Restaurant Review - Moveable feast

Ethnic dishes make best-loved souvenirs

Edible memories — appealing, approachable, previously unfamiliar dishes — are the souvenirs I carry home from journeys overseas. Some of them later turn up right around the corner on Buford Highway, in storefront shops in South DeKalb or even in my kitchen. Others can only be enjoyed on the spot — a good excuse for more travel and further research. Here are 10 of my most precious souvenirs:

Greek: Octapodi scaras with pita and skordalia. Octopus strips marinated in wine, seasoned with olive oil, grilled over a fire and served with warm pita bread and skordalia (potatoes pounded with garlic) conjures up humid Aegean nights like nothing else. Served at Molyvos on New York's Seventh Avenue, this is a house specialty devoutly to be wished for at the Karatassos chain's promised Greek restaurant Kyma in Buckhead.

Hawaiian: Lappert's Kauai Pie ice cream. Super-premium Kona coffee ice cream is hand-blended with fresh coconut, toasted macadamia nuts and fudge in Lahaina and served in cups and cones all over the islands. With any luck, the new Roy's Hawaiian in Phipps Plaza will offer this sensual treat or something like it.

Indonesian: Nasi goreng, fried rice.__ Originally Chinese, and commonly found throughout much of Asia, the light, spicy Indonesian version is flavored with shrimp-and-chili paste and enhanced with mushrooms, shrimp, carrots or bits of chicken. Traditional toppings and accompaniments include a freshly fried egg, fried onions, sate meats and shrimp crackers.

Japanese: Chawan mushi, savory steamed custard.__ Comfort food at its most Asiatic, this classic is an egg-and-fish-stock custard to which marinated chicken, shrimp, mushrooms and the like are added. Steamed until barely set and eaten with a spoon — not chopsticks — it can be had as an appetizer at Kamogawa at the Grand Hyatt, Atlanta.

Korean: Bi bim bap, garnished rice.__ Most Korean restaurants serve the popular dinner bowl in which hot steamed rice is topped with thin-sliced grilled steak, marinated cucumbers, bean sprouts, fern tips, sesame seeds and chili pepper-fired bean paste. Everything is mixed together at the table and eaten with chopsticks. Authentic versions can be found at Shi Gol House in Marietta, Hanwoori on North Peachtree Road and Asiana Garden on Buford Highway.

Malaysian: Roti canai, an Indian-style crepe__. Elastic as a pizza crust, kneaded and stretched by hand and cooked on a grill, the roti is torn into strips at the table, dipped into chicken or other curry and eaten by hand. A good local version is served at Penang Malaysian Cuisine on Buford Highway.

Mexican: Mole de guajolote, turkey in mole sauce.__ Early versions of the classic stew may have been eaten by pre-Conquest Mexican royalty. The dish as we know it derives from a recipe perfected by the nuns of the convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla in the 17th century. A whole turkey, cut into pieces and browned, is stewed in a sauce containing tomatoes, almonds, raisins, onions, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, tortillas, orange rind, epazote and other herbs and spices, four to six kinds of peppers, unsweetened chocolate and rum or brandy. Rich, deeply flavored and blazing hot rather than sweet, the turkey (or chicken) and its sauce are eaten wrapped in flour tortillas or with steamed white rice.

Moroccan: Bisteeya, pigeon pie.__ Bits of spiced, cooked pigeon or squab are layered with almonds and eggs in phyllo pastry, baked, topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon and eaten by hand as an appetizer. Available locally at Imperial Fez and Casbah Moroccan Restaurant.

Thai: Paening shrimp. Peeled shrimp, basil leaves and crushed peanuts are briefly braised in a thick curry sauce (chilies, ginger, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, shallots, black pepper, shrimp paste, coconut milk) and served with jasmine rice. Tamarind, Thai Chili, Annie's Thai Castle, Northlake Thai Cuisine and Phuket serve representative versions.

Vietnamese: Bun thit nuong, pork and noodle salad.__ Popular as a lunchtime meal-in-a-bowl and widely available, the melange combines warm rice vermicelli, lettuce, shredded carrots, cucumber, sprouts, herbs such as cilantro and basil, and morsels of grilled or barbecue pork. The salad is splashed with nuoc cham, the mild fish-flavored dressing, tossed and eaten with chopsticks. Excellent versions are served at Bien Thuy, Song Long and Pho Hoa, all on Buford Highway.??