Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Punjabi Bento

Shame on me. I produced this bento last week and am only now getting to post it. I guess two impromptu posts about trailer food took the wind out of my sails.

So I've mentioned before that coming up with new themes after five years gets a little tough. So a friend suggested that I narrow in on specific regions of India as a source of new bento themes. Since my Indian themes tend to be very popular I thought it was a great idea. I decided to start my journey with the northwestern Indian province of Punjab.

We start off with our main dish Murg Makkai. It's it's a chicken curry with a tomato based gravy.  Every region of India has it's own signature to the nations cuisine. Punjabi cooking includes greater use of dairy as well as meat. Here we use yogurt to give the curry some tang as well as some thickness. The use of corn is a new concept for me in Indian food I cannot recall the use of corn in any Indian dishes I've eaten in the past.

One of the complaints I get when I produce an Indian bento is that I don't pack enough rice. I'm of two minds on the situation, I feel like I'm cheaping out (or being lazy since it's easy)  by devoting too large a slot for rice but then again, it's a pretty crucial component to eating Indian food. This Jeera Pulao is a pretty common rice dish with spices, in this case specifically cumin seeds (Jeera == Cumin seeds). I liked the addition of the cashews and onions it's a tasty and fragrant rice dish.

I found this to be a very unique dish, Sarson Da Saag is apparently a well known traditional Punjabi dish. Unlike a normal Saag Paneer which is all spinach, Sarson Da Saag is mainly mustard greens and a  whole lot of peppers. There's no dairy component unless you choose to add Paneer to the dish. Saag Paneer usually incorporates yogurt or cream. The dish was actually very light tasting with a nice burn from the peppers. Even though I used a whopping eight serrano chillies everyone gave the feedback that it should have been hotter.

Finally I finish up the box with a Lobia Dal. It's a black-eyed pea cooked similar to a Chana masala that I've done in the past. I would have liked the sauce to be a little less soupy, next time I'll cut the water in half I couldn't just let the water reduce I would have risked overcooking the peas.

Box Contents

  • Murg Makkai
  • Jeera Pulao
  • Sarson Da Saag
  • Lobia Dal

Monday, June 11, 2012


So two days later and we're back at the North Austin Trailer Yard (NATY) because my girlfriend really was craving some more ramen and I was game to check out the other trailers. It was a pretty nice day the only downside was that most of the trailers were closed. That probably explains why there were very few people around.

It turned out only Michi and Snarky's were open. And since I was on the low carb train I went with Snarky's. They do slow roasted sandwiches. Since it was a slow day I got a chance to talk with the chef and owner Chuck Watkins. He's been in the restaurant/bar industry for a while and decided to make a go of a food trailer of his own. It turns out he and his business partner were the ones that came up with the NATY idea. He wanted to build on the giant pink gorilla that was already located in the parking lot and go with a "zoo" theme, hence the sculptures you see from the title picture. Chuck said that he wanted to bring in a trailer destination to north austin (YES exactly my sentiment) for families much like the south Congress scene. There's a nice little mini playground for kids and they've put up shaded areas for dining. It's pretty well thought out.

Oh right so the food. I ordered up the "cuban" I mentioned I was low carb-ing and asked for extra meat and bacon (mmmm bacon). So the setup is that you ask for the "style" cuban/jerk/italian/cheesesteak (I believe there were a few more options)  and then you ask for the meat chicken/pork/beef. Since I went for the Cuban Chuck suggested pork and he even offered to go sans bun and just deliver it on a tray for me.  The pork was delicious the combo with the crispy bacon made for a cool texture difference. And to round out everything a pig has to offer there was some ham. It finished off with some pickles, cheese and a Moja Mustard sauce. When you have it all put together it's quite tasty.  Chuck explained that he slow cooks the pork butts in the trailer for a few hours. I had meant to ask (but I forgot) how many butts he goes thru in a day.  I will say my tray definitely had a good ratio of bark to pork and the pork was moist and tender to perfection. Quite a hearty meal.

I noticed that my pics from our last visit to Michi didn't include any solid shots of the noodles, so here you go (we went with the Miso this time). I was speaking with the owner Freddy, and asked about the noodles. Apparently there's several categories, the packaged stuff that lasts till the next millennium, frozen which is a step better but still has preservatives, and "fresh" which will go bad if you don't use it within the week. All the top ramen places use "fresh", including Michi. It's definitely a quantum leap above the 10 cent package stuff. Oh, FYI my proposed trick of solving the cold egg problem worked. So if you get the egg (which is cold see previous post) use your chopsticks and move the noodles aside and gently push the egg to the bottom and cover with the noodles. Cover and wait and your egg will be nicely warmed up. Freddy mentioned they are quickly looking for a permanent location so they can scale up and serve more customers. I'm definitely looking forward to drinking the hot broth in a nicely air conditioned facility, summer's coming up and I'm feeling a bit iffy on eating a big bowl of hot noodles in 100+ degree temp.

I know, I know all this off topic non bento stuff. I got one done this weekend so I'll post it in a couple of days.

Friday, June 8, 2012

NIAB: North Austin Trailer Yard

Ok one of my biggest complaints recently have been the unfair distribution of food trailers in Austin. THEY'RE ALL DOWN SOUTH OR EAST ok they are mostly down south and east, there's a random one or two that go north of downtown. Apparently this has changed, the North Austin Trailer Yard (NATY) opened up officially May 12, 2012. There's a modest amount of food trailers here but it's a great start. My girlfriend and I met with our friends Michael and Tina from Cooking for Engineers specifically to check out the Michi Ramen trailer but since I'm on the low carb thing I went and checked out the Big Fat Greek Gyros so I figure this post will be the start of my experiences at the NATY.

So my first stop was the Big Fat Greek Gyros. The owner seemed really nice. I think they're still trying to get their rhythm going. He kept apologizing for the wait, but having done a stint in a trailer and having eaten at a few other trailers waiting is par for the course and the wait time here was well within reasonable. So I shouted a 'you're fine no worries' trying to encourage him. He looked a little stressed.

Anyway they had a special on meatballs (it's not on the regular menu) and if there's meatballs in question then it's kind of an automatic that I'll order it. I couldn't quite make out what the owner was saying, it was something about the meatballs having marinated in a balsamic marinade, honestly he had me at meatball. He browned them on the griddle and resumed warming under some sort of oven/salamander. I thought the meatballs were very tasty and didn't have a lot of filler. They passed the "meat" of the meatball test, I hate meatballs full of bread binder and less actual meat. Michael and I agreed that if the meatballs spent a little more time heating thru it would have tasted even better. There was enough fat in the meatballs that the heat would have brought forth better flavors. Fortunately, I have leftovers that I can play with. They dusted both the meatball dish and my gyro with a blend of herbs, I think oregano and thyme and some other stuff.

Next I got the "Hercules Gyro". I didn't see him cut the meat off the giant rotisserie but he tossed them on the griddle so I'm not sure if the Hercules was different than the standard gyro or that he had cut some down for the previous guy and got mine too and finished mine off on the grill at the same time. Either way it was delicious. The tzatziki sauce tasted freshly made and the gyro was a pretty good size. Yummy! I'll be back I need to try out their other menu items. I read that the baklava was very good.

So onto the ramen truck. Michael got to speak with the owners of the trailers for some background information.  I don't know the full story but apparently they learned to make ramen noodles by hand from a Japanese chef but don't currently make it fresh as it'd be too costly a process (probably from labor) to scale and they may do so in the future. They do however get their noodles from the same place that the famous ramen joints in LA do.

So I don't really know what good ramen is. I've never had the ramen in LA or Houston apparently the stuff they have there is super bomb (that's the phase kids use these days right?). These places purportedly have huge lines and are really really famous. The quick explanation to me was that it's about the texture of the noodles, they had to have a certain amount of "chew" to them and the broth. Now just set aside that thought you have about that stuff you buy for a dime at the grocery store. We're talking a whole different beast here. The picture above is the "Michi" that is in a creamy broth. The meat is a Chashu which is a braised pork belly. Apparently there's a whole topic that can be made of Chashu I'll have to investigate further and make some.

This is the one Tina got which was a miso broth, the egg is a marinated soft boiled egg. Back to what makes good ramen the noodles here had a good "chew" I'd almost call it al dente but I don't think it's exactly like that. It's like a chew but not chewy. I'm not sure how to explain it. Noodles inevitably have to be bought. If you want to make them yourself then you have to dedicate a person to making noodles which gets expensive, so if everyone is sourcing from the best (or the same) then the only real differentiator is broth. If you go to their website they give you the details on their broth. They were not kidding this stuff left me speechless. Just one sip and there's all sorts of flavors going on. It's a very rich and hearty soup that was amazing. I can understand why they have been called the best ramen in Austin by my friends.

Here's a shot of the poached egg. The texture was really good almost as good as a sous vide poached egg. For food safety reasons (because they have to make ahead) they have to refrigerate the eggs. The downside here is that everyone agreed that the egg was too cold to fully enjoy the experience. I think the right thing to do here is upon deliver push the eggs to the bottom of the bowl. Put the cover on and let it warm up.   My girlfriend really loved the big bowl of yummy you can see from her big smile we'll be coming back to this place. You can see from the shot that it's a really large bowl of noodle soup.
Edit: apparently my girlfriend didn't like my picture so she had me take this down.

Ok I'll be whipping up another bento this weekend so stay tuned!