Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Naren: A Hearty Soup, Hands Down, At Uyghur Taamliri Central Asia Uyghur Food

According to some accounts Naren, the name for the Xinjiang Uyghur dish that was my soup du jour today, means "meat eaten with the hands" (the Chinese characters 纳仁 used to render the name are apparently mere phonetics). Roughly chopped mutton, tomato, carrots, and onions were traditionally mixed with handmade flat, wide noodles and eaten with the hands (sounds messy but fun, doesn't it?). The broth the mutton and vegetables were cooked in was served in a dish on the side.

That was then. This is now. Forks and spoons have replaced sticky fingers and the dish I had today at Uyghur Taamliri was all-in-one.  Toothsome hand-pulled noodles sat in a shallow pond of mutton broth, and were topped with a mixture of chopped mutton (or lamb), tomatoes, onions and bell peppers.  In traditional style, only salt is used in cooking the mutton, in order to keep the natural flavors, and black or white pepper added just before composing the dish to add a little personality. I can't confirm that Uyghur Taamliri stuck to this protocol, but the broth was very meaty and peppery from white pepper; with the meat, rustic noodles and familiar veggies, the overall effect was not unlike a Scotch Broth soup.

I couldn't let all the raw onions get by me without pairing them with fresh garlic, so I ordered an appetizer of "Mashed Garlic Cucumber."  It was as tasty as it was simple, just pressed fresh garlic and cucumber spears with a vinegary dressing, perfect for the 80+ degree day it was today.

As for my naren, one of the fragments of folkish wisdom I garnered from various sources was this proclamation: "It is the faverite dish of old people." This septuagenarian wouldn't argue with that sentiment.

Where slurped: Uyghur Taamliri at Chug Pub, 1849 Lincoln Way, San Francisco

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Coincidence Or Cosmic Synchronicity? My Summer Mutton Noodles At Shandong Deluxe On The Eve Of "Da Shu"

Infografic courtesy ECNS.com

The Chinese Agricultural (Solar) Calendar is divided into 24 half-month periods, with the hottest, Da Shu ("Major Heat") beginning this year on July 23.  There are different eating practices in different parts of China for this period, as shown in the above infografic: "People in Shandong drink mutton soup on Major Heat, which is called 'Summer Mutton Soup.' " Fitting, therefore, that I was sitting in a resaturant called Shandong Deluxe slurping mutton soup on July 22, the eve of "Major Heat" (actually already the 23rd in China). I'd like to think this demonstrates an intricate knowledge of Chinese customs, but in truth my visit was completely random, and I was unaware of the mutton-eating custom until I was doing some post-mortem research.

I had started out headed for the Uighur restaurant on Lincoln Way, but Muni and I were both running late, and I would have arrived at about 1:55 for the 11:00-2:00 lunch service. Not wanting to cut into the staff's chill time, I stayed on the #28 all the way to Taraval St. after deciding to make House of Pancakes Plan B. House of Pancakes, alas, is closed on Wednesdays as I had once discovered before (fool me twice, shame on me). Plan C was a no-brainer: Shandong Deluxe and its hand-pulled noodles, a block away.

No divine guidance was involved in my choice of mutton noodles: unless purpose-sent to try a different soup, I'll always go for a mutton or lamb option if avaiable, and the fact that they specified "mutton" and not "lamb" (the two have the same name in Chinese but not always distinguished on menus) was also a turn-on. I could envision wide, flat, wide, hand-pulled noodles in a milky, somewhat medicinal broth, with fatty chunks of mutton --- but wait, that was the Henan place in Flushing's Golden Mall; would I get something like it?

The flat, wide, hand-pulled noodles were the best part of my large bowl (nay, tureen) of mutton soup.  The milky broth was less medicinal-tasting than I expected and on the bland side, but easily remediable via the condiments supplied to the table.  My soup also seemed a bit skimpy on the mutton, coming with what you might call China-sized portions (China of the 1990s, that is) of meat. Not to complain, though; it may not have been quite the Henan wonder from Flushing, but price-wise and portion-wise, my "Summer Mutton Noodles" delivered great value.

Where slurped: Shandong Deluxe, 1042 Taraval St., San Francisco

Friday, July 17, 2015

Just Whistle A Happy (Moo) Toon: Pork Spare Ribs Noodle Soup at Tycoon Thai In The Tenderloin

I don't think there's really any need to feel afraid strolling through the Tenderloin, but the surroundings can be a little grim at times.  Instead of whistling a happy tune, look for a cheerful antidote of your choice from the panoply of inexpensive and delicious ethnic fare to be found in the 'hood. One such dish is the one Thais would call kuay teow moo toon, known as "Pork Spare Ribs Noodle Soup" at Tycoon Thai, the welcoming O'Farrell St. Thai/Lao bistro with the excellent draft beer and dratted Mason jars. It's what I had today when I paid Tycoon Thai an overdue visit.

"Moo toon" is't something hummed by a cow, or even a cartoon of a cow. "Moo" (or something that sounds like it) means pork in Thai, and "toon" means steamed or stewed, and the two together usually refer to pork spare ribs.  Kuay teow (however it's spelled) means rice noodles.

The broth used in kuay teow moo toon is a clear broth, subtly flavored, traditionally using cinnamon in the stock; if Tyoon Thai's broth has cinnamon in it, it''s thankfully so subtle I couldn't detect it; you Cinnabon dweebs can go away. Mild and vaguely medicinal, it benefited from a hit of chili paste. Although pork ribs are present, there's also pork pate meatballs and coarse ground pork as well; it could be called "pork three ways." The pork spare ribs were on the bone, but easily de-boned in the mouth.

If I had a complaint, it would be about too many noodles.  That's a complaint I rarely make (and would never make about hand-pulled wheat noodles) but there was such a mass of rice noodles it was difficult to stir in my choice of flavor enhancers from the condiment caddy.  But soldier on I did, and put the finishing touches on a hearty and satisfying bowl of happy moo toon noodle soup.

Accompanying my soup was a container of  sticky rice, which I can't resist ordering these days. Tycoon Thai doesn't provide jaeow bong (Lao chili paste) for dipping, so I mad do with a puddle of Chinese-style chili paste for this purpose.

Where slurped: Tycoon Thai, 620 O'Farrell St., San Francisco