Saturday, May 31, 2008

Tofu House in Milpitas

This is another one of our favorite local eateries. We keep coming back here to relish their delicious, smoldering hot tofu soup (served in a stone bowl) and Korean barbecued beef. This place is really popular, as is its sister store in Santa Clara. However, our Korean friends recommended this store to us over the one in Santa Clara.

Our lunch started with a simple salad, which was very fresh, with a light, refreshing dressing that was topped with peanut, sesame seeds and tofu.

Next came an assortment of small dishes consisting of tofu, bean sprouts, seaweed, and of course, kimchi. We especially liked the kimchi because it was crisp, crunchy, and not too spicy.

Now for the main attraction: A scalding hot bowl of seafood tofu soup, filled with thick, hearty chunks of tofu, shrimp, and oysters, topped off with a raw egg and some seaweed. We found the tofu to be soft and flavorful with a tinge of mild spiciness to it. The soup had just the right mix of salty and spicy tastes, punctuated by the aroma of seafood.

The barbecued beef was also good, as usual. The thin, tender slices of beef have a light, citrusy sweetness. And the accompanying onions and sesame seeds are a delight to bite into together with the beef, as they add a nice kick.

The beef comes on a sizzling hot steel plate, and there is a LOT of it - more than enough for 2 persons. However, being the carnivore that I am, I devoured most of it (pausing briefly between mouthfuls to let my wife get a few bites in ;-)

Tofu House
231 W Calaveras Blvd
Milpitas, CA 95035

Tofu House on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 23, 2008

Chez Sovan

I was thrilled when a Cambodian friend recommended this place to me. While other types of Asian restaurants (like Chinese and Vietnamese) thrive in great numbers in the Bay Area, Cambodian food is kind of a rare treat. So my wife and I decided that a visit to Chez Sovan Cambodian Restaurant in Campbell was absolutely mandatory.

As we looked around inside, we were fascinated by a small collection of items representing Cambodian history and culture:

The relief on the wall also caught our attention:

Even the restroom has some attractive pictures on the wall, like the one below. This is the first time I've ever taken pictures inside the men's room of a restaurant!

When our orders arrived, I said "All right, enough looking around. It's time to EAT!" Following my friend's recommendation, we had the beef skewers. The meat had an inviting aroma, and was deliciously tender yet chewy, with a sweetish taste to it.

...the beef skewers also came with a side dish of shredded papaya and carrot, seasoned with a sweet-sour flavor.

We also had amok, which consists of catfish seasoned with lemongrass, wrapped in a banana leaf. I particularly enjoyed this dish, as the delectable catfish seemed to melt in my mouth to release a light, citrusy tang.

The chicken curry was also very good. The chicken was soft and tender, and the curry sauce possessed the rich sweetness of coconut milk, laced with a subtle tinge of spiciness coming from the curry - a very pleasant combination!

The staff was quite pleasant and friendly. I delighted our waitress by saying a few words in Cambodian, which I learned from my Cambodian friend. The word "okun", meaning thank you, was especially well received.

There is still so much more on the menu that we left unexplored. Next time we plan to bring a big group of friends over so that we can order more dishes and more deeply explore the pleasures of Cambodian cuisine.

Chez Sovan on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Scenes From a Taiwanese Night Market - Part 2

(This is a continuation of my earlier post about the Night Market in Hualien, Taiwan)

The pervasive influence of Japanese culture in Taiwan manifests itself even in the Night Market, where one finds such goodies as sushi:

...and takoyaki (Japanese fried octopus dumplings):

The takoyaki comes in a variety of flavors: curry, cheese, pepper, wasabi, and more. In addition, this lady also sells "Dragon-Phoenix Legs", which are deep fried chunks of meat mounted on skewers (located to the masked lady's left in the photo below). We found it amusing that the sign on this stall proudly announces "one box of takoyaki for $35 (Taiwanese dollars), 3 boxes for $105". Either the owner of this business has a penchant for stating the obvious, or a lot of their customers must be math-challenged ;-) Also, the octopus on the sign is missing 2 legs:

Some Western influence is also present, as shown by this Taiwanese rendition of the French crepe, which is filled with beef, vegetables, and cheese:

...and this steak-noodle-egg combo (which costs less than 3 US dollars):

Some stalls specialize in a particular type of dish, such as this fellow who makes fishball soup:

...and this stall that specializes in stews. One collects the ingredients one likes (from the array of meat, vegetables, tofu, noodles, and more), puts them in a plastic basket (taken from the stack of baskets on the counter), and hands them over to be magically transformed into one's very own delightful, personalized concoction. If one looks closely at the upper right hand corner of this stall's sign (click the picture below to enlarge), one can see the signature of Ma Ying-jeou, the President of Taiwan:

For dessert, one can have sugar-coated fruits on skewers. (The strawberry ones are my wife's favorite. A variety of other choices are available, such as plum and pear):

...and then cool down with some fruit juice or a grass jelly beverage from this stall whose sign unabashedly declares "Good Beyond Words":

So far, I've only scratched the surface of the pleasures of Hualien's Night Market. Also, the Night Market in Hualien is dwarfed by that of Taipei, which I have yet to explore so...

I can't wait for our next trip to Taiwan!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Scenes From a Taiwanese Night Market - Part 1

Hualien is a scenic little city in Taiwan which is a top tourist destination for both Taiwanese and foreigners alike. Visitors are drawn to its beautiful scenery and peaceful, idyllic atmosphere. The famous Taroko Gorge, which was named by Virgin Travel Insurance as one of the world's Top Ten Must-See Sights (and served as a backdrop for the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), also beckons nearby.

Luckily for me, my wonderful wife hails from this charming city. So it was a natural destination for us during our recent visit to Taiwan. Hualien, just like the rest of Taiwan, is rife with culinary adventures just waiting to happen. And one of the most exciting and dynamic of these is the Night Market, which lies just a few blocks from our home in Hualien.

The Night Market is a collection of myriad little stalls that sell a mind-boggling array of food, beverages, snacks, desserts and more. Its diverse offerings range from noodles and rice plates, to sushi and takoyaki, to steak and sandwiches. The Night Market derives its name from the fact that it is open till the wee hours of the morning and seems to be most alive and abuzz with energy after the sun goes down. Throngs of people descend upon this tiny space night after night, and it gets especially crowded during weekends.

Exotic food choices lurk in every corner. In the photo above, the sign in the middle of the picture (click the photo to enlarge) reads "Medicinal Stew" and refers to this stall's specialty: pork spare ribs boiled in a concoction of Chinese medicinal herbs. The resulting dish is supposed to be very good for health. In the photo below (click to enlarge) the small white sign with red Chinese characters in the middle of the picture advertises "Salty Water Chicken", a boiled chicken dish whose unique feature is that it is made from "eunuch chickens" (that's right, male chickens that had their little jewels snipped off at a young age). The eunuch chicken's meat is sought after because of its texture - tender, but not soft; firm, but not tough.

Tung Shan Duck Head

Some of these little stalls are spectacularly successful and always have long lines of people eagerly waiting to grab their goodies. Like this one whose sign boldy reads "Tung Shan Duck Head" (although it is not visible in this picture below, the people on the left of this photo are actually the beginning of a long queue):

This stall's specialty is - you guessed it - deep fried duck head (from which one eats the brains and eyes). But there's more on the menu than just duck head. Practically every part of the duck is put to some profitable use. In the photo below (click to enlarge), the row of food closest to the masked duo provides a selection of: duck head, head plus neck, or neck only. In the foreground we see (starting from the right) fish cakes, duck blood cakes (those are the brown brick-like things; they are made from sweet rice mixed with duck blood), duck gizzard skewers, tofu, duck heart skewers, duck feet, quail egg skewers, duck wings, and duck intestine skewers:

From the wide variety of offerings available, people pick up their selected items with tongs, drop them into their little red plastic baskets, and then hand them over to the masked lady (on the right side of the picture below), who deep-fries them in a big pot:

I've heard rumors that the owner of this business (the masked man pictured above), owing to the huge popularity and success of this operation, lives in a mansion and drives an expensive luxury car. (I hope the Taiwanese tax collectors aren't reading this ;-)

Barbecue Skewers

Another standout in this raucous sea of food hawkers is this stall that specializes in barbecue skewers:

This stall gets huge amounts of customer traffic and seems very popular with the younger crowd:

Among various types of barbecue skewers available are (click the photo below to enlarge) tofu, pork, chicken, beef, fishballs, hotdogs, and (in the far left of the photo below) squid. The squid skewers are my wife's favorite. If one enlarges the photo below one can see that the squid skewers come in 2 sizes: large and small. My wife astutely pointed out that the large squid are nearly twice as big as the small ones, but they differ in price by only 10 Taiwanese dollars ($70 vs. $60), so one would have to be a real sucker to buy one of the small ones:

(to be continued...)