Uncle Bean

Uncle Bean in Kuala LumpurLine-ups for food are a traveler’s best friend.  Have I mentioned this before?  I have?  A million times?  Well, it’s true.

The latest line-based discovery: a street food stand called Uncle Bean, which serves up some seriously delicious tofu-based desserts.

There’s a few things on the menu, but most people seemed to be ordering the tau fu fa, which is an incredibly creamy tofu pudding.  They have a few different syrups you can top it with (the tofu itself isn’t sweet at all); I got the brown sugar ginger.

Uncle Bean in Kuala Lumpur

It was really, really good.  The tofu is silky and amazing; it doesn’t taste like much, but that’s what the syrup is for.  A lot of ginger-based desserts are a bit too overpowering for me, but the syrup here managed to strike a perfect balance of sweetness with a very subtle ginger kick.  Bonus: it cost about 50 cents Canadian.  I could eat a million of these.

Crispy Little Pancake Tacos

Khanom bueang at Terminal 21 food court in Bangkok, ThailandHere’s a very pleasant surprise, and something I hadn’t even heard of until I came to Bangkok: khanom bueang, a Thai dessert that consists of thin, crispy pancakes with a generous spread of a creamy Italian-meringue-like substance, along with other fillings (the one I tried had egg yolk threads, though coconut was also an option).

This was really, really good.  It probably helped that they were made fresh at this booth in the food court in the Terminal 21 mall (the food courts here are so much better than the food courts back home, it’s ridiculous).

Khanom bueang at Terminal 21 food court in Bangkok, Thailand

The pancakes were crispy and fresh, and were kind of like a cross between a crepe and a cookie.   The creamy meringue worked perfectly with the crispy pancake, and though the egg yolk threads didn’t add much (they were just kind of chewy and tasteless), they didn’t detract, either.

Khanom bueang at Terminal 21 food court in Bangkok, Thailand

I got an order of 10 of them, and I figured I’d eat a few right away and then save the rest for later.  But of course they all wound up in my belly immediately, which I probably should have predicted.  I’m not really a “save delicious food for later” kind of guy.

Mind-blowing Mango Pancakes

Mango pancakes in Hong KongYou know you’re in the right city when you can just randomly stumble across a place that’s this delicious.

How delicious, you ask?  Extremely delicious.

Mango pancakes in Hong Kong

I wasn’t even sure what I was ordering.  I held up two fingers (my brother is here on this leg of the trip, so I’m ordering for two), just assuming I’d wind up with waffles.  He asked “mango pancake?” I nodded, and we were off to the races.

Mango pancakes in Hong Kong

Everything about this was shockingly good — from the fresh and fluffy pancake, to the satisfyingly tart sauce, to the chunks of absolutely perfect mango.  The very sweet, creamy mango works great with the pancake, with the slightly sour sauce cutting the sweetness from the fruit.

I wish I knew what this place was called, but trust me — if you ever find yourself in Hong Kong, just wander around until you find it.  It’s totally worth it.

Apparently Japan is Amazing at Doughnuts, too

Creme Brulee Doughnut in Kyoto, JapanI was walking down the Sanjo-kai Shotengai Shopping Arcade (which is kind of like a smaller version of the Nishiki Market) when I saw this stand selling creme brulee doughnuts.  I literally did a double take.  I can’t say no to a creme brulee doughnut.  I’m not a monster.  So obviously I bought one.

The proprietor actually spoke perfect English, and he asked me if I was planning on eating the doughnut right away.  Well, obviously.  What, am I going to walk around with a creme brulee doughnut and not eat it immediately?  Again, I’m not a monster.

Creme Brulee Doughnut in Kyoto, Japan

So he told me he’d make me a fresh one, which was pretty much the best thing anyone has said to me in a long, long time.  He went into the back, and a couple of minutes later he came out with a sugar-topped doughnnut that he torched right in front of me.

Creme Brulee Doughnut in Kyoto, Japan

A few minutes later (as much as I wanted to eat it immediately, the idea of getting scalding hot sugar stuck to my face wasn’t particularly appealing), it was ready to eat.

It was just as good as I was hoping.  First of all, it was a cake doughnut, and: yeah.  Correct.  Cake doughnuts are clearly superior to raised doughnuts.  That’s just a fact.

Creme Brulee Doughnut in Kyoto, Japan

The crispy, crackly topping was absolutely perfect, and the filling was creamy and delicious (though a more of a pronounced custardy flavour would have been nice).  Plus, the doughnut itself was still warm and fresh.  Even if it wasn’t that great (and it was that great), this alone would have made it fairly delightful.

Attacked by Deliciousness

Melon Pan Kyuei in Tokyo, JapanSo there I am, just walking around in Tokyo and minding my own business, and wham.  Attacked by crazy deliciousness, completely out of nowhere.

Which is to say that I was hungry and wanted a snack, so I stopped by Melon Pan Kyuei, a bakery in the Tsukishima area of Tokyo.  Most of the time, if I’m eating somewhere, it’s because I’ve looked it up and heard that it’s supposed to be good.  This was a completely random drop-in.  I’d never even heard of a melon pan, which is kind of like a Chinese-style pineapple bun, but a billion times better.

Melon Pan Kyuei in Tokyo, Japan

Oh man, this thing.  It was still warm from the oven, which is always delightful, obviously.  It’s got a crispy, sugary exterior that’s made all the more crispy and amazing thanks to those deep ridges, and the interior is fluffy and light as air.  The inside is kind of like the lightest, fluffiest slice of white bread that you’ve ever had — it’s not all that sweet, but that’s where the crispy, crunchy, amazing exterior comes in.

I figured this was going to be more like a pineapple bun, so I wasn’t expecting much — it was actually kind of shocking how good this was.  It was an unexpected sucker punch of amazingness.

Sweet, Sweet Beans

Fish cake with beans in Tokyo, JapanOne of those things that’s huge in Asia and virtually unheard of in the west is putting beans in desserts.  It’s a little bit off-putting at first, but then you quickly realize it’s delicious and wonder why you haven’t spent your whole life eating beany sweets.

Fish cake with beans in Tokyo, Japan

These little bean-filled, fish-shaped cakes are particularly popular, and with good reason.  And this place (this was a random discovery and the sign was all in Japanese, so I have no idea what it’s called) was particularly good.

It was warm and fresh, with a generous amount of sweet bean filling encased in a subtly sweet, pancake-like exterior.  This particular place had a bit of extra cake around the edges (it’s usually just the fish) — this is actually kind of ingenious, because the extra part is nice and crispy, which contrasts nicely with the cake and the beans.  It’s really good.

Little Pancakey Bits of Goodness

Baby Castella near Yoyogi ParkThere was a stand near Yoyogi Park selling what they called baby castella (castella being a type of cake popular in Japan).   You can see the lady piping in some fresh batter into the moulds.

Baby Castella near Yoyogi Park

I’m sure there are people out there who can say no to hot, fresh little balls of cake.  I’m not one of those people.  I ordered a dozen.

Baby Castella near Yoyogi Park

(And no, there aren’t a dozen of them in that photo.  I was so excited to eat these that I just immediately laid into them; it was only after eating a few that I remembered I should probably take a picture.)

These were really simple, but really good.  They were kind of like sweet little pancake balls.  They were hot and fresh, with a very lightly crispy exterior and a fluffy, chewy interior.

Beard Papa!

Beard Papa in Tokyo, JapanIt was a sad, sad day when the Beard Papa in the Pacific Mall (which was the only Beard Papa in Canada outside of Vancouver) shut down.

Tragically, I discovered this by actually going to the Pacific Mall to pick up some Beard Papa, only to find that the spot where it used to be was completely ripped apart (I think they were turning it another Chinese restaurant).  There was nothing left but a hollowed-out husk filled with unused equipment and shattered dreams.  It was heartbreaking.

Well, Japan is the home of Beard Papa, and it is just as glorious as I remembered.

Beard Papa in Tokyo, Japan

No — more glorious.

They sell cream puffs, only the best cream puffs you’ve ever had.  They fill them to order, which is absolutely ingenious because it keeps the pastry delightfully crisp.  It’s filled with a rich, creamy custard which contrasts perfectly with the crispy, buttery pastry.  It’s so damn good.

Beard Papa in Tokyo, Japan

Who wants to invest in a Beard Papa franchise with me?

Unusual (and Delicious) Apple Pie in Amsterdam

Winkel 43 in Amsterdam, NetherlandsApple pie purists would probably scoff at it, but the pie at a cafe called Winkel 43 in Amsterdam is pretty damn good.

It’s actually kind of like a cross between an apple cake and an apple pie.  The crust — which is cakey and shortbready — is nothing like a typical pie shell.  It’s dense and buttery, and it compliments the more familiar apple pie filling really well.

Apple Pie from Winkel 43 in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The filling is great too — the apples were nice and tender (apple pies with crunchy apples are where joy goes to die, and if you prefer it that way you’re wrong about apple pie and wrong about the way you live your life), and the flavour was right where it should be.  It’s sweet, with just a little bit of tartness to balance it out.

Topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream, it’s definitely one of the more memorable slices of pie I’ve had in a while.

Hauntingly Good Stroopwafels in Amsterdam

Original Stroopwafels in Amsterdam, NetherlandsI was already a pretty big fan of the stroopwafels you can get back home — the round, thin discs of crispy, chewy, caramel-filled waffles that usually come in a cellophane-wrapped pile of five or six.  They’re delicious.

But my stroopwafel love has been kicked to the next level, because I just had a freshly-made one in Amsterdam, and it was everything.  It was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long, long time.

Original Stroopwafels in Amsterdam, Netherlands

It’s no surprise that it’s great.  It’s basically a thin, slightly chewy and slightly crispy waffle encasing a very generous slathering of rich, gooey caramel.  When the guy gave it to me he warned me that I need to keep it horizontal as much as I could, because the caramel would leak out, and yeah.  There’s a lot of caramel in there.  It’s ridiculous.

Original Stroopwafels in Amsterdam, Netherlands

It’s so good.

You’d think it would be too sweet, but the pastry does a really great job of counterbalancing the sticky caramel.  And the caramel is so good — sometimes caramel can basically just taste like gooey sugar, but the caramel here has an addictively rich flavour.  It’s perfect.

As much as I liked the bagged version, I don’t know if I can ever go back.  Comparing fresh to bagged is like comparing Chips Ahoy to a freshly-baked homemade chocolate chip cookie.  They’re almost not even the same thing.