together in time for lunch because of when I come in. I can't do it on a Monday because the dough needs to ripen overnight in the fridge, and I rarely go in on Sundays. So if I make pizza, it's only for either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night (remember, no dinner Friday). Thursday night is best since I get my food order in on Tuesday morning, which completely packs up my fridge. If I can spend Tuesday night and Wednesday morning clearing out fresh produce that takes up a lot of space then by Wednesday afternoon I can make the pizza dough and actually have room for it to ripen in the fridge. (Dough for 34 takes up a lot of space!) Then I'm good to go for dinner Thursday.

I offer a short-order menu at lunchtime--more on that coming on Monday. Pizza is on this menu, in the form of individual Boboli shells with a limited selection of toppings. So pizza is accessible to them daily, but I only make it from scratch once a semester. Finally, they order pizza every Sunday night for dinner, so I don't want to flog it to death.

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Thanks. Making anything for 34 sounds like a lot for one person to accomplish to me!

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Wow, cool job! I'm impressed that 1) you can make food for 34 people (far more than I've ever made food for!) and 2) balance all the varying dietary needs. Can't wait to here more, Rochelle!

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Cooking for 34 seemed almost impossible at the beginning. I had a hard time learning how to manage my time--I came in early and stayed late pretty much daily for my first month. It's become easier, though, and now it's unusual for me to log extra hours. I'm going in today because I took off most of Thursday and because I need to get ready for Tuesday. It's really not that bad. Keep in mind that I set the menus, and it's not fine dining. So I can stick to my limits.

I have done a few crazy things for them before. Twice I've made pasta from scratch for lasagna--the easiest management of fresh pasta, IMO, since you can just roll out the noodles and slap them in the pan as you go. Once I made portabello raviolis for the vegetarians on a steak night. I made a "graveyard cake" for them for Halloween--4-layer devil's food cake layered with fresh chocolate Italian buttercream, topped with crushed oreos and chocolate-dipped Vienna Fingers as dirt and graves. That dessert was way more work than I normally invest in desserts, but I broke it up into several days--baked the cake one day, made the buttercream the next, filled and frosted the third day, and then decorated right before serving. It was fun and a challenge for me (I try to challenge myself every so often), but not something I'd like to repeat. I made simple sugar cookies with red sugar on top for Valentine's day--much easier.

That being said, I do mail it in occasionally. They love stuff like chicken, rice, cream of mushroom soup, mushrooms and cheese baked in a casserole, so I make that every so often. Monday night is normally pasta night--just pasta with assorted sauces, which is extremely easy to accomplish. Ice cream is super-easy as a dessert: I just buy big drums of Edy's ice cream and set it out with some purchased toppings and let them go to town.

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OK, I just added a few images for ya'll. More to come.

Meanwhile, today's breakfast:

A piece of honey whole wheat bread, toasted, with a little butter and some zingy grapefruit preserves from La Mere de la Famille. (That's the world's cutest confiserie, around the corner from the hotel we stayed in while vacationing in Paris last month.)

A granny smith apple, peeled and sliced, sauteed with a little butter, a tidge of sugar and some cinnamon.

A big mug of the Mayorga decaf organic coffee referenced yesterday. Yum.

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I buy my bread from Spring Mill Bread for home use. It's sold at the natural foods coop close to my home. I love the honey whole wheat--it's so whole-grainy and substantial.

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That is quite an Asian supermarket! I feel fortunate that in my small city we have a natural food store that has most Asian ingredients that I use, but I would love to live near such a large market as that one.

Your job sounds fascinating, and rewarding. I imagine not many chefs get to know the wants and needs of their clientele like you do. I am really enjoying this blog and looking forward to the rest of the week!

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Cool blog! I liked your first one, too. :smile: Coupla questions: do the girls ever ask for your advice, food- or cooking-wise? Would you ever do a cooking class for them? (I just read an article on Mount Holyoke's "Passport to Reality" program for graduating seniors, where the college's cafeteria chef shows students how to make good food, fast.)


Edited by Rehovot (log)

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I adore Han Ah Reum. If I lived a little closer, I'd probably do most of our shopping there. They sell a lot of Hispanic foods in addition to the Asian goods, plus some American-style groceries (cereal, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, etc).

The girls don't ask me for advice much, no. I have offered to teach cooking classes to them a few times, but they haven't taken me up on it. Sometimes they ask me about restaurants if their parents are coming into town, but they don't even ask me about that usually. They don't have the same image of me as, say, people on eGullet might: I'm mostly just their cook, not a culinary encyclopedia.

One of them asked me how I make my soups back in October. She wanted to try making them for Thanksgiving or something. She wanted the broccoli-cheese soup recipe but I suggested she start with something simpler like the tomato soup since she is not an experienced cook. I think I wrote the ingredients and technique out for her but I don't think she tried it.

It kinda sucks for them honestly--they have a microwave and a toaster-oven, but no access to the kitchen (insurance regulations forbid them from using it, and I lock it when I leave). I cooked all the time in college--baking bread, soaking chickpeas and cooking them for hummus, etc--even when I lived in the dorm and shared a single stove with 75 college freshmen. Most of them have no idea how to do anything in the kitchen except make Easy Mac. I think it's a shame and wish I could give them basic coping tools for feeding themselves when they graduate.

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Excellent blog so far, M. It's too bad that the girls don't have more of an interest in cooking, or access to the kitchen.

I still haven't given up the idea of coming over and helping you prep one of these days, if you would have me. :smile:

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It kinda sucks for them honestly--they have a microwave and a toaster-oven, but no access to the kitchen (insurance regulations forbid them from using it, and I lock it when I leave). I cooked all the time in college--baking bread, soaking chickpeas and cooking them for hummus, etc--even when I lived in the dorm and shared a single stove with 75 college freshmen. Most of them have no idea how to do anything in the kitchen except make Easy Mac. I think it's a shame and wish I could give them basic coping tools for feeding themselves when they graduate.

This makes my head spin.

I, too, used to muck about in the dorm kitchen and make things for whoever was around. I cannot believe the shortsighted point of view the insurance regulations have taken to cause this?!! I'm sure your kitchen is industrial strength, so some gear can be mis-used, but if an effort was introduced to educate the sisters in proper kitchen usage, resulting in a "certificate", the insurance regs could be therefore moot, the ladies learn basic prep and cooking (which would develop an appreciation for food groups and stave off possible weight-gain from bad restaurant choices), and the sorority achieves a goal of preparing it's members for post-college reality. I say push this as a requirement, Rochelle! Make it your own personal home-economics course! It's a great way to use your budget surplus too.


Edited by johnnyd (log)

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It kinda sucks for them honestly--they have a microwave and a toaster-oven, but no access to the kitchen (insurance regulations forbid them from using it, and I lock it when I leave). I cooked all the time in college--baking bread, soaking chickpeas and cooking them for hummus, etc--even when I lived in the dorm and shared a single stove with 75 college freshmen. Most of them have no idea how to do anything in the kitchen except make Easy Mac. I think it's a shame and wish I could give them basic coping tools for feeding themselves when they graduate.

I am also looking forward to reading your blog this week :D

It does suck that the girls in the house don't have access to a kitchen...I would have hated that. In my dorm in college there was a tiny kitchen in the basement of the hi-rise building that had a small electric range, countertop, microwave and sink. Wasn't much, but I taught myself a lot about cooking in that little kitchen. People would wander in an out and take turns at the range, and I learned quite a bit about cooking from those other women - one girl, who was Puerto Rican, taught me how to make traditional beans and rice "like my mom makes at home." I still make that dish today. I also remember my first attempt at hosting a dinner party - I invited my now-husband (then he was just a friend), his roommate and one of my female friends and we had a candlelight meal in the corner of the basement kitchen - I think the menu was spaghetti, garlic bread and salad, and we managed to smuggle in some very cheap wine to have with it. :smile:

I wasn't in a sorority in college (I preferred hanging out with the weird, somewhat nerdy boys I knew), so life in a sorority house is pretty unfamiliar to me - that's why your blog will be so interesting :smile: . Were you in a sorority in school? If so, did that influence your decision to take this job? If not, did that influence your decision? Is there anything that's surprised you about how the girls live or how they eat? Do they like or dislike foods you wouldn't have suspected?


Edited by designchick88 (log)

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    • By KennethT
      Recently, there was a thread about stir frying over charcoal, which immediately brought to mind memories of eating in Bangkok in July 2013.  At that time, I hadn't gotten into the habit of writing food blogs, and considering that I had some spare time this weekend (a rarity) I figured I would put some of those memories down on paper, so to speak.  Back then, neither my wife nor I were in the habit of taking tons of photos like we do nowadays, but I think I can cobble something together that would be interesting to folks reading it.
       
      In the spirit of memories, I'll first go back to 2006 when my wife and I took our honeymoon to Thailand (Krabi, Bangkok and Chiang Mai), Singapore and Hanoi.  That was our first time to Asia, and to be honest, I was a little nervous about it.  I was worried the language barrier would be too difficult to transcend, or that we'd have no idea where we were going.  So, to help mitigate my slight anxiety, I decided to book some guides for a few of the locations.  Our guides were great, but we realized that they really aren't necessary, and nowadays with internet access so much more prevalent, even less necessary.
       
      Prior to the trip, when emailing with our guide in Bangkok to finalize plans, I mentioned that we wanted to be continuously eating (local food, I thought was implied!)  When we got there, I realized the misunderstanding when she opened her trunk to show us many bags of chips and other snack foods.. whoops...  Anyway, once the misconception was cleared up, she took us to a noodle soup vendor:


      On the right is our guide, Tong, who is now a very famous and highly sought after guide in BKK.... at the time, we were among here first customers.  I had a chicken broth based noodle soup with fish ball, fish cake and pork meatball, and my wife had yen ta fo, which is odd because it is bright pink with seafood.  I have a lime juice, and my wife had a longan juice.
       
      This is what a lot of local food places look like:

       
       
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