JeJu

It’s the Great Num Sang Khya L’peou, Charlie Brown

In food on 01/11/2011 at 9:45 pm

Have no fear (though our oven is defunct and our landlord wants to raise the rent), we still have the trusty steamer! Over the weekend we patronized a NYT recommended dive, Ayada, in Elmhurst, a neighborhood I’ve never been to in Queens. All the savory dishes were amazing, but the dessert was to die for.

First, let’s whet your palate:

Best papaya salad ever, and it came with a surprise, raw blue crab in the shell, another first for me. Ayada had me at this gigantic pile of umami goodness, vaulting it leagues above Sripraphai. Ayada is still small enough to give its chef owner, Kitty, time to emerge from the kitchen and assess the reactions from her patrons. We all shouted praises at her and her scowl immediately flipped into a wide grin.

I asked the waitress for an appetizer recommendation, something most authentic to the Thai palate. She still wanted to point us to a dish a Westerner might know, mussels, but I shook my head. I asked her which of the two sausages she preferred, and chose the one she did not point to: E-sarn, a sour hearty version named for the Northeast region of the country. It tasted like the best kielbasa you’ve never eaten.

Our lil’ group was ambivalent about sour tastes, so I deferred and ordered the other half’s favorite Thai soup, with coconut milk and chicken. I would have ordered the tom yum. This one was a nice balance against all the spiciness of the subsequent dishes. I think the sign of a good Thai restaurant is nary is the sight of bell pepper used. Instead, they use fresh chunks of skin-on tomatoes liberally here. Sauteed tomatoes are very underrated.

Our Fujianese friend requested a green curry, of which I chose squid for the meat. The daft waitress suggested adding beef, to which my Malaysian cousin exclaimed in dismay that cultures that eat true curries never do that. The flavor just isn’t right! I can’t get enough of perfectly cooked, succulent rolls of curly squid.

Most people order pad thai as their default dish to try in assessing a Thai restaurant. I prefer wide and thick noodles, so I usually go for the pad see yew which is sweet and comes with egg and broccoli. You get big points if you use Chinese broccoli. My Malaysian cousin interjected again, wanting to try the spicy version, called ‘drunken noodle’ here. My only complaint was the portion was small.

Frog is best had at a Thai place. These legs came coated with a savory glaze and the most heat of all the dishes. The meat was unbelievable juicy. Scrumptious!

Another request by our Fujianese friend. We tried to dissuade her from ordering Hainanese chicken rice because it is known as the Singaporean national dish. Of course my cousin claims it’s really from Malaysia. Our Filipino friend proclaimed the rice bland, but good topped with the accompanying ginger-blended  oyster sauce. I’ve never seen this dish come with a dipping sauce. When I tasted the rice, I found it had a great infusion of the chicken stock and garlic, but I’ve had better at a Malaysian restaurant.

On a sidenote, I asked my cousin where I could find the best Malaysian restaurant. She recommends Taste Good, also in Elmhurst, by the Hong Kong supermarket. I said, how would you rate the asam laksa there, compared to what you can get in your native land? 4/10. Pitiful.

Said cousin asked the waitress about a dish she’s eaten that is supposed to be famous in Thailand: crispy chicken. They didn’t have it, but they did have this crispy pork with string bean. It was small chunks of pork belly that was soy-braised, then fried in a light batter. This was the least complex dish of the meal, more straightforward, like a Chinese dish.

Now we finally get to dessert, of which we ordered two, a fried banana with homemade pandan ice cream with either corn or pine nut, and this kabocha coconut custard. The former was nothing special but the latter was a revelation. We debated whether the custard was made with agar agar. I found some recipes online, and consolidated some ideas. It seems it’s a traditional Western egg custard steamed inside a squash.

Ingredients:

2 4-inch wide kabocha (Japanese squash/pumpkin)
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar or 1/3 cup palm sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla or pandan extract
1/3 tsp cinnamon

Cut a circle in kabocha to make a hole large enough to insert a teaspoon (1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter). Scrape out the seeds and stringy bits with a teaspoon.

Whisk the sugar and coconut milk together (If using palm sugar, dissolve in warm coconut milk and cool before adding eggs). Crack eggs into the bowl and whisk until just incorporated. Add all other ingredients. Place the pumpkins in steamer with the pumpkin lids on the side. Using a ladle, carefully pour equal amounts of custard into each pumpkin cavity until only about three quarters full since the custard will rise up beyond the hole.

Fill the steamer pan half full of water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Cover and steam over medium heat for 30 to 35 minutes. The custard is set when it doesn’t jiggle when shaken and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Don’t steam for more than 45 minutes or the pumpkin will fall apart.

Carefully remove the pumpkins from the steamer and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 10 to 12 hours to let the custard firm up.

Cut each pumpkin into wedges.

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  1. I tried to make the pumpkin dessert too…filling it with almond coconut milk agar agar, it tasted good but I over steamed the pumpkin…we ate all the broken pieces.
    Thanks for the recipe, egg custard, me like!

  2. what were your proportions for the filling? we’ll try it!

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