Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Post 7: Conquering my Curry Craving (SD: Miramar)

Sometimes cravings hit me the same way a heavyweight boxer gets jabbed in the jaw by his opponent. WHAAAAMM. It's nothin' but pain. Today I got a slam in the stomach that left me crying for curry, and the only way to cure the pain was to conquer the craving.

My favorite spot for a quick conquering of my Indian curry craving is Punjabi Tandoor, a hole in the wall hidden amongst techno-corporate office buildings in San Diego's Miramar region. With about a dozen tables total (inside and on the patio) and most of their curries pre-made, I would never call this a restaurant... but this 'shop' does provides an instant remedy for the pain caused by my curry craving.

Can you find it? Punjabi Tandoor is hidden between corporate office space.

My meal was a boxing match against five curries. Here's how the fight (MICHAEL LIN vs. CURRY SINGH) played out:

Pre-fight training (cue Rocky music...) - VEGETABLE SAMOSAS

Biting into these samosas are a combination of pain and pleasure. The steam fills the caverns of your mouth so quickly that you don't have time to scream, but the intensity of spices from the peas and potatoes leaves you panning for more. Good thing the samosas come in pairs!

Crispy and fluffy vegetable samosas.
Broken apart and basking next to pools of chutneys.

Round 1. The first punch - SAAG SPINACH CURRY

The spinach curry is the first punch to your face... BOOM. Like... damn. Where did that come from? It's a sobering wake up call that announces that the fight has begun. The creaminess of the spinach curry fooled me at first, but trust me when I advise you to never underestimate your opponent. The adrenaline starts pumping, and drops of sweat have begun to roll down the side of my face...

Round 2. Footwork and blocking - CHANNA CHICKPEA MASALA
Getting hit for the first time signals your body to immediately guard against another attack. Put your arms up, and cover your face! The chickpeas in this curry are a bit bland in comparison to the spinach curry, but it provides a defense against any other attacks of spiciness. The channa masala is the dance of the footwork that helps prepare for the next jab.

Topped off with a yin and yang of chutney.
The green chutney has a spicy yet minty kick, and the red chutney is sweet like molasses.

Round 3. The unexpected uppercut - SHREDDED CHICKEN TANDOORI
I expect spicy food to be brightly colored as a natural warning of impending digestive disaster, but deceit in this surprise lies beneath the curry's dull, crimson color. While the spiciness from most other curries hits the top of your tongue, the blow from this chicken tandoori hits the underside of your tongue like an uppercut to the bottom of your chin. BAAAAAM. It hits so hard that it throws the sweat right off my face.

Respite between rounds - PANEER TIKKA MASALA
After getting a brutal pounding in the first round against Curry Singh, paneer tikka masala provides a rejuvenating respite between rounds. Don't get me wrong; the curry still stings, but the delightful dairy soaking in the tub of the curry is like the sponge of relief that the trainer uses to wipe down your sweat. The curry that the paneer floats in is like the squirt of Gatorade in your mouth that replenishes your body. It still stings a bit, but it helps you strategize your next move.

Paneer tikka masala.
Five curries completed my pentagon of Punjabi pleasures.

Final round. Fight to the finish - CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA
The final round in a fight is the one that inflicts the most pain. The aggressor jabs, hits, and punches in such a frenzy that the opponent collapses in a total knockout. This chicken tikka masala jabbed, hit, and punched my taste buds with such a drunken rage of spiciness that I was overcome with an invigorating rush to defeat the curry. I didn't want to throw in the towel, but Singh delivered a final blow of spiciness so great that my tongue collapsed in defeat.

Post-fight massage/rub-down - MILK KHEER
After an utter defeat of currgantuan proportions, my taste buds needed a cleansing just as much as heavyweight boxers need post-fight massages. The cleansing for my taste buds came in the form of a milk-based, sweet rice dessert called kheer, comparable to Southeast Asian tapioca desserts (西米露). Providing a much-needed relief after a spicy meal, kheer allows the eater to rest from battle and regain the strength and endurance needed for the next match.
Lin vs. Singh: in the green corner is saag spinach curry.
Channa masala in the yellow corner; chicken tandoori in the red corner.
Chicken tikka masala in the brown corner.

After a traditional southern Indian wedding last November, I couldn't get over my hankering for delicious Indian food. Although the state of Punjab is not part of southern India (it's closer to the Pakistani border), Punjabi Tandoor calmed my craving for curry. The samosas, the chicken tikka masala, and the paneer were my favorites... hands down. Perhaps vegetarians would enjoy the channa masala more than I did (as my Lydia the newfound vegetarian had). Judging by Myung's plate (six curries; plate completely demolished), he enjoyed everything.

Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Aparna, we share a very important and special date! Thanks for giving me a first-hand glimpse at southern Indian traditions. I hope I can provide the same generosity and hospitality with my culture's traditions in the near future too...
Anisha, for telling me about this place and 'promising' that you would take me... and then seeing you there when I went myself! This place is bomb... thanks, Ms. Sakariya!
Aman and Janaki, the first Indian friends (Punjabi and Gujarati... I still remember) I met at school; one whose mom cooks the most amazing and memorable home-made Punjabi food ever and one who has allowed me to drunkenly sabotage her vegetarian diet... but only once!
Myung, thanks for driving. Enjoy your time here before heading back to Seoul...
Lydia, welcome back to USA. We'll get some 蔥抓餅 soon!
Anna, I was put in a bad spot... between a monster and a vegetarian!

ML - 20100131

Friday, January 22, 2010

Post 6: Pancetta and Pepper Pasta with Pesto and Egg Coating

photography by JCS

I've realized that the previous posts have all included pork in one form or another: Korean pork belly, Spam, and bacon. After a request to post about something other than meat, I've decided that I will put the pork on hiatus... after this post.

To top off the pork belly, Spam, and bacon, I've decided on a pork product that is not consumed as an everyday breakfast meat but still revered as much as bacon... PANCETTA. I literally smiled just now, uttering the words... pancetta.
May I present... pancetta and pepper pasta with pesto and egg coating.

1. pasta

2. pancetta
3. tomatoes and mushrooms

4. bell peppers - red, orange, yellow
5. garlic and onions

6. pesto and fresh basil
7. eggs - scrambled
8. fats - heavy cream, butter, olive oil (OO)
9. crushed red pepper (CRP), salt and pepper (S&P)

photography by JCS


Step 1. Salt the water; cook the pasta al dente.

Step 2. Drain; run under cool water to stop the cooking.
Toss in light OO to prevent sticking.

Step 3. High heat; sizzle the pancetta until you can smell pure pork heaven.
S&P and CRP. Use the fat to cook the remaining ingredients.

Step 4. Toss in the 'toes, 'shrooms, peppers, onions, and garlic.
Let 'em sweat. S&P and CRP again.

Step 5. Toss the cooked pasta on top of the ingredients. Toss, toss, toss.

Step 6. Cue delicious butter and generous pesto.

Step 7. Turn to low heat to prevent curdling.
Pour the heavy cream in slowly while stirring the pasta.


Step 8. Stir in the eggs super slowly. 

On first attempt, the pasta (sans garlic, onion, and CRP) seemed extra creamy and significantly bland. I immediately sent my minions, errr... sous chefs (thanks Joseph and Tiffany) to the local supermarket for emergency CRP. (Martha Stewart once said that crushed red pepper is the secret ingredient to all of her pasta dishes. Thanks, Ms. Stewart.) 

After a few tweaks with the crushed red pepper, the pasta tasted much, much better. The CRP was the much needed kick to the pasta. (I've decided that crushed red pepper does to Italian food what Sriracha does for Southeast Asian food.) I couldn't taste the pancetta as much as I could the pesto or creaminess of the egg coating, but it's still a delicious tasting pasta. What's nice is that this pasta is not as heavy as other pastas swimming in alfredo sauce.

Fallen basil leaf. Stealing the thunder from the pasta.
photography by JCS

I later made a version sans heavy cream for the ever-so-healthy friend (same one that pointed to the bacon cupcakes). There was definitely a stronger savory flavor exuding from the saltiness of the pancetta and the bite of the fresh garlic. Visually, I think the version sans heavy cream looks more aesthetically appealing because it's brightened up with the colors from the bell peppers and tomatoes.

King of the hill. If only the cherry tomato had a flag...

A few more ingredients than some of the previous dishes, but definitely worth the time to dice up the veggies. Try it out, and let me know how it goes for you! Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

The Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network (Jan. 11) for the egg-coated pasta idea...
Photography by
Joseph is featured in this post...
... and thanks to Tiffany
for slaving over the mushrooms with me...

ML - 20100201

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Post 5: A Rainy Day Update

Halfway through January and still no job offers yet. I'm beginning to comb through the ETC of the Craigslist jobs section to see what kinds of listings are posted. Study for toenail fungus? Not I. Sperm donor? Not a chance. Things are beginning to look dim. Literally. Gray clouds and heavy rain is pouring through...

So what should my next post be about? Most of the previous posts involved more food than travel... so maybe it's time to take a trip? I did have a bottle of Canadian iced wine at dinner last night. And right afterward a friend from Canada texted saying that she had a Japadog for lunch. Hmmm... signs point to the neighbor to the north.

Texts (verbatim):

USA: What's a japadog?
CAN: Its like a hotdog but jap style. Do u guys have those? It's really popular here u gotta line up forever.
USA: How is it japanese style? Does it have curry on top or something?
CAN: No there r diff flavours but u can get like teriyaki sauce and mayo and they put seaweed and onions or u can put bonito flakes and they have okonomiyaki flavour. Its really good. Trust me. I had to wait outside today for like 30 mins to get one!!

30 minutes doesn't sound too bad from a Los Angeles standpoint (like waiting for a bowl of ramen at Daikokuya). But... put into perspective... Canada has fewer people and smaller city centers (centres for the Canadians), so 30 mins for a 'Japadog' must mean that that hot dog is absolutely delicious. Hmmm... time to search up some flights?

Prep the couch, A.T., Michael's coming to Canada!

ML - 20100119

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Post 4: Bacon for Breakfast, Bacon for Dessert (SD: La Jolla)

I am, yet again, ready to describe another strange culinary peculiarity... except that this time I had nothing to do with the creation of this concoction.

After a packed birthday brunch for a good buddy of mine this weekend, we decided to walk a few blocks down the streets of Downtown La Jolla to digest everything that we had eaten at the Coffee Cup Cafe.

A hand cannot wait to grab the first bite.
Black bean dip with avocado, melted cheese within. Salsa on the side adds a slight kick.

The Omar Special. The best tasting of all items on the menu.
Egg whites under a layer of fresh pesto. Brown rice and vegetables on the side.

The Coffee Cup French Toast. Swirls of blueberry jam; not overly sweet.
Bacon fried to a perfect crisp but not burnt; eggs over medium.

Roast Beef Hash with horseradish; a pleasant change from the usual corned beef hash.
Cilantro was unnecessary taste-wise, but it did add a nice green to the presentation.

The goal of helping my digestive system dissolve all that food quickly became a distant dream as this buddy of mine, as health-conscious as ever, pointed to Cups, the new cupcake store that opened on Girard. By the time he had started to ask, "Do you wanna..." I had already taken three steps towards the store. (I have been waiting for a fitting challenge to the ever-popular Sprinkles red velvet cupcake for a while now.)

I walked straight to the display counter, and I found the holy grail of cupcakes...


Attendant: "Can I help..."
: "Bacon cupcake, please."
Attendant: "How ma-..."
Me: "Just one!"
Attendant: "Well, it's buy five, get one free..."
Me: "Errrr..."

I was too easily conned into buying half a dozen.

The Limone Ricotta cupcake and the Goober (peanut butter and jelly) cupcake.

The Liliko'i (Hawai'ian passion fruit) cupcake.

The Gingerbread cupcake and the Vanilla Bean cupcake.

So much for digesting breakfast. I was already all over my dessert!

To tell you the truth, though, the cupcakes looked better than they tasted. Each of the cupcakes could have been a bit more moist, and the frosting could have been thicker. The frosting had already begun to melt by the time we walked out into the San Diego sun. Perhaps the frosting was made from butter rather than cream cheese... but the one cupcake that was worth the dollar-per-bite was the bacon cupcake. As I bit down into the buttery frosting, I tasted a sweetness unlike the sweetness that typically comes from dessert. It was more like a... brown sugar? Maple syrup? And the cupcake itself had texture more of pancake than anything. I was amazed. The bakers really put some thought into the flavorings of the bacon cupcake. It was like I had bitten into breakfast all over again... bacon for breakfast, bacon for dessert. I think the group silently decided that we needed to walk a few more blocks...

The La Jolla Cove. The seals nest to the left.

Slightly further north. The natural humility of the Pacific.

The northern curve of the cove. Del Mar is just beyond.

The cupcakes may not beat Sprinkles in taste, but Cups does shine in creativity. The store is definitely worth a visit, and the bacon cupcake is definitely worth a try. It's not everyday that a cupcakery (and not a froyo store) has the spotlight on creative flavors. Their progressive imagination went so far as to become one of the first cupcakeries to make their desserts from all organic ingredients. They have some cupcakes that are gluten-free and/or vegan as well. See their website for a complete list of flavors. The grand opening is at the end of the month.

Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20100114

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Post 3: Kimchi Fried Rice Fail means Kimchi Omelettes

Goal: Spam+pineapple+kimchi fried rice
Result 1: Spam+pineapple+kimchi omelette
Result 2: radish kimchi omelette (泡菜浦蛋)

Complete fail? Not quite. There's a very simple explanation for how my fried rice became two omelettes. I expected to find day-old rice (the kind you need to make good fried rice) in the refrigerator, but when I peered within the door... milk, eggs, orange juice, uhhh... no leftover rice? What??! I felt like a peasant during the Chinese revolution.

Okay, so time for plan B. Uhhh... Spam+pineapple+kimchi... salad? Gross. Pasta? No way. An omelette? Hrmmm... perhaps. As the least of all evils, I decided that a Spam+pineapple+kimchi omelette was doable. After all, I had just made Korean pork belly with Brussels sprouts and kimchi, and that was delicious. So if this Spam+pineapple+kimchi omelette really tastes as good (or disgusting) as it sounds, at least I would know for sure.


1. Spam - Original tastes best, but Lite or Low Sodium are also available
It says "crazy tasty" on the label, hahahaha, awesome marketing, Hormel.

2. pineapple - fresh or canned (doesn't matter) but must be drained

3. kimchi and kimchi juice
4. 2 eggs - scrambled
5. salt and pepper (S&P)


Step 1. Brown the Spam. A little bit of oil goes a long way here.

Step 2. Add the kimchi and kimchi juice, and let it reduce with the Spam.

Step 3. Toss the pineapple in with the Spam.
S&P (salt and pepper) the S&P (Spam and pineapple).

Step 4. Take out the omelette's organs.
Pour the eggs over the skillet and let it firm up.

Step 5. Put the omelette's organs back in. Attempt to fold/roll the omelette.
It gets interesting here, hahaha.

After an utterly failed attempt at folding the omelette, I came to the sinking realization that Spam+pineapple+kimchi could have made a delicious contemporary pizza a la CPK. *smacks forehead* Feeling disappointed in myself for not thinking about pizza as a possibility, I sank into my overstuffed sofa seat hoping that my kimchi omelette would taste decent at the very least.

Spam+pineapple+kimchi omelette. Good morning, America!
I covered the rip in the omelette with kimchi. You'd never be able to tell otherwise. :P

As I took my first bite, something hit me (I think it's called shock). Savory Spam... sweet pineapple... and spicy (and a bit crunchy) kimchi... all wrapped in a little bit of neutral (the egg)... delicious! But just to make sure my taste buds weren't screwing with me, for my second bite, I raced into the kitchen for a bottle of Tabasco. A dash here, a dash there... bite no. 2. Nom, nom, nom. Mmmm...! The savory+sweet+spicy combo was really working for me. More munching ensued... and a few minutes later...

Demolished. Tabasco and kimchi blood remain.
Chopsticks are more convenient than any other utensil.

I think I've just created an Asian omelette! But another realization hits. I don't think I'm the first one to have created an Asian omelette. There is a Taiwanese-style omelette that is made with pickled daikon radish (Chinese-written: 蛋; Taiwanese-spoken: tsai bho nngh). I've had this Taiwanese radish omelette plenty of times before. So I went back into the kitchen, excited to try a Taiwanese-inspired, Korean-flavored omelette (泡菜浦蛋). Instead of Taiwanese picked radish, I used Korean pickled radish kimchi. The kimchi isn't as salty or as crunchy as the pickled daikon, but it was well worth a shot.

Taiwanese-inspired, Korean-flavored. Radish kimchi omelette.
I may try scrambling the eggs with the radish kimchi inside next time.

Just as I had thought... not as salty and not as crunchy, but not bad at all. In comparison to the first omelette, the second one is physically flatter and flatter in taste as well. There isn't as much of a "Hmmm... what exactly is this that I'm tasting...?" To improve,
maybe I would add another pinch of salt in the egg and then eat it with a side of kimchi (either cabbage or radish).

Surprise! A simple spinach omelette.  
I was in a mood to scramble eggs.

Gah! I've had way, way too many eggs this morning. Kimchi pizza next time? Until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20100113

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Post 2: New Year, New Twist on Korean

I love Korean food. The glistening red juice from fermented cabbage brings a gleam to my eye; the crackling sound of the crispy outer layer of seafood pancake is music to my ears, and the smell of grilled marinated meat instantly makes my mouth water. However, for loving Korean food this much, I'm truly surprised at myself. I have never once attempted to make anything remotely Korean. (Thus far, my best Korean cooking has been adding hot water to instant Shin Ramyun.) So here's my first attempt at making something Korean, inspired by my love for Korean pork belly, kimchi, and... Brussels sprouts! o.O


1.  pork belly (PB) or Korean bacon - cut into thick strips

2.  Brussels sprouts - sliced into hemispheres

3.  kimchi and kimchi juice from the epic jar of kimchi
4.  green onions - as you wish
5.  salt and pepper (S&P) 
6.  steamed white rice


Step 1. Cook rice via rice cooker.

Step 2. Bring the water to a boil. Add the pork belly into a hot skillet; S&P the PB.

Step 3. Add salt to the boiling water; blanch the Brussels sprouts. Brown the PB.

Step 4. Drain the water; add the sprouts to the pork belly.
S&P again; toss in green onions and kimchi juice.

Step 5. Let the ingredients sizzle for another minute or so. Plate, and serve with steamed white rice.

Voila! Yes, it's strange. (Not gonna lie.) And I'm not quite sure how Korean you can actually call this dish. But... it IS Korean-inspired, and it's more delicious than it is strange. A symbiotic balance of flavors is created with the combination of savory meat, spicy kimchi, and just a tad of sweet from the Brussels sprouts. The smorgasbord of various flavors on a bed of fluffy, white rice allows the taste buds from every corner of your tongue to stand at attention. Pure heaven.

So unless Brussels sprouts truly make you nauseous, I think you will enjoy this new twist on Korean. Until next time, let's all get

Grace, for introducing me to your baked bacon and Brussels sprouts dish...
, for feeding me home-made Korean food all the time...

Rina, for spawning my love for kimchi everything with your kimchi cheegae...
Thanks everyone for helping me get started on my first post... much appreciated.

ML - 20100110