Ala Shanghai, Latham, NY

This restaurant is unassuming and unnoticeable when driving by. The first indicator that this restaurant is special is the large number of cars in the parking lot.  This authentic chinese food restaurant is a step above the rest. Unlike most, takeout is not the majority of their business.  They do have a takeout menu, but when entering, you see they have many tables packed with chinese families, groups of friends and the occasional “westerner.”

From the dim sum to the deserts (rice and red bean paste or egg soup with tapioca balls), everything was excellent and different from your usual chinese fare.

We did everything family style–the best way to do a meal.

What I tried:

A large pot of tea was given to us to start. We nursed it through the meal.

Starter

  • A5- Cucumber salad with sesame oil and scallions
    • a simple perfect starter. We kept it around and used it to cleanse the palate in between dishes.

Dim Sum

  • D5- Pork and Leek dumplings, steamed
    • You really cannot go wrong with pork and leeks.
  • D13- Wontons in Spicy flavor–Steamed wonton marinated with cucumber, scallion, sesame chili sauce and sesame seed.
    • These were very spicy, but very good. They were filled with something–some type of meat I think–and they were perfect.

Main Course

  • C17- Sizzling Lamb with Scallions–sautéed sliced lamb leg with scallion and Sha-cha sauce. Serve on a sizzling skillet.
    • The sizzling skillet made this a fun dish to order.
  • S9- Prawns with Honey Walnut– Light fried prawns marinated with House mayonnaise and surrounding by honey walnuts and broccoli.
    • Plan to hit the gym after. These tempura’d shrimp were covered in a sweet mayo. Fabulous, but very rich.
  • V17- Eggplant in Garlic Sauce– sautéed Chinese eggplant with minced pork in garlic sauce.
    • I loved the dish, but had mixed feelings. I love eggplant but the garlic sauce overshadowed the taste of eggplant. This is a good thing if you don’t like the taste of eggplant and love the eggplant texture, but a bad thing if you are the opposite. Because I both like the taste and texture of the eggplant, I still got the texture of it and the dish tasted good. I may order it again, or then again not because there are so many other options at this restaurant.

Dessert

  • E3- Eight Jewel Sticky Rice – Steamed sticky rice topped with dried fruit and stuffed with red bean paste in the middle.
    • FAVORITE. I love sticky rice. I loved this version. FABULOUS
  • E5- Tiny rice ball in Sweet Soup– Tiny rice ball with fermented glutinous rice and Osmanthus in sweet thick soup. For 2 servings
    • I liked it but not compared to the sticky rice. I could not even eat a quarter of it. Perhaps it was because of the feast we had earlier?  My partner of crime professed the dish perfect.

I would recommend this restaurant– a great place to take the family or a group of friends.  Get cosy with family style.

Ala Shanghai (
468 Troy Schenectady Rd
Latham, NY 12110

Website: http://alashanghai.net/

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Seoul Korean Restaurant, Latham, NY

One of my good friends from college is living in South Korea right now. She is having an amazing time and posting all of these photos of different cultural events as well as mouth-watering photos of korean food.  My favorite thing about travel is probably the food. I love exploring other cultures by exploring their food as well as the traditions and rituals that go with them.  I am not unfamiliar with Korean food or Korean culture.  I have had a Korean suite-mate and we cooked a bit of Korean food as well as having friends who were obsessed with Korean culture.  Despite this, or rather because of this, I wanted to explore Korea a bit more.  So, although I cannot book a plane over to Korea to experience some Korean culture and food, I decided to attempt to explore it on my own, here in the United States.

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This restaurant does not exist according to Google Maps. Seoul Korean Restaurant is located in the Peter Harris Plaza, 952 Troy-Schenectady Rd (AKA Route 7) in Latham.  This place, in an old but decent strip mall looks like a hole-in-the-wall.  Upon entering, we sat down at a table flanked by rice paper wall dividers. Looking at their menu, everything looked good and I had no idea what to order. The wonderful host was very accomadating as it took forever to order. When I told her everything looked good, she asked me a series of questions- Veggies? yes. Meat? yes. Spicy? yes. Chicken, Pork, shrimp, beef, seafood? Pork or Beef. She recommended a Beef and Korean vegetable stir fry with a spicy sauce.  I was sold.  My friend was starving and ordered 2 meals–Dolsot Bibimbap (Bibimbap is a bowl of rice with an egg cracked on top surrounded by spoonfull of various things– carrots, mung beans, beef, mushrooms) as well as a Kimchi Pancake.

The utensils given were chopsticks and nothing else which made me very happy. We were each given a little plate to put our food in.

Korean meals normally have little bowls of food that come regardless of what you order.  We were given 5 little bowls:

  1. Pickled Daikon (a Japanese Water Turnip) in a red sauce
  2. Mature Mung Bean salad (Mature enough to have the peanut-y crunch and taste)
  3. Seaweed Salad
  4. Marinated Fish cake strips with onions, carrots
  5. Kimchi

They were all very good. The kimchi was my least favorite because everything else as absolutely superb.  The pancake came first, and at this point, we decided we were going to share everything anyways.  Korean style meal.

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The pancake and the little bowls of food around it.  The Kimchi pancake was fabulous–despite me not being a fan of kimchi in general. It was crispy and tender on the inside and over all amazing. I prefered it plain than with the soy sauce because it just made it salty.  You could taste the pancake better.  While they call it a pancake, it is more like a pizza with 8 large slices.  I would recommend ordering it for a group of 6-8 people.  That being said, we finished most of it.

The rest of our food came…

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I am holding up my beef and Korean veggie stir fry (above) while my friends is in front of her Dolsot Bibimbap.

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Korean Rice is a short grain rice that it cooked until it is sticky.  It clumps together easily.  The bibimbap was served with a red bean paste sauce–a little bit spicy and sweet– which is a Korean staple. My Beef stir fry was very good. It was sweet and not very spicy and was amazing with the rice.  Throughout the meal we continued to work on all the dishes…

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Eventually, after a magnificent feast… a lot of the food disappeared (and some was packed up to take home).

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The bill came with two little jars of a tiny dessert drink.  The ingredients were as follows: Water, Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Skim Milk Powder, Glucose, Flavor, Culture.  With ingredients roughly translated to: Water, Sugar, Sugar, Milk powder, sugar, flavor, bacteria etc… we knew we were getting a fair amount of nutrition in this tiny drink.  But a little bit of food, despite how unhealthy it may be, cannot do terribly much harm. It tasted roughly as one would expect it to taste… like watered down sweetened milk with some ambiguous fruity flavor to it. It was not good, but it was not bad either.

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The food was fresh, good tasting, fun with generous portions and not too expensive. Although I doubt this food would be considered gourmet for Korean standards, as I am not a connoisseur of Korean food, I would not be able to tell the difference.  Like champagne, if you cannot tell the difference between barefoot bubbly and Perrier-Jouet, there is really no need to drink the Perrier-Jouet.  I definitely recommend it and plan drag my friends and family out to it frequently.

Berlin: Thai Market

So, this market is a little unusual.  It started around 1990.  It is located near a large Thai population and people would gather on the weekends in the park, bring picnics, and eat thai food.  People started trading and selling goods and foods until eventually, it grew into what it is today.

It is located in Pressen Park, near the U7 U-bahn Konstanzer Strasse.  Upon entry to the park, you can see this sign. It says it is illegal to have coolers that have more food than a family can eat, one is not allowed to sell food and that several other things.  The text on this sign is written in English, German and Thai.  You can read the text if you open up the full sized version.  You see, the local counsel is trying to shut the market down.

Now, why would they want to shut this down?  Well, the answer can be seen below.  If you can read German, you will see why.  The counsel has been paying 20,000 euros per year to clean up the trash in the park.  The counsel is no longer willing to pay this, so they hope that you will carry your own trash out.  Hopefully, people will carry their trash out and the market will not be shut down.

If you do visit, please bring a plastic bag to put your trash in.  If you want to be really good, then carry it with you until you get to the nearest non-park garbage can.  If you are going home via the U-bahn station, you have to carry it only a tenth of a mile.

This thai market is every Saturday and Sunday, although there are more vendors and people on Sunday.  About half of the people are there by noon and by two o’clock, the last of the vendors are setting up.

They tend to form a horseshoe shape, but there are outliers here and there.  Each vendor sits in approximately the same place every time.

The vendors tend to be little old Thai ladies.  They set up on mats on the ground, put umbrellas up for shade, but their coolers beside them and have portable burners to cook stuff on.  A lot of the vendors sell fried food that they will fry up in front of you.  Some of the most common fried foods are thai chicken wings, spring rolls, chicken, pork or fish skewers served with cucumber and peanut satay sauce, fried potato patties, fried whole fish, etc.

Other vendors sell drinks.  One vendor sold mojitos.  Now, mojitos are not thai in origin.  But honestly, with the mint and the lime in them, I can only imagine that it would be a good combo.  They also sell thai iced coffee, thai iced tea and other thai drinks.  You can find several vendors that sell cans of soda, sugary drinks, water and beer.

You see, this would not be allowed to exist in the United States.   It would violate too many food safety regulations.  You see, some of the women do not wear gloves, while others wear a glove on just one hand.  Often times, there is only one person working, while other people are sitting and chatting on mats close by to take over should the worker need to run to the bathroom or trade off shifts.  This means that the same person handles and the food.

I should have been nervous eating here the first time, and I was.  I had read up on it, and knew that people went here on a frequent basis, it was well established and it was on many lists of things to do in Berlin.  So I figured, of one vendor made people sick, then no one would buy from them.  Also, my first trip, I ate a fried spring roll and soup that had been boiling when it left the pot.  I figured that any bacteria would have died when the food was being fried or boiled.

Another great thing about this market is the clientele.  This is why I believe it is authentic Thai food.   Lots of Thai people purchase and eat the food from the vendors. Families go to this market and eat the food.  They spread their mats out and spend the day eating, socializing, napping and playing.  Plenty of non-Thai locals do this too.   It is a perfect thing to do on a Saturday or Sunday.

The adults can socialize while the children play.

The first and second time I visited, I had soup.  It was a clear broth with vermicelli (rice noodles), greens, pork and these meat balls, bean sprouts and peanuts.  It came in reusable bowls with the chinese spoon and chopsticks.  You could help yourself to the condiments including sugar, pickled peppers, fish sauce (nước mắm in Vietnamese, nam pla in Thai), chili powder and ground chilies in oil.

The second time I came, I had the same soup above and I tried a spring roll.  I accidentally dropped my first one, but the lady saw and was nice enough to replace it for free.  The spring roll had some corn in it.  It was very good and still tasted traditional.

We also ordered chicken satay with a peanut satay sauce and cucumber.  After that, I tried some meat on a stick and some Thai iced tea.

On my third visit, I was more adventurous.  Well, maybe it was because the people I was with were more adventurous that I was.  When I was in Greece, I had octopus and squid, and it was fabulous.  I had been craving it ever since.  I pointed the squid out to the people I was with and told them I had not had the guts to get it. Their response was, well, lets try it now.  Okay.

After we ordered it, she put the squid back in the pan to cook it some more and make sure it was nice and hot.  After that, she asked me in German if I wanted sauce on it (at least I think she did) and I said yes.  The sauce she poured over it was a hot chili sauce with a flavorful but liquidy base.  It was served with some thinly sliced lettuce and a lime wedge.  I had it in hand and was ready to eat it!

It was fabulous.  After that, we moved on to other foods.  One lady was selling food wrapped in leaves.  She said that one was banana and the other was taro.   When we opened them, we found that they were sticky coconut rice balls filled with banana and taro that had been fired.  The taro one was a triangle, and the banana one was in the shape of a cylinder.  You can see the toothpick that was used to hold the thing together when firing.  The charred edges seem to indicate that very high temperatures were used.

The banana one had beans in it as well.  You can see them below.

They were so good.  After that, we purchased a tray of 4 summer rolls and sat down to ate them.  One of them was shrimp, another was tofu and then there was a chicken one and a pork one.

From them on, one person would get up, buy the group some food and then bring it back.

The first round of that, we had fried vegetable patties, fried, breaded shrimp, and fried breaded sardines, all smothered in sweet thai chili sauce.   The photo below shows the sardines and the shrimp.  We had already eaten the patties when this photo was taken.

The next round of food was brought to us and it was more of the sardines, shrimp, and patties.  In addition to that, we each had a skewer of chicken and pork, smothered in peanut satay sauce, and served with cucumber.  After we ate that, we were almost full, but it was my turn to get the food.  I got one big pork bun, some fried bananas with sesame seeds and a Thai iced tea and a thai iced coffee.  I figured if we were getting full, we should finish up with dessert.

After that, we walked around the park for a while and then headed home.

So, on my fourth visit, I went alone.  I had just finished my run, and had not eaten that day.  I decided to boost my sugar quickly and get some more of those fired coconut rice balls with banana and taro wrapped in leaves.  Because I did not find the other vendor I we bought them from before, I tried out a new vendor.

Since they were a euro each, I got one of each.  The first one I ate I honestly have no idea of what it is.  It was coconut something surrounding something that was amazing, but nonetheless a mystery.  I think it was a type of fruit, but other than that, I have no idea.

The second one however, was exactly like I thought it would be.  Rice made sticky with coconut milk with a banana in the center.  I think I prefered the banana and taro rice things that I had the previous visit.  The taro and the mystery thing above were the best.

After that lovely start, I decided to try another place for the main course.  I found this vendor who cooked whatever you want to order.  The meal was 5 euros.

I watched her make what looked like Pad Thai.  Then she made a stir fry with chicken and bamboo shoots and served it over rice.

Then she made Pad See Ew.

It looked so good, I decided to order it for myself.  I could have had any meat I wanted to, but I decided to stick with tofu.

Viola! The final product.  See that red stuff in the bottom?  That is chili powder to make it very spicy.  I mixed all of it in and ate it.  It was really good and really hot.