Well, we made it to Thailand folks. We arrived a little over a week ago, and are now on the island of Koh Lanta, where we’ll be for another week. Jonah got his scuba certification (yay!) and we spent the last two days on a boat for 9 hours, diving and eating and relaxing.
But let’s talk about the food, shall we? We spent our first two days in Bangkok getting over our jet lag and catching up on work after 24 hours “out of the office.” The jet lag hit us both in a way that it never had before – our appetites were all out of whack. We would be hungry, then go find some food, eat a few bites, and then feel ill. And no, it wasn’t the state of the food we were eating. Our bodies were just so confused about the time and the lack of sleep and the heat and humidity, everything was off.
By the time we arrived in Koh Lanta on Saturday we were both starting to feel a little normal again, finally. We had a small lunch, but at dinner we went crazy and stuffed ourselves. Was it the smartest thing we’d done? No. But it tasted damn good.
Since moving here from Seattle nearly ten years ago (wow that makes me feel old), there are a few things I really miss: the presence of all kinds of seafood on menus, oyster happy hours, and serious Chinese food. Don’t get me wrong, I love that Portland now has 1,327 ramen restaurants and that it seems like every week a new izakaya place has opened, but the comfort food of my youth was usually Chinese food. And I don’t mean greasy beef & broccoli or orange chicken – though there were phases when I loved the stuff. I mean hand shaven noodles, bamboo shoots, and those damn scallion pancakes.
When I heard that there were two new Chinese restaurants opening in sleepy little Sellwood, they immediately went on my “to try” list. And isn’t it nice when your restaurant list lines up with the restaurant lists of the ones you love? That’s exactly what happened when the stars aligned and we had my dad, stepmom, and Jonah’s mom all in town for lunch. So we scooted down to Sellwood to get our hands (or chopsticks, really) on some of the noodles at Wei Wei – A Taste of Taiwan.
The place is relatively small, with only 5 or so tables, and the menu is scrawled out on a large chalkboard wall when you enter. Have a seat and get yourself some starters. We enjoyed the scallion pancake (I told you, it’s a comfort food and one I simply cannot resist) and a special cucumber salad, which was perfect given the 80° day. Then it was time for the noodles – I recommend the beef noodle soup if it’s soup eating weather, or the house spicy noodles, which are dry (served without broth). Neither are that spicy, so I recommend reinforcing with some of the house made chili oil. Let’s talk about the noodles. Both of these dishes came with homemade wheat noodles, often cooked up by the owner’s parents in the kitchen. They are fat, perfectly soft, with the right amount of heft and bite to them. What they are is damn good. The beef soup was super savory, with broth as dark as the large pieces of braised beef it’s packed with. The beef comes apart with the pull of your chopsticks and is accompanied by pickled mustard greens, and spinach. The dry noodles are anything but, coated with a glossy sauce of minced pork, water chestnut, and shiitake mushrooms. Both dishes could have easily served 2 if not 3 people, so come hungry or with a friend.
Yes, yes, at this point, we all know that I have a thing for soba noodles. They are healthier than normal wheat pasta, and when you’re more into Asian food than Italian, they make a great alternative. They serve as a fantastic base for lots of sauces, from heavy (like peanut sauce) to light (like this sauce made of sesame oil, tamari, and agave), and are great to toss with seasonal ingredients (mango and zucchini in the summer, kale in the winter) and a range of proteins (shredded teriyaki chicken or seared tofu).
More than anything, for me, they’re easy. It’s easy to add lots of healthy vegetables, they make great leftovers, and I know that I can whip up a sauce for them in 10 minutes or less. Throw in some sautéed vegetables or shrimp and you’ve got a dinner. Can it get easier than that? No. So on a busy night a couple weeks ago, Jonah and I made this delicious simple soba noodles with shrimp. This recipe served Jonah and I, with no leftovers (keep in mind, we were hungry). Go ahead and double it if you’re feeding more than two.
Soba Noodles with Shrimp, Lime, and Crispy Shallots
6-8 oz soba noodles
2 Tbl sesame oil
3 Tbl tamari or soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
1 Tbl vegetable oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced and separated into rings
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
zest and juice of one lime
1/2 lb. shrimp, shelled and deveined
1-2 scallions, thinly sliced
~1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
red pepper flakes or sriracha to taste
lime wedges for serving
Boil a large pot of water, cook your soba noodles until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. In a medium bowl, combine 1 Tbl of the sesame oil with the tamari or soy sauce, and agave or honey. Add the soba noodles and toss to evenly coat them with the sauce.
In a heavy bottomed pan (cast iron works great here), heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until they’re golden and crisp. Remove the shallots to a plate covered with some paper towels. Lower the heat and add the garlic, cooking until it too is golden and crisp. Transfer to the paper towels too, and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the lime zest and juice with the remaining 1 Tbl of sesame oil. Stir in the shrimp and season with salt, making sure the shrimp are evenly coated. Empty the contents of this bowl into the pan (the same one you cooked the shallots and garlic in), and cook them until they’re nice and glazed and just white throughout, about three minutes. Don’t walk away from the stove at this point – overcooked shrimp are not great.
Add the scallions, cilantro, and whatever amount of spicy ingredients you want to the noodles, and top with the shrimp. Serve with a lime wedge to squeeze over the top. Enjoy.
It’s Labor Day weekend! Which means you should probably be outside doing something fabulous instead of sitting inside on your computer reading this. But if you’re doing the latter, that’s ok with me. The time has come for SERIOUSLY SUMMER’S ALMOST OVER AND WE HAVEN’T DONE [insert stereotypical summer activity here] YET, GAH. So, these weekend finds are some things I need to do in the next month, and some things I’m looking forward to.
While I love a good blueberry muffin. Or blueberry galette. Or any blueberry baked goods. But sometimes, savory is good too. Which is why these pickled blueberries pique my interest.
4. Bull in China
Guys, my neighborhood is blowing up. Lots of construction, lots of neat places opening up. Included, this one stop shop for bartenders, Bull in China, by a couple local bartenders. I’m certainly looking forward to stopping in, lusting after the glassware, tasting the bitters, and reading all the liquor literature.