Friday, April 18, 2014

Last Of The Mohingas: Yamo (Mohinga VII) And Little Yangon (Mohinga VIII)

My successful quest to become Lord of the Mohingas by conquering all eight versions in town took me to the very edge of the San Francisco mohinga universe -- and a tiny bit beyond. I say so because mohinga #8 was at Little Yangon, which technically is in Daly City, not San Francisco. It's at "Top of the Hill" (Hi there, Steven Matthew David!) which is as much a part of a San Franciscan's geographic vocabulary as "South of the Slot," and just a few steps from the end of a Muni line, the #14 Missiion. Besides, with the most charming decor and homiest service of any area mohingeria (yes, I made that up) you'll want to take Little Yangon home with you, too.

My mohinga (that's a Burmese catfish chowder, if you are playing catch-up) at Little Yangon came in a ceramic chafing dish-style bowl (an appropriate beanpot-like touch).  It had a plenitude of spaghetti-sized rice noodles and a whole half of a boiled egg (rather than the egg slices one sometimes sees in mohinga). The chickpea fritters and cilantro were served on the side, along with a wedge of lime. I gladly made use of all these add-ins to the fullest extent. The broth was deep and rich, more tart than some, and had a nice shrarpness to it with a rare hint of spice heat.  I ordered a palata (paratha) with my soup, and it was one of the better versions I have had, browned to a slight char and not at all greasy.  It proved useful for mopping up the bottom of the bowl, which I reached in short time.

A week before, I had stopped in at Yamo, the beloved Mission District lunch-counter Burmese food venue I described in an earlier post, for its version of mohinga. As might be expected, Yamo presents the biggest bargain for a mohinga (though not necessarily the best value), with a washbasin-size bowl for $6.00 including tax.  Yamo's broth appeared a bit on the starchy side, possibly because I had it at early dinner time instead of my usual lunch time, and it had been sitting on the stove all day; on the other hand, it may just be Yamo's style. The noodles obviously hadn't been sitting in the broth, as they were not overcooked even though they were of the thin, vermicelli style rice noodles. Yamo's mohinga may not be the most elegant version around, but it's a solid, stick-to-the-ribs big bowl of soup, and you can't go wrong  for the price.

Thus endeth my grand mohinga tour (though I'll be posting an overview of all eight I've come across shortly). I look forward to giving full attention to my hot list of other noodle delights to try.  But if another Burmese restaurant suddenly materializes in my town ans says "Try me!" I'll be SO there.

Where Slurped: Little Yangon, 6318 Mission Street, Top of the Hill, Daly City; Yamo, 3406 18th Street at Mission St., San Francisco

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tucking Into Tibetan Thain Thuk At Tashi Delek In El Cerrito

Tashi Delek's Thain Thuk, up close and personal
It's not often I get coaxed outside the boundaries of San Francisco for some noodle goodness, but I couldn't resist the prospect of a family-style hole-in-the-wall Tibetan restaurant with a hard-to-find noodle soup dish.  The restaurant in question was Tashi Delek, in El Cerrito, and the noodle dish Thain Thuk.

I found Tashi Delek a 10-minute walk south from the El Cerrito del Norte BART Station along San Pablo Avenue, next to a pupuseria called Taqueria El Salva Mex. Tashi Delek (the phrase is a generic Tibetan well-wishing greeting) promises "Tibetan, Indian and Nepali Cuisine" according to its store sign. (There are Bhutanese dishes on the menu as well; perhaps they couldn't fit Bhutan on the sign.)  Make no mistake, though, this is a restaurant that leads with its Tibetan foot, featuring dishes like the noodle dish I was seeking, and snack favorites beyond momos like shogo khatsa and sha bhaley which I've previously only scored from the Tibetans of Himalayan Heights, Queens, New York. The proprietors/operators of Tashi Delek are Kunkhen Sherpa and Pasang Lama, and I can't think of two better names to be getting my Tibetan food from.

Thain Thuk literally means "pulled noodles" and is pronounced something like "tain took." (With that knowledge, read the post title again and appreciate my pun.)  They're not the showy pulled noodles you may be thinking of, but flat strips of dough pulled thin, then torn into approximately rectangular pieces and tossed into simmering broth, a meat or vegetable stock with ginger, garlic, onion, tomato, spring onion, salt and a splash of soy sauce, according to one recipe. To this is added, along with the noodles, beef or chicken (or vegetables for a vegetarian version) and thin slices of daikon. A generous topping of spinach and cilantro completes the dish.

I ordered the beef version, based on the recommendation of Ms. Sherpa, who was the entire "front of the house" at that time of day on a Tuesday. When my bowl arrived, I first tasted the broth.  It had the depth and complexity one would expect, but was a little on the bland side, I thought. Ms. Sherpa, who watched me tasting it, read my mind and offered me a pot of chili paste. A couple of tiny spoonfuls made the broth right, and I tucked in to my thain thuk. The noodle pieces were delightfully chewy, and the beef bits fresh and rare, like you might get with a good bowl of pho, but thicker. Overall, it was a hearty and delicious soup, one that can, according to one website, keep the nomads warm during the long Tibetan winters.  It was El Cerrito and 65° F, but it worked for me anyway.

Where slurped: 11224 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito CA (near El Cerrito del Norte BART Station)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Mohinga Tour VI: Mohinga At Pagan Restaurant Is A Pagan Pleasure

My Great San Francisco Mohinga Rally finally delivered me to Pagan Restaurant in the Outer Richmond, for stop number six of eight.  It was a while coming, because Pagan only has lunch service on weekends, and lunchtime is when I do most of my exploring.  Besides, mohinga is generally considered a breakfast food.

Pagan, now called Bagan, is an ancient city in central Burma known for its many pagodas. (Yes, I know it's Myanmar, not Burma, but I'll be damned if I'm going to write about "Myanmar-ese food.") Pagan, its namesake San Francisco restaurant, serves both Burmese and Thai cuisines, neatly segregated on the menu, but it's clear from the  images adorning its coyly rustic walls as well as from its name which cuisine is in the hearts of its Burmese-by-way-of-Thailand owners.

Pagan was nearly full at 1:15, but they managed to find a table for me. The nearly all Caucasian lunchtime clientele seemed mostly in the younger Gen X and older Gen Y age group, possibly graduates of Burma Superstar. (I've grown accustomed to being the oldest person in the room, and that's the only way I would have it.) As near as I could tell, most of the orders were for Burmese food, though in many cases it's hard to tell at first glance. Service was diligent but dilatory, as there was but a single server for the whole room.

I ordered mohinga with a side order of palata (a.k.a. paratha, prata, etc.), a pan-fried flatbread. I won't explain mohinga again (there's a search box aove for your convenience)!  The mohinga, when it came, wasn't the prettiest I've been served (the few egg slices, for example, were buried in the tangle of thin rice noodles, not laid out neatly on top) but was definitely among the tastiest.  The rich catfish broth was intense and garlicky, though perhaps a little too salty, and there was a plentiful supply of yellow chick peas as well as chick pea wafers.

I also liked Pagan's version of palata. They were very thick and well browned, and not overly greasy. The main drawback was their very heaviness; I was unable to finish one side order along with my bowl of soup.

This pagan is eager to return to Pagan for their ohn no khao swe (coconut chicken curry noodle soup) and other noshes once he's finished his mohinga round.

Where slurped: Pagan Restaurant, 3199 Clement St., San Francisco