Posted in General

Tteokbokki at Alirang

I ate Tteokbokki for the very first time at Alirang (my favorite Korean Restaurant in Ottawa) just a little bit before Christmas. For some reason, I had never heard of these before even though I eat in Korean restaurants fairly often, and have a pretty decent collection of Korean cookbooks at home. Thankfully, Alirang provided a phonetic rendering for the dish right on the menu and it appears, as they have it, to be pronounced ‘Topokki’.

I any event, Tteokbokki consists of a particular type of rice noodle, which can be served in many different ways. In the Chinese character name for the selection given on the menu (in the inset on the above photograph), it is described as ‘Hán shì chǎo niángāo’, which translates as ‘Korean Style spicy stir-fried steamed-rice cake’. The actual noodle, as it turns out, is a thick, very dense, cylindrical rice flour noodle cut, in this case, into 3cm sections.

Now, the dish I was served at Alirang did not just consist of the noodles in sauce, but also contained a little cabbage (not quite apparent in the picture) but also some triangular pieces of something with an almost omelet like texture that I could not identify. I had to ask what they were and discovered that it was slices of fish cake. When I discovered what it was, the taste suddenly made sense and I have to say that I really liked this addition very much.

Now, the noodles were probably the densest, chewiest noodles I have ever had and I can see how they could become addictive, and probably a comfort food for those who grow up with them. I would like to see if I can buy them separately for home use sometime so I can experiment with them a little.

Oh… as for the sauce, this was pretty much nothing more than a slightly diluted Gochujang, or Korean Fermented Chili-Soybean Paste. It was extremely fiery and, I have to admit, nearly did me in. Still, on the whole, I really liked this offering and would like to try some other versions in the future.

Posted in General

‘Mandoo’ Dumplings at Alirang

I eat at Korean restaurants about once or maybe twice a year. I have rarely had dumplings during a Korean meal and, quite honestly, don’t particularly associate dumplings with Koran cuisine at all; Mostly, I think, because they most often appear on the menu under the name ‘pot-stickers’ or the Japanese name ‘Gyoza’. A lot of Korean restaurants will include Chinese, Japanese, or Thai items on the menu, and the dumplings I have seen in these places are generally the fried ‘Guo Tie’ or ‘Wor Tip’ variety that are commonly called pot-stickers, and it is never suggested that they are a Korean ‘thing’ at all…

At Alirang, a tiny, but excellent Korean restaurant in downtown Ottawa, they had dumplings described on the menu as ‘Mandoo’  (Korean Dumplings) … I have seen the name Mandoo in cookery books before, or in its more common variant ‘Mandu’, and the Wikipedia entry for the term suggests that the word refers to a wide variety of native Korean dumplings. In truth, I don’t think this is the case as the word clearly descends from the same root as ‘Manti’ (central Asian dumplings) and ‘Mantou’ (Chinese steamed buns) … In the inset in the above picture, I have shown the menu entry, which includes Chinese characters for the name. These solve the issue a little as they translate as ‘Korean style fried dumplings’ and suggest more a Korean twist on a standard Chinese classic rather than a purely Korean delicacy.

Anyway, whatever the origin, these were pretty decent , except that the wrapper dough was a bit thick for this type of dumpling and would be more appropriate for boiled or even steamed. The Chinese characters specify ‘jiānjiǎo’ which actually means ‘pan-fried’, but these ones were clearly deep-fried and quite oily, although I don’t mean this as a criticism as these were, as I say, pretty darned decent. The filling was ground pork and cabbage that didn’t seem to be seasoned with anything except a little salt, but the simplicity of this worked very well and the overall effect was very flavorful. They may not be truly a traditional Korean delicacy … but who cares

Posted in Product Reviews

Walker's Wasabi Ginger Crisps

A while ago, I was following a spirited exchange on one of the internet forums I follow in which Americans and Britons were hotly debating the merits of their respective gustatory traditions. One thing that came up many times, and which even got grudging agreement by the Americans, was that Britain has a far greater range of interesting of potato chip flavors than elsewhere. From my childhood days, way back in the mists of time, I really only recall ‘Salt and Vinegar’ chips (or ‘crisps’ as they are known in Britain) but things seem to have blossomed considerably since then…

Now, we can’t buy any English potato crisps where I live, but the package you see above was sent to a friend of mine by family living down in (I believe) Toronto. I knew it was an English Brand immediately (it says ‘crisps’ on the front of the package, after all) and the Walker’s brand name was even faintly familiar to me. I had a look online and was surprised to see some of the flavors they carry: They do a ‘Prawn Cocktail’, which sounds like it could be good; one in ‘Worcestershire Sauce’ flavor, which sounds interesting, at least; and then there is also one (and I swear this is true), which is flavored as ‘Brussels Sprout’. I’ll not comment on the last save to say that I probably won’t die unfulfilled if I never get to try them…

Anyway, I was a bit skeptical about the ‘Wasabi Ginger’ flavor but it turned out to be pretty good. Some other wasabi flavored snacks I have tried (Wasabi Nori, and Wasabi Peas) have been a bit heavy-handed with the wasabi and the result is… well, unsubtle, to say the least. Here, both the ginger and the wasabi are very light additions. Indeed, the ginger is so subtle that you probably would miss it if not watching for it … it only appears as a slightly sweet hint of the root when you first bit into a crisp, and fades as the wasabi taste rises. Even here, though, the wasabi is just an enhancement of the potato crisp flavor, and not a mouth searing mask for every other taste. It really was well done, in my opinion…

Posted in General

Onion Bhaji at Shafali

I first visited and reviewed Ottawa’s Shafali Restaurant almost 7 years ago. On that occasion, I sampled the Onion Bhaji from their appetizer menu and rated them very highly. They were, on that occasion, made largely the same way as all the others I had ever eaten thus far ( including those I made myself), which is to say, thin strips of onion dipped in a seasoned batter and deep-fried. Just recently though, I stopped in to Shafali again, and ordered their Onion Bhaji a second time, only to find that they were prepared in a way I have not had them before …

The menu (which may read the same was it did on my first visit), describes the as ‘Onion balls bound with lightly spiced and fragrant chickpea flour batter and served with house tamarind mango chutney’, but if you compare the above picture with the one from my 2012 review (follow the above link), you can see that they are not the same. The seasoning in both cases was about the same as best as I can recall, and here included  turmeric, coriander, pepper and fennel seed among other spices, but it was the nature of the of the ‘batter’, though,  that was very different.

In most versions I have ever had (or made) the batter is quite thin and thus you get a result that is a bit like the crispy Japanese Kakiage style Tempura. Here it had a much ‘doughier’ texture. I am not sure, but I rather think that, having immersed the chopped onion to the batter (more minced than shredded, in this case), more Besan flour was added to produce a drier, possibly kneadable result. Accordingly, the final texture is still a bit crispy on the outside, but much spongier and chewier at the center.

I don’t think I would say that I liked this way better than the way I have usually had Bhajis, but it was still pretty good and I should like to experiment with the basic idea in some of my own creations.

Posted in Product Reviews

Watson Brand Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing

I actually picked this product up on a whim while shopping for some other items at Kowloon Market, my favorite Asian grocery store in Ottawa. These vacuum-packed duck wings area product of China and intended to be used pretty much ‘as is’ rather than requiring any preparation. The picture on the front of the pack, which shows the plain wings sprinkled with a little green onion and sesame seeds, describes this as being a ‘serving suggestion’. Anyway, I was intrigued by this product, which appears to require no refrigeration, and I brought some home with me.

Anyway … when you open the main package, there are 5 of the individually vacuum-sealed wings inside. I am not sure how the wings are cooked (the package is silent on the issue), but I think they may be slow baked after being marinated. When you open one of the wings, the dominant aroma is of star anise, and I was expecting to not like the wings as I am not keen on the flavor. I tasted one, before reading the ingredients and I found, to my pleasant surprise, that the dominant taste seemed to be fennel. This proved to be correctly identified as the ingredient list reads (for flavorings):

Chili, soy, salt, sugar, aniseed, pepper, Sichuan pepper, fennel, liquorice, kaempferiae (Galanga), cinnamon, cardamom, clove, bay leaf, and ginger.

In truth, I think some of the additions may be… well, theoretical, as I couldn’t identify much beyond the fennel (which, luckily, I like a lot). The chili, which is listed first, and should thus be a major ingredient, is nowhere apparent, and the product is not remotely hot at all… Continue reading “Watson Brand Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing”

Posted in General

The Fish Taco at Highlander Pub

A while back, I dropped into the Highlander Pub in Ottawa for a beer and decided to partake of their $5 taco special. I am not a huge fan of Tex-Mex food, and usually give tacos a miss, but there was a choice between chicken, pulled pork, tofu, and fish, and I was rather hungry. I have only ever had fish tacos once before (and those were actually a Japanese-fusion sort of thing), and so I decided to give that selection a try…

The tacos themselves were pretty simple and straightforward, consisting of just a plain flour tortilla, along with some tomato, shredded lettuce, and a Chipotle Mayo for enhancement. The last time I had fish tacos, the fish was Yellowjack that was sliced and then just lightly floured and seasoned before being grilled. Here, the fish was, as far as I could tell, cod that was battered and deep-fried just as it would be in a regular old fish-and-chip special. It might sound a little mundane and boring but, in fact, the crunchy batter and thick succulent flesh worked really nicely both in terms of texture and flavor.

The only criticism I really had was that the large, rather oddly shaped chunk of fish made it a bit difficult to folds the tortilla around it and the eating of it was a bit messy. Probably two or three thin strips would work a little better. The spicy mayo was okay, if not particularly spectacular, but on the whole, I like this nice little lunch. I have been meaning to try making fish tacos ever since the first ones I tried, and, when I finally do, I may give the battered strips a shot first…

Posted in Recipes

Ratatouille Bruschetta

Today, I am illustrating a use for home-made Ratatouille that is a something of an Italian-Provencal fusion. Quite simply, it is little more than the delicious Provencal relish piled atop Italian Bruschetta.

Usually, Bruschetta is drizzled with olive oil (and it can be delicious with nothing more than this other than ‘scrubbing’ the grilled bread with a piece of raw garlic). Here, though, after grilling my slices of Baguette style bread in a ridged grill pan, I spread them with butter and it allowed it to melt before adding the Ratatouille. This made for a lovely snack and would also be a terrific Antipasto as part of a larger meal…

Posted in Restaurant Adventures

Okonomiyaki at Wasabi in Ottawa

Okonomiyaki has sometimes been called the ‘Japanese pizza’ but, though the appearance is similar (and occasionally cheese is used) the resemblance is superficial at best. Rather, this particular specialty is more closely similar to the Korean savory pancake known as ‘Pajeon’. Basically, the Okonomiyaki (which means ‘cooked as you like it’) consists of a pancake base made from cabbage, and sometimes other shredded vegetables, in a batter. This maybe cooked on both sides (or one only in some styles) and then toppings are added along with a sweetened Worcestershire type sauce and (commonly) mayonnaise. Seafood or meat can be included in the pancake and shaved Bonito flakes are a common topping.

I ate the one you see pictured above at Wasabi, in Ottawa, and, though it wasn’t the prettiest I have seen, it was very tasty indeed. The batter contained both cabbage and scallions and was well cooked through. It was a little dark in places but this did not ruin the flavor at all. The topping, in addition to more scallion, included shaved bonito and little strips of toasted nori. The bonito flakes were still fluttering when I received the dish, meaning it came straight from the griddle, and the nori added a nice nuttiness.

The one thing that made this particular variety different was that cheese was used in place of mayo… I was a bit leery of this but, in fact, it turned out to be very nice indeed. I have had Okonomiyaki a few times before this (some not very good) and I am looking forward to trying many more to explore the different structures and styles I’ve heard about.

Posted in Recipes

Alligator Bites

Today’s dish is my own rendition of the way I have most commonly been served Alligator in restaurants… that is to say, deep-fried with Cajun spices. Sometimes, I have had appetizers with chunks of Alligator meat that were first battered but I prefer to have them very lightly breaded as I have done here. The process is not difficult, and the result is very nice indeed… Continue reading “Alligator Bites”

Posted in Recipes

Notable Nosh: The Ploughman’s Lunch

Almost anyone in Britain will be familiar with the pub special known as the ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’ (or some version thereof), but fewer people have ever heard of it on this side of the pond. I actually remember the name from my childhood in England but, just this summer, I came across it on pub menus in both Ottawa and Halifax …

The rather pastoral name of this simple meal makes it sound as though it has roots far back in medieval times but, in fact, it is not a great deal older than I am. Certainly, bread, cheese and ale have been combined to make repasts for field hands and other laborers for centuries but the actual ‘lunch’ combo was an invention of the British Cheese Marketing Board back in the 1950’s as a way to get cheese served more often in public houses.

Anyway, the basic lunch (ideally served with beer) is centered around good, fresh bread, butter, cheese of some sort, and a pickle. Pickled onions are a great favorite (although sometimes raw onion slices are served) but any sort can be substituted, with Branston Pickle being quite common these days. Meat, in the form of cold ham, Scotch Eggs, or Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, also make regular appearances, and even fruit slices or small salads get used as enhancements to the ‘traditional’ plate. Once you get too elaborate, though, the original notion of a simple, working person’s lunch, seems to get lost in culinary translation…

Today, I put together a little plate for myself consisting of a hunk of just baked Baguette (baked my local supermarket, not me), butter, a very nice Cheshire Cheese, and some pickled onions of the cocktail variety. I would have preferred the larger, more robustly flavored,  sort but, sadly, I just can’t seem to find them anywhere locally. With a cold beer on the side, this made a lovely lunch…