Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lucky for You, Lucky Bamboo!

One of my favorite places to visit in Nashville is K&S World Market. K&S is located on Charlotte Pike and is one of the largest international food markets in the state. Looking for Chinese, Jamaican, Mexican, Japanese, Korean or Indian foods? Looking for shrimp as large as small dogs? Looking for goat meat, snails, pig's head or quail eggs? K&S World Market is the source for finding obscure ethnic foods and seasonings.

During a recent visit to K&S I noticed a new Chinese restaurant  that had opened next door. The 'Lucky Bamboo' is Nashville's only Dim Sum restaurant. I know what your probably saying "Wow, really? Another Chinese restaurant? Another mass buffet of shiny chicken, french fries and non-authentic dishes? No my friends, Lucky Bamboo has some truly nice dishes that take me back to Chinatown. Yes there are some Americanized Chinese dishes such as the traditional sweet and sours but you can also find such treats as steamed pork buns, beef tendon and sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf.

Once you step into the Lucky Bamboo you will find yourself transported back into Chinatown in the Seventies. The retro Asian art and colorful murals will make you forget that you are in the same town as the Grand Ole Opry.

We decided on some traditional favorites. Steamed pork buns, hot and sour soup and fresh fried eggrolls. We then enjoyed the house Egg Foo Young. A spongy, pastry of eggs, shrimp, caramelized onions and 
rich creamy gravy.

For our second dish, we ordered the lemon chicken. Deep fried battered slices of chicken drizzled in a sweet yellow lemon syrup.

Lastly we enjoyed the classic Mu Shu Pork with Chinese pancakes. Tender strips of marinated pork, onion and green spring onions.

Amber has become somewhat of a master at constructing the pancakes for Mu Shu. A savory plum sauce is spread on thin rice pancakes. The pancakes are then filled with the pork and rolled into small hand rolls.

The meal at Lucky Bamboo was tremendous! The food was fresh, plentiful and inexpensive. We definitely return!

Lucky Bamboo
5855 Charlotte Pike
Nashville Tennessee 37209

Lucky Bamboo on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 28, 2011

Passage to India: Bombay House of Memphis

A number of years back I decided to try Indian cuisine. I stepped into an Indian restaraunt called 'Delhi Palace', a place which has since left us after a self absorbed boob decided to leave his burning cigar in one of the resteraunts booths. Before it's premature demise, Delhi Palace served the Memphis community a wide variety of authentic Indian dishes. My first excursion into Indian food was a fatal trek. I remember walking in and scanning the noon buffet, lifting spoons from sauces and leaning in to smell unidentifiable dishes. I filled my plate with green colored, red colored, tripod shaped, liquidy items.

My first bite produced a snarled lip and to steal a line from Third Base 'the gas face'. Yuck. Bitter, sour and sweet combined in my mouth awash a flood of iced tea. Well I decided, I would eat the bread. And the chicken. The red smoky flavored chicken. But alas, I decided, Indian food was not for me.

Then a few months later, a group of friends persuaded us to re-visit Indian food. This time we trusted their ordering and indulged in some classic items...Chicken Tikka, Shrimp Vindaloo and Okara Masala. As I cleaned my plate twice I began to renig on my 'protest Indian food' campaign. For I not only had found a cuisine that I had enjoyed but I began to crave it!

Here's the thing about Indian food: If you crave the spices and seasonings of Indian cuisine, you cannot be satisfied with any other dish. There are no American substitutes for Indian food. Sure you can combine sauces and spices and create something that 'hints' at being Indian in nature, but there are secret places on the palate that only the spicy burst of cardamom and ginger, garam masala and ghee can touch...

Ghee..that word is a secret password to the world of exotic cuisine. Butter ghee...think of taking the richest, creamiest butter and clarifying it....Ghee is the fundamental basis for many of India's dishes and it is a rich, creamy divine yellow substance that has to have been formed from the hands of the Hindu deities themselves...

Seeking to fill our recent hankering for Indian, we travelled to Memphis to one of our favorite Indian haunts: Bombay House. Located in Germantown, Bombay Palace is home to some of the most delicious Indian dishes in the Mid South.

If you have never tried Indian food, don't assume that it is all curry. Yes curry has it's place, but there are so many other dishes that you should explore. Bombay Palace offers a lunch buffet that allows new eaters to try a number of Indian dishes in one setting.

As you are seated, you are treated to a plate of Indian flatbread known as 'Naan'. Naan is cooked in a brick oven called a 'Tandoor' and is served hot, garlicky and buttery.

The buffet offer such classic Indian dishes like Tandoori Chicken which is a smokey seasoned chicken grilled in the Tandoor oven. Some of the other dishes we enjoyed were the 'Sag Paneer' which is fresh spinach cooked in aromatic herbs and is served with homemade cheese. Creamy lentils cooked in Indian spices is also available aside the Indian staple of Basmati rice, an aromatic white rice with a smoky flavor.

Other items that can be found on the buffet include 'Bombay Aloo', a dish made from potatoes cooked in cumin seeds and tomatoes; 'Aloo Ghobi' which is cauliflower and potatoes; traditional ginger chicken curry, vegetable curries as well as a number of chutneys.

We finished the meal with a delicious dessert of 'Gulab Jamun', doughnut type balls made from cream of milk in sweet golden syrup.

For a scrumptious meal made from classic Indian recipes, check out the folks at Bombay Palace!

Bombay House
1727 N. Germantown Parkway
Cordova TN 38018

Bombay House on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 18, 2011

Siracha: Nectar of the Gods

Spend any amount of time in Asian restaurants and you'll meet her. Red, fiery and sassy...she sits on tables in plastic bottles decorated with  the image of a farm animal. Siracha..known affectionately to many as 'rooster sauce' for it's trademark logo of a proud rooster.

'Siracha' is a hot sauce made from garlic, chili peppers, vinegar, sugar and salt. It is a spicy combination that can bring the most bland of dishes to life. Siracha takes it's name from the 'Si Racha' province of Thailand and is a favorite dipping sauce for Chinese and Thai dishes.

 The sauce however does not come from Thailand but was made here in the U.S. A Vietnamese immigrant named  David Tran wanted to create something for the Vietnamese community living here in the U.S. to compare to the spicy chili sauces he grew to love in Vietnam. He founded not only Siracha but also Huy Fong Foods, a well known producer of Asian food products.

 Tran's Siracha has taken on a life of it's own as there are now cookbooks dedicated to the spicy sauce. Many professional chefs have even claimed Siracha as 'a chef's best kept secret." Siracha is popular among many of the popular food trucks in many major U.S. cities.

Siracha reminds me of the classic rock group 'Yes'. Sure most people have heard of them but they seldom get played on radio and the one's that do love them, REALLY love them. Siracha, like Yes, is a best kept secret that doesn't get first bill in your retail supermarket but is a treasure when you do find it!

Sriracha Sauce

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Jamaica Me Hungry : Good Eats at the Caribbean Hut

When you think of Nashville cuisine, what do you think of? Biscuits at the Bluebird Cafe? Think Nashville is all Southern comfort food? Think again!

Located on Antioch Pike, The Caribbean Hut is serving authentic island dishes from Trinidad. At first glance, the Caribbean Hut looks like a small residential home flanked with Caribbean flags. As we walked into the screened in porch. we were met with statues and crafts from the islands.

The atmosphere of the Caribbean Hut is a total island feel with Caribbean blue walls covered in art and crafts from the Islands.

The menu consists of a number of traditional dishes like braised ox-tail; spicy jerk chicken; curried goat and chicken curry. Sides include fried plantains, meat pies, peas and rice, salads and roti. We decided to try a variety of dishes to get a good taste of the place. 

The curried goat was a wonderful green curry with plump bits of goat meat, potatoes and vegetables. The curry was lightly spicy but not over powering. The braised ox-tail was served in a dark rich gravy with assorted vegetables. The ox meat was rich and fell off the bone. The chicken curry was also served in the delicious savory house green curry. 

The meat pie was delicious with a delicious golden crust filled with seasoned ground beef. The roti was a nice surprise. Roti is a dish that originally came from Asia. It is made from unleavened bread filled with    split peas, cumin, garlic and cooked in clarified butter. The order of roti was so much that we shared it among our party and still had leftovers.

If you like heat, Caribbean Hut makes a special pepper sauce made from crushed habaneros and diced vegetables that is amazingly hot! I personally don't like hot sauces that are simply hot with little or no flavor but this sauce tastes fantastic. Ask for it, as it is not on the table!

For an authentic taste of the West Indies, Caribbean Hut is a hidden treasure in the land of country music. Go check it out!

Caribbean Hut
1316 Antioch Pike
Nashville Tennessee 37027


Caribbean Hut on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these...

I have a strange collecting habit. I collect menus. Not just any menu, but Chinese take out menus. I began collecting them about 10 years ago when I was visiting a friend in New York. He lived on the edge of Chinatown and every night I would walk into town and eat Chinese. The take out menus in Chinatown were like postcards. Each one decorated with Asian art, religious figures and pictures of Chinese dishes. From that point on, I began collecting take out menus every time I would visit a Chinese restaurant. I now have menus from all over the U.S. Some are quite colorful while some are real insights into local cuisine. The coolest ones to me are from Chinatowns in New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco.

In 2005, the Chinese Museum of the Americas in New York hosted an exhibit of Chinese take out menus from the collection of Harley Spiller, an art collector with over 10,000 menus from around the world. Many of Spiller's menus showed how early menus in the U.S. played on the stereotypes of Chinese that many Americans held at the time. Attempts to 'Chinese' wordage are rampant such as 'Try our Fried Lice' and 'Rerry good Food!" 

Next time you get Chinese take out, hold on to your menu. It may be a piece of culinary history one day!

Eat local! TK

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Chinese Food in the South

I remember it like it was yesterday. My wife and I decided to dine in a local Chinese restaurant. We ordered one of our favorite dishes 'Moo Shu Pork'. Moo Shu is sliced pork, scrambled egg, rice noodle, mushrooms and day lily buds. It is served in paper thin rice paper pancakes and dipped in a sweet plumb sauce. 

When the waitress brought out our Moo Shu, we were treated to the traditional serving style where the  dish is brought out and the waitress paints the inside of the pancakes with the plumb sauce. The meat and veggies are steaming and are placed inside the painted pancakes. The presentation is a nice touch to this delightful dish. You can imagine my surprise when I noticed the waitress begin to paint the inside of the pancakes but instead of the paper thin white leaves of rice there sat a cream colored round tortilla!

I asked the waitress where was the traditional  rice paper pancakes that we had come to know and love? The waitress sternly answered "this is them. This is how we serve Moo Shu!"

Now I realize that we weren't in Hong Kong. Heck, we weren't even in Chinatown. But this example serves as a perfect example of how the South suffers when it comes to Chinese cuisine.

For those of you who have tasted steamed pork buns or duck feet in oyster sauce, the MSG ladened food available in most buffet restaurants is but a mere hint to authentic Chinese cuisine. (I do realize I probably should be thankful that some of my more redneck friends will even try the watered down buffet places as they are typically the first ones to make jokes about 'cats disappearing around Chinese restaurants!")

The Chinese food industry in the U.S. is an interesting phenomena. For some insight into this, pick up   the book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles from Jennifer 8. Lee. (Yes, the number eight)

The Chinese restaurant industry actually has an 'underground railroad' that brings Chinese migrants into New York where many migrants pay to get on a tour bus that travels around the U.S. to find Chinese restaurants needing cooks and wait staff. One of the ironic aspects that she mentions is that the 'Chinese Bistro'' known as 'P.F. Chang's' is considered 'authentic' cuisine by some but most of the restaurants  dishes are American creations. Add this to the fact that the use of their 'terra-cotta soldiers' in their advertising is seen by most Chinese as the equivalent of using a tombstone to advertise an American restaurant.  

Lee also reveals that we have more Chinese restaurants  in the U.S. than all the McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chickens combined.

With that being said, there is much that we are missing. Those of us who think that sweet and sour chicken and cream cheese won tons are good Chinese dishes should visit one of the Mid-South's authentic Chinese restaurants. Some of them serve 'Dim Sum' which is a lot like the American 'brunch'. 'Dim Sum' refers to small portions of food that are usually 'wheeled in' on carts. Customers pick out a selection of dishes from the carts. Dim Sum gives customers a chance to try a number of dishes at a very low price.

 You will find that most authentic ethnic restaurants are cheaper in price and use higher quality ingredients like vegetables and meats. No deep fried mystery meats. And no tortillas.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Vietnamese Food

If I had a dollar for every person that says "do they serve dog?" when I mention eating Vietnamese cuisine I'd have almost as much as I do when I say I'm eating Ethiopian. (Fill in your with your dated joke from the Eighties about Ethiopian food here)

But seriously folks, Vietnamese food is a wonderful treat if you can find someone to make it right.

Vietnamese food is very unique. There is a lot of the French influence seen in Vietnamese dishes. French bread and the use of crepes can be found in Vietnamese dishes. Vietnamese food typically includes five colors and five aspects that correlate with five elements in Eastern health philosophy. The elements of earth, wind, water, fire and metal are displayed in the colors of dishes. It is said that each dish contains these elements in the form of spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet.  Vietnamese dishes contain fresh herbs, seafood and unique ingredients.

 Living in West Tennessee, Memphis is probably the closest place to find authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Three of our favorite haunts for Vietnamese are the Lotus Restaurant on Summer Avenue and Pho' Vietnam on Popular and lastly Saigon Lee on Cleveland.

The Lotus is a unique little restaurant that serves wonderful food and is operated by even more wonderful people. The decor is a trip back to the Seventies with a wall mural of a sandy beach, flanked by a picture of dogs playing poker parallel to a Buddhist shrine and filled with art deco pictures of Asian scenery. The visual is like a bad Quentin Tarantino film, Retro disco meets Saigon. Really.

The owner Mister Joe is a little Vietnamese man who came to the U.S. in the Seventies. He is kind little man who describes every dish as "delicious" and "you will love it!"

For an appetizer, we usually start of with a Lotus eggroll or a Vietnamese spring roll. The spring roll is very unique as it is shrimp, vermicelli and fresh mint rolled in rice paper. A bowl of fish sauce is used for dipping.

Mister Joe makes a wonderful appetizer that is Vietnamese sausage (called 'cha') marinated in red wine. The sausages are then cut and fried in a wok. Delicious...

The feature dish that you must try at the Lotus is Mister Joe's 'Tender Butter Beef'. Strips of steak are marinated in homemade (yes, you heard me right) butter. Strips of beef are then cooked with sweet onions and stewed tomatoes. Served with steamed white rice, this dish on a Winter night can put a fat man to sleep.

The feature dish at Pho Vietnam is , you guessed it, Pho. Pho (pronounced 'Pha') is a Vietnamese noodle soup made with beef and vegetables. You may be asking "what can you do to a soup to make it special? Soup is soup.." Soup is soup..unless it is Pho! Pho is the broth of the gods. The presentation of Pho is a table spectacle in itself. The broth is presented in a large bowl steaming with rich broth. A plate of fresh mint and fresh cilantro are brought out to accompany the soup. Lastly, a plate of fresh bean sprouts are brought to top off the delicious dish. Pho is eaten with a spoon and the noodles pulled from the spoon with your chopsticks. It is a complex and rewarding dish! I typically order the Pho with marinated strips of steak.

One of my favorite dishes at Pho Vietnam is Banh Xeo. (Pronounced 'Ban sew') Banh Xeo is a French inspired crepe made from rice powder and turmeric. The crepe is filled with pork, shrimp, fresh mint, mushrooms, sausage, onions and bean sprouts. Dipped in fish sauce, Banh Xeo is a traditional Vietnamese snack dish.

It is the law (or if it isn't, it should be!) that you use a drop or two of Siracha.  (More on Siracha coming soon!)

If you have never tried Vietnamese, you owe it to yourself to explore the foods of this wonderful culture. The other side of the world is as close as your backyard!

Vietnamese Lotus on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 5, 2011

San Francisco Foodcation

In the Summer of 2010 we visited San Francisco where we discovered a number of great delicacies on the road. Our trip began with a visit to the bay where a local farmers market was under way. Farmer's markets are a great way to eat locally and support local food producers. This particular one had a beautiful selection of fresh fruits and vegetables.

We were advised to skip the 'tourist trap' seafood restaurants and find the shops where the local fisherman sold their wares. We strolled along the piers until we found a bank of food bars serving freshly caught seafood.

The seafood rolls these folks served up were incredible. Sweet crabmeat and juicy shrimp rolled in creamy mayonnaise were ladled in a soft buttery roll. 

We found a really groovy ice cream parlor called 'Bombay Ice Creamery'. An Indian owned shop, this desert bar had standard flavors like vanilla and chocolate but also featured unique flavors such as cardamom, lavender and rosewater.

As one who loves Asian cuisine, I have always wanted to eat my way through Chinatown. And on my birthday, I got the opportunity to do just that! Like most places, there is 'tourist' food and then if you know where to look for it, a more authentic scene.

Our first stop was at a small market where an elderly lady prepared fish balls and rice. The fish were small round white portions of fish meat simmered in a garlicky liquid soup.

We found visited several small shops and cafes that prepared steam pork buns, red bean cakes and various dim sum 'small dishes'.

Some shops featured delicious soups and hard to find delicacies like shark fin soup.

We settled on eating lunch at the famous 'Gourmet Delight BBQ'. Gourmet Delight is famous for their Chinese barbecue dishes. They feature such classics as barbecue spare ribs, roast duck and chicken feet.

Chinatown is filled with a number of delightful bakeries and sweet shops. Our friend Luanne turned us on to Green Tea Cake. It was sweet, tart and melted in your mouth.

Before leaving the West Coast behind us, we had to try the famous 'In and Out' burger. Our friend and tour guide Luanne suggested ordering the fries 'animal style' which includes melted cheese, sweet grilled onions and creamy thousand island dressing. It was to die for!