Saturday, November 27, 2010

Okra (Yellow) Curry

Okra is a vegetable with the scientific name of abelmoschus esculentus, and it belongs to the mallow family.
It is also called, for some strange reason, lady’s fingers or gumbo, and is grown in tropical, sub-tropical and warm regions of the world.

The ideal okras for cooking are the prime ones, which are not too mature. You can find out by testing the bottom edge of the okra: if it breaks, it is good.

Okra is unique for its mucilaginous qualities. Inside, it is slimy and not to everyone’s taste. But it can be used in a number of dishes, either with other vegetables or meats, or just on its own.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Seafood Laksa at Gourmet Garden -- Heavenly

After hearing about it a lot, and having managed to some of the dishes, I recently got the chance to visit the Gourmet Garden Malaysian & Singapore Cuisine in east Toronto.
Tucked behind a series of stores, the building houses a food court with at least three restaurants.
The Gourmet Garden in Toronto

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Quick, Long Lunch at a Korean Fast Food Joint

 After a three or four month gap, it was time to visit the T&T supermarket at Middlefield & Steeles, in Toronto.
Visiting a gigantic Chinese supermarket such as T&T is an experience of its own, but this story is not about the supermarket.
After the shopping, I was hungry. Thinking back, there were probably two key reasons why I felt hungry at that point – the tasters – from the pieces of dim sum, grilled oyster mushrooms and even a lump of sticky rice -- I had inside the supermarket, and of course the sight and sounds of a food court. This is one of the few ‘ethnic’ supermarkets with its own food court.
As usual at such places, it was tough to decide where to go – should I go to a Chinese restaurant, or to the Japanese. I was going from one end to the other when I noticed a customer taking from one of the stands a tray with a bowl of colourful soup.
I went to the woman behind the counter to ask what it is. With a very friendly face she pointed to the board behind her, and said it was tofu soup. Coming to a Chinese food court and having a vegetarian soup? I was not impressed but the sight of that dish was too enthralling, so I asked her what it contained. Tofu and seafood.
Sea food?
I ordered it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Best Thai Food ... Found In A Costa RicanTown

I was staying in the beach-resort town of Jaco, on the western Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Our hotel was not a fully all-inclusive one, and provided just breakfast. But Jaco was a touristy town, and had a number of restaurants, from Chinese to Pizzerias.
My usual jaunt was to a local restaurant that offered cheap Costa Rican food. But after a while, I heard about a Thai restaurant that had just opened up, and visited for dinner. I have never been to Thailand, but love Thai food, as it always conjures up images of fresh ingredients and spices, all mixed and cooked in street-side stands. Besides, I come from Asia and as much as I consider myself a lover of all good dishes, nothing comes closer than Asian cooking.
As soon as I entered the restaurant expecting some good Thai food a wave of disappointment hit me. Because there was not a Thai or a Chinese to be seen; instead the owner/cook was a Caucasian. A Canadian citizen.
So, a Canadian cooking Thai food in Costa Rica. Yeah right.
Well, we had already entered and sat, so I did not have the stomach to get up.
The restaurant had just opened up, and the kitchen was basically a long table behind the counter and I could see all the cooking being done.
And then I felt it; The aroma wafting through the sultry air. It was the aroma that I had conjured up in my dreams of good Thai food.
I don’t remember what I had, but it was one of the best Thai meals I had ever had: Very spicy with the owner growing some of the ingredients such as lemongrass at her home.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Trying Omakase At Omi Sushi, Toronto

Last year I had written (read here ) about my first visit to Omi, on the Parliament-Carlton intersection in Toronto, and had mentioned about my desire to test the omakase the next time.
Well, I recently got the opportunity to just experiment my first ever Omakase. According to Wikipedia, the philosophy behind Omakase is all about trust; that is, placing the trust on the chef to provide something exquisite and creative. And it is also not supposed to be just raw food (sushi/sashimi), but include dishes made by simmering, grilling etc.
I had reserved beforehand, and arrived pretty late in the evening. There were close to ten people which I thought was good for that time of the day.
We were seated with our backs facing the wall, and just across us, on the other side of the aisle was the counter and behind it was the rather serious-looking chef at work.
I ordered sake, and green tea. For the sake, they offer a box full of cups for us to select one. I like cups that come with a tinge of roughness one attributes to ceramic, but this time for a change I decided to go for a smooth, shiny white cup.
The waitress informed us that there will be seven courses.
Course 1
Miso soup. The friendly waitress informed me that the soup was made with organic products. I could not detect any of the usual small cubes of soft tofu, but there were green onion rings and sea weed. The soup was moderately warm, and had an  exquisite dash of sourness.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Odine Japanese - Thai Fusion in Ajax,Ontario

It was by chance that I noticed Odine in Ajax, Ontario, Canada, Ontario.
I was returning from the Home Depot and was about to take a right turn on Kingston Road when I noticed a new restaurant on the other side of the road.
And a closer look revealed it was Japanese-Thai fusion cuisine, which made me even more curious, as I have never seen this combination.
And so far I have been there twice.
A huge smiling Buddha welcomes you at the entrance. Further inside is the restaurant, and it is decorated simply, which adds a richness to the ambience.

For lunch, Odine has a Lunch Menu as well as the regular Menu.
The first time I went for the Lunch Menu; I chose Special Thai Curry, which comes with soup and rice.
I chose beef, and it came on a gold-brown curry.

 The second time, I was tempted to order the Teriyaki, but decided to go for Thai.
Ajax is a fast growing city, and though it lacks the depth in the ethno-cultural restaurant scene that nearby cities such as Scarborough or Markham have, the situation is improving.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mayan Coffee

During my recent trip to Puerto Morelos in Mexico, I had the opportunity to taste 'Mayan coffee' at the Hacienda Arrecife restaurant in Hotel Marina El Cid. The coffee was wonderful, but more than the taste, it was the process of making it that was eye-catching.

The maing of Mayan coffee is an art, and the second time I visited the restaurant, I was ready for Senor Alfredo. Here is the video, captured on my Nokia N96, on Making Mayan Coffee

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bar Chiaki - In Toronto

Chiaki’s Bar, located on Steels and Woodbine, is one of my favourite joints, not only because I know the owner but also because I like the atmosphere. Besides, I am deeply intrigued by the Japanese culture.

But first the bar.
As I have been there a number of times, I am going to describe more the ambience than the details of what is offered. And the interior decoration is simple but rich. As with most East Asian restaurants, black colour plays a major role, with a couple sofas and setties in that colour. The countertop is also black granite. I find it very chic.
They do have a variety of alcohol – from wine and beer to the harder stuff such as whiskey. I usually go for a beer. I also like sake but I find the tradition of drinking out of small (very small) cups quite challenging for someone who drinks tea or coffee from a big mug (sorry, my coffee-loving Italian friends and green tea-loving Chinese and Japanese friends).
And it was Chiaki’s Bar that introduced me to another drink that has become one of my favourites: Shozu or Shochu. It is made from barley, sweet potatoes or rice, but unlike sake, is distilled. It is also stronger – at around 25%. It was during a visit in deep winter that I had asked for something stronger, and they suggested it. It came with warm water. Usually, I balk at the idea because adding water to alcohol is a strict no for my digestive system; it makes me feel nauseated.
But this turned out to be a different experience. Smooth and warm – ideal for winter.
There is always some bite at Chiaki’s – usually roasted nuts of different types. Time to time they will give us what they cook for themselves.
And if you take a break to the washroom, they will wait with a warm napkin when you come back.
One interesting facet of the bar experience is the interaction of the waitresses with the customers. They never say no when a customer offers to buy them a drink. In fact, they seem to like it very much. But they remain on their side of the counter and if you are seated in the couch, sometimes will kneel down and pour the drink in your cup (though I am not sure whether this act of kneeling depends on the social status. The Japanese are, after all, very tradition bound).
Even more intriguing is the amount of alcohol Japanese women can handle; And they do not seem to hesitate to mix drinks – beer, wine and the harder ones; they take everything in a stride, and still walk with a straight head.

Bar Chiaki has a website, though currently only the Japanese version is available. English site is under construction.