Bday Party 1 Pig Roast Whole

I went to Toronto last month. Why? Well, that’s a great question with a long answer that starts with my dad. When my dad was a kid in Hong Kong, there were these families with kids the same age who he’d play with. After many decades, my dad reconnected with one friend, who immigrated to Toronto along with the rest of those families my dad knew as a child. This man and his siblings were throwing their dad a 100th birthday party, and, as my dad explained, he was practically family, so just consider him “Uncle”. And you know how Chinese parties are – BIG. You invite all of your family and close friends (and their families).

So I drove up to Toronto with Albany John and my little sister, for this “Uncle’s” birthday party. Hey, Toronto has one of the biggest Chinatowns, food’s gotta be good right? And I was also just a wee bit excited to meet these people my dad had known as a child. Everyone was so nice, and we got to sit with one of the “kids” in our generation at the table. And then I met her sister, and my dad goes “Wow, you two look alike!” and we both did a double take since we actually did look pretty similar in the face (I’m a little bigger than her since I’m only half Chinese). And her Chinese name is one letter off of mine. You know, I’m usually in the minority any where I go, and I guess it’s just something I’m used to. My siblings and I look a lot alike, but we don’t really even resemble our cousins on either parent’s side very much. So it was a very different feeling for me to see someone who looked like me. A new kind of fuzzy, if you will.

Okay, they do not mess around with 100th birthday parties in Toronto. The first course was crackling suckling pig. Each platter marched out on parade by a server, with sparkler and glowing LED maraschino cherry eyes.

Bday Party 1-2 Pig Roast SkinBday Party 1-2 Pig Roast Skin 2

The skin was so good. The exterior was crackly and delicate, yet substantial. The fat underneath melted away as you bit in. I haven’t had a suckling pig this good in years, if ever.

Bday Party 2 Shrimp 2 ways pan broccoliBday Party 2 Shrimp 2 ways fried

Next up was shrimp two ways – fried in a sweet-and-sour style, and pan-fried with some broccoli and garlic. Plump, briny shrimp. The sweet-and-sour preparation wasn’t my favorite, but the vermicelli basket was novel.

Bday Party 3 Fish cakes stuffed with scallop, asparagus, and roe 1Bday Party 3 Fish cakes stuffed with scallop, asparagus, and roe 2

This dish was a first for me, and one I quite took a liking to. It looks like a fish patty, but stuffed inside is a tender scallop. The briny roe made it pop with salinity, and man that asparagus was a great supporting character.

Bday Party 4 Birds Nest Soup

Bird’s Nest Soup – Yay! Not shark fin soup. Very progressive. Usually for a party like this shark’s fin soup would be on the menu.

Bday Party 5 Sea Cucumber

The womp womp dish of the night that wasn’t so much a dud, just a very… uh… traditional food that no one really seemed as interested in. If I’m trying to conserve stomach space, I’m going to give a little less to sea cucumber. Sorry, sea cucumber, but that’s just how it works. This was actually one of the better preparations – the sea cucumber was stuffed with fish paste, so it added a bit of flavor and a slightly firmer texture. I don’t think anyone at our table finished this one.

Bday Party 6 Crispy Garlic ChickenBday Party 6 Crispy Garlic Chicken 2

Crispy garlic chicken was a big hit at the table – succulent chicken with crisp skin – what’s not to like?

Bday Party 7 whole fishBday Party 7 whole fish piece

Whole steamed fish! One of my favorite dishes ever. This was great – the fish was cooked perfectly, and that salty sauce compliments the sweet flavor of the fish so well.

Bday Party 8 fried lobster

Ginger fried lobster – this is where most of the table started tapping out from all of the different courses. And where I ate 75% of the lobster our table was served. Oh my gosh, it was so good. Chopped into easy-to-eat chunks, covered in that delicious ginger-scallion sauce.

Bday Party 9 soup

And then I started tapping out once the wonton noodle soup came out. Fresh noodles, gai lan, and shrimp wontons. I had a wonton because, hello, seafood.

Bday Party 10 11 Fried Rice and Cake

Oh yeah, then fried rice, and then some of the birthday cake. Stuffed. Absolutely stuffed.

At some point in the night, my dad was talking with one of the Aunties, and it turns out that we were all related, and we were all cousins of some sort. Even more of a fuzzy! The connection requires a flow chart to explain, but the gist is that there’s a connection from 3 sisters from the same village. They’d previously thought that when the sisterhood was talked about, they used “sisters” meaning they were in Hong Kong from the same village on Mainland China. But nope, turns out they were sisters and most of us were related by blood at the party, and the birthday boy is actually my Uncle!


December is here, and colder weather calls for rib-sticking, hearty meals. Kenji’s take on traditional cassoulet recipe is fantastic for a comforting, warm meal in cold weather. Read through his recipe – it’s really phenomenal writing and made me want to try this, despite not being much of a bean eater in my normal meals.  And now I have  a reason to add beans to my repertoire. It’s a really versatile recipe, too, so you could go traditional, or you could just go with what you have.

The real revelation here is adding gelatin to boxed/canned broth or stock. It really beefs up the flavor and helps combine the liquid and beans into a creamy, rich dish. I should strive for homemade stock, but I go through more broth than chicken carcasses to make enough stock/broth, and it’s just never really worked out for this household like that. Ah well. One day. Either way, homemade stock or no, you’ll have delicious beany goodness after several hours.

Great Northern beans, some mild italian sausage, chicken thighs, and lamb shoulder (there’s lamb nubbins in there, too) were a nice combo. The sausage was… eh, a little out of place, but it’s what was in the fridge, so it’s what went in the cassoulet. I tried this again with just lamb and chicken, and the flavor was a little lacking, so some sort of sausage or third meat is a good idea.

As is, this makes a TON of food if you’re a 2-person household like mine. So be good at eating leftovers, or freezing. This was so good I happily ate it all week for lunch and a few dinners. Me. The lady who hates leftovers. Loved this and looked forward to it so much. It was that good.


I couldn’t wait to get back to Shwe Mandalay for a second go-round after my first visit. This second visit didn’t go as smoothly – we were the only table in there on a Friday night and service was slow and a bit disjointed. The food is still fabulous, though I’m worried about how little business I’ve seen in Shwe Mandalay. Please, people – get in the doors of Shwe Mandalay. It’s delicious, cheap, and a new realm of flavors for the Cap Region!

Another order of fried squash above. Bu Tee Kyaw $5.

Southern Shan Sausage, $5. Perfect little beef & pork sausage balls.

Fried sliced onion, $5. I love the batter at Shwe Mandalay – very light, like a combination of beer batter & tempura. Great for frying. Light and crunchy.

Side dish of dried salted fish, $7, which I think is mostly an Albany Jane love. I ate most of this dish. They changed the presentation from the first time I had this – instead of flat strips the fish was broken up into more bite-sized or smaller pieces.

Butter Rice & Chicken Curry, $7. All this for SEVEN DOLLARS! Super rich rice with a hearty chicken curry.

La Phat Thote. Tea leaf salad, $6.50. This time it was covered in dried shrimp, which was unfortunate because one of the folks in our party had a shellfish allergy. The shrimp itself were tasty – crunchy and not too salty or briny, though the salad didn’t really need it.

Rice & Tea Leaf Salad $6. This was more of a rice dish than a salad type dish, but tasty all the same.

Black Curry, $8. Pork curry with black bean paste (this is Chinese-style fermented black beans, not black beans). This was a rich dish, but so good (also came with large plate of rice).

Coconut Chicken Noodle Soup, $6.00. A light, but filling broth with a lightly boiled egg (the yellow is from the yolk).


Grab 5 of your friends, and get a table for 6 at Shwe Mandalay. Six is the perfect amount of people to try a significant amount of Shwe Mandalay’s menu without taking up half of the restaurant. Albany John, Daniel, Chopsticks Optional, and 2 other friends made up our table of 6. It’s right on Central Ave next to Taiwan Noodle, and as I remember: “The old Hong Kong Bakery space”.  There’s a small parking lot for a few cars. The service is polite and efficient.


Bu Tee Kyaw. Fried squash. This had a great shell  – like tempura meets beer batter. Very light and airy, and so crisp.

Bayar Kyaw – fried lentil balls with onions & curry leaves. I’m pretty sure frying makes everything delicious. I’m not an enjoyer of dal in any form other than fried. This were nice and crispy little nuggets.

Southern Shan Sausage. Adorable little sausage balls filled with a mix of beef/pork and rice. Served with a whole lot of super hot chili peppers (they’re in the back, there). These were great! A nice texture to them. Kind of like Vietnamese sausages, or boudin.

Some dishes come with a simple beef soup (free). Nice, light little soup.


Chicken Biryani, filled with deliciousness. Cinnamons, raisins, cardamom pods, and Burmese chicken curry. This was fantastic.

Chicken Curry in the back there. We also ordered pork curry. The curries come with sides of veggies and condiments. And massive plates of basmati rice. The curry bases are really enjoyable (not too much turmeric for me). The chicken was mainly white meat, so I’d likely skip it in the future and go for the fattier pork curry.

Samosa triangles. Tasty triangles. They seasoned a touch lighter than Indian samosas. While potato was a large part of the filling, there was also a nice amount of cabbage (and the lightness the cabbage lent).

Hey, pork curry and massive plate of basmati rice!

I think this was the Mom’s taste salad. Oh, those crunchy peanutty bits. So good. Along with everything else in there.

Now, this dish. this could be a very polarizing dish. This is the dried salted fish dish. Fried, dried salted fish. It’s like salty fish jerky and I love it. If you’re not a fish person or have issues with sodium, then this dish isn’t for you. But if you love fish & salt like I do… well, you are in for a treat!

Another polarizing dish was the tea leaf salad. This was another one of my favorite dishes, though others at the table didn’t feel as much love for this salad as I did. It didn’t taste like you were eating raw/crunchy tea leaves. They had a texture that went well with a salad, kind of like blanched kale.

Pe’ Paratha. A flaky coconutty-tasting paratha with a very large bowl of vatana puree. Holy flakiness, in that paratha.

Mandalay Myee-Shay salad. Fat rice noodles with pork/chicken, pickled mustard leaves, and bean sprouts.

This was a soupier noodle dish, which I’m blanking on right now. Thick noodles with some pork, greens, beans, and carb-y sliced bits on top. Nice, but we got these at the end of our eating spree, so they probably didn’t get the full appreciation from our table that they deserved.

Dinner for 6 for $85 before tip! Can’t beat that!

So this was my first time eating Burmese food, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It’s a delicious combination of a lot of aspects of subtle Indian & Chinese flavors. I can’t wait to go back and try some of their other dishes, like the paratha salad.


Afghan Kebab Express is tucked away in the Chinese-character-ed shopping plaza at 305 Central Ave. One of my friends really likes it, and arranged a casual group dinner.


Their menu is on the smaller side, which is good. There are some random funny dishes. Not the lamb shank in the background (which is a steal at $12.99, and so deliciously lamby and tender), but the chicken qorma in the center. It’s just on the menu as a side dish for $3.99, so obviously curiosity won out and we had to order it. It was interesting. More tomato based than creamy, and the veggies seemed like they came out of a frozen mixed Birdseye veggie bag, though at least they weren’t mushy. The chicken seems to be leftover kebab chicken since it had a nice char to it. Definitely an interesting riff on quorma/korma and a good way to repurpose leftovers on the cheap.

Bolani – $2.99 per order. Okay, but not something I’d *have* to get again. Veggie filled fried thing.

Lamb gyro (thanks for the love in the background, darling!) $5.99.

Blurry gyro over rice ($6.99) platter.

Beef kabab ($8.99) which you should really avoid ordering as it’s filet mignon, which is done no favors by cooking over a skewer and drying out by the time the exterior gets a char. They were pretty adamant that “that’s how it’s supposed to be”, but sawdust isn’t a flavor profile that our table was crazy about. After a bit of prodding they took it off the receipt and fired up a second order of …

Koobideh kabab platter ($8.99). Hello delicious! Now this really shines as a kebab/kabab. Fatty ground lamb and beef charred to perfection over an incredibly large portion of rice. You know I’m not a huge rice fan, but this was delicious. I almost ate all of the rice, which is saying something.

All of the platters come with a side salad (some lettuce, raw carrots, cucumber, tomato).

There are also hot sauces in jars on the table to spice up your dishes at your discretion. Weeknight dinner was pretty dead, and not too many take out orders. Hopefully their business will pick up, but I wonder if the location is a problem. Service was ambivalent and efficient. Go for the fattier cuts and you’ll be very happy you came.


It’s probably not a good idea to let me order for a table when I’m at DeFazio’s. There’s a good chance I’ll over order. Between 8 or so of us, we split a chicken pesto antipasto salad (SO good). For $11.95, this was great for a group and super satisfying.


They had a special of white pizza with cherry tomatoes and balsamic glaze. So much yum. I can’t get enough of that delicious crust – so poofy, tender, and flavorful.

And a clam pizza. So good, check out that charring on the edge!

Pesto linguine ($12.95). How can you not love pesto + anything? So good.

Spinach and garlic linguine ($12.95). Yum.

Fettuccine Rosario ($12.95) was the only clunker. The sauce was good, but the fettuccine was a little undercooked and clumpy.

There was also a gluten-free pizza tossed in there. For 8 people this was a bit too much food, but super awesome to try so many different things. I think part of the charm of DeFazio’s is their inconsistencies. Today the pizzas were perfect, but the fettuccine was a bit hard. But the service is always friendly, warm, and welcoming.



I love Ethiopian food. It’s something that we have absolutely NONE of in Albany, so whenever I’m near a place with Ethiopian food, I will always choose Ethiopian. Whenever I’m in NYC I can never manage to get away to Manhattan for Ethiopian food. But on my most recent visit I managed to convince my Dad, his girlfriend, and uncle to try Ethiopian food at Awash on the Upper West Side.

We drove there from Flushing in about a half hour, found (free) street parking after paying for parking (of course), and were seated immediately. The interior is gorgeous. Very romantic and lots of low lighting.

Here’s the injera and freebie sides that came with what we ordered. Since we were so many people they spread out our meals across two plates.

Plate two.

So what did we order?

Starting at the red stuff on the left, we got:
Key Sir Afcha (carrots, beets, and potato)
Awash Tibs (grilled beef)
More Key Sir Afcha
Gomen Besiga (lamb, collards, onions)
Free cabbage and carrot dish
Free lentil dish
Shiro (chickpeas and split peas with tomato and onion)
Center: Awash Chicken

We all LOVED the Gomen Besiga. That was just a fantastic combination of flavors. Lamby goodness, collards, and onions with delicious Ethiopian butter and false cardamom. Mmm. Just fantastic. It was all good, but this was a standout dish.


I also had to order the kitfo (raw beef), which was also good, if a bit heavy on the butter.

The injera was soft and spongy, but not too moist or sour. It was definitely a good intro injera to folks new to Ethiopian food. I’ve had it more sour than this preparation, but really it’s all about the texture for me and this was great. Soft with a little bit of chewy pliancy to it, but not tough or hard.

We had a few leftovers that we took with us. Their menu is a bit out of date. Prices are a few dollars higher per item than listed, and their physical menu touts a vegan meal available as well.

All that plus three glasses of Ethiopian wine was $160 with 20% post-tax gratuity included.


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