food

International Goodies: Shopping at New Grand Mart

In my hometown, there is an international grocer named New Grand Mart. New Grand has a couple of locations, and, prior to me visiting one of the stores, I usually got my international foods from a different seller in town. However, that seller tended to focus solely on East Asian foods (specifically Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese items). New Grand, however, is a truly international store, with foods hailing from East Asia, India, the Middle East and even Mexico and Central America!

My latest trip to the store resulted in me getting lots of tasty items, but these four were my favorites.

Vegetarian ramen noodles

I love ramen noodles, especially since it’s easy to add additional ingredients and make a a hearty meal. These noodles are the perfect base for my ramen creations.

Frozen sticky rice with mango

I have a review that I’m planning for this frozen sticky rice with mango, so stay tuned for that!

Vegetable mushroom buns (please ignore my nutrition supplements in the background!)

I am a HUGE fan of Chinese buns, and these are by far the tastiest that I’ve ever gotten from a grocery store. So yummy.

Strawberry KitKat candy

I love KitKat candy, especially the limited edition specialty flavors. Strawberry flavored KitKats were available stateside for a short time, but they are very difficult to find. Imagine my excitement when I saw that these are regularly offered at New Grand Mart! I’m delighted that I will always be able to get the strawberry flavored ones, so long as New Grand carries them.

Those are my favorite international goodies! Do you have any favorite items that you like to purchase from international grocers? Let me know all about it in the comments!

culture · food · international

Snack Review: Mama Wu Mango & Sticky Rice Spring Rolls

While quarantined, I haven’t been enjoying takeout as much as I used to. However, I still enjoy trying new foods, especially snacks. So when I saw this food that combines two of my favorite snacks – spring rolls and Thai mango and sticky rice – I couldn’t resist. I had to try it!

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Mama Wu Mango & Sticky Rice Spring Rolls were easy to prepare. The rolls had a crispy exterior after baking, and I was excited at how the texture of the baked spring roll was similar to a fried roll. I was concerned that the roll would be a tad bit soggy, but it was crispy, crunchy and delicious.

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A perfectly crisp spring roll

Now, when it comes to the filling . . . Let me qualify this by saying I’ve had many different mango and sticky rice desserts. I’ve eaten at over a dozen different Thai restaurants in different cities and I usually have my mango and sticky rice at each one. So, I feel really comfortable saying that I know what the dessert should taste like. This interior was not as tasty as I’d hoped. It was especially chewy, and the mango flavoring wasn’t as prominent as I’d like. So the filling wasn’t as delightful as the exterior, unfortunately.

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The interior wasn’t as tasty as I hoped

Here’s the rub: I was looking forward to the filling more than the outside, yet the outside was the best part of the snack. But, I don’t think that this product is a complete fail: in fact, I can think of a few ways that it can be improved. First, the company should tinker with the rice recipe to see how to prevent the rice from getting too “tough” when baking. Also, a little more mango would be wonderful. Finally, this needs COCONUT SAUCE! These rolls practically begged to be dipped into a creamy, sweetened coconut sauce to amp up the flavor and to add a contrast to the crisp exterior.

Would I try this again? Sure, especially if I had my own coconut sauce (or if the company started including sauce with the rolls). I’d be sure to have some additional mango to accompany these rolls, too.

Have any of you tried these before? Or, do you have another Thai dessert that you prefer? Let me know all about it in the comments below!

food

No More Food Deliveries!

Happy Thursday friends! I’m coming to you all with a (mini) gripe. I don’t usually complain on this blog: after all, I believe that life is wonderful and good things are all around us. As a rule, I don’t complain.

However, I have my limits. And, because I have my limits, I feel that it’s time to put my foot down and turn over a new leaf. As we go into this next blogging year, I felt it was important to tell you all the change that I’m making.

You’ve read the title, so you have a clue what I’m talking about. As you all may know, I love food. Like, I really love it. I’m a huge fan of international cuisine, such as Thai, Indian, Kenyan, Jamaican, Ethiopian and (authentic) Chinese. As a result, I tended to order a lot of takeout and I enjoyed – for a time – having food delivered to me.

food

Well, doesn’t this look yummy!

Unfortunately, I’ve had a string of poor experiences over the past few months. Missing items, incorrect orders, food not being spiced/seasoned to the level requested … It was clear that something had to change because the quality of delivery orders that I received has steadily declined.

So, I’ve decided to quit ordering delivery and start making more dishes at home. I only have a surface-level knowledge of foreign cuisine, so it’ll be fun to learn more about how to prepare dishes from around the world. I’ll be blogging about these recipes and sharing my tips, tricks, and (yes) even my fails! I hope that you all stick around for the journey.

I’ll still be dining out and reviewing different restaurants, but as far as delivery goes? There will be a moratorium on that for an indefinite period. It’ll be more fun to learn how to cook and to share what I learn with you all. We’ll have fun together – I promise!

food · international

Review: Absolute Thai Restaurant

A few days ago, I went out for lunch because, well, I needed a break from the office LOL! I decided to try Absolute Thai restaurant (which is different from Absolute Noodle, which I’ve reviewed previously). I figured I would treat myself, since I hadn’t gone there in years and I remember that I enjoyed their food before.

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The restaurant is conveniently located right behind the Verizon Center, at the corner of 6th and G Streets NW. It’s a 3 minute walk from the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro stop to the restaurant’s front door. Like many of the restaurant in this area, there isn’t a lot of interior space but the restaurant does a good job of maximizing what’s there.

The first issue was the time it took to be acknowledged by the staff. I waited at the door for at least 3 or more minutes while 3 waitstaff members were milling around and not looking toward the door. 3 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, except standard restaurant procedure is to acknowledge guests within 30 seconds of arrival (that’s why most restaurants have a designated host/ess that spends the majority of the time at the door). The hostess was nowhere to be seen during the 12 o’clock hour (crazy, right?) I received no assurance that I would be helped momentarily, nor any other acknowledgement. I wasn’t acknowledged until two gentlemen arrived and, as they waited behind me, the staff must have assumed that we were all together, and then someone spoke to us.

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Gilded artwork in the restaurant

I ordered the Thai tea lemonade (basically, a Thai version of the Arnold Palmer or, if you’re from DC, a half-and-half),  tom yum goong soup and the “Jungle” entree, a mix of bamboo, eggplant, peppers, basil and green beans. I asked to reduce the heat of the entree from the standard “hot” level to “medium”.

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My yummy Thai tea lemonade

My tea lemonade arrived quickly. It was a little sweeter than I expected, but very good. Kudos to the restaurant for adding a moderate amount of ice – I really feel like I got a lot for the cost. The beverage was ample and tasty.

I then got my soup. It looked a little creamier than I anticipated, so I tasted it. I order tom yum but the server delivered tom kha (a coconut based soup). I actually like tom kha but I’m unable to eat a full-sized bowl because the coconut milk is a bit too rich for me. It took a moment, but the server returned and when I pointed out the error, she was pleasant and immediately returned it to the kitchen. My new soup arrived several minutes later, and it didn’t disappoint.

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The Jungle entree: this is where things started going downhill

Next was my entree which, I’ll admit, is when I realized that I may have to give my first negative restaurant review (I know, I’m shocked that I have to do it, too). The dish was far too spicy to be “medium”. I’ve eaten Thai food regularly for about 15 years, and I’ve eaten at a variety of Thai restaurants – including this one in the past! – so I have a good handle on spice levels. This dish had not been adjusted to medium-spicy level. When I pointed this out to the server, she didn’t seem to comprehend what I was saying, though she repeated my order back to me at the beginning of the meal. I could only take a few bites before I told her that I would take the entree back to my office and rinse off the spice, which is what I did. It was still a little hotter than my normal but at least the heat was tolerable after the rinsing.

Overall, the experience was just okay. The food was good and fresh, and the order arrived in a reasonable amount of time. But the time it took just to have a staff member acknowledge that I was there, and having two big food mistakes in one meal was a bit more than I’m willing to overlook. I don’t think I’ll be returning to Absolute Thai any time soon. After all, there are several other Thai restaurants in the area – and an overall plethora of them in DC – that will get my order correct on the first go round.

food · international

Lunch at Absolute Noodle

As you all know, I love to get out during my lunch break and try new restaurants and international cuisine. Since I work in DC, the possibilities are endless, and I spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out where to go because, hey, a girl’s gotta eat well. Last week was no different, as I ventured out on the coldest day of the week to get some nibbles (that’s what happens when you forget to pack your lunch).

I wanted to get dim sum, but the restaurant was closed. So I went to my easy standby, Absolute Noodle on 5th Street NW. This tiny restaurant is easy to miss, since it’s small and unassuming. However, the location – roughly 3 blocks from Capital One Arena (formerly the Verizon Center) – makes it a perfect spot to grab a meal before a basketball game, or to fuel up before hitting the city for a night on the town.

popville absolute noodle

(courtesy of PopVille)

The menu is small but covers some great options: it’s a fusion of Chinese, Japanese, and Thai appetizers and entrees. I ordered one of my favorite options – yaki ramen – and an appetizer I’ve never tried before, crab and cheese croquettes.

 

I’ll start with the croquettes. These were perfectly fried: crisp without having too much breading. Kudos to the restaurant for using panko breading instead of using a wonton. Overall, these tasted alright, but I wasn’t in love with the texture, nor the fact that I tasted all cheese and very little seafood essence. I’m a born-and-bred Virginian, so my standards for seafood are pretty high. After all, crabs are a regular summer indulgence. So I was disappointed to see that no only did these have no discernable crab meat in them, but it’s likely that the “crab meat” used to flavor this was imitation crab meat (I could be wrong, but I doubt it).

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Imitation seafood products are accurately described by Anne Barone (in her book, Chic and Slim Encore) as, “what [she] would imagine ocean perch would taste like if it had been poached in a marinade of children’s cough syrup”. No, my croquettes didn’t taste quite like cough-syrup-infused perch. But it also didn’t taste remotely like any crab that I’ve eaten. So while this wasn’t gross, I wouldn’t try it again. The dipping sauce was good, though.

I can recommend the spring rolls here – very tasty and always cooked perfectly. Next time, I’ll stick to what I know!

For my entree, I almost always get the yaki ramen. However, I have a little “quirk”: I only get the yaki ramen when I do a takeout order (as I did on this occasion). You see, the yaki ramen is one of the non-soup (broth-free) noodle options. And I don’t like dry ramen, so I take this dish back to my office and add boiling hot water to it, let it sit for a moment (so that the flavor infuses into the water), then eat. The resulting broth is very flavorful (this restaurant doesn’t skimp on the seasoning) and I always end up having to eat the ramen in two sittings.

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Half of my order of yaki ramen with tofu, after I added some hot water to make a broth.

The ramen was delicious, as always. I love that it’s vegetarian and customizable.

So that’s my review of Absolute Noodle. It’s worth a visit, especially if you find yourself in Northwest DC, in the Chinatown/Capital One Arena area. Let me know what you think of it!

food · travel

Review: Thai Orchid Restaurant

As I mentioned a few days ago, I got to do a mini-getaway to Orangeburg, South Carolina. I was curious about the local restaurants, so I hopped on Google and started looking around. I came across what seemed to be a good Japanese style restaurant, only to arrive at the location and see that the menu and ambiance were lacking.

My next choice was Thai Orchid (1155 Saint Matthews Road), located a little under a mile away from the underwhelming Japanese spot. I was surprised at the unassuming exterior of the building: the restaurant was a converted fast food place, complete with the remnants of a drive thru window. However, this restaurant is a case study in why it’s good to not judge a book by its cover.

The restaurant was full of ornately-carved artwork, chairs and tables. The tables were carefully set with sumptuous tablecloths and covered chairs.

 

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The entire restaurant was really a feast for the eyes. But what good is a restaurant if you don’t try the food? I ordered tom yum soup with shrimp and pad kapraw with shrimp.

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My bowl of tom yum soup

 

The soup was tasty, though a bit salty. I would have loved if it had more lemongrass flavor, too, but aside from the saltiness, it was still very good. The other flavors worked really well together, and it was a solid dish for starting my meal.

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Pad kapraw with shrimp

The pad kapraw was also delicious. I only wish that it didn’t have quite so many onions: I loved the flavor but the onions were a bit out of control! Everything was perfectly cooked and positively delectable. The portion sizes were generous and I felt satisfied with my meal.

I also tried the donuts and mango with sticky rice. I regret that I didn’t photograph those, but I did enjoy them!

The service was great, the food was good, and they even had live music for your listening pleasure! I had a great time at this local treasure, and I hope that the city’s residents will continue to support this business. I highly recommend that you try Thai Orchid when you’re visiting Orangeburg!