Asian Markets

Kashmiri Lamb with Chile Sauce Recipe


I can’t count how many times I’ve told people that they shouldn’t try to prepare a new dish when guests are coming over. I like to do as I say but last week, I didn’t follow my own advice. I’d invited chef David Kinch over for dinner. Manresa, his two-Michelin star restaurant, suffered an awful fire recently and during the rebuilding phase, his evenings are more free. That won’t last long because he’s targeting to reopen in late fall.

David has come over several times and we’ve tinkered in the kitchen. The menu has usually been something I’m well-practiced in, like homemade tofu, pho, and Peking duck. It was just the three of us on Friday so I decided to treat our guest like family. That’s to say, I’d try something new out on David.

The stunning August 2014 issue of Saveur magazine is dedicated to Indian food, and a recipe for lamb simmered with three kinds of chile (dried, fresh, and ground) caught my eye. The photo was red like fire and the dish was described as:

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VWK Leftovers: September 2013

David Chang's bookshelf

Many people like the August leftovers post and a few emailed and tweeted cool info too. I created a folder for the tasty tidbits and realized that it was getting full. Time to unload September’s leftovers!

First off, after the post about the glowing review of Asian Tofu from The Art of Eating, I got a very nice email from Ten Speed Press publisher, Aaron Wehner. He edited my first book, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, and despite having moved on to shouldering greater responsibility as head honcho at the house, he retains tremendous pride in the works of his editorial past. In fact, Aaron sent along the image at the top of this page. It’s a drawing of mega-star chef David Chang’s cookbook collection, as rendered in My Ideal Bookshelf, a book filled with drawings of influential people’s book collections.

The Viet book is in the mix (can you find it?), along with a few of my all-time favorite works. I’d heard from friends that my book was in the bathroom at Chang’s Momofuku Ko in New York City. Well, Mr. Chang, I keep issues of Lucky Peach in my bathroom. Bathroom reading is important. In fact, esteemed author Margaret Atwood said that the bathroom is a great place to read because no one can interrupt you. It is your reading throne, sort to speak.

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Finding Dan Dan Noodles’ BF: Ya Cai Preserved Mustard Greens


Sometimes things are right under your nose and you don’t know it. For the dan dan noodle recipe that I wrote about in the Wall Street Journal last week, I needed a specific seasoning ingredient – Chinese preserved mustard greens, called ya cai (“yaah tsai”). I went to my Chinese market and perused the dried vegetable and canned vegetable section. Nothing. I’d read about the ingredient in cookbooks but none of them told me how to find the stuff – where it may be located or how it’s packaged.

Then, while I was in the refrigerated section looking at tofu (what else) and noodles (for the recipe), I turned around and saw a bunch of boxes filled with index-card size packages of something. Remembering that my friend Victor Fong told me how his family often ate some super salty Chinese pickle with their rice, and that the salty pickle was sold in small packs, I took a look. Lo and behold, there were boxes of ya cai – the good kind made in Yibin in Sichuan province. I’d read in Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop that the ya cai from that city was famous and prized.

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November 2011 Finds: Chinese Food Week, Online Asian Markets, Art & Humor


November began with’s first ever Chinese Food Week, which included stories, insider’s favorite restaurants, and other foodie perspectives. Five American cities were featured. This content is good to keep in your back pocket:

San Francisco | New York | Los Angeles | Chicago | Washington DC

In contrast to that Chinese food lovefest was Bonnie Tsui’s article in the Atlantic, "The End of Chinatown." Yes, economics and migration shifts are some of the reasons behind the decline of traditional Chinatowns in America. Chinatowns are moving outside of the urban core to the suburbs. My strategy: Follow the Asian markets!

Chinese Food Week and Tsui’s piece made me think of Andrew Coe’s Chop Suey and Grace Young’s write up on the history of chop suey in Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge. Chinese-American food and history buffs should check out those books!

Online Asian Markets

If you can't explore nearby brick-and-mortar Asian markets, do it virtually. Some interesting ones I stumbled upon: (If you have experience with these or  others, do share!)

  • An online Vietnamese market based in the heart of Little Saigon in Westminster, California. Among the goodies at are pho kits.
  • For lots of standard Japanese ingredients,, based in San Francisco, may do the trick.
  • I have no idea where operates from but they have a decent looking inventory.
  • is well organized. There’s even a Chinese-Indian section and newsletter.

Food Art & Humor

Wondering about the photo at the top of this post? It is the clever work of Chinese artist Liu Bolin.  I discovered his pieces in a  slideshow on a Wall Street Journal site. Bolin gets painted up to melt into his surroundings. Aside from the slideshow, see his vanishing acts at the Eli Klein gallery.

Food, labor, and art converge in Sharon Lockhart’s compelling “Lunch Break” exhibit, currently at San Francisco’s Modern Museum of Art. Her photos and film record the daily life of workers at a historic Maine shipbuilding yard.  I was flattered and honored when the exhibit’s Lunch Break Times newspaper and blog invited me to contribute the banh mi recipe from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. Banh mi is working class fare that requires lots of work yet is often priced so low.

Michael Pollan’s appearance on The Colbert Report is funny and makes you think about not eating at your desk. Watch it here.

Yes, there are health food markets in East Los Angeles. Per Javier Cabral’s charming Spanglish-laden post on, there are folks in East LA who love la soya!

If you celebrated Thanksgiving, hope you had a good one.

Related post: October 2011 Finds: Young ginger, pho novel, Sriracha film project

Tackling Sriracha Myths, Truths and Confusion

Sriracha Chile Sauces from Thailand and US
A couple of incidents last week led me to realize that there may be much misunderstanding about Sriracha chile sauce. The first occurred on the October 2011 Food Finds post. Upon checking out Jess Dang’s pitch for a Sriracha documentary film project, @Chrisjone commented that Jess had incorrectly described Sri Racha as an island. It’s a town with seaport. There’s an island nearby. I notified Jess of the error and she promptly corrected it.

The second incident was related to the 2011 CHOW 13 Award listing of influential food people. Coming in at lucky number 8 was David Tran of Huy Fong Foods, the maker of the Rooster brand of Sriracha. I’m quoted as saying that many people don’t know whether or not the Rooster brand’s version of Sriracha is Thai or Vietnamese. It’s kinda messed up and mixed up, I told writer John Birdsall.

Case in point, I’m often asked about Sriracha even though it’s not a traditional Viet staple. In The Sriracha Cookbook, Randy Clemens's introduction describes the hot sauce as an beloved condiment at Asian markets, upscale restaurants, and even Wal-Mart. Clemens follows up with the Thai backstory in a separate chapter but he opens up the book by framing the "Rooster sauce" as a “mainstay in many home kitchens and innumerable college dorm rooms.” This coming Sunday, Sriracha will be part of a Simpson's foodie episode!

After reading the CHOW entry on Tran, Pim Techamuanvivit texted me, “Sriracha sauce is definitely Thai.” Of course, Pim and I know that because we’ve talked a lot about the hot sauce. I’ve had her over for a Sriracha taste-off between Vietnamese, Viet-American, and Thai brands.  But not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a Bangkok-born friend who’s also a persnickety food expert.

That said, I’m throwing out some points here about Sriracha for your consideration and comments:

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