BEST OF ASIAN AMERICA   

ASIAN FOOD

DIM SUM
Chinese Tea Snacks
Best Group Graze

dimsum What better way to spend a lazy Sunday morning than to grab a hungry group and head over to Sam Woo or Empress Pavilion for dim sum? A rough translation of the term is "to your heart's content" or "a little bit of heart". Basically it means, sipping tea and pointing to the dishes that look tempting from a cavalcade of carts cruising the aisles. What makes dim sum a bit of an adventure is the fact that some exotic dishes (steamed chicken feet or shark-fin rolls) are offered cheek-by-jowl with standards like wu kok (crispy taro turnovers), siu mai (pork dumplings), cha siu bau (fluffy steamed buns filled with barbecue pork and onions), cheong fun (rice noodle rolls with various meats and vegetables), curry chicken pies, and for dessert, egg custard tarts, mango pudding and sesame seed balls. Dim sum is about the sheer fun of sharing the wild assortment of treats.


PHO
Vietnamese Rice Noodle Soup
Most Addictive Asian Food

Pho" Pho restaurants are springing up all over the place, on the verge of becoming as ubiquitous as Chinese restaurants or sushi bars. They're even infiltrating hardcore ethnic enclaves like Little Tokyos, Chinatowns and Koreatowns. That's because the initiated know that pho surpasses ramen, udon, saimin, thom yum gung — you name it. And pho lovers are grateful because they are addicts who, if necessary, will drive two hours to find a quality pho shop. A good bowl of pho is built on the clarity, freshness and flavor of the broth. Secondly it's judged by the thinness of the rice noodles. Thirdly by the freshness of the plate of veggies served with it and the condiments set out on the table. Last but not least is the quality of the meat. There are many varieties of pho, depending on whether you want it topped with well-done brisket (chin), raw steak (tai), flank (nam), tendon (sach), tripe (gan) or, increasingly, chicken. Many just order pho with no meat.

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GALBI
Corean (Korean) Barbecued Short Ribs
Most Mouth-Watering Dish

Nothing on earth makes your mouth water like the smell of galbi (or kalbi) sizzling on a tabletop brazier. The best galbi recipes involve overnight soaking in a subtle marinade that combines good soy sauce, rice wine, sugar or honey, garlic, sesame seeds, and a secret tenderizing ingredient, often a fruit. What makes going out to a Corean barbecue place a satisfying ritual is cooking the meat yourself, something allowed only if you're in a party of at least two or three. Another key to a successful galbi feast is wresting control of the gas knob from the server. They like to slide the meat onto the grill before it has become really hot, then keep coming by to keep the flame low to keep the grill from becoming blackened. But connoisseurs know that galbi is best when grilled on a very hot brazier.


SUSHI
Japanese Raw Seafood on Vinegared Rice
Most Aesthetic Dining Experience

sushi What a shame that mainstream American tastes have evolved from squeamish to crazy for sushi. One of the pleasures of going to a sushi bar used to be the conpiratorial aspect of sharing something that's repulsive to everyone else you know. Fortunately, the art of sushi continues to evolve, affording sushi lovers an endless array of treats strictly entre-nous. We can still conspire to break new ground by gnoshing rolls made of startling combinations of seafood, beef, chicken or vegetables, bearing evocative names like Red Dragon, Caterpillar, Spider, Mermaid, etc. And of course, you can still make most people squeamish by ordering uni (sea urchin) or ama ebi (raw shrimp), then making a production of relishing what's served in its aftermath: deep-fried shrimp heads with those long crunchy whiskers and those cripy black eyeballs staring balefully at you as they move toward your mouth.


CHINESE HOT POT
Make Your Own Hot Pot Buffet
Hottest New Asian Food Trend

One reason for the growing craze is that hot pots combine the best of the most popular Asian feasts. Like pho, there's steaming hot broth. Like dim sum, there's the browse-to-your heart's content aspect. Like Corean (Korean) barbecue there's the do-it-yourself control. And as with sushi, you can pork out on fresh seafoodi. Beef, chicken, seafood, dumplings, veggies — you name it — everything you've ever stir fried at a Mongolian barbecue plus things you would never dream of frying are laid out on the buffet tables. You also get many of the side dishes you would expect at any Asian buffet, including sushi, salads, kimchi, Chinese pickled greens, fruits, dessert, even boba. You can even hotpot at the same table with people who don't share your tastes in ingredients or seasoning thanks to partitioned pots!


SOON DUBU CHIGAE
Soft Tofu Hotpot
Best Vegetarian Comfort Food

Soon Dubu At its best soondubu chigae (soft tofu hot pot) is the ultimate Corean (Korean) comfort food. It's a one-bowl, one-spoon dish made by boiling soft tofu in an earthenware crock, then throwing on a little chopped green onions or slivers of ghim (dried laver). But most soondubu houses lets you control the degree of spiciness (hot, moderate, mild) and add ingredients like kimchi, egg, pork, clams, etc. Vegetarians tend to ask for kimchi and ghim, with maybe a raw egg on the side. The raw egg is broken into the crock soon after it's set on the table bubbling hot. Soondubu is humble peasant food enjoying a surprising vogue in a health-crazed world, inspiring the opening of many new soondubu specialty houses. Restaurants typically serve it with several small side dishes and a bowl of white rice.


BOBA
Tapioca Bubble Tea
Goofiest (and Funnest) Asian Food Craze

Like most dangerous pandemics, it all began innocently enough. In 1988 an enterprising Taipei street vendor began spiking milk tea with boiled tapioca starch balls. His youthful clientele sucked it up. Like some scary virus the fad jumped the Pacific in 1999. Since then it's spread like toxic mold to every Asian enclave throughout the U.S. and the world. What harm can be done by soft boiled Tapioca balls a third of an inch in diameter? Plenty, if you ask any boba junkie, mostly kids and the kidlike at heart. They've seen disposable incomes shrink to nothing and waistlines balloon to Michelin Man proportions as they gulp down cup after cup of milk tea just for the sheer crazy fun of sucking up tapioca balls through a festive oversized straw and chewing them like cud.