Monday, September 04, 2006

Meme: Things to Eat Before You Die

I've been tagged by fellow foodblogger friend, Passionate Eater for the Things to Eat Before You Die Meme, started by Traveler's Lunchbox.

The concept is simple, name five food items or experiences that you "know and love and couldn't imagine not having tasted".

So without further ado, here are my five.

1. Soto Ayam - Indonesian Chicken Soup

This is one of my favorite dishes. What is it? Chicken soup, Indonesian style. The best version (other than my mom's), in my opinion, comes from my hometown of Semarang. In a ramshackle structure built of spare aluminum siding and tattered fabric, the family that owns this street-side "warung" wakes up every morning before dawn preparing simmering vats of soto, a shredded chicken soup seasoned with turmeric and other spices. Order a bowl and you see them assemble your breakfast. Rice, bean thread noodles, celery leaves and diced green onion go in first. Then it is doused with the clear, hot chicken broth, garnished with aromatic golden fried crumbled garlic and shallots. But no bowl of soto is complete without some sort of side dish. The most common one is perkedel, a deep-fried mashed potato fritter. My favorite side dish, though, is a bowl of soy-stewed bloody-clams and a hard-boiled egg. The kecap manis it is steeped in imparts a deep, sweet flavor and a dark, brown color; the perfect accompaniment to the bright yellow of the soup.

2. Aged Steak

Remember the scene in The Matrix when one character decides to betray his friends, Neo and Morpheus, in exchange for a return to life inside the Matrix where he could be blissfully unaware of reality, and occasionally enjoy a dinner of rare steak? Besides the fact that he's a backstabber, can you really blame him? Is life worth living if you have to eat gruel everyday, never able to indulge in a melt-in-your-mouth, tender-as-silk, carnally-satisfying, bloody-as-hell, flavorful-beyond-words piece of aged beef steak?

3. Nigiri Sushi

And I don't mean just any nigiri sushi. It must be prepared by a sushi master, like Shibutani of Sushi Shibucho in Costa Mesa or Urasawa in L.A. These chef-owners have a vested stake in their establishments and a reputation to uphold, so they take it upon themselves to trek out to the dockside seafood supplier every morning at the pre-dawn hours to claim the freshest, most vibrant specimens to bring back for their patrons. These guys know as much about buying fish as they do about the craft of making sushi. And when you do them the honor of requesting "Omakase", they will reward your trust with one of the most not-to-be-missed food experiences of your life.

4. Durian

It's been called the vilest fruit on earth. Its aroma is likened to decaying flesh, rotten onions, dirty gym socks, fetid cheese, and not just individually, but together. Hotels in South Asia forbid the consumption of it on their premises. At the sight of splitting one open, Tony Bourdain said the durian lobes looked like premature human fetuses. Hyperboles aside, it really isn't that scary. Stinky yes, but is it delicious? Absolutely! The taste, look, and texture of it, to me, is similar to soft, yellow egg custard that's been permeated with methane gas. The smell of it does travel into your sinuses when you eat it. It snakes down your gullet and up into your nostrils, enveloping your entire head in a durian-induced haze.

5. Sate Gule Kambing - Indonesian Goat Satay and Goat Curry

This is actually two dishes made from goat ("kambing"); one is a murky soup and the other is the grilled meat skewered on sticks. Eventhough both dishes are unique in and of themselves, these two distinct preparations are meant to be eaten together. Like "fish and chips", you simply cannot have one without the other. Unlike fish and chips though, the soup is the "yin" to the sate's "yang". The whole meal becomes a perfect balance of asymmetric flavors and textures. The soup, called gule (pronounced 'guh-lay'), is curry-based. Made from simmering the bones and the fatty, gristly meat of the goat in a big pot, it is rich and unctuous. But the consistency is surprisingly light and thin on the palate -- more like a finely tuned broth than curry. The subtle creaminess of coconut milk balances and tames the complex spices at work. The sate (pronounced "sa-tay"), on the other hand, is simply prepared. To make it, the most tender pieces of the goat is cut and threaded onto bamboo skewers. Then the skewers are cooked quickly over a smoky charcoal fire. As soon as they are just about done they get brushed with a glaze made from a simple mixture of kecap manis, lime juice, and white pepper. As soon as the goat satay is plucked from the fire, the two dishes are enjoyed in concert with hot rice. I alternate between tearing a chunk of meat from the sate stick with my teeth and then taking a long sip of the hot soup.


Now, customarily, I would tag five other bloggers to continue this meme, but then I thought, why should bloggers have all the fun? If you are reading this, then you should have five items of your own to add. The comment board is always open.


At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very exotic five choices Elmo Monster! I am sweating here, while dreaming about your soup and curry choices. Thank you for sharing!

At 4:18 AM, Blogger melissac. said...

holy moley! how exactly does one narrow it down to just five? my favorite foods are nothing as exotic as yours. i like macaroni and cheese. or gummy bears. i always read your blogs for ways to become more cultured when it comes to my food choices, but man oh man.

At 5:34 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Well, I'll just list mine here, since I want to leave my current blog post up for awhile to get as much feedback as possible. I'm really excited about what I linked there!

I'm with you on the sashimi. My favorites are uni, sake, ikura and toro.

I also agree with you about Durian. It's divine! But then, I tend to favor food that smells, and / or make the breath smell. It's a wonder my husband even kisses me!

I would also have to add eel (both unagi and anago) I have had it prepared in many ways, and they are all wonderful!

Chocolate! Brownies, dark squares, pies...whatever! What woman doesn't love chocolate?

Stinky tofu. Didn't I tell you I love the smelly stuff? Smells like a**, tastes like heaven.

Bubble drinks. Any flavor is good, but I hold a special place in my heart for honeydew, since that is the flavor I first had with Dave.

Kimchee chigae. Everything about it is perfect. Spicy, potent, and soothing. It's the best thing for colds, too!

Oops! That's more than five. Oh well. There are actually a lot of other things I wanted to include. Too bad I could only list five.

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In random order...

1. Laksa
2. Mee Siam
3. Char Kway Teow
4. Curry fish head
5. Bak Kua

Durian.. yes.. they make durian cake, durian puffs, durian ice kacang etc etc.

Welcome to the gastronomic garden city state Singapore.

At 9:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmm...that soup looks great. Have you noticed not many asian places stateside serve fried garlic as a garnish? When I was in asia, it seemed like I couldnt find a bowl of food WITHOUT it. Man, I miss that...

So my top five (i'm going to cheat a little and lump some items together)
1. Good bread-middle eastern, french, doesnt matter so long as it is masterfully made
2. Rice- Iranian rice and sticky rice
3. Chicken and Basil with a fried egg (thai style)
4. Cheese- ripe blue cheese or a gooey camembert
5. Soups- Iranian noodle soup, bun reiu oc, and Conjee with lots of egg and pork


At 12:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would definitely be seafood - particularly crab and lobster. It's getting late and I can't think of the remaining 4. Maybe tomorrow :) Haha.

At 9:07 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Hey thanks for tagging me. This was a fun meme. I had been looking for an outlet to talk about durian! And now that I have, I feel better for it!


What a compliment! Thanks! I didn't realize I was culturing people with my blog. "Culturing people" -- sounds like I am growing sea monkeys. Haha!


Wow, I am impressed at your eclectic choices. And even more impressed that you agree with me on the durian!


I've only tried #3 on your list...those others are now on my list. Now to find a Singaporean restaurant!


I feel ya man! I've NEVER been able to get a seat at the bar! NEVER! I think you have to know them personally or be a regular weekly customer to get one of those coveted seats in front of Shibutani. The place has gotten so popular lately that I'm now resigned to just take a seat at the tables and get OMAKASE. This even after my review of them got published in OC Weekly. They don't compromise for anybody (not even for amateur food writer yay-hoos like me)...and I respect them for that. Besides that, I've always been treated so well there, at the tables, where Mrs. S dotes on us like we were her own children. Tea is replaced even before our first cup is empty. Shibutani has progressively challenged us with more complex offerings at every visit. One time, he presented these minute fried crabs the size of peas. We were to eat them whole. I did and was intrigued and weirded out at the same time. I love Sushi Shibucho, even if they don't love me enough to give me a bar seat!


I'm with you on the fried garlic. Why can't more places put fried garlic on their soup dishes...I think it's one reason I love Noodle Avenue to death. They throw that stuff on top of each of their soup on to your list, Iranian noodle soup! What is that? And where can I get it?!


Crab and lobster for sure! Crab would've been like #6 for me.

Just Cid,

I had this in 97 when I was in Nawlins...I hope when I return someday soon, it'll be the same!

At 11:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think wholesome choice has some iranian soup by the salad bar which you can buy by the cup. It's called "ash" pronounced "ah-sh". Two main types, noodle based and bean based. The traditional add ins are fried onions and something called "kashk" which resembles a saltier, creamier yogurt.

Other options are your local iranian restaurant.


At 9:58 AM, Blogger Rasa Malaysia said...

Here are mine top 5 things to eat...just posted it on my site...they are the usual suspects:

1) Nasi Lemak2
2) Roti Canai
3) Penang Assam Laksa
4) Malaysian Satay
5) Grilled Stingray

At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am shocked. SHOCKED!

You didn't include THE most important thing you must eat before you die.

A cheese crisp.

That is all.


At 3:27 PM, Blogger Ed said...

Nice choices - being an Indonesiaphile (more specifically, a Baliphile), I totally agree with you on the soto ayam and gulai/sate kambing.

Having said that, I'm listing my five:

1) Bubuh Bali: Balinese rice porridge, with Balinese red rice, urab (boiled veggies with grated coconut), chicken, and a spicy coconut milk-based sauce. I wish I could have this every day.

2) Sundubu jjigae: hurrah for Korean tofu soup!

3) Dolsot bibimbap: hurrah for rice salad served in a hot stone bowl. Love the scorched rice on the bottom.

4) Pansit palabok: where can you possibly go wrong with a plateful of boiled thin rice noodles topped with a flourescent orange sauce accented with shrimp head and fried chicharon?

5) Kare-kare: Tripe, oxtail, eggplant, and bok choy, all brought together with thin peanut sauce and bagoong shrimp paste.

At 10:53 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Thanks for the tip. I'm going to have to check it out soon, possibly this week. Sounds divine!


Grilled stingray is definitely on my next to try list. I believe it's also called "skate" on higher end restaurant menus.


Me tooo!


You got could I forget the cheese crisp. It's not like I haven't craved it since you first mentioned it a year ago. Dang it, now I'm hungry for one. Guess I'll have to make do and tear the top off of a quesadilla (not even close though). It'll be, like you said, a cheese limp.


Agree with. Every. Single. Item. on your list. Pancit Palabok is one of my faves (with a few squeezes of lemon). I'll be writing about a fast-food palabok soon.

At 5:13 PM, Blogger Ed said...

Talking about noodles, why are some of the soto noodles in Indonesia a light flourescent blue?!? That's always puzzled me...

At 10:46 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

They're blue?! Really? Never seen that. Perhaps it's because of those horrible flourescent light bulbs they use in restaurants?

At 3:23 PM, Blogger Ed said...

Nope, they're just plain light flourescent blue under sunlight - you see this often with the soto from the dagang kaki lima. Maybe it's cheaper quality soto noodles - but why blue?!?

At 3:41 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

That's weird! I'd freak if I saw that. But I guess if it tastes good and doesn't give you the runs, it's probably least in the short term. LOL.

I remember one time in a street side bakso stall near Rembang, I ate the best mie bakso I've had in a while, a few days after, I had to go to the hospital for disgestional issues. I'd probably do it again regardless.

At 8:31 PM, Blogger *jeanne* said...

1 - Sesame Tofu from the Happy Family Chinese Restaurant on 10th Avenue and 43rd Street, Manhattan. LOVED it, miss it, miss it, miss it since moving away from NYC.

2 - Creme Brulee. Almost ANY creme brulee, but I had a really awesome passion fruit creme brulee on my honeymoon in Maui.

3 - Speaking of my honeymoon in Maui: we had dinner cooked on the beach in the moonlight by a private chef the night we wed. EVERYTHING was incredible. Spring rolls, filet mignon, shrimp.

4 - BROWNIES. Plain old chocolate brownies. Perhaps with ice cream on top, and served with a glass of ice cold milk.

5 - Home-made Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies, especially when the cookie is just getting firm from cooling, but the chips are still melty and gooey.

At 3:09 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Great list! Your #3 and #4 would especially hit the spot right now. Both with an ice cold glass of milk, like you said.

At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best soto ayam is not in Semarang, beside my mom's the best is in Surabaya. Heehehehe.
Top 5 things to eat before I die:
1. Seafood (Prawn, Squid, fish, etc) in Jimbaran.
2. Bakso in front of my SMP
3. Tahu Tek2 & Tahu Telur, Pak Jo, Jemur, SBY. (I thinks he's gone already, he was 60+ about 20 years ago)
4. Steak & Ribs @ Bobby's Ranch in NorCal.
5. Tree ripen Arummanis/Gadung Manggo from Probolinggo, Jatim.


At 10:08 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I laughed when I read your first line! And I believe at one point in my existence, I actually ate Tahu Tek Tek. Kudos to you, my Indonesian brother! You have eaten well!

At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This made me hungry.

1)My mom's Thit Bo Cuon Banh Trang. Cook-it-yourself slices of lemongrass beef, with some fresh bun rice noodles and assorted herbs to create your own spring rolls.

2)Mile-high Strawberry Pie. Fluffy strawberry goodness in a flaky pie crust. Dear god.

3) Garlic lobster and calamari at Apsara Restaurant in Da Nang, Vietnam.

4) Any kind of noodle soup. Udon, pho, mi, saimin ...

5) Thinly sliced octopus with razor-thin slices of lemon on top.

At 7:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm a new reader but couldn't help but put down my list:

halo halo--i love all things that are complex, complicated, multilayered and burst forth with variety and flavor. halo halo is the one of my favoritest desserts to fulfill my love for textures, colors, flavors (tres leches cake cuban style is a close second; vietnamese and thai che/puddings also fill this love)

fresh durian and fresh mangostine--i think i can die a happy epicurean for having had these things come through my life.

cafe sua da--on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. better than sex most often.

fresh salmon sashimi--like buttah, literally melts almost without my having to chew.

bun rieu/ hu tieu/ or good old pho--like a good vietnamese i am foodfully indebted to the soothing flavors of any of these three noodle soups. never had them as good as in vietnam. sometimes you gotta make the trek.

thanks for letting me play along.
--avid eater in LA

At 10:33 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Thanks for playing! I love your lists eventhough I've not tried some of them, it's made me super curious, especially the thinly sliced lobster with lemon.

And oh yeah, love me the halo-halo!

At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OC Top 5 (Not in any order)
1. Pho - Large #10 at Pho Bac
2. English Curry Chicken - Olde Ship
3. Bone in Rib eye - Maestros Ocean Club
4. Banzai Bowl with Chicken - Wahoos (This would be my last meal on earth)
5. Chips and Salsa and Spicy Carrots - Morenos in Orange CA

At 10:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elmo, do you know any good indonesian restaurants here in socal?...
particularly one that serves sate gule kambing and sop buntot?

More power to you!

At 7:21 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I believe Toko Rame offers satay kambing (not sure about gule or sop buntut). Check my review of it here. You might want to call them and see before you venture to Bellflower though. Another place to eat Indonesian food is at the weekly Indonesian food fair in Duarte. It's called Pondok Kaki Lima. Read my review here.

At 3:33 PM, Blogger Dancing Munchkin said...


I have no idea if you still check for comments on such old posts, so we'll see if this takes, if it doesn't seem like you do, maybe i'll put this comment on a more recent entry.

I just had one of the most amazing things I've ever tasted, which was interesting cuz I was in the process of reading this entry.

(it was from the JJ Bakery in Irvine, but not the one you blogged about, instead it's the one on Jeffrey in the shopping center opposite the one that Yogurtland is in)

A big FAT mochi about 2 inches in diameter with a small piece of not too sweet sponge cake, whipped cream, and a whole strawberry as the filling.

Makes me wonder why I never thought of it, it's so simple but soo good! You've got to try it! (btw, my mother said the mango one is not so good, so get the one in the pink paper cup thinger)

Also, there is a pastry that I really like that I believe is unique to that branch (or maybe not anymore.. it's been a year since I discovered it) It's a sweet roll with a filling of real taro paste and dry milk powder.

You should try this branch if you haven't already


At 9:01 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


That sounds awesome. I've tried that bakery (J. Sweet Bakery, I think it's called, right?), but not the items you mentioned. Need to go and make a special trip there soon.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Dancing Munchkin said...


You've so inspired me with your blog, that I've decided to create a food blog of my own that details my fooding experiences (eating, learning to cook, making coffee/baking) in the next few months, as I move from Irvine to Oregon, then take a trip to Japan and Taiwan before I go back to school in Seattle for the fall.

I've switched from midnightblu to dancing munchkin(mini muncher? haha), just so you know. And do you mind if I link to you on my blog? I haven't written anything in it yet, so it's totally ok if you dont link me, but I just wanted to know if it was alright if I linked you.

thanx much!

At 7:14 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Dancing Munchkin,

Please, by all means, link me. I will do the same. I'm always excited when a new food blogger is born! Can't wait to read your stuff!

At 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm from Singapore. My Choice
1. Singapore Prawn Mee Noolde (Dry with Chilli, Soup on the side)
2. Bak Chok Mee (Minced meat Pork Noodle, Dry with chilli, soup on the side)
3. Katong Laksa.
4, Hainanese Chicken Rice.
5. Singapore Chilli Crab.
6. Indonisian Gurami. (Deep Fired Fish. )

I love Mee Soto Too... Let me know where to get in south OC.


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