The Squeaky Robot

A Meddling Robot in a Human's World

Posts from the “Food” Category

Chongqing Noodle Diaries

Posted on August 16, 2015

Introduction It is early but everyone is alive. Chongqing’s famous hillside stairway alleys are hustling with people, barkers, animals, and shirtless porters carrying cargo with bamboo sticks. Climbing these stairs necessitates a constant meandering, hopping, traversing, colliding; it is early but you feel alive too. Shouldering these paths are vendors of all stripes. You know it’s a food joint if it’s enveloped in a cloud of smoke, a noodle joint in a cloud of steam. I am searching for a noodle place with enough customers so that I can see the variety in their meals and then point to the bowl that looks best. This dark stair alley bottlenecks and opens out onto the main drag, chaos of a greater breadth and caliber. We…

Kowloon & Around

Posted on August 1, 2015

I had a plate of roasted goose for dinner, Hong Kong style of course, with absolutely nothing on the side. The meat was succulent, dripping in goose juice and soy sauce, paired with a smoky chili oil dip. There was no English menu so an older couple began talking to me in Cantonese, pointing to items while explaining what they were. I didn’t understand anything so I just gestured to one of the roasted birds hanging in the window. They smiled knowingly and yelled my order into the air, and we clinked beers and ten minutes later you already know how it went.∗

Burmese Days

Posted on February 18, 2015

These days I’m in Myanmar, and these days reliable Internet isn’t a thing anymore and neighborhood-wide power outages are very reliable. All my writing regarding this country so far is scrawled on the backs of forlorn receipts and tickets, and I’ve nowhere to put them (Posting a post about why I can’t post has taken me two hours.) For the best, though, as Burma is one of the most compelling places I’ve ever been and it would be a shame to squander it in a dusty Internet cafe surrounded by teenage boys playing World of Warcraft. So until I’m forced to leave this place that has so captured my heart, so much so that I’m seriously considering moving here, The Squeaky Robot will take…

Grab a Seat

Posted on July 11, 2014

For the budget-conscious person in Hanoi, there are no better alternatives to eating than traditional Vietnamese dishes found on every sidewalk, corner and alleyway. One needn’t look far. The food here is delicious, cheap and fun, as it requires a level of proactivity and interactivity that is unfamiliar to many cuisines worldwide. I say proactivity because the best places in Hanoi only serve one thing, and they only serve that one thing for a short window in the day. My favorite bun cha place is open for three hours a day at most, even less if they run out of food. So you must plan and run. Once you plop down on a dubious plastic cube, the interaction begins. Fix your plate with whatever…

Pho Xao

Posted on May 25, 2014


If you follow The Squeaky Robot Instagram, you know it’s mostly just pictures of my dog and of pho xao, fried rice noodles with vegetables and meat. Sometimes doused with soy sauce, sometimes with garlic vinegar and a homemade chili concoction. While I can’t explain this love affair, I happily accept it. The catch is, I like so much lime in my pho xao the hole-in-the-wall I frequent sometimes refuses me limes because “they need them for other customers”. Or something like that.


Royal Huế

Posted on February 19, 2014

In a gust of fortune I was picked up by two kind Vietnamese women, Ha and Thu Phuong, whom I know through like, five degrees of separation. They met me for tea, tea turned into lunch. A short ride to the French Quarter and I was bathing in sweet fish sauces infused with chili. It was a lunch of cuisine a la Huế, the ancient capital city in central Vietnam known for its copious World Heritage sites.

Central Vietnam’s royal and prestigious history affords its cuisine the same distinctions. It was a meal of dozens of small plates and involved methods of preparation. Banana leaves needed tender unwrapping, cakes of steamed rice patties needed to be rolled, every plate was to have a splash of a different sauce; the minced beef patties on lemongrass skewers had to be assembled by hand with herbs, mango, cucumber, and vermicelli, all rolled into sticky rice paper, which was to be dipped in a light peanut sauce. Indeed, there was something more to this meal than most. It was fun.

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Bánh bèo: tiny steamed rice patties topped with scallions, fried somethings, and crispy bread. Pour a little sugary fish sauce, and it’s an unbelievably good mix of texture and flavor.


Bánh nậm: another type of steamed rice cake infused with green onion, shrimp and/or pork. The technique here is to pour some fish sauce, slowly try to peel it off the leaf, then roll it into a tube.


Bánh ram ít: a sticky rice dumpling filled with pork and shrimp on top of a crispy rice cracker. The stickiness cannot be overemphasized; it feels like having very delicious glue in your mouth. I appreciated the crunchy cracker, which served as kind of a life boat to hold on to while chewing.


Nem lụi: Minced beef is wrapped around a piece of lemongrass and grilled. Then begins the painstaking – but very much rewarding – process of assembling the rice paper roll. I will definitely be doing this for future summer barbecues.

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So after five involved dishes, I was prepared to roll out of the restaurant. But Ha insisted that I try Bún bò Huế, the defining soup of the region. Unlike pho in Hanoi, the broth is really complicated; largely infused with lemongrass, it has different sweet, sour, and salty components. It’s also known for its wide array of meats and proteins: oxtail, pig knuckles, beef shank, congealed pig’s blood, and random types of cartilage. Ha said I needed the “complete experience”, and I agreed.

I took a motorbike taxi home. As I strapped on my helmet and jumped onto the back of the bike, I swear to god, acceleration was slower than usual.

Road Trip Brain

Posted on August 25, 2013

We sailed through California, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah, clipping Montana and Arizona along the way. No mind-numbing traffic, rolls of hay for days (each scene could’ve had its own frame, entitled The Great American Landscape), blocks of bright green surrounded by seas of waterless yellow, decrepit road-side shacks, small places with big stories, ordinary towns at the base of extraordinary mountains, deep red and pink. This was the America I hadn’t known. We ended up spinning over 3700 miles of road in twelve days. Exponential tire rotations. Twelve tanks of gas. From San Francisco to DC, then practically back again. And yet it feels like nothing. One hundred miles pales to 1000. Before, as many as fifty would’ve been a big affair. Three…

Toki Underground

Posted on July 7, 2013

If you’re in DC, you have a penchant for off-the-beaten-path dives, you’re obsessed with flavor & kicked-up Asian soup, and you’ve got some time on your hands, head to Toki Underground in the H St. Corridor. This restaurant embodies that cartoonish alt/punk tradition of East Asia while serving up the most satisfying bowl of ramen I’ve ever had the pleasure of inhaling. The broth, the star, is opaque, textured and complex, as if infused with smoke, and it is complemented with a range of team players: fragrant pickled ginger that surprises the palate, a sizable chunk of pulled pork that holds on to that broth like it’s the last thing it’s got, and a slow-poached egg that is so delicate and gelatinous, you could…

Pho: A Worthwhile Tedium

Posted on June 11, 2013

A large portion of my living budget is designated for pho, an overwhelmingly flavorful Vietnamese soup that consists of different types of red meat, animal parts, and rice noodles.  As such, making pho from scratch was scribbled on the 2013 bucket list; I figured, bowl for bowl, making it would prove cheaper than buying it, leaving me more money for chia pets and beanie babies and more pho for moi. The process was fairly simple but fairly long; this soup consumed six hours of my day; another six were spent eating it. To be fair, three of these hours were just letting the pot simmer. This step was most excruciating as I stood over the pot for all three hours, smelling the beefy, spiced…