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Recipe inspiration, tips, and kitchen hacks from the Chowhound editors.

Marcus Samuelsson’s Excellent Adventure

Fodor’s has an engaging Q&A with chef Marcus Samuelsson of New York City’s Aquavit. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, he’s used his world-class cooking credentials and cross-cultural cred to mount a nation-hopping culinary tour of Africa.

In addition to his work at Aquavit, Samuelsson owns two other NYC restaurants: the AQ Cafe and the Japanese-American fusion spot Riingo. (The latter is a reference to an apple, not the least essential Beatle.)

Though the piece is in service of pimping his (rather interesting looking) new book, it covers some interesting ground, exploring the best Ethiopian restaurants in New York, why Cape Town is on par with San Francisco or Stockholm, and the origins of Africa’s sophisticated and hugely varied cooking styles:

In South Africa, you have fiery sambals that were brought by the Malay slaves who created Cape Malay cuisine. In Morocco, you see Arab influence in the spice blends, olives and preserved lemons. And in West Africa, I was surprised to find people using French-style condiments like mayonnaise and mustard.

As it goes in journalism and foreign affairs, so it goes in food writing: Africa is one of the most neglected yet sprawlingly diverse and important topics out there. It’s nice to see Fodor’s at least scratch the surface.

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Eat at Mom’s

It’s tough love, Japanese style, over at Passionate Nonchalance, where Aria’s addicted to the Nintendo game Cooking Mama. Using a pointer on a touch screen, you make dishes under the flaming gaze of Mama’s all-seeing eyes. If your knife slips or your dumplings flop, Mama will fix it, but you’ll lose points, and worse, Mama will be disappointed in you.

And, being a food blogger, Aria’s taking the game to heart.

“I’ve been playing the game so much I’m pretty sure I’m getting subliminally programmed because I’m now craving all the things Mama and I made. Like gyoza, I want those soft juicy little dumplings so bad right now I can’t stand it.”

After a link to a flash cartoon and theme song, Aria posts her own step-by-step gyoza-making adventure, including an imagined biography of the two-dimensional Mama. And whatever Mama says, those finished dumplings sure do look delish.

If the Rice Is Broken, Don’t Fix It

Pretty much every Vietnamese restaurant and pho joint serves com tam (broken rice) dishes, a peasant staple made with the cheapo broken grains of rice not fit for export. But few actually specialize in it, as Com Tam Thuan Kieu does.

The menu has a dizzying array of com tam dishes–64 of them. The house specialties, #7 and #8, offer seven toppings on a generous mound of rice. They’re seriously enough for two. The #7 includes, as elmomonster describes it:

-Bi (shredded pork)–Wispy strands of translucent pork skin and julienned meat tossed with toasted rice powder.

-Cha (baked egg)–A slice of something similar to quiche, with wood ear mushrooms, glass noodles, and pork cooked together with beaten egg.

-Nem (charbroiled meat)–A mixture of pureed pork meat, aggressively seasoned with pepper, formed into racquetball-sized spheres, and cooked to a springy, bouncy firmness.

-Lap Xuong (sausage)–Sweet Chinese sausage, splayed on the diagonal into bite-sized sections, pan-fried to an oily sheen.

-Tom Nuong (charbroiled shrimp)–Grilled shrimp skewered on a stick, basted with a sweet barbecue glaze.

-Tau Hu Ky (bean curd skin w/ shrimp)–A golden brick of shrimp minced to a paste, wrapped with a thin sheet of bean curd skin, and deep fried to a crisp.

-Suon (charbroiled pork chop)–A grilled, marinated pork chop, cut to the shape of a baseball mitt.

Less ambitious diners might want to get #22 instead, with the classic trio of baked egg, shredded pork and thit, grilled pork that’s actually preferable to the suon (grilled pork chop). The pieces are as tender as they are flavorful.

The rice bits themselves are steamed, and have a texture kind of like couscous. They absorb the juices from the toppings that seep into them.

Nuoc cham, a pungent sauce with vinegary, sweet, and fishy overtones, is meant to be drizzled over everything you eat–especially com tam, says elmomonster, adding that “com tam without it is pancakes without syrup; cereal without milk; sushi without wasabi…you get the picture.”

You can also amp up the flavor with some chile garlic paste, and by eating some of the whole bird chiles on the table. They’re super-hot–the key is to take a bite while your mouth is full of rice and toppings. The carrot-daikon pickles, also on the table, will neutralize the spiciness, and the scallion-and-fried-shallot-speckled broth that comes with the com tam will wash away the rest. Cleanse your palate with a bite of cucumber.

House special com tam is about $8, while the three-ingredient #22 is $5.

Com Tam Thuan Kieu [Little Saigon]
14282 Brookhurst St., #2, Garden Grove

Com Tam Thuan Kieu [San Gabriel Valley]
120 E. Valley Blvd. # I, Del Mar, San Gabriel

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Com Tam Thuan Kieu–Garden Grove–Review with Photos

Go Green the Thai Way

Green curry is a staple dish in Thai restaurants, but it’s often overpowered by one ingredient: sugar! At Thai Kitchen, they go easy on the sweet tooth and the result is great, says Steve Doggie-Dogg. Green curry is on the Saturday lunch all-you-can-eat buffet, a deal for $7. There’s a lot of other stuff, too, including larb gai, beef salad, pad thai, and another kind of curry that’s finely ground and served over rice noodles.

Talesai makes a very savory green curry that’s not too sweet either, says Bon Vivant, but it’s pretty pricey for a Thai place.

Saladang (Song) in Pasadena has a delicious green curry with creamy Thai eggplant that’s less spicy than most. Saladang and neighboring Saladang Song have the same kitchen staff, but AquaW detects a slight difference in the flavor of the original Saladang.

Nearby Chandra has an excellent green curry with catfish, says revets 2.

And Dommy says the best green curry she’s had (the Thai eggplant is essential) was at Thai Nakorn. That Thai eggplant is essential to this dish. The Garden Grove outpost of Thai Nakorn is the only good one left.

Thai Kitchen [East San Fernando Valley]
2730 W Burbank Blvd, Florence, Burbank

Talesai [East San Fernando Valley]
11744 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

Saladang Song [Pasadena-ish]
383 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

Saladang [Pasadena-ish]
363 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

Chandra Thai Restaurant [Pasadena-ish]
400 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena

Thai Nakorn Restaurant [Little Saigon]
12532 Garden Grove Blvd., at Palm, Garden Grove

Board Links
ISO: Good Thai green curry

Chicken and Pumpkin Sausage

Dibrova Sausage Company makes a really good chicken and pumpkin sausage, says RestR Manager. It’s a seasonal treat, best seared and served on a bun by itself. Dibrova excels at making rich-tasting sausages like this one that actually don’t end up having that much fat, says Gary Soup.

A bottle of Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale on the side makes you feel extra seasonal.

Dibrova sells at the Campbell, Oakland Jack London Square, and Danville farmers’ markets.

Dibrova Foods [San Joaquin County]
15153 N. Jack Tone Road, Lodi

Campbell Farmers Market [South Bay]
Campbell Ave. between Central and Second Sts., Campbell

Oakland Farmers Market [Jack London Square]
Broadway & Embarcadero Street, Oakland

Danville Farmers’ Market [East Bay]
Railroad and Prospect Sts., Danville

Board Links
must try sausage

Fresh, Cheap, and Lovely

It doesn’t look like much–just a couple of rickety tables and an ancient scale–but the little farm stand at Valley End Farm (supplier to Planet Organics) sells great produce cheap and amazingly fresh. Crane melons and heirloom tomatoes are incredibly fragrant, and when all the zucchini or summer squash has been sold, they go out back and pick a few more to replenish the supply. Everything is $1 a pound–including Brandywine tomatoes. The juicy, fresh elephant garlic is 50 cents a head and it caramelizes beautifully, probably from the higher-than-usual sugar content. Everything is fresh, tasty, and easy on the budget.

Valley End Farm [Sonoma County]
6300 Petaluma Hill Road, Santa Rosa

Board Links
Valley End Farm Stand in Santa Rosa (Rohnert Park border)

Chicken vs. Chicken in Korean Flushing

Two Korean imports are playing chicken on Northern Boulevard. Fried chicken, that is. Chicken is the specialty of Bon Chon and Cheogajip, chain outlets that have gone head to head since spring in Flushing’s sprawling Korean section. It’s a chicken explosion, observes lisa antinore, whose bird of choice is the non-fried, deeply comforting date- and rice-stuffed chicken in broth at nearby Han Sol Nutrition Center.

Bon Chon and Cheogajip both sell only leg and wing pieces, always cooked to order. (At 15 to 30 minutes or more per batch, this is not fast food–many customers order ahead by phone to avoid waiting around.) Both offer a choice of flavors, including spicy versions that pack respectable heat, and both are on the pricey side, at $11 to $17 per order. Both do a lively takeout trade and also have comfortable, casual dining rooms for eating in.

There’s a clear difference in style, between the two. Cheogajip coats its chicken in sweeter, stickier sauce, and its four flavors include one with herbs. Bon Chon’s meat is drier and chewier than its rival’s, but not unpleasantly so. They offer just two flavors–soy-garlic and spicy–and a choice of thighs and wings or “Royal Drumsticks.” Manhattan chicken lovers will soon be able to sample Bon Chon’s bird closer to home–the chain plans to open a shop on 38th Street, a few blocks north of Koreatown.

Not far from the dueling chains, there’s delicious Korean-style fried chicken served two ways at Mani Mani, a hopping “hof,” or pub, whose youngish crowd soaks up pitchers of overpriced beer to a nonstop soundtrack of Korean pop-rap. The first option is fried chicken smothered in smoky, woodsy sauce; the other option is chicken in lusty hot sauce, which seems almost plain by comparison, reports Polecat. Avoid the rest of the long menu of noodles, sushi and other indifferent chow.

In Manhattan’s Koreatown, Baden Baden remains a destination for its signature Baden chicken, cooked to order. It’s first roasted, then briefly fried, a process that unfortunately tends to dry out the white meat. Still, it’s quite tasty and terrific with drinks, which is how it usually goes down at this popular watering hole. It’s cooked with onion, carrot, bell pepper, and whole garlic cloves, and served with lightly pickled radish, a perfect accompaniment.

Bon Chon Chicken [Flushing]
157-18 Northern Blvd., between 157th and 158th Sts., Flushing, Queens

Bon Chon Chicken [Bergen County]
553 Main St., near Jones Rd., Fort Lee, NJ

Bon Chon Chicken [Garment District]
to open at … 240 W. 38th St., between 7th and 8th Aves., Manhattan

Cheogajip Chicken [Flushing]
160-24A Northern Blvd., at 161st St., Flushing, Queens

Han Sol Nutrition Center [Flushing]
160-26 Northern Blvd., between 160th and 161st Sts., Flushing, Queens

Mani Mani [Flushing]
163-24 Northern Blvd., between 163rd and 164th Sts., Flushing, Queens

Baden Baden New York, a.k.a. Forte [Herald Square]
28 W. 32nd St., 2nd floor, between Broadway and 5th Ave., Manhattan

Baden Baden [Bergen County]
329 Bergen Blvd., between Central and Palisades Blvds., Palisades Park, NJ

Board Links
New Korean Bon Chon Chicken Restaurant on Northern
Best fried chicken in NYC?

Max Brenner: Sweet Nothings for Chocolate Lovers

It’s no place for connoisseurs, but Max Brenner, the two-month-old chocolate fantasyland near Union Square, has its sweet and gooey pleasures. The first U.S. branch of an Israeli chain, it’s part big, buzzing restaurant, part store. The store sells chocolate candies, creams, cocoa mixes, toys and more.

There are great desserts in the restaurant part. Early favorites include chocolate fondues, with various dipping items available, including fruit, banana bread, grilled marshmallows, and even vanilla ice cream bars. The triple chocolate cake loaf is wonderful, raves eve, a rich but not overly sweet cake enclosing a molten chocolate center. cocoqueen swoons over the chocolate “pizza,” a disc of dough topped with marshmallows, melted chocolate, and a hazelnut crisp.

Some treats are consumed with the aid of whimsical, Wonka-esque gadgets (for sale in the store, naturally). Hot chocolate gets mixed marks, but most admire the “Hug Mug” it’s served in, designed to fit between cupped hands. Cappuccino comes in a cup attached to a little helter-skelter, holding candies that slowly melt and sink into the drink.

Purists are dismissive. “It’s kind of like chocolate Applebee’s. It’s a fun idea, but if you’re at all discriminating, the product doesn’t live up,” warns Raflab, who describes it as “industrial, supermarket-quality chocolate.” Whatever, say fans. big o suggests setting aside high-end standards and going with the syrupy flow. The Peanut Butter Cup (chocolate truffle cream studded with peanut butter and Oreo cookies, covered in whipped cream, chocolate chunks, and chocolate sauce) is “too heavy, too sweet, too rich–perfect,” he writes. “The subtlety and depth found in the world’s better chocolates (I’m a Cluizel man, myself) was certainly not in evidence. This was a chocolate-handled sugar hammer to the brain–but a nice one.”

There is also a menu of savory foods–crepes, lasagna, quiches, salads, etc–but, really, who cares? Another Max Brenner shop is due to open soon in the East Village.

Max Brenner Chocolate by the Bald Man [Union Square]
841 Broadway, near E. 13th St., Manhattan

Max Brenner Chocolate by the Bald Man [East Village]
to open at … 141 2nd Ave., between E. 9th and 8th Sts., Manhattan

Board Links
Anyone been to Max Brenner in Union Square yet today?
Max Brenner’s hot chocolate —yummy!
the new max brenner chocolate bar restaurant
Max Brenner Chocolates Union Sq not so good?
Poutine, Ramen, Spelunking, and Brenner (LLC)
Max Brenner Chocolate and Bite