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Beijing (Day 1)- A Bug’s Life

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Things have taken a turn for the amazing for my blog as I’m quickly approaching the 130 post mark, and more and more of people are liking Mastication Monologues as I get the good word about different types of food out to the world.  Thanks to everyone for your support, and keep on viewing, commenting, and liking!  Today will be no different as I continue my recap of my vacation mastication adventures.  This series will be talking about all the wonderful things I tried while staying in Beijing, China.

Now, I’ve had my fair share of Chinese food which ranges from hot pot to some delicious dim sum to even tongue-numbing Sichuan cooking, but mainland China definitely knew how to push my buttons and boundaries as the daring gourmand that I am.  My first food experiences started, oddly, with a trip to McDonalds.  Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Mark, why would you want to go to a worldwide chain that has been slowly eroding local eating customs since 1955?’  Well, dear readers, while I do like my McDonalds back in the USA, I also like to try it in different countries to see what sort of unique options they offer that cater to the tastes of the local population.   At this Beijing branch they had most of the standard burgers, but I was drawn to the beef or chicken rice wrap.  I got one of those along with a taro pie for dessert.  The beef wrap was delicious since the meat was flavorful along with some good, not great, fried rice. IMG_1456IMG_1457IMG_1458 I was more partial to the taro pie.  IMG_1459Think your classic McDonalds apple pie, but beneath the cinnamon-sugar encrusted dough there are sweet, steaming pieces of purple taro inside.  IMG_1461It’s going on the list of foods they need to bring to the US along with the chicken tikka sandwich from Subway shops in England.  Once we figured out where to go, we decided to visit the Donghuamen (东华门) night market .  It was a bit hard to find, but it’s by Wangfujing metro station.  We stopped for a traditional Beijing beverage/food called nai lao.  It’s basically Chinese yogurt you can drink through a straw out of these small porcelain jugs.IMG_1463  They’re everywhere, and you pay about 80 cents to stand there and drink it.  We were in a tiny convenience store that could have doubled as a closet, but the old couple that ran it were very friendly while we were standing there and slurping the sweet yogurt.IMG_1462   After some wanderings, we eventually found the market.IMG_1465

My own Elysian fields

My own Elysian fields

You can’t miss it with it’s red lanterns and seemingly endless array of bizarre foods such as scorpions, snakes, lizards, testicles, starfish, goat penis, and spiders to name a few.IMG_1467IMG_1470  There are also more normal options like dumplings (amazing designs as shown below), corn dogs, and even fried ice cream!IMG_1486IMG_1485  I, however, went for the gusto immediately with a starfish.  IMG_1469It was absolutely terrible.  Imagine taking food, burning it to a crisp, shaping it into a star, and serving it on a stick.  I ate about 3/4ths of it before I gave up.  It was gross through and through.  I moved on to a much more appetizing prospect in the form of a spider.IMG_1471  This was a million times better than the starfish.  I don’t know if it was the savory seasoning he put on it, or the fact there was a bit of meat to the spider after crunching through the exoskeleton.IMG_1472  Either way, I followed it up with a giant centipede which immediately fell into the same category as the starfish.  It was just as bad, but I think the guy over-salted it after frying it. IMG_1475 So it tasted like I was chugging a salt shaker while eating a lot of crunchy legs and gooey body segments.  If you haven’t vomited all over your computer at this point, I don’t eat anything else weird in this post.  I instead got something a bit sweeter that is another Beijing staple:  糖葫芦 or tanghulu.  At first, I was looking at the fruit a bit sideways because it looked like they were all frozen in ice. IMG_1483IMG_1481 I naturally assumed that since my hands were quickly becoming ice blocks compliments of the lovely northern Chinese winter.  I was sorely mistaken though as it turns out the ice is actually a hardened sugar coating that the vendors dip the skewers of apples, kiwi slices, pineapple bits, and grapes in before serving.  I went with a Chinese grape skewer, and it was the opposite of my extreme foods. IMG_1482 It was insanely sweet to the point of it almost hurting my teeth.  I think if I got the apples or the intriguing sesame seed stuffed apples, it would have been better.  I’d recommend trying at least one skewer though since they’re literally everywhere much like the yogurt bottles.  I have to add a slight caveat to Donghuamen Market though.  It seemed like a bit of a tourist trap.  I found there were other more local markets serving the same fare for slightly lower prices.  Just my two cents.   After all of that strenuous eating and walking for miles, we went to a Belgian beer bar called Beer Mania.  It was a cozy little party place that had a vast array of Belgian beers that almost made me think I was back in Brussels kicking it in the Delirium Tremens bar.  The only downside was the live music was ear-splittingly loud.  Thankfully they gave up playing after ten minutes of being ignored, so we could enjoy our beer in peace.  I went with a Guillotine which ended up being a pretty bold pale ale from Belgium.  IMG_1489It had a slightly apple aroma which then transitioned into a sweet introductory taste that packed a bitter aftertaste punch right in the tastebuds.  After that one brew, we were both pretty tired after walking around all day, so we called it a night.  I was quite satisfied with the night since I could knock off so many food challenges by just moving from left to right about 15 feet.  What a country!

My Glorious Food Revolution- Day 2 in N. Korea

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Wow, I can’t believe I’ve made it past the 125 post mark, but what better way to push on than with my second day of traveling and eating through North Korea.  New Years Day was godawful since we had to wake up at 7 am to get breakfast and then get out of the hotel to start touring at 8 am.  The actual breakfast was quite run-of-the-mill in terms of what was offered for both Korean and Western tastes.IMG_1619  There were random breads and cakes for Western palates along with the stewed shoestring potatoes and some pickled radish soup.  I did enjoy the unnaturally verdant green apple soda they were serving though.

The leaders are also there to make sure you're still on a diet.

The leaders are also there to make sure you’re still on a diet.

We eventually made our way to the mausoleum of both Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.  It was quite impressive as waves of soldiers filed passed us with their chests gleaming with medals.  Very Soviet Union a la Brezhnev.

For lunch, we were going to a restaurant that specialized in 냉면 a.k.a. naengmyeon or cold noodles.

Not set up for foreigners at all...

Not set up for foreigners at all…

IMG_1642They brought out other side dishes that are also common to South Korea like pork mandu or dumplings along with spicy kimchi.

Donkatsu or pork cutlet

Donkatsu or pork cutlet

IMG_1644The cold noodles were pretty tasty even though none of us were feeling too hot.  I liked that the waitresses also provided us with spicy mustard and vinegar to really liven up the dish with a little sour and sinus scorching kick.

The famous Pyongyang cold noodles.

The famous Pyongyang cold noodles.

However, the oddest part of the meal was the one I was the most familiar with…or so I thought.  They provided us with plates of hotdogs alongside our Korean food, but when I took a bite of one, I was in another dimension of gastronomy.

Nothing like some oddly plastic hotdogs.

Nothing like some oddly plastic hotdogs.

Texture-wise it was like any other tube steak, but the taste was unnerving because it literally tasted like cotton candy.  I don’t know if that is because they share the same love for sweet things like their Southern brethren, or if it was made from people.  Either way, it redefined the idea of sweet meats.  I left lunch with a very satisfied stomach after the naengmyeon but with the most peculiar taste in my mouth after those hot dogs.  For dinner, we had a version of hot pot that I never had before.  Normally, a hot pot dinner involves literally a large heated pot in the middle of the table that everyone shares while their food cooks within the smoldering cauldron as show in a few of my other posts (1, 2, Taiwan).  In North Korea, they put aside the collectivism for once and gave us our own pots.IMG_1665IMG_1666  They ignited the gas underneath each pot, and then we could throw our ingredients (pork, bean sprouts, peppers, lettuce, etc.) into the boiling water.IMG_1670IMG_1668

There were also various spices and seasonings we could use like chili pepper, black pepper, salt, and even MSG.  Naturally, I decimated the chili powder cask which gave me just the right spice level that I enjoy while still savoring the stewed meat and vegetables.

Just a little spice with a raw egg to cook at the very end.

Just a little spice with a raw egg to cook at the very end.

There was also a raw egg on the side that you plopped in right before you were about to eat it in order to fry it instantly.

That's one fine lookin' jjigae.

That’s one fine lookin’ jjigae.

Day 2 was a day of more traditional Korean food that I really enjoyed along with the occasional bizarre element like the hot dogs.  They left me wondering what they were going to throw at me for day 3.

Taiwan (Finale)- I Got Too Ducked Up/In the End, Everyone Pies

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Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I am presenting the final chapter in my food travel series where I manage to go out in true foodie style with some very visceral cuisine.  I started the day with a pretty laid back lunch with Christie at the department store right by Taipei Main Station on the MTR.

While we were perusing the food court, I didn’t know where to turn first since everything looked so delicious, but I wanted to get something that I couldn’t get in Korea.  Having the sweet tooth that I do, I was drawn in by a lit up glass case that contained about 20 different kinds of pies at a stall called Rose Pie.IMG_0952  Trying to find legit bakery in Korea is quite hard to do, so I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip through my fingers while abroad.  I wanted to try them all, but I saw one that caught my eye that I thought was some sort of chocolate and peanut butter pie.  After Christie asked the girl behind the counter what kind it was, turns out it was my old nemesis:  red bean.  I shall never escape this crimson fiend!  So after I dodged that pitfall, we got a slice of lemon poundcake pie and plain cheesecake.IMG_0953IMG_0954  The pound cake was interesting because it was made like pie in a tin yet the contents were light and filled with tart lemon notes along with subtle sugar notes.  As for the cheesecake, it was heaven.  The body was softly whipped into a moderately sized slice of cream cheesy goodness.  The only downside from our dessert experience were the forks that were severely undersized to cut through the thick bottom crusts on the slices.  I also got a cup of classic iced boba tea with extra tapioca bubbles since Taiwan is the home to this refreshing beverage.

Blast in a glass

Blast in a glass

I knew I came to the right place as the tea itself was milky yet sweet, and the bubbles were there in force and extra chewy.  I’m all about experiencing different textures, and this drink fit the bill.

Now, we were meeting up for lunch, and we started off with dessert.  Strange, don’t you think?  However, that didn’t stop us from eating in reverse order as Christie took me to another small hole-in-the-wall place that specialized in two Taiwanese specialities:  臭豆腐 or stinky tofu and  蚵仔麵線 or oyster vermicelli.

No frills dining at its finest

No frills dining at its finest.  We ate all the way in the back through the door on the right hand side.

First, there is the stinky tofu.  You don’t have to be a genius to wonder why it’s called “stinky”.  Just walking past restaurants or street vendors who were hawking small deep-fried nuggets of the bean curd made me wonder if I briefly fell into an open cesspool based on the smell.  I got a good whiff as soon as I walked in the door to the main part of the restaurant as its pungent odor attacked my nostrils.  We were led to a smaller back dining room that was enclosed with just some clear heavy-duty plastic sheets that could be found being used as butcher shop doors.  We ordered a plate of deep fried stinky tofu to share and our own bowls of the intestine vermicelli.  IMG_0955When the tofu came out, it didn’t smell as bad as when we first walked in, but with my first mouthful, I could taste the rank, semi-putrid funk of this overly ripened tofu.  However, it went great with the soy sauce.  As for the vermicelli, it was different since there were pieces of pig intestine in the soup instead of oysters which are normally served with this dish.  I found that I preferred the vermicelli over the tofu due to its heartiness and rich, meaty flavor from the intestines.  The thin noodles also were great because they snuggled into the gentle curves of my spoon quite easily which made chopsticks unnecessary, always a good day in my book.  It’s not that I can’t use them, but rather I just think the spoon is much more versatile in terms of eating a wide variety of foods both solid and liquid.  It was great sitting cheek to jowl with the locals and soaking in the atmosphere while the latest Pink single was bumping on the stereo.  Hooray for globalization!  After that filling lunch and a long afternoon of sightseeing, we went to my friend David’s and Christie’s grandparents’ house for one last meal together.

When I got there, it was a simple apartment, but I could already smell what Po-Po (grandma) was cookin’, and it only heightened my anticipation.  We were also graced with Mr. Wu’s presence; hence, we were being treated to Po-Po’s famous chicken soup among many other things.

A feast of the roundtable

A feast of the roundtable (going counterclockwise): cooked whole shrimp, stewed fish with marinade, duck and beef slices, a bowl of tripe and intestines, a plate of fresh bamboo, some mixed greens, and the cucumber segments.

She told me through Mrs. Wu interpreting that the whole chicken was prepared and stewed in the stock for over three days.  I helped myself to a bowl of this homemade blend, and it was hands down the best chicken soup I’ve ever had.  I mixed in some white rice to soak up more of the slightly salty but bursting with flavor broth, and I really liked the sliced potatoes because they were tender enough that you didn’t even need a knife to cut them.  They were like small white icebergs bobbing in a sea of delectable ambrosia.  In addition to a couple bowls of soup, I got my fair share of meat with slices of beef, duck, beef tripe, and pork intestines.  All of them were cooked to excellence, and the tripe was the most interesting just because it looked like it had little spines from the inside of the stomach.  I also had my first experience with eating whole shrimp.  I had to take the shell off with my hands and devour the sweet pink flesh inside.  Then the piece de resistance was sucking out the fat and brains from the shrimp head.  I could see why Mrs. Wu told me this was the best part since it was like taking a shot of butter to go along with your cooked shrimp.  Then there was the stewed red snapper that apparently was the object of desire when Mrs. Wu and Mr. Ni were kids.  They know good food because the flesh was extremely tender, but you had to be careful to de-bone each piece of its needle thin bones.  I managed to do it with chopsticks, so I think I’ve reached Mr. Miagi level of proficiency.  The flesh was only enhanced with the soupy gravy that surrounded the fish since it soaked up all of the extra flavors and spices from the cooked fish to create a hyper-concentrated marinade that could be considered a type of controlled substance it was that addictive.  Now I wasn’t a complete caveman with eating just meat this meal.  I actually enjoyed pickled fresh cucumber pieces that had a sweet, vinaigrette zing as I popped each crunchy segment into my maw.  I also saw a plate of what looked like cubes of potatoes or apples, but it turned out to be pieces of fresh chopped bamboo.  I didn’t know what to expect taste-wise, but I was greeted with a cool, crisp almost neutral taste that leaned ever so slightly towards a red delicious apple flavor.  It was Mr. Wu’s favorite dish, and he showed me that it went well with a dab of mayo.  He showed me the light as the eggy/semi-salty mayo balanced out the lighter pieces of bamboo.  They saw I was still a little hungry, so they brought out the big guns to really see what I could eat.  First, they gave me a dark piece of food that looked like a thick stick bent at a 45 degree angle, and it turned out to be a duck wing.  It had a smoky, bbq taste, but there wasn’t much meat on it.  Then they threw down the gauntlet when they gave me a thin, semi-elongated piece of meat that seemed to be filled with ridges, nooks, and crannies.

What is it?

What is it?

I started gnawing on it, and found this mystery food to be quite bony and filled with cartilage.  My hosts then informed me I was eating a duck’s head, and I should flip it over.  I  followed their instructions, and I was shocked to find my food starting back at me with one black glazed eye.

O hai!

O hai!

That didn’t stop me though from stripping it of the little tender meat still sticking to the cranium along with a piece of tongue.  The best part of the head was actually the eyeball since it was oddly creamy and had a decadent buttery flavor to it.  Once everyone was finished with their extravagant meals.  We had a simple dessert of Chinese and Korean pears and the more bizarre yet awesomely named dragon eyes.  They were similar to lychees, but the insides were clear and jelly-like minus the lychee red juice that stains your fingers when cracking through the outer shell.  The taste I could only liken to some sort of fruity version of a walnut which may have been influenced by the large pit in each small capsule.  With the last slice of pear gone and the final dragon eye cracked, I bid farewell to my lovely hosts.  I will never forget their hospitality as I was brought into their house as a guest and part of the family.  Looking back, my vacation was a hell of a ride, but I never forgot to stop and smell the roses and perhaps eat some if they were stinky or different enough.  Never stop traveling and pushing your own boundaries.

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!

Taiwan (Part 2)- Delicious as the Dark Side of the Moon

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Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  If this is your first time coming on the site, I’ve been writing about my adventures to Hong Kong and Taiwan, so check out the previous posts if you want to get caught up with all of my latest dietary adventures.  Today’s post will be focusing on my second day in Taiwan which was very hot, humid, and happy since I tried a crazy amount of foods that I’ve never tried before.  First, there was the National Palace Museum restaurant.

If there is one museum you need to check out in Taipei, it’s the National Palace Museum.  The only downside is that it is jam-packed with hordes of Chinese tour groups.  Nevertheless, it’s filled with priceless Chinese antiquities that are simply breathtaking especially some of the precious jade statues.  Walking around the giant complex caused me to work up an appetite, so I tried their restaurant which is by the second exhibition hall.  I ended up getting the beef noodle soup with a side of “rice with lard”. IMG_0903 The beef noodle soup was similar to the bowl I had back in Hong Kong at Din Tai Fung, i.e. a beefy ambrosia of sorts.  As for the rice, it was great ,but I suspect there was a problem with the translation on the menu because I think what they meant was that it was fried rice with a slice of sweet potato on the top along with a soupçon of soy sauce.  I was expecting rice mixed with chunky white shortening or something along those lines.  Then there was dessert which was a tofu soup with peanuts. IMG_0905 I’m normally not a huge tofu eater, but I commend them for making the bland bean paste edible.  Then again it was quite easy since it was soaking in cold sugary soup along with semi-soft peanuts.  Not my all time favorite dessert, but at least I tried something new.  As a whole, this restaurant was alright for Taiwanese food, but nothing compared to my dinner with the Wu/Ni family.

While I was eating lunch, Ms. Wu called me up to arrange dinner plans with the family for the Moon Cake festival.  After a few brief conversations, I found myself later that afternoon at the San Want Hotel.  I met my friend David’s cousins and grandparents.  We exchanged a few pleasantries before getting down to business with the food.  My plate was quickly filled as everyone was chucking food at me to try, and I didn’t know where to start since it was all new to me.  I’ll start with the flaky pork buns and pickled chicken feet. IMG_0909 The former consisted of a ball of lightly seasoned pork nestled within a multi-layered, flaky dumpling shell.  As for the latter, they were a bit rubbery and thankfully lacking the bones of their dim sum counterparts I had back in Chicago.  They just really tasted briny with a hint of chicken.  Moving on from there, we had the duck blood which I was really jonesing to try since I heard it was a Taiwanese delicacy. IMG_0910 When I first saw the duck blood cakes, I thought they were large pieces of liver due to the texture and color, but when I popped the piece in my mouth, it didn’t have the same granular texture of liver.  Instead I was greeted with a rich, mildly iron-tinged caress from the sanguineous specialty.  I liked it.  Next came the barbecue pork buns which were like heaven.IMG_0911  Imagine a pulled pork sandwich minus the risk of losing a single shred of piggy.  It was a sweet and savory nugget of glory.  The following two dishes continued the line of fantastic foods. IMG_0912 First, there was the ginger beef which kind of tasted like something you could find at a Chinese American restaurant back home in terms of the ingredients found in the bowl like marinated pieces of beef in a garlic ginger sauce along with sprigs of green onions. IMG_0913 The other bowl contained a similarly stewed tofu dish that once again proved my hate for the squishy soy product wrong with its beefy gravy and peppers.  IMG_0915After these somewhat heavier foods, I took a break with a lighter type of dumpling that I could only liken to a Chinese version of a croquette, but the dough was fried minus bread crumbs.  On the inside there was minced beef along with vegetables. IMG_0916 The next food won points in my book not just for the rich seaweed taste, but also for presentation points.  This Taoist inspired soup was an egg based broth with an infusion of seaweed.IMG_0917    The last dinner course was the stinky fish rice which pretty much was what it sounds like, but it wasn’t as odoriferous as I was anticipating.  Either way, it was a well made fried rice with fresh and juicy pieces of fish.

Dessert was just as varied as dinner where there were many things that were new to me. IMG_0919 First, there was a crunchy noodle pancake which you first had to put sugar on it and then pour some vinegar over the sugar.  It was a strange yet satisfying mixture of crunchy fried noodles along with a sweet and sour flavor profile that complimented the bold texture. IMG_0920 I then had a sweet egg dumpling that had a similar soft exterior like the bbq pork buns, and the inside was slightly runny but very sweet.  Then there were three bowls of goo that all were delicious.  I felt like Goldilocks in the three bears’ house minus the flaxen locks and risk of being eaten by wild animals.IMG_0924  First, there was the taro root pudding which tasted like a taro root which can only be likened to a less intense sweet potato.  IMG_0925The second bowl was filled with tofu pudding which didn’t leave any sort of impression on me, but the last bowl definitely did.IMG_0922  It was filled with turtle jelly.  It’s made from turtle shells and a bunch of Chinese herbs, and it’s used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of ailments like acne and muscle aches.  This was the most unique of the trio since it was like eating jello infused with a slightly salty and very herbal Jaegermeister.  The honey that came on the side cut through some of the intense medicinal ingredients though.  Finally, we ended the meal with the traditional foods of the Moon Cake festival:  the moon cakes and pomelo. IMG_0921 The moon cakes were delicious as the buttery, crumbly dough gave way to a chocolate interior for one, chestnut and orange for another, and red beans for a more traditional one.  As for the pomelo, I could only liken it to a love child between a lime and a grapefruit in appearance.  Po-po (grandma) told me I should wear the rind on my head as part of the moon cake tradition with their family, but I broke it to her that my head was too fat to accomplish such a feat. IMG_0923 Instead, I enjoyed the slices of this fruit which looked like slices of white grapefruit with a similar sweet and acidic taste profile, but it had smaller seeds than a regular grapefruit.  It was a bittersweet end to a wonderful meal with a very generous and caring family that I was grateful to be with on such a special occasion.  I really appreciated it.

Next post I will be eating random objects out of a bubbling cauldron of soup.

Taiwan (Part 1)- Sh*ttiest Dinner Ever (in a good way)

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Hello everyone and welcome to another entry on Mastication Monologues!  I’m nearing the end of my series of vacation posts, but I’ve saved some of the best restaurants/foods for last.  I’ve already sampled snake soup, durian, and some great dim sum in Hong Kong, but now I’m moving onto the isla formosa a.k.a. Taiwan.  I had a great time in Hong Kong, so I was doubtful that Taiwan could top my experiences I already took part in.  Food-wise, it just got better and stranger.  Stranger not in the Camus sense, but rather my first meal in Taipei was at a restaurant where I ate out of a toilet and drank out of a urinal.  I’m talking about Modern Toilet located at 2樓, No. 7, Lane 50, Xiníng South Rd, Wanhua District, by the Ximen metro stop.  Here is their website.  I had seen it previously on a Travel Channel show with its feces-inspired dishes, so it was too odd not to pass up.

I knew I couldn’t miss the actual restaurant because the outside of the restaurant sported a giant porcelain throne as the neon beckoned me inside to finally try their bizarre dishes.IMG_0853  Everywhere you walk in the restaurant, you can’t escape the extra Japanese kawaii (cute) piles of anime excrement.

Goldmember's poo's on display

Goldmember’s poo’s on display

I guess that’s the end result of all of that Pokefood that Brock was always feeding to Pikachu and his Geodude.  Sorry, nerdlinger moment there.  Going back to the food, I wasn’t really shocked with the decor until I walked into the main dining room.

It looks so normal

It looks so normal

Every square inch of the place had something to do with the one room of the house where it’s pretty taboo to do any form of eating.

Then you see poo lights and sit on an arty throne

Then you see poo lights and sit on an arty throne

The tables consisted of sinks with glass over them while I sat on a stylized, non-functional toilet.  Oh yeah, and the lights were also piles of poo.  Thankfully they didn’t include the authentic smell with all of these dookie inspired designs.  Their menu has a mix of curries, au gratin dishes, noodles, and desserts that all revolve around bathroom functions.  I went with a simple chicken curry for 220 TWD which came with a drink on the side along with an ice cream dessert.  To drink, I got a urinal of jasmine green tea for 40 TWD.  The drink came out first, and it was in an actual hospital urinal complete with the clear plastic cap.  As if it wasn’t kitchy enough, the jasmine tea looked like real urine, but thankfully did not smell/taste like it (no, I’ve never tried it like Patches O’Houlihan).  While sipping it out of my urinal using my crazy straw, its herbal and honey tinged notes really quenched my thirst for a cold drink since it felt like a swamp outside the restaurant.  Fun fact, if you get the urinal sized drink, you can take the urinal home for free as a souvenir!  Eventually, my food came out, and it lived up to the kookiness of the restaurant.

So gimmicky, yet so tasty

So gimmicky, yet so tasty

Not only was my curry hanging out in a mini-latrine, but my pickled cabbage was kept fresh under a plastic cover shaped like, yep you guessed, it, poo.  The actual curry was well made but nothing out of the ordinary.  It went well with the rice on the side.  The warm radish soup was pretty good, and I didn’t expect it to come with my meal.  It was fairly bland, but kind of had a chicken broth undertone to each spoonful.  Once I ate all of that food, there was one last act in this three ring circus:  the ice cream dessert.  Most places serve ice-cream in a classic cone or cup, but in Modern Toilet, they serve you your chocolate and vanilla swirl ice cream in an Eastern-style squatter toilet.

A thing of beauty

A thing of beauty

The ice cream melted very quickly, but it was delectable especially the chocolate part since it had an unexpected coffee aftertaste.  I left Modern Toilet a very satisfied diner, so if you want to try some average food in an extraordinary environment, pop a squat at Modern Toilet in Taipei.

Next post, I celebrate the Moon Cake festival with an opulent and very diverse banquet.

Hong Kong (Part 3)- A Lil’ Dim Sum-Sumthin’

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What is happening, everybody?  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  If you didn’t read my last post, I finally made it to the century mark in terms of blogging, i.e. 100 posts.  So this a small step towards the next 100 posts.  Today continues in the same vein of the last couple of posts where I talk about my food adventures during my Korean Thanksgiving vacation in Hong Kong (Post 1, Post 2), Macau, and Taiwan.  Today I wanted to bring you the food that I enjoyed during my last full day/night in Hong Kong.  We begin with my journey to the quaint fishing village of Tai-O on Lantau Island.

I originally went to Lantau to see the big Buddha statue that I saw on posters and on friends’ Facebooks, but while doing my research, I found out that a lesser known attraction is Tai-O fishing village.  Naturally, I always prefer checking out lesser known spots that aren’t crawling with tourists like a honey-smeared popsicle chillin’ (see what I did there) on top of an anthill.  When we arrived, I saw on my map that the little blurb said that the village was once known as the Venice of Hong Kong due to its location in relation to the sea, and all of the houses are on stilts which creates mini-canals for their boats.  Plus, they have wild pink dolphins.  That’s right.  Flipper and friends got a new paint job courtesy of excess blood vessels under their skin.  If you go to Lantau, skip the Buddha and go on the dolphin tour.  Nothing like whipping around on a tiny fishing boat and seeing these unbelievably beautiful animals in the wild.  Food-wise, obviously it’s a fishing village, so they’re known for their dried fish filets and shrimp paste.

Mmm, dried fish

Mmm, dried fish

However, I’m not the biggest seafood fan, but I do have a sweet tooth.  So, I found another Tai-O specialty:  nougat.  I got a variety pack for 20 HKD that contained black sesame, plain, and green tea chunks, and I did not regret it at all. IMG_0819 It made a great snack while hiking up to see the Buddha and also look out at the pristine forests of the island.  My personal favorite was the black sesame because it tasted like a mix of vanilla, sesame seeds with a slightly earthy aftertaste, and lightly salted almonds.

Some black sesame nougat

Some black sesame nougat

The mix of sticky and crunchy really hit the spot.  After a long day of walking and sightseeing on Lantau Island, I had dinner.

I ended up going to one of the most popular dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong with a Michelin star:  Din Tai Fung located at 20 Canton Rd in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Let me warn you that the wait might be long if you don’t get reservations or are picky about seating.  Thankfully, I timed it perfectly. It was very busy, but I liked the surroundings in the shopping mall and my friend I made at the entrance.

Look at that punam.

Look at that punam.

Main dining room

Main dining room

I started the meal off with some xiaolongbao (小籠包) that had soup on the inside.

Secret soup attack dumplings

Secret soup attack dumplings

You had to be very careful not to bite into them too quickly or else your mouth would be treated to a piping hot broth bath.  So I saw the proper way to eat them was to nibble a hole in the top to let it cool and put some of the soy sauce marinade on the inside.  Then you could pop the little tasty pockets in your mouth once they cooled down.  Before I could even finish my second dumpling, they were bringing out the second and third plates.  One was a mini-bowl of longer dumplings filled with  shrimp and pork, and the other plate had orange spicy chicken. IMG_0828 The longer dumplings were extremely slippery and hard to grab with my chopsticks, but the struggle was worth it.  The skin was tough enough to hold the contents back from erupting all over the bowl, yet tender enough to give way with the slightest grazing of my teeth.  As for the filling, the shrimp and pork was simply decadent with a whole surf and turf meal condensed into one bowl of dumplings.  As for the orange spice chicken, I liked it because it was all white meat coated in a sweet orange sauce that had a gentle spice level, and the dried seaweed garnish was a good addition because it complimented the wet, sweet meat with some dry, crunchy vegetables.  Just when I thought this parade of great food would stop, they bestowed upon us a dumpling the side of probably a newborn baby’s head.

Big old softy

Big old softy

It was more bread than meat, and the bread was sticky yet soft as a cumulus cloud.  Inside I encountered a large, seasoned pork meatball that was similar in taste to the soup dumplings’ interiors.

Big dumpling fall hard

Big dumpling fall hard

I also ordered a bowl of beef noodle soup which is a Taiwanese specialty which made sense I had it there because Din Tai Fung is originally from Taiwan.  I can see why Taiwanese people always crave this national dish.

Elite beef to eat

Elite beef to eat

From the strong and salty beef broth to the tender pieces of beef, it was a solid dish that I’d ask for on any cold day in winter.  Oh yeah, and the noodles were not too bad either.  Finally, I had “dessert” in the form of taro dumplings.

Taro dumplings

Taro dumplings

It was a nice change of pace from all of the aforementioned meat laden dishes, and it was a refreshing way to cleanse the palate of the strong flavors with the slightly sweet purple paste that I always love in my boba tea. IMG_0833 It was a great end to my night, so if you’re looking for great dim sum, check out Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong, but be prepared to wait since the quality and price always ensure that there is a horde of hungry people waiting their turn to try the greatness that awaits them inside.

Next installment, I go to Taiwan and eat out of a toilet.  Need I say more?

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!

Hong Kong (Part 1)- 10 Points For Slytherin For Going Hog Wild

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Hey everyone!  Sorry for the long hiatus on the posts, but I have just returned after a whirlwind adventure through the Far East for the Korean Thanksgiving holiday.  During my travels, I sampled many different foods that ranged from the more standard fare to the downright bizarre and frightening at times.  Today I will be talking about the first day of foods that I sampled when I touched down in Hong Kong.

As soon as I got settled in my hostel, I asked the front desk where I could eat some good snake.  They directed me to the Sogo department store because they thought I meant, “snack”.  I clarified by making a sidewinding motion with my hands, and their eyes lit up with a mixture of excitement and slight bewilderment at the fact that a foreigner would want to search out such a food not normally served for western palates.  Either way, they gave me the address of a place called Lee Kum Kee which is located in Central outside of the Causeway Bay metro station a little bit north of the intersection of Percival and Lockhart Road.

It's the red and yellow sign.

It’s the red and yellow sign.

Before I even entered, I saw it was one of the few shops on the block that didn’t have any English on the front of it and had various types of cooked game hanging from hooks in the front window.IMG_0713IMG_0723  Time to go into the unknown.

As soon as I stepped in the room, the whole place somewhat stopped to see the foreigner who was foolish enough to wander into a locals only place.  However, they were very cordial and gave me an English menu.  If you don’t like being hustled about or are claustrophobic, don’t come to this place because I was put at a table with strangers since there was no room anywhere else in the dining room.

Interior of Lee Kum Kee.  Really old school.

Interior of Lee Kum Kee. Really old school.

I showed them that I wanted the snake soup (60 HK), and they were even more incredulous that I was going for the gusto after intruding their little culinary sanctuary.  When it came out, I was surprised at how it looked.  I was expecting some skin or at least some scales, but it looked more like egg drop soup garnished with pita chips, lotus petals, and grass.

Ssssome ssssuper sssnake sssoup

Ssssome ssssuper sssnake sssoup

However, I realized it must be snake soup when I saw them butchering some serpents in the back, and the actual meat didn’t look like beef or pork or chicken.  Overall, it was pretty tasty.  I would liken the taste of the meat to chicken even though it didn’t look like it, and I really enjoyed the texture variants with the crunchy, fried pieces of bread and reedy lemongrass that gave the soup a slight tang with every spoonful.  While I was enjoying my soup, a new group of three customers sat down at my table during the lunch rush, and they were looking at what I was eating.  The biggest guy of the group introduced himself and his friends as Chinese nationals from Guangdong province who work in Hong Kong for the day, and they were surprised to not only see me there but also how well I ate with chopsticks.  They were really friendly though and offered me some of their steamed, tennis-ball yellow Hainan chicken which was extremely succulent.  The bowl of soup wasn’t enough, so I also ordered a bowl of barbecued pork and beef over steamed rice with a free side of broccoli greens (40 HK).IMG_0716  My word.  The Hong Kong locals know how to live high on the hog because the pork stole the show with it’s crunchy, carmel brown, sweet skin which encased a savory interior that was the right level of salty that would be balanced out by the rice.  I couldn’t help myself from scarfing at down because I haven’t had that sort of sweet barbecue since leaving the States for Korea.

Moving on from there, I had to get something to drink since the hot cup of Hong Kong tea really didn’t quench my thirst since it was at least 95 F outside and humid.  So I went into a convenience store to get a bottle of fruit spike tea (8 HK). IMG_0736 I don’t really know what they really were trying to say, but it was a very herbal tea that could fall into the range of Chinese herbal medicine.  It’s not as enjoyable as a Lipton Brisk ice tea or anything like that, but it was cold and more traditional which did the job for me.  Finally, there was the matter of dessert.  I eventually saw a line of Chinese customers lined up around the block at this place that was advertised in Chinese, but then below it it said, “Super Bowl Snack”.

This place needs no cheerleaders.

This place needs no cheerleaders.

I didn’t see any footballs around, but it must be popular enough to have a line long enough as one of John Madden’s signature/hilarious ramblings.  When I came up to the counter, I got one “super bowl” (6 HK), and the guy used a bowl to stick two sticks into the substance while putting another bowl over it and flipping it to remove it from the original bowl.  I would have thought it was going to be cold since he was taking the bowls out of a cooler, but it was piping hot.

Funkiest popsicle ever.

Funkiest snack ever.

I thought it would be chocolate, but I ran into my old nemesis:  red beans.  This dessert ended up being some sort of gelatinous dough that contained tons of red beans.  Needless to say, I took a couple hearty bites but couldn’t go any further.  At least everything else I had was delicious.  Then there was dinner.

I made a friend at the hostel, Tom, earlier in the day, so he became my travel buddy for my stay in Hong Kong.  Before going out in Lan Kwai Fung, the party center of Hong Kong, we went out to Zhong Guo Song which is right off Lan Kwai Fung on Wo On Lane.

Just look for yellow and green.

Just look for yellow and green.

They advertised healthier Chinese food with no MSG and less oil.  Tom and I both went for the Yongzhou rice (40 HK), but I got the Thai spice ribs (65 HK) while he got the orange spice chicken. IMG_0741 All of it was fantastic and tasted like they lived up to their promise of no MSG and less oil.  The ribs were delectable since the sauce actually had a bit of a peppery bite to each bite, but the downside was that there were random bony pieces with no meat on them.  Tom’s chicken had less bones, and the orange sauce was like eating orange chicken back home at Panda Express.  As for the rice, it was a fried rice which contained plump shrimp, scallions, egg, peas, and carrots.  We were properly stuffed by the end of the amazing meal which was a reflection of the fun time we had later that night watching the United match followed by bar hopping down Lan Kwai Fung.

So to recap day one, I’d recommend snake at Lee Kum Kee, great Cantonese food at Zhong Guo Song, and stay away from super bowl desserts unless you really like red beans.  Coming up next, I finally grapple with the stinky durian fruit and try a Hong Kong fusion breakfast.

Nosh Pit

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What’s happenin’, everyone?  Today is going to be another snack post about a bunch of small items I have been sampling as of late in Korea.  Recently, my parents came to visit me during my summer break, and we traveled to many familiar places for me like Incheon’s Chinatown and some new places like Busan where I tried poisonous blowfish and penis fish (See:  Food Porn).  Another new locale that we checked out was the DMZ, but I didn’t know that I would be eating any sort of local delicacies when I went there.

A couple of months ago, there was a lot of fear back home in the States about whether or not Kim Jong Un really was going to start World War III just to solidify his power.  Yet Korean people really couldn’t care less.

South Korea in a nutshell

South Korea in a nutshell

That was the general  vibe I got when I finally made it to the 38th parallel.  While we were absolutely forbidden to make any sort of gesture that would be used for North Korean propaganda or could be seen as a provocation for war while at the JSA, in other places it seemed like we were in some sort of theme park with colorful sculptures you could take pictures with.  They even had souvenirs you could take home with you saying, “Hey, I survived going to the world’s most militarized border!”  For me, I was more interested in the food and drinks you could buy.  While there was North Korean liquor, I wouldn’t trust them making any sort of alcohol.  It’s probably half kerosene and half paint thinner (then again, it sounds like soju).  However, I couldn’t turn down the Paju chocolate (5,000 W).IMG_0598  It looked like normal milk chocolate but the difference was that it was studded with black soybeans known as seoritae. IMG_0599 I’m assuming that the South Koreans close to the border made it since Kim Jong Un is no Willy Wonka and would only kill children if they were disrespecting the glorious Juche philosophy.  Either way, I was genuinely surprised.  The chocolate wasn’t quite as sweet as chocolate back home, but it was quite creamy while the beans brought a subtle earthy element and a light crunch to each satisfying bite.  I wouldn’t mind buying it as a snack if they actually made it outside of that one tiny region of Korea.  My second snack treat came to me via Incheon’s Chinatown.

Incheon may not be the prettiest city in the world, but there are certain areas that are nicer than others.  One of my favorite areas is Chinatown which is a bit different from the Chinatowns back home in say Chicago or San Francisco.  While the American ones are more just neighborhoods celebrating a particular ethnic enclave, Incheon’s is more like a neighborhood built more for industrial purposes since Chinese workers are seen as cheap labor here just like in the US back in the 1800s with the construction of the railroads.  However, that doesn’t mean they lack certain treats that give you a view into their own cultural heritage.  I saw many different types of mooncakes, but I also noticed the mountains of round orbs that looked like bread.  I bought one, and I saw on the sign they were called 공갈빵 or gonggalppang which literally means “hole bread”.

You're pretty

You’re pretty

While it looked completely solid, as soon as I bit into it, it shattered like an egg shell.

What's on the surface matters most

What’s on the surface matters most

I found out that there was nothing inside it except cinnamon.  This made it even better since I love anything cinnamon flavored, and by the time I finished it I wasn’t extremely stuffed.

I'm not shallow though

I’m not shallow though

It was almost like a large, cinnamon-coated pita chip in semi-cibatta form.  Then there is the funky ice cream from Fell + Cole that I fell in love with.

Yesterday, a blurb came up on my Facebook stalker feed that the annoying people from Eat Your Kimchi (an expat Korea blog) went to a gastronomic ice cream parlor in Hongdae called Fell + Cole that sold really off-the-wall flavors.   So I decided to give it a shot since it’s blazing hot out in Korea, and I had a taste for something cold.  Here’s the easiest way to get there:  1. Go to Sangsu Station (line 6) and take Exit 1 and just walk straight.  2. Turn right on your first street, it’s not a big main road, it’s just a side street.  3. The street will split left and right but just stick right and you’ll hit Fell + Cole.IMG_0626  If you’re curious, the name comes from the intersection where the owner lived in San Francisco while studying for his MBA.  When I walked in, it was a lot smaller than I anticipated, but it was very well decorated with a laid-back Cali vibe.IMG_0617

Frontroom

Frontroom

View from my solitary ice cream island of a table

View from my solitary ice cream island of a table

The owner was very friendly and allowed me to sample some of the flavors.  I settled for the double cup (8,000) of Makkeoli (rice wine) ice cream and mango hibiscus sorbet.  He gave me two pretty decent scoops, and I was definitely blown away by both of the flavors.The mango was on top, and I greatly enjoyed its tropical sweetness that was paired with a slight floral undertone.

So simple, yet so tasty

So simple, yet so tasty

As for the Makkeoli ice cream, I liked it better than the sorbet simply because I don’t know how they made it taste like a mind-blowing, decadent vanilla yet still maintaining that gentle bite from the wine.

Buried, semi-alcoholic treasure

Buried, semi-alcoholic treasure

Sadly, they didn’t have their bacon ice cream or their Sichuan pepper cream or their perilla leaf ice cream, but now I have three more excuses to visit this hip and modern boutique of icy delights!  I highly recommend this place to anyone looking for a place to beat the Korean heat.

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