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What a ChowDown! Lowell!

Eight Hounds piled into their cars and trekked to Lowell for a 5 hour ChowDown! (Really! Well, it did include some shopping time...)

Many thanks to Galangatron for picking wonderful places and making great suggestions for our meal. He'll add in the correct names of items, I'm sure, and pics will be added to this thread, also! (Thanks, duxyak, for your hard work- amply rewarded!)

We started off at PHO 88 (VietNamese), in a strip mall but certainly not a hole in the wall, with a delicious, huge Goat HotPot - filled with delicious meat (on the bone but easily bitten off) a complex broth, two plates of very fresh add-ins (taro, tofu, greens, lotus, and on and on) and a wonderful tofu-based sauce, creamy, with chili or hot pepper flakes and a citrus-y tang - one of the special hits of the afternoon. (I've got a container of it waiting for me in my fridge...)

We also ordered a Snail Salad, with the snail sliced very thin, on a lovely Vietnamese salad with a dressing that had a "brightness" to it (both the salad and the dressing) - led me to think that they know how to prepare even simple things like this salad with care, freshness, and tang.

One detail: The HotPot was huge (but we scarfed it down!) and cost $35 - so ask - as we did - if the price isn't on the menu.

On to our second wonder of the day, TEPTHIDA KHMER, a lovely Cambodian place where we had Natang - an appetizer of curried pork on rice cakes, also with " tang" and thoroughly enjoyed; an incredible Loc Lac, caramelized beef with a peppery lime dipping sauce, and finally Teuk Prahoc Sach Ko, grilled beef w prahoc dipping sauce. Unlike the dish we had at Floating Rock, where the "funkiness" of the prahoc was overwhelming and the dish was enjoyed (as something new) but went unfinished - Here, the prahoc became the base of an interesting, complex dipping sauce, and this dish was eaten to the last bite!

Time for a break! Shoppers, on your mark...! Galangatron brought us to Battambang Market, a large, clean, interestingly stocked and well labeled market, where the cooks in the group (everyone but me!) indulged in fresh, unusual herbs, fresh lychees, and more...

OK, time for more food! On to PHIEN'S KITCHEN, our Laotian stop of the day, for Larb (beef, chili, and mint), Papaya Salad, a special Bamboo Shoot Sour Soup that Galangatron had pre-ordered, that had a distintive, great "earthy" tone, a grilled Sausage that was raved over, and a wonderful (sorry for my lack of descriptive powers and creativity!) dessert - a mound of purple rice with custard topping. What a great end to a great day!

Others, I hope, will pipe up with correct names and more detailed descriptions of ingredients...

One practical note: We would recommend bringing maps with street names with you; while all were easy to find, some streets are not well "signed", and it's easy to make a wrong turn!

PS - Unfortunately, our Crew is overflowing at this point, so we can't offer an open invitation, but here are a couple of links with how-to's, for those who would like to set up their own!

This one is for ChowDowns - I'd offer the suggestion that you pick a time and place and post/sticky it - Keeps it simple for the organizer!

This one's for ChowCrews - a group of Hounds who eat together regularly!

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  1. do you have addresses incl the market

    1 Reply
    1. re: foodperv

      Thanks to galangatron:

      pho 88
      1270 westford st
      lowell, ma 01851
      (978) 452-7300

      tepthida khmer
      115 chelmsford st
      lowell, ma 01851
      (978) 453-1694

      battambang supermarket
      125 church street
      lowell, ma 01851
      (978) 454-1128

      phien's kitchen
      586 westford st
      lowell, ma 01851
      (978) 441-0014

    2. Definitely a ChowDown for the annals, in a city I now realize I visit far too seldom. And what a treat to go with people who gravitate to the more unusual menu items (snails! goat! prahoc dipping sauce!) rather than more mainstream offerings.

      Lots of memorable dishes, but standouts for me were all three of the Cambodian offerings plus the papaya salad and larb at Phien’s Kitchen, both of which have chili kicks that had us dabbing at our noses. (NB: larb is loaded with slices of tripe, should that be a problem for some.) Plus the purple sticky rice dessert, covered with egg custard and coconut sauce, which had several of us subtly jockeying for third and fourth spoonfuls, and is probably worth a return trip to Lowell all by itself.

      Battambang Market also has me recalculating my cost-benefit ratio for shopping for Asian groceries: with plenty of exotic produce, deals like 14 limes for $1 and ginger for $.99/lb wherever one looks, and ample free parking, this could easily become my new favorite destination for stocking the larder.

      Photos are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/84539512...

      21 Replies
      1. re: NoNatto

        my b/f lives in lowell and we recently discoverd the bada-bing market. ;) prices rival haymarket on many items, they have amazing greens and every conceivable "off-cut" of meat. the place is spotlessly clean too.

        will put phien's kitchen on the list of to-try.

        downtown lowell is very walkable and easily navigable. park the car and explore.

        1. re: hotoynoodle

          do they carry any kind of selection of offal?

          1. re: ScubaSteve

            Pretty much everything but the squeal. Fish too (including live blue crabs).

            1. re: Aromatherapy

              well then, i'll have to check this out.
              would love to find me some kidneys and sweetbreads.

            2. re: ScubaSteve

              omg, yes. from snout to tail, with stuff i have never seen.

              intense google searching wasn't much help, so much of it was so far out for western cooks. i don't speak khmer, so don't know if that would have yielded better results.

              3 kinds of tripe, every kind of foot, lots of tongue, livers, gizzards, heart, spleen, kidney, anus, "uterus", oxtail; the mundane shin and flank. i've only been 3 times. bevy.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  About learning new things at the market: A very nice woman who was shopping at Battambang was very friendly and helpful about odd bits of info - I think she was very pleased to see us non-SEAsians enjoying this food!

                  So - after my experience in NY in a Szechuan hole-in- the-wall resto, with no English, where it turned out several of the customers were bi-lingual - I'd suggest asking the shoppers around you if any were interested in helping you for a moment! A big smile might get you lots of info!

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    anus??? how does one prepare that?

                    1. re: Prav

                      skewered and grilled over charcoal. usually brushed with a yummy soy based sweet sauce during cooking

                        1. re: ScubaSteve

                          anthony bourdain ate it in namibia on "no reservations". the clip is on youtube. suffice to say he is not a fan, lol.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            yah, butt, it was not cleaned, and cooked directly on the coals.

                            1. re: ScubaSteve

                              haha, mr punster. indeed. funny clip though.

                    2. re: hotoynoodle

                      do you have an address for Bada-Bing? the Google is coming up blank, except for this thread.

                        1. re: hargau

                          i know where That is.
                          i was responding to Hotoy's post which said Bada-Bing. i thought it was an Italian Market.


                          1. re: ScubaSteve

                            You cant ever tell who is responding to whom on this forum. Why they chose to reinvent the wheel and write their own forum software, nobody will ever know.. Vbulletin and others are so much easier to follow

                            1. re: ScubaSteve

                              sorry about the bada bing remark. my b/f and i call it that as a joke. no pole dancers at the market.

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                Hey, hotoy - I enjoyed the joke! And I bet ScubaSteve did, too, once he "got" it! (Or maybe he was joking, too, when he asked where it was!)

                                1. re: fredid

                                  no, i really thought it was an Italian Butcher.

                    3. Yes, some of those dishes had us sniffling with delight!

                      It was so interesting to sample the cuisines of the three countries, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, consecutively, because it highlighted the similarities and the differences. Real standouts for me were the Natang rice cakes (Tepthida) and the Bamboo Shoot Sour Soup (Phien''s), both so deliciously different in taste and texture from anything I've had. The Battambang market seemed to cater to the Cambodian population in particular, as opposed to most Asian markets in Boston which are used by a broader public, and, like NoNatto says, it really is not that far.

                      Many thanks again to Galangatron for planning the whole outing down to the last bite! (his knowledge of SE Asian cuisines is really awesome).

                      1. A few fine points to add on to fredid's, NoNatto's and cassis's already detailed descriptions.....

                        The snail salad at PHO 88 (VietNamese) was sea snail, not land snail so the taste and texture were more like a sea anemone that escargot. The menu was just huge - filled with familiar vietnamese staples but multiple pages of items not found in even the best Boston spots, like Xinh Xinh. The sauce for the hot pot was unbelievably good - silken tofu whipped with sugar, chili and lime which added a great spicy/sweet counterpoint to the richness of the goat and vegetables. The staff was incredibly accommodating and eager - at noon, it was clear we were the only non-Vietnamese, non-locals in a sizeable and crowded restaurant.

                        TEPTHIDA KHMER is definitely more on the beaten path - it is stylized (as opposed to hole in the wall) and its spring rolls have been mentioned in ths month's Yankee magazine, of all things. The restaurant is definitely gearing to a weekday luch crowd in it's marketing, but the full menu has a great array of authentic Khmer dishes. Although it's a standard Cambodian dish, hands down this was the best loc lac I ever tasted. The meat was perfectly cooked and caramelized, which worked perfectly with the tart lime pepper dipping sauce. Prices were quite reasonable, with most appetizers under $7 and most entrees under $15.

                        PHIEN'S KITCHEN is a hole in the wall, but a good one at that. This was my first experience with Laotian food, and while the menu read like a Thai/Cambodian cross (makes sense, right?), the flavors were earthier, less tangy, with a far less pronounced nam pla/dried shrimp paste base than Thai and a less refined approach than Cambodian. The food was quite good, but more pronounced single notes than delicate balanced flavors: larb (spice!), bamboo soup (macerated greens!), sausage (smoke!). The dessert of sticky purple rice layered with coconut flakes and custard was the exception - it's flavors and textures were surprising and subtle.

                        A delicious road trip, well worth leaving the 617.

                        1. And how much, you might ask, did all this delicious food set us back? Well, incl tax and tip, let me see - $21 each! One more way to inspire all you Hounds to create some new ChowCrews!

                          1. the highlights for me were the goat hot pot (lau de) from pho 88, the loc lac from tepthida khmer, and the beef larb (larp seen), papaya salad (tum mak hoong), and bamboo shoot soup (gang no mai) from phien's kitchen. the purple sticky rice topped with egg custard and coconut cream is always a crowd pleaser too

                            1. Lowell has a Folk Music festival every summer (say July) with a wide variety of ethinc street food.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: JohnnyQ1960

                                Yup! And ChowHounders will be there! It's just abt the only time I wish I had an IPhone or followed Twitter to get up-to-the-minute tips! But many of us will post before and during, so keep a lookout - Maybe it'll be time for that ol' talked-about Hound signal!

                                1. re: JohnnyQ1960

                                  it's july 24-25-26. music is all free and the food is awesome, and mostly local folks. amazing what a diverse community lowell is.

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    The music is awesome, too - the musical equivalents of the best multicultural hole in the walls! Home-grown music from cultures and subcultures from around the globe - just like we like to eat!

                                  2. re: JohnnyQ1960

                                    and, for a southeast asian slant of food, there is the Southeast Asian Water Festival on 8/15, along the mighty Merrimack!


                                    1. re: amatto

                                      Despite the fact that the flash slide show format for the food photos was probably the most annoying I've ever seen, this festival looks great! have you been? The food looks like there's a more varied SEA selection than at the Lowell Folk Festival. Can you comment?

                                      1. re: galleygirl

                                        i've only been to the folk festival. it covers a lot more bases, including african, haitian, brazilian and greek.

                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                          Yes, I've done the Folk Festival, too, and happily dine on whatever is at the Portuguese booth, maybe some fattoush form a MiddleEastern stand, usually with a green papaya salad if one of the Lao booths is grinding by hand, (back near Boardinghouse Park). But aside from the, the SEA options are usually pretty ordinary, and the same at each booth. Here, they seemed more varied....

                                          1. re: galleygirl

                                            The Southeast Asian Water Festival is ALL ABOUT the Southeast Asian
                                            cuisine!! It is true there are a lot of stands with beef-on-stick and such, but
                                            there is nothing _but_ SEA food there, so there is a pretty good variety of

                                            Not so exotic, but I like the sticky rice, slightly sweetened with coconut,
                                            cooked in bamboo, so when you buy one they pull out a large knife and
                                            hack at the bamboo to break it open..mmm..yum..

                                            I do highly recommend the event. In addition to the food, they do have,
                                            in the past, had (Cambodian) dancing demonstrations, a beauty contest,
                                            Cambodian rap (erk) and other things. I believe it is a big event among
                                            the Cambodian community in the Northeast US.

                                  3. Zowie!! Now that's a chowdown! Thanks for the great tips for my next visit to Lowell.

                                    1. My favs were the redolent goat hot pot and the snail salad for it's many textures - abalone-like chewiness of the microthin, translucent shavings of snail. I'm happy Galangatron special ordered to bamboo shoot sour soup w/it's plethora of herbal ingredients and flavors. I, especially, love that we include ethnic markets whenever we can in our adventures.

                                      1. Nice report, thanks for sharing !

                                        Question: did the goat hotpot (lau thit de) also require pre-ordering (as it sometimes does) ?

                                        Also wonder if noodles were served in addition to the greens, fermented bean curd, etc. I seem to recall noodles being an accompaniment with other versions, but not sure if it's de rigeur.

                                        The sausage (cha lua / sal oua) at Phien's looks much better than the standard-fare Vietnamese sausages one more often encounters. (side-note: reminds me that I had what seemed like an attempt at Isan-style sausage at Montien that was not bad - predominantly sweet, but a subtle sour funk - makes me curious about the rest of their offerings)

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Nab

                                          we didn't have to pre-order the goat hot pot but the waiter had to check with the kitchen and see if it was available. it was served with a plate of fresh vegetables (chinese watercress, napa cabbage, taro, lotus roots, etc), yellow egg noodles, and bean curd sauce

                                        2. I have always been a huge fan of Tepthida Khmer. They serve some of the authentic tasting S.E. Asian/Cambodian food I have ever had in this area. The woman who runs the place and the very friendly and gracious waitstaff plus a restaurant that is impeccably clean make Tepthida Khmer a great place to go when you are in the food for this type of food. My favorite dishes are: Loc Lac, Cha Greung, the Seafood Salad and the Drunken Noodles. Very fresh flavors, well prepared and presented and very reasonable prices. I really hope this place survives the current recession because it is wonderful to be able to have access to food this unusual and this good in our area.

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: RoyRon

                                            Authentic? I think the consensus is that the prahok is extremely dumbed down for american tastes and nice though Tepthida Khmer is (white tablecloths etc) it is aimed at folks getting used to the cuisine as opposed to places like Red Rose which are for the cambodian / loatian folks.
                                            And to answer the other point raised I have been to the river boat festival about six times and loved it every time. the stalls are great, there are buddhist monks with their ceremonies. And someone up there must love them because every time I have gone it has been a beautiful sunny day. One of the few times my husband tolerates meordering a durian bubble tea and indulging.
                                            This is already on our calendar.
                                            oh and DO NOT believe anything about them providing a bus, they have claimed that many times and I only saw it ever happen once years ago. I think tehy just use a web page template that hasnt ahd that part removed.

                                            1. re: Janeinma

                                              Jane - Just a quick note/impression - Although clearly Tepthida Khmer also caters to "newbies" to this cuisine, or those who would like milder versions (we did have a good laugh looking at their printed lunch/takeout menu!) - our bunch are adventurous and experienced chowers - Galangatron, esp., is VERY familiar with Cambodian food - and we had a great time!

                                              That being said, it's also true that when we had another prahoc dish at Floating Rock (mentioned above) whose prep made for a much stronger "funkiness", we didn't finish it between the eight of us!

                                              1. re: fredid

                                                I applaud your inroads to cambodian food, I know my tastes are extreme, we were extremely disappointed by how dumbed down the Tepthida Khmer is and that extended to every dish we tried regardless of choosing tehir more extreme dishes. We cant get enough of the strongest prahok and find lesser dishes less than optimal.
                                                I was just saying that the term authentic was not used in the proper context here. I do not think it DOES serve authentic food BUT it does serve versions of cambodian food in a beautiful and cheap environment. I rank the food in the same league as the Elephant Walk, a great start but not gritty enough to be really authentic.
                                                Personally we find if the waitress warns us about the possibility we may not be able to enjoy this as a wonderful pointer we have ordered the right dish.

                                                Not sure if prahok is a dish that you get more used to in time, when we first encountered it at t the red rose we ate every drop.
                                                it probably isnt an allowed discussion here as to whether such dishes become more palatable in time or just depend on people's personal choices that do not change.

                                                1. re: Janeinma

                                                  Hey, Jane! Makes perfect sense to me that tastes differ, especially for the more unusual things we might encounter - I just wanted to clarify for others that a bunch of picky, experienced Cambodian food eaters did find this food very tasty - so they can draw their own judgment about whether it's "worth" a visit for them!

                                                  Re: the use of the word "authentic" - I don't think we actually said that - but it's also hard, sometimes, to find other words to say that this food (cooked in the good old USA! with all the limits that might imply) tastes like it might be "close" to what one might find in the "home" country of the food - Important info, no?, for those of us stuck without plane fare and vacation time! I'm sure we'd all love to travel and eat the "real" stuff wherever it might be!

                                                  1. re: fredid

                                                    Royron's direct quote to which I was replying was this
                                                    'I have always been a huge fan of Tepthida Khmer. They serve some of the authentic tasting S.E. Asian/Cambodian food I have ever had in this area.'
                                                    To help folks I think it is fair to say tepithida Khmer is a good place to start but when it starts to pall try expanding to places like Floating Rock and Red Rose.

                                                    1. re: Janeinma

                                                      Galleymom and I love Mittapheap in Lynn, definetely as authentic as Floating Rock, a little more luxurious...

                                          2. based on this report The Kid an I checked out Pho 88 and Battambang market yesterday.

                                            we sat at the bar at Pho 88 and had very good service from the smiling bartender.
                                            we started with the Shrimp Toast which were piping hot and pretty yummy with my only quibble being the the bread was a bit too thick.
                                            next up was the Snail Salad that we really liked. as others have said it is Sea Snail so it had a nice almost-crunch and a bright oceany flavor. the veg mixed with the snail was pretty yummy but maybe a bit too sweet, i'd of liked a little more funk from some fish sauce.
                                            we asked whether the soft shell crab was fresh or previously frozen and being assured it was fresh we ordered the Chef Special Soft Shell Crab. it was pretty meh. tasting obviously previously frozen and sporting a poor tempura style coating that was chewy, it was probably our least favorite dish.
                                            we also had the Spring Rolls which were a little gummy and fairly pedestrian.
                                            lastly we tried their Grilled Quail and while the sauce was reminiscent of the quail at Xinh Xinh i thought the quail were a bit small, definitely not the chubby fellows Xinh Xinh serves.

                                            it was a pretty good meal that with three '33' beers and a few Sprites came to about $62 excluding tip.

                                            we may be back but were not in any hurry.

                                            we did really enjoy the Guess That Offal Game at Battambang but were otherwise unimpressed by their selection of fruits. produce, on the other hand, beat the best days at C-Mart.

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: ScubaSteve

                                              We used to go to Pho 88 weekly. Looks like you got all apps. You missed the only app i really enjoy there, the special chicken wings. You get 4 really large wing sections fried with a thick shell coating on them and then served with a really tasty sweet/spicy/sticky sauce.

                                              Other then that the beef pho is the best thing on the menu. Or if you like tripe or any of the other pho choices. Im not a fan of the seafood or the chicken pho though, they dont have the same tasty broth.

                                              Also usually get a Bubble Tea. Some flavors are made with powders others with fruit.

                                              We rarely go anymore because the Pho tends to leave me dying of thirst the rest of the night. Must have 10,0000% of the recommended daily sodium in it!

                                              My favorite place to eat in Lowell is South East Asia. Especially if you like really spicy food. If they say its spicy it really is, unlike most places i try spicy food. The lunch buffet is great but you have to get there right at the very start as sometimes they slack on filling stuff back up. Depends on how many people are there of course.

                                              1. re: hargau

                                                funny you should mention the wings. the bartender thought we had ordered the wings instead of the quail but since The Kid is a big quail fan we passed on them.

                                                we thought of the Pho but we weren't really in the Pho-mood. if we do go back we'll absolutely give it a shot.

                                                good call on SEA, we do like spice and will try that out as well.

                                              2. re: ScubaSteve

                                                SS, huge regular of Pho 88 here. I have not had anything you tried, other than the spring rolls that are always gummy because of the rice paper they use. I actually love the Chewyness of them because I can savor their flavor more.

                                                I am a huge fan of their BBQ Pork and BBQ Chicken and usually get one of them as the meat in either their rice plates, or bun plates with their Fish Sauce. The fresh flavors that erupt from these dishes are spectacular. But the ultimate is getting the BBQ Chicken with #38A on the menu: http://www.pho88online.net/menu.cfm The sauce they put in this stir fry dish makes me wanna lick the plate.

                                                The Chicken Wings that Hargau mentioned are very tasty, but they are also very heavy because of the thick coating.

                                                1. re: mjg0725

                                                  i didn't see any BBQ options on the menu, otherwise we prolly would of done a sampler.

                                                  1. re: ScubaSteve

                                                    Your right, it's hidden on the menu. That's probably why it took me so long to discover it too! BBQ pork is listed under the Rice Plate options. I tried it once and loved it. Then the bartender mentioned that they also do a BBQ Chicken too. I always request it now.

                                                    I want to explore more of the menu, but I am so happy with what I get, I crave it all the time. I once had the lemongrass chicken dish and it was excellent. It was boneless chicken pieces braised in a milky broth, that was very spicy and had a lot of seasonings in it, with a very intense lemongrass flavor. I really gotta try some of their whole fish offerings, I am sure I'd be very happy.

                                                    I love the Pho too, but not so much in the summer.

                                                      1. re: ScubaSteve

                                                        Actually i will suggest to you something i got by mistake and couldnt eat very much of, just not my thing. Butt it sounds like your thing and i could tell that if it was my thing it would have been good. S7 the hue city soup. What the menu doesnt tell you is its loaded with tripe, blood pudding, pigs feet, etc...bright red spicy broth. Seems to be a big hit amongst the vietnamese patrons.