Saturday, June 16, 2018

San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl: A Tale of Two Chinese Restaurants

Now anyone who knows me knows that for the past few years, my best friend and I have been on an exotic food crawl around San Francisco, meaning that when we dine out, we only try unfamiliar dishes, often from cuisines that are unfamiliar to us. Now in deference to the fact that I had my aunt with me the last two times we dined out, we decided to dine at Chinese restaurants, seeing as how my aunt simply detests the unfamiliar. Even so, I wasn't going to make myself go for mainstream dishes, so needless to say, both meals ended up being a failure with my aunt.

The first Chinese restaurant we went to Dumpling Kitchen in the Sunset area. My aunt actually seemed to like the restaurant well enough but was very put off by what we ordered. I decided to get the shen jian bao, which is basically xiaolongbao (a type of Shanghai soup dumpling made famous by Taiwanese restaurant chain Ding Tai Fung) but fried, which was something I've never had before. The second dish we got was lion's head, a dish I wanted to try mainly because of its unique name, and also because according to Wikipedia, it is one of the notable dishes of Huaiyang cuisine. And no, lion's head does not have lion's meat in it, just as no bunnies are harmed in the making of bunny chow (a South African curry dish), or there being any dog meat in a hot dog.

Lion's head

Lion's head is basically a Chinese version of meatballs, so named because it supposedly resembles the head of a Chinese guardian lion. When the lion's head came, my aunt was utterly disgusted by the sight of it. "It looks horrible. Why are they so big? Just looking at it makes me feel full," she complained. "They are supposed to be as big as you can make them," I tried to explain to no avail.

A Chinese guardian lion

"What meat is in this?" she accosted one of the hapless waiters, who mumbled that there was only pork meat in it.

The lion's head was pretty heavily-seasoned with Chinese five-spice. I am not sure how authentic that was. My friend wasn't a fan. Edible was how she described it, and not something she would order again in the future. It tasted alright, but I wasn't too fond of it either.

The next dish that came was the shen jian bao. It was decent, and according to my friend, the best shen jian bao she ever had. The previous versions she had actually still had soup in the filling, whereas there wasn't any in this version. The dumpling skin was pleasantly chewy and the meat filling nicely flavored. Adding vinegar sauce to the dumplings greatly enhanced the taste, which both of us did liberally. My aunt nibbled a piece and declared that she liked the xiaolongbao at Yank Sing (a posh dim sum place located downtown) better.

Shen Jian Bao

She refused to order anything for herself and spent all evening covetously sneaking glances at the other tables where people ordered Chinese dishes that she was accustomed to eating. She vowed that if we ever went back to dine there again, she would get carte blanche on ordering the food.

"Look, every table is ordering the shen jian bao we ordered," I said, trying to placate her. "Yes, but I haven't seen a single table order this disgusting lion's head dish," she retorted.

In all honesty, the lion's head wasn't all that great, but in my mind it was worth ordering the dish, if only because my friend and I had the biggest laugh we had in ages from witnessing my aunt's very visceral reaction to it.

The next time we ended up at a Chinese restaurant again, only this time it was just my aunt and I. We had gone to the North Beach Festival in downtown San Francisco, and on the way back, had stumbled upon Spicy King, a Szechuan restaurant in Chinatown. I wanted to dine there because the restaurant had this dish named Crossing The Bridge noodles, which was something I had always wanted to try ever since I heard someone mention it as their favorite Chinese dish.

"Why would you want to get such a boring-looking dish?" my aunt asked. I told her that I wanted to get it because of the interesting history behind the dish. She couldn't fathom why anyone would want to order a dish simply because it had an interesting backstory. "Wife biscuits have an interesting origin story too, and I happen to like eating them as well," I said, but she clearly wasn't interested.

When the dish came, she was very baffled. "Why is the meat served raw?" she asked the server. "That's why it's called Crossing The Bridge Noodles," I tried to explain, as the server started pushing a plate of raw beef slices, quail eggs, shrimp and vegetables into a steaming bowl of broth and noodles, before covering the bowl with the plate. "Give it a few minutes for the food to cook before you start eating," she explained, before leaving us to our meal.

Crossing The Bridge Noodles

The story behind the origin of this dish is thus: a wife, whose husband was studying on an island for the Chinese imperial exams, found that by the time she crossed the bridge to bring him his meals, the soup would be cold and the noodles soggy. One day, she decided to keep the noodles and other ingredients in a separate container from the soup, while adding a layer of oil on top of the broth to keep it hot. When she got to the island, she was able to mix the ingredients together so she could serve her husband a hot meal. Apparently, it is one of Yunnan's cuisine most iconic dishes.

My aunt did unbend enough to try the food, and her only complaint was that it reminded her of Vietnamese pho (which is not surprising, seeing as Yunnan shares a border with Vietnam), and that the dishes that the other customers had ordered looked far more appetizing.

True, the dish turned out to be nothing special, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The chicken broth was comforting, the mixian noodles (a type of rice noodle from the Yunnan province) nicely al dente, and the restaurant was quite generous with the meat. The only odd ingredient in it was spam, which I am pretty sure never existed in the original version. Then again, I was having an iconic Yunnan dish at a Szechaun restaurant, so the odds of it being 100% authentic was minimal at best.

Still, I now know better than to try and take my aunt to dine at Chinese restaurants if I am not going to order dishes that she is familiar with. What are we going to do if she decides to tag along with us the next time we venture out on our exotic food crawl? I'm sure we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ranking the Tales of Series: From Best to Worst

1. Tales of Vesperia

Best Tales of protagonist in Yuri Lowell. Wonderful storyline. Awesome characters that share great chemistry together. Hilarious skits. What's not to like?

2. Tales of Eternia

First Tales game played. I have such fond memories of this game. Also only Tales game I have replayed. Twice. For a total of three complete playthroughs.

3. Tales of Xillia

Less stellar than Tales of Vesperia, but nevertheless pretty good all the same. Decent characters, story and skits.

4: Tales of The Abyss

Was not enamored of the whiny protagonist, but otherwise the story and characters were alright.

5. Tales of Legendia

The black sheep of the Tales of series. Personally don't understand why myself, as I enjoyed playing it.

6. Tales of Xillia 2

A mute protagonist who plays second fiddle to the main cast of Tales of Xillia, an idiotic plot contrivance in the form of a crazy debt you are saddled with early on in the game that you have to work towards paying off at various points in the game before you can proceed with the plot, which is thin enough as it is. Nevertheless, it was fun reuniting with characters from the original game.

7. Tales of Graces F

Urgh, where do I even begin? Terrible English voice acting in Ashbel Lhant, a stupid plot, a fighting system I greatly dislike, idiotic characters who annoyingly expound the theme of "Friendship!" in every other sentence. Things improve after the main storyline ends, but by then it comes too little, too late.

8. Tales of Beseria

Prequel to Tales of Zestiria. Marginally better than Tales of Zestiria, but only just. Weak worldbuilding, bland landscapes that you have to traverse through and backtrack through several times, characters I don't care about, rubbish villains and a storyline I am not too fond of.

9. Tales of Zestiria

Surprised to find a Tales of game I dislike more than Graces, but Tales of Zestiria somehow manages to attain this dubious honor. Plays like a half-baked game, with bland characters that I cannot make myself care about, and a storyline with plot holes the size of craters.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl Post: Filipino Food at Kusina Ni Tess in the Tenderloin

My friend and I have never had Filipino cuisine before, so we decided to try this place out. It is basically a hole-in-the-wall, not somewhere you would dine at for the ambiance or the decor. Kusina Ni Tess can be translated to mean Kusina's Kitchen.

I had longsilog, a breakfast dish consisting of garlic rice, Filipino sausage, a fried egg, as well as a small bowl of chicken adobo, while my friend had bangusilog, which came with fried bangus (milkfish), Philippines' national fish, garlic rice and a fried egg.


The portions were generous and the food was really tasty, if a little too greasy for my liking. My best friend was totally in love with my adobo and kept on sneaking spoonfuls of the sauce. Adobo was created during the days before refrigeration existed and it was difficult to preserve food in warmer climates. Marinating and cooking meat in vinegar adobo-style helped to preserve the meat, although today adobo is cooked with vinegar primarily to enhance its flavor.


We also had the Bibingka and the Halo Halo dessert to go. Halo Halo is pronounced as it is spelled and not at all pronounced like the Halo video game series. The Bibingka was underwhelming while the Halo Halo dessert had an interesting and somewhat weird taste amidst the ice and fruit.

Bibingka is a rice cake cooked in banana leaves that is usually eaten during Christmas in the Philippines, while Halo Halo is a type of shaved ice dessert mixed with evaporated milk, fruits and other assorted ingredients, which tends to differ depending on who is making it.


Halo Halo

Would definitely come back here again for affordable authentic Filipino cuisine.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Does eating turkey really make you feel sleepy?

It is one of the most persistent Thanksgiving myths: the turkey that you ingest during your Thanksgiving dinner is the reason why you feel so sleepy afterwards. This myth is so popular that it has even appeared (and gets further perpetuated) in television shows like Seinfeld.

The reason given is that turkey meat contains tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin, which in turn leads to the production of melatonin, which helps you sleep.

It all sounds so logical and scientific, but the truth is, turkey actually doesn’t have any more tryptophan than other poultry like chicken (it actually has slightly less).

In fact, ounce for ounce, cheese actually has more tryptophan than turkey does, yet it doesn’t get the same reputation that turkey does for causing sleepiness. (Instead, cheese get blamed for giving you nightmares, but that is another story altogether)

The real culprit is the stuffing, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and other carbohydrate-heavy sides, along with the alcohol you drink, which makes you sleepy.

Consuming carbohydrates triggers the release of insulin, which removes most of the amino acids in your bloodstream except tryptophan. This allows tryptophan to make its way to your brain to eventually produce the sleep-inducing melatonin.

So next time you feel sleepy after a Thanksgiving meal, don’t blame your turkey; blame the alcohol and the sides that you eat along with it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dr. Strange short movie review: Unoriginal storyline mars Marvel's 14th entry

Sure, Dr. Strange has some trippy visuals and sure it features my favorite actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, with Cumberbatch being reliably excellent in it, but the storyline is as pedestrian as can be. The script was really weak and predictable and that, coupled with a lackluster villain plus woefully undeveloped romantic interest in Rachel Adam's Christine Palmer (basically a staple in Marvel movies) didn't help matters. What a disappointment.

3 out of 5 stars for me.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Daylight Saving And The Importance of Sleep

It’s that time of the year again for us to fall back an hour when daylight saving time ends this Sunday November 6 at 2am.

Depending on your views on daylight saving, Benjamin Franklin can take either the blame or the credit for coming up with the idea.

Franklin introduced the idea of daylight saving in 1784, when he wrote a satirical letter to The Journal of Paris arguing that people will save money on candles if people rose earlier and turned in earlier at night.

Knowing that many people would oppose the idea, he jokingly proposed measures such as a window shutters tax, candle rationing enforced by the law and the firing of cannons every morning to get people to wake up earlier.

He assured readers that the difficulty in doing so would only last the first few days. All in all, it was a subtle (or perhaps not-so-subtle?) dig at the French for being lazy, but over a hundred years later, his idea came to be implemented by whole nations.

Germany was the first country to start implementing daylight saving in 1916 during WWI to save on fuel. America followed suit during WWI and WWII,

It is popularly believed that farmers supported daylight saving, in truth; they bitterly opposed it because it disrupted their schedules.

Today, Arizona and Hawaii are the only two states in America that do not observe daylight saving. California may soon join them; a bill to scrap daylight saving recently passed a Senate committee; if approved by both the Senate and California Governor Jerry Brown, the bill appear on the ballot for California voters no later than 2018.

If there is anything daylight saving can tell us though, it is just how important sleep is. Sleep deprivation caused by losing just one hour of sleep from daylight saving has been shown to increase U.S. traffic accidents by 6 percent for 6 days after we spring forward.

A 2015 University of Colorado study found that daylight saving time may have caused 302 fatal road accidents over 10-year period. Workplace injuries also increase on the Monday after daylight saving begins.

The good news? Daylight saving is finally ending, for this year at least. If you don’t live in either Hawaii or Arizona, you can enjoy an extra hour of sleep this coming Monday.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A cat’s perspective

I sat down to ask Luke McDevitt of San Francisco to ask about his catnapping habits

How many hours of sleep do you get in a day?

About 20 hours a day. I am not getting any younger; I need my beauty sleep!

Where do you like to sleep?

Mostly on the bed. I prefer to sleep on my human’s pillow, blanket or on her clothes when she leaves them lying around the bed like she is wont to do. I also like to sleep on top of her laptop and her keyboard, especially when she is trying to use them. Sometimes when I feel like it, I sleep on top of her too. It’s really comfy; my human functions perfectly as my personal sleep heater.

What’s your favorite sleeping position?

It depends on my mood. Sometimes I like to curl up into a ball. Other times I love a spread eagle sleeping position where I can take up half the bed despite my diminutive size.

What do you dream about?

Cat treats, cat treats and more cat treats. You can never have enough of them. My favorite dreams are where I am practically swimming in cat treats.

How do you best show your appreciation for your human?

When I feel particularly affectionate, which is rare, I knead her when she is sound asleep. Judging from the high-pitched yelps she makes, she seems to enjoy this affectionate gesture of mine.

What’s your pre-bedtime prep?

I make my human give me a good scratch behind the ears. It makes me feel relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Any tips for a great night’s sleep?

Drink lots of water, have your human turn off all the lights and if possible, turn off your human’s alarms on her phone. I hate it when I am enjoying my beauty sleep and my human wakes me up with her annoying alarms that seem to rattle off at random times each day.

What is your perfect start to the day?

Seeing my human frantically running around trying to get her day started while I continue to snuggle on the bed that she has left toasty warm for me.

National Cat Day (Oct. 29th) is the official global holiday to celebrate cats for all the wonderful love they give us and to encourage adoption.

Happy National Cat Day!

"What greater gift than the love of a cat?"—Charles Dickens

America is one cat-loving nation. According to a 2015-2016 survey, 85.8 million cats are owned by U.S. households (compared to just 77.8 million dogs).

And if you own a cat (or two), you’ll realize that they sleep a whole lot more than we do. While the recommended hours of sleep for humans ranges between 7 to 9 hours, cats sleep an average of 16 hours and up to a whooping 20 hours a day.

They also experience sleep differently from us. Humans have an REM sleep cycle of 90 minutes; for cats it only lasts 5 minutes. And while they do sleep two to three times as much as we do, they stay alert while asleep and can wake up and be fully operational at the slightest noise.

Like humans, cats do actually dream during REM sleep. If you notice your cat’s whiskers or toes twitching while asleep, he or she is probably dreaming.

If you aren’t already sleeping with your cat(s), you might actually consider doing so; a recent study found that sleeping with pets actually help some people sleep better as it gives them a sense of security.

Cats are very social and highly adaptable creatures. While they are crepuscular (meaning they are most active during twilight hours of dawn and dusk), they are likely to adjust their sleeping habits so that they can spend more time with their loved ones, which hopefully include us.

Here are the top 20 ways you can celebrate National Cat Day with your cat (or cats):

National Cat Day (Oct. 29th) is the official global holiday to celebrate cats for all the wonderful love they give us and to encourage adoption.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl: Russian Food at Cinderella Bakery in Richmond

The only Russian dish I have ever had in my life was beef stroganoff, which my late uncle used to make on occasion. I was actually in Australia when Australian MP John Murphy actually complained about the small portion of beef stroganoff his wife was served in the parliamentary cafetaria during a Parliament session. He was subsequently forced to apologize after being criticized for using the House of Representatives as a platform to lodge his complaint. I am pretty sure that the news barely made a blip around the world, but the Australian media actually had a field day with it.

My best friend and I decided on Cinderella Cafe because it seemed the most affordable option in San Francisco for Russian food. We figured that with lower menu prices, we would be able to try more Russian dishes between the two of us.

Cinderella Cafe is located on Richmond in the heart of Little Russia in San Francisco and is staffed by friendly Russian servers. I ordered the golubtsy with a side of buckwheat kasha and blinchiki with sweet cheese filling for dessert while my friend ordered the borscht soup and pelmeni.

The food did not take long to arrive. Golubtsy is a cabbage roll dish stuffed with rice and meat served with a tomato vegetable sauce and blinchiki is a thin Russian pancake akin to French crepe. The blinchiki was served with a side of raspberry jam and sour cream. They were both delicious.



I have always hated beets all my life. I feel like they taste like dirt and can't for the life of me imagine why anyone would voluntarily eat them. My best friend had no such qualms. I was prepared to hate the borscht soup, which is basically beet soup, but found myself loving the hearty taste. It wasn't until later that I realize that the soup actually had a tomato base rather than a beet one, which might explained why I actually like it despite the fact that it contains beets.

Borscht soup


Her pelmeni was a meat-filled dumpling that came in a clear broth and it was served with sour cream on the side. Sour cream seems to be the cream of choice with Russians. The pelmeni was reminiscent of Chinese food, akin to Chinese dumplings, which shouldn't actually be all that surprising considering that Russia and China are neighbors.

As far as I can tell, the Russian food here is authentic and very affordable. Since then I have dragged another friend there to try the baked goods here. My best friend and I hope to come back one day to try the other Russian dishes we didn't get a chance to partake during our first dining experience here.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl: Afghanistan Food at De Afghanan Kabob House in the Tenderloin

De Afghanan Kabob House. Little niche tucked between two other buildings.

Some nice Afghan-themed artwork on the wall, which is painted a deep red.

Combination Kebab


It is one thing to decide that you are going to do a San Francisco exotic food crawl. It is quite another thing to try to decide where to even begin. There are literally hundreds of cuisines that my best friend and I had never tried before! Where to even start? One day while I was on the San Francisco State University campus, I spontaneously decided that we would try the exotic cuisine of the first friend I see. Of course that friend turned out to be of Afghan descent.

And that was how we ended up having Afghan food. I asked her and another Afghan friend for dish recommendations. Armed with said dish recommendations, I began Yelping for Afghan restaurants in San Francisco. I decided on De Afghanan Kabob House because it looked to be the most authentic Afghan restaurant in San Francisco.

The restaurant is rather a small one, tucked between two other buildings and right across the street from Tommy's Joynt. The walls are painted a warm shade of red and there are interesting Afghan-inspired pastoral paintings decorating the wall.

The complimentary bread we got, which was lightly brushed with some sort of oil, was delicious. We ordered the manti as our appetizer because one of my other Afghan friend recommended it. It looked like Italian ravioli and frankly tasted like Italian ravioli.

We also ordered the combination platter to be shared between the two of us. It came with three kinds of meats, a minced beef patty, tandoori chicken, which tasted like Indian tandoori chicken, and a beef kebab. It also came with two different kinds of basmati rice, one white and one yellow. Honestly I couldn't really tell the difference in taste between the two, but both rices were very fragrant and nicely flavored. In Afghanistan, rice is considered the king of the meal and special care and attention is always taken in cooking it. The dish also came with a side of salsa and salad which felt slightly out of place but provided a nice spicy punch to the meal.

Overall, we were very satisfied with our meal; I have gone back there once more with my partner in food and another time with my visiting relatives. The food was consistently good both times. I would really highly recommend this restaurant if you are interested in trying out some Afghanistan food.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl: Shawarma from SF Wraps on Kearny Street

Cross-section of a shawarma


To be honest with you, the only reason I was even remotely interested to try shawarma was because of The Avenger's after-credit scene where they go have shawarma at a still functioning shawarma joint after saving New York City.

So it made sense that it would be the second food item I wanted to try on our San Francisco Exotic Food Crawl. We decided on SF Wraps on Kearny Street because it was close to the movie theater where we were going to catch a screening of Chef. You can check my review of the movie here.

After the movie, we were famished, and headed over to SF wraps to get the aforementioned shawarma. I was disappointed upon checking out the menu to find out that the ingredients for shawarma at this restaurant were hardly any different from their ingredients for gyro, which I've had before.

Shawarma is a Levantine Arab dish consisting of meat wrapped in a piece of pita bread (a kind of Arabic/Mediterranean unleavened bread). I suppose you can call shawarma the Arabic version of a Mexican burrito. I am sure the Arabic world in turn refers to burritos as the Mexican version of shawarma or some such. Such is the way humans think when we try something new; we use a familiar frame of reference to make sense of the unfamiliar. Shawarma is very similar to the Mediterranean gyro. In fact, both the words "shawarma" and "gyro" refers to the way the meat is cooked, rotated on a spit like a rotisserie. Both of us ordered the shawarma to take back to the apartment to eat.

I decided to order some falafel too since I never had those before either. Falafels are a popular Arabic street food consisting of ground chickpea and/or fava beans shaped into round patties and deep fried in batter. Being made of chickpeas and/of fava beans, they are high in protein and are often served by themselves on in a pita wrap as well. As such, they make a good alternative for vegetarians.

The portions for the shawarma were kind of generous, although it was mostly filled with assorted vegetables and there was hardly any meat in it. What meat that was in it did not seem to be all that fresh. The falafels were terrible. I am pretty sure this is not what good falafels taste like. I think they were overcooked and as a result, tasted so bitter that even dipping them in the yogurt sauce provided did little to improve the taste.

All in all though, the both of us got to try shawarma for the first time, so at least now we can proudly say that we know what shawarma is, what it looks like and what it supposedly tastes like. Hopefully we get to try better ones on a future date at a different place.

Anyway, next up, Afghanistan food from De Afghanan Kabob House in the Tenderloin!