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Five Fun and Funky-Fresh Food-Filled Years

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As 2016 draws to an end, many reflect on what a year it has been.  Indeed, it has been one for the ages.  As social media has connected us more than ever, we have witnessed an unprecedented rise of media coverage of the chaos that envelopes the world on a daily basis.  Fear and instability has gripped us in the form of Trump’s election, Brexit, China and Russia’s expanding influence, and increased refugee migration throughout the world due to global conflicts.

This sums it up basically

This sums it up

2016 also marked a historical moment in my life as my blog Mastication Monologues officially turned five years old.  Time for an origin story!

Back in 2011, I was a recent college grad working and trying to figure out how to make a future career.

I needed all the help I could get

I needed all the help I could get

Naturally, it wasn’t the most enjoyable time in my life given the stress of graduating in a period of time when work stability was quite low following the 2008 crash.  Therefore, I decided to go on a trip to New York City with my parents to break up the monotony of work.198073_1575062773554_2851075_n  Up to that point, I had already done a lot of traveling/eating around the USA as well as Europe, but all of my memories were just floating around in my head.  Once we returned home, I reflected on my parents’ encouragement to further develop my writing talents and to record my past adventures; thus, the food blog cometh.  Initially, my blog started off as “Stick a Fork in Me”, and my first post featured an Argentinian restaurant in Chicago where I ate sweetbreads (think internal organs, not cinnamon rolls).  This new hobby began to reflect my everyday life as I went to graduate school and eventually went to work in South Korea as a teacher.  During this time, I decided to make my blog truly stand out from the crowd which in turn resulted in me changing the title of my magnum opus to Mastication Monologues.  With a new blog name, I traveled to many places in Asia I thought I’d never visit

Example: I went to the origin of those cat statues in every Chinese/Japanese restaurant

Example: In Tokyo, I went to the home shrine of those cat statues in every Chinese/Japanese restaurant

and enjoy meals I never heard of.  Eventually I made it back to the States, and I met my fiancee through an act of kismet.  In fact, I won her heart on our first date based on how I ate my fried chicken.

Didn't even know how charming I was :D

Didn’t even know how charming I was 😀

I’m a classy guy like that.  Five years on from my first post, my life is completely different.  I found the lady of my dreams.  I’m going to get married next year.  I’m on the verge of almost 300 posts on Mastication Monologues. Plus, I’m currently studying to pursue a career in speech language pathology.

Even though I might be on the verge of thirty and working on degree number four, I feel as if I have made life progress in these past five years.  The experiences that I have been through have made me an older and wiser person in terms of basic humanity.  No matter where I have been, food has been a way to connect with others, and in a way, what I have eaten has made me think of the world differently.  This, in turn, has been reflected in my writing.  I was originally just writing a purely restaurant review-focused blog, but now Mastication Monologues has morphed into a combination of food, culture, history, and humor.  Although this content focus has changed a bit, my main objective over these five years has never changed: craft a blog that went beyond supplying a recipe catalogue or reviewing restaurants that only pertain to wealthier tastes.  I may not have amassed the type of online following/buzz that others have from doing the aforementioned, but if just one person learns something new from reading my food blog, I am satisfied with the work I have done.  If you haven’t kept up with my blog over these past five years, here is a post for each year my blog has been operating that I think is the most interesting/unique:

2011:  A Brooklyn Fish and Chip Shop that deep fries anything you want/A Cuban Chinese NYC restaurant196951_1575064173589_336444_n

2012:  My first time having a real dim sum dinner in Chicago’s Chinatown

2013:  A visit to Korea’s largest fish market and eating poisonous blowfish soup998550_2876935119549_1444096486_n

2014:  Eating at the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo1656419_3159958634960_66039121_n

2015:  Food Convention in Chicago and meeting Rick Bayless!img_4453

What does the future hold for my blog?  I might not be posting as regularly as I did in the past as more of life’s responsibilities come my way.  Nevertheless, my taste for adventure and a good meal will never wane, so please always keep an eye out for my posts because there are plenty of delicious tales to come.  Have a happy 2017 and never stop exploring!img_9709

OpenTable: A Land of Delicious Opportunities

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Chicago. The Windy City. The City of Broad Shoulders. Whatever you’d like to call it, I just call it home. It is a city known for its skyline, architecture, and especially the food. The dining culture in Chicago is unique due to a variety of factors, but I plan on highlighting the cultural diversity that contributes greatly to the food scene throughout our great metropolis. Although there are numerous communities scattered throughout Chicago, I only have room for five ethnic groups, so get ready for some great Italian, Polish, Chinese, German, and Mexican dishes.  You can find most of them online on OpenTable’s Chicago restaurants  page where you can then make reservations to enjoy all the great meals they have to offer.

1.  Al’s Beef

IMG 3211 150x150: Top Five Ethnic Eats in Chicago   Food and TravelWhen most people think of Italian food, they think of pasta or pizza, but how about beef? Italian beef is a Chicago invention that originated in the Little Italy neighborhood on the Near West Side on Taylor Street. Like many great dishes, it was born out of necessity in hard times. During the Great Depression, Italian families had to make the most out of the cheap cuts of beef they were able to afford. Therefore, they first soaked it in spiced broth to soften up the tough pieces of meat, and then they cut it into razor thin pieces to be eaten on a roll. Thus the Italian beef sandwich was born.

Today, there are many Italian beef sandwiches throughout Chicago and the Chicagoland area, but Al’s Beef on Taylor Street is the original sandwich stand starting all the way back in 1938. It has been featured on the Today show, Man Vs. Food, the History Channel, and even Good Morning America as one of the best sandwiches and restaurants in America. Al’s Beef may have a big reputation, but it is an extremely simple establishment. It’s a modestly sized building with a small parking lot alongside it. Upon walking in, you’ll be greeted with a simple menu that includes not only Italian beef sandwiches but also other Chicago specialties like Chicago Polish sausage, Chicago style hot dogs, and Italian sausage. I always go for the Italian beef sandwich since that is Al’s specialty, and it’s prepared the same way they did back in 1938.

You can order it depending on what kind of toppings you like: plain, sweet (grilled mild green peppers), hot (giardiniera or pickled vegetables), or cheese for an extra charge. Once you’ve picked your topping, then you have the option of how much of the seasoned beef broth you’d like on your sandwich. It ranges from dry (obviously with none) to wet (a little bit on top of the sandwich) to dipped (the authentic Chicago experience with the whole sandwich dipped in the broth). Once you have your sandwich, you can either order a soda or water to drink. Not much selection here, folks.

When it comes to actually consuming the meal, Al’s Beef is interesting in the sense that there are no traditional tables to sit at. Instead, there are only chest high counters that go around the inside of the establishment. Therefore, you must master the Italian stance. What this consists of is putting your forearms on the edge of the counter and moving your feet back about two feet. This provides stability and avoids getting any of the sandwich on your clothes. If you have room, I’d recommend walking across Taylor Street to Mario’s Italian Lemonade for dessert to taste another relic of Italian American pride in Chicago. So, if you want a one of a kind piece of Chicago Italian culture for a great price, check out Al’s Beef.

 1079 W Taylor St, Chicago, Illinois
(312)226-4017
http://www.alsbeef.com/ 
 
2. Podhalanka

IMG 3789 150x150: Top Five Ethnic Eats in Chicago   Food and TravelI stumbled upon an intriguing infographic that showed the top language, excluding English and Spanish, in all 50 states in the United States. Illinois’ third biggest language and ethnic group is people of Polish descent. At one time, there were more Polish people in Chicago than the Polish capital of Warsaw. While this is no longer true, Polish cuisine and culture is extremely strong throughout the city. I am one of the millions of people of Polish descent in Chicago, so I only felt it necessary to highlight a restaurant representing this community.

While there are tons of Polish restaurants I’ve tried around my grandparents’ neighborhood surrounding Midway Airport, I’d like to tell you more about a hidden gem on the North Side called Podhalanka. It is located in the Polonia Triangle, considered the oldest and most prominent of Chicago’s Polish enclaves. Therefore, Podhalanka is the real deal when it comes to no-frills Polish food for a great price. If you’ve never tried Polish food, this would be the most authentic you could get without hopping on a plane and landing in Krakow. This restaurant may have never been on the Food Channel or on Good Morning America, and frankly, Podhalanka doesn’t really care. They just care about providing scrumptious food with plenty of love to their customers.

While the inside and outside of the restaurant might lack of cutting edge design, it more than makes up for it through the food that is spectacular and the overall atmosphere. Podhalanka is filled with plenty of local flavor as the walls are festooned with various artifacts of Polish culture, and the bar is often occupied by old timers taking down some soup with a beer. The wait staff is also colorful as they are gruffer than your average American waiter, but they aren’t mean spirited.

Looking over the menu, they have a variety of soups, salads, and meat dishes. The wait staff might also just tell you what to get if you’re overwhelmed with the selection of foreign dishes. I’d highly recommend the Kotlet Schabowy which is a breaded pork cutlet that is huge and has a perfect, golden-brown bread crumb crust around a tender piece of pork.

Another great dish would be the żurek or sour rye soup. It’s not as gross as it sounds. Rather it’s more like a creamy soup filled with large chunks of hearty Polish kielbasa and a slightly sour aftertaste to offer a little zing with every spoonful. I had for my entree the Sztuka Miesa W Sosie Chrzanowym or boiled beef with horseradish sauce when I visited Podhalanka, and if you like cleaning out your sinuses while chowing down on a stick-to-your-ribs type of meal, I’d highly recommend it. So if you’re looking for a great Polish diner with giant plates for tiny prices, checkout Podhalanka.

 1549 W Division St, Chicago, Illinois
(773)486-6655
http://chicago.menupages.com/restaurants/podhalanka/menu

3. Cemitas Puebla

IMG 3559 150x150: Top Five Ethnic Eats in Chicago   Food and TravelThe Mexican community in Chicago has steadily been growing in the past couple of decades, and now one can find tacos, burritos, and quesadillas in restaurantes throughout the ciudad (city, for those of you who don’t habla espanol). However, there is one Mexican restaurant in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood, Humboldt Park, that really took me by surprise. I’m talking about Cemitas Puebla.

I originally saw it on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and I vowed that I had to visit it after seeing these mouthwatering sandwiches being made. They’ve also been featured on the local ABC News Chicago branch’s “Hungry Hound” segment and PBS.

So why choose Cemita Puebla over all the other Mexican taquerias in Chicago? Because they offer a unique dish from Puebla, Mexico that I have not seen anywhere else in the country. There is only street parking for this establishment, so make sure to get there before the lunch crowd rushes in. The outside of the restaurant is simple and advertises their appearance on the Food Network, and the inside operates on a typical line up and “Can I take your order?” system. The clientele are mostly families and locals from nearby businesses.

Their menu has a range of different cemitas along with other Mexican staples like tacos, burritos, and chalupas. However, I went for the signature cemita atomica or “atomic cemita” along with a cup of agua de jamaica or “hibiscus water”, a popular drink throughout Latin America that is kind of like sweet, red Kool-aid. The cemita I ordered consisted of a grilled, sesame topped bun piled high with breaded pork, roasted pork, and plain ham along with queso fresco, fresh avocado, and two complimentary bottles of mild and spicy tomatillo sauce on the side. I was living in hog heaven south of the border with this pig-tacular sandwich. It is a great place for lunch or dinner that is a bit out of the way, but it is a piece of Mexico that isn’t often represented in the Chicago culinary landscape.

 
3619 W. North Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
http://www.cemitaspuebla.com/
 
4. The Berghoff

berg 150x150: Top Five Ethnic Eats in Chicago   Food and TravelI chose the Berghoff since it is a pillar of Chicago’s ethnic and culinary background. Germans have resided in Chicago since the 1800s. Although their presence isn’t as large as it once was, the German community’s identity still remains strong especially during Oktoberfest when everyone is a little German to celebrate the harvest and that delicious beer that Deutchland makes.

What makes the Berghoff so unique is that it is a purely Chicago institution that opened in 1898 as a men’s only saloon that served free corned beef with the purchase of a stein of beer. Their beer sales were severely affected during the era of Prohibition, but when the ban was repealed in 1933, the City of Chicago issued the Berghoff liquor license number 1.

This tradition continues even today along with still being run by the Berhoff family in the form of the great-granddaughter of the Berghoff’s founder, Herman Berghoff. While they maintain many of their traditions, the menu has expanded to feature more contemporary favorites, including gluten-free dishes, which are side by side with typical German meals.

The interior is amazing with the rich, dark wood carvings and stained glass windows. It is a slightly more formal place, so I’d recommend not walking in with torn jeans or tank tops. They also do group events in their cafe and even cater for parties if you want to host a large party.

When I was there, I got and highly recommend the seasonal ox joint with pumpkin gnocchi. It was large, hearty, and had fall-off the bone meat. I haven’t tried their other plates, but if you’re a beer lover, they have a wide range of lagers, pilsners, and seasonals to quench your thirst. I’d also suggest visiting this German restaurant for their Oktoberfest celebration that is one of the best in Chicago. For the kids, The Berghoff makes their own root beer which became popular at The Berghoff during Prohibition, and there are other non-alcoholic drinks for those who would rather not imbibe while dining. So if you’re looking to raise a stein of beer with a friend or go out with a special someone while sampling some Old World fare, I’d highly recommend The Berghoff.

 
17 West Adams, Chicago, Illinois
(312)427-3170
http://www.theberghoff.com
 
5. Three Happiness

img 0800 150x150: Top Five Ethnic Eats in Chicago   Food and TravelChinese food is a cuisine of fusion and variety due the presence of numerous ethnic groups within the country along with traders from other lands over centuries bringing their own ingredients from their homelands to the Middle Kingdom. In the United States, we are used to the American Chinese classics like orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, and various fried rices. These dishes have their roots in Cantonese cuisine since most of the Chinese immigrants who emigrated to the USA during 1800s came from this southern region of China. However, there is much more to Chinese food than just fried meats covered in sweet sauce and cookies containing often cryptic fortunes.

I’d like to talk more about the Chinese tradition of dim sum which can be found throughout Chicago’s Chinatown. Although it is not as big as San Francisco’s Chinatown, Chicago’s Chinatown is the second oldest in America after Chinese laborers fled violent clashes with white settlers on the West Coast. It has plenty of great sights to enjoy like the Chinatown mural, the square, and the Chinese New Year celebrations. However, I’d like to highlight Three Happiness as a great restaurant for both traditional American Chinese fare and delicious dim sum.

There are two Three Happineses: the original next to the Chinatown gate or the new one next to the Chicago fire department. I’ll be talking about the new Three Happiness. I’ve been going there since I was little, and they have plenty of space for big parties or just a table for two. It gets pretty loud inside during peak hours, so it wouldn’t be the best spot for a romantic, candlelit dinner.

When it comes to the typical American Chinese dishes, I’d recommend their shrimp fried rice since it isn’t very greasy and the shrimp are plentiful and large. Their sweet and sour pork is great too because of the slightly spicy kick to the thick sauce that coats every piece.

I also would suggest trying dim sum which is like Chinese tapas where you have to order a few small dishes and then share them with everyone. How it works is that you’re given a list with pictures of the small plates, and you check off what you want. The server then takes it, and your plates come out to you in waves. Out of all the dim sum plates I’ve tried I’d recommend the sesame buns which are small pieces of fried, rice dough coated in sesame seeds. Inside there is a slight dab of red bean paste that isn’t overwhelming like how other places do these sesame balls. I’d also get the pork bao which are fluffy, white buns that are steamed and filled with barbecue pork. Watch out for these because they are addictive!

The last dim sum plate I’d recommend are the chicken feet just because they are not for the faint of heart and quite unique. While there isn’t a lot of meat on these poultry tootsies, it is entertaining to eat them while trying to strip the meat off the cartilage while savoring the sweet, orange marinade. Brush up on those chopstick skills! (seriously though, they have forks). So, if you want to taste a bit of authentic Chinese culture and take a walk on the wild side beyond Panda Express, check out Three Happiness and Chicago’s Chinatown.

 
2130 S. Wentworth Ave, Chicago, Illinois
(312)791-1228
http://chicago.menupages.com/restaurants/new-three-happiness/

VizEat: Bringing People Together Through Food

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Hello to one and all to a very special edition of Mastication Monologues!  ‘Why is it so special?’ you might be thinking.  Well, while each post I put on here is special in its own unique way in terms of me trying a cuisine you may have never heard of or perhaps taking down a plate that might make you lose your appetite, today’s entry I would like to introduce you to an online foodie meetup group called VizEat.

Logo+tagline à côté

A month or so, I was contacted by the cofounder of VizEat, Camille Rumani, saying that she loved my blog, and after explaining to me what their company did, I had to spread the word.  They are a small but quickly growing company that currently operates in the following countries/cities:  France, Italy, Spain, Berlin, Bangkok, Hong-Kong, United Kingdom, Tunisia, Belgium, Israel, New York, Boston, Morocco, India, China, Switzerland, Ukraine, Romania, and the Cook Islands.  While it is clear that they have worldwide appeal, let me explain briefly what exactly VizEat does.

What Does VizEat Do?

Basically, VizEat is an online community that reaches out to a variety of people.  Whether you are a master chef, a pastry perfectionist, king of the grill, a brewmeister, someone who loves trying new food and drinks, or just want to make new friends, VizEat is the place for you. Marie-Claude's dinner, Their aim is to turn meals into experiences for people who otherwise may have never met their neighbors or tried a new dish if it hadn’t been for this social networking website.  It could also be useful in another country if you want to experience a bit of local culture through a sit down meal with natives. VizEat-Values What better way to facilitate and lubricate first impressions better than a delicious meal and a refreshing beverage?  If you are champing at the bit to know more, here is how VizEat works.

How VizEat Works

Meet-people-from-all-over-the-world

First, you have to register on their website as a host or a guest or both.

Hosts

Marie-Claude, VizEat host- Crédits Adélie Vernhes

Marie-Claude, a real VizEat host

As a host, you will post information about your meal, i.e. the price, the date of the meetup, how many seats are available, and what is on the menu.  You can also post pictures of the meal and/or yourself, so that your guests have a better idea of who they might be spending time with.  If guests are interested in your meal, you will receive reservation requests, and you are free to accept or reject them as you see fit.  The day after hosting the most amazing meal you have ever thrown, you will receive your meal payment directly on VizEat.  So, everyone in Chicago and the Chicagoland area, sign up to be hosts!  I know there are some great cooks and bakers out there, so why not share your creations with the world, make some new friends, and earn a little money on the side.  Everyone wins!

Marie-Claude interacting with her guests.

Marie-Claude interacting with her guests.

Guests

As for the guests, you can browse the hosts in any of the aforementioned locations in the “What Does VizEat Do?” section.  Once you find a host that is serving a meal you want to be a part of, you can put in your reservation.  You will only have to pay for the meal through PayPal when the host confirms it on the VizEat website.  Once confirmed, you will be able to message with your host in case you have any preferences for the food they will be serving, if you might have some food allergies, or even directions so that you don’t miss out on all the good times with new friends!

A VizEat get together in France

A VizEat dinner in France

So if this seems like something that you would enjoy, sign up by clicking on the “VizEat” picture below the different cuisines at the top of my blog and bon appetite!Magali's wine&cheese 2- Crédits Adélie Vernhes

Food Convention Post: Taste Talks in Chicago

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In Memoriam:  This post is dedicated to the dear memory of beloved Chicago institution, Hot Doug’s (2001-2014).  May you continue to make unique and memorable sausage creations in food Valhalla.  Check out my visit to the now defunct land of wondrous tube steaks.

Today’s post on Mastication Monologues is a unique one since it is about my first visit to a food festival that focused more on the craft and industry than purely the art of gorging oneself on grilled meats and throwing money away buying tickets for beers with skewed prices.  The festival in question is called Taste Talks, and it took place from October 3rd to October 5th.  With two events in Brooklyn in NYC and Chicago, it originally was the brainchild of the carrot-topped, Croc-rockin’ chef, Mario Batali.  However, you’re probably wondering how a small blogger like me could attend such a festival?  I actually was emailed by Paulina from OpenTable offering me a spot on the guest list.  I’d like to thank her once again for the opportunity along with OpenTable for reaching out to me.  Not only that, but I was able to get a pass for my girlfriend as well since I wanted her to share in the glory that was Taste Talks.IMG_4359IMG_4478

While we couldn’t attend the Friday kick-off event with the oyster and champagne dinner at the Kinmont Restaurant, we had essentially free reign over what we could see on Saturday.  It was a cold and drizzly day, but the first meeting we went to at the elegant Soho house.IMG_4394  While it used to be  a tannery at the turn of the 20th Century, in the 21st it is a chic and hip hotel.  We marveled at the lobby as we quickly moved to the elevators to get to the first food meeting. IMG_4392 Even the elevators were swanky as the walls were upholstered like a fine leather couch.  Thankfully we didn’t fall asleep leaning on the walls and quickly moved to the Free-Styling with Ice Cream Desserts talk.  Our panel consisted of Jeni Britton Bauer (Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams), Dana Cree (Blackbird), and Jessie Oloroso (Black Dog Gelato).

Left to Right (Jessie, Jeni, Dana)

Left to Right (Jessie, Jeni, Dana)

During the talk, they were all quite gracious and humorous when interacting with each other and the audience, but I could tell that they knew their stuff based on the emphasis they placed on making their ice cream and gelato from scratch.  While they said most ice cream places throughout America claim to create their ice cream by hand, in reality they just use a dairy base, throw in some sugar and flavorings, and add some toppings.  What they’re selling us is just an image of it being artisanal.  What these ladies do instead is actually break down the ingredients and balance them just right in order to get the right texture, flavor, and melting point.  The choice to do what these ladies do isn’t the cheap route in comparison to the easy peasy ice cream base method, and in reality, the government is against them.  The FDA is very meticulous when evaluating their franchises, and the big dairies are favored in the ice cream industry since they offer an easy way out for people who want to go the traditional route when making the cold treat.  The speakers even made some revealing statements like it turns out the soft serve cones at McDonalds are actually just cold, whipped, leftover animal fats, and ice cream was originally derived from excess butter at dairies.  Ice cream normally is around 10% fat, but McDonald’s, as always, manages to do it bigger than anyone else.  They also explained the differences between gelato and ice cream:  gelato has a lower fat content than ice cream, it’s smoother than ice cream due to the lack of ice crystals, and gelato is served at a higher temperature than traditional American ice cream.  Once they got tired of just talking, each chef did an ice cream demo.  First, there was Jeni Britton Bauer’s ice cream punch.

I knew we were in for a good time when there were bottles of Hennessy on deck right next to the punch bowls. IMG_4364 However, she started instead by struggling to open a bottle of Prosecco, but she eventually opened two and dumped the bubbly into the bowl. IMG_4475 Jeni followed that up with a cup of the smooth brown cognac.  Then, she proceeded to throw a bunch of scoops of different types of sorbet like lemon, strawberry, and raspberry.IMG_4369  Those neon orbs were bobbing in the brew like an extremely adult version of bobbing for apples as she ladled cup upon cup of the crimson mixture.  Janice and I sampled the beverage, and it was quite refreshing. IMG_4373 It tasted like a bubbly, adult Italian soda with rich pieces of ice cream sliding over our palates every other sip.  Next up was Jessie from Black Dog Gelato.

Jessie operated the only ice cream parlor I knew out of the three, and I have heard a lot of buzz about it.  So, I was curious to see what this wizard of cream and sugar could come up with.  She did not disappoint with her chocolate coated pumpkin ice ream pops.  First, she did a simple popsicle using her pumpkin infused gelato, but then melted chocolate using a hot plate on the side.  The pumpkin pops were lovingly caressed in the sweet elixir and then rubbed with a coating of dried coconut and strudel crumbles. IMG_4469 We could sample smaller versions of the pops, and we definitely took advantage of the offer.IMG_4383 IMG_4466 While the crunchy, milk chocolate interior gave way to a more subtle pumpkin gelato that was creamy and understated, it was quite difficult to eat as the slivers of chocolate were flying everywhere.IMG_4465IMG_4385  They probably thought it was my first time eating a cold treat based on how overjoyed I was.  The final creation came from Dana Cree which was a lemon and elderflower infused frozen yogurt that was based on a recipe that used unsweetened Greek yogurt. IMG_4388 This gave it a real tang when combined with the lemon and fragrant notes from the elderflowers.IMG_4390IMG_4389 Out of the three, my favorite was the chocolate and pumpkin pops, and I later found out how creative Jessie could be when Janice and I visited her Black Dog Gelato.  While we would have loved to talk to them for longer, we had to rush to the Art of Salted and Dried Charcuterie.

This lecture took place at Kaiser Tiger at 1415 W. Randolph Street.  IMG_4404IMG_4395It was an eclectic place in terms of decor, but we were there to sample some sausages.  We arrived a bit late and soaked from the drizzle, but it was a very different vibe from the ice cream meeting.  While the ice cream baronesses were approachable and humorous, the speakers were not interested in chewing the fat.  Plus, the people there looked more of the hipster persuasion which gave it an air of pretentiousness that I wasn’t digging.IMG_4403  We just went to town on the sausage sample platter at the back of the room. IMG_4396IMG_4400 It was like a time machine for me for my time living in Barcelona.  Not only did they have the same sliced, orange-red, peppery chorizo I used to make sandwiches with during my siestas, but they also had super fatty pieces of Catalan fuet sausage that contained chewy pieces of meaty flavor.

Chorizo on the left and fuet on the right

Chorizo on the left and fuet on the right

I used to gnaw on a piece of the super rich sausage while working on my homework since it gave me the energy to keep my focused, and I really liked the texture contrast between the fat granules, the melt-in-your-mouth meat, and semi tough casing.

Memories

Memories

After eating our fill of artery-clogging meat, we decided to peace out early for the biggest fireside chat of fireside chats with Rick Bayless.

We boogied on back to Soho House, and we made sure to get a front row seat to see Rick Bayless who is now one of the biggest and most respected chefs in the culinary world thanks to his contributions to the Mexican food scene (he was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle due to his promotion of Mexican culture and food).  Even with all of his accolades and awards, it was unreal to be so close to someone who seemed so down to earth when talking with the audience.IMG_4406  It’s an effect that happens when you see someone on tv for so long that they take on an almost mythical status, and you expect them to be more imposing in real life like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.  Instead, you just find out that they are human just like you and me.  During his talk, I found out he had similar life to mine with focusing to study Spanish in college along with linguistics in graduate school.  However, cooking and food proved to be his true passion.  Perhaps I could parlay my love into a new career path like Rick.  He went on to talk about the importance of the connection between culture and food which is what I try to achieve here on Mastication Monologues, so his words really resonated with me.  Rick also highlighted the shifting perception of chefs from blue collar workers to veritable rock stars today, and he has provided culinary students with a tempered vision of the future that to get to the top:  hard work and mastery of the craft is crucial to becoming famous.  There aren’t any chefs who open Michelin 3 star restaurants right out of cooking schools.  After talking a bit about his connection to Mexican history and food with his changing menus at Topolobampo (including his 1491 menu that used no ingredients the Europeans brought over like chicken, beef, pork, cilantro, and limes), I got to ask a question during the Q and A session about the shifting demographics in the USA especially with the Latino population.  I asked if he noticed more Latino diners in his restaurants recently , and he said that he saw a lot of younger Latino diners eating his food on date nights as a way to get a taste of their ancestors and learn more about their culture.  Rick graciously thanked everyone, and I was the first person to just thank him for coming out.  IMG_4456Plus, I plugged my blog a little bit, and he seemed really interested in it.  When I said goodbye, I was still amazed that I was less than five feet away from someone I’ve seen for decades on PBS and gracing the covers of cookbooks everywhere.  Janice and I went out on a high note as we walked away from Taste Talks with a new perspective on the food industry and an excitement for the future of dining.  Also, it was a wonderful way to celebrate five happy months together : )IMG_4453

 

Taste Trekkers’ Publication

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Hey everyone!  Sorry for the long wait with the posts, but I just got a new job teaching.  It’s really hectic at the moment, so my food adventures are on temporary hiatus at the moment.  However, one of my articles I wrote before all of the madness struck just got published on a food blogger site called Taste Trekkers.  If you want to check out my article involving 5 of the best restaurants representing different ethnic groups in Chicago, click right here.

Best of Mastication Monologues (200 Post Anniversary)

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Wow, never thought I’d make it to 200 posts back in 2011 when I first started my blog with the pedestrian title of Stick a Fork In Me.  Since then, I’ve traveled to many different countries and cities around the world.  I’ve had meals with old friends and new ones in some very interesting backdrops.  There have been certain foods that have made me hear the food angels trumpeting on high while others have taken me to the fiery pits of hell.  Long story short, I’ve experienced meals that most people haven’t in their lives, and that’s the main reason why I’ve started this blog.  I want to educate the public of not only the variety of foods and drinks that exist throughout the world, but also the cultural environments that have birthed said foodstuffs. While my aim is all well and good, I’ve decided (compliments to my gf, Janice, for the idea) to make it easier for you, the reader, to make sense of my blog’s contents.  I plan to do this by providing you with a top 3 list for certain dishes or cuisines on which I have an overwhelming amount of entries.  I will only be ranking restaurants I have written about on this blog, so they might not reflect my true feelings about the rankings, i.e. the pizza ranking, for example.  If you have any suggestions, questions, comments, or concerns, do let me know in the comments section below.  I’d love to hear your opinion one way or another.  Without further ado, time to drop this list!

Best Hamburger                                         Best Pizza                                                                      

1.  DMK Burger, Chicago, USA                 1.  Pequod’s, Chicago, USA 

2.  Kuma’s Corner, Chicago, USA             2.  Eataly, Chicago, USA    

3.   Wolfhound, Seoul, South Korea       3.   Monster Pizza, Seoul, South Korea

Best Hot Dog                                                     Best Italian Food    

1.  Hot Doug’s, Chicago, USA                       1.   Quartino, Chicago, USA

2.  Nicky’s, Chicago, USA                               2.   Papa Joe’s, Orland Park, USA

3.  Doc’s, Del Ray Beach, USA                     3.   Buona Beef, Darien, USA  

Best Korean Food                                                         Best Chinese Food

1.  Kim Bong Min Kimbap, Ulsan, South Korea     1.    Lao Zhai Yuan, Beijing, China

2.  Onnurye Donkatsu, Seoul, South Korea            2.    Zhong Guo Song, Hong Kong

3.   DelSeoul, Chicago, USA                                            3.     Din Tai Fung, Hong Kong

 Best Latin Food                                                           Best Breakfast Place 

1.  Taco Grill, Westmont, IL, USA                             1. Blueberry Hill, Darien, IL, USA

2. Carnivale, Chicago, USA                                          2. Bongo Room, Chicago, USA

3.  Gusto Taco, Seoul, South Korea                          3. Honey Bowl, Seoul, South Korea  

Best Dessert                                                                      Weirdest Food Consumed                    

1.  Kilwin’s, Delray Beach, Florida, USA                    1. Live octopus, South Korea  

2.  Quartino, Chicago, USA                                           2. Poisonous blowfish sperm sacks, Japan

3.  Fell + Cole, Seoul, South Korea                             3. Dog soup, South Korea

       Most Creative Restaurant                                    Spiciest Food 

1.   Ninja Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan                       1.  Onnurye Donkatsu, Seoul, South Korea

2.  Modern Toilet, Taipei, Taiwan                     2.  Salvador Molly’s, Portland, Oregon, USA

3.  Bunga Bunga, London, England                   3. Mae Oon Jjampong, Seoul, South Korea

 

 Worst Customer Service                

1.  Ali Baba’s, Seoul, South Korea

2.  Pompei, Westmont, IL, USA

3.  Falafill, Chicago, USA

London (Day 1 and 2)- Just a Couple Randos at Nando’s

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Well, it seems that my adventures in Asia have come to a close (for now), and I’m back in the USA writing about them from the comfort of my parents’ kitchen.  On the way back from the Far East, I stopped over in London to visit a few friends, so naturally I had to chronicle my culinary conquests as I made my way through the same streets of Jack the Ripper and Tiny Tempah.

The first day was relatively laid back in terms of food experimentation as I made my way to my friend Ravi’s flat in the notoriously rough but currently trendy East End of London around Bow Road.  This area was also known for its Cockney subculture and signature accent which has been made famous in popular culture through plays like Pygmalion, or through the award winning actor, Michael Caine.  Unfortunately, the neighborhood’s traditional pickled whelks and jellied eels were a bit hard to find, so I instead tried some of Ravi’s home cooking which was wonderful.  He made me a vegetarian shepherd’s pie that seemed to consist of tomato sauce, lentils, beans, carrots, peppers, potatoes, and cheese on top.  It was filling, spicy, and savory which made my taste buds happy since I normally don’t go for vegetarian fare.

Squash in the glass and the bottle in the upper left hand corner.

Squash in the glass and the bottle in the upper left hand corner.

However, the funnier part of the meal was the drink I had.  When I first arrived at his apartment, he asked me if I wanted something to drink like water, tea, or squash…squash?  I assumed he meant that he would take out some butternut squash and turn them into juice, so I opted for water.  Dinnertime rolled around, and he offered me this mystery squash to drink again.  So, I decided to give it a go.  He proceeded to bring out what looked like a big bottle of fruit juice.  He then poured a small amount into my glass and filled the rest up with water.  It tasted just like it advertised as a soft blend of strawberry and kiwi.  Turns out the actual squash is just a fruit concentrate with no gourds involved.  Hooray for regional dialects!  Then for dessert, I had another cultural clash as Ravi’s roommate, Jaime, offered me a Milky Way bar.  I love Milky Way bars in the US, so I gratefully accepted it.

Same, same, but different.

Same, same, but different.

After I bit into it, I was a bit taken aback by the contents since it lacked the caramel present in American Milky Way bars.  Instead, it was like a 3 Musketeers bar since there was only chewy nougat enveloped in chocolate.  Either way, it was a fitting end to a delicious meal.

The following day, I was out and about seeing the sights London had to offer.  For lunch, I did stop at Pizza Express, one of London’s most ubiquitous restaurant chains serving pizza and other Italian dishes, I didn’t feel like it really warranted an in-depth review.  Instead, I’ll bring you an even better chain that was introduced to me back in 2006 compliments of my friend Rav.  We were talking about fried chicken in America, and he told me of this place called “Nando’s” in London which he described as, “KFC but they don’t ba’a (batter in East London-ese) it” and had “peri-peri sauce”.  Given these random descriptions and my friend’s clear passion for this mysterious eatery, I vowed one day to try it.  Fast forward to 2008, and I finally made my pilgrimage with my friends to Nando’s.nandos-clink-street-london  Needless to say, I could see why Rav was bonkers about it as Nando’s serves roasted Portuguese/Mozambican chicken.  You have the option of choosing a quarter chicken,  half chicken, or wings with optional sides.  They also have salads, burgers, pittas, and wraps.  On this occasion I went for the half chicken, a side of chips (fries for Amurika), and some macho peas.  Once I ordered my food, I went to the sauce bar which has bottles that range from a pleasant lemon and herb to a mouth-scorching extra-spicy in an ominous black bottle.   The “peri-peri” Rav mentioned back in our college days means “bird’s eye pepper”, and there is a whole lot of it in said extra-spicy sauce.

No fowl play here.  Just good food.

No fowl play here. Just good food.

As for the actual food, the chicken is excellently prepared with plenty of semi-spicy marinade coating the juicy and pure white meat that just barely clings to the bone.  The macho peas were an interesting choice since they were peas seasoned with parsley, mint, and chili which unfortunately tasted like I was consuming minty peas sans chili.  While I like both elements separately, I think they should tinker with the ratio of spices to make this pedestrian side something special.  I’m more partial to their garlic bread side that not only is very garlicky but crunchy and pliable at the same time.  Their chips are good but nothing that will knock your socks off.  Come for the chicken and stay for the sauce, that’s what I’d recommend.  We ended our night with a couple of pints at the Horniman Pub on the Thames River as we watched Tottenham Hotspur cruise to victory, and I went to bed a very satisfied Yank.

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