Tag Archives: food friday

Food Friday: McDonald’s

14 Dec

I’m should probably start by saying that I’m sorry. I’m living in Paris, one of the culinary capitals of the world (supposedly, anyways), and I resurrect Food Fridays with McDonald’s? Clearly, I need to explain.

Like many international brands, McDonald’s adapts to the local market desires. Yeah, you can get a cheeseburger at any Micky D’s in the world, but international franchises have different menu options. Australia has the McOz, which is a burger with beets. Chinese McDonald’s are primarily chicken sandwich items, with taro and red bean pastries instead of mini apple pie bars. You can also get congee on the breakfast menu. My favorite local item was probably the limited release riceburger in Taiwan – two rice patties with steak and onions in between. It sounds weird, but the thing was amazing.

French McDonald’s has the bagel burger. Yeah, that’s right, a McDonald’s bacon cheeseburger… on a bagel.

I don’t even know, man.

bacon burgerThe must-taste bacon bagel.

It was, uh, edible? The burger was pretty cold, temperature wise. I was unimpressed with the whole thing. The bacon tasted fake. The sauce was unappealing. The bagel itself tasted like a regular hamburger bun forced into an unnatural shape. I’d rate it a solid “would not recommend”.

P1060824

The sides, on the other hand, were amazing. I freaking loved the steak fries. (Shut up, the other order of fries belongs to my friend Gabriella.) The cookie stick tasted much like reheated, mostly cooked cookie dough. So, delicious. My only problem was that they gave us salad dressing instead of ketchup for the fries. I’d definitely get those again next time. Not that I eat at McDonald’s often or anything. /shifty eyes

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Food Friday: Kaffestugan

27 Apr

My favorite cafe in Chengdu by far is Kaffestugan. It’s a cheery little cafe just out of little north gate. The entire shop is well lit and bright, the crowd is usually pleasant, and they have free wifi Plus, the coffee is fantastic.

A nice vanilla latte.

Kaffestugan is run by a pair of Swedish/Korean expats, so the place is very foreigner-friendly. The menu is in English and Chinese, and the food is straight up Swedish. This is a good thing because oh my god this stuff is delicious. They have a lot of Swedish delicacies, but I mostly go for anything with salmon in it because I am starving for seafood.

I spent a fair amount of time here back in November writing for NaNo. The bagel with cream cheese and lox is a nice snack.

 An open-face salmon sandwich. Mmmm.

I usually save Kaffestugan for a bit of a treat. A coffee isn’t too expensive – a cup will run you about 25 kuai, plus cheap re-fills. They have other excellent drinks, like a hot cocoa that is probably the best I’ve tasted outside of the Ghiradelli factory coffee shop in San Francisco. Cakes and other sweets are about 20 kuai a plate.

Huge cup of hot chocolate.

Apple Cake. Spongy, with just the right amount of cinnamon. The vanilla ice cream doesn’t hurt, either!

The one and only downside is the location. Kaffestugan is on the third floor, above a number of Chinese shaokao and hot pot restaurants. This means that the smoke from all these little individual barbecues starts to rise around dinnertime. It gets downright smoky inside the cafe by eight or nine and has driven me out once or twice. But Kaffestugan is a fun place to spend an afternoon and I highly recommend you visit if you’re in the area.

Food Friday: Hospital

16 Mar

Hospital is the name we have for the tiny, hole-in-the-wall dive that is located next to (in?) Sichuan University’s terrifying local hospital. The hospital itself is pretty ganky; god forbid I ever have to go there for treatment of any kind. The restaurant is a total dive and if “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” came to Chengdu, I’d point them in Hospital’s direction. It’s a family run place, and since it’s cheap and right next to the old dorms, it’s a particular favorite. Ann, Katia, and I had our order down to a science. We come in, sit down, ask if they had kong qing cai (a stir fried veggie, spinach maybe?) and when they said no, we’d order the same damn thing every single time.

Tang su lian bai. Sweet soy cabbage for Katia.

Fen qie ji dan. Scrambled egg and tomatoes for moi.

Hui guo tu dou. Spicy pork and potato for Ann.

Sometimes we’d mix it up on our fourth dish with a soup or another veggie (wan dou cai, pea plant), maybe with a fried potato concoction that looked like a plate sized hash brown doused liberally with red pepper spice, but for the most part, we got those three dishes and a bowl of rice each. And oh my god, they are so amazing, you need to find your own hospital to go to.

Let me be the first to say that if any of these dishes had any nutritional value to start with, they lost them in the cooking process. Salt, fat, bad cholesterol, whatever poisons live in Chinese wok oils*, all added to make each dish particularly delicious. I personally blame hui guo tu dou for any extra pounds I might be carrying and you can’t convince me otherwise. (No exercise and too much chocolate, you say? Blasphemy.)

The orders usually come out lightning fast, unless it’s super busy. This is normal for Chinese diners, in the sense that most dishes take about three minutes to stir-fry tops. Mostly, it’s a question of timing and whether or not another table ordered the same dish.

Sweet soy cabbage is technically a vegetable dish, but is sort of sweet, like getting a really sugary carrot. The cabbage is cooked, but not mushy, and the sauce is light and not stew-like. It’s nothing like Panda Express.

My personal favorite is fried eggs and tomatoes. I have no idea why. It’s basically scrambled eggs. But there’s something in the eggs – crack, probably – that makes me devour it like there’s no tomorrow. I’m betting it has something to do with the flavors of the wok itself. Then again, I also go like crazy for egg and tomato noodles, so it might just be me.

Ann managed to get the rest of us hooked on hui guo tu dou, which is potato slices with pork and awesome. It’s a spicy dish. The potatoes are soft on the inside and deliciously crisp on the outside. The pork is like 95% fat, like all cuts of meat here in China, but still yummy. Basically, hui guo tu dou is bacon and french fries with soy sauce and chili pepper. Enough said.

 

*Supposedly, something like 3 out of 10 woks are using recycled oil. This is not a good thing or being green. This means it’s oil that was thrown out, and then scooped up by some enterprising soul from the gutter.

Food Friday: Sydney

24 Feb

Food! OMG, the food in Sydney was absolutely delicious. Honestly. Go there, people, the food is awesome. I want to give special props to sara_l_r of the Golden Horde for pointing me in the direction of David Lebovitz’s Australia posts; he did not lead us astray once.

MUSTS

Sonoma Bakery – Bondi Beach

Just off of the main road in Bondi lies this unassuming bakery. We stumbled our way over here on our first trip to Bondi, in search of shade and food. They had great coffee. I had the daily  baked miche brown bread, sliced with lox and avocado. Oh man, it was great. Mom had the Mediterranean sandwich. We took a quarter-loaf away, and enjoyed it the next day on our wine tour adventures. (Have to soak up the booze with something!)

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Pie Face

 

It’s a coffee shop chain called “pie face”, what’s not to love? They have nibbles, like spinach and ricotta quiche, meat or fruit pies, and lamingtons. Plus, the coffee has amusing names like “kick my arse” and “why god why”. They have locations all over down town Sydney, they were moderately priced, and had a loveable mascot. One of my favorites, for sure. If only they were interested in the American market…

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fish market on manly beach

Seriously, that was the restaurant’s name. It was just off the main waterfront and it was divine. The food was excellent. Mom had prawns, wrapped in bacon and thin potato slices and then fried, over a bed of mango salad. Mmmmm. SO good. I had a white fish, John Dory, grilled with a delicious sauce. Dessert was a warm chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and vanilla ice cream. Totally delish. Worth every penny and a great way to end a day at Manly Beach.

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Mamak

 

We went here on the recommendation of the valet at the Marriott. Thanks, man. This was the first place we had even seen a waiting line to get in; we spent about twenty minutes wait before we were seated and that was at the dinner rush. Mamak is a Malaysian restaurant located in Chinatown and if you are going to Sydney you MUST go there. Oh man, it was phenomenal. Mom liked it, I loved it, and the food was deliciously spicy. Above (left) is the original roti, the roti canai.  Like I told Mom, every culture out there worth its salt has a version of fried dough and all of them are amazing.  Malaysia’s version is an egg dough that’s been fried and served with two curry sauces.  We also got the chicken satay (above, right), which was the best I’ve ever had so far in my life.  For a more balanced meal, we decided on  the kangkung belacan, which is stir-fried spinach with chillies and shrimp paste.  This was a little spicy for Mom, but after six months in Chengdu the hot chillies don’t even phase me.   For dessert, there was the absolutely amazing roti pisang, a sweet fried dough with sliced bananas and vanilla ice cream.  It was tough, but we really just had to force ourselves to eat it all.

 

 

 

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Doyle’s Fish Market

 

Fresh fish, cooked right on the wharf. I had the Tasmanian salmon and it was delicious. Mom had some white fish (can’t remember, barramundi?) and was pleased as well. The french fries were good too, but the ketchup was weird. Besides that, I do recommend it. It’s a lunch joint and they close at 4pm, but the place was hopping when we got there at 3. The seagulls are particularly annoying, but that’s how it goes. Great food at a reasonable price.

MEHS

Wagamama

Okay, you know how I said how it was downright painful to find someplace to eat in downtown Sydney after 8pm? Yeah. This was one of the restaurants we went to when practically everything else had closed and we were getting snippy from low blood sugar. Wagamama is a modern noodle bar. It wasn’t too bad, I guess. For one thing, I got to see Mom’s mad chopsticks skillz. (Love ya!) I got a fried udon noodle dish – big flat noodles stir-fried with a variety of toppings, including my old nemesis, shredded dried pork. Frankly, it was just okay. What really made the place stand out in my mind was the drink I ordered with dinner, an apple cinnamon vodka concoction that was absolutely delicious. I swiped one of Kari’s chicken satays; another okay. This place is consistently okay., but probably not worth the price unless you’re here for the lunch specials.

Pancake on the Rocks

With a name like that, you’d assume this would be a cool little diner-type all day brekkie joint. Nope. It’s the Australian version of IHOP. And after two weeks of delicious food, it just doesn’t compare. Go somewhere else, young grasshopper.

Food Friday: Coffee Edition

21 Oct

I am a big tea drinker. No surprise there, given the three summers I spent working in a teashop and years of having a nice earl gray after dinner with my dad. But college turned me into an unrepentant coffee fiend. I mean, the Starbucks was actually located inside Library West, how the heck am I supposed to resist that sort of temptation with my poor sleep habits? My last semester in school I practically had a coffee IV-drip set up in order to get my thesis finished. (I regret nothing!)

Most mornings, my lovely roommate would make the coffee. This was mostly a function of her having the earlier class in the morning. It was a good system: I donated the beans, she made it strong enough for me to stay awake, and I didn’t have to fiddle with rocket science in the morning. Good times all around.

Things are a little different here in China. While Starbucks does have several outposts here in Chengdu, including one a scant mile away over by the Shangri-La Hotel, the price is pretty exorbitant. A medium mocha will cost me about 30 kuai, about five bucks. Not insanely expensive, especially when you look at airport-Starbucks prices, but when compared to the relative cost of everything else around here, it looks a little steep. In comparison, a tea at a stand will cost me anywhere from 2 to 7 kuai, depending on how fancy I get. I generally spend about 10 kuai per meal, usually fried rice or noodles. So spending that much on coffee makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

To fill this necessary gap, I looked at how the locals got on. Instant coffee is all the rage over here. You have a small packet which you empty into your mug. Add hot water. Congratulations, you now have coffee. Terrible, terrible coffee. I’ve found that a single packet doesn’t make a nearly strong enough coffee for me, so I generally tear two or three, depending on how I’m feeling that morning. It’s got cream and sugar already added (although I’m not sure how, exactly). Frankly, it’s pretty idiot proof, which is kind of why I like it. If I got coffee beans and a French press, that would be much more likely to result in undrinkable swill than a cup of coffee.

When I’m in the mood for splurging, I head over to Kaffestugan, the local Swedish coffee bar. I positively love this place. Yes, the stair up to the third floor are gross, but you know what? Good coffee that is cheaper and closer than Starbucks, internet, clean and bright shop area, bookshelves, and (wait for it) bagels with lox. Swedish meatballs. Cinnamon buns. Yes, I do tend to end up spending a bit more here, but you know what? Cinnamon buns. It’s hard to go wrong with that.

Food Friday: Western Food

7 Oct

For the foreigner abroad, eating out is always an experience. But sometimes, you just need a burger. Homesickness gets at everyone and when faced with yet another unidentifiable dish of peppers and something, your resolve to only eat local dishes crumbles. It happens. No judgment here: I lasted about two weeks before going after Western-style food with a vengeance.

The best so far is a chain called Pete’s Tex-Mex. Mexican style food is all but impossible to find abroad in the East – the fact that there’s five of this chain restaurant here in Chengdu made me very happy. The cheese is okay, which is another unusual thing here in China. (In general, it is very hard to find good cheese and importing it is a special kind of nightmare.) I have no pictures of my delicious delicious burger, mostly because I ate it before even thinking about you guys. Sorry, but that was one good burger. Handmade bun, too! The fries were okay. Well, they kind of tasted like school cafeteria fries, but whatever, I had a delicious burger.

Next up is another chain here in Chengdu  called Grandma’s Kitchen. They have a couple nearby, but I keep going to the one over by the embassy. It’s a cool location, very chill atmosphere.  Excellent coffee. Unfortunately, the food is okay. I had a chicken club sandwich and then a grilled cheese on my second visit. My overall impression was blah.  Better fries, though.  The Bridge Cafe is judging you, Grandma’s Kitchen. (For the record, my grandmother would be appalled at what comes out of your kitchen and then storm in to make things better. I’m about three mediocre dishes away from doing the same.) However, I have been told their weekend brunch is something to write home about. I’ll have to try it soon, I guess. The prospect of pancakes intrigues me.

Last, but certainly not least, is my new favorite restaurant, Cacaja, an Indian place. Yes, I realize that Indian food does not count as “Western”, but think on this oh wise ones: India is Western to China. I mean, in Journey to the West, Monkey and Tripitaka are headed for the Little Western Heaven, which is in India. I’m just saying all this because I had the best curry ever at this restaurant. Oh man, it was spicy with well cooked meat and not over-stewed with a side order of naan. And samosas! I freaking love samosas. I have no real desire to visit/live in India, but if it mean I could eat samosas every day, I would make a serious effort to doing so. For those poor wretches who have never consumed a samosa, it’s a like a spicy potato and veggie fried dumpling. I’ve never had a pasty, but it works on the same principle. They’re even good cold, so I took the remainders home and snacked on them later when I was hungry.

Unfortunately, eating Western means paying a premium, even for stuff that is sub-par. You’ll be paying Western prices for a sandwich. Seven bucks doesn’t seem so expensive until you consider the relative prices for things. Coffee is the worst, though. But that’s for another week.

Food Friday: Misfires

23 Sep

Eating in China is a daily adventure into the unknown. Very few restaurants have any English on their menus, most of which are printed once in large characters on the wall. Some places have individual menus pasted to the wall next to the tables, which is quite nice for the times when my Chinese is just not getting across and I can resort to the time honored “point and smile”. More often than not I rely on the Fates to decide what I’m having for dinner, especially on the rare occasions when I am tired of my standard fare. (Beef noodle soup, I’m sorry baby, I never meant to hurt you…) It’s a good way to change things up and sometimes I add a new favorite to my regular dinner rotation.

Unfortunately, not every dish is a winner. Oh god, no. Sometimes, when doing the spinny hand thing, I end up ordering something truly vile.

This is a bowl of beef flavored tofu nao. Translation: tofu brain. Ugh. I’m a fan of tofu in moderate quantities, but I had been under the impression that I had ordered beef noodles. This is not beef noodles. And to make matters worse, the wait-staff is staring at me in this tiny little shop, because I am apparently a fascinating thing.

Despite the name, there is no brains in this dish, which makes me rather pleased because I am not a zombie, my penchant for post-apocalyptic books aside. Instead, it’s a goddamn delicacy. To quote someone else who knows what the hells she’s talking about, “Dofu Nao, for example, is a dish of fermented bean curd in a rich brown sauce cooked with fine chopped meat, green cucumber and cloud- (or ear-) shaped wild fungus.” Delicious my ass. More like vomit-inducing. I barely made my way through a quarter of it, mushed it up some more to make it look like I had eaten more, and exited with undue haste.

The next dish is a traitor to the curry family. I’m a big fan of curry, especially Japanese-style curry. You know, the Golden whatever brand that comes in a big old brick of spices and turns into a thick, stew-like concoction that goes well with stir-fried meat and potatoes over rice? (Damn, I’m making myself hungry…) This is nothing like that.

Yes, there is chicken and potatoes over rice in a thick, uninspired gravy. But oh man, did they fuck up the execution of the dish. There’s no spice, no kick, nothing. The meat is reprocessed slurry (something I was shocked to find in China) and there are these weird pink squares. I have no idea what they are, but they had the consistency of bad spam. The rice is clearly low-grade. Basically, the whole meal was one big disappointment, as I paid 18 kuai, the purchasing power equivalent of going to a Panera/Chipolte or something. (Uh, I normally pay about 6 – 10 kuai for most of my meals. Those noodle dishes from last week? The most expensive was the Xinjiang noodle dish at 12 kuai and that was because of the grilled meat.) It ranks pretty low mostly because I was looking forward to good curry. I got something that makes school food curry look delicious, and I would know about Chinese cafeteria school food. Actually, Beida’s cafeteria food wasn’t half bad.

The last dish is, well, I have no words.

Seriously, I got nothing. I asked for red fried beef and rice. I got this. I think there was tomato? Yeah. The eagle-eyed amongst you might notice the two eggs on top. The whites were cooked, the yolks not so much. It was kind of put on my table and I stared at it for a while. When I asked the waitress “wtf?”, she nodded and said a bunch of things in very fast sichuanhua. So I ate it.

I was hungry. I was paying money for it. The rice was edible-ish. (Stop judging me.)

The sauce, not so much. It was like someone gelatinized a bunch of tomatoes, added egg whites, made sure it was cooked just enough to make sure no one would get salmonella, and threw over a bunch of rice. Then someone else in the kitchen said, “hang on, I have these eggs already cooked, what the hell, why not”. And then they served it to me. Yeah, I’m not going back there again.

Miscellanea: most things in Chengdu are already spiced. When they go to the trouble of actually labelling something as “peppered”, back away slowly. Seriously. You will thank me for this. I learnt this the hard way with a plate of “Mountain Peppered Fried Rice”. It was okay, but I was not expecting what appeared to be an entire garden’s worth of shredded green peppers invading my tastebuds and conquering all they encountered. It was not pleasant. You’ve been warned.