Whenever I talk with someone about going gluten-free, the conversation always turns to the same subject -- what foods do you miss the most? Actually it goes more like this... I say I've gone gluten-free and am feeling great, and they say, "My doctor told me to try a gluten-free diet, but I could never give up bread." It's a funny thing, but I can count on a single hand how many times I've craved bread since going gluten-free. I've had one gluten-free sandwich so far, in more than five months. I'm a long-time sandwich addict, and yet I don't miss them one bit. I've tried a lot of gluten-free pizza, but I'm not really missing it either. I wouldn't say I was craving cookies, but I've been taking baby steps back into baking lately, so my sweet tooth is satisfied. And I can boil up some Jovial spaghetti any time to fill my need for pasta.Noodles are what I miss the most -- Asian noodles. Udon, soba, ramen, lo mein, chow fun, you name it. I was a total addict before going gluten-free. Vietnamese rice noodle dishes are pretty satisfying, but they're not quite the same to me, so I've been on a quest to find rice noodles with some bite to them. A little heartier or earthier maybe, and not so slippery. Something that holds the sauce a bit better. On a crazy food crawl to Queens with Jackie, Ken and Margaret, we ended up at Fei Long Market in Dyker Heights. They've got a noodle selection like nothing I've ever seen before, so while my foodie friends were combing the entire massive market, I was reading the ingredients list of every package in the noodle aisle.These Egret brand Fuzhou rice sticks are just what I was looking for. They cook up dense and chewy, not like some of those brown rice pastas which fall apart so easily if overcooked. The trouble is, I can't find these particular rice stick noodles anywhere else, and Dyker Heights is really out of the way. I've combed the shops of Manhattan's Chinatown without success. I checked out my local Vietnamese markets as well. It looks like another trip to Fei Long is in my future. So how did I cook them for the dish above? That's kind of a funny story. There was a recipe I'd been wanting to try from a popular blog, and it was a disaster. Imagine a bowl of 1 1/2 cups of sliced scallions with just a few tablespoons of liquid... yikes, that's not a sauce at all. (Sorry, but some bloggers really need editors, myself included!) Instead I had to improvise, but you probably know how the combination goes -- soy sauce (gluten-free of course), rice vinegar, ginger, the scallions, sesame oil, chili oil (or something else spicy), and then a sweetener if you'd like. Finally you taste the sauce and make it spicier, sweeter, saltier, or whatever you'd prefer.Fortunately I've usually got a block of tofu in the fridge because fried tofu turns a simple noodle dish into a real meal. I used to be afraid of frying tofu, but I've finally got the hang of it. Now if I can just stock up on those yummy noodles, maybe I can finally satisfy my cravings.
It must be travel season, because I've been getting a lot of requests for tips on places to eat in NYC. I'm going to list a few must-trys for people who like "cheap eats," but I'm seeking some dining tips too! I'll be in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia next week, and I need some foodie suggestions. So if you'e got any ideas, please post a comment. I'm very into food trucks and cart food, and basically anything that isn't already on the most popular list in the local Zagat guide. For NYC, first up is Lan Zhou. I've raved about it before, and I'll rave again. They've got amazing hand-pulled noodle soups, and it's fun watching the guy stretch your noodles at the other end of the restaurant. But it's the fried dumplings that always astound me. You might get other tips about where to get dumplings like these in NYC -- ignore them all, because nothing else comes even close.Next up, Xi'an, another place I've raved about before. The address is listed as 88 East Broadway, but this is a standing-room-only shop on Forsyth Street, around the corner. Get a pork burger and a lamb burger, but don't forget about the noodles. I've tried at least eight of the dishes, and they are always astounding. Watch them make your food right before your eyes (like rolling out your noodles by hand), and assume you'll be standing on the street to eat your meal (although there is some seating downstairs in the 88 East Broadway building). Important Update: If you're more of an East Village person, you're in luck -- this weekend Xi'an is opening a new location on St. Mark's just west of 1st Avenue in the space that used to be Seoul Station, and they actually have seats! Finally, Num Pang. Yes, I've raved about this one before too. NYC has a lot of banh mi shops, but I say skip them all and head straight here instead for Num Pang's Cambodian-style sandwiches. The catfish is always a winner, although I think they changed the recipe recently. I suggest going with friends, ordering 2 or 3 varieties, and sharing. And note, there is a small seating area upstairs.So there you have it -- three great tips. Again, if you've got any D.C. and Philly dining tips, please post a comment!