Lobster Bake

We don’t roast goats in California. We don’t build big smokers in our backyards to patiently wait 12 hours until the meat practically falls off the bone. We don’t eat alligator or bison, and we certainly don’t hunt for our dinner. We don’t use that much mayo, we don’t make that much jello, and only recently have we discovered red velvet cake, but only in cupcake form. We think BBQ sauce belongs on pizza, and that salad is an entree. We don’t have lobster rolls or crab cakes, frito pie or key lime pie, and we don’t call fizzy drinks ‘pop’.


We also don’t dig holes in the ground to fill them up with hot coals and layers of fresh seafood and kelp.

Although, we should.

We should enthusiastically adopt all of those things, but mostly that last one about the seafood.

Growing up in California, I had no idea lobster and clam bakes existed. Not until I moved to New York did I hear Martha Vineyardites coming back from July 4 and Labor Day weekends, chatting about clam bake dinners and lobster roll lunches. Eating on the beach? With the ocean as your market? Corn, potatoes, and cholesterol-heavy seafood? Loved. It. I proceeded to be completely marveled with the novelty of the idea, and wondered if I ever would experience a true, bona-fide bake of my own.

So obviously, when I heard that Laura’s family was holding a lobster bake dinner to celebrate her birthday, I did a littlelobster dance.


But we had to wait through a whole day and a half in Maine before the grand dinner. It was torture. Fresh market yogurt – unpasteurized, of course – and homemade granola with tiny wild Maine blueberries. Tasty sandwiches from the local shop in the village. A delicious BBQ’d steak for dinner accompanied by too much of a creamy mushroom risotto (although, I rarely argue for too much risotto). And finally, pie from a famous local pie shop, with heaping scoops of rich vanilla ice cream. More yogurt and wild berries, and more sandwiches. In Maine, the folks seemed to enjoy providing the best of what the land and people can offer, and we happily obliged. So it’s no lie; it was torture – our tummies were crying out for mercy.

Lobster Brothers

But some afternoon kayaking and a dip in the river soothed our full bellies, and as the sun slowly set across the Western horizon, we were miraculously running on empty again. Luckily, the two local lobstermen (brothers!) had arrived an hour earlier, and had built a fort of cinderblocks with a half drum propped in the middle.

Lobsters Baking

Wet kelp is padded on the very bottom of the drum, and in it nestled a layer of onions, potatoes, and corn. On top of that goes a bit more kelp, then the lobsters are piled atop. Two nets, one filled with mussels, the other clams, are added. Finally, more kelp and a layer of wet newspapers cover the top. And of course, you can forget the pot of butter in the corner. Then a technique was explained that amused us all: eggs are placed on the top layer. As the heat slowly rises from the bottom up, the eggs will slowly cook. When the eggs are done – which usually takes about an hour – it is a signal that the seafood beneath is also done.

Lobster on top

In the summers, these brothers go from house to house, party to party, building these lobster bakes and offering their catch to folks all over town. They can serve tiny parties, such as ours, of 20 or so people, and they can serve huge fetes, of upwards of 100 heads. That’s a LOT of lobster. The lobsters in Maine are always fresh caught. In fact, many lobstermen didn’t even go out to catch lobster last year since the yields were so incredibly high and prices got so low. The East Coast clearly needs to show the West Coast some lobster love. Diplomacy through crustaceans, yeahhh.

Charlotte and Oysters

Oh, did I mention there were fresh OYSTERS?!

On the deck, enjoying some truly local Damariscotta oysters – a favorite of mine, for their size. Yum.


By the time we emerged from our showers, and coated with a healthy dose of bug spray, a fire had been raging beneath the homemade fire pit for quite some time. Clouds of smoke were bellowing from the pile of food and kelp. We had a glass of beer and some snacks – you know, to prepare our stomachs for what was to come. Approaching the fire, the air was thick with smoke and seafood. The official smell of Maine, perhaps. The lobstermen peeled off the top layers of kelp to reveal bright BRIGHT red lobsters. We got to taste the mussels from the nets, just to make sure they were ready – perfection.

Lobster Bake Food

Lobster Bake Tray

Our party marched down to the fire and one by one, filled our trays with a bounty of edible delights. It was absolute gluttony at its finest. I loved the absence of forks and knives, and the fact that eating with both your hands and your mouth at the same time was totally acceptable. Conversation was minimal, less the obligatory “ohhmugawd thisissoooo gooood” groan that was uttered at least three times by each individual. Looking down the table, it was just a mad blur of lobsters, corn husks, and hands.

Lobster Dinner

Before I knew it, it was over. The end came too quickly. I had two lobsters, and I’m embarrassed to say I could have had two more. The remains of dinner was a clear massacre, with seafood shells and small puddles of clarified butter and corncobs everywhere.

The End

This experience was a blessing and a curse, because I know I’ll never be able to eat lobster quite as good ever again. Unless of course, I find myself in Maine. Oh, and of course, the company was just as good as the food. How could it not be, when you have little ones who entertain just by being themselves?

Charlotte in Sunglasses

And then, we went inside to eat cake. When in Maine….

Tainan Eats: Fruit makes a Stand

Yes, I know I’ve already raved about cold snacks in Taiwan once before. But here’s another you really can’t miss.

First stop on our list of Tainan Small Eats was a small fruit stand tucked away in a narrow alleyway, away from the cars and chaos of the main street. Here, a 4th Generation fruit vendor has continued his family legacy of bringing only the freshest, most regional selections to his adoring fans.

In late winter, nearing the Chinese New Year, he has selections of the freshest tangerines and makes a sweet, tangy juice that I’ve heard people sing praises about. In early spring, when strawberries are at their ripest here in Asia, his strawberries are known to burst with flavor- and he makes a smoothie-like concoction with them. Later in the year, he has melons, kiwis, tomatoes- which he serves plain, as a juice, or with a balsalmic-type dip, or however he deems is the best way to consume his fruit. He’s the best kind of vendor, too- willing to share his knowledge and the best he has to offer with anyone who walks up to his store.

On this trip to Taiwan, it was peak mango season- which the roadside stands and signs told me very early on in the trip. So naturally, at the fruit stand, we got a taste of the sweetest, ripest, juiciest magoes I’ve ever tasted. They were served in a traditional Taiwan style, over shaved ice and drizzled with a dark sugar syrup and milk. Upon his advice, we also tasted a mango that’s been cross-bred with dragon-eye (longyan) lychee, with a little of the mango skin left on to really be able to taste the lychee. He also mixed for us a juice with pineapple and watermelon- the unlikeliest of combinations, but when the fruit guru gives you juice, you drink it. And no surprise- it tasted awesome.

My favorite of all, though- and quite possibly my most favorite thing I consumed on my whole trip- was the avocado smoothie. Much to my delight I discovered that Tainan and its surrounding land is appropriate terrain and weather to grow avocados, something I have not yet found in my new hometown of Guangzhou. The fruit man blended his fresh avocados with a sweet homemade pudding and fresh milk- to produce an avocado smoothie that might as well have been a milkshake.

It’s something that transcended being at that one place at that particular time. I felt like I was partially transported back to an outdoor cafe in LA, or at a cool eatery in Nolita, or sitting in my parent’s home in San Jose, partially transported to exotic Thailand and Bali and the Philippines, but also deeply rooted in my amazing new experience enjoying the company of my family and friends. And hence I experienced the magic of the fruit vendor- he created something that made me a bit nostalgic, but was completely new at the same time. It’s a quality that I love about food, and the people are behind its creations.

Taicheng Fruit Shop, 泰成水果店


80 Zheng Xing Street, Central West District

Tainan, Taiwan

Tainan Small Eats (台南小吃)

We spent one half day and one night in Tainan, but judging from the amount of good eats you’d think we were there for a week.

But that’s the beauty, and specialty, that Tainan dishes up. Known around the island as the place for “small eats”, the city has no shortage of roadside stands, local eateries, and regional delicacies. Don’t worry, I’m going to spend the next few blog entries talking about ALL of them.


I just arrived in Taipei, where I will be for the next three weeks. But before I start on my slew of stories of night market treasures, the various cooling Taiwanese snacks, what’s around the market on this side of the Strait, and most anticipated of all, a documentation of a trip around the island, I wanted to share with you the beautiful green onions that were at the wet market in Guangzhou earlier this week. I just couldn’t wait any longer, because clearly neither could these onions. My go-to lady for greens told me they were young green onions, with tiny white heads and more mild and delicate than their robust elders.

I wonder if these have a specific name in English? Does anyone know? I hope they will still be at the markets when I return in July!

China is big.

Did you guys know that?

The CIA’s online world factbook has a bounty of interesting numbers on China. As I read the list of China’s bordering countries- Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, India, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia (northeast), Russia (northwest), Tajikistan, Vietnam- I think about everything it’s done for the Chinese food culture.  Naturally the variety of cuisine varies in every country, but in a land as large as China, you’ll see the influences of these neighbors trickling in from every one of its fourteen borders.

Mexican food has such a large place in today’s American diet.  Tex-Mex, Baja California cuisine, and Southwest style flavors- I can only imagine what our diet in the States would be if we were not flanked by two countries, but rather, ten or twenty. And no offense Canada, but your contribution of Poutine isn’t quite on par with Mexico’s gift of Nachos (but it’s okay, because you gave us hockey).

Only when I moved here did I see evidence of the Western Chinese muslim population, looking more Arab than any Chinese person I had been accustomed to seeing. In Guangzhou they sell nuts and dried fruit from their wooden wagon carts next to the subway entrance, and keep the city’s muslim restaurant count high.

The DiploMan and I stopped in at one of these quick-eats joints a few weeks ago.  Pointing to a wall of a pictures lit under a fluorescent light tube, we selected a couple of hearty rice and noodle based dishes.  It was certainly different than any Chinese food I had eaten in the past, but still had a familiarity that I suppose any beef and noodle dish does in referencing my food memory bank. Maybe it was the satisfaction of an oily plate of noodles, but I could see how Western China survived centuries of turmoil and conquests off of this stuff.

Momo Mustard Seed Sauce

Yesterday I boasted about my belated inter-national participation in pig day.  But I forgot to mention one key ingredient that I used: Momo’s mustard seed sauce.


Everyone in New York knows that word, as do a lot of people outside of New York (for those who haven’t, it’s not a bad word, I’m not trying to insult you).  Momofuku- or, as we endearingly call it, Momo- used to be one of my friends and my go-to joints in the city.  Several years ago, it was still relatively unknown, and upon our discovery we just couldn’t get enough. Though it’s lessened it’s appeal as it’s gotten more expensive, the waits longer, and David Chang seemingly everywhere now, we still aren’t shy about going back to get our Momo fixes of brussels sprouts with fish sauce, tomatoes and tofu, Benton’s ham and red-eye gravy, and of course, their fried chicken dinners.

Momo has this amazing mustard seed sauce they serve with their ham as well as a few other dishes.  Leafing through the cookbook the other day, marveling at the number of things I’m able to cook out of this cookbook (hooray for Asian ingredients!!), this is the second inspiration for my Banh Mi creation.

Momo Mustard Seed Sauce

**adapted from the Momofuku cookbook, Page 173

  • 4 tbsp. whole-grain mustard
  • 3 tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. wasabi powder
  • 3 tbsp. Kewpie (japanese) mayonnaise- regular mayo will do, but this is much better
  • 3 tbsp. thinly sliced scallions- white and green parts
  • 1 small kirby cucumbers, sliced into 1/8 inch discs
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

**the cookbook tells you to use your own pickled mustard seed, which though is right up my DIY alley, have yet to get my hands on any mustard seeds around here.  More market adventures!!!


  1. Combine the cucumber slices with the sugar and salt, mix well and set in fridge to rest for about 5-10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients in a medium bowl.  Stir until evenly mixed.
  3. Take the cucumbers out of the fridge, and taking handfuls at a time, squeeze out the liquid from the cucumbers. Add to the mustard-mayo mixture, and stir well.
  4. Taste, seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  5. Spread all over everything!

Yield: about 1 1/2 cups