Five Finds on Friday: Sylvia Chong

Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from UVa professor Sylvia Chong, co-chair of VeryAsian VA, a community organization focused on uplifting Asian American voices, which next month is hosting the VeryAsian VA Celebration. May 13 from 2 – 5 pm at The Yard, VeryAsian VA Celebration will include food, wine, art, music, performances, and more. Details and registration. Chong’s picks:

1) Isan Sausages with Sticky Rice and Isan-style Papaya Salad at Chimm. “I was first drawn to Chimm by its amazing menu of soup noodles, which is one of my favorite categories of food. I love their Pho and the Boat Noodles. But after a trip to Madison, Wisconsin, I was introduced to Hmong and Lao cuisine, which shares some overlap with Northern Thai / Isan flavors and ingredients. The Isan sausages at Chimm are very dense and slightly sour from fermented rice, and they go really well with the freshness of the Isan-style green papaya salad, which has an extra kick of heat and a salty-umami flavor from fermented fish sauce. If you’ve never tried green papaya salad, it’s more like zucchini ribbons than the sweet pink flesh of ripe papayas. Sometimes these dishes aren’t available—I think they run out of the green payaya periodically—so I really stuff myself with them while they’re around.”

2) Tuna Poke and Watercress Salad at Mochiko. “The box meals at Mochiko remind me of the plate lunches I had when I visited Honolulu with a friend who grew up there, especially the Mochiko chicken and katsu chicken, and these are among my childrens’ favorite meals. But the poke at Mochiko is what draws me back there, as the flavors are so much more intense than what you find at the typical poke-bowl restaurants that are popular now. Hawaiian-style poke is made out of raw tuna and flavored with soy and sesame oil, which again gives you a great umami kick. It goes great with a side of their watercress salad, a slightly spicy bitter green which is also heavy on the sesame. It’s a classic Japanese American flavor profile with a Hawaiian influence.”

3) Lumpia and Carioca at Manila Street.I was so happy to see the Manila Street chefs open a storefront at Dairy Market so we didn’t have to chase them down at the farmers’ market or in their food truck to eat Filipino food in town. The lumpia, which is a meat-forward fried roll, are done to crispy perfection at Manila Street, and their small size makes them easy to munch on while waiting for our main meal of barbecue pork belly or chicken adobo with pancit fried noodles. Although they don’t always have dessert for sale, I get the carioca every time I see it. A lot of Asians have a chewy tooth rather than a sweet tooth—by which I mean we really prize toothsome textures like boba pearls, Japanese mochi, chicken gizzards, beef tendons, and sticky, glutinous rice desserts. My Taiwanese relatives would call this texture “Q”. The carioca is a dense sticky rice-based fried pastry with a subtle coconut flavor, and it comes in a set of three to share with your friends. Dense but delicious.”

4) Pan-Fried Steamed Pork Belly and Dry-Fried Eggplant at Peter Chang’s. “I’ve seen a lot of lovely Chinese restaurants come and go since 2004—a few on the Corner whose names elude me, and the first iteration of Café 88 that used to serve the only bubble tea in town. Peter Chang’s arrival in Charlottesville was rightly heralded, and its take on Sichuan cuisine filled a particularly cool niche. The pan-fried steamed pork belly is fairly decadent as main dishes go, with a lightly-breaded slice of fatty pork dressed in a spicy-numb spice mix – the Sichuan peppercorn “mala” flavoring. That same flavoring accompanies the dry-fried eggplant, a surprisingly light dish if you’re used to eggplant parmesean or saucy-heavy Chinese eggplant dishes. They’re like the best French fries you’ve ever had, if you like your fries spicy and tongue-numbing.”

5) Firnee at Afghan Kabob. “Afghan cuisine sits at the crossroads of South Asian and Middle Eastern food cultures, and I’m always excited when my UVA colleagues order catering from Afghan Kabob. Their various kabobs and rice make for a highly satisfying meal, but my weakness is their firnee, a pudding-like dessert flavored with cardamom, rose water, and pistachios. It reminds me of Indian kheer, a rice pudding with a similar flavor profile, or the cardamom gelato at Splendora’s, but feels much more decadent and creamy. I remember one conference at UVA where I simply filled up a coffee cup to the brim with Afghan Kabob’s firnee and snacked on it for the rest of the afternoon.”