Friday, February 13, 2015

You'll Smell Like Mermaid Farts, But It'll Be Worth It

Okay, let's just put it out there. If you choose to allow yourself to have this mind-blowing experience you will....YOU WILL....smell like mermaid farts. In my opinion, it'll be worth it.

Disclaimer: This is not for the faint of heart. This is not for everyone. There will be cracking, gushing, eyes watering, fingers stinging....butter, garlic, old bay...



...whoa, sorry I just passed out. Okay, I'm back. I'm back. I'm alright.

I am a big seafood lover. And I don't mean fish sticks or McDonald's fish sandwiches. I usually don't like food that's been stripped, pounded, packaged, floured and fried into an infinitely unrecognizable state. I like the WHOLE SHA-BANG (that's a Boiling Crab reference for all you other seafood boil lovers you). Gimme the shrimp, lobster, crab, crawfish...intact and all. It's an experience. My girls Jenna, Sue and Cass know what I'm talking about.

That's right. We're wearing bibs, and we look hot. In what other scenario can you say that?! I rest my case.

Seriously though, I love seafood boils and not just because of the spicy, seafoody goodness. I love the fact that they're interactive --- they give you something to do while you just hang out with friends and shoot the shit. Even better, you end up all having dirty hands, sauce all over your mouths and smell like garlic, so there's no pretense. There can't be. You already look ridiculous. That's such a cool thing to me as weird as that sounds. The only way I can explain it...I just love when you can have a good time with good friends. No filters needed. 

So I've tried many seafood boil establishments. You got your Joe's Crab Shacks and your Crab Huts. My all time favorite is the restaurant that introduced me to it all - Boiling Crab (My name is actually written in Sharpie on table #20 at the Mira Mesa location. It reads, "It took 2 hours for me to get this table. Love, Candice.")

This is my favorite place because the sauce is the thickest, most flavorful and I've found the seafood is the freshest and biggest. I ain't got time for puny shrimp. Jumbo all the way. 

In San Jose, you seriously have to wait an average of two hours to get a table. Here in San Diego, we're lucky. We don't have as big of an Asian community, so it's not as packed. The Boiling Crab in Mira Mesa is the spot. I just wish they'd bring in a better beer selection. They only have the lighter stuff: Shock Top, Blue Moon, Coors, etc. For now at least. 

Here's a good tip if you end up going to Boiling Crab and there's a pretty long wait. Go to the Japanese restaurant across the way and order an appetizer and a few drinks there. They're totally okay with it and actually expect it. Boiling Crab is so popular, they've admitted to me, a good portion of their business comes from Boiling Crab customers waiting to be seated and having a few drinks on them in the meantime. #NguyenNguyen

Okay, sleep time for me. Who food blogs about seafood at 2:30AM?! Goodnight y'all and happy eating. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fresh Off the Boat & Food

I can't think of one Asian friend of mine who can't related to that Fresh of the Boat scene where kid-version Eddie Huang enters the cafeteria of his new school. He walks by a line of kids with white bread sandwiches and lunchables, only to squeeze his lunch a little tighter knowing it looks NOTHING like what they're eating.

The popular kids invite him over to their table when they see he has a Notorious B.I.G. shirt on.

Feeling just a bit of ease because he's sitting among possible friends, Eddie pulls out his lunch -- looks like chow mein in tupperware. You can imagine what happens next. Lots of ews, gross, what is that smell?! You're eating worms -- now that's a new one.

I remember pre calculus class in high school. I was starving and sitting in the front row (of course, of course). I saw a couple of my classmates snacking on chips and things like that, so I didn't think it'd be a big deal if I took a couple bites out of my lunch. You know, just to hold me over. That morning I had packed myself gai bao or chicken bun. It's basically ground seasoned chicken mixed with shiitake mushrooms, egg and other good stuff steamed in sweet white bread.

I opened the foil and the bun was still steaming hot. Yay! I took a couple bites and my math teacher stopped in his tracks and walked over to my front of everyone.

Oh god, here we go...

He made a couple of loud sniffing noises, like a dog zeroing in on a chicken bone buried in a park. He said "Let's put away the lunch here because *sniff* *sniff* the smell can be distracting."


Oh, if only I had the courage to say that. What really happened? I put my head down, covered my food and put it away being careful not to make eye contact with anyone in my class because I knew they were all staring at me and, at this point, smelling my food. I was horrified, ashamed...not just of my food but of my culture that made it so I only had gai bao to munch on in class and not something "less distracting."

Of course now I don't feel that way. I eat everything with pride. I laugh when I think about those moments. Tran Ngo, if you're reading this, remember when you'd bring soy sauce in a prescription pill bottle? Lalida Sritanyaratana, remember when we'd crave Mama tom yum instant soup? Heck, we still do. Crack an egg in that baby, oh yeah! That smell is DIVINE.

I think Danielle Henderson puts it well in her recent article about the show, especially the last part of this quote:

"It’s also not an affectation; hip-hop music helped Eddie Huang get a foot in the door of what it meant to be American, and what it meant to be different. Those are all still real problems, possibly more so now that America has allowed the far right to pour its poison directly into the melting pot that used to sustain us culturally. It may not be exactly the show Huang wanted, but I can’t help but feel like Fresh Off the Boat is going to help another generation of kids feel like they’re a little less alone."

"Fresh Off the Boat is going to help another generation of kids feel like they're a little less alone."

That's huge. Even though the show isn't perfect. It isn't even what the man who inspired it wanted it to be exactly. It's still a very powerful thing that I hope continues to push the limit. Yes, some parts may seem stereotypical, but you have to acknowledge the stereotype before you can get past it. I think the show is attempting that. 

As little Eddie famously said, "That gets me a seat at the table and then you get to change the rules."

Monday, February 9, 2015

Beyond Pho

How do I even describe my love for Noodles? And, I'm not talking about just any noodles. I'm talking about light, al dente rice noodles swimming in a hot, spicy broth that takes you back to whatever wonderful feeling of "home" you have. Add some savory cuts of meat. Toss in fresh, crunchy and fragrantly fabulous vegetables, and you my friend have love in a bowl. Love in a bowl.

Like look at that. LOOK AT THAT. You have to be kidding me, right?! It's freaking beautiful. That's a $6 bowl of Canh Bun noodle soup from Nhat Vy Pho on El Cajon Boulevard. It feeds the soul.

(By the way, Vietnamese peeps, help me with these names. I have a passion for the food. The language, though, I still have a long way to go. #NotANguyen)

True story. When I got back from studying abroad in West Africa, one of my best friends BJ Cruz came with me to get an extra large bowl of pho. It was sort of a welcome home dinner. I ate the whole thing in a happy daze. Minutes later I drifted into this coma-like state. It looked a lot like this...


BJ quietly left like a surviving rabbit sneaking out of a bear's cave after it feasted before hibernation. I think he had step over my passed out body. To this day he claims I was wheezing like a fat kid who ate too much cake. Ah, good times. hurts so good.

Okay okay, back to this bloggity stuff. You're probably assuming I'm talking about pho, and I am. Oh, but not only pho. In the last couple years, my world of noodle soups entered a new realm.

Sure, some of the ingredients you'll think are strange, even funky. But I can promise you one thing - it's all delicious. So delicious that you'll randomly crave it days, weeks even months later. So here's a list of my favorite local places and the dishes I've tried that blew me away:

Pho @ Pho Cow Cali in Mira Mesa

The noodles are always cooked perfectly (not overdone and mushy like at some other places), broth is fragrant and doesn't contain too much MSG. You still feel good after a bowl of this stuff. Condiment-veggies always come out fresh. Say no to brown bean sprouts  - red flag. This place is also known for their bun bo hue. It is very good here, but my favorite place has to be....

Bun bo Hue @ Mien Trung in Clairemont

This place is a hole in a hole-in-the-wall, and it's right next to some other righteous eateries (K Sandwiches, The Original Sab-Bee-Lee & Sushi Diner).

If I only had one meal left to eat before I died, this would very likely be it. Compared to pho, the broth is much richer and more seasoned. This place makes a bun bo hue where the broth sings with lemongrass, anise and chili oil. They always serve it with a pile of delicious vegetables, and the meats are cooked and cut to perfection. For conservative eaters, some of the meats may surprise you. There are blood cubes (which taste like nothing really. They're not strange at all. They taste like whatever sauce/soup they're immersed in), pig's leg (very delicious but fatty. sometimes I ask for the dish without it) and that's about it. If those things don't bother you, order everything...go all in...JUMP IN THE DEEP END! You'll thank yourself later.

Bun Rieu @ Nhat Vy in City Heights

This is a beautifully delicious soup that may ruin pho forever. You'll think to yourself "I've been missing out!" Once you go bun rieu, you can't go back.

It's a Vietnamese crab and tomato-based noodle soup that has crab, eggs, tomatoes and several other meat ball goody things in it. It's both light and rich, if that makes any sense -- not fishy at all. It has a distinct crab flavor and scent that'll leave your mouth watering.

Nhat Vy has a bunch of other good dishes I'd recommend. This is just one of my favorites. And it's only $5-$6.

Since one cannot limit one's noodle love in just one post, be sure more are to come. I'm constantly in search of the next best noodle soup. And remember, there's still ramen. DON'T GET ME STARTED. San Diego is killing it on the ramen front.

In the meantime, happy eating!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

South of the Border

I've said it a million times, and I'll say it again. When the someone you really love needs an adventure, you take them on an adventure.

This particular one to Guadalupe Valley started with a phone call from my mom. She had just quit her second full-time job and "was bored." Ever since I moved out for college and started my career in broadcast journalism, we've rarely had the opportunity to spend quality time with each other.

Hence, ask and you shall receive madre!

Yup, that's us cheersing with a tequila shot in Puerto Nuevo right before our delish meal of spiny lobster, beans and rice. Her exact words after taking a sip: "This wine is not very good." God, I love her.

I'll tell you where the wine is very good though. Keep going south on Highway 1, go east right after the last toll booth. You may get a little lost, but a kind federal agent named "Nieto" will help you with directions. He's a total flirt, but apparently has no interest in me. *ahem* Lindsay Hood *ahem*

He speaks English well, but he'll be shy about it and probably ask you out so he can "practice English." *ahem* Lindsay Hood *ahem*

We made it to Guadalupe Valley, only an hour south of the border. 

When you get here, oh the wine. The sweet, sweet heaven on earth. One of our stops was Torres Alegre Winery. We got a personal tour of the place by the owner's son. The owner is this mad scientist wine connoisseur who's also a world-traveling professor. 

Okay, Okay, I know what you're thinking. What about the food? Spiny lobster not enough for you people?!

After another winery stop at Hacienda la Lomita VinĂ­cola, we had lunch in a brown, unassuming shack-looking building literally a few hundred feet away. You wouldn't even think it was a restaurant unless someone pointed it out to you. It's so unassuming, I catch the name of the place!

A friend of ours who imports wine from the region told us this is where many of the field workers would come for lunch. The food is so good apparently the high-end restaurants nearby try to replicate its specialities.

One of the specialties -- the lamb. Their slow baked/roasted, melt in your mouth, died and gone to heaven lamb. The meat is so god --- SO GOOD -- there are barely any condiments. You get a plate of pulled lamb meat, a small bowl of the broth it's cooked in and homemade tortillas. I know the picture doesn't look like much, but when it's this simple, you know you're in for the good stuff. 

Sorry vegetarians. I know you're all queasy now, but if you're a lover of all foods like me, this is right up your alley.

(I'd like to say no lamb was hurt in the production of this blog post, but that would be a lie.)

That's it for now about the Guadalupe Valley adventure. Coming up soon Beyond the Pho in San Diego. We're talking about the true Souper Bowls. The noodles of all noodles. The bowl of heaven that'll tantalize senses you didn't even know you had! All that for less than what you pay for your morning Starbucks.