In the blossoming world of gourmet food trucks, the Nom Nom Truck is one of the most famous. After a great showing on the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, the Nom Nom Truck now has a super dedicated, almost obsessive, fan base.
What’s so interesting about the Nom Nom Truck is that they serve banh mi, which are vietnamese sandwiches. Traditionally, banh mi is made with ingredients that most Americans would cringe at: pâté and headcheese. And yet, the Nom Nom Truck has a following that defies all cultural logic. You can get a traditional banh mi from Nom Nom…it’s called “the deli special.” But the more popular options are the grilled pork (pictured), the lemongrass chicken, or the tofu. In addition to the meat, each banh mi has cilantro, jalepeños, mayo, a tangy relish of carrots and daikon radish called do chua, and, my favorite, cucumbers.
Banh mi is a great sandwich to look at in terms of culture for two reasons. First of all, banh mi originates in the French colonialism of Vietnam. The sandwich demonstrates how the co-mingling of cultures creates new, hybrid ideas. In banh mi, the French contribution can be seen in the baguette and the pâté, combined with classic Vietnamese ingredients like the daikon radish. Nn fact, food is one of the best ways to track the movement of culture: by identifying food traits unique to a culture and finding them in other places, you will often find other cultural constructs have moved as well.
Banh mi is also interesting in terms of popular culture. It seems to have become the new, hip thing in the food world, with fans of all types. The best way I can illustrate this is through an episode of The Great Food Truck Race. The trucks found themselves in a small town in the South. It seemed as though the Nom Nom Truck’s winning streak had come to an end; everyone expected the burger truck to win. The Nom Nom Truck pulled out a huge victory, even in a place where most of the people had never heard of banh mi. For whatever reason, this Vietnamese sandwich appeals to everyone. The New York Times has done an article about banh mi, and in it, lists the top ten banh mi spots in the country (coincidentally, a commenter adds Num Pang to the list). When the Nom Nom Truck shows up at a gathering of food trucks, a line forms immediately, and the other trucks lose business fast. Whether it’s the sandwich in and of itself, or the prestige of the Nom Nom Truck or both, right now, banh mi is a force to be reckoned with.
I went to FarmShop one afternoon with my mom and my aunt. At this point, they hadn’t yet started full meal service, and were just serving coffee, pastries, and three tartines (they now serve breakfast and lunch and will be opening their market in the spring).
My mom and my aunt had tried all three of the tartines, and recommended that I try the fresh and smoked salmon. I have to say, it was fantastic. The combination of the two different types of salmon created an interesting texture, and of course creme fraiche is just always great. The best part, though, were the caper berries. I had never seen or heard of caper berries before, and they blew my mind. I’m not generally one to seek out capers, but the caper berries were something else. The pink color on the inside visually complemented the salmon, and though caper berries are bigger than their more common counterpart, I thought the flavor was milder and less overwhelming.
This tartine was fabulous, but also very expensive. In fact, the whole of FarmShop is pretty overpriced, so be wary if you’re not looking to spend an entire paycheck on a meal.
Thus far, this blog has (hopefully) demonstrated my love of sandwiches, and it should be apparent by now that I just love food in general. The one thing that I don’t think is quite so obvious is how much I love to experiment with food; unfortunately, a sandwich blog can’t always illustrate this. Therefore, I give you the first, of hopefully many, posts that involve stranger foods.
The Bazaar is a restaurant that is, well, bizarre. Since this isn’t a restaurant review, but a sandwich blog, I’ll let you do your own research (just go there if you like awesome food in a unique setting). This post is more about my love affair with sea urchin.
Growing up, my mom would always order sea urchin, known as uni, at sushi restaurants, and to be perfectly honest, it freaked me out. I don’t really remember my first uni experience, but once I tried it, I never went back. Now, if anything has sea urchin in it, chances are, I’m ordering it. For me, sea urchin is a food that has more ties to memory and experience than most foods. Most notably, diving for sea urchins in Santorini, then cracking them open on the red sand beach and eating them right then and there. Though most people find sea urchin very off-putting, to me, it evokes the ocean and is unbelievably decadent and delicious.
THIS is why I will order sea urchin everywhere, and why I loved these uni buns so much. Not only was the sea urchin itself awesome, but the combination of Asian flavors combined into a mini sandwich made this dish irresistible to me. The soft doughiness of the brioche, the crunch of the tempura, the heat of the serrano, the hint of ginger, the cool creaminess of the avocado, the melt-in-your-mouth texture and saltiness of the sea urchin…now this is taking a sandwich to a whole new level.
Now before I begin, I want to note that it has been quite some time since I’ve posted. Sorry.
Secondly, and much more pertinent to this post, I am not a pizza expert. On the other hand, I very much know what exactly I like and don’t like when it comes to pizza. Quite honestly, that deep-dish, thick crust stuff just doesn’t do it for me. That is why I always make sure to eat pizza as much as I can when in New York.
I hope that by now, I won’t have to argue too strongly as to why pizza fits into the sandwich category. It very much resembles an open-face sandwich and, furthermore, is most often eaten with your hands (unless of course, you are one of THOSE people who eat their pizza with a fork and knife, and probably pat off all the grease as well).
What is really interesting about pizza, in my opinion, is how many different cultures have laid claim to it. Its origins in Naples make it inherently Italian, yet America has adopted it into its food culture as well. Going further, Chicago has made the pizza its own, as has New York, and any college student could tell you that pizza is one of their most eaten foods. For me, this is the beauty of food — its universality allows all sorts of people to eat the same food while meaning very different things to each person.
Following my stay in Connecticut, I took a trip to the Big Apple, mostly to visit my little brother, a freshman at NYU, and my best friend Alex. Also important was seeing Will, a good friend from college and a New Yorker through and through. Therefore, I knew Will would be imperative to finding a great sandwich in New York.
He took me to Num Pang, a hole in the wall off Union Square, that serves Cambodian-style sandwiches. The pork sandwich is their best seller, and consistently sells out early in the day, which was the case on my visit. Will suggested the catfish sandwich, and if the pork really is better, it must be one hell of a sandwich. Ordering takes place on the sidewalk through a small window in the restaurant, and just behind the guy taking your order, you can see the entire kitchen.
The sandwich itself was complex in all the right ways. The catfish was cooked perfectly, flaky and spicy. For those of you who have been following along, you know that the presence of cucumbers on the sandwich always scores major points with me. The chili mayo accentuated the peppercorn aspect of the catfish, while the sweet soy sauce complemented the kick provided by the other ingredients. I’ve never seen cilantro used the way it is in this sandwich: a handful of it takes up the role usually held by lettuce. One of the best parts of this sandwich for me however, is the tagline on the menu:
Our sandwiches were created to enjoy as they are so PLEASE, NO MODIFICATIONS.
These are the kind of sandwich purists I like.
For those of you who have been following along, you may remember my friend Molly from her delicious meatloaf-style burgers. On my trip back to Connecticut, Molly once again busted out her serious cooking chops and whipped up an amazing Eggs Benedict breakfast for us.
Now, even I think Eggs Benedict pushes the sandwich envelope a little bit, mostly because there is no easy way to eat this dish, and using your hands is out of the question (at least in civilized company). This issue disqualifies Eggs Benedict from the category based on lack of convenience. On the other hand, the ingredients and composition fit in perfectly with the concept of the open-face sandwich: bread on bottom, meat, condiment, plus additional fixings layered in the order of any breakfast sandwich, minus the bread on top. I think the aspects of Eggs Benedict that qualify it are more important than those that don’t, and so in my eyes (and mouth and stomach) that makes it enough of a sandwich to put it in this blog.
The more important question is, what makes Molly’s Eggs Benedict so utterly awesome? Let’s start at the bottom: instead of using the classic English muffin as a base, Molly made biscuits from scratch, which were everything a biscuit should be: fluffy, yet dense, buttery, and just plain delicious. The Canadian bacon was pretty generic, but, let’s be honest, fry anything in butter and it will be tasty. Poached eggs are tricky (also my favorite preparation of eggs), and, in my opinion, are generally overcooked. As you can see from the second photo above, Molly poached the eggs PERFECTLY and is therefore my egg hero. Top it all off with a tangy, thick, homemade hollandaise, and I dare you to tell me this breakfast wasn’t awesome.
Eggs Benedict is a classic breakfast dish, made more famous by the fact that there are so many variations available, such as Eggs Florentine, Artichoke Benedict, Smoked Salmon Benedict, and dozens others. There are a few origin stories of this delicious egg meal, all involving someone named Benedict asking for this combination of ingredients. Today, Eggs Benedict can be found on almost all breakfast menus, and back when the New York Times wrote about it in 1967, it was noted that “Eggs Benedict is conceivably the most sophisticated dish ever created in America.” Even though Eggs Benedict is often one of the most expensive breakfast items on a menu these days, I’m not sure that most people would agree with this statement any more. So while this dish is very questionably a sandwich, and has obviously moved down a few spots on the elegant foods list, it still has a history that places it solidly in American food culture.
The Broken Yolk in New London, Connecticut is everything that a local diner should be. My four years of college in New London gave me ample opportunity to visit The Broken Yolk many a time, and let me tell you, this place gets better with every meal. Run by the amazing and effervescent Doreen, who literally controls the entire diner while cooking every dish and chatting up each customer, The Broken Yolk is one of those places that most people think only exist on television.
Breakfast at The Broken Yolk is always entertaining, but during my recent visit to Connecticut for alumni weekend I had an especially wonderful experience. My friend Wells had decided to shoot his short film at the diner, and my friend Owen, the star of the short, and I accompanied him for breakfast before the work began. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: the company you keep at mealtime can have just as much effect on the experience as the food itself. At The Broken Yolk, the company is always good, and I had been looking forward to a delicious meal there from the moment I booked my flights.
Though I have many favorites on the menu, I wanted to give The Broken Yolk a chance to shine on AOAS, and so I ordered the stuffed croissant…a toasted croissant literally STUFFED with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, scallions, cream cheese, and smoked salmon, served with a side of home fries. First of all, I LOVE breakfast sandwiches. I had, for whatever reason, never really been exposed to breakfast sandwiches before I moved to the East Coast, and so I associate them with college and New England. Thus, a breakfast sandwich was all I wanted, and the stuffed croissant more than fit the bill. Scrambled eggs and cream cheese is another weakness of mine (especially when tabasco is added to the mix), and if you throw in smoked salmon, I am immediately sold. Therefore, I knew exactly what I was ordering the moment Owen told me that we were going to The Broken Yolk for breakfast.
I hadn’t had the stuffed croissant in a couple of years, but it most definitely lived up to my memories. The croissant is perfectly buttery and flaky, made even more so by the slight toasting. The eggs are scrambled exactly the way I like them: not underdone and runny, and not dry and overcooked. All in all, this sandwich is delicious. The only thing that would make it better would be avocado, but this is Connecticut folks, not Southern California (which I would constantly remind myself during my four years of college).
But in all seriousness, if you happen to find yourself in New London, CT, you really have to check this place out. Anything you eat will be delicious (may I recommend the huevos rancheros or the eggs in a window?) and Doreen will always show you a good time. The woman is truly one of a kind.
For my birthday, my parents took me to STREET, a restaurant in Hollywood that serves street food from all over the world tapas-style. This was a perfect choice for my birthday dinner, as I consider a great meal to be one in which I get to enjoy many different foods, and not just one big entree. Furthermore, I love trying new things, especially great local foods, which are most often embodied in the form of street food.
STREET is the creation of Susan Feniger, most well known for Border Grill in Santa Monica, and keeps much of the same feel of great food in a casual California setting. Most of the seating is outside, keeping to the street concept, and there is enough variety that everyone will be happy (even the pickiest of eaters like my father). My mom had been to the restaurant before, and was adamant that the kaya toast be a part of our meal.
It was one of the first items that we were served (I think we ended up ordering most of the menu), and wasn’t what I was expecting at all. From the description (toast, coconut jam, egg, dark soy, white pepper), I was expecting more of a breakfast sandwich, but this was better than it ever could have been in breakfast form. The coconut jam, though definitely sweet, was never overpowering, and well balanced by the distinctive flavors of the soy and white pepper. The toast itself was buttery and perfectly golden, the best kind of toast, in my opinion, to dip in egg. The egg was great, and all together, this dish was totally unexpectedly delicious.
Kaya toast, which takes its name after the jam used in the dish, is very popular in its native countries of Malaysia and Singapore. Taken at face value, it may not seem like the kind of food you would find in these places, but kaya toast is actually the product of British influence. Kaya, or coconut egg jam, is a traditional food, while the toast can be attributed to the British diet that infiltrated the culture through colonialism. As the two cultures mingled, the jams and preserves that the British ate on their toast were replaced by the local kaya. Soon, kaya toast became a staple food. Today, there is even a franchise of restaurants that has become famous for its kaya toast. In fact, Ya Kun Kaya Toast‘s slogan is “The toast that binds…Kinship, Friendship, Partnership.” Not only is this reminiscent of the combination of the two distinct cultures that created kaya toast, but also highlights that food plays an important role in all cultures.
I must say that I was skeptical of the kaya toast at first, but I ate the last bite while regretfully wishing there was more on the plate and that I hadn’t had to share it in the first place. Next time I eat at STREET, and there will definitely be a next time, I will be just as adamant as my mom in my recommendation.
Since I have posted on R + D before, I won’t go into too much depth about the restaurant itself, but this sandwich is more than worth mentioning.
I went to R + D one night after work with a coworker, and, like always, encountered one hell of a wait for a table. Luckily, the company was good and the Chimay was cold, and soon we were seated. As previously mentioned, the menu is not very large, and I had already tried that night’s sandwich special, so I took the opportunity to try the Reubenesque. Upon my recommendation, Aaron ordered the chicken meatballs, and we patiently waited for our food with a second round.
When the Reubenesque was set down in front of me, I knew that this was going to be a sandwich worth writing home about (or at least blogging). The Reubenesque is the epitome of R + D: a classic sandwich with a modern twist so subtle that it is simply more delicious than the original. Take for example, the corn rye bread. It’s still rye, keeping the basic component of the sandwich the same, yet the corn intensifies the flavor, augmenting the other ingredients, rather than letting them hide behind the taste of the rye. The corned beef is fantastic, and if you closed your eyes, you would think you were in a nice Jewish deli, albeit a time-warped modern deli. The baby swiss is mild enough to allow the rest of the flavors to shine, and unlike most reubens, is not melted. To top it all off, R + D combines the last ingredients, the sauerkraut and sauce (be it Thousand Island or Russian) into one fantastic creamy coleslaw. Furthermore, as you can see in the pictures, there is one obvious difference between the classic reuben and the Reubenesque: the coleslaw makes up most of the sandwich. This, in addition to the cheese, makes the sandwich cold and hot at the same time, since the bread is toasted, which is definitely different from the traditional grilled aspect of a reuben.
Basically, this sandwich is so good that despite the awesomeness of the chicken meatballs, Aaron stared hungrily at my plate, and one bite only made him want it more. So much more, in fact, that he went back the next day and got one.
The food truck phenomenon that has swept Los Angeles, and for that matter, the country, has been the subject of both praise and criticism. Thus far, however, I have only had good experiences.
A few months ago, I received a phone call from my mother telling me that a food truck called No Reservations was on a street by our house and that I should go check it out. For those of you who don’t know me, I am an avid fan of Anthony Bourdain, who has a fantastic television show by the name of No Reservations. I therefore decided to go see if this truck had anything to do with Tony or his show (knowing that it most likely didn’t) and hoped that regardless, I would get some good food out of the whole adventure.
It turned out that the truck had absolutely no connection to Bourdain, but my disappointment was quickly countered by the menu, which boasts simply:
HOT WRAPS: $8.00
Needless to say, I was stoked. Not only that, but each wrap is comprised of interesting ingredients with a movie title for a name. In addition, I was lucky enough to stop at the truck as a new employee was trying out each wrap. As I waited for my wrap, the Good Fellas, I hovered over the array of deliciousness being lined up in front of me. The girl eventually noticed me, and the guy showing her the wraps (manager? owner?) offered me half of the Silence of the Lambs (marinated roasted leg of lamb, middle eastern rice, spaghetti squash, red pepper hummus, and pomegranate red wine sauce). I couldn’t stop myself from digging in before taking a picture (photo #3). The wrap was unbelievable…the lamb was a little well done for my tastes, but the flavor was great and complemented perfectly by the spices in the rice and the surprising texture of the spaghetti squash. Most amazing was the tanginess that the pomegranate delivered, creating an unusual flavor profile.
I finally got my wrap and headed home, where I encountered a similar experience: though every component of the wrap made sense as a complete whole, there were tastes that were surprising and different. This wrap consisted of grilled New York steak, roasted garlic potatoes, gorgonzola cheese with cracked peppercorns and red beet horseradish creme fraiche, comprising a sandwich that has not one ingredient that I wouldn’t eat in a heartbeat. In the Good Fellas, I found that the gorgonzola provided a great bridge between the classic meat and potatoes and the modern red beet horseradish creme fraiche. The creamy texture of the cheese, combined with the strength of its flavor, matched the power of the creme fraiche while evening it out to balance the heaviness of the rest of the ingredients.
All in all, I was very sad that I didn’t get to meet Anthony Bourdain, but this exciting and surprising food experience was definitely worth the disappointment.