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!
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...
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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!