What are we doing for lunch today?

"Come on guys, it's Friday. Let's go to Upstairs" - T. Koop

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Empanadas y Almojabanas

Today I checked out the Colombian empanadas at this tiny downstairs place (Bloor and Palmerston):

It's the tiniest place, and I couldn't find it until Ian showed me where it was. I ordered up two Colombian empanadas ($1.25 ea) and one almojabanas ($1.00). Unlike other empanadas the Colombian ones are fried and the filling is mainly meat and potato. These ones look homemade. They are crispy and pretty filling for the size, but two of them is maybe a bit too much grease. Also, you need the hot sauce to give it some zip. But for the price it's one of the best little snacks or appetizers around.

The almojabanas on the other hand came out of this box :

...and they weren't exactly what I expected. I would describe it as a bun that is infused with the taste of that cheese that doesn't melt (similar to paneer). But there's no chunks of cheese in there. Not bad, but it's just a Colombian convenience food. I think real almojabanas (as opposed to the fast food version) are more like empanadas and less like buns.

HK Days 11 and 12

On Day 11 we went to the Big Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island (Dai Yue Shan), where we had some vegetarian food. For the two of us, they brought four dishes plus soup and a gigantic pot of rice (the pot in the picture was maybe one-third full of rice). The soup was some kind of melon and herb soup - very tasty. It probably had a lot of MSG or something. Starting from the dish next to the soup and going clockwise, we had: 1) Pretty normal tasting bak choi and mushrooms; 2) Crispy turnip spring rolls (not made using the usual spring roll wrapper); 3) Vegetable medley with zucchini, celery, peppers, tofu, mystery melon, and some other unidentifiable stuff; and 4) Corn, mushroom, and tofu mush. Everything was pretty oily but actually really tasty too. I'm sure the oil had something to do with that. We ended up finishing everything except for the rice. By the way, note the bowl full of tea next to the soup, which is used for cleaning your dishes and chopsticks before eating.
As we left, we noticed that people in the other section of the restaurant had a lot more dishes, either because they were VIPs or because their tables were larger. They had fake fish in sweet and sour sauce and other fake meats. Too bad, as I'd have liked to have had some of that.

Anyway, we came back in the afternoon for high tea at the MO Bar in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, as we pretended to be high rollers for an hour. I don't remember the details, but I believe it was about 200HKD (about 35 bucks) for two of us to have one tea set and a pot of white tea each. The tea set came in this pretty cool three-tired platter - I'd like to have one of these for eating snacks while watching TV.
As you can see, the bottom tier had savory bites and finger sandwiches, the middle tier had scones with very good jam and devonshire cream, and the top tier had sweets. Because I'm weird, we ate everything in order, starting from the bottom. Anyway, it was very good and surprisingly filling, but I guess I won't be going back anytime soon.

Had dinner with some relatives up in Kowloon. I didn't take many pictures, so all you get is this scallop. Check out the specialized cutlery.

The next day, we went up late to Victoria Peak and had a quick bite at McDonalds. Forgive us: the place is a tourist trap and everything else looked pricey. Anyway, we made up for it at dinner, which was at Nambantei in Causeway Bay, a Japanese restaurant with all sorts of grilled, skewered goodies. Beef tongue and chicken knees were just two of the many skewers we had.
Some other highlights were deboned chicken wings stuffed with goose liver or cheese, bacon-wrapped pork, delicious mushrooms, and these crispy rice cakes wrapped in seaweed and stuffed with salmon. The only downside to this restaurant was the price. The skewers were about 40HKD each (more for some, such as the goose-liver stuffed chicken wings), so it added up pretty quickly. Still, I've thought about this restaurant and drooled more than once since we got back.

Monday, January 30, 2006


is the word for Brazillian barbecue, it is also the name of a this place at Bloor across from Christie Pits.

I was hoping for a Brazilian all u can eat, with meat on poles galore, but everytime I've been by the place it's been ass empty, except for a coupla old guys arguing or whatever. When we walked in the place was empty -- there was no sign or smell of food -- they even seemed slightly stunned that anyone would be eating there. There was some confusion, but they claimed to have food. By "they" I mean the old lady in the back and the dude out front, but there were NO MENUS, NO SIGNS, NoTHING. The dude -- I can't really say waiter -- because he didn't seem to have ever done this before. He told us that there were three dishes available: Sirloin steak, pork ribs and pork sausage. NO STARTERS, NO SALADS, NOTHING ELSE! He didn't even know the prices, except that the sirloin was $15, "because someone had ordered it earlier", but he thought the other two were cheaper. My brother ordered the steak and I went for the pork sausage. When he took our drink order I asked for an "Export", so the guy disappears for like 10 minutes, ten he comes back and asks "So what do you MEAN by Export?", i guess he'd never heard of one of the most common beers around. We actually got the food pretty fast. The sirloin was four smallish steaks, along with rice, some potato salad (w. olives in it) and the sausage was three little sausages, the rice and potato salad for $12, and we shared a big pot of black beans. The food was all pretty good, better than you'd expect given the overall weirdness of the experience, but not an outstanding value, but also not off the wall compared to what you might pay elsewhere and the beers were kinda cheap: 3.50. But the whole experience was waaay disconcerting. Plus it wasn't All U Can Eat, which they advertise out front. Overall a Letdown.

For better overall experiences in the vicinity I recommend these two nearby places :

Mexi-Taco, at Bloor and Shaw and Sardinha at Bloor and Delaware:

Saturday, January 28, 2006

House of Gourmet Seafood BBQ

Ian and Amit discovered this place on Dundas a few weeks ago. While the sign seems a bit ambitious (seafood, bbq, noodles, congee, drinks, western-style, and more!), so far, the food has proven to be quite good. It seems to be a typical teahouse (cha chan teng). Last time I had a lunch special with cream soup, baked pork chop on spaghetti, and milk tea - a pretty typical meal - and Ian had brisket in noodle soup.

This time, Amit and I both ate a lunch special with Borscht (you can also have the cream soup), Portuguese-style chicken, and drink. The chicken was deep fried and smothered in a coconut-curry gravy. Standard, and yummy. It's a lot milder than a curry, so it may take a few bites to get into the taste, but after a few spoons, you're hooked.

We shared a plate of these rice rolls, a hybrid between beef rice roll (ngau yook cheung) and chinese donut rice roll (jia leung) - in Chinese it was ngau yook jia leung. Very nice combination - the beef and cilantro served to mellow out the deep-fried feeling from the chinese "oil fried ghost" and added some depth of flavour.

Ian had roast pork and tofu "pok" on rice. Looked good. Tofu is always tasty.

In the rotation!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Kale and Cottage Cheese?

OK, I didn't take a picture of this, but last night I made some kale in a pretty standard way (crisped up some bacon, removed it, cooked the kale in the bacon grease and a bit of water, added a bit of cream and the bacon). In a stroke of, I dunno, inspiration(?) I added some skim cottage cheese for some protein. It looked like vomit but it was pretty tasty! Weird, eh?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Matzo ball soup

Made my second favourite soup tonight: Matzo Ball. The all time fav is #15 from Montri's Thai in Vancouver, but it'll probably be a while before I can reproduce that at home. I tend to like simple soups with not much more than broth and a main ingredient - Matzo is definitely that. Also very easy to make.

Basically it's just the dry matzo mix, vegetable oil, and eggs. You can add whatever else you like, for me I usually hit it with a little finely chopped parsley. The Matzo definitely has a unique flavour, a little hard to describe. Anyway, for the base I just add a cube of the Maggi gallina which comes to us by the boxload from Ecuador by way of a series of Maggi mules known as Las Guevaras.

If you're looking for a taste explosion, Matzo Ball might not be for you, but if like a simple, tasty soup this could become a quick favourite. Let's see what Leif Koop thinks of it ...

It's a hit!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

HK Day 10 (Sai Kung)

Started off the day with fresh-from-the-oven egg tarts from a mall (Grand Century Plaza, somewhat near Prince Edward MTR station) in Kowloon. I watched as they took the egg tarts from the oven and put them in our box. The custard was very soft, not quite set, and very good. I prefer the flakey crusts (so pei) over these ones though.

We then headed up north to the Choi Hung MTR station where we passed by a typical street market before visiting HKUST. Here's a picture of a butcher/restaurant in the market. Having raw meat on tables out in the open is pretty typical here.
A fishmonger's stall. Notice the opened crab in the front right tub meant to show you the freshness or something similar. The fishmonger is making steaks from a fish which is still quivering.

For dinner we went to Sai Kung Town for some fresh seafood along the waterfront. Here's a glimpse of the variety of fresh seafood available at the restaurant we ended up eating at. I don't think I can name more than half of the animals here. So the way it works is that once you've decided to eat at a particular restaurant, you tell them what you want to eat, and negotiate a price for the seafood and for the cooking cost. Often, for a particular dish, the cooking cost will be the same whether you eat one or one hundred (scallops, for example).
This closeup shows the crayfish ("Lai liu har" in Cantonese) which we ate later, peculiarly separated into different bags.

We ended up getting four dishes and some beer for three of us, which cost about 100 bucks Canadian - not exactly cheap, but definitely worth splurging on. First up was lobster in a cream sauce on noodles. The lobster had a somewhat spiny shell, but was really tasty. The seafood taste unfortunately didn't quite permeate the noodles enough, but the sauce did make the noodles tasty too.
We also had spicy squid and steamed fish. The squid was really tender but not that crisp on the outside. I could really taste the freshness in the squid. The fish was pretty standard for steamed fish. Looking back, I'm a little disappointed that we didn't pick something weird that we haven't had before. Still, it was good fish.
Finally, we had a plate of deep fried crayfish (or whatever they are) with spicy salt. Actually, the seasoning was almost Cajun. These were really fun to eat. The little legs were delightfully crunchy, and the meat was sweet and tender. Some of the shell on the back was too thick to eat, however. I also found that there was a bit too much seasoning. This latter problem was mitigated by some beer, which segues into the interesting phenomenon of beer girls, the first live example of which I saw while here. Beer girls are hired by some companies to sell their beers, by hanging around restaurants wearing tight tops and miniskirts and convincing men to drink their brand. After we finished our first bottle of Tsingtao, the resident beer girl came over, gave us a quick spiel about how Heineken was on sale (or something - I had a lot of trouble with mumbled teenager/20-something Cantonese during the trip) and convinced us to switch -- rather easily, mind you. For the rest of our dinner, whenever my cup or my (male) friend's cup got empty, the beer girl would come and refill for us. But anytime my wife's cup ran dry, she had to pour her own. Altogether, a pretty weird experience.

On our way back, we spotted some horseshoe crabs just hanging out near a different restaurant. I suppose they were for eating; as you can tell, the boardwalk at Sai Kung isn't exactly a safe haven for sea creatures. I wonder what these taste like.

To end the evening, we went to a pricey place called Main St. Deli, a restaurant full of expats wanting to satisfy their Reuben fixes for the equivalent of $20 CAD a plate. We shared a smoked meat sandwich and some desserts (cheesecake and chocolate cake) between four of us. I took pictures after the fact, but I don't think anyone wants to see half a french fry or a mushed up piece of cake.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Things That I Have Georged


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Kensington Empanadas

The plan was to go to Kensington for some pupusas and fried plantains. However, we bumped into this new place across the street. I'm not sure if this has been around for a while or not, but the empanadas (basically pastries filled with stuff) are new.

They had about 30 varieties of empanadas, ranging from curry beef to spinach to 8 different varieties of chorizo, all for $2.50. Amit had the beef, Ian had a spinach+ricotta, and I had a chorizo+various veggies and cheese. It was alright, pretty tasty but didn't blow my mind by any means. Also, at $2.50 per, it's not dirt cheap. Ian tells me that the $1.25 empanadas at Bloor/Bathurst are better. I'll have to check those out some time. Anyway, I'd say that these are on the list for an occasional snack.

By the way, this place seems to be a source for assbikes as well. They're probably in cahoots with the Bike Troll next door.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Fish pasta and tomato spinach salad.

Had some leftover fish pasta from Saturday night, the highlights: sauteed fresh garlic and onion in olive oil, added oregano and a little minced yellow hot pepper, splash of white wine, salt, fresh groud pepper, cilantro, thawed out tiger shrimps and a whole can of baby clams juice an' all, and fresh spinach (just cuz I had some). Served on Rigatoni. So, while that was heating up I worked on a cheese plate (St. Pauline, Pecorino Tuscano, and that "Danish Blue" that I think is almost certainly just moldy Brie, but tasty nonetheless!) with black olives, 1% cottage cheese, and some rose wine.

Made quick salad with sliced tomatoes and Spanish onion, spinach, and cilantro. Dressed with a Balsamic vinegarette of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and a little chopped garlic. I meant to put some oregano but forgot.

Topped both pasta and salad with some fresh ground pecorino and black pepper.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Hong Kong days 7-9

Since I'm way behind on these posts, I'm going to concatenate a few days together. We stayed in town for a few days. Day 7 started out in Mong Kok, on the Kowloon side of the harbour. We had lunch at a noodle place near the top floor of Langham Place, a nearly vertical mall full of spiral walkways. I had a bowl of noodles with these hybrid fish-tofu dumpling ball-type things. Pretty tasty. The fish-tofu was basically a blend of fish and tofu which had the soft texture of tofu with some fish ball taste. Really good. The rice noodles were chewy - they have a circular cross-section.

We had a couple of fried side dishes. On the left are deep fried fish fillets (dor chun yue) and on the right are fried milk balls. The fish was really soft, almost liquid inside the fried shell, which was coated with some spicy salt. The fried milk balls were a good blend of sweet and salty, crispy and soft.

Here's the inside of a milk ball. It's coated with a bit of white sugar which was used as a dip.

We also had some fried noodles with eggplant in fish sauce (yu heung keh zi) in a hot pot bowl, which made for some crispy noodles at the bottom. Not as inspiring, this dish.

Dinner was at Housaku Japanese restaurant in Metroplaza mall where we met up with a friend. Had some so-so (greasy) tempura pumpkin and yam,
weird but tasty mayo shrimp sushi wrapped in tofu skin,
and a yummy omelette-type square.
Later, at Tsuen Wan MTR station I had a cream puff from Beard Papa, a Japanese chain. Apparently these were a huge craze a few years ago in Hong Kong (which has had several other food crazes in recent memory). Well, I can see why: the pastry was crispy but not dry, and the cream, somewhat less custardy than Boston cream, was pretty addictive. I spent the rest of my trip with a promise to myself that if I happened upon another Beard Papa store (without actively looking), I'd get another cream puff, but alas, I didn't manage to fulfill that promise.

Day 8 was a Wednesday, which meant free admission to the museums out in Tsim Sha Tsui (so it wasn't ALL eating). But first, we swung by the Mid-levels escalator where we picked up some buns for breakfast. Here's a sausage sandwich; I also had a pork chop bun which wasn't very good -- I think I was pining for those Macau pork chop buns.

Lunch was at Din Tai Fung, part of a Taiwanese chain. The restaurant was in this eating complex called the Wonderful Worlds of Whampoa, which seems like a decent place to spend a few meals. We started with some five spice beef in noodle soup (on the right) and some tofu noodles with cucumbers and peanut sauce (left). Both very tasty.

Din Tai Fung is known for its dumplings, and its soup-filled dumplings (Siu Long Bao, or little dragon buns) in particular. The dumplings, at the front left of the picture below, were indeed excellent, with thin skin and plenty of liquid, while not feeling too fatty. We ended up having two "long" (containers?) of these, and of my 6 or 7, I managed not to rip the skin (and therefore lose the soup) of any of these, despite the thin skin. We also had some peanut sauce noodles (dam dam mein), which were okay, although I prefer more soup like at Moutai in Richmond.

Dinner was with some relatives in Kowloon, actually near the famous Temple St. (miu gai). I don't remember the name of the restaurant. Didn't manage to take many pictures either, which means that you don't get to see the goose feet (like gigantic duck feet -- I've decided that I don't like webbed feet, and much prefer chicken feet). At least I got a picture of some tasty crispy-skinned chicken with garlic on top.

Later in the evening, we saw these fish in tanks outside another restaurant. I don't think this picture does justice to the size of the fish on the right, but consider that the fish in the left tank are probably good for one dish. I guess you need a couple of tables with a couple of fish dishes each to take on one of those big fish.

Day 9 was at Ocean Park, an amusement park cum aquarium with some stunning views and predictably bad amusement-park food. The picture below was taken before I ate any of the fries. And the chicken steak hidden below one of the fries was not seasoned at all. At least that sausage was massive (although not entirely tasty).

At night we went to a "secret" pasta place called Te in the Mid-levels, an expat area. Secret, because we could see the restaurant from the escalator but couldn't find an entrance until we went through an unmarked door. The pasta was good but tiny. I compounded problems by munching on a dried chili which took revenge on me by searing my mouth for 5 minutes. Forgot to take pictures of the food, so here's the menu:

As a result of the small pasta, we went for another hamburger at Triple O's as a nightcap.