PROFILE: Midtown Lunch’er “Cheryl” (Plus “A Tiger in the Kitchen” Book Giveaway)

Every Tuesday we turn over the site to a different Midtown Lunch’er for his or her recommendations for the best lunch in Midtown. This week it’s Cheryl Tan, an author/freelance writer/blogger who just wrote a book called A Tiger it the Kitchen, A Memoir of Food and Family. It comes out Feburary 8th, but we have 5 copies to give away today… right after Cheryl gives us her recs for Lunching in Midtown.

Name: Cheryl

Age: 36

Occupation: Author, freelance food and fashion writer

Where in Midtown do you Work?: Currently, at home in Brooklyn Heights but I used to work at Time Inc. on 50th Street

Favorite Kind of Food: Anything spicy; anything with big, robust flavors. I grew up in Singapore, where the cuisine is a hybrid of Indian, Chinese, Malay and European styles and almost everything is fiery — or kicked up several notches heatwise with super-spicy tiny chilies. So I tend to seek out those flavors — I adore Korean food (yook gae jang, the bright red spicy beef soup, is a favorite), Indian, Singaporean, Malay, Thai. I love anything curried — even sweet Japanese curries. Even better if these spicy flavors are combined with fried chicken or pork — curry katsu is one of my absolute favorite dishes. As is ayam masak merah, this amazing Malay dish involving chicken that’s deep fried and then stir fried in a spicy and sweet gravy. When I was researching my book, I persuaded a friend’s mother who is a phenomenal cook to teach me how to make it — it’s super easy.

Least Favorite Kind of Food: I’m an adventurous eater but I don’t always love dishes involving less typical parts of the animal like intestines and testicles. It’s not so much the taste — it’s really the mouthfeel. Rubbery and gelatinous don’t really do it for me.

Favorite Place(s) to Eat Lunch in Midtown: Go! Go! Curry (on 38th btw. 7+8th)– I would eat there every day if I could. It’s cheap, the portions are huge and the curry pork katsu there is really the stuff of dreams. I adore many restaurants in Koreatown (Kum Gang San and Kun Jip, both on 32nd Street, are favorites) but probably end up going to Kang Suh the most just because it’s large — so it’s easy to get a table, which is important if you need to have a quick lunch — and the food is consistently very good. They do a lovely job here with kalbi and yook gae jang. Menchanko-Tei on 55th Street (btw. 5+6th) is a delight — I’ve sampled almost all their ramens and they’re all fantastic. I love their chicken kara age (Japanese fried chicken, an appetizer) and rice balls filled with salmon, too. When I covered New York’s fashion week while it was held at Bryant Park, I found myself repeatedly going to one place for lunch simply because you can have a super quick, comfortable and not bad meal at the bar (I’ve been in and out and had a full meal of pizza or pasta in just 20 minutes): Simply Pasta (41st Street, near 6th). It’s not the best Italian you’ll find in the city but they have a nice selection of the basics, the food is usually satisfying — and it’s very quick.

“Go-To” Lunch Place You and Your Coworkers Eat at Too Often? Whenever I meet my old Wall Street Journal coworkers, who are now based in Midtown, we go to either Sapporo (49th between 5th and 6th), which has fantastic gyoza and ramen (I love the ramen topped with pork cutlet–ask for the pork cutlet on the side so it doesn’t get too soggy), or Wu Liang Ye (48th Street btw. 5+6th), which does great Szechuan pork dumplings and spicy shredded chicken. Pretty much everything on the menu at Wu Liang Ye is fantastic — I’ve never had a bad meal there.

Place(s) you discovered thanks to Midtown Lunch? Totto Ramen! (on 52nd btw. 8+9th) This may be my favorite ramen joint in the city — the broth here is amazing, so packed with umami. And I love sitting at the counter watching the cooks blowtorching slices of pork to give them a nice little char before placing them on your noodles. Great food and entertainment — you can’t beat that.

If you could work anywhere (just because of the lunch) where would it be and why? As tempting as Rome and its delicious trattorias and sandwich shops are, I’d have to say Singapore. The country is packed with hawker centers that sell a mind-boggling variety of food — fried noodles, chicken rice, Indian roti prata, stingray smothered with spicy sambal sauce, curried Hainanese pork chops, Malay fried chicken — and it’s all incredibly cheap. You could have a lunchtime feast for under US $3 there every day of your life and never get bored. The sad thing is, it’s impossible to find good versions of these dishes anywhere outside of Singapore.

Anything you’d like to ask the ML readers? Since my book is all about my journey back to Singapore to learn how to make the dishes I grew up eating using my family’s recipes (braised duck, coconut jam, pineapple tarts and more) — what is your family’s most treasured recipe? (And do you know how to make it? If so, share it!)

Want to win a copy of Cheryl’s new book “A Tiger in the Kitchen”? All you have to do is answer her question, (or make any sort of comment below) and you’re entered to win. Limit one entry per person. 5 winners will be chosen at random on Tuesday Feb. 8th at Noon. Good luck! And as always, if you want to be next week’s Profiled: Midtown Lunch’er (or know somebody you’d like to nominate), email editor@midtownlunch.com.

45 Comments

  • FREAK OF THE WEEK

    the ‘any relation to the Tiger mom?’ edition

  • damn, this profile is too complete. nothing to be snarky about.

  • My favorite family recipe is baklava, too bad I can barely boil water.

  • Velvet and Zinger

    1 pound hot breakfast sausage
    1 onion, chopped
    1 green or red bell pepper, chopped
    1 (14-ounce) can tomatoes, coarsely chopped
    8 ounces (1 cup) elbow macaroni or small bow ties
    1 cup dairy sour cream
    1ΒΌ cups milk
    2 tablespoons sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon chili powder

    In a large saucepot, brown the sausage, onion and pepper. Add tomatoes, uncooked macaroni, sour cream , milk, sugar, salt and chili powder. Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the macaroni is tender. It should still be a little saucy and sloppy. Serve.

    My brothers and I could smell this when we walked in the house….it’s SO GOOD!

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    I’ve got an easy recipe — one that was a favorite of anyone who visited our house growing up. Take thin sliced pork chops (or any other quick cooking cut of pork — I’ve also used rib tips, and sort of prefer the not-so-lean cuts), rub with Indian curry powder, pan fry in just enough oil to keep them from sticking, and then when cooked through put on a place and douse in soy sauce. This also works with chicken breast/thigh meat too.

  • OMFG THERE IS A TIGER IN MY KITCHEN! HOLY SHIT!

    Nice writeup.

  • is she to be confused with the tiger mother who locks down her kids to practice piano and/or violin 3 hrs a day?

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    looks like a good book.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    It would be an interesting read.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    We don’t have any particular treasured recipes. The book sounds good.

  • We have many treasured recipes, but one of my favorites is our family recipe for Lefse. We are a Norwegian bunch, but being from Iowa, what would you expect? For those who don’t know, Lefse is a Norwegian style of tortilla made out of riced potatoes, butter, cream and salt. Measurements are a wing. Mix till the texture is right. I look forward to checking your book out!!

  • Jamaican Curry Chicken

    1 Whole Chicken
    1/4 red or green pepper, diced
    1/2 white onion, diced
    3-4 roma tomatoes, diced
    4-5 Tbs. Jamaican Curry Powder (available at JA or Caribbean grocery, nicely inexpensive)
    Salt, Pepper, Red Pepper, Pimento to taste

    Clean and cut chicken by removing skin, washing, and then removing legs, thighs, wings splitting breasts and cutting into 2 to 3 inch pieces.

    Put cut chicken into bowl with diced veg. Add about 2 to 3 Tbs curry powder (depending on spice desired and size of chicken) and other spices to taste. Toss.

    In large stockpot (nonstick is good), heat up 2-3 tsp veg oil and few Tbs butter to med hot. Burn (heat up) about 1 to 2 Tbs curry in pot while stirring continuously. Cook curry for about 30 sec and then add in chicken and veg. mixture.

    Cook stirring and turning often for about 15 minutes. Add water to create sauce as desired and cook for another 30 mins. You can add some sliced potato and carrot with the water if desired.

    Here is a JA curry chicken..very easy, very tasty.

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    Our treasured family recipe is a dessert called Homel Fritter. It’s baked nougat with dates that’s crumbled on a plate, then you layer on sliced oranges and sliced bananas. Repeat a nougat layer, an orange layer and a banana layer. You then cover the entire pile of sweet gooey goodness with Cool Whip.

  • We don’t really have treasured recipes – we share ! :)
    Would really love a copy of the book !

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    Latkes – russets, onions, salt/pepper, flour. No strict measurements. The magic is in the family spatula.

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    grandma pizza:
    pizza dought, crushed tomato, pecorino romano, but not oo much cheese use the grated kind and add like you would to cover but a thin layer. lots of fresh crushed garlic, and oregano. a bit of salt and pepper, and 20 minutes in the oven. The real special part is my grandmother has been making it in the same pan her mother used every week for the at 50 or so years.

  • chinese salty chicken and soy sauce chicken…don’t quite know how to achieve the “mom” quality

    • User has not uploaded an avatar

      @hungryman84 – I was going to say soy sauce chicken as well. Not sure how your mother makes it, but my mother makes it like this (and I made sure to learn this when I was in college):
      - Heat up oil in a pot, fry some chopped peeled ginger
      - When fragrant, add chicken thighs/drumsticks/wings (white meat doesn’t taste as good)
      - Fry the meat until the outside of the meat is cooked on the surface
      - Then, add in about a tablespoon or so of soy sauce (you don’t need a lot of it), enough water to cover the meat and a pinch or two of sugar
      - When water reaches to a rapid boil, lower the heat to a simmer
      - Serve when chicken is fully cooked through with rice and some chopped scallions (optional)

      • I’d like to add that you should use dark soy sauce and some rock sugar. Add peel hard boiled eggs at the end too.

      • User has not uploaded an avatar

        I know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s sometimes called “tau yew bak,” (which basically means soy sauce meat in the Teochew dialect). You do have to use dark soy sauce (which has the consistency of molasses) — I also add hard boiled eggs and tofu toward the end as well. I have a recipe for this in my book — my family makes it with star anise, cinnamon and lots of garlic. It’s made with duck in the book but you can also substitute pork belly or pork loin. Very easy. True comfort food.

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    Chinese style poached whole chicken with ginger scallion dipping sauce. I’ve never attempted it and have to go home to mom’s if I want to eat it.

    • User has not uploaded an avatar

      Poached whole chicken every once in a while is delicious. I feel this traditional dish is more about technique than recipe. Bring water in a stockpot to a boil with a chunk of smashed ginger. Add whole chicken, let come to boil again and then lower until barely simmering. Poach time depends on size of chicken.

      For scallion ginger dip – finely dice scallion (make sure it is free of water) and ginger and put into a bowl. I usually do 2 to 1 ratio of scallion to ginger. Heat up light oil until smoke point. Drizzle hot oil over scallion ginger mix, turning the dip lightly with chopsticks. You can saturate it with as much oil as you prefer. If you added too much oil, drain off excess to use for stir fry later – fragrant and delicious.

      Making a sandwich from the dip and poached chicken the day after, on toasted bread (with a bit of warmed oyster sauce, is also a tradition with me.

  • grandma’s chicken soup. cures everything. even when i follow the recipe, it doesn’t taste as good as hers did.

  • My mom used to make this holiday dish with shitake mushrooms, dried oysters, veggies, dried scallops, and the rib bones of a suckling pig. Then it’s braised until fragrant and amazing. When it’s done, you flip the bowl onto a dish and a beautiful mosaic of food appears.

    I tried to make it once with mom’s supervision and completely burned it.

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