This year saw a lot of travel as we kicked off the year traveling around Southeast Asia for six weeks, visiting India, Singapore, southern Thailand and Vietnam. We ate a lot of incredible food on our inaugural visit to Vietnam, many of which made it here. There was always fish sauce on the table and, on occasion, a “grand cru” from Phu Quoc.
We went to Thailand again later in the year, this time visiting Chiang Mai, a city we’ve both been eagerly looking forward to exploring for its food. Visits to Europe were primarily to Scandinavia and the Baltics. Back home in New York, we ate primarily at home, but had several excellent meals when we did venture out.
The kinds of complex knowledges we have evolved don't allow for objective evaluation anymore — a complex amalgam of belief and experience is the only barometer you need, for such evaluation is necessarily directed by and for the self alone. The wonderful food experiences we had undeniably reflects the skills and hard work of the people who played a role in creating them — the makers — but is in no way a “best of list”, for that would preclude all the other wonderful experiences we could have had.
Karimeen Pollichathu (steamed) and Karimeen Porichathu (fried) all over Allapuzha and Kottayam, Kerala, India (Jan)
I’m a big fan of karimeen (or green chromide), a freshwater fish native to Sri Lanka and coastal India. In January, we spent time in Allapuzha and Kottyam, parts of Kerala we don’t normally spend time in. We ate plenty of karimeen pollichathu (karimeen steamed in banana leaf) and karimeen porichathu (fried karimeen).
Paan in Mumbai (Jan, Apr, Sep, Dec)
Often eaten as a digestif after a meal, clove, fennel seeds, rose petal jam, sugared candies and countless other ingredients are rolled in a betel leaf. A superficial introspection of my addiction to paan may lead you to believe that it's mere nostalgia; but deeper reflection suggests a high degree of my love for paan is attributable to the flavor profile that paan manages to develop.
Idli Vade at Brahmin’s, Bangalore, India (Jan, Apr, Sep)
Many will dispute the superiority of the vade at Brahmin’s, but I haven’t eaten a better one. But what makes eating at Brahmin’s such a pleasure are the accoutrements: the chutney, filter coffee, a dollop of homemade butter over the idli, and the Basavanagudi morning scene at display on Ranga Rao road.
Bún Chả in Hanoi, Vietnam (Jan)
A classic Hà Nội staple, the smell of pork and char perfumes the streets and alleys of the city leading up to and during lunchtime. We had one of our favorite bún chả at Bún Chả Tuyết.
Bún Chả Tuyết is at 34 Hàng Than, Ba Đình, Hà Nội
Phở Bò in Hà Nội, Hanoi, Vietnam (Jan)
We started pretty much every morning ordering from some vendor in some alley: hai phở bò, cảm ơn — “two bowls of phở bò, thank you”. Starting our day without a bowl of the bone broth and rice noodles felt incomplete.
Unlike the sweeter and darker broth in the south, Phở Hà Nội tends to be clear and beefy with hints of cinnamon and star anise. It is accompanied by plenty of fresh herbs, sprouts, pickled garlic slices, red chili slices and lime wedges.
Bánh Chưng Rán in Hanoi, Vietnam (Jan)
Bánh chưng is a traditional rice cake made using glutinous rice, mung beans and pork. Bánh chưng is intricately tied to Tết, the Vietnamese New Year. Bánh chưng rán (or bánh chưng chiên) is basically a pan-fried bánh chưng. While bánh chưng tends to be mild in flavor and fragrant from being wrapped in banana leaves, bánh chưng rán transforms it into a bolder flavored textural wonderland. In this form, it is served doused in soy sauce, accompanied by pickled cucumbers and some hot sauce. To spot bánh chưng rán keep an eye out for ladies in mobile stands, with bánh chưng and sausages resembling hot dogs sizzling away in a large pan. This made for a very tasty snack, but one that seemed rather elusive. We were disappointed to not find it outside Hanoi.
Cao Lầu in Hoi An, Vietnam (Jan)
Cao lầu is a regional dish made using noodles, pork and local greens that you will only find in Hoi An. Local legend has it that these noodles can only be made here because the water is sourced from a specific Cham well in town. The greens come straight from Tra Que Vegetable Village, just outside of town.
The lye-kneaded noodles have the texture of udon. It’s unclear to me if the noodles are made with rice flour or wheat. The first time we had this dish was on our first night at our lovely homestay. As part of the celebrations during the week of Tết, all guests were invited to a home-cooked meal of cao lầu. Cao lầu highlights the exceptional quality of the local greens grown in this region. We also had very good cao lầu at Mr. Hai’s restaurant.
Hủ Tiếu in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (Feb)
Kuy teav traces its origin to ethnic Chinese people settled in Southeast Asia, particularly Cambodia. The large numbers of ethnic Khmer people in Vietnam brought with them kuy teav, called hủ tiếu in Vietnam.
Unlike several beef bone based broths in Vietnam, hủ tiếu is made using pork bones. The broth tends to be mild and clean-tasting. We had excellent hủ tiếu at Hủ Tiếu Mì Thập Cẩm in Ho Chi Minh City. Offering similar comforts to phở, we often returned to this
Hủ Tiếu Mì Thập Cẩm is at 62 Trương Định, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Bún Thịt Nướng in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (Feb)
The Saigon equivalent of Hanoi’s bún chả. Char-grilled pork is served over rice noodles (bún) topped with crushed peanuts, fresh herbs, nước chấm and pickled carrots and vegetables. Our nose guided us to an incredible bún thịt nướng in the crowded streets near the corner of Cô Giang and Cầu Ông Lãnh (Quận 1).
We had excellent bún thịt nướng on the corner of Cô Giang and Cầu Ông Lãnh (Quận 1)
Duck en Chartreuse, Quince and Green Cabbage at The Modern, New York City (Feb)
The long island duck was succulent, immensely flavorful, with a shattering-crisp skin. Green cabbage mingled with foie-gras to offer some texture and earthiness. An excellent birthday meal.
Mole Madre at Pujol, Mexico City (Mar)
The multi-course tasting at Pujol hits a crescendo with the this dish: fresh mole surrounded by more complex, aged mole (915 days, on this day) — Mole Madre.
Tacos at Tacos Álvaro Obregón, Mexico City (Mar)
Tacos Álvaro Obregón may not be the finest al pastor in the land of al pastor, México City, but that’s besides the point. Tacos Álvaro Obregón make a pretty solid version, they are an incredibly efficiently run operation, and they are in our favorite México City neighborhood of Roma, so we easily found ourselves here when we needed a taco fix.
Tacos Álvaro Obregón is at Av. Álvaro Obregón 90, Cuauhtémoc, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Erachi Ularthiyathu at Ente Keralam, Bangalore, India (Apr, Sep)
60°C Pork fillet, Celery Root, Parsnip, Madeira at Restoran Fabrik, Tallinn, Estonia (May)
As you are seated at your table or by the kitchen counter at Frantzén you notice a ball of dough resting within a glass dome. Just before the “main” courses begin, this gets transformed into a grilled sourdough bread, served alongside home-churned beurre noisette that’s made from butter churned, table-side, from local fresh cream. The bread had a pleasant tang and an incredible depth of flavor. The beurre noisette added sweetness and complexity, complementing the bread really well.
Frantzén is currently closed and will reopen in early 2017
Spring Lamb at Frantzén, Stockholm, Sweden (May)
Tender grilled spring lamb was served with glazed asparagus, ramson (wild garlic), algae and aged cheese. Paired with a Stella di Campalto 2009 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, what an excellent end to a stellar meal at Frantzén.
Frantzén is currently closed and will reopen in early 2017
Chestnut Honey Canelé at Frantzén, Stockholm, Sweden (May)
Frantzén delights until the very end, even after dessert. Before you get on with your day or night, it’s time for a Swedish Fika: “coffee time”. Along with whatever coffee you order, a bento box arrives with an assortment of sweets: macaroons, various kinds of truffles, tartlettes, goat’s whey fudges, and there’s the chestnut honey canelé. The canelés were beautifully burnished, with a crackling exterior and wonderfully moist interior. The sweet-earthy flavors were a wonderful complement to the well-pulled espresso.
Frantzén is currently closed and will reopen in early 2017
Pork Confit with Cabbage, Beer Braised Onions & Roasted Garlic at Rolfs Kök, Stockholm, Sweden (May)
Rolfs Kök in Stockholm has a “classics” section within their menu. I can’t tell if the classics is a vestige from the restaurant’s past or it is meant to be indicative of more traditional dishes on the menu. The cooking here tends to be rustic, and the pork confit I had for dinner was just the kind of comforting food I needed on a cool Scandinavian evening.
Soondae (순대) at Insa, Brooklyn (Aug, Nov, Dec)
The soondae (or sundae), a Korean blood sausage at Insa, is wonderfully moist, a harmony of earth and metal. Daubed with the ground chile and perilla seed salt for some freshness, it is one of my favorite things to eat at this Brooklyn restaurant.
Veal, Cabbage, Hay at Contra, New York City (Aug)
As soon as Meghan and I bit into our dish of veal, we closed our eyes. The sauce flavored with hay was rich, evoking barnyardy flavors. Girolle mushrooms perched atop charred cabbage played textural hide-and-seek alongside earthy-sweet flavors. Tart cherries, incorporated with careful restraint, brought in welcome bursts of acidity. Brilliant.
Restaurant Ask is an intimate affair and the ingredient-focused seasonal food features vegetables prominently and heavily.
When my plate of “Parsley Root & Rooster” arrived, I was greeted by a slow-cooked piece of parsley root, flanked by dollops of a purée made with egg yolks, and the rooster makes its presence known from the crisped skins. My instinctive reaction was to think “but where’s the rooster?” When I dug into it, the flavors came together — the dish was sweet, grassy, earthy and rich. Unexpectedly delicious. My rooster-pang abated, I was happily surprised when a course of the braised rooster in its jus arrived soon after.
Buah Keluak at Candlenut, Singapore (Aug)
Keluak, or Pangium edule, a tree native to the mangrove swamps of Southeast Asia, and bears a large poisonous fruit. The seeds of the fruit are allowed to ferment over several days, that turns their color from creamy white to brown-black. At Candlenut, these black nuts are soaked and scrubbed for five days. The ground seeds go into making the rempah, or the spice mix, for this Peranakan classic, the Buah Keluak.
At Candlenut, which strives to create inspired Peranakan cuisine, my Buah Keluak came with wagyu beef from Rangers Valley of Australia. While I don’t quite see the point of using a heavily marbled piece of meat in a spice-heavy dish like this, it was delicious. The sauce was thick and rich, fragrant and lightly medicinal. Kinda like Bak Kuh Teh, you either love it or you don’t.
Duck Breast, Eggplant, Leek, Korean Date at Meta, Singapore (Aug)
When I look back to 2016, one of the dining experiences I could keep on repeat is that at Meta. The overall profile of flavors tended to “sweet”, but they all had incredible depth of flavor and complexity.
If it’s not already clear, duck is one of my favorite meats. A summer degustation at Cure climaxed with beautifully cooked duck breast from Ireland’s Silver Hills Farm with sour endive, pineapple and parsnip. That duck, with its crispy-fat skin, was incredibly flavorful and tender. The bitterness from the endive rounded the sweetness from the pineapple.
Mangalica Pork, Scallops, Silken Tofu at Whitegrass, Singapore (Aug)
An umami rich symphony of land and sea, the slow roasted Mangalica pork, with scallops, handmade silken tofu, smoked onion cream, black moss in an aromatic pork broth, was one of the highlights of an incredible meal at Whitegrass.
Masala Dosa at MTR Indiranagar, Bangalore, India (Jan, Sep)
In recent years, my dosa consumption has typically been limited to my mum’s homemade version. When we hang with my brother in Bangalore, we're of course subject to his food vagaries. This time around, he was into the masala dosas at MTR in his neighborhood of Indiranagar, which he claims is now superior to Vidyarthi Bhavan, a venerable dosa institution in Bangalore. We didn’t visit the latter this time around, but he was right — the masala dosa at MTR is indeed extremely good. Masala dosa has quickly became one of Meghan's favorite south Indian dishes over her few visits, and she is thankful for MTR's proximity to my brother's home.
MTR’s Indiranagar location is at 305, 100 Feet Rd, Binnamangala, 1st Stage, Indiranagar, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560037, India
Sai Ua (ไส้อั่ว) at Warorot Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand (Sep)
We were first introduced to sai ua (ไส้อั่ว), colloquially sometimes called “Northern Thai sausage” or “Chiang Mai sausage”, at a local Northern Thai restaurant in Brooklyn. When we were in Chiang Mai, I was delighted to find ourselves surrounded by sai ua. We ate it pretty often, sometimes as snacks, other times as part of a meal. My favorite sai ua was at a vendor in Warorot Market in Chiang Mai (look for the lines where the locals line up and the old lady wearing shades is presiding over them).
The sai ua here is often warm, fatty, juicy and spiced a little less than others we had.
Warorot Market in Chiang Mai is at Chang Moi, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand
Khao Soi (ข้าวซอย) at Khao Soi Khun Yai, Chiang Mai, Thailand (Sep)
We have had a lot of good khao sois in our lives, the delicious egg noodle soup that’s common in Northern Thailand. Khao Soi Khun Yai, located within a shed between two temple complexes bordering the northern edge of Chiang Mai’s old town, makes some of the most incredible versions of it. The curry sauce was fragrant, very flavorful and incredibly balanced. Most places serve a drumstick in the khao soi, but here the dark chicken meat was shredded into the soup. This is the kind of khao soi that dreams are made of. Its popularity amongst locals and tourists alike is very well deserved.
Khao Soi Khun Yai is tucked within a compound, between two alleys at Sri Poom 8 Alley, Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Khao Lam (ข้าวหลาม) at Warorot Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand (Sep)
We were introduced to the delicious khao lam (or kralan in Cambodia) at Warorot Market in Chiang Mai. White or black sticky rice, sugar and coconut cream are stuffed into bamboo tubes and then slowly cooked over coal, resulting in a sweet and sticky, sometimes custardy, treat. Before handing it over the vendor sliced open the bamboo and pulled it back to reveal the rice. We tried a white sticky rice with sesame seeds and loved it so much we went back another day to try the black sticky rice.
Warorot Market is east of the city center between Whichayanon Road and Kuang Men Road with Chang Moi Road at the north end. Any songthaew will know it by name.
Durian on the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand (Sep)
I’ve only ever eaten durian in Asia, but only very occasionally. Most durian on the streets of Chiang Mai (and most of Thailand) tend to be of the relatively milk Monthong variety. In Chiang Mai, I ate durian almost every day. Durian is a “warming fruit” and will increase your body temperature, so I had to be careful not to overdo it.
Scrambled Eggs with Wild Mushrooms at Dubravkin Put, Zagreb, Croatia (Oct)
This dish isn’t much to look at, and that’s exactly how a lot of Priska’s dishes at Dubravkin Put deceive you. Priska cooks with precision and technique, and a ton of ingenuity, but a veneer of simplicity pervades all of her dishes. The scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms was one such excellent interlude in a multi-course tasting lunch in the fall.
Pastel de Nata at Manteigaria Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata, Lisbon, Portugal (Nov)
Pastel de nata (or, pastéis de nata, plural) is a Portuguese egg tart pastry common all over Portugal. These are the same egg tarts you find in Macau, owing to its colonial history.
For someone who would much rather eat cheese (or foie gras, or sea urchin) instead of sweets, I really enjoyed eating these along with my coffee. These little golden cups are dense and sweet, to be sure, and they pack a ton of flavor: custardy; rich from the puff pastry shell; and deep flavors from the spotty caramelization on the top. I will admit, a factor in my enjoyment of these is also owed to the incredible charm that is Lisbon.
Anadama Bread from High Street on Market, Philadelphia (Dec)
Alex Bois, who is responsible for making waves with his breads in Philly, is originally behind the acclaimed breads of High Street on Market, until he departed recently. During a visit earlier in the summer (when Alex was still around), we enjoyed their Genzano (an Italian sourdough) at sister restaurant Fork. The next day I bought a loaf of the same bread to enjoy with some local aged goat cheese for breakfast.
During a day trip with some friends on a cold December day, I bought some Anadama to take home. Anadama bread traces its origins to 19th century New England. Made with wheat, cornmeal and molasses, High Street on Market’s take uses wild yeast and high-quality ingredients, elevating this humble bread to comforting luxury, demanding only good butter and flakey salt.