Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring Break Culinary Revenge #3: (North) Philly's Koreantown

I've lived in Philly for seven years but to be honest, this is my first time venturing up the (North) Philly Korean town. What a disgrace because they do have GOOD stuffs!

Elkins Park, along with the Upper Darby, are the predominantly Korean neighborhoods in Philly. As of any predominantly ethnic neighborhoods, they do have good food that you can't find anywhere else in the city. Getting there is quite a trip, but it's totally worthwhile. As I entered the H Mart complex, I was just hooked by the Paris Baguette pastry shop. Self-serve bakery is a concept I dearly miss from my rumspringapore months, and Paris Baguette takes self-serve bakery into a whole new level. Wide variety of quality French and Asian bread, pastries, desserts, and cakes. They also serve coffee, tea, and smoothies, plus they do have a cozy seating area. I felt like a little kid at a candy shop. I just wanted to try everything!

Since it was during lunch time, I decided to just da bao a chocolate croissant for dinner at home later (which was out of the world!). I went upstairs to what they call "More Food Court", and once again, I was being nostalgic about my rumspringapore months. It's an "air-con hawker centre", as my Singaporean friends would call it. The difference though is that you order and pay first at the cashier, then wait for your order number to be displayed at the stalls you ordered from. Three stalls serve Korean food, while one other stall serves Japanese bento and sushi.

I ordered the haemool bokum jajangmyun, which is noodle stir-fried with seafood and black bean sauce. It was really good, and for the price, it was a super generous portion. The pictures at the cashier was deceiving in a good way: they look smaller than they actually are.

Spring Break Culinary Revenge #2: Memphis Taproom

Since I stayed in town during spring break, I decided to do a spring break project with Drexel Student for Christ in the Kensington neighborhood of North Philadelphia. We partnered with Lauren's church, The Free Church of St. John, doing some preparations for Easter with the elementary and middle school youth group. We had such a wonderful time serving these kids; from writing letters for the shut-ins, cleaning up the yard, weeding, planting pansies, and painting the church fence. It was truly a blessing getting to know them.

On our last day there, we decided to start late and grab a brunch. Lauren took us to her favorite joint in the neighborhood called "Memphis Taproom". Located in a rather quiet side called Port Richmond, this place has been featured on Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives".

First thing you'd see as you enter is the bar area. I heard they'll also open their beer garden on April 20th. They have quite a wide selection.

For such a short menu, I spent too much time deciding. I thought I would like to grab something from their brunch menu, but apparently they only serve brunch on weekends. Oh well, after a tough battle between fried banana salad and spaghetti sandwich, my heart was finally set on the fried banana salad. 

So in their menu, the fried banana salad is described as "Baby arugula, red peppers, peanuts, chocolate chipotle vinaigrette". Yes, you read the last ingredient right: Chocolate. Chipotle. Vinaigrette. I thought it was a bizare flavor choice for your salad dressing, but it didn't annoy me so it was OK. The fried banana, though, was mushy. Not quite the way I like my fried banana.

Maybe spaghetti sandwich for next time (if there would ever be a next time).

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring Break Culinary Revenge #1: No Recipe Pasta Salad

So today is supposedly my first day of spring break, but Groundhog must have lied about spring coming early. It was snowing this morning in Philly! I'm not going anywhere for spring break this time around, so I have plenty of time to catch up with the kitchen for a lazy snow day meal. Due to my crazy schedule, I haven't gotten a chance to purposefully cooked nor baked since my return from rumspringapore in January.

Out of her generosity and indifference towards imported ingredients, a family friend gave us a HUGE jar of Kalamata olives from Greece and some boxes of fancy pasta from Italy.

First thing came to mind was pasta salad! So I boiled a serving of the pasta with a dash of salt to al-dente, just as I prefer it when serving it cold.

While waiting for the pasta to boil, I chopped a handful of olives and whatever else I could find in the fridge (broccoli, pickle, and carrot made this such a nutritious meal). Add a bit of grated parmesan cheese, and stir everything in one bowl with the cooked and strained pasta.

Yum! So that was my lunch for today. Coincidentally, it's meatless Monday too! :)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Comfort Taste of Home at Indonesia Restaurant

Indonesia Restaurant is the oldest and most famous Indonesian joint in town that I know of. Since the humble beginning at its first Chinatown location, this restaurant has done a great job in bringing the comfort taste that I knew back home. Now housed closer to the Indonesian community in their South Philly location, Indonesia Restaurant is such an oasis for us Indonesian diaspora residing in the Mid-Atlantic area. Moreover, it has also become an attractive and exotic city foodie destination because Indonesian food is definitely a new thing for the Philly palate.

I've been to this restaurant for countless times, yet this time around is a quite different and special. After some talks about a post-final dinner with Indonesian and Malaysian friends at Drexel, I finally made it happen. 20+ people indicated that they were coming, so I called Indra at Indonesian Restaurant to reserve the second floor dining room. Good thing he asked for what we would like to order as well, so that we wouldn't wait for too long during the Friday night rush. Sticking to what people usually order, I pre-ordered nasi goreng ikan asin, gado-gado, ayam panggang kecap, ikan bakar, and bakmi goreng Jawa.

Nasi goreng ikan asin has definitely been the favorite of everyone. This fried rice dish is not your typical fried rice. The salty fish really compliments the spices and hint of soy sauce sweetness.

Gado-gado has been my personal favorite. It's the best way I know  to do your veggies. If I have kids, this would be the way I should get them to eat their veggies (assuming they don't have peanut allergy lol) . The peanut dressing topping the vegetable medley, tofu and shrimp crackers was just oh so good.

On the other hand, bakmi goreng Jawa is a very Indonesian way of doing fried noodles. In this dish, vegetables and meat stirred together with soy-sauce covered egg noodle. One of my favorite street dish from the past.

Often times, to us Indonesians, the sauce is something that makes or breaks a dish. This theory is definitely true for grilled fish. From the very first encounter, you just can smell the aroma of garlic and shrimp paste from the sauce.

While the ayam panggang kecap (roast chicken with soy sauce) was kind of meh. Someone in our party also requested ayam kare (curry chicken). He said he's had it once over at the restaurant's major competitor, Hardena, and he really liked it. Well, the ayam kare didn't quite impress me. The curry broth was rather thin.

I would say we ordered too many chicken dishes, but an Indonesian-themed dinner wouldn't be complete without sate ayam. The marinade on this one is quite bold, and the special peanut-onion dressing just turned it into a perfection on a plate.

For dessert, we ordered es campur. This is my favorite Indonesian dessert, and I would say the one served here throws me back to my elementary school years. It gave me the sense of freshness I found in my school yard over at the old man's ice cart. As much as I love Cantonese desserts and realize their superiority, nothing would ever replace the memories of es campur in my heart.

Theoretically, this place closes at 9 PM. Thank goodness for the warm hospitality of Indra (actually a Drexel alumni himself) and his family who let us stay a bit longer :) And for the future record, I would bring more non-Indonesian friends to this place and introduce them to the exotic Indonesian cuisine.