Thursday, January 28, 2016

Meal #05: Yemen

Who's ever heard of Yemeni food? Apparently lots of people haven't. So much so that I had to schedule two meetups to meet the demand. The first party, the guinea pigs, met last night to check out the Yemeni fare at Al-Andalus on Soi 5. We were: Sharon and Kim (USA), Martin (Germany), Nana and Petz (Thailand), Stefania (Brazil), Ekin (Canada) and myself (Singapore).

Photo credit: Nana

Restaurant was pretty empty when we got there at 7pm (although it filled up by the time we left at 8.30), so they gave us a private room at the second floor, which was nice on one hand, but on the other hand it was hard to get service.

Ah, service. That was the hardest thing at Al-Andalus. The Arab man who served us wasn't quite fluent in English, eg, he didn't know what a starter was, but even worse, he didn't know his own menu. Well, he knew his regular menu, but he couldn't tell us what was in the Yemeni menu. Apparently only the Yemenis came in to order their own food so on one hand it was comforting to know that Yemeni's ate there, but it was frustrating to not be able to understand what we were ordering. So armed with that lack of knowledge, I randomly chose two starter-y looking dishes, the Fata vegetable and the Aseed (although the waiter pronounced it aseeda), accompanied by bread.

The Fata Veg was decent. Carrots, potatoes, cauliflower in a mild dry curry presentation, which was mixed in with bread which gave it a nice texture contrast (Kim said it was like dumplings).

Aseed... was a whole other thing. We were served a lump of grey... mass. It had the texture of mashed carbs, like potatoes, bread and bananas all into one but it was altogether tasteless. It was served with a broth, which provided all the flavour to it, but otherwise, none of us liked it. Despite that, it appears to be the real thing.

For the mains, most of us ordered some sort of variation of rice and meat. The most common amongst us - the waiter said it was the most commonly ordered Yemeni dish in general - was the Mandy, flavoured rice topped with a roasted lamb or chicken:

The variations are the Matbi, which is rice topped with a grilled chicken.
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And the Zorbean, which is rice with (in this case) cooked lamb inside. At this stage I'm thinking Yemeni food is some sort of rice with meat inside or on top.

I'll also have to say that the servings are huge! Most of us couldn't finish our mains, and we packed some for back home.

Despite the hiccups, there are some indications that this is real Yemeni food. Al-Andalus is primarily an Indian and Middle-Eastern restaurant, and the almost partitioned nature of the Yemeni menu suggests that it is meant to cater to the local Yemeni community. The dishes like Mandy and the Aseed check out with what little information there is about Yemeni cuisine out in the web. And lastly, I was always worried at the back of head that since the zorbean was like a briyani and mandy was like a tandoori that we were going to be served Indian briyani and tandoori passed off as Yemeni - this wasn't the case. The flavours were definitely different.

We're heading back to Al-Andalus again next week, because so many people wanted to try Yemeni food. Now I have a better sense of what to expect, next week's meal will be quite an adventure!

Rat fund update: This meal's collection was B220, bringing our total to B1,060.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Meal #04 Canada

Our next stop on the culinary journey brought us to Canada, or more accurately, Samsen Soi 2, a few blocks down from Khao San Road. Make no mistake, this is still a pretty touristy area, and the Snack Bar BKK was definitely catering for the tourist palate.

We had a small group today: Jim (USA), Douglas (India), Vivek (Australia), Siri (Thailand), Candida and myself (Singapore).

The main reason the Snack Bar is a stop on the 80 Meals tour is because they have one distinctively Canadian item on the menu: Poutine.

Hand cut fries, covered with brown gravy and cheese cubes. Purists will argue that this isn't really poutine, because it's meant to be cheese curds rather than cheese. Still, they had a Quebec flag on the wall, and there were a couple of French Canadian tourists at the restaurant having some poutine the same time we were there. Presumably they were amused by the fact that they were halfway around the world from home and they were eating "poutine". We ordered three types of poutine to share. The plain classic one above, one with bacon and onion (because bacon and onion automatically make anything taste better), and the Buddhist poutine, by Buddhist I mean it was one with everything and by everything I mean bacon and onion and bolognese.  

So while it may not exactly be poutine, we still polished off three plates before ordering our own mains. Was it delicious? Maybe - or maybe it was just there and our food took a long time to come so we devoured everything as they came.

The rest of the meal was rather mundane: Pad kratiem pork and rice, falafel, a chicken burger, a tuna pita, and a grilled chicken. It was the standard stuff you find at a tourist restaurant, and none particularly outstanding.

I'll have to add that our dining experience was marred by a few hiccups. I arrived an hour early to tell the restaurant to save us a table. When we got there later at the appointed time, there was no table - and we ended up waiting an additional half hour before being seated. And then it was a wait to order our food, and then for the food to arrive. Service was slow, because they obviously didn't have enough staff to deal with the crowd, and it wasn't even a big crowd - 20 people all in. That and the meh food means that this is probably a place to miss.

Despite the hiccups everyone had a fun time - so kudos to the gang for keeping our spirits up. In the end we each paid about THB300 for the bill, and we hung around for coffee at another place nearby.

We collected B80 for the rat fund, bringing our current pot to B840.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Meal #03: Indonesia

Last week, we visited Rasa Khas, an Indonesian restaurant at Sukhumvit 23. Rasa Khas is the first name that turns up when looking for Indonesian food in the City of Angels, and it is located in a house that has been converted into a restaurant.

This meal's food explorers were myself, Alex, Olivia, Bank, Joe, Kim, Maria and YY - a varied bunch from Russia, USA, Thailand, Switzerland, Japan and Singapore.

Indonesia's a pretty big place and so there are many culinary signature dishes from different regions. I'm not sure how representative Rasa Khas' menu is, but there were many classic dishes that one would expect to find. We got to try many of them: gado gado (vegetable salad with peanut sauce), nasi ayam bakar bumbu bali (Balinese style grilled chicken with rice), perkedel (potato and corn fritters), soto ayam (chicken soup), nasi ayam padang (A Sumatran curry chicken with rice).

Gado Gado is a unique Indonesian salad made up of tofu, rice cakes and blanched vegetables covered in a spicy peanut sauce. The prawn crackers add a little crunch to the mix.

A few of us ordered the nasi ayam bakar bumbu Bali - a chargrilled chicken marinated with a sweet sauce, accompanied with spicy chili sauce and tempeh, a soybean cake. Bakar means black, and this type of grilling is typical of Balinese food.

The nasi ayam padang - rice with a chicken curry, named after the town of Padang in Sumatra.

Because this was a Christmas meal, Maria brought chocolates for everyone, and we had an exchange of gifts at the end of the meal. Some of us stayed on for coffee afterward too.

Thanks Maria for the Santa chocolates!

We collected B460 for the Apopo Rat fund, bringing the current total to B760.