I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving, and I secretly hope that someone used my street fried chicken (Hat Yai fried chicken) recipe to deep-fry a turkey. ;) Well if you did, you deserve a shipment of High Heel Gourmet jam for Christmas. I’m serious. Pictures as proof, please. (My jam has been a source of family fights before; you shouldn’t miss it!)
We are now up to the fifth episode of Thai noodles already. After you’ve been eating so much poultry, it’s time to switch the source of protein, don’t you think? I do. This time I offer an easy recipe for slow-cooked beef with noodles that I actually want to call beef stew, but I’m afraid that it will set the wrong expectation for you.
The Thais won’t eat the thick beef stew with noodles. In fact, there are really no noodle dishes with thick, stew-like broth except for curry with noodles, of which we only have two kinds. One is the Northern Thai Curry Noodles that I already gave you the recipe for. The other one is coming soon.
I blame it on the hot Thai climate that doesn’t make eating hot, thick broth seem appealing. Most of our noodles are in a thin broth. When we have noodles with thick gravy we normally eat them with Kanom Jeen—the rice noodles—more than Guay Tiew. The dish looks and feels more like pasta. Kanom Jeen Sao Nam, Kanom Jeen Nam Ya Tai are good examples.
Back to our slow-cooked beef then. Yes, we are going to make a thin broth full of herb and spice aromas. This dish is good for any time of the day, but especially right after clubbing or a party where you might be drinking and dancing a little too much. Anytime I went out to a club, at the end of the night I always wished I were in Bangkok where I could find a street vendor selling beef noodles, or noodles with dumplings.
How can you identify Guay Tiew Neau Toon on the aroma-filled streets of Bangkok? You will see a pot filled with the slow-cooked beef on the cart. Or after you cook this recipe, you will remember the aromas…mmmmm.
I listed a lot of “optional” ingredients because they are actually your own preference. Some vendors might put different spices or herbs, and some just stay with the basics. You can invent your own, but I recommend asking me or some other Thai person nearby first just to see if it is okay to serve it that way.
Don’t just guess at it like Bon Appetit’s recipe developer. Her so-called “Thai Beef Stew with Lemongrass and Noodles” calls for unsweetened coconut flakes…aghhhhhhh. We NEVER use that crap in our Guay Tiew, alright? (Let alone using “reduced-sodium” soy sauce then adding fish sauce. So confusing! That’s like ordering a non-fat mocha with whipped cream. What’s the point of reduced-sodium in a soup base? Can’t you just use less of the regular soy sauce?)
Another violation is carrots. If we want to sweeten our soup base naturally, we will use turnips or onions, but not carrots. Do you know why? Because the carrot is not part of our heritage vegetables. We only started growing them a short time ago. Less than forty years ago carrots were still labeled as “Western vegetables”.
Please don’t just think anything with a combination of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and coconut flakes all together will be approved by the Thais as “Thai food”. I’m not even talking about what is authentic; if your dish can’t even be accepted as Thai food by the Thai, may be you should respectfully consider dropping the country name from it. (When I say “Thai food” I mean the food that Thai people would cook and serve in their household–I’m not being pretentious.). I can guarantee with all my Thainess that the recipe that was published and labeled as “Thai Beef…blah blah…” mentioned above was SO NOT Thai food. We have our principles in our culinary art and we hope that it will be respected. This is one of the main reasons why I write my blog.
You can always add or subtract the ingredients as you prefer. But if it is far from this recipe, you can call it your own noodles dish; no need to add “Thai” to the name.
Ingredients for the beef and the broth:
Beef shank, about 2 lbs. (Including bones. If you are using some leftover steak bone and or other leftover beef, you can adjust it accordingly. I only used 1lb. of beef shank, and added other stuff.)
Celery stalk 3 stems
Garlic, whole clove 2 tablespoons
Cinnamon stick 1 whole (about 6” long)
Star anise 5 full pieces
White pepper 1 tablespoon
Cilantro root 1 big root or 2 smaller roots (If you can’t find it just use a bunch of cilantro stems. Pick the leaves off to use for garnish.)
Seasoning sauce 1/4 cup (Maggi is just fine)
Salt 1 tablespoon
Rock sugar 3 tablespoons (Or 1-1/2 tablespoons brown sugar)
Water 1 gallon
These are acceptable optional ingredients:
Leftover steak bones (I used a T-bone and mutton bone here)
Galangal slices about 6-8 thin slices
Sichuan (or Szechwan) pepper 1 teaspoon
Dried Shitake mushrooms 1/4 cup
Lemongrass 1 whole stalk or 2 of the tips (You will use the bottom part to make curry paste)
Goji berries 2 tablespoons
Whole white cardamom 2 tablespoons
Pandan leaves 4 whole leaves
These are also the optional ingredients that I didn’t use in mine:
Onions (just for the sweetness)
Dried orange peels
Method for the beef and the broth:
1) Place all the broth ingredients in a pot with the water and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the meat falls off the bones, about 2-3 hours. If the water level drops below all the ingredients, you can add more water, but I didn’t have to add to mine. The broth should be clear, not cloudy. If it is so cloudy, you are using too high a temperature. Reduce the heat next time, but it’s still okay to use what you have now.
2) Turn off the heat, cover the pot with a lid, and leave it overnight.
3) The next morning skim all the fat off the top. If some herbs or spices come with it, it’s okay too. We’re about to strain all of them out.
4) Take the meat out of the soup and cut into bite-size pieces.
Strain all the herbs and other ingredients out of the soup,
keeping the broth and discarding the rest. You can keep the mushrooms in if you like. You should end up with a soup that is brown but semi-transparent or clear, with a full herbs and spices aroma. You can also season the soup to your personal preference, but I keep mine pretty mild tasting.
5) Put the cut-up meat in a separate pot and add broth, just enough to cover the meat. Heat until it reaches a boil, then turn off the heat. You shouldn’t let it simmer any longer, but try to keep it warm for the noodles.
Ingredients for the noodles:
Bean sprouts about 2-3 cups
Green leaf lettuce, cut up in chunks, about 2-3 cups
The broth and slow-cooked beef
(Optional) Beef meat balls (I will give you the recipe next week. Just use the store bought for now.)
(Optional) Sliced beef
Noodles of your choice, as much or as little as you want, or none at all.
Fried garlic in oil (If you don’t know how to make this, look in Episode II)
Celery leaves, chopped
Cilantro and green onion, chopped up
Sweet dark soy sauce (You can mix dark soy with molasses if you can’t find it)
Crushed fresh chili in vinegar (Sambal Oelek is a good substitute)
Sliced red chili in vinegar
Tang Chai (preserved cabbage, look for it in Episode II if you don’t know what it is)
Method for making the noodles:
1) Boil a separate pot of water, and also heat the remaining broth that you already strained all the herbs out of.
2) Put chopped green leaf lettuce in a bowl. Once the water reaches a boil, cook the bean sprouts and the noodles, then add them to the bowl.
3) If you like to add meatballs or sliced beef, cook them in the broth and add them to your bowl.
4) Take the slow-cooked beef and add to the bowl.
4.1) If you want to eat your noodles soup style, add the broth to the bowl and add the accompaniments, except the sweet dark soy sauce, then season to your preference.
4.2) If you want to eat your noodles salad style, add the sweet soy sauce first then add all other accompaniments. Season to your preference.
Low carb option: Of course, you can prepare this dish without the noodles. It’s called Gao Lao Neau Toon. Of you can swap the noodles for steamed rice as well.
If it had not been for a viral video clip done by a teenage girl in Trung, a southern province of Thailand, cursing and complaining about her lost “Niaow Gai”–fried chicken with sticky rice–I would have forgotten about this recipe.
I blogged about a traditional wedding ceremony dish of the Trung province earlier this year, Gin Niaow. But I totally forgot that Songkhla province, the hometown of my parents, also has a recipe that is even more famous and popular, and eaten nationally, not only in the South (the nation I’m mentioning is the Thai nation, of course). That recipe is called “Gai Tod Hat Yai”.
You might already know from the previous post that Gai = chicken, Tod = deep fried and Hat Yai = a city in Songkhla province. It actually is just a fried chicken recipe really, but there is a reason why it’s known and eaten all over the country.
What sets this fried chicken apart from all other fried chicken is the marinade and the much needed accessory: crispy fried shallots…lots of them. Do you remember the Thai Chicken Biryani, Khao Mok Gai? That recipe contained fried shallots too. If you want to guess, it’s safe to assume that this is another Halal-derived recipe. Oh, they do love crispy fried shallots.
There is a large Islamic population in the south of Thailand, especially in the four southern-most provinces: Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla. Nonetheless, though my families are not Islamic, we do love Halal food. It doesn’t include pork—which we love–but their chicken and beef dishes are to die for.
For those of you who plan to go to Thailand, you should try this type of fried chicken when there. It’s superb, and a much better alternative to KFC (which travelers to Thailand eat when they want “familiar” food). And you don’t have to go all the way to the south to try this. There are vendors on the street selling this type of fried chicken all over the country. If you are cautious about hygiene, ask to buy the one that’s just fresh out of the hot oil, and you will be just fine. The identifier for the “Gai Tod Hat Yai” is the fried shallots, don’t forget that.
The best things to eat with this fried chicken are Som Tam and sticky rice. They are gluten-free, and a healthy choice since you will get the oil supply from the fried chicken. There is no need to add mayo to your salad or butter to your sticky rice to balance the diet.
Let’s see what we need here for the marinade.
Chicken, cut up in large segments, your choice 3 lb.
Chopped or minced garlic 3 tablespoons
White pepper 3 teaspoons
Coriander powder 1-1/2 teaspoons
Cumin powder 1/2 teaspoon
Salt 1-1/2 teaspoons
Brown sugar 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons)
Oyster sauce (or if you want to go full flavor, use fish sauce) 2 tablespoons
Milk 6 tablespoons
(Optional) Coriander or cilantro root, chopped 1 tablespoon
Rice flour about 1-2 cups. (I don’t recommend rice flour from Bob’s Red Mill brand; it’s too coarse. You need to buy it the right kind at an Asian market but if it is too hard to get, use all-purpose flour.)
Sliced shallots 1-3 cups, depending on how much you like them.
Sticky rice, as much or as little as you want. I used only 1 cup (This is on the lesser side)
Oil for frying, about 4 cups
1) Mush all dried ingredients together until they become paste. Then mix the paste with milk and oyster sauce.
2) Rub all the sauce onto the chicken pieces, under the skin and all. Marinate at least 3 hours. The longer the better. I would prefer overnight if you have time.
3) While you are waiting for the chicken to be marinated, slice the shallots and spread them on a paper towel to dry them a little.
4) Cook your sticky rice. This is another method I use to cook sticky rice. The proportion between rice and water is 1:1.5 (This also depends on how dry the rice is, it could be as much as 1:2, but you would know later). Put the rice and water in a pot, set it on the stove and cook over high heat until the water is boiling. As soon as the water starts to climb up and overflow the pot, turn the heat down to the lowest level and simmer until all the water absorbs. This usually takes about 13-15 minutes.
Take a rice grain and taste if it is cooked through. If it is, turn off the heat, cover and let the rice sit for another 10 minutes. If it isn’t, add more water (about 1/4 cup per each cup of rice), flip the top part down to the bottom and simmer about 5 minutes more, taste it again. It should be cooked through this time.
Cooking the sticky rice this way, you won’t get the perfect-looking rice grains as with the other method I taught you when I gave you the sticky rice and mango recipe but it’s good enough. It’s good for making sticky rice that you don’t have time to soak beforehand. If you want a perfect-looking sticky rice, use the steaming method.
5) Put oil in the wok over medium heat. We’re first going to fry the sliced shallots that we will then air out to dry. Wait until the oil is hot, about 300ºF – 325ºF, drop the shallots in and increase the heat to medium high.
You will see the oil bubble all over, so stir the shallots constantly and keep watch. As soon as the shallots have some golden spots, take them all out of the oil right away.
Don’t worry about how white they seem. Let them sit in the scooper or lay them out on a paper towel.
This is just the first step. The shallots will get darker
and darker as they sit.
In the meantime, drop the heat down to medium again. Wait one or two minutes, the oil temperature should increase, and at the same time the shallots should look light golden. Now, if you’ve taken the shallots out of the mesh scooper, put them back in it.
Don’t put all the shallots in the scooper this time. (I’m telling you not to do it the way I did, alright? Learn from my mistakes!) You don’t want a deep layer of shallots in the scooper, so you may need to do this in two or three steps. Now dip the scooper in the hot oil,
shaking it just to make sure that all the shallots touch the oil, and then take it out right away. The whole dipping should last no more than 30 seconds. Lay those shallots on the paper towel to absorb the oil.
Repeat it if you have shallots left. The shallots should be crispy and look all deep golden after cooling for about two minutes. If they’re a little too dark, you dipped them too long.
6) Now we’re ready to fry the chicken. Put rice flour in a bowl big enough to put the all the chicken pieces in. Roll the chicken pieces in the rice flour and shake off the excess flour. You can use a plastic bag and shake the chicken pieces in the bag if you like that method better.
Heat the oil in the wok over medium heat. Let the oil reach about 350ºF before you put the chicken pieces in. Make sure that the temperature doesn’t drop below 250ºF. If you put in too many pieces, the oil temperature will drop too low and the chicken will soak up too much oil, so limit the number of pieces to not overload the wok.
Let the chicken fry in hot oil over medium heat. Watch them, and you might want to turn them at least once. It’s even okay to turn them more than once. You will have to fry them at the least 6-7 minutes, so be patient. After about 5 minutes, increase the heat to medium high. If you look at the chicken pieces, you might start seeing the blood seeping out of the chicken. That’s a clue to increase the heat, too.
The best way to gauge if the chicken is done, (I usually listen to the sound and look at the bubble but that’s difficult to explain to anyone), is to pull out your thermometer to track what the exact temperature of the oil is. During the period of frying, the temperature will rise slowly at first and then faster, and when the temperature starts to rise a little faster, that’s when you increase the heat.
We increase the heat to make the batter or the skin crispy. This is called the one-pan method. I usually use this method if I don’t fry that many pieces. But if I have to fry many more pieces, I take the cooked chicken out a little before they’re done and let them sit on the oil absorbent paper until I’m done frying the whole batch. Then I increase the oil temperature to 375ºF and then I put the chicken pieces back in the oil for just one to two minutes, or until the outside turns a deeper shade of golden before I take them out. This is called the two-pans method.
If you ever watch a street vendor in Thailand cooking this fried chicken, you can see how this is done. They might have a gigantic wok that looks just like a witch cauldron: black, filled with dark liquid, bubbling, sizzling, seeming like they have just dropped a strand of phoenix hair in it or maybe a lizard. Then they stir the pot and you will smell the yummy chicken goodness. They keep doing that a few times, then they scoop the chicken pieces out. You’re watching and thinking, alright, after all this, now I get to eat my fried chicken.
Nope. They then dump the chicken pieces into another equally intimidating wok! What the heck? That’s what I mean by the two-pans method of frying. The chicken needs two different sets of temperature to make them crispy on the outside, cooked through and still juicy on the inside.
7) Now you are ready to serve the fried chicken, but wait a minute. Don’t forget the Nam Jim. Which one is the one to be used for fried chicken? Of course Nam Jim Gai, Thai Sweet Chilli is the one. Don’t forget to include the fried shallots.
Now you don’t even have to go all the way to Thailand to have this yummy fried chicken, and you don’t have to suspend your hygiene concerns or have to worry about the amount of trans fat you have consumed right after you have sated your hunger. So sink your teeth in the crispy fried chicken, put fried shallots on top of the sticky rice and enjoy the treasure of Hat Yai in your own home.
It’s officially winter, finally. I know that I’m in Southern California which has a very mild winter, but it does get chilly here too, even though our only snow is on the top of the mountains. So I’m craving some hot soup.
After leaving my noodles series for quite a while, like the whole quarter of this year, I think this might be an appropriate time to continue the series. Thai people eat many different kinds of chicken noodles, starting from clear broth to a dark-colored broth, to TomYum broth and even curry broth like Khao Soi.
In the winter I just want plain clear broth. Do you remember my last episode of Thai noodles, Guay Tiew Moo? The soup for these chicken noodles will be easier than that one, believe it or not. Also this noodle version is not going to have as many items as Guay Tiew Moo.
So this time you won’t need to recruit as many diners as when you were making the full-spread pork noodles; it’s okay to make these chicken noodles for just two people for a cozy night in. So if you haven’t done so since the end of the Guay Tiew Moo party, it’s time to return the neighbor’s kids that you had borrowed. (Or, even better, return your own brats to them and keep theirs!)
Let’s start then.
Ingredients for the broth (for two):
Chicken breast 1 piece
Chicken drumstick 2 pieces
Cilantro root 1 root
Garlic 4 cloves
White peppercorn 1 tablespoon
Onion 1 bulb (This is just to make the soup taste sweet naturally and add flavor. You can also use daikon root)
(Optional) Ginger root 5 slices
(Optional) Goji berries 1 tablespoon
(Optional) Sweet radish or diakon root, preserved 1 tablespoon
Salt 1 teaspooon
Crystal sugar 3 pieces, or about a teaspoon
Water 8 – 10 cups
Ingredients for the noodles:
Bean sprouts, about 2-3 cups
Noodles of your choice, as much or as little as you want
Accompaniments: (If you don’t understand these please go back and read the Episode II Everything Else Beyond Noodles. There will be an explanation and pictures.
Fried garlic in oil (If you don’t know how to make this, look in Episode II)
Cilantro and green onion, chopped up
Limes, cut in wedges (shown in this post how to cut a lime)
Cracked roasted peanuts (I use a food processor or coffee grinder to crush them, but you can use a mortar)
Dried red chili flakes
Red jalapeño in vinegar
1) Put water in the pot and add the cilantro root, smashed garlic, peppercorns and onion (cut in quarters), and bring to a boil over the high heat.
2) Add the chicken breast and drumsticks to the pot, lowering the heat to medium. If some foam appears on the top, scoop it out. Boil the chicken breast until done, using a fork to pierce through the breast to see the level of doneness.
3) Take only the breast part out of the pot and let it cool.
Leave the drumsticks in the pot and continue to simmer so the meat is tender and will fall off the bones.
4) Boil another pot of water to cook the vegetables and noodles. Wait until the water reaches a boil, then cook the bean sprouts separately, usually less than a minute,
remove, put the bean sprouts in the bowl.
and then do the noodles.
5) For salad: (Guay Tiew Gai Hang) Toss the noodles with the fried garlic oil right away to prevent them from sticking to each other.
Warm the shredded chicken up in the soup pot that is still simmering,
Then add them to the bowl.
Add the drumstick and accompaniments.
For soup: (Guay Tiew Gai Nam) After adding the shredded chicken and the drumstick, then add the soup to an individual serving bowl. Add the accompaniments.
For a low carb option: (Guay Tiew Gai Gao Lao) Don’t bother with the noodles, just use more bean sprouts. Add the shredded chicken, the chicken drumstick (only if you have some left) and the accompaniments. You can have the Gao Lao style (no noodles) with or without the broth.
This is the prequel to Thanksgiving ;) We are starting our poultry executions early, so the chicken won’t have a chance to tell the turkey to flee!
I haven’t written a lot about Thai salad in the past. From what I remember so far it’s only been Yum Woon Sen, the bean thread salad and if you count Som Tam and Larb as salad then that’s it. Don’t think that the Thais don’t eat salad; they do. They eat a lot of salad, in fact. I just haven’t gotten to the salad as a series yet.
One reason I think Thai’s variety of salads is still not so well known to the western world yet is…they are usually darn spicy! If you’ve ever been to Thailand and ordered a salad, mistaken that it would be the “salad” you’re used to—a pile of vegetables with dressing—you would either be disappointed because it burned your tongue until you couldn’t taste anything else, or it was nothing at all like what you consider a salad.
Our “Yum”, or Thai salads, are so much different. First of all, there is no oil in our salad dressing. Maybe there will be some coconut milk, or some “Nam Phrik Pao”, the chili jam which is a Thai condiment used in many recipes such as “clams with chili jam sauce”, Tom Yum or Tom kha. And any vegetables, if used, will quickly wilt if you don’t eat them right away.
Second, some Yum or salad dishes might not contain any vegetables, but some do. Look at the recipe for “Glass Noodle Salad” I posted here. The vegetables are only green onion and cilantro But Som Tam has a lot of vegetables in it. It depends.
The Thai have a few different names to call their salads: Yum ยำ, Plah พล่า, Tam ตำ, Larb ลาบ. These are all considered salad. And we don’t eat them before the meal, we eat them together with other dishes, and of course steamed rice, which calms the spice down quite a lot.
A traditional Thai full course meal always consisted of every taste: sour, sweet, some yummy fat, and salty. In Thai they would say, Preaw=sour, Wan=sweet, Mun=rich taste, Khem=salty. A full-course menu would have 4-5 different dishes that follow these parameters. These are the meals served at a middle class home all the way up to the royal court, but not at a poor household or a country home.
Unfortunately, this tradition no longer holds in the modern Thai household, and hasn’t for some time. I didn’t grow up with this myself, even though we had at the least 2-3 items on the dining table, but they weren’t all calculated based on this flavor parameter anymore. After I’m done introducing you to many different kinds of Thai foods, I can show you the full-course meal of the Thais in the mid-Rattanakosin era, but I can’t do it now. I mention it so you would understand where is the slot for the salad in the full array of Thai dishes.
Yum is normally in the sour-tasting category, to help break up the richness of fried foods or curries in coconut milk.
This time I’m going to give you a recipe for Yum Neau Yang, or grilled beef salad.
This was a blog reader request. He had eaten Yum Neau at a restaurant in his home town in the US. His expectation of this dish is going to be slightly different than the authentic beef salad.
As I’ve explained previously, Thai restaurants outside Thailand serve things that cater to their customers’ expectations. If they stay authentic with every dish, their business might have less chance of surviving.
Authentic Yum Neau Yang actually looks more like a strip steak than a salad.
Wait, I know someone is about to ask if Thai people really eat beef or steak, right?
Of course we do. May be it’s not as often as pork or chicken, but we do eat beef. Our beef is not as premium nor as tender as American beef, so we’ve had to find a way to make it chewable somehow. So we serve beef already cut up. We won’t normally serve food that has to be cut at the table, as I mentioned in Thai eating etiquette.
Why do we call this steak “salad”? Because we toss them with a dressing, and in Thai culinary rules, yum or salad doesn’t have to be vegetable dominant.
Yum Neau is one of the recipes that makes me miss my father. This is another “drunkard dish”. (He drank a bit.) It is very commonly served at bars so people can eat this while they drink. The taste of this dish is so intense even alcohol can’t dull your taste buds enough to not taste it.
The reader who requested this told me that the dish he ate had some cucumber in it, too. Probably because vegetables are cheaper than meat, and restaurants can increase the volume of the dish easily by adding them and, on top of that, the restaurant might be trying to please farang customers who are not used to ordering beef salad and getting a sliced beef strip steak instead.
Well, if any bar in Thailand serves this dish to a customer with cucumber tossed with beef (some here even add tomatoes…aghhhh), that bar would be considered “stingy” and there may never be a re-visit to that bar, or at the least never a re-order. Have you ever seen any drunkard who wants to eat vegetables after getting drunk? I always want to eat noodles in hot broth at the end of a drinking night.
Anyhow, it’s not so wrong to eat this dish with vegetables. Thai people would eat this dish with vegetables, but not toss them in with the salad. They would add the vegetables on the side, so the veggies won’t get soggy from all the condiments. Remember, there is no oil in Thai salad. We like to eat raw vegetables crunchy.
OK, the agreement between you and me is: I am going to give you the authentic recipe for Thai grilled beef salad, but if you are “Mai Rak Dee ไม่รักดี” (go find a translator!…I’m not telling you what I just said) and want to add vegetables, you can do that on your own. (And don’t forget to adjust the amount of the dressing accordingly, too.)
Beef (I chose ribeye because I need some fat to make the beef flavorful and tender. You choose what you want.) 8 oz.
Lime juice 3 tablespoons
Fish sauce 2 tablespoons
Sugar (I used granulated sugar, but palm sugar is okay, too) 1 tablespoon
Garlic, sliced thinly 1 clove (or as much as you want)
Shallot or onion sliced thinly 2-3 tablespoons
Lemongrass (Must have, you can’t do without it. If you have the tip part left from making the curry paste, you can use that) slice them thinly or you will be sorry, 2-3 tablespoons
Mint leaves 1 cup
(Optional) Green onion
(Optional) Dried chili flakes or fresh chopped up chilis, as much or as little as you want. I would prefer none, but that’s not right.
Decorative or side vegetables:
Your choice, pretty much. I would suggest cucumber and lettuce but decorative is decorative, so I can’t pick your favorite garnish vegetables for you.
1) Season the beef with salt and pepper.
2) Grill the beef to your liking.
Do not cut the beef yet!
3) Arrange the plate, squeeze the lime, slice the lemongrass, onion and garlic, pick the mint leaves off the stems. There are many things to do so DO NOT TOUCH THE BEEF YET.
4) Mix the condiments together: fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar. This is your dressing. Taste it and adjust it to your personal preference.
5) Okay, the beef must have cooled down by now. You can slice it.
6) Toss the sliced beef with herbs, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, mint leaves, cilantro, green onion (if used) and the dressing.
7) Served it over a bed of lettuce and sliced cucumber (or put them on the side where they belong ;-) )
8) Finish eating it within an hour of preparation would be best.
Before I have to go on another trip next week, let me give you a recipe that was waiting in my queue for quite some time. This is another simple and easy recipe; it’s called Todd Kratiem Phrik Thai in Thai and it means “fried with garlic and pepper.”
You can find it in ANY Thai restaurant menu. It’s the most basic, delicious and popular dish both for the lunch crowd (buying from the vendors or restaurants) and the home cookers. Todd (ทอด) in Thai means fry or deep fry not stir-fry. Pad (ผัด) is stir-fry. So, you should expect to see some oil, or a lot of oil, here.
The difference between Todd and Pad or fry and stir-fry is frying cooks the food with the heat from the hot oil. Stir-frying cooks the food with the heat from the wok or pan, and oil is merely used to prevent the food from sticking to the pan surface. Which is why it is safe to assume that frying would use the higher heat and much more oil than stir-frying.
Kratiem, Kratiam, Gratiem or Gratiam all mean garlic.
Phrik-Thai is ground pepper. Mostly it would be white pepper in Asian cooking, unless it is specified as “black pepper”.
Todd Kratiem Phrik Thai is very popular at the “cook to order” food vendors or restaurants in Thailand. If you ever visited the country, you probably know this dish. There is no “cook to order” place that doesn’t serve this—it’s the basic of the basic. This is probably second in popularity only to Pad KaProw, about which I already posted.
Thai people are used to eating hot meals, even though our country is darn hot already. We are not at all comfortable with the idea of a cold meal or eating food that is not burning hot from the stove. The tropical climate taught a valuable lesson from generation to generation, which is to survive in a bacteria-filled environment year round requires eating freshly cooked food while it’s hot so the bacteria has no chance to grow and hurt our digestive system. Does that make sense?
We have our own “Fast Food” system that would provide hot food to the hungry souls any time of the day. The first shift is beginning from extremely early morning breakfast, (Sooo early you have just finished your party night at the club) 4am – 6am. The early morning breakfast, which is about the same time as the monks walking out to accept food from people, 6am – 8am. The late morning snack, 8am-11am. The lunch, 11am – 2 pm. The afternoon snack, 2pm-5pm. The early dinner, 5pm – 8pm. The late dinner, 8pm – midnight. And the late night supper which sometimes casually blends into the extremely early morning breakfast from midnight – 4am.
These are provided mostly by the street vendors, who sell only a few things (and often only one) from their stalls. I don’t really count the restaurants which are mostly open all day long. This is where our culture is different than others. Restaurants in Thailand won’t close from 2:30pm – 5pm like most other countries where the labor is much more expensive. They continue operating from the minute they’re open until they close at night, and same applies in major metropolitan areas.
We basically eat like the hobbits. 4-6 meals in a day is pretty common, even though the Thai won’t count the late morning snack, the afternoon snack or the late night supper as a real “meal”, but it actually is. This is not a handful of nuts or a few stalk of carrots or celery. I actually laugh at the idea of the “snack” in most diet programs. It sounds more like pet food than human food.
Seriously, we snack on something much more enjoyable with much fewer calories, like cut up green mangoes or other sour fruits dipped in a little spicy sugar and salt, or ice cream sandwiches, or grilled sour pork sausage with a lot of vegetables, or meatballs on skewers. Not a handful of some tasteless nuts or vegetables that won’t satisfy you.
Enough about the snack or in-between meal. Let’s focus on the main meal in the category of “fast food”. All fast food is essentially a hot meal that is partially pre-cooked or cooked fast after you order, isn’t it? The Thai had fast food long before the first McDonald opened its doors.
The most popular fast food Thai-style is called “Khao Kaeng”. Khao = rice, Kaeng = curry soup. Khao Kaeng basically is a plate of white rice topped with Thai curry. There will be many different pre-cooked foods in pots or trays on display, almost like Panda Express. The food would be several different kinds of curries, stir-fried meat and vegetables, yum or salad, soup, fried meat, steamed curry mousse, fried curry cakes, etc.
As you show up, the vendor would put white rice on a plate. This is standard, then you start pointing at the food items you want to eat. They will pile the foods on top of the rice. You can have one kind or many, up to you. Price is determined by the items you choose. That’s it, you just take your plate, utensils and find a place to sit down, normally in the front of their stalls or carts, and you just eat right there. They also sell them “to go” by putting the food in a plastic bag or box for you to carry them back home. With to-go you have to tell them if want rice or not, because you will likely have a pot at home.
We eat Khao Kaeng for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We don’t really eat it for a snack or supper. I guess it might be too heavy. I never really asked anyone why, because this is just the way it’s been since I was a child. It’s just the norm there. I myself don’t eat at the Khao Kaeng places very often. As you might be able to guess if you’ve followed my blog for a while, it’s because most of the items they sell at the Khao Kaeng places, especially curries, salads or even the stir-fries are spicy and have Thai chili as a part of the ingredients, and I can’t eat that.
I usually opt for the second choice, Guay Tiew, or noodles with or without soup, which usually will be selling at some stall or cart nearby. This is something that is also “cooked to order,” so I can tell them not to put chili in my bowl. There are many different kinds of Guay Tiew, and I am posting the recipes in a series, Thai Noodles. It is up to Episode III now.
Guay Tiew is an all day thing–breakfast, lunch, dinner, and also the late night supper, too.
If I don’t want to eat noodles but want to eat rice, I have another choice. This is the real “Cooked to Order,” the third favorite kind of fast food for the Thai. For people who haven’t been to Thailand, you probably wonder what the deal is with these cooked to order restaurants. It is a place where you order simple dishes, mostly steamed rice with stir-fried or fried stuff, that can all be cooked in one wok, because that’s the vendor’s entire cookware, a propane stove and a wok. Maybe if they have a large menu item, they might have another pot, but not elaborate at all. They will cook that dish that you just ordered for you right there while you wait.
What’s served normally is Todd Kratiem Phrik Thai–fried meat with garlic and pepper, Pad Ka Prow–stir fried meat with holy basil, Pad Phrik–stir-fried meat with chili and onion, Khai Jiaow– deep fried omelette Thai style, Khai Dao–deep fried egg, and many more items, and sometimes other stir fried noodles. All would be done in that one wok or a pot, no other complicated cookware. There are many stalls and restaurants like these all over the country. So, if you are there in Thailand, you should forget about Burger King, KFC or McDonald’s and try our real fast food.
The key with “cooked to order” is the fast cooking time. The faster you cook, the more you can serve, right? Most of the meat and vegetables will be already prepped, cleaned, cut to bite size, and marinated. The ingredients would also be prepped as well. The garlic would already be chopped up, and onion, green onion, cilantro and cucumber would already be sliced to the desired sizes. And all the condiments are close at hand.
This is how we’re going to prepare our Todd Kratiem Phrik Thai. I’m going to give you two different ways of cooking it. The first one is the “Cooked to Order” way, and the second one would be the original way Thai people cook the meat for Todd Kratiem Phrik Thai, which is the way it would still done at home and at the “Khao Kaeng” style vendors.
What’s the difference?
With the original Todd Kratiem Phrik Thai we would fry the meat in bigger pieces, which takes a longer time to cook, but the benefit is you get the meat to brown nicely on the outside while still tender on the inside. The browning agent is sugar, which is caramelized and glazed over the meat. The garlic also gets cooked to the crispy stage. If you know your stove and know how big you should cut the pieces of meat to cook them through at the same time it takes to perfectly crisp the garlic, you can open a restaurant (I don’t know how yet myself!) This original one is served with the meat sliced to bite size after it is cooked, rather than before.
As I mentioned before, “cooked to order” is a business that depends on how fast they can cook. So they slice the meat into small pieces, hence a shorter cooking time. How do they get it brown? Dark soy sauce. How do they imitate the caramelized sugar glaze? Sweet, dark soy sauce, which contains molasses. That is how two methods differ.
Meat of your choice (I used pork) cut to bite size 300-320g (10-12oz.)
I would recommend picking the meat with some fat content in it, or the end product could be tough.
Garlic 1 whole bulb
Grounded white pepper 1 teaspoon
Fish sauce 2 tablespoon (If you like it salty 3 tablespoon)
Oyster sauce 1 teaspoon
Sugar 1-2 teaspoons
Cilantro sprig for garnish
Sweet dark soy sauce 1 tablespoon (You can substitute with 2 teaspoons of dark soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of molasses)
Oil about 2-4 tablespoons
THERE IS NO FLOUR OR STARCH IN THIS DISH, and I’ve never seen anyone use SALT! So if you want authentic fried meat with garlic and pepper Thai-style, keep your starch and salt locked up somewhere and bring out the fish sauce (The neighbors will get used to this someday, believe me. They will stop asking what is that “smell” from your kitchen eventually.)
1) Marinate the meat by putting ALL of the condiments and pepper together, minus the garlic. This is the time when you can taste-test it. Do it and adjust the taste to your preference before you put the meat in.
2) Now you have to actually put the meat into the sauce!
3) Now we will deal with garlic. First you take the hard shell off the garlic bulb. I recommend using California organic garlic from Gilroy. As you might know, most of the garlic sold in the US comes either from China or from California. I think it’s reasonable to avoid the Chinese grown garlic since it could be the imitation garlic. You never know!
Ok, we’ve made sure that we have the REAL garlic. Now we’re going to smash it.
I hope you have a cleaver. If you don’t, then a big, heavy knife should do the job. If you still don’t have that…mannnn…are you really cooking with a Swiss army knife or what? Alright, if you can’t even get a big and heavy knife, then use a bottle, a pestle, or a rolling pin wrapped up in plastic wrap. You don’t want your pies to smell like garlic, I reckon. But if you somehow have a mortar and pestle but don’t have a big, heavy knife, I so want to kick your ass for the wrong priorities in your kitchen life, unless you are wearing your underwear outside your jeans too. In that case, fly to my house, I will be cook Moo Todd Kratiem Phrik Thai for you ;)
Smash the garlic with the flat part of the cleaver,
or whatever pathetic tools you can find that suit the job. Smash them together skin and all, pick the tough skin out if you wish, but leave the thin ones in. You might want to roughly chop it a little, too. Did I mention a cleaver is the perfect tool for this job?
4) Scoop up about one tablespoon of roughly chopped garlic and put it in with the marinated meat, and save the rest.
5) Let the mixture sit for a while; 30 minutes should be minimum. The whole night if you want. You should steam your rice while you’re waiting, because the rest of this only takes less than 5 minutes.
WE WILL BE COOKING THIS ONE PLATE AT A TIME, SO DIVIDE THE MEAT IN PORTIONS BEFORE YOU START. Also, read all of the next steps through before start cooking.
6) Put 2-3 tablespoons of oil in the pan. Remember I told you what the difference is between Todd and Pad. (If you missed this part, go back to the 3rd paragraph. You probably didn’t do well in school, I can tell.) DON’T BE STINGY WITH YOUR OIL! We are not making a stir-fry here. This is truly a fried dish, so get used to the idea of oil. There will be leftover oil from this batch that you can use with the next batch, too.
7) Blast the heat to the highest and wait until the oil gets hot, then first put HALF of the rest of the smashed garlic in the hot oil. Flip them around. This is called “Jiaow” or frying something in oil while tossing it around.
8) This is a very critical step—you have to watch it carefully. Once the garlic gets slightly golden, you have to drop the meat in right away. It should take only half a minute at the most before the garlic is ready, and only take another 10 seconds for it to be ruined like this:
No, you are not going to grab your camera to take pictures, or even let your eyes get anywhere else but watching the wok, or your Moo Todd Kratiem Phrik Thai would look like this at the end. This is not good. The garlic will be bitter!
9) Toss the meat around the pan very quickly,
making sure that it’s all cooked with no pink left on the outside. By the time the meat is cooked, the garlic should be crispy but not burned (at least you would hope for that).
10) Turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to scoop the meat up from the oil and place it over steamed rice. Garnish with the cilantro.
11) You are now ready to make another batch. Add another tablespoon of oil before you start the new batch. After you’re done with the final batch, discard all the oil.
If you want to make a fried omelette to eat with this, the omelette will be the first thing you fry, even before the garlic, and if you want to make two servings, made the omelette first for both.
Do not forget to add more oil for the omelette. If you want to fry an egg or an omelette made from one egg, you would need about 2-3 tablespoons of oil (and will have some left in the wok, of course.)
I taught this method to a Chinese friend. He burnt the garlic again and again until he came up with a new method. He fried the garlic first until it was golden, then scooped it up and saved it in a cup, then he fried the pork and added the fried garlic back to the pork later. You can try that if you want, but believe me, after a few tries, you can master this.
That’s Moo Todd Kratiem Phrik Thai, the “cooked to order” version. I will give you another version that I like better because I’m used to this version more. This is how my nanny and the cook at my house would make it for me. What’s the difference? This version fries the pork in bigger chunks and doesn’t use the dark soy to give it color. As I mentioned, the brownish color is from the sugar that got caramelized in the process. Can you imagine the flavor?
With this version it is even more critical to pick meat with some fat just to keep the meat tender and juicy. I would suggest the shoulder or country rib for pork, and ribeye, skirt steak or flank steak for the beef (the prime grade would be better, also).
And if you insist on making this with chicken, dark meat would be my choice, but you can use the breast meat too. It will be drier, but you should be used to the dryness anyway if you prefer breast meat.
Meat of your choice (I still used pork) 300-325g (10-12oz.)
Garlic 1 whole bulb
Grounded white pepper 1 teaspoon
Fish sauce 3 tablespoons
Oyster sauce 1 tablespoon
Sugar 1 tablespoon
Oil for frying 4 tablespoons
1) Cut the meat to about 2”x3”x.5” size and marinate them.
2) Peel and smash the garlic (read the #3 of the above method) scoop up about 2 tablespoons and put it in the marinade.
3) Leave the meat to marinate at least 1 hour to overnight.
4) Put oil in the wok and set it over medium high heat, wait until the oil is hot and then put all of the meat in.
5) Drop the heat down to medium and watch until the edges get slightly brown, then flip the meat.
6) Fry until the meat cooks through the inside. You can flip it over a few more times. Increase the heat toward the end to brown it slightly more.
7) Use a slotted spoon to get the meat out of the hot oil; set aside.
8) Add the rest of the smashed garlic to the hot oil, fry until it’s golden, scoop it up and put it over the fried meat. You can slice the meat before serving and garnish with cilantro. And then it’s time for everyone to eat!
This will be the last post about my Japanese food adventures on my trip there. For those of you who like my Thai recipes, stay put. I am still on many trips at this time of a year but should be back in my kitchen for a little bit. Yes, I get to stay at my own home for twelves days this month, two days more than last month, and that should be improving toward the end of the year.
The last spot is not any new adventure. I was at this restaurant last time I was here, and wanted to go back there again. The restaurant’s name is Katsukichi. Does that name give away the type of food they would be serving?
Katsu means fried pork…or at least that’s what I think. My clues are Tonkatsu is fried pork with bread crumb crust, and Katsudon is the rice bowl topped with fried pork. And Katsukichi is a small restaurant in Asakusa that serves only fried pork.
I know pig isn’t the most popular meat in the US. There is a large Jewish population (the ones who keep kosher don’t touch it, plus all the Islamics who don’t eat pork because it is also taboo in their religion.) and I have to admit that the pork in the US doesn’t taste that good. It tastes almost like chicken to me, really bland.
The Asians love to eat pork a lot more than any other kind of meat. Their beef is too tough and normally they keep the cows or buffaloes to work in the field, and eating a tractor isn’t a good idea. Chickens are always abundant, but they don’t taste as good or as meaty as pig.
Believe me, pig tastes really great when you can get the tasty one, but not the ones eating garbage and raised in the pen, though. The wild roaming pigs who search for fresh bamboo shoots, mushrooms, eating whatever they find, taste so much better, as do free range chickens.
The pigs in Japan, Greece and Australia taste nearly the best in the world, in my mind. When you visit these countries I recommend at least try a meal with pork—you won’t be disappointed. Japan has the black hog pig—Kurabuta pig— (Berkshire pig) as the best pork, but the regular pork also tastes very good.
Tonkasu is one of the most popular dishes in Japan. You would see a lot of restaurants only mastering this one dish. They would serve only breaded fried pork, or may be Chicken kutsu, breaded fried chicken, for the foreigners, and that’s it.
I can’t imagine this kind of restaurant would be a success in the US, where a lot of people are afraid of fried foods, “Ewwwww…that is such a tremendous amount of calories,” or “No, they might use old oil. I don’t want trans-fat.” They say, “Oh, I don’t eat fried food,” and they turn around and eat pasta Alfredo with extra cheese, or a bacon double cheeseburger with “fries” (hello…they don’t actually bake them, I hope you know this!) or barbecued beef short ribs. They got this calories things all wrong, babe, ALL WRONG!
There are so many different ways to fry pork and even if you want to limit it to just breaded fried pork, there are still so many different ways. The first is just slice the pork about half an inch thick, season it with salt and pepper, roll it in all the goodies: flour, beaten egg and coat with Panko bread crumb (see NOTE #1), then fry. This type requires a very, very tender pork such as Kurobuta pork or black hog, which is the same breed as Berkshire pig.
The straightforward pork cutlet is still divided in two types, the pork filet (Hire) and the pork loin (Roosu). These are the types that a very famous restaurant chain that is popping up all over Japan and many other countries named “Maisen” is serving. They serve a tender breaded fried pork, so tender you can cut it with chopsticks, believe it or not. I ate at Maisen almost every time that I was in Tokyo, and now they’ve opened two in Bangkok.
The other fancy way of frying the breaded pork is to slice and pound the pork until it becomes very thin, like ham for a sandwich. I’m talking about 1/8-1/16 of an inch thin, not the usual quarter inch thin here. Then roll them up in many layers. This way many other flavor enhancers can be added such as cheese, shiso leaves, miso, etc., before the pork roll up goes into the flour, eggs and Panko bread crumbs. They would call it mille-feuille Tonkatsu.
I have found a restaurant called “Kagura” in Torrance, California, who serves this type of Tonkatsu. If you follow me on my Facebook page or my Instagram, you’ve probably seen the pictures of the Tonkatsu already. So I didn’t really search for it in Tokyo because Kagura is THAT good.
So, why am I blabbing about all of these Tonkasu, then?
Because I just want to point it out that Katsukichi is really unique, even to the Japanese cuisine. Their Tonkasu is neither thick cut nor mille-feuille style. On top of it, the Tonkasu at Katsukichi doesn’t even need any sauce the same way others do.
Tonkasu sauce is usually sold pre-made in a bottle at a Japanese grocery store, and some regular supermarkets carry it. If you want a quick Tonkasu sauce when you don’t have a bottle at home, you just have to mix ketchup with Worcester sauce and soy sauce, and add a bit of mustard into the mix, then you’ll get something quite similar.
Actually, there is much more to Tonkasu sauce than my simplified version. Some chefs use the demi-glaze, some don’t, some would use lemon juice, some would add allspice, etc. Each Tonkatsu restaurant has their own sauce, but Katsukichi proclaims, “Most restaurants usually need sauce for pork cutlet, but here at “KATSUKICHI” you don’t need sauce for pork cutlet. It’s delicious!!” That’s quite bold for this type of dish.
So what do they serve there?
Tonkatsu at Katsukichi is quite thin but sandwiches some interesting fillings in the middle. There is a wide variety of fillings, but I couldn’t read the Japanese, and the English menu only had 10 choices, of which I tried about five. Number 11 and 12 on the menu are regular pork cutlet.
This restaurant seats about 18-20 people at the most in the downstairs section but they have the upstairs room for a large group too. They also have a sign saying no cellphones, and there is an old lady waitress who’s the cellphone police, so be careful! I took photos with much difficulty because I had to wait until she couldn’t see that I was snapping a picture.
I found this restaurant on the last trip I took back in 2012, but I didn’t get good pictures. This time, I managed to get enough good one so you can see the dishes. There is a waiter there who has such a vivid memory. He remembered me TWO years later, amazing!
I had tried the Miso, Shiso, Cheese, Kaki (Oyster) and Natto. My favorite is the oyster (Kaki) and Miso but all of them are so good. I wish I could try more but I will definitely try this place again next time.
1-21-12 Asakusa, Taito-Ku, Tokyo
Friday – Wednesday CLOSE ON THURSDAY
Lunch 11:00am – 14:30pm (Last order 14:00)
Dinner 5:00pm – 9:00pm (Las order 8:30pm)
WHAT: Tonkatsu, what else?
NOTE #1 Panko is the flaky bread crumbs used in Japanese cuisine. How special is this? Panko is made from very airy bread that is baked by passing an electric current through the dough without using heat, hence there is no crust before they crumble it. The crumbs would of course have an airier texture than Italian bread crumbs or most Western bread crumbs and the result is less oil absorbed and a much lighter coating.
Preview: the next post will be my food adventure in Singapore.
It’s very easy to spot a good restaurant in Tokyo or in most Asian countries. You look for a line outside. If the restaurant is good, they will be full at lunch or dinnertime. If the restaurant is spectacular, there will be a line waiting to get in. We Asians are not afraid to wait to get a meal. Most popular restaurants don’t taking any reservations, either.
I would like to say reservations are more part of a Western style of dining, but in the last two decades Asian restaurants are more accepting of and are starting to take reservations, but that’s still on an up-scale level. For casual dining it’s still a first come,first serve basis.
To most Asians, ambience is just an unnecessary accessory when it comes to eating. It does’t make food taste any better and it doesn’t make you any fuller. We just want tasty food, the rest is tolerable if the food is right on.
That’s why you will see Asian restaurants with sticky chairs, dirty walls, not so spotlessly clean, loud, rude waitstaff, tight seating in a very small space, with no AC in a 90-degree climate still doing awesomely well in Asia or any place with a lot of Asian population. Not that we’re willing to accept that lesser standard, but because our standard isn’t where you might put your focus.
In fact, you could find two restaurants in the same neighborhood, one equipped with all fru-fru AC, high cleanliness, nice wait staff, cozy chairs and all but empty. The other one is as described in the above paragraph, and is packed, with a long line waiting to get in. Let me ask you, which one’s food do you want to try?
I used to be so frustrated with my husband because if he has to pick between an uncomfortable restaurant with great food over a nice and cozy restaurant with just blah food, he won’t hesitate to pick the latter, while I would definitely choose the former. His focus isn’t on how the food tastes, but how much discomfort he has to encounter for just one meal, in his mind. I am the opposite.
We do fix our differences easily, without ruining our marriage, by me letting him sit and have his meal in his comfortable and cozy place by himself, while he waits for me to come back from the “hell hole”, as he would call it or “heaven on earth”, as I would describe all places that just serve great food. We are both happy and full; mission accomplished.
So, when my husband isn’t on the trip with me, I am free to explore and search for my secret hole-in-the-wall spots. On this trip I was staying in the Asakusa area where all great foods are, so I took a walk out of the Thunder Gate (Kaminarimon Gate) in front of the Sensoji temple, crossed Kaminarimon-Dori (Street or Ave) and continued walking on a street I think was called “Edo-Dori”. I intended to find a restaurant with a long line. No matter what the food would be, I was committed to eat the food that was served there.
After about seven big blocks,(f our blocks between Kaminarimon-Dori and Asakusa-Dori and another three blocks past Asakusa-Dori on Edo-Dori), because I started quite late, around 7:30pm, I expected the line I was looking for probably had already gone inside or even be done with their dinner, but I still thought I would be able to find something quite interesting.
Right in the middle of the city there was an old, three-story house…
with paper lanterns line up in the front…
and a few benches with people still waiting to get in.
This is it! I thought. The place was big, but people were still waiting to eat at ten minutes to eight. My instinct told me that this must be a special place.
I can’t read any of the Japanese signs there, of course. So I just poked my head inside and used sign language to tell the host that I was by myself and only needed one seat. In the meantime, while he was busy writing my name down on his call sheet, I snapped a few pictures of the inside.
I thought, this is it, the traditional restaurant that you have to sit on a little cushions on top of the tatami floors and eat off a small table in front of you.
I came outside and waited just briefly, shorter than 20 minutes, and my name was called. He pointed to a place DOWNSTAIRS! What?!?! OK I didn’t realize there is an underground level. On the way going down I just spotted the stairs leading up to the second floor, too. This was a much bigger restaurant than what I expected at first. I felt lit up inside–I’m at a great place again.
The underground floor was actually better.
There were normal tables and chairs, so you didn’t need to sit on the floor, but you couldn’t avoid smoke from both cigarettes and from the small stoves on almost every table. The smell of soy sauce and sake was soaking every cubic inch of air in the room. Thank goodness the cigarette smoke was very light in this room.
I followed a very young waitress dressed in a traditional kimono to a small wooden table with little wooden chairs. I spotted several foreigners in there, and I hoped this was not the “foreigners’ room”. The waitress handed me the English menu. (Oh no! This definitely is the foreigners’ room!) Anyhow, there were more Japanese in here than the obvious “foreigners”, so I figured I be okay.
From the menu, I saw that this restaurant is named “Komakata Dozeu Restaurant” and serves only dishes made from a little fish called Dozeu, or Dojo, which is the Japanese loach. They had five dishes made with Dozeu.
Dozeu Nabe: The fresh Dozeu is cooked in an aromatic sake broth until the bones become soft, then the Dozeu is cooked again in a sweet miso broth. The Dozeu is served on a thin iron plate filled with Warishita sauce (secret soy sauce base). The iron plate would then be placed on top of the Hibachi (charcoal grill). The customers have to finish the cooking by adding sliced greens and, if the Warishita gets dry on the plate, there is a pot of it available on the table that the customer can add to it.
Yanagawa: The Dozeu are cooked in a Yanagawa Nabe (pottery dish from Fukuoka prefecture) with shaved gobo (burdock root) and egg.
Dozeu Kabayaki: This is grilled, filleted Dozeu with sweet soy sauce, just like grilled Unagi.
Dozeu Kara-age: Fried Dozeu.
Dozeu Jiru: Dozeu cooked in Chikuma Miso (unsalted miso, which was popular in the Edo period)
Also, there were a few other a la carte dishes such as Chawanmushi (egg custard), Tamagoyaki (Edo omelette), Toru Tukune (Teriyaki chicken balls with soft boiled egg), Edo Yasai Awase (Edo vegetable salad) and Dangaku (Konuaku and tofu with miso).
That was it for the English menu. I started to wonder what would be on the Japanese menu, but that wasn’t the point right now. My one little stomach couldn’t handle all of the choices in the English menu already.
I ended up ordered the Dozeu Nabe because EVERY TABLE had ordered this; I couldn’t go wrong. Then I wanted to try the Dozeu Jiru too, so I ordered that. My order didn’t seem to have enough vegetables, so I ordered the Edo Yasai Awase, Edo vegetable salad, as well.
I was sure I wouldn’t be able to finish all of these. I wish I had someone else with me, but if I did then I wouldn’t have found this restaurant, because I was traveling with a friend who likes to set a destination and go to it. Well, my best culinary adventure trips were never about the destination but more about the journey. So I had to swallow my regret about wasting the food then.
On the table, there was a wooden box with a whole bunch of sliced Japanese green onions, and a little earthenware teapot filled with the broth.
My first course, the salad, arrived very quickly.
It was a very interesting salad consisting of thinly sliced cabbage, lettuce, whole okra, some corn, thinly sliced lotus root, and something looking like a flower that I don’t know the name of, but I’ve seen at the Tsukiji market before. The dressing was ginger and sesame and quite delicious.
I hadn’t finish my salad yet when the Dozeu Nabe arrived in an iron plate set on top of the Hibachi (the little grill stove).
The whole thing looks big in the picture but the plate was just about 6-7 inches in diameter. So, the Dozeu themselves are about 4-5 inches long at the most. Well, I have to admit, they looked intimidating and unappealing to me.
So, I quickly dropped the sliced green onion on top, right away, just to cover the naked fish, according to my waitress’s recommendation. She had taught me what needed to be added to the plate before she walked away.
I also ordered rice, too. I can’t just eat pure protein without any carbs. As soon as I saw the green onion was cooked, I scooped it off and put a new set on top. At this point I thought I had to get to the fish, regardless of how they had intimidated me. So I took one fish and put it over my rice.
In the same box with the sliced green onion there were two types of seasoning. One was Shichimi-Togarashi, a ground spice mix of cayenne pepper, five other spices and dried orange peel, so I put that on the Dozeu, just to make sure that I could swallow the fish down.
Ahemm…Errr…I should have remembered the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Oh my goshhhh…it was so light and unassumingly delicious. The flavor of the Dozeu was just so unique: no slimy texture, no weird fishy smell, even though they look kinda wwwwww. They were so tasty, with a mysterious hint of earthiness.
The flavor was so unlike anything else I had ever tasted that I have a hard time describing it to you. On top of the “aha” moment, I discovered that the bones were so soft and really needed no effort to chew, even the head, which is all bones. I never thought that I would use the phrase, “melt in your mouth” with respect to a fish, but this Dozeu Nabe together with the bones and all dissolves right there on your tongue and is easy to swallow. The rice and the green onion turned out to be the part that you had to chew.
I had no worries about choking on the bones. I had no worry about the fishy smell nor the slime. It was only the appearance that I just had to keep covering with sliced green onions, breaking the fish in half before I took it out of the plate. I’m now no longer afraid of the Dozeu! (Well at first they kinda appear to be slimy and like a snake; I am famous for my ophidiophobia, and I refuse to even write the word down more than once.)
As soon as I figured out what the whole deal was about, the cute waitress re-appeared with a little bowl of Dozeu Jiru that didn’t look like anything but a bowl of a thick yellowish-brown contents.
Noooo, it didn’t remind me of baby poo at all, but I won’t swear to it though…haha. It smelled nicer ;) But it was so hot I just went back and focused on my new-found treat to my tongue.
I kept adding the sliced green onion, which was available for free and unlimited. It’s the sweetest green onion you will ever eat. It was huge, about half an inch in diameter, and was much less pungent than typical green onion, and three or four times sweeter. At this point I stopped adding the seasoning to the Dozeu because it made my tongue a little numb and I wanted to keep tasting these delicious fish.
On the third round of adding the green onion, the broth was almost completely evaporated, so I added more broth to the plate. I had to wait for it to start boiling again, so I turned my attention to the Dozeu Jiru. I sipped the miso broth–wow, this was really different. It was so not salty at all. It was actually sweet too. I loved loved loved this! I wished I could find this type of miso in California, yet I had no idea what this miso was called. (Dhurr…It said right there on the menu, Chikuma Miso)
I found Dozeu at the bottom of the bowl, too.
The Dozeu had the same texture as the one in Nabe: tender, tasty, with dissolvable bones. The Dozeu in the miso broth had a slightly different flavor, though. I could sense the real taste of the Dozeu more in the Nabe, but because the earthy flavor of the Dozeu just went very well with the unsalted miso, the blended flavor just gave the Dozeu another dimension.
Did I already say that I am so glad I stopped at this restaurant? I don’t think I said it enough. This was a really good find. I so want to take my hubby back here. LOL…I’m sure this statement will make his skin crawl when he edits this post and sees the photos! He doesn’t like eating most fish. He doesn’t think that fish should be human food…but my darling, you have no choice!
I ate half of the Dozeu on the plate, finished the Dozeu Jiru, and left only one third of the salad and half of the rice. I had ordered enough for two people. The bill came to around $30, but I only drank mineral water.
From my observation, the Japanese customers also ordered the Nabe, but they seemed to have a set that went with it. I saw some of them putting some other stuff in their plate that they added more broth to. Some seemed to have a sliced raw fish that looked like carp (Koi) fish sashimi in their set, too.
The tables that had more than two parties ordered the Yanagawa dish, the Dozeu and gobo root in omelette. That looked super delicious too. I made a mental note to try it next time, together with the fried Dozeu and the grilled one. I’m sure the fried and grilled Dozeu would appeal to my husband more than the Nabe and the Jiru would, for sure.
When I left the restaurant the crowd had already died down, but I will remember this place for the next time.
While I was writing this, I finally got to do research about this Komagata Dozeu Restaurant. This restaurant has served Dozeu for over 200 years! It was founded in 1801! Oh my gosh…that’s the very same year Thomas Jefferson was elected as the President and the Irish had just joined Great Britain, just to give an idea how long ago this place was established. The generation that is running the restaurant right now is the seventh! They must surely love doing this business, and also opened another location in Shibuya, too.
More from the research: the Dozeu used to be very abundant because they were caught in the flooded rice fields and in the streams, but these days, due to farm pesticides and rural development projects, the Dozeu have greatly diminished. Most of the Dozeu eaten in the restaurants have all come from fish farms or overseas, unfortunately.
That night must been the night that my psyche lined up with the Dozeu because, having walked back–which was the reasonable activity to assist in digestion for an over-eating girl who’s not bulimic–I passed through a neighborhood where I noticed a pub/restaurant that was still open, and had a wooden container filled with water in the front of the place…
and inside were live Dozeu fish.
So I got to meet the live Dozeu and eat them in the same night!
Nice to meet you Dozeu. You are so delicious. I’m glad we’ve met.
Komagata Dozeu (Asakusa Location, where I went)
1-7-12 Komagata, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Komagata Dozeu (Shibuya Location)
4F Renga Building
1-5-9 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Asakusa Location 11am – 9pm daily
Monday – Saturday 11:30am – 10:30pm
Sunday and Holiday 11:30am – 9:30pm
I would recommend the Nabe and the Jiru, but if you are not that brave, I read from a review that the Kabayaki, or grilled Dozeu, tasted sweet and eel-like. Or the Kara-age, the fried Dozeu, could be good too. I will definitely be trying the Yanagawa next time, and will report back when I do.