Archive for August, 2011

Rise of the RoachCoach

August 19, 2011


Sorry if I offended anyone but “roachcoach” is my enduring term for these infamous “gourmet” food trucks.

Tonight I stopped by the Walmart in Union City for the weekly roachcoach gathering and found many many vendors. Unlike other gatherings (e.g. Edgewood Eats or Off the Grid) the selection is much smaller and there are repeats in the type of venues offered.

I went there in part because I saw CBS’s Eye on the Bay. However I believed they sort of missed the mark on that segment. Sure, I would not classify all the foodtrucks featured as gourmet but all of them are a newer breed of roachcoaches. Instead of being a jack of all trades and a master of none, they narrow their focus. However it does not payoff for all of them but if you follow the foodie scene there are some extraordinary ones.

These new breed of vendors remind me of the street vendors in the east coast and Asia, where they only sell one thing and try their best to be the best at what they sell. Too bad this might not be true for all these new breed of roachcoach vendors. Some just repackage the ideals of others and do not contribute any new ideals. Then there are those that are there just to cash in on this trend and do not put their hearts into what they make.

Enough with the new, what about the original roachcoach vendors? They invented fusion before fusion existed. Where else can you get a spaghetti meat sauce fried rice breakfast burrito? The old timers were all about the customers that this new generation misses. Some even had an alternating gourmet menu on the side. Have you had a fresh bowl of beef stew won ton noodle soup from a foodtruck before?

The fish taco I had tonight was good but I did not find it amazing. It cost $9 for two and was bigger than tacos I have had from taquerias before. But was this worth the price? I have attached and embellished photo above for your review. Tell me what you think about this trend?

New Big Brother Cafe 大哥大茶餐廳 in Union City California

August 16, 2011

Big Brother Cafe
1640 Decoto Rd, Union City, CA 94587


Recently I noticed a lot more of these Hong Kong cafes opening up and the latest one of these is Big Brother Cafe. It is more like Cousin’s Cafe in Newark or Cooking Papa in Santa Clara versus Venus Tam’s in Newark. They have 12 yelp reviews but you can tell those people do not know what they are talking about. These cafe are a lower middle class establishment in Hong Kong which resemble their upper class British tea rooms, that is why we see a lot of Chinese dishes that seems to resemble European dishes (e.g. Milk tea, custard tart, baked pork chop…). The variety is smaller than Cooking Papa but the seating is very comfortable and it is opened late. If you like this place you would like Cooking Papa (in the south) or Ming Tasty (in the north).

The first thing you look for in a 茶餐廳 is the tea, it is in the name. True enthusiasts would also look for the pastry then the fusion dishes such as the baked pork chop over rice. Many of these places, even in Hong Kong, no longer make or serve the pastry. But if you are into the pastry then I recommend going to Lido in Richmond BC. No pastries here and I did not have the plain tea but I did get then baked pork chop over rice and Singaporean Chow fun. I drank the yin yang red bean (some fad in Hong Kong) but the coffee over powered the whole drink, so I need to drink the milk tea by itself. The Singaporean Chow Fun is not to spec (e.g. Not all the standard ingredient are there) but was acceptable for what it had. Most of these cafes do not make the curry they use to cook with and this is true for this cafe as well. So the curry is not good but it is probably as good as it can be given that curry. Regarding the baked pork chop over rice, the first thing I am looking for is a good egg fried rice at the bottom of the dish. They were acceptable to me but it could be better. The rice was not loose, did not have a taste of the Wok, and did not have an aroma of egg. They did not add anything extra (e.g. Peas and carrots) to the sauce, it did not have cheese on the top, and it seems to be thickened with cornstarch instead of a roux (which makes it easier to brown). It was less vinegary and more sweet than most of the cafe of this type. The pork chop was pretty standard as well, I would have liked a juicier and more tender chop.

I would say that is worth a second look since the service is friendly, it is open late, and has comfortable seating. But if it wants to stand out in a sea of these cafes it needs to be more than standard and have something (not necessarily everything) extraordinary. Interestingly the name of this cafe is the same as a popular dish at Venus Tam’s Cafe, but I cannot find that dish in this cafe, why is that?

Cooking Papa Restaurant
2830 Homestead Road
Santa Clara, CA 95051

Ming Tasty
1652 East 14th Street
San Leandro, CA 94577

Oodles of noodles, or pasta, or 麺 (mian), What is the correct way to prepare them then?

August 16, 2011

What is al dente or “to the bite? How can you say rinsing is not right?

I can not explain how a culture that has a pasta or noodle like dish (since 2000 BC) do not have a recognized name like pasta, noodle, or ramen, besides fun (粉) or mein (麺 mian), but I do know that not all cooks are right. Like pasta there are different types of 麺 and 粉. There are different ways to prepare them too, like rinsing them before putting in soup.

Depending on what I am cooking or what I have, I sometimes rinse my noodles. Like “fun” for example, if I bought them from the supermarket and have them in the fridge, I sort of dunk them several times in boiling water to soften them up and get rid of some oil. They are very soft so there is no bite to be had. There are many ways to grade the quality of these noodles as much as the variety of them. Chow fun, to me, is good if it has the following qualities:
1. Has the taste of the Wok
2. Aroma of dark soy (caused by an adequately heated Wok)
3. Not too oily
4. Not clumped together
5. Evenly colored
6. Not too thick
7. Does not stick to the teeth upon being bit
8. Has a sort of snap when you bite into them

Chinese also has and uses many types of noodles, mein, and/or fun. Mein are noodles that are usually made from wheat flower, which Westerner’s refer to as pasta. However there are also many kinds not just shapes of them. One of the more famous ones are the hand pulled noodles as seen in one of the Amazing Race episodes. The measure of the quality of these noodles is how thin and long they can be. And I believe it is a plain water dough. Though other forms of these noodles are graded on different criteria. Most ramen restaurant ran by Chinese translate ramen to mean hand pulled and the noodles reflect that quality, which the noodle has a slight toughness due to the development of gluten and a snap, but not a doughy stickiness.

Besides just water and flour noodles, we also have egg noodles which the pasta resembles. However there is a version of this with potassium sulfate. It might sound inedible but it enhances the crisp and springy texture. Too bad it does not taste really good stir fried. The closest to stir fry I have seen this noodle in is with onion and ginger, and a few dishes which it has a stir fry on it and mixed in but very good accompaniment with soup dumplings such as wontons/raviolis.

When I taste top ramen, I think of the noodles I have at weddings and birthdays. Some call it long life noodles because they are meant to be served in really long strands. They are fried in a round pan, giving it a cake like form. Yet they do not taste greasy. The texture is also very soft so it also does not have what is called an al dente texture. And even though it is served in long strands it is not tough or chewy. It is very top ramen like.

Although we also have fresh and dried egg noodles like pasta, it taste very different texturally. Unlike Italian pasta, most Chinese noodles have different textures and we use it for many different applications. For example there is a thin angel hair like egg noodle that taste differently depending on how it is cooked. In a soup it has a stingy snap, in a stir fry it has slightly tough snap, but when it is pan fried the outside is crisp while the inside is soft, fluffy, and has and aromatic smell of egg, similar to that of a cake.

So why are the origins of noodles less popular than pasta?