Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Confessions of a food chameleon

Fremont has a sizable Asian population, also a East Indian/Central Asian/Middle Eastern group, as well as Latino folks, and a healthy dose of African, African Americans and Europeans… and each of these different peoples has established restaurants. Within a couple of miles of our home we can get a good sample of the world's flavors!

So lets consider one category – soup - Here it is getting to be cold weather - soup weather. A good bowl of soup can be a meal in itself.

· I think my current favorite is a largebowl of Mexican chicken soup from Los Dos Gallos Restaurant (served with warm corn tortillas, rice, lime wedges, and cilantro.) Plus I also like the non stop football ( soccer ) and novelas that they play in the restaurant (Spanish only). I'm not even telling you about two other favorite Mexican soups: Menudo and Pozole!


· But sometimes I just get a hankering for spicy Tom Gai Thai soup - served at the table in a clay or metal pot atop a burning gas flame. Served into small bowls from the pot at your table. Thai soups have many variations in meat/ fish/ vegetables, coconut milk, spices – But beware the sliced sections of chilies’ and hunks of herb stems - they are not meant to be eaten – they are there for flavor – so you must be alert to fish them out.

Just recently a neat little Japanese noodle shop - simple elegance - opened a few blocks from home. - A large bowl of light chicken soup comes with the proper amount of rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, tofu, fish cake, and vegetables. This is eaten with chop sticks and it is perfectly good etiquette to pick up the bowl and use the chop sticks to guide in the noodles, slurping them up! Japanese noodles come in many forms, sizes, and ways to present.


· Ah – but I didn’t even mention Vietnamese Pho soup – ( pronounced like Fun ) … this soup is an art form – beef broth, rice noodles and then a wide choice of variations: meat, fish. vegetables, tofu, fish sauce or soy bean sauce, and hot chilis … Topped with cilantro and asian basil Shops specializing in Pho seem to be everywhere - and each one has it;s own character. People are loyal to their favorite and everyone has their idea about how the best pho should look and taste.


· The Afghan menu includes a soup that is a meal in itself - Aush – made with lamb broth –lamb meat, noodles, lentils, tomato, other vegetables, and delicious spices. Afghan food borrows from the Persians, Russians, Chinese, India into unique combinations of flavors… incredible! Our son Andrew knew this dish from his stay in the Peace Corp in Kyrgystan. (The bowl I get in the restaurant is much larger than the one in this photo!)


Russian borscht has long had its loyal supporters. On a cold rainy day it warms you to your bones! Must be served with fresh good bread. · Made with beets, cabbage, onions, flavored with vinegar and sugar, with a dollup ot sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh dill. Everyone makes their own variations of this soup so its a matter of finding your favorite or making your own. A steamy little Russian bistro helps set the tone. Sadly we must go to San Francisco to find ourfavorite. The serving in this photo is too small too.


I admit it – I am a chameleon when it comes to food. When I enter a cultural restaurant I quickly take on the color, flavors, and expectations of the place. It feels like its an adventure to try something new and discover new flavors and textures. If it’s a new strange cuisine that I don’t know – like Ethiopian food recently… I ask the waiter to make suggestions – they often take pride in their national foods and are only too happy to help.

Most of the places we visit are not fancy restaurants - but restaurants of the people. They are often decorated with a few items from the home country, but the good ones have plenty of peole who consider this "home cooking" - the food of their home land.

Broadening our cultural food horizons is as American as Apple Pie – look how we have assimilated Pizza, Sauerkraut, Chili, Yogurt, Frankfurters, Lasagna, Swiss cheese, Baloney, French bread, and Spaghetti… All of these were once exotic foods introduced by "foreigners". We only stand to gain as we boldly try new flavors - who knows what new favorites we may discover?