Bowl by Lukas Volger: Vegeterian recipes for Ramen, Pho, Bibimbap, Dumplings, and other one-meal dishes
I liked this cookbook—a lot. It’s by Lukas Volger, a New York-based chef who set out to develop one-bowl meals that are all the rage today—but in vegetarian form. The possibilities for improvisational meals full of seasonal produce and herbs are nearly endless.
Volger’s ramen explorations led him from a simple bowl of miso ramen to a summer ramen with corn broth, tomatoes, and basil. From there, he went on to the Vietnamese noodle soup pho, with combinations like caramelized spring onions, peas, and baby bok choy. His edamame dumplings with mint are served in soup or over salad, while spicy carrot dumplings appear over toasted quinoa and kale for a rounded dinner. Grain bowls range from ratatouille polenta to black rice burrito with avocado. And unlike their meatier counterparts, these dishes can be made in little time and without great expense.
Volger also includes many tips, techniques, and base recipes perfected over years of cooking, including broths, handmade noodles, sauces, and garnishes.
The trip began with us being marooned for 2½ hours on the 401 and was followed with the unsurprising yet disconcerting demolishment of my beloved Red Sox. Thankfully, this Toronto getaway was heavily punctuated by food. So let’s focus on that, shall we?
To no one’s surprise I am obsessed with all things Momofuku, starting with the sculpture that jets dramatically from the ground near the entrance. Chinese artist Zhang Huan took two years to complete “Rising,” which has “peace pigeons” moving up the building’s facade and twisted tree branches that are meant to resemble the body of a dragon.
Drinks were had at Nikai, a bar and lounge located in a glass cube on the second floor of Momofuku. The cocktails are grouped into sparkling, stirred, shaken and classic twists. We indulged in Paper Plane (bourbon, lemon, aperol, amaro), Royal Bermuda (rum, lime, falernum), Sunrise and Sunset (amaro, cream soda) and an Alberta premium dark horse whiskey—all refreshing and delicious.
A walk down the stairs brought us to Momofuku Noodle Bar for dinner. Up first were the Pork Buns—they are what dreams are made of. Fluffy pillows of bread enveloped around soft pork belly, stuffed with tangy pickled cucumbers, scallions and a dollop of hoisin sauce. It is a well-thought-out combinations of flavours and textures. The Momofuku Ramen has shredded pork shoulder, creamy pork belly, green onions, a soft poached egg and fish cakes floating on tender noodles and submerged in the most delicious broth. After dinner, I snuck back upstairs to Momofuku Milk Bar for some take-away dessert—Crack Pie, a lavish object of my desire. Believe me when I tell you that this pie is good. Once you start eating this rich-sweet-salty-buttery-silky creation, you won’t be able to stop.
I then joined the rest of my peeps next door at the Shangri-La Hotel Lobby Lounge. The 90-seat Lobby Lounge is an urban living room. Natural light streams through two-storey windows that highlight large paintings, sculptures and an Italian handcrafted Fazioli piano set amid contemporary sofas and chairs. It was a particular frigid summer day so we huddled around the fireplace and had drinks and sipped on fancy tea (there are 68 different types to choose from). I loved lingering at this Tony hotel lounge. It felt like we had run away to a sumptous and sophisticated hideaway.
And with that, our weekend had concluded. As if on cue, our drive home left us stranded yet again, this time for a shorter period. Thoughts of steaming pork buns swirled around in my head and occupied the idol time. Toronto, Shangri-La, Momofuku—can’t wait till I see you again.
A mere four hours drive from where I reside, Toronto always holds the promise of adventure and escape from the everyday. It’s a juggernaut of money, culture, sports and beautiful people. And for a few times a year, I make it my personal playground!
Some restaurants in Toronto far exceed their peers. Amid all if its 8,000 dinning establishments, David Chang’s Momofuku is my favourite. The Noodle Bar in particular. It’s tucked neatly next to the Shangri-La Hotel on University Ave.
Let’s talk about the food. Ah, the food. The Momofuku Ramen has shredded pork shoulder, creamy pork belly, green onions, a soft poached egg and fish cakes floating on tender noodles and submerged in the most delicious broth. The clam noodles included said clams, scallions, miso, noodles, the delicous broth as well as a heaping spoonful of chilis. If you are heat-averse, this isn’t the dish for you. The Momofuku Pork Buns are what foodie-dreams are made of. Fluffy pillows of bread enveloped around soft pork belly, stuffed with pickled cucumbers, scallions and a dollop of hoisin sauce. Upstairs is Momofuku Milk Bar which is more of a glassed-in walk-in-fridge than a bar. Still, it contains Crack Pie, a lavish object of my desire. Believe me when I say that I would shatter the glass walls to get my hands on that pie. Once you start eating this rich-sweet-salty-buttery-silky pie, you won’t be able to stop. I am for sure, addicted.
clam noodles – miso, chili, scallion
momofuku ramen – pork belly & shoulder, fish cake, egg
Another gustatory obsession of mine is Chipotle Mexican Grill. The ingredients are laid out in front of you so you get to choose the perfect combo to assemble the perfect meal. Take for instance the burrito bowl. Served in a bowl (hence the name, clever, eh?) you get your choice of cilantro-lime rice, pinto or black beans, meat (braised carnitas or barbacoa, adobo-marinated and grilled chicken or steak) or guacamole, salsa and cheese or sour cream. Chipotle describes it as “a burrito in a bowl and filled with dreams.” Speaking of burrito, the Chipotle Burrito is also what dreams are made of. A flour tortilla stuffed with your choice of the above burrito-bowl ingredients. Not sure why Chipotle has not yet expanded to Ottawa. My friends and family could keep the company afloat with our healthy appetites alone. Chipotle, come to Ottawa, already!
Eating out is grand but eating-in can be just as satisfying. Especially when someone else is doing the cooking. Lucky for me, my pal’s family is always up for playing gracious hosts. One night we were served a savory dish of Kale with Balsamic Vinaigrette and Meatballs alongside a spectacular Mango-Coconut Quinoa Salad. I loved everything but went back for seconds for the salad. Dressed in sweet balsamic and lime juice, and loaded with tons of fruits and vegetables, this salad was a standout. There’s something about the kindness and thoughtfulness put into a meal that makes everything taste better. Not to get all lovey but I’m lucky and grateful to have these people in my life, if only for a few weekends a year.
Kale with Balsamic Vinaigrette and Meatballs
The real reason behind our TO escapde was to be amongst my beloved Red Sox who were in town to play the Jays. It was my first ball game of the season. I love the sights and sounds of baseball. The crack of the bat, the scent of hot dogs in the air, the cheering fans. It was cool to see Big Papi and Peddey. And the Sox won both games. Good times. Although the poor guy sitting near us who got carried out on a strecher by the medics may have had a bit too much of a good time.
Other than seeing the Red Sox win, the highlight of the trip was taking in the breathtaking Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, located adjacent to the CN Tower.
The Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is 12,500-square-metres with 5.7-million litres of marine and freshwater habitats from across the world. The website states that the aquarium has more than 13,500 exotic sea and freshwater creatures, comprising more than 450 species.
Everywhere you looked it was a fish frenzy. The most stunning part of the aquarium was the Dangerous Reef exhibit, which has a 96-metre-long moving sidewalk (the longest in North Amercia) through an acrylic tunnel deep below the 2.84-million litre Shark Lagoon, a habitat occupied by 3 to 3.7-metre-long sand tiger sharks, largetooth sawfish and green sea turtles. It felt like we were submerged in the ocean. Sick. Yes, I’m gushing but upon visiting, you’ll understand. The aquarium is a wonder all to itself. You must go. NOW!
And that with that, a fitting end to our Toronto excursion. Lots of fantastic food, kind family, the Sox, and a very cool aquarium. Thanks T Dot. Till next time!
Nowadays, it seems that many chefs are full-fledged brands first, cooks second. Money-printing machines armed with theme restaurants, much hyped cookbooks and TV shows. IMHO, many of these “rock star chefs” are undeserving of the spotlight and often tarnished by too much celebrity, too many product endorsements and simply too much hype. The focus on cooking appears to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.
I wish I had the superpower to bestow some of the chefs in my own life with fame, fortune and a cookware line. Case in point, my buddy’s mom. Recently, my taste buds were taken to heaven by her deconstructed lasagna. The dish was pure, authentic and skillfully presented. A true culinary experience, yet one that goes unrecognized but for the acclaim from the lucky few in her entourage (count me in as one of her fans).
But not all celebrity chefs are publicity-seeking and image obsessed. I’ve always had much reverence for Chef David Chang and his ability to maintain a strong sense of self and emphasize food over fame. He grew up working in his father’s bistros in D.C. He trained at the French Culinary Institute before taking jobs at various prestigious establishments. Working at local ramen shops in Japan led to him eventually starting his own restaurant, Momofuku. He now presides over a culinary empire that has been the recipient of two Michelin stars and numerous James Beard awards. For months, I talked everyone’s ear off about my upcoming trip to Momofuku TO, his newest venture. And now, here I was. About to feast on the cuisine of an artist.
The restaurant is fascinating. An odd tree-like sculpture hovers near its street-level entrance. Once inside, the split-level space is extremely unpretentious and dominated by minimalist design in muted tones. Tables with backless stools, towering ceilings, stone and glass complete the look. It’s clear from the outset that this design was deliberate. The focus is on the food.
Ah, the food. We dined on heavenly pork buns. Juicy and tender meat wrapped in soft, pillowy dough garnished with a dollop of hoisin and topped with cucumbers and scallions. Next up, my friend had ginger scallion noodles with shiitake, cucumber and cabbage and I tried the dan dan mein, spicy pork, dry scallops, and peanuts over noodles. I was fascinated by the well-thought-out combinations of flavours and textures. I simply admire the way he creates dishes, building from tradition and adding a simple spin to create blissful works of food art. It’s hardly an overstatement to say that a meal at Momofuku was one of a higher order than any I’d ever had before and one the best I’ve had in my life.
Chef Chang and my buddy’s mom have much in common. They both have a passion and commitment to bring joy and comfort to their people through food. They both inadvertently inspire. And they both do it without a cookware line. That’s admirable.