Asian-Food Lover’s Guide
We’ve eaten, sipped and shopped our way through restaurants, tea houses, bars and markets to find the city’s not-to-be-missed Asian fare
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Two family-owned restaurants on the near east side make essential ingredients in-house—a labor of love you can taste
Wah Kee Wonton Noodles has been a Madison mainstay for almost thirty years, serving traditional Cantonese and other Southeast Asian cuisine. Many Cantonese dishes are based on thin egg and wheat-flour noodles, called wonton noodles. They are typically served al dente in a bowl of broth with wontons and greens, or on a plate with a light sauce and the broth on the side. Albert Ng, owner of Wah Kee, learned to make wonton noodles from his parents in Hong Kong, where they had a successful noodle shop. Unable to source them here, he began producing his own, even importing the equipment from China to make them. Ng uses them in a variety of tasty dishes: Try the ginger scallion lo mein, a plate of his signature noodles garnished with fragrant ginger, zesty scallions, sauteed bok choy and broth on the side. Meat lovers will enjoy the barbequed pork shoulder on the side. The Singapore fried rice stick noodle features his housemade rice noodles, curry spices, shrimp, BBQ pork, green peppers and onions—it’s a local favorite. Ng’s fresh noodles are so good, they caught the attention of chef Tory Miller, who uses them at Graze.
Bandung, Madison’s only Indonesian restaurant, makes tempeh in-house. Tempeh, a cultured soybean cake, is a staple Indonesian food and an important source of protein. Mochammad Sjachrani, the father of co-owner Pram Adriansjach, has been making tempeh for the restaurant since it opened thirteen years ago. Tempeh is often regarded as vegan cuisine, but Bandung elevates it to a level all Wisconsinites will love. Their new tempeh “bacon,” thin strips of crisp, lightly salted tempeh, tastes surprisingly like … bacon. For a heartier meal, try the Oseng Oseng tempeh, bite-size pieces of tempeh coated in a thick, sweet-savory sauce with green beans, a touch of coconut milk and lemongrass. Bandung’s tempeh is so in demand, you can also find it at many local restaurants and grocery stores—from the Green Owl to Monty’s to Whole Foods.
Play With Your Food
Here are a few extra fun ways to enjoy Asian food. Possibly too fun.
1) Start the night at Fugu, sampling the spicy string beans and ma po tofu. Just for fun, share an order of pork blood, beef stomach, intestine, soybean and sprout straw. Don’t worry, they all come with rice.
2) Is it time for a sake bomb? Head down the street to Takara or, for the forever young, nearby to the dance club cum sushi joint Osaka House.
3) Next, hit Soga and enjoy the shabu shabu, a Japanese hot pot, with your friends.
4) After all that, karaoke at Dragon I might seem tame.
5) Call a taxi and go home.
It’s tempting to head straight up Park Street to theCapitol Square to get a great meal, but you’re passing up some of Madison’s greatest Asian food, from the freezers of grocery stores to the sushi bar of a cozy restaurant. From south to north, here are a few delicious finds.
Yue-Wah Oriental Foods
Take your time exploring the vast selection of spices as well as dried, packaged and frozen foods from all over Asia, India and the Middle East. Pick up some frozen samosas and a curry mix for a quick dinner, and pandan popsicles for
dessert. A fine selection of fresh produce completes the meal.
Mabuhay Philippine Cuisine
Madison’s first and only Filipino restaurant offers a selection of traditional Filipino cuisine, which has both Chinese and Spanish influences. Sample Chocolate, made from pork and beef liver cooked in a savory sauce made with blood, or play it safe with the pan-fried noodles and beef stew.
Oriental Food Mart
This small store has everything you need to make a quick and easy Korean meal at home. Pick up a container of house-marinated beef or pork bulgogi, plus some dumplings from the freezers. Grab a jar of kimchee and a head of lettuce. At home, sauteé the bulgogi and pan-fry the dumplings. Wrap the cooked bulgogi and some rice in a lettuce leaf, top with a bit of kimchee and you have an authentic Korean meal in minutes.
Just across the street from the Oriental Food Mart is a delightful Japanese grocery store. It sells fresh sushi fish twice a month and exquisitely wrapped Japanese treats such as mochi, rice crackers and candies. Hello Kitty candies, bento boxes and Pokemon gum are fun gifts for little ones.
The double-sided menu makes it easy to order either “Americanized” Chinese food or “Chinese” Chinese food. Try the Yangzhou fried rice with barbequed pork from the American-friendly side, or the walnut shrimp and spicy string beans for an authentic Chinese meal.
You could go for the Kung Pao Chicken, but why not try the hot pot, a serving bowl that holds two flavorful broths, surrounded by raw or lightly cooked vegetables and meats of your choice? Dip the ingredients in the spicy chili oil or the gingered chicken broth to cook them before devouring. When you are ready for more adventure, try the braised rabbit and an hour of karaoke.
Nestled along a short stretch of Park that also houses two Chinese restaurants, Edo offers a selection of Japanese foods, including teriyaki, pan-fried udon noodles and, of course, sushi. Enjoy the sweet potato tempura roll in the softly lit, cozy dining room, or order a sushi sampler, such as the Sushi Delux, online for delivery anywhere in Madison.
At this hub for fresh produce, meats and seafood, pick up the makings for Thai curry at home—from fresh lime leaves to baby eggplant and chicken breasts. Or purchase green papaya, live crabs, whole fish, beef tongue and tripe to make a more adventurous meal. Large bags of rice, Middle Eastern and Mexican spices and picnic supplies will round out the offerings.
Asian culture is literally steeped in rich tea traditions. Here are some great local green tea experiences.
Dragon I – Jasmine Flower Tea
The Flower Tea at Dragon I is served in a glass mug so you can watch the unassuming ball of dried tea bloom slowly into a beautiful pink flower emerging from a base of tapered leaves.
Jade Mountain – Taiwanese Bubble Tea
Chewy tapioca pearls add a surprising bit of texture to green tea, which is then mixed with milk, a bit of sweetener and even pureed fruit. Suck it up with an extra-wide straw to get a bit of bubble in every sip.
Dobra Tea – Long Jing
Take off your shoes, plop yourself on a pillow and stay while you sip on Long Jing, a green tea from China that imparts a floral, slightly nutty flavor through multiple infusions.
Umami – O-cha Mark
Green tea and whiskey have never gone down so smoothly. This drink combines Maker’s Mark and green tea lightly sweetened with honey and brightened with a sprig of mint.
Macha Teahouse – Green Tea Latte
Matcha, a high-quality powdered green tea, is lightly sweetened and topped with frothy milk. A subtle astringency captivates your tongue, followed by a lingering sweetness.
DRINK IT IN: Adam Ernst, owner of Dobra Tea, shows how to pour a good cup of tea.