What better way to end a year than talking about food! In my last post, I highlighted some of the most memorable moments of 2015. I had to leave food out because it was getting too, too long. Now that this is a separate post, I thought hard about how to structure this… whether to list my favorite meals, to do a recap in superlatives, etc. In the end, I thought it’d be most interesting to talk about my top 5 newly discovered dishes.
So here are 5 dishes I loved this year that I never knew existed before 2015.
Bun Cha (Hanoi)
This year saw an intense love affair with Vietnamese food. I was already obsessed with pho and spring rolls before visiting Vietnam, but actually being there opened my palette to a whole range of flavors that I never imagined. To me, Vietnamese food is clean and refreshing, and at the same time, exotic and complex.
My absolute favorite newly discovered Vietnamese dish is bun cha, a dish from Hanoi. It’s essentially just grilled pork pieces (both strips and minced patties) soaked in a light semi-sweet fish broth, and accompanied with fresh vermicelli and fresh herbs on the side. I also like to dump a lot of raw minced garlic into the soup. Dip everything into the soup and eat. I can’t say why this simple meal with basic ingredients is SO GOOD, but it literally makes my mouth water just thinking about it! In my Hanoi food guide, this snagged the number one spot!
Bún Bò Hue (Saigon)
D favored something a little more complex. His favorite is bún bò hue, the namesake noodle dish of the city of Hue, Vietnam’s old imperial capital (it’s just called bún bò there). This dish is so difficult to describe because it seems to be mish-mash of random things. You’ve got a lemongrass beef broth with shrimp sauce and hot chili oil, and then throw in a variety of herbs, raw onion strips, a squeeze of lime, and banana blossoms (which has a strange bitter taste). And of course, there’s the meat components – usually beef shank slices, pork knuckles, and fishcake. The noodles are a thick round vermicelli, as opposed to the flat noodles for pho. What you end up with is a noodle dish that hits all the flavor notes – spicy, salty, sour, bitter, and sweet.
You Po Mian (Beijing)
We were introduced to this dish by the girl D’s cousin was dating in Beijing. She was from the Xi’an province of China and said that this is the trademark noodle dish from her town. I’ve never heard of it previously (I love how diverse food in China is!) but I was in love with my first bite.
You po mian is translated as “hot oil noodles”, because from what I understand, a splash of hot oil provides the finishing touch. Some veggies, pork bits, spicy sauce, and garlic make up the ingredients inside. Such spicy goodness! But not only that, the noodles are something special as well. This place makes fresh hand-pulled noodles and they come out thick and doughy. Seriously, check out how long one strand is!
Prachak Pet Yang (Bangkok)
This Thai-Chinese fusion roasted duck restaurant in the Bang Rak area of Bangkok is a local legend at a century old. And you’d better believe it lives up to its popularity! This was probably the best thing I’ve ever had in Thailand (along with khao kha moo). So good that we were willing to make the half hour or so trip to eat it quite a few times. If I ever go back to Bangkok, a city I’m not too fond of, 90% of the reason would be to come eat here. Not even exaggerating.
The ducks are stuffed with Thai herbs and marinated in Cantonese sauces, resulting in an indescribable amazing taste, and roasted to juicy perfection. You can choose to get it served over white rice or yellow noodles, and I prefer the latter. The noodles are always just the right amount of chewiness. Mix in some of that delicious sauce and this dish is seriously heaven.
Prachak Pet Yang location: 1415 Charoen Krung Rd, Silom, Bang Rak, Bangkok. It’s a tiny storefront, so don’t miss it!
Tuskemen, or dipping noodles, is unique in that the broth and noodles come separately. The broth is a thick pork and fish broth combination, so viscous that it will stick on the noodles when dipped in. And speaking of the noodles, they are a thicker round noodle (to balance out the heavy flavor of the broth) and are always a perfect al dente. Take a few strands in your chopsticks, dip into the thick broth, and then here’s the funnest part – slurp it up! As sloppily and noisily as you wish!
D fell in love with this dish in Tokyo and was so excited to see a branch from the same chain in Osaka. I already said that Japanese food is not my favorite, but I loved this noodle! We cooked most of the time, but if we ever wanted to go out to eat, this was always the top request!
So there it is… my top 5 favorite dishes of the year. But I feel like this wouldn’t be a true ‘best foods of 2015’ post without mentioning some other truly delicious meals I had this year, even if they weren’t new discoveries. So honorable mentions go out to:
- Da Dong roast duck (Beijing, China) – also the fanciest meal I had this year
- xiaolongbao at Geng Fu Xing (Wuhu, China)
- bbq pork buns at Tim Ho Wan (Hong Kong)
- fresh seafood at D’Talipapa (Boracay)
- charcuterie and cheeses (Lyon, France)
- and of course, last but not least, eating at grandma’s
And PS. I realized after writing this that everything on this list is noodles. Maybe this post should have been more aptly named “noodles around the world.”
What foods stick out in your mind from the past year? What were some of your newly discovered dishes?
Oh, and Happy New Year everyone!