I hope your stomachs are hungry for some delicious food and some food adventure stories today, friends! As part of my contribution for the blog tour for Hungry Hearts, edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline T. Richmond, I present to you my very own food crawl where I found and ate the food mentioned in Hungry Hearts!
If you haven’t heard, Hungry Hearts is a new young-adult anthology that contains 13 books about food, love, and identity. There’s a strong emphasis on culture and relationships in this anthology, so if that sounds like up your (food!) alley, then I wholeheartedly recommend it. Personally, I absolutely loved this anthology and had so much fun reading all the diverse and brilliant stories. For the curious, you can find my review of Hungry Hearts here.
All of you know that I love reading. But, if there’s one thing that I love more than reading, it is food. Not only does food make me happy and gives my life meaning and colour, food is really important to me as well. As an adventurous foodie, doing this food crawl for Hungry Hearts was a great way for me to merge my love for reading, my love for Hungry Hearts, and my love for food! (How often do you get the chance to have your very own food crawl to celebrate an incredible book’s release?) And thus, I embarked on several food adventures and journeyed around my city to find the food featured in Hungry Hearts.
One of the best things about food is trying something completely new. It was a privilege to try a lot of food that I had never ever had before doing this food crawl, and I was constantly reminded that trying new food is always a humbling and wonderful experience. Sometimes a simple dish can represent years, decades, or centuries of culture; a simple dish can be so incredibly important and precious to someone and can be the connection to someone’s identity, their family, their culture, memory and nostalgia. Or it could simply be a food that brings them profound joy. In a way, this isn’t just a food crawl; this food crawl was also a way for me to connect with the stories beyond the words, and it was a way for me to connect to the authors and to the people that these stories are written for.
And so, armed with a camera, my ARC of Hungry Hearts and some good company, I travelled to seven different restaurants and sampled their wonderful food.
Welcome to my food crawl, friends! ✨
Stop 1: Finding Soul Food; I Tried Cornbread for the First Time!
My first stop of the food crawl was for Gimme Some Sugar by Jay Coles! Gimme Some Sugar is such a wonderful and heartwarming story about a Black teen, Leo, who competes in a food competition to earn enough money to pay for his mother’s life-saving surgery. (You can find Nicky’s review of the story here.) I loved Gimme Some Sugar, but – oh my goodness, this story is filled with so much love and heart, which I thought fit perfectly with the food featured in this story: soul food.
Unfortunately where I live, places that serve soul food are hard to come by, which means that I’m not too familiar with soul food. Nonetheless, before deciding on where to try soul food and what to order, I did a little bit of research. First, I learned that soul food is a part of African-American culture and identity, and became popular during the Black Power movement in the 1960s, and has some Native-American influences as well. Second, I learned that fried chicken is considered soul food – which made me even more excited to embark on this food journey because fried chicken is my WEAKNESS.
Thankfully, I found a restaurant in my city that prides itself in being a ‘soul food haven’, a place that serves food from South and Central Americas! I believe that food is best shared with those you love, so I brought along my sister and my partner to join me on this food adventure!
The décor inside the restaurant was warm and cosy, and they actually played really good music? (70’s and 80’s music!) I had done a little research of the restaurant’s menu before visiting and decided that I wanted to try the ‘hushpuppies’, which is a savoury, deep-fried ball made from cornmeal-based batter and is usually served as a side-dish. My sister, who is also a foodie, was very intent on trying gumbo (which I learned is not soul food, but is a Creole dish!) because both of us had never tried it before. Unfortunately when we arrived, we found out that they had changed their menu two days earlier (two! days!!) and had removed both gumbo and hushpuppies from their menu! I was so disappointed; I was really looking forward to trying hushpuppies for the first time.
In the end, we decided to order (1) southern fried chicken (because you can never go wrong with fried chicken), (2) cornbread, and (3) jambalaya (also not soul food but we had never had jambalaya before so wanted to give it a go)!
I consider myself to have high standard when it comes to fried chicken, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by the fried chicken here. The skin was crispy and golden-brown, the meat was not over-cooked or over-fried (which tends to happen in a few fried chicken places here) and was tender, and the seasoning was excellent. The fried chicken was also served with slaw! But the real star of this dish was the chipotle sauce – because holy heck, I’ve had chipotle sauce in the past, but this sauce was absolutely divine.
This was my first time eating cornbread, and I thought it was yum! I had expected cornbread to be thoroughly savoury, but it was a little salty and a little sweet as well. It was toasty when served, which went well with the chipotle butter that they gave us for the cornbread. I did find it a little dense (not a bad thing!), so I couldn’t eat much of it. (Thankfully, there were three of us and we finished everything). I’m really glad that I tried this for the first time – I can see why cornbread is a nostalgic and comforting food, and I understand why it’s so loved.
Would I eat this again: Soul Food? Yes, please!
I’m sad that there are such limited options for soul food here in New Zealand because I would absolutely love to try more. Though fried chicken was not new to me, I really enjoyed the cornbread. I definitely want to try other types of soul food in the future, and I’d especially love to try hushpuppies one day, fried fish (battered in cornmeal!), hog jowl, and sweet potato pie!
Stop 2: Next stop, Kung Pao Chicken!
My second food crawl stop was for Kings and Queens by Elsie Chapman! And y’all… this book killed me. It follows Ming, a Chinese teen whose family works at a Chinese restaurant and is also part of a secret society. (You can find Kevin’s review of the story here, and Natalia’s review of the story here.) It is such an unexpected, brilliant, and powerful short story that you will think about for days after. Chapman’s story left such an impression on me that I absolutely had to try a dish that is prominently featured in the story: kung pao chicken.
So, a confession: I had never had kung pao chicken before. Even though I eat a lot of Chinese food and love Sichuan cuisine, I’ve never actually tried it! Anyone who has eaten Sichuan cuisine will be intimately familiar with the famous Sichuan pepper, which has a very unique taste and has a numbing effect on your tongue. I remember the first time I tried Sichuan pepper – it was a delicious bowl of hand-pulled egg noodles with pork mince and spring onion (i.e., scallion) – and I was so surprised when my tongue started to go numb? For those of you who haven’t tried it before, the numbing sensation isn’t unpleasant, but it’s actually because of hydroxy alpha sanshool molecules in the pepper!
For my first time eating kung pao chicken, I went to a very popular Chinese restaurant in my city. This is a place that will have a line outside the down the moment lunch time hits – the location is great and people who work in the city will flock to eat here. The food is cheap, has generous servings, and is delicious as well. With my partner in tow, we arrived the moment they opened and by the time we got our food? The line was, indeed, out the door.
I’m not picky when it comes to a place’s décor (I only care about the food and whether it tastes good!), but this place is really nice. It’s modern with earthy tones and a high ceiling with big windows that overlook the road. I knew I was going to order the kung pao chicken on rice, and my partner decided to order the ‘fried butter chicken’ (something we aren’t familiar with in a Chinese context) and we also ordered a lychee lime soda. This restaurant actually requires you to fill in your order using a little sheet that they give you; this is not really common in the restaurants in my city, but it was nice to take our time and not waste the waiter’s time (with the uhm’s and ah’s and ‘I don’t know’s).
Kung Pao Chicken
I was so excited when my kung pao chicken arrived because it looked amazing. It came with a generous serving of rice, some cucumber, and the kung pao chicken itself was mixed in with some vegetables which were probably all stir-fried together. The chicken pieces were from drumsticks or thigh meat (thankfully not breast meat!), and was savoury, a little sweet, a little spicy with a pretty decent kick, and meat was so tender. (I think I tasted hints of shaoxing wine as well?)
Cooked with the chicken were peanuts, onions, celery and dried red chilli, combined in this delicious sauce. I don’t usually eat dishes that have whole peanuts mixed in with the dish, but I actually really enjoyed it in the kung pao chicken, offering a balance to the spicy parts of the dish. There were a few times where I bit into a Sichuan peppercorn, but, nonetheless, I enjoyed eating this (and my partner really enjoyed his fried butter chicken on rice as well)!
Would I Eat This Again: Absolutely!
Kung pao chicken was such a tasty dish and I also loved that there were vegetables in it so it wasn’t a full-on meal of meat and rice. I can absolutely see why this is a favourite among so many people – it has all the wonderful parts of a tasty dish. And because this was my first time eating kung pao chicken, I’m particularly happy that this dish will forever be associated with Elsie’s wonderful story in Hungry Hearts. I can see myself craving this in the future.
Stop 3: It’s Shaved Ice and Pineapple Cake Time!
My third food crawl stop was for The Slender One by Caroline T Richmond! The Slender One is such an incredible story with paranormal elements with Chinese culture and tradition, and follows Charlie, a Chinese teen who can talk to ghosts. I loved this story, loved its take on the Ghost Festival and also enjoyed the nuanced explorations of identity and relationships. (You can find Lili’s review of the story here, and Tiffany’s review of the story here.)
For this story… friends, I may have cheated a little bit. I decided to get two foods for The Slender One, one which is featured prominently and is important to the plot and one that is… just casually mentioned. So let’s do the latter first!
In the story, shaved ice is casually mentioned. It’s something that Charlie serves to the patrons of Hungry Hearts Row during the Hungry Ghost Festival (to commemorate the Ghost Festival in Chinese culture!) and… whilst it isn’t an important part of the story, I just had to anyway. I mean. Shaved ice? Yes please.
Though I don’t eat dessert as much as I used to (my aging body can’t process sugar like it used to), I could not pass up the opportunity to eat some shaved ice. Shaved ice is such a delicious dessert – generally not too rich, usually not too sweet, and not too heavy either. For those of you who haven’t had shaved ice before, it’s literally what it sounds like – ice that is shaved, usually accompanied with some ice cream, fruit, and some syrup that you can mix together to form a sweet dessert. Malaysians have a dessert called ais kacang – though it doesn’t usually come with ice cream, it’ll usually come with red beans, jelly, and cendol. (aaaah now I want ais kacang!)
There are two places in my city that does shaved ice, and I decided to go to the one that I hadn’t been to in four years. It’s a really cute café and dessert bar that also sells slices of cheesecake, cold stone ice cream (if you don’t know what that is, here is a video of it being made! watching it being made is half the fun), and, of course, shaved ice!
They had a range of flavours – matcha, chocolate, vanilla, seasonal fruit, mango – but in the end we decided to go with the strawberry. They only offered a ‘large’, but how ‘large’ could shaved ice be, right? “It’ll be okay,” we said. “We can just eat slowly,” we said.
But when I saw the waitress approach with what we ordered in her hands, the first words out of my mouth were ‘holy shit’.
This shaved ice was a monster – not only was there was a mountain of shaved ice with strawberry-flavoured syrup, there were little candied strawberries at the bottom, and a massive swirl of vanilla soft serve. Taking photos was a bit of a wild ride as well, since I had to take some good ones before the ice melted.
Despite it being far too sweet for my liking (I generally don’t eat very sweet!), I thought this was delicious. The shaved ice was light and sweet, and the soft serve ice cream was more icey than creamy (which I liked!). The strawberries at the bottom though – sweet hell, they were yum but so sweet! I took one bite and literally vibrated as my body tried to process the sugar. We didn’t quite finish it; we finished the soft serve and 95% of the ice, but we really couldn’t handle the strawberries. (After that, my partner and I had at least three glasses of hot water to wash it down.)
Would I Eat This Again: Maybe
Would I recommend it to other people? Absolutely! I think it’s a delicious dessert, one that’s fun to eat and share with others, and a great alternative to ice cream. But, the only reason why I say maybe is because, if I went with a group of, say, six people, then maybe I’d have… one or two spoons of it. With just my partner and I? I don’t think we could do it again, ever. Myself? Absolutely not.
The real star of Richmond’s story, The Slender One, is pineapple cake! I had never had pineapple cake before, so I was really excited to try this for the first time because pineapple cake is a staple in many Chinese and Taiwanese households. Not to be confused with pineapple-flavoured cake, the Chinese/Taiwanese version of ‘pineapple cake’ is a sweet dessert or snack that is a chunky pineapple jam wrapped in a buttery sweet pastry. Pineapple is important to Chinese culture, especially those who speak Hokkien (like me!), as the words for pineapple and prosperity sound very similar. Furthermore, pineapple desserts are pretty familiar to me – in my family, we bake pineapple cookies/tarts for Lunar New Year.
I asked a few friends where I could find this delightful snack, and most of them said the Asian supermarket. However, I passed by a Chinese-French bakery and decided to take my chances and – ah! They had pineapple cake!
This Chinese-French bakery is such a great place if you crave Asian baking. The breads are light, the flavours are subtle and not too sweet. Moreover, there are so many options that my partner decided to buy tomorrow’s breakfast (and took awhile to decide on what to get too).
I decided to try this at home, as my sister wanted to try it as well. When I opened the packaging, I was hit by the tart and sweet smell of pineapple – a smell I love and feels very nostalgic to me. The first bite was mostly pastry, which was a little harder than I expected (maybe because it’s packaged?) but not too sweet (which I like!). The second bite was delightful; I got to the pineapple bit and was surprised that it wasn’t too sweet (despite the very sweet smell). The pineapple jam and the pastry balanced out perfectly, and I thought it was delicious. My sister took a bite and enjoyed it as well. I can definitely see why this is so nostalgic and reminds people of ‘home’ – it’s such a comforting and lovely dessert, and I enjoyed eating it.
Would I Eat This Again: Yes!
Though I don’t usually find myself craving sweet things or anything pineapple-related, I loved this and would eat this again in a heartbeat.
Stop 4: An opportunity to go to one of my favourite restaurants!
My fourth food crawl stop was for Bloom by Phoebe North, a story about a Jewish girl who works at her Pop’s Jewish deli and befriends and begins a relationship with a boy. It’s one of the quieter stories in the collection, but I loved it. North’s writing is splendid and evocative, and their storytelling really spoke to me on a deeper level. (You can find Kayla’s review of the story here.)
I was really excited to do the food crawl stop for Bloom because one of my favourite restaurants in my city is a Jewish-American diner. This place is always packed and extremely popular, and is a place I recommend to all my friends who visit my city. They serve wonderful American-style food with Jewish influences, and the food is always sublime. I’ve never been disappointed when I visit here – and I visit quite often!
For my Jewish food crawl stop, I decided to get their iconic bagel with lox. Bagels (also beigels) is a kind of bread that is shaped by hand to look like a ring; it’s more dense and chewy than white bread and is popular among Jewish communities. I absolutely love bagels, and it is one of the few breads that I thoroughly enjoy eating. Lox, on the other hand, is a fillet of salmon that has been brined. Salmon is one of my favourite fish (steamed, fried, grilled, smoked – I love it all) and I’ll never pass up the opportunity to have anything salmon.
The first time I took my partner to this place, he said that the restaurant was nostalgic and homey for him as a North American, and it’s now one of our favourite places to dine together. It’s fashioned like an American diner with an open-plan kitchen and seating area, so you can watch the kitchen staff cook and prepare your food (or you can enjoy more privacy in a booth). This place is always bustling and busy, and it has such a vibrant and warm energy. Whilst I opted for the bagel with lox, my partner ordered his own chicken sandwich (which is usually my go-to on the menu; this sandwich is amazing, and has crispy chicken skin bits mixed in the chicken filling), and we both got some hot cocoa.
Bagel with Lox
I hadn’t had the bagel with lox in over five years, so I was so excited when it arrived! I think I groaned with delight when I took my first bite? It was just so incredibly delicious and I didn’t say much to my partner when we ate – which is generally a good sign that the food is good. The bagels are made by a local baker that are renowned for their hand-rolled and wood-fired bagels; it was crispy and toasted perfectly, packed with sesame seeds, and a perfect balance of dense and chewy. On top of the bagel was a generous slather of cream cheese, with lox, onion, dill, and capers! I typically don’t like capers very much, but the capers on this bagel perfectly balanced with everything else that I ended up eating them too.
(Also, the cocoa was absolutely delicious. As someone with lactose intolerance, I usually have to be a bit more selective of the dairy that I consume, but this place’s hot cocoa? Smooth, not too sweet, and delicious.)
Would I Eat This Again: Without a doubt!
Usually when I visit this place, I opt for the chicken salad sandwich – but now that I’ve tried the bagel and have a new-found appreciation for it, I’m absolutely open to swapping between the chicken salad sandwich and the bagel with lox in the future.
Stop 5: My first time eating Persian food!
My fifth food crawl stop was for Side Work by Sara Farizan, a wonderful story about a Persian teen who works for her uncle’s restaurant and re-meets an old crush. This story was one of my favourites in the anthology, and explores how our past choices alter the trajectory of our lives, tenuous family relationships, and how food is more than just a means of profit but can come from a place of generosity and kindness. (You can find Em’s review of the story here.)
Across the story, Farizan describes a variety of Persian food and the ways the characters in the story reacted to the food – surprise, joy, and wonder, which later solidify to solidarity and a sense of community – I couldn’t miss out on trying Persian food for the first time.
Without giving too much away, a significant part of Side Work is that some of the characters try food that is new to them, and how this creates and strengthens bonds between everyone. I thought, then, that it was fitting that I’d invite a good friend of mine to join me on my food crawl stop and try Persian food for the first time together!
Farizan gave me plenty of options for different Persian dishes that I could try, but I was particularly interested in trying the joojeh kebab. The description on the menu sounded incredible: chicken that has been marinated and flame broiled, served with charbroiled tomato and Persian saffron rice. In the end, I decided to opt for a dish that offered both joojeh and koobideh, so I could try the joojeh, as intended, and something else that was new as well. (Fun fact: their menu items were named after villages and famous people from Iran, which I thought was really special.)
Joojeh (and koobideh)
Joojeh kebab, or jujeh kabab, is a Persian dish where chicken is marinated with onion, lemon juice, saffron, and is grilled. Koobideh, on the other hand, is a Persian kebab made from ground lamb or beef (I had the former) that is mixed with parsley and chopped onions. When my dish arrived, it looked so appetising and it smelled wonderful. I tried the joojeh first, and it was wonderful – you can taste that it had been grilled (yum!), and that the marinade had gone right into the chicken (which I love). The chicken was tender, savoury, juicy, and packed with a range of aromatic spices, and it was my favourite part of my meal. The koobideh was delicious as well; the lamb taste wasn’t particularly gamey and it was more dense and spongey than I expected. The joojeh was more flavourful than the koobideh, but it was nice to alternate between both.
The joojeh and koobideh was served with grilled tomatoes and rice that had subtle hints of saffron. Interestingly, the saffron rice was made using basmati rice – a type of rice that my family actually eats at home and is less starchy than white rice.
And… bastani sonati?
After we finished our mains, the waiter asked us whether we’d try dessert. I’m not really a dessert person anymore (see: Stop #3) but my friend was keen on something a little sweet to finish our meal. In the end, she decided to go with the bastani sonati, or Persian ice cream – something we both had never tried before. It sounded delicious as well – ‘saffron ice cream flavoured with rose-water, cardamom, cream, and pistachios’.
When it arrived, we both ooh’d and aah’d! The bastani sonati looked amazing and the colour made the both of us happy – it even matched her yellow top! And I won’t lie – I loved it. The tastes were so new and unique to me, and one bite of bastani was packed with so many layers of interesting flavours. You could taste the spices, but it was balanced perfectly with the sweetness of the rose-water and the cream. Although I could only stomach three bites, those three bites were divine. I’m so glad my friend decided to get dessert.
Would I Eat This Again: Yes please!
It’s a shame that there aren’t many places in my city that serve Persian food. A Google search showed me that there are only two places in my whole city that serves Persian food, which is a travesty. Maybe one day I will try the other, but would I eat Persian food, in particular joojeh, koobideh, and bastani? Absolutely!
Stop 6: Soup Dumplings That Cure? I Believe It.
My sixth food crawl stop was for Moments to Return by Adi Alsaid, a quiet and introspective story about a young Montenegrin teen who visits Hungry Hearts Row in search for some dumplings that will cure his fear of death. The story is powerful and wonderful in such a subtle way, and I think this was such a tender and down-to-earth story. (You can find Moon’s review of the story here.)
This story does not feature Montenegrin food – instead, it features soup dumplings – one of my favourite things in this plane of existence. So of course, I set off to find some soup dumplings, or xiaolongbao (小笼包; which directly translates to ‘little basket bun’). Drinking the hot soup that’s inside the dumpling is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I love soup dumplings so much.
I was worried about this food crawl stop because my expectations of soup dumplings are extraordinarily high. After eating Michelin-star-worthy soup dumplings while I was in Malaysia, I was doubtful that I would find xiaolongbao that would be as good. However, my sister’s food-savvy friend saved the day and recommended us a place with, as she calls, ‘the best xiaolongbao’ in my city. I had never eaten at this place before, so I took my sister and my partner to join me in trying out the ‘best xiaolongbao’.
For those who are not familiar with what soup dumplings are, they are dumplings that have (usually) pork filling inside as well as a delicious and hot soup inside the dumpling wrapping. Eating xiaolongbao requires gentleness and care – you need to gently pick up the xiaolongbao with chopsticks (no forks allowed!!) without breaking the dumpling wrapping, and then transfer it to your soup spoon. You then have to make a small opening at the top to allow the steam trapped inside to escape – otherwise you’ll burn yourself! And then, you can enjoy it slowly, alternating between drinking the soup and eating the rest of the dumpling. (Moments to Return actually explains the conventional way of eating it, and it’s as delicious and exciting as it sounds.)
The restaurant that served the ‘best xiaolongbao in the city’ is actually a very small and humble hole-in-the-wall located in the outer suburbs of my city. The restaurant offered a range of noodles (pork mince, beef mince, Sichuan style noodles), and as much as I wanted to just eat xiaolongbao for lunch, the three of us also decided to order their famous fried pork dumplings and beef noodle soup.
The xiaolongbao arrived in a little bamboo steamer and it was piping hot. My partner had never had xiaolongbao before, so my sister and I taught him how to eat it properly and without burning himself. (Taking your friends to try xiaolongbao for the first time is always a delight because xiaolongbao is always delicious and never disappoints!)
To my pleasant surprise, the filling held firm when I picked it up. Some restaurants serve xiaolongbao with thin wrapping (and thus can’t support the dumpling and breaks when you pick it up) or actually has little to no soup left once it’s been steamed! This xiaolongbao though? Perfect – there was plenty of soup inside the dumpling, the filling was generous and delicious, and the wrapping was the perfect density. I absolutely loved the xiaolongbao here, and it was indeed the best xiaolongbao in my city. Consider me impressed, friends.
Would I Eat This Again: Inevitably, yes
I’ve already been back to this place two times with my family since coming here for the food crawl. Xiaolongbao is already a staple for me, and is always an amazing treat. And now that I’ve found a place that serves xiaolongbao that is delicious and does not disappoint? I’ll probably be back for my fourth visit very soon.
Stop 7: The stop I was most excited for – Filipino food!
My seventh and final (much to my sadness because I’ve had so much fun doing this food crawl!) was for Sugar and Spice by Rin Chupeco, a wicked and delightful story about a Filipino teen who follows in the footsteps of her lolas and learns to become a mangkukulam. This book will satiate fans of Chupeco’s work or readers who love a story with sharp teeth will love this story. You can find Kate’s review of the story here, and Bianca’s review of the story here.
I tried Filipino food for the first time a few months ago when Shealea and I got into a very friendly shouting match about which Asian soup was better: sinigang or laksa. “LAKSA!” I screamed, loyal to my Malaysian heritage. “SINIGANG!” shouted Shealea. But honestly, how can I possibly say that laksa is better if I hadn’t tried sinigang? So I hauled my ignorant ass to a Filipino restaurant and tried sinigang. And my goodness, it was delicious.
My adventure to another Filipino restaurant for this food crawl would be my second time trying Filipino food! And I had an important mission: I was going to try Soup Number 5, a legendary Filipino dish. For my final adventure, I brought along my partner (who loves Filipino food!) and we went to a restaurant that was recommended by his Filipino colleagues, all of which said, ‘the best place to eat Filipino is home, but I guess [this restaurant] is alright’. (As a deprived diaspora Malaysian, I understand what that feels like.)
Soup Number 5
Soup Number 5 is made of bull testes or penis, and is believed to have aphrodisiac properties. Except for kidneys (which I’m not a big fan of), I love eating offal; I love chicken livers and tripe, ox tails, pork trotters, chicken feet, and tendon, all of which are common in Chinese cuisine! However, I’ve never tried before testes or penis cooked in a dish before, and although I was looking forward to trying it, I did feel a little anxious because it was something that was outside of my comfort zone. (But that’s okay! I love trying new foods and it’s part of the fun!)
The Filipino restaurant that I went to is in the heart of my city, and is considered to be a ‘higher-end’ Filipino place (we chose this place because this is the only place, to my knowledge, that serves Soup Number 5). Unfortunately I forgot to take photos of the restaurant itself and the décor, but I thought the restaurant was lovely. There were plenty of foliage decorations and photos of the Philippines hanging on the wall. There was even a little Filipino flag! You could tell that this was a family restaurant, and a place that the owners were proud of. I loved that.
There was an incredible selection of food, and I think my partner and I will probably come back to this restaurant to try more of their other food! In the end, I ordered my Soup Number 5 (described in the menu as, I quote, “the legendary Filipino soup famous for its energising qualities”), beef kare-kare (a delicious stew complemented in a thick savoury peanut sauce), and pork sisig (my partner and I’s favourite).
I know I’m here to talk about Soup No 5, but my goodness, please let me talk about the beef kare-kare for a moment. It was my first time eating beef kare-kare but I am now an eternal fan. Beef kare-kare was absolutely delicious; there was eggplant, long-beans and the beef was a brisket cut. It was really savory, but as someone who loves peanut sauce, I… I can’t wait to eat kare-kare again. In fact, I kinda want to go back next week.
The Soup Number 5 finally arrived, and it was served in a palayok. The soup smelled delicious – I could smell peppercorn and ginger. I tried the soup first and it had a really nice sour-savoury taste. Next, I tried the testes/penis (unfortunately, I couldn’t differentiate which was which; I apologise for my ignorance!) and the taste instantly reminded me of beef tendon? A little plain, and was carried by the soup’s taste. I described the texture of the meat to my sister as ‘it’s like the tapioca balls that you get in bubble tea, but not as chewy and you can bite right through it’. Regardless, any worry I may have felt melted away instantly. Soup Number 5 is a good soup, y’all.
(Also, if Soup Number 5 does indeed have aphrodisiac or energising qualities, I can say that I did not feel the effects of this? All I felt was extremely full after eating three dishes!)
Would I Eat This Again: Yes and maybe
Don’t get me wrong, I think Soup Number 5 is delicious. I was a little nervous before eating it because it was very new to me, but for the curious ones out there: you don’t have to worry. As I said before, and I’ll say it again: it’s a good soup! However, I don’t think it is a dish that I would go out of my way to eat – I much prefer beef kare-kare and pork sisig or sinigang, or I’d like to try something new! Filipino food is still very new to me, so I’d love to try more. I’m thinking of trying adobo or lumpia next!
Stop 8: Returning home (to curry laksa)
To close this food crawl, I thought I’d share with you all a food that’s from my own culture. I was really lucky that my dad was in a cooking mood whilst I was doing this food crawl, so to have the last stop be ‘home’? I thought that was pretty fitting.
The food I want to share with you today is a divine Malaysian dish called ‘curry laksa’. As a Malaysian, perhaps I say this with a little bit of bias, but I truly believe that laksa is one of the most delicious soup dishes ever. Though there are many types of laksa out there that also vary across different regions, ‘curry laksa’ usually involves noodles with chicken or seafood, and is served in an incredible curry soup with coconut milk. I love laksa so much and have very high standards when it comes to laksa, but my dad’s laksa is probably my favourite. (Outside of my dad though? There are only two places in my city that do good laksa. The others are disappointments.)
When my dad cooks laksa, it takes him the whole day to make – he first spends five or so hours boiling the soup, and then over the day will add ingredients that will come together to make a delicious pot of laksa soup. I particularly love my laksa hot and spicy (a laksa without spice isn’t… really laksa to me) and I particularly enjoy the chicken variant of laksa.
My dad’s way of making laksa is heavily influenced by the Kuala Lumpur regional style. In his laksa, he uses a mixture of egg and vermicelli noodles and serves the laksa with chicken, tofu puffs (my favourite part is letting the tofu absorb all the soup and then squeezing all the soup out in your mouth and drinking the soup!), beansprout, and sometimes he’ll include some raw mussel as well (in which the hot soup will cook slightly upon serving)!
Eating laksa is such a treat. Not only is it a lot of work (six hours of work to be finished in 30 minutes?), but it’s a food that I associate very closely to my family. My dad loves cooking and loves spending the whole day cooking a delicious soup dish for all of us to enjoy. My sibling and I look forward to these ‘noodle days’, and my partner (who regards curry laksa to be his favourite dish) is always invited to our noodle days too. Furthermore, cooking is my dad’s expression of love to his family; he’s not a words-person, but he’s definitely a speak-with-the-food-you-cook person. I think he’d really understand Lila from Anna-Marie McLemore’s story, Panadería ~ Pastelería.
The Food I Couldn’t Find 😦
Unfortunately, there were a few foods that were featured in some Hungry Hearts stories that I could not find, despite my best efforts! Although I wish I could have shared with you all my experiences of eating the food, I didn’t want to just… not talk about them, so I want to give them a quick shout-out.
1. Coorg Pandhi, from Rain by Sangu Mandanna – Coorg pandhi is such an important dish in Mandanna’s story, and I was devastated when I couldn’t find any place that served this dish. Coorg pandhi is slow-cooked pork curry that originates from Kodagu in the Indian state of Karnataka! One day I hope to try this dish for myself. (You can find Nandini’s review of the story here, and Prag’s review of the story here.)
2. Frybread, from The Missing Ingredient by Rebecca Roanhorse – Unfortunately, there is no place in my city that serves frybread, or even Native American food. In saying that though, if I want to try Native American food one day, I’d definitely want to try it when I’m in the U.S. and served by an establishment that is owned by Native American people. (You can find Lila’s review of the story here, and AJ’s review of the story here.)
3. Kushari, from Hearts A La Carte by Karuna Riazi – I was surprised, and disappointed, when I found out that one of the few places that served Egyptian food had closed last year! Thus, I couldn’t find a place that served kushari, let alone Egyptian food. I’m hoping that I’ll get to try this kushari one day – it looks like something that I’d love. (You can find Naadhira’s review of the short story here.)
4. Piñata cake, from Panadería ~ Pastelería by Anna-Marie McLemore – Authentic Mexican food that hasn’t been gentrified is hard to come by in my city, let alone Mexican baking. I couldn’t find any of the baking mentioned in the story – which disappointed me, because I love all kinds of baking and would’ve loved to try pan dulce or even a mini piñata cake. (You can find Nox’s review of the short story here.)
Note: A Bountiful Film by S.K. Ali and The Grand Ishq Adventure by Sandhya Menon don’t really feature a specific dish, so I excluded them from my food crawl. Nonetheless, their stories are still spectacular! You can find Aimal’s review of The Grand Ishq Adventure here, Dia’s review of The Grand Ishq Adventure here, and Mish’s review of A Bountiful Film here.
And that finally concludes my very long food crawl! This is the most fun I’ve had putting together a post for a blog tour, so I hope you all enjoyed the read. It definitely is a long read, so I hope you all at least enjoy the pictures that I included!
If you have read this entire post – thank you so so much! 💛 It means a lot that you’ve read about my rambling food adventures. I had a lot of fun writing it. Once again, if you haven’t heard of Hungry Hearts, you can find my review of Hungry Hearts here.
- Have you had any of the food that I tried for the food crawl?
- Are any of your favourites mentioned in this post? What are your memories associated with the food?
- What does food mean to you?