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Category Archives: Breakfast

Burgerville: A Wonderful Place to Meat (Portland, Part 2)

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Yo! So this is part two of my Portland travel journal where I’m chronicling my food adventures throughout the City of Roses.  Day one started off with a delicious breakfast, and today I’ll be presenting my wonderful lunch at Burgerville, a regional burger chain that started in Washington state and moved further south to Oregon.  What sets this company apart is their unique organic menu choices, commitment to improving the local communities where their restaurants are located, and even allowing bikes in their drive-thru lanes.  Talk about being progressive!IMG_2567

However, when I walked in, it was actually furnished like many other burger chains like Steak and Shake with the throwback 1950s decor complete with the signature jukebox and shiny, colorful vinyl seats.IMG_2570  The menu seemed to focus mainly on a variety of burgers living up to their namesake, but they also had a wide selection of chicken sandwiches, salads, vegetarian options, and desserts.  Not only that, but they had seasonal items for sides and offered jars of their signature sauces to take home with you.  After looking through their menu, I decided to go off the beaten culinary path and try one of their vegetarian options:  the spicy Anasazi bean burger. The Anasazi part of the name comes from the Native American tribe that lived in the Four Corners area (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico), and the beans they once farmed are offered by this small scale bean hawker.  Frankly, I was merely won over by the fact that it had some sort of spicy element in the title.  Plus, I’m trying to watch what I eat, so I appreciated the option to purchase something that’s a bit more heart healthy.  Not only did I get the meatless option, but I got the seasonal side which was a basket of rosemary shoestring potatoes and a side of Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese dipping sauce, another local Oregonian product.  When it came out, I couldn’t believe that I could order a vegetarian burger in a mainly meat burger chain restaurant and have it look this appetizing. IMG_2568 I was especially blown away simply at how verdant and fresh the lettuce looked on the burger.  Upon the first bite, I was amazed at how savory the burger tasted.  Thankfully it didn’t taste like I was eating a big pile of beans but rather a pseudo-beef patty.  The pepper jack cheese gave the meal some extra zing, and the chipotle mayo kicked up another notch that would make Emeril blush.

BAAAAAMMMMM!

BAAAAAMMMMM!

As for the French fries, I didn’t care for the size of them since I prefer my fries to be a bit bigger like crinkle fries, steak fries, or waffle fries.  Then again, size may not matter rather the motion in the ocean.  Flavorwise, it was like the perfect storm.  They were fried to the apex of flavor along with a liberal coating of rosemary seasoning and garlic olive oil.  The seasoning was borderline too saline for my palate, but I was greatly satiated by the end of the meal.

If you’re ever in the Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend you try out a Burgerville location for their fresh, organic dishes and general variety of menu items.  Burgerville, it’s a community that believes in food for thought.
Burgerville on Urbanspoon

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Sweet Vinndication (Portland, Part 1)

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Hey hey everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  I’m finally back from my four day long adventure to the Pacific Northwest, specifically Portland, Oregon, and I have plenty of food adventures for y’all to read about.  However, I am going to switch up the style of my writing for this travelogue and instead just focus on one restaurant in each post.  Let me know if you prefer it like this, one post for one restaurant, or a recounting of each day with multiple restaurants.

While I arrived in Portland on Wednesday evening, I wasn’t feeling up to grabbing a very late lunch due to general fatigue and the wonderful Portland weather that greeted me, i.e. an annoying misty rain coming down at random intervals.  However, the next morning I suited up and was ready for my first day of my international teaching convention.  While externally I seemed raring to go, I remembered that I needed to get the fuel to get my teaching mind firing on all cylinders.  So, I remembered a breakfast place I passed while walking to a nearby Walgreens that was called Village Inn.IMG_2554  It seemed like a local place based on its location away from the heart of the downtown along with its general appearance as a greasy spoon diner.  I made a mental note of it and returned that Thursday morning.  It was another dreary gray and drizzly day, but my formal attire seemed to catch the staff off guard as I entered, valise in hand.  It looked like the average age in the place was 60, but I didn’t mind how empty it was at 8 a.m.  As I surveyed the menu, it seemed that this was a chain of sorts that smacked of the larger Denny’s corporation in regard to the general interior decor and menu boasting breakfast, lunch, and dinner entrees at all hours. IMG_2552 Plus, it brought the Baker Square vibe with their pie obsession.  Very Important Notes:  If you buy a dish on Wednesdays, you get a free slice of pie.  Plus, they offer 69 cent beverages everyday of the week from 6 am to 9 am, and kids eat free on Monday and Tuesday.  What’s not to like about this place?  After looking at the plethora of eggs, pancakes, My Very.Innportant.Breakfast option, and heart healthy plates, I went for the strawberry banana supreme French toast for $9.69.  French toast is my weakness when it comes to the first meal of the day, and I can’t say no to fresh fruit.

When it eventually came out, I was surprised that  it looked somewhat similar to the picture that advertised it in the menu except with more strawberry sauce to make it look like the set from Carrie.

C'est si bon!

C’est si bon!

Thankfully, the taste was the opposite of horrifying, and I didn’t feel like killing everyone who humiliated me by making me eat their terrible food.  The strawberries and bananas were actually fresh and not canned which I really savored.  I felt like there could have been a bit more powdered sugar, but the slices of French toast by themselves were divine.  Not only did I taste the subtle hints of vanilla in the batter with every bite, but the bread to cream ratio favored the former which I prefer.  Too much cream takes away from the flavor of the actual toast along with destroying any sort of texture contrast in the dish.  Overall, I was greatly satisfied with the food, service, and prices.  Plus, if you need to be somewhere in a hurry, they don’t mess around with your order which I appreciated.  So if you’re looking for a new breakfast restaurant that you’d like to try out for the first time or just need that coffee and pancake panacea to cure the hangover from last night, Village Inn is the place for you!

Village Inn on Urbanspoon

Beijing (Day 5)- Bruce Lee and Me

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130 posts?  Already?  Just like Rick Ross, everyday I’m hustlin’.  So today’s post on Mastication Monologues brings us to the end of my Beijing/China adventures, but that doesn’t mean that there are going to be any lame foods on display.  From breakfast to dinner, all three meals will be bringing the heat.  So let’s start at the beginning with the most important meal of the day.  I knew already of the importance of the traditional rice porridge congee has in Chinese cuisine for breakfast, but the real challenge lie in where to find a good place that serves it?  After a bit of wandering down the main street from the Zhanglizhonglu station by my hostel, I ended up at the same 24 hour restaurant I dined at the previous night as show in my previous blog post.  That meant that I was walking in when all of the night staff was swiping out while looking at me incredulously like, “This laowai’s back?  He must be quite daring.”  I found the myriad of congee options to be overwhelming where they had options that ranged from the basic plain oatmeal-esque  all the way to the most savory with full shrimp and green onions floating in a goopy sea of white.  I’ve had chicken and congee, so I went for another choice that I never saw outside of China:  brown sugar and egg congee.  I have a bit of a sweet tooth when it comes to things in the morning, so this congee fit the bill.  To drink, I went for something called “almond juice” on the menu, but it simply ended up being regular almond milk that tastes like cow milk with a sweet bite to it.IMG_3242  Eventually my porridge came out, and I was greatly intrigued because it looked quite different than the brown sugar oatmeal I like to eat.IMG_3243  However, once I had a spoonful, I was greatly satisfied as the warmth permeated my frozen body, and the brown sugar perked up my taste buds that were feeling a little sluggish that early in the morning.  By the time I finished the whole bowl, I had a cheap, tasty meal with some stick-to-your ribs staying power that would last me until lunch after walking all over the enormous Summer Palace complex.  After seeing just a fraction of the sprawling grounds where the Chinese emperors used to spend their free time and take guests to eat at their special royal restaurant, I started getting hungry.  When I got out of the Xiyuan station, I saw a modern looking strip mall across the street that had some familiar faces like the Colonel and Pizza Hut, so I decided I would see how they would be different in China after walking around the palace.  I found myself wandering to find the Pizza Hut entrance in back when I noticed more people milling out further down the strip when I finally saw one of the catchiest fast food logos I’ve ever seen:  Bruce Lee in his yellow jumpsuit from Game of Death.IMG_1724  This is one of his most famous movies where he ascends a tower while fighting a different martial artist on each level including one Kareem Abdul Jabbar who was a student of his in real life.  Being a fan of his movies, I felt obligated to go in and try the food.  It ended up being like McDonalds, but in an Asian parallel universe.IMG_1716  I say a separate universe because western burger chains in Asian countries still have their signature sandwiches or sandwiches in general, but this place had none even though everything from the menu to the setup of the restaurant was like being at McDonalds.  While I felt somewhat comfortable with the setting, I wasn’t so much with the language and neither was the girl taking my order.  Clearly they didn’t get many foreigners coming into this restaurant compared to McDonalds where they have a separate English placard they whip out at you when you step up to order.  However, after some pointing and laughing at both our communication shortcomings, I got these beef noodles and a side of hot milk boba tea. IMG_1718 Sweet Chairman Mao!  If this is what China’s version of fast food is like, Lotteria/McDonald’s/Burger King etc. take notes.  The soup tasted almost (still not as good) like something out of my adopted po-po’s (grandmother’s) kitchen when I was in Taiwan.  That isn’t disparaging it at all though.  The greens were not stale and were steamed to perfection while the noodles were plentiful and chewy.  As for the beef and the broth, the chunks were numerous and lean, and the broth was warm and absorbed all the great flavors from the ingredients that were having a pool party in it.  The only thing I’d say that took it down a couple notches was that it was a bit salty at times.IMG_1720  As for the tea, it was expertly made with just the right blend of smooth milk and savory tea, and the girl gave me lots of tapioca balls after I pantomimed that I liked tapioca.  So if you’re good at acting, you’ll be in like Flint at this place.  After looking at the chopstick wrapper, I also found out the place is called “Real Kungfu”. IMG_1721 So if you’re hungry in Beijing and looking for amazing Chinese fast food, look for Bruce Lee ready to strike.  Finally, there was my last dinner in Beijing. However, they were on a mission to find a good dumpling place.  I found the Xianlaoman dumpling house down the street from our hostel.  It was a modest looking place inside, but their dumplings were delectable.  I got the house special which ended up being generously stuffed with minced pork, a bit of broth, and some nicely cooked shrimp inside.  IMG_1725I was greatly satisfied with the dumplings even though they weren’t too filling.  After a long stroll I ended up at a Thai place on the same street that was a bit more upscale compared to the other surrounding cafes and eateries.  Since it was my last meal, I went with a mangosteen juice and a cooked pigeon. The mangosteen is known as the queen of fruits while the notoriously stinky durian is the king of fruits.  This must have been an arranged marriage because the durian’s rotten cheese scent did not jive with the sweet and refreshing flavor I experienced when I cracked open the can. IMG_1730 As for my chicken, it was great since the banana leaves kept in all of the great curry the chicken was stewed in, and every piece was pure white meat. IMG_1731 After having to eat meat that always has bones in it for more than ten months, I devoured these scrumptious morsels.  I even tried a bit of pigeon which was a bit more of a shock platter with the head still attached while the actual meat could be likened to a poor man’s chicken:  little meat on the bone and lesser flavor.IMG_1733

Passed with Flying Flavors

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Finally, Korean winter is here complete with chilly winds that were noticeably absent during the sweltering summer along with the occasional snow storm.  It’s still not as bad as back home in Chicago, and I’m glad that I grew up in the crucible of Chicago winters it since it seems like a piece of cake  in Korea so far.  However, I don’t mind going to new restaurants that make me forget about the cold and instead feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  This is how I could describe my dining experience at the Flying Pan in Itaewon in Seoul.  It’s quite easy to get there.  You just go to the Itaewon metro stop and go out exit two.  Walk out straight until you see the Ctrl A on your left hand side.  Make a left on that street, and after walking straight for a minute, you’ll see the Flying Pan’s stairway leading down to the entrance.1550626_image2_1

First off, I knew was going to have a great time there simply based off the name of the establishment because it’s a linguistic pun.  With many Far East Asian languages like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, it is difficult for native speakers to differentiate between the letters “L” and “R” while pronouncing words.  Therefore, the logo of the restaurant is a flying frying pan.  I don’t know if they did that on purpose or not, but I think it’s genius.  As for the decor, it’s a cozy little dining nook that could almost double as someone’s living room complete with couches, pillows, and decorative vases.

A culinary sanctuary from the cold

A culinary sanctuary from the cold

I took it all in along with the gigantic menu while waiting for my friend, Bora.IMG_1300  I could see that they had brunch options all day along with French toast, pancakes, omelets, and sandwiches.  It’s not cheap which is typical for foreign fare in Korea with a range of prices from 14,000 W to 25,000 W.  Eventually, Bora joined me, and we made our choices.  I went with the bacon French toast (15,000 W), and she got the farmer omelet (17,000 W).

Mine came out first, and I thought they could have done a bit better on the presentation instead of the slapdash creation that lay in front of me.

Ah ma cherie!

Ah ma cherie!

Then again, I could really care less what it looks like as long as it’s delectable, and boy oh boy was this French toast tres magnifique.  Most people associate French with being the language of love, and I think I needed a private moment with this mademoiselle.  Not only did it have a soft, brioche battered body, but it was further enhanced with some non-crispy bacon that was flung about its shoulders like some form of pork boa sans feathers.  The syrup was standard maple syrup, but one big surprise was the hunks of pale yellow spread that I originally thought were globs of butter.  I’m not a big fan of butter on my pancakes or French toast, but I tried some of it just to be sure.  Good thing I didn’t neglect them because they turned out to be nuggets of cream cheese.  What’s more French than putting some delicious cheese on some quality, fried bread?  The other big surprise was the secret stash of apricot marmalade that was lurking between the folds of the toast which went quite well with the smooth sweetness of the syrup and eggy-goodness of the French toast.  The strawberries were fresh and slightly tart and were the proverbial cherries on top of the masterpiece.  As for Bora’s omelet, I tried a couple bites and then a couple more as she put more on my plate since I was still hungry/she’s a sweetheart. IMG_1303 The eggs were fluffy and seemingly infused with a slightly strong tasting white cheese possibly an aged Camembert.   It was eggcellent with the grilled greens on top along with the sauteed mushrooms and roasted cherry tomatoes.  We left the restaurant for some adult libations, but my pain perdu would not be lost on me.  Definitely in the pantheon of top three best breakfast meals I’ve ever eaten…for dinner.

So, if you’re looking for some wonderful breakfast that doesn’t really have the greasy spoon prices but plenty of quality flavors, jet on down to the Flying Pan.  You’ll be over the moon once you’ve tried it.

Flippin’ Awesome

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What’s up, everybody?  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I’m going to be talking about a well known player on the Seoul food circuit that I finally managed to hunt down and sink my choppers into:  Butterfinger Pancakes.   I went to the one close to Gangnam station.  Leave the station through exit #6. Walk straight ahead to the first street corner and turn left. It’s about 2 blocks down on the left next to Burger King.  As for the hours, they’re open until 3 a.m. if you’re craving some American breakfast items.IMG_1170

I had always heard that it pretty much was the place to go to get a taste of back home, but that it was always super busy.  The night Steph and I went there was no different.  We went on a Saturday night for dinner, and there still was a 15 minute wait which wasn’t too terrible.IMG_1169  We went up to the top floor, and surprisingly it was filled with mostly Koreans.  Walking past the packed tables, I could see huge plates overflowing with food that the patrons were quickly inhaling like they never saw food before.  Perhaps I would have a similar experience.  I knew Butterfingers meant business when I was face to face with its menu.

I think they're trying to compensate for something.

I think they’re trying to compensate for something.

It literally was larger than life just like their prices which ranged from 10,000 to 30,000 Won.  They had everything from pancakes to make your own omelet options.  I wanted to try a little bit of everything, but I eventually went for the breakfast special (17,000 W) which contained eggs (scrambled/sunny side up/hard boiled), white sausage, ham, sausage links, hash browns, and pancakes with your choice of regular butter or vanilla butter.  Steph got the French toast version of the platter.  When they came out, I was taken aback at how much food there was on our plates.

Steph's French toast plate

Steph’s French toast plate

After living in a country where they eat kimchi and rice or maybe nothing for breakfast, this was a shock to the system.  I quickly dove gob first into my meal starting with the eggs.IMG_1173  I thought I would need some salt to make them more palatable, but I was pleased with their buttery goodness.  Plus, they didn’t have that gross gelatinous texture that scrambled eggs can take on when made in restaurants like McDonalds.  Next, there were the hashbrowns.  Normally, I’m all about the crispy, triangular hashbrowns and don’t care much for the shaved-taters version.

A thing of beauty

A thing of beauty

However, I liked these better than how they’re normally prepared because they were squished into a thick potato-pancake of sorts that made them a lot easier to eat especially with a dollop of ketchup.  The white sausage was just ok.  It kind of had a hot dog flavor profile which didn’t really jive with the rest of the classic breakfast items.  It was like that guy who brings Zima to a house party.  True, it’s alcohol, but it should be at another party or perhaps another decade.  However, the breakfast sausage links and ham were delicious and were only further enhanced through the addition of maple syrup.  Nothing like a little liquid Canadian gold to make any breakfast better.  Finally, there were the pancakes.  I do have to say that Butterfinger Pancakes definitely lives up to their name with their mean flapjacks.  They were perfectly cooked to a golden brown hue and had fluffy white insides.  Taste-wise, they probably were some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.  I think what separated them from other pancakes that I’ve downed before was that they possessed a unique buttery/vanilla aftertaste that took my palate off to Paul Bunyan’s lumberjack heaven.  Even though they were on the smaller side, they had enormous flavors.  When I finished, I was satisfied, but in retrospect, it wasn’t the best breakfast overall that I’ve had.  I think it was simply the fact that I haven’t had a normal American breakfast in so long that I really appreciated one when it came along.  The plate I ordered you could find anywhere in America, but this was a case of distance causing the stomach to grow fonder.

I'm so aegyo

I’m so aegyo

So if you are really hankering for some big breakfasts the way only the Stars and Stripes can do it, head on over the Butterfinger Pancakes in Gangnam.

Taiwan (Part 3)- Hot Pot to Trot in Taipei

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Hey everybody!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  While I’m still here keeping it cool and kickin’ it live in South Korea, I am slowly but surely winding down the last of my Chinese adventure posts where I try some weird and wacky foods that you just can’t find in Korea or anywhere else for that matter.  Today is a bit on the tamer side where I started off my day with a typical Taiwanese breakfast with my friend David’s family.

We went to a really small place that specialized in three key elements of a Taipei breakfast:  fantuan, youtiao, and soy milk.  First, there is the youtiao.  A lot of people back home in the States skip breakfast because they’re in a hurry or just don’t feel like whipping up a bowl of cereal (as if that takes a long time).  In Taipei, you can get the youtiao to go, and I know I would make it an occasional part of my morning routine.  The reason being is that youtiao is basically fried dough or the Taiwanese version of a doughnut.

Fried dough and milk?  I'll take it!

Fried dough and milk? I’ll take it!

You can eat it plain or dip it in some soy sauce if you’re looking for a savory side to your doughnut.  It wasn’t sugary at all like Western doughnuts, but it had a rich, buttery flavor and was not sopping in grease which was refreshing.  We even got a more modernized version of it with a  piece of youtiao and a mini egg and green onion omelet stuffed inside a sesame and poppy seed coated flatbread which is called  shāobǐng yóutiáo (燒餅油條) or youtiao flatbread.IMG_2587  I could only relate it back to a heartier and better version of the Egg McMuffin.  The flatbread was light and airy while the sesame seeds interacted well with the green onions in the eggs.  The other part of my breakfast was a fantuan which consisted of the aforementioned youtiao, pork floss, and pickled radish encapsulated in a layer of sticky rice.  While it was roughly the size of a potato, I was full after eating just one.  The cooks packed in a lot of tender, savory pork along with old, stiff youtiao that provided a spine of stability to the otherwise squishy foodstuff.  I washed all of it down with a iced cup of soymilk which was slightly sweetened but still maintained an earthiness that reminded me that I was drinking soybeans.  You can get your soymilk either iced or served warm in a bowl on the side like soup. Once we filled up on a lot of deep fried carbs, Christie and I were off again on another sight seeing adventure which would eventually bring us to the top of the Taipei 101 tower where we tried a beer float since we had two for one coupons.  It was pretty much a cup of Taiwanese beer with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it.

Classiest drink on top of the world

Classiest drink on top of the world

It wasn’t anything special, but it got better towards the end when the ice cream melted and blended with the light lager.

Christie obviously enjoyed her free drink

Christie obviously enjoyed her free drink

After the Taipei 101 Tower while we were walking and talking, I brought up how much I enjoyed taro root in my boba tea, so she took me to a dessert stand that was kind of like a make-your-own-sundae but focused mainly on taro root paste.IMG_0934  For about 200 TWD, you can get three different ingredients in your bowl.  I picked the taro root paste, tapioca balls, and pineapple.  They had other ingredients like this clear jelly, kiwi slices, and red bean paste to name a few.

Oodles of ingredients

Oodles of ingredients

They lumped all of it into a bowl along with some shaved ice so that it became more like a soup I had to scoop into my mouth.IMG_0937  Obviously, my favorite part was the tapioca balls because they were chewy and sugary, but the lumpy taro root kind of put a damper on my sugar rush since it was just a lumbering giant in a room of nimble tapioca sprites. Another sweet deal (pun intended) that they don’t charge you for is you can add as much ice and sugar syrup to your dessert.  I didn’t think mine was that sweet, so I gave it another ladle full of the syrup.  It was a bad choice.  I could only finish 3/4ths of it before I had to stop because it felt like my teeth were going to fall out, and I was about to have insta-Diabetes.  Word to the wise and Lil’ Wayne, go easy on the syrup.  I didn’t eat anything after that, and we had a brisk walk to multiple parks and temples before sitting down with the family for a late dinner in the middle of a typhoon rainstorm.

This dinner was like deja-vu for me once again because we were having hot pot.  I had had it before with the Wu family on New Year’s Eve 2012, and it had more of a spicy flair to it thanks to the Sichuan peppers they used in the pot.  However, Christie couldn’t take the really spicy stuff, so we only had a medium spice level on one side and a mild broth on the other.  However, that didn’t stop me from trying some new items on the menu like ligaments, Mitsuyaki jelly, and shrimp paste tempura.

Like bobbing for apples but more dangerous

Like bobbing for apples but more dangerous

How hot pot works is that you literally have a pot that is heated until boiling in the middle of the table, and then you throw everything in and eat it when it’s fully cooked.  Easy peasy.  I personally preferred the spicier side, per usual, and the contents of the pot did not disappoint.  For my first plate, I went all meat lovers on it.

Ligament on the left, beef up top, and two pieces of duck blood

Ligament on the left, beef up top, and two pieces of duck blood

I had duck blood which was as good as the Moon Cake dinner’s version but a bit spicier due to the broth it had been simmering in.  Then there was the pork and beef which were high quality cuts with very little fat and sliced almost paper thin to almost dissolve on the tongue.   Then there were my ligaments.  Now, they might sound like some terrible eats, but I have to disagree.   True, it may have taken a bit of chewing, but the rubbery texture gives way eventually and soaks up a lot of the flavor from the other meats bobbing in the devilish red soup.  When I was done gnashing away on the ligaments, I moved on to my second plate.IMG_0944  Here we can see the pork meatballs that were original residents in the spicy side of the bowl until I relocated their savory and seasoned selves to a new one floor house in my stomach.  Then there were the nuggets of shrimp paste that congealed and cooked in the spicy broth to create small shrimp clumps that tasted fried yet were boiled.  The lamb was on par with the beef and pork.  The final part of my plate consisted of the jelly noodles that I had never seen before.  IMG_0940They weren’t really that different from other Asian noodles in terms of taste and texture, but they looked more gelatinous and almost alien-like with their pre-cooked color compared to their more beige-hued state after stewing in the spicy broth.  Then there was my drink that was unlike anything I’ve ever had.

Darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.  Yeah, right.

Darker the berry, the sweeter the juice. Yeah, right.

To get drinks in this hot pot restaurant, you just got up and grabbed a bottle from the back freezers.  I saw normal stuff like Lipton iced tea and lemonade, but I saw a dark bottle with everything written in Chinese.  Naturally, I took the plunge.  It was an experience right off the bat.  First, to open the bottle, you had to use a sharp edge on the top of the cap to open the safety seal over the mouth of the bottle.  Then as I poured the extremely dark brown liquid into my cup, my dining companions informed me that it was plum juice, but I must drink it with ice to combat the strong taste.  I thought, ‘Really?  I thought plums were supposed to be sweet, and I love plums.  How bad could it be?’  It was unlike any plum I have ever tasted.  Instead, it tasted like I was drinking a bottle of barbecue sauce.  I don’t know if the ice mitigated any of the strong flavor, but it had all the smoky, mesquite-tinged makings of a grade A sauce to slap on a rack of ribs or some chicken breast.  That was a strange finish to an otherwise flawless dinner, and my night didn’t end there as I went out to two clubs in Taiwan while walking though a typhoon multiple times in the process.  If it wasn’t for my strong “plum” juice, I’d have withered in the face of the howling wind and rain instead of getting my groove on.

Hot pot dinner, I hardly knew ye

Hot pot dinner, I hardly knew ye

Next up, the last chapter in my Taiwan adventures where I eat the head of an animal.  A capybara?  A rabbit? A rat? You’ll just have to wait and see!

Hong Kong (Part 2)- Stank Bomb and Russian Gangsters

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In continuance with my previous post, Hong Kong Part 1, I bring you another installation of Mastication Monologues!  This post features some a very odd food along with some just plain tasty Turkish cuisine.  However, I’m going to start at the beginning of my day where I started it off right with a proper Hong Kong breakfast.

Now most tourists wouldn’t really know where to go to get breakfast in Hong Kong since it really isn’t a city known for its flapjacks and French toast.  This is where I found the glory that is known as 茶餐厅 or a cha chaan teng or literally “tea food hall”.  What these cozy little restaurants are known for are their plates that combine both western and eastern staples to create the original Asian fusion scene in Hong Kong.  Before World War II, Western foods were considered luxury items, so no one could afford them.  However, after WWII, locals wanted to emulate their British rulers by offering cheap versions of Western food for the common people.  Thus, the cha chaan teng was born providing the once rare Western food items like cakes and breakfast items to the public along with cheap Cantonese favorites.   The cha chaan teng I went to was called Tsui Wah Restaurant, and they are all over Hong Kong. IMG_2310 I was quickly seated, and there were no other foreigners in the dining room aside from myself.  I knew I came to the right place again. IMG_0750 I picked the 31 HK satay beef and ramen noodle breakfast platter.  With this eastern entree came a side of scrambled eggs, a western bun with butter, and a cup of “silk stocking” tea or milk tea which is called the former because of its color and smoothness.  It consists of black tea and condensed or evaporated milk, and is a key part of any Hong Kong citizen’s daily life which is just another carry over from the British colonial legacy.  I was quite happy with the meal overall. IMG_0747 The eggs were pretty good although somewhat on the buttery side which was kind of odd, but the roll was slightly warm which became even better with the salty butter.  Coming from Korea and their terrible bread that’s filled with sugar, this roll tasted like heaven.  As for the beef satay with noodles, it was a hearty and savory meal for the long day ahead of me.  I also appreciated that the cha chaan teng provided deep red chili flakes soaked in spicy oil on the side with salt and pepper.  I could get used to that very quickly.  The beef was tender and slightly seasoned with some cumin while the broth was salty and contained all of the juices from the meat.  The noodles were piping hot and al dente which showed that the cooks didn’t just put some boiling water in a cup and hope for the best.  As for the silk stocking tea, it was unlike any tea I’ve ever tried.  It was silky smooth like the name implies, but with a flavor profile that ranged from earthy to herbal to the more obvious milky notes from the key ingredient aside from the tea.  Overall, it was a great deal for a big meal in a real piece of Hong Kong life, but hurry to one because they’re being phased out as new chain restaurants are taking over.  For dessert, I chose one of the most bizarre foods on earth:  durian.

For those unaware what a durian is, it’s considered the “king of fruits”, and is notorious as a foodstuff that people either love or hate.  One of durian’s chief haters is the country of Singapore where it’s illegal to possess one under a fine of 5,000 dollars.  Plus, Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Food’s fame who has eaten everything from anuses and penises could not finish one bite of this fruit.  On the other hand, one of my heroes, Anthony Bourdain, loves the fruit.  So, I took it upon myself to finally get my hands on this spiky devil fruit.  I went to the Sogo department store in Central, and as soon as I walked into the supermarket in the basement, I came face to face with the enigmatic fruit.  It cost me about 24 HK for a date with foodie destiny. IMG_0751 It was already packed up in plastic, but the cashier insisted on wrapping it again and taped my bag up.  Oh boy….while walking I could still smell it through all of those precautions.  I decided it would only be fair to eat it in an open place instead of my hostel room.  I didn’t want to be subject to a blanket party like Pvt. Pyle in Full Metal Jacket.  Still, I sat down on a bench on my way up to the Peak and opened up the container. IMG_0752 I was immediately smacked in the face with a smell I could only liken to the worst body odor you could imagine combined with burnt hair and manure.  Appetizing, right?  So I started chowing down on the pieces, and first there was the texture.  It was like eating a gooey Camembert cheese, but it was fruit somehow.  Then there was the taste.

It was kind of hot outside as well.  Not the best compliment to the smell.

It was kind of hot outside as well. Not the best compliment to the smell.

I seriously enjoyed eating it because it reminded me of some really strong blue cheeses I ate before yet mixed with some slight notes of open sewer smell and roadkill just to keep it real with my adventurous palate.  If you are not an adventurous eater, I’d recommend trying durian ice cream or custard before deciding to dine with the king.  If you do take the plunge, bring a lot of gum with you if you don’t want to offend anyone for the next six to eight hours.  The stank follows you no matter what.

Finally, there was the more normal part of my day when I had dinner with my friend Tom at Turkish Kebab House in Kowloon located at G/F, 104 Woosung Street, Jordan, Hong Kong. IMG_2367 We thought about eating at Chungking Mansions, but it seemed like we’d get an intestinal worm from the open air Pakistani stalls or get rolled by the large Nigerian gentlemen selling second hand cellphones.  Instead, we opted for the small Turkish eatery which became even cozier with our fellow patrons at the table next to us.  We were pretty sure they were Russian gangsters since they had necks as wide as their heads, were constantly making calls on multiple cell phones, had tattoos, and gold chains.  It was hilarious to watch them demand that the waitress immediately clean their table off even though they weren’t done eating.  Bratva members aside, I ended up getting the kofte lamb meatballs for 55 HK which came with a side of rice or French fries.

The menu.

The menu.

I ended up getting the rice since that’s the only proper way to eat Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food, and overall it was a fantastic dinner.IMG_0765  The rice was the only downside though since it could have been at least seasoned or perhaps a pilaf, but it was just steamed white rice.  The meatballs were juicy, spiced with some chili and rosemary along with some garlic which all nicely complimented the distinctive flavor that only lamb brings to a dish.  The salad on the side was a good compliment to the savory lamb since it contained fresh greens and some roasted peppers on the side.  Another great part of the restaurant were the sauces that came with the food.  Two were tzatziki inpired creations while my favorite was the orange chili sauce that heated up the night while we watched our Eastern European comrades make deals and the typhoon rains blew past the open door.  It was a great meal only equaled by the light show which brought us eventually to a German beer hall called Biergarten located at 5 Hanoi Street, Tsim Sha Tsui (Use MTR Exit N1 or N2.) to close out the night.  Here’s their menu: http://biergarten-hongkong.com/contactus/.   I got the Kostritzer black beer which was just right after the lamb since it was full bodied and filled to the rim with deep caramel tones.

Goethe's favorite beer and just as dark as his philosophy

Goethe’s favorite beer and just as dark as his philosophy

They also had some interesting tables which would be fun to dine in for a date night or something like that.

Barrels of fun downstairs.

Barrels of fun downstairs.

Next episode involves me going to Macau and trying some classic Portuguese cuisine.  Stay tuned!

Where Everyone Should Bee

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Hey everyone!  So today I am going to be bringing you quite the intriguing post where not only did I have a sumptuous brunch, but I also hit up what might be my new favorite summer hangout.  Definitely worthy of my 90th post! First, there is the Honey Bowl.  You can get to it by going to Hapjeong station and leaving exit 4.  Head straight and take the first left by the bike shop.  The street will split, so take the left path.  Walk for about 10 minutes, and you will see it on your right hand side.  You will pass a CU and a 7-11 on your way there in that order.  Here is their Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Honey-Bowl/263651367034499.IMG_0631

So when I got there to meet up with two friends, we thankfully didn’t have to wait too long in the blazing sun, but once we got inside, we saw that the small eatery was tastefully decorated like the inside of a beehive minus the gross beeswax and scary killer bees.IMG_0628  Their menu is quite comprehensive for a country that doesn’t really believe in the idea of breakfast, and it has all of your Western favorites like eggs and bacon, hash browns, sausage, and french toast.  However, I was really craving some pancakes, so I went with the chocolate fudge pancakes (7,000 W).  One of my main complaints with the restaurant was their water service.  They gave us very small cups, and it was very hot out.  Ergo, we were going to need a lot of water to stay hydrated.  In other places operated by Koreans, like in my other post about Taco Cielo, they gave the table a large pitcher of water to save themselves the trip of constantly giving out refills.  Not in the Honey Bowl.  This key error negatively impacted the flow of the restaurant since the wait staff spent so much time filling water which then made orders come in slower for the cooks which then made the wait time longer for your food.  However, I was glad I waited because these pancakes were light, fluffy flapjacks sent down from Paul Bunyan Jesus. IMG_0629 He crafted them in his divine skillet in the sky, and then baptized them in the name of deliciousness by submerging them in the holy chocolate sauce that was just the right viscosity, i.e. not too runny and not too thick like cake frosting.   The whip cream with chocolate chips on top were just gilding the rose, but at that point, I didn’t care.  They sadly weren’t gigantic pancakes for someone like me with a Paul Bunyan appetite, so I also tried the Honey Bowl’s single plate of cheese potato (6,500 W). IMG_0630 It was a very simple dish of potato wedges smothered in cheddar and mozzarella cheese along with pieces of American bacon.  Surprisingly, it was not greasy at all, and the potatoes were neither soggy nor drowned out by the suffocating richness of the salty bacon and cheese.  It also came with a side of sweet and sour sauce that had a chili pepper base that gave this mound of carbs and fat a bit of a spicy kick.  After those two small items, it was time to hit up Fell and Cole again for some funkier ice cream flavors.

Today they had the type of ice cream that I was expecting from the Cali transplant.  I got a double with a scoop of perilla or sesame leaf ( 깻잎) leaf ice cream and then a scoop of All Black which was a mix of Guinness and chocolate.

Why is mediocrity always on top of greatness?

Why is mediocrity always on top of greatness?

The perilla leaf came first, and I can definitely say I prefer them deep fried instead of in ice cream form.  If they’re eaten deep fried or in ssam bap form (raw), they have a strong, almost peppery flavor, but this dairy version made it taste like I was eating frozen sharp cheddar.  I do love my cheese, but it is a bit unexpected and almost unwanted when you’re eating it as ice cream.  Once I soldiered my way through that pastel green semi-abomination, I once again stumbled on buried treasure.  Just like in my last post, Nosh Pit, the alcohol infused ice cream was better not just because it had a bit of alcohol in it.  I love Guinness beer to begin with, so I might be biased.  Nevertheless, the bold, black coffee cloak of the Irish classic enveloped the milk chocolate which somehow made my tastebuds do a Riverdance of joy.  It was like a run-of-the mill chocolate ice cream that had a boosting agent that both complimented and intensified the cocoa element of the creation.  If they ever have the All Black flavor, get it and you will thank your Lucky Charms you tried it.  Well, that’s all for me on my end, so try Honey Bowl if you’re missing some delicious Western breakfast food.  You won’t bee sorry.

Spice That’s Twice As Nice

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Hello everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be highlighting an expat haven in Itaewon where one can  find Western quality breakfasts, burgers, and wings when they grow weary of the kimchi and non-existent Korean breakfast food.  I’m talking about Richard Copycat’s All American diner located at 56-13 Itaewon-dong Yongsan-gu Seoul South Korea.

Now, I do enjoy Korean food and trying new things, but it never hurts to go back to food that is familiar to you.  That what I was looking for when I walked into the diner, and I found it and then some.  They have a pretty extensive menu that is filled with familiar breakfast staples like French toast, omelets, and skillets.  Even though they boasted about the quality of their breakfast options in the menu, I was feeling like trying a burger since it was closer to lunch time.  I ended up choosing was the wasabi burger.  It had cheddar and pepper jack cheese, jalapenos, and a wasabi infused mayo.  Yeah, you read that right, Japanese horseradish and mayo together in one potentially overwhelming combination.IMG_1305

When it came out, I was bracing myself for Western portions, but it was Korean sized which kind of wasn’t worth the 14,000 won.  Plus, as most people have already commented before on the internet, the service at this restaurant is very slow.  If you ask them for a refill or for free pickles, they either take twice as long as they should or forget in regard to drink refills.  Qualms aside, it was a pretty funky burger in a good way.  The bun was buttery and held the sandwich together quite well even with the copious amounts of wasabi mayo applied to the bottom bun.  The beef patty was thick and succulent, but the cheddar cheese was pedestrian even though it was so unnaturally orange that it almost looked like I was eating a sunny-side up egg.  However, I greatly enjoyed the spicy elements of this burger.  The jalapenos were pickled like back home, and the wasabi mayo became more and more intense as I proceeded to munch on the burger.  It wasn’t too overpowering like eating a whole mini portion of the Japanese horseradish, but I did have that burning sensation behind my nose that could send any possible congestion packing.  The fries that came with it were average, but I preferred them since they were somewhat underdone and not very salted.  So overall, I would recommend this burger if you’re into trying spicy things and like wasabi.  They do manage to take very potent flavors and pack it into an easy to swallow package.  So if you’re in Itaewon and want a little taste of home while still maintaining a foot in the Far East, try the wasabi burger at the All American Diner.

I Found My Thrill…

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Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  For those first viewing this site, I review restaurants in Chicago/the Chicagoland area/anywhere I’ve traveled.  Today will be a short but savory post.  Most people say that eating a hearty breakfast is the cornerstone to a productive day, but I’ve found that most people are too busy (or can’t schedule their time properly) in the morning to even grab a bite to eat.  However, if you do have more than five minutes to rush out the door, I would like to tell you about a great breakfast restaurant for any type of eater.  It is called Blueberry Hill located at 7340 Illinois 83 Darien, IL.

I have been to this establishment many times after hearing my mom rave about the variety of items they offer, and the high quality of said items.  I’m pleased to let you know that her claims were not some sort of culinary El Dorado or Utopia.  One of the only downsides about this restaurant is that it gets very crowded in the morning on weekends, and it stays open only until three p.m.  So bring your appetites and patience when dining here because you might have to battle the hordes for a table.  Thankfully, when I most recently ate there, it was crowded per usual, but we managed to get a table in fifteen minutes thanks to their efficient wait staff.  As I looked over the menu, I was sucked into their lunch options, but I decided to get a breakfast item since it is their signature meal.  Finally I saw something that caught my eye:  an avocado, bacon, and tomato omelet.  I also chose the complementary side of Greek toast instead of the side of pancakes.  A quick aside, for those not from Chicago/Chicagoland, Greek toast is basically thicker slices of toast that have sesame seeds on the crust.  Apparently it’s called Texas Toast in other parts of the country according to my friends.

Big portion, even bigger flavor

Big portion, even bigger flavor

When it finally came out, I was confronted with an omelet that most likely was made with an ostrich egg in terms of the overall size of it.  The first bite was nice and fluffy with tiny pieces of crunchy, but not burnt, smoked hickory bacon and large chunks of creamy avocado.  Unfortunately, the tomatoes were not as plentiful as the aforementioned two items, but they were still quite fresh when I stumbled upon them in the yellow fields of the omelet.  I kicked it up a notch with a couple soupçons of Louisiana Hot Sauce to give my meal a bit of that south-of-the-border/Mason Dixon line taste.  The Greek toast was perfectly toasted with a golden brown hue and a thick coating of sesame seeds on the crust.  There were even small slices of fresh cantaloupe and an orange slice on the side to provide some sort of healthy twist to this extremely unhealthy meal.  I ate both, but the orange slice had a prodigious amount of seeds in it.  So chomp away at your own peril.  If there was any part of the meal that really did not impress me was the steaming potatoes that were the side to the omelet.  They were essentially chopped potatoes that were steamed and therefore devoid of any real flavor.  However, most people would be stuffed after eating that gigantic omelet, so perhaps they don’t put as much effort into improving the potatoes.  Either way, I was very satisfied with the meal.

So if you want to give breakfast and your stomach the respect they deserve, roll out of bed and down to Blueberry Hill to find your gastronomic thrill!

Blueberry Hill Pancake House on Urbanspoon

Blueberry Hill Pancake House on Foodio54

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