Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hong Meas Combination Rice Noodle Soup

I really love this dish here! It's not quite pho as the owner, Sophia (an Anglicized version of her real name, but I'll get that straight one of these days) is from Cambodia (via New Zealand!) and thinks that the typical Vietnamese noodle soup has too many strong flavors going on.

This is a simpler broth, though simmered with chicken and pork bones for 8 hours. Despite the inclusion of imitation crabmeat - among the rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, beef, and sometimes pork, scallops and squid - this combination rice noodle soup has become a front-line favorite.

In fact, the whole experience of driving over the bridge to East Providence [Washington, or sometimes Henderson ('Red') - gotta mix it up!] and sitting down to this big steaming bowl has become a comfort ritual.

Plus, Sophia is a hoot! She's so gracious, accomodating, funny, and sweet to all her customers. So down to earth, she frequently tells me to relax and go home to have sex with my boyfriend! She is a beautiful woman with a lively and free spirit. Though the restaurant is very casual - comfortably divey, kind of red, and sparsely kitschy - it serves some of my favorite Asian food in the Providence area.

So many factors converge to make a dining establishment a regular destination for me. It's not just what I stab with a fork or pinch with a set of chopsticks. It's not the threadcount of the tablecloths or how comfy my ass is in the booth. Rather, it's the depth and richness of the whole dining experience - the humanity, the thread that runs through our common need to feed ourselves, to sit around a table and fill up with so much more than what goes into our mouths.
That is harder to come by, and worth seeking out. When I find it, I hold it close.

An example of that sitting-'round-the-table-family-is-the-glue-that-keeps-you-from-disintigrating-in-life thing, which I felt privileged to witness, occurred on Labor Day, in the late afternoon. I wandered in for my bowl of soup and saw a long table set in the middle of the restaurant. It was set with stand-alone burners and plates of uncooked meat, seafood, and vegetables - even beautiful watercress! Clearly this was to be a hotpot extravaganza. Family and friends straggled in - some bearing gifts, all speaking in language unfamiliar to my ugly-American ears - and I at once felt like an honored guest and an intruder.
When Sophia's beautiful daughter (who I thought was her sister at first!) brought me my check, I asked if it was a holiday party. She said that yes, it was a good chance for the family to get together, Labor Day being notoriously slow. On my way out I said to Sophia, "Watercress?". She said yes, call a day ahead and she'd get it for me...and my boyfriend!

I've been eating at Hong Meas steadily for at least 7 years. So much has changed in my life during that time, but this place, like other things that continue to provide me comfort, has remained a constant.

Hong Meas Restaurant
332 Warren Avenue
East Providence, RI 02914
(401) 438-5227

Friday, October 24, 2008

Stuff I Love From Whole Foods Market

I posted this pic on my Flickr photostream, and was asked to add it to the Whole Foods Market Group by the administrator.
It got me thinking about some of my other favorites from WFM.

Here is my list, off the top of my head:

1) Olives: Whole Foods has such a wide and excellent variety of olives in interesting preparations. Some of our faves include the pictured Sicilian-spiced variety; the feta- and blue cheese-stuffed green ones; the sampler of mixed pitted olives; and the large green pitted ones with citrus and garlic.

2) Fresh Mozzarella: Whole Foods has 2 sizes of water-packed fresh mozzarella balls - the cherry-sized 'ciliegine' ($3.99), and egg-sized 'ovoline' ($5.99). They are rich in flavor, creamy in texture, and very reasonably priced. Mmmm...craving some as I type this.

3) 365 Chunky Peanut Butter: I am talking about the kind with only peanuts and salt; again - great taste at a great price - around $2 a jar.

4) 365 Sparkling Water: We love all the flavors, especially the strawberry. I don't know how much of a factor the glass bottling has to do with it, but this water has the perfect amount of sparkle and a refreshing fruity flavor. I think a liter costs around $1.39.

5) 365 Salted Almonds (in the re-sealable bag): For some reason these seem crunchier and fresher than others. I always have a bag stashed in the freezer.

6) Eggs: I try to buy Rhode Island eggs at farmers' markets whenever possible. My favorites of all time are from Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton, with the newly-discovered eggs from my friend's chickens just over the CT border running neck-in-neck. But a close second are the eggs I've been buying for years at WFM. They're very fresh with a rich yellow-orange yolk and great flavor. We are really lucky in the egg department here in Rhode Island.

7) WFM Air-chilled Free-range hormone- and antibiotic-free Whole Chickens: These are a new discovery for me. I confess, up until several months ago, I was quite non-discrimating in my meat choices. With seafood, I was my usual picky self. But with meat, I was lazy. I credit Jen of Last Night's Dinner ( with having been the most influential factor in the change in my approach to both meat and food in general - I think more now about where it all comes from and I think that makes me value it much more than ever. But I swear, these chickens have changed me. I do love the ones I can get from Pat's Pastured, at the farmers' markets, but I honestly think the WF chickens win in the taste (as well as the convenience) department. Plus, I think it's a sign that the first one I bought had 2 hearts in the cavity - one for my baby and one for myself!
(I find the all the meats superior at Whole Foods, and will not buy meat from any other market. This is my relatively new policy - Whole Foods or farmers' markets for meat. Nowhere else.)

8) 365 Olive Oil: What a fruity and fresh-tasting everyday olive oil at a mere $7.99/ liter!

9) Tofu: Is it 365, or WF? In any case, it's around $1.29 per 1 pound block. How can you go wrong?

10) Shells and Cheese: Yes, in the box! Again, I'm not sure if it's WF or 365, but this stuff is a total guilty pleasure of mine, and at 99 cents a box (less than half the price of Annie's, the last time I checked), it's a very affordable vice. When you're all id like I am, it helps to have one or two indulgences that don't completely drain the bank account! Times are tough.

There is so much more that I love about Whole Foods. And conversely, there are a few things I am not so fond of. If I seem to come across as something of a sycophant (a rather uncommon accusation in my experience), I feel obligated to disclose that I am not in any way affiliated with WFM - these are purely unsolicited raves, and those are my top 10.

In fact, if I hadn't already poured myself a bourbon in an effort to assuage the loneliness of having my favorite person in the whole universe - the only one who understands and still loves the wacko that I am - away for the weekend, I might just jump in my Volvo and shoot my ass over there right this minute. But I won't drive after drinking and it's kind of far to walk this late at night...

Alas, tonight I will likely be eating Little Chopsticks (fave local Chinese delivery, though I miss Ming, the former owner), delivered to my door, as I finish up the laundry. What an enticing and exciting life I lead! But it's my life! I am more content than I've been in as long as I can remember. Happiness is priceless; I am very, very fortunate; I am also very, very flawed.

I hear the dryer buzzing, and 10 Ingredient Chow Mei Fun sounds good right about now.

But is another day to spend another couple of sawbucks at my local Whole Foods.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Steph 2, Ile de France 0

They keep sending me cheese, even though I don't say very flattering things about it.

This time I received goat cheese. We ate it crumbled on a salad and the Dinnerman did not complain that it tasted too strong. This might, at first consideration, sound like a positive evaluation, but it is so very not. A good goat cheese should be pungent and edgy. This was so very not. It was bland and boring.

This cheese was better than their brie. And, like the brie, it had an okay texture. That's about all I can say without delving into negativity.