RSS Feed

Tag Archives: bakery

Un-Ba-Le-Vable Flavors

Posted on

Welcome one and all to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Things on my blog have been picking up as of late since I’ve survived my first semester teaching in upper academia, so these posts are keeping me sane in the flurry of bureaucracy and final exam writing.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I like writing them!  Today’s post once again brings me to Chicago’s Uptown Little Vietnam neighborhood.  It’s a diverse enclave of Chicago’s ethnic rainbow which boasts a plethora of eateries serving a wide variety of foods from Far East and Southeast Asia.  However, the Vietnamese community is the largest; ergo, I’ve sampled just the tip of the pho iceberg when it comes to fully exploring their culinary representatives.  Ba Le Sandwich shop is one of the best and most popular eateries in the area, and my first visit there was fantastic.

Ba Le’s storefront is at the heart of Little Vietnam at the intersection of Argyle and Broadway and opposite the iconic Tank Noodle where you can get some hot pho soup to chase this newly arrived cold weather away.IMG_4846  Walking into the establishment, past the small Buddhist shrine at the entrance, I was greeted with a sleek and modern interior that boasted a full wall of treats like freshly cut coconuts, Vietnamese head cheese or giò thủ , and a large vareity of chè or sweet pudding/jello treats.  IMG_4217IMG_4212 IMG_4214 IMG_4213On the right hand side of the shop, there were sushi roll packs next to a mini French bakery that was bursting at the seams with macaron mini-mountains.  IMG_4216Delectable remnants of the French colonization of Indochina as they were, I was interested in something more substantial and what Ba Le is known for:  banh mi.  If you want a historical explanation of the sandwich, hit up my Portland food truck adventure here.  Looking over the menu, they also offered side dishes like the famous gỏi cuốn translucent shrimp rolls, noodle salads, fried rice, and egg rolls.  As for the banh mi sandwiches, I went for the Chinese Pork or xá xíu ($4.95), and they do cater to vegetarians with banh mi, btw!   The sandwich was quite big for the price as I took it to one of Ba Le’s window counters you can eat at while watching the locals go about their daily business.  I wasn’t doing much people watching because I was severely distracted and gobsmacked at how delicious this sandwich was.IMG_4218  It was the culinary equivalent of Saul, future St. Paul, being knocked off his horse and converting to Christianity after hearing the voice of God. Oh_Lawd___by_deadprez132001 I don’t know what it was that made this sandwich stand out from the thousands of other sandwiches I tried.  Perhaps it was the extremely fresh French baguette that was just the right ratio of crispness to softness.  IMG_4220Maybe my weakness for mayonnaise combined with the fresh-from-the-garden cilantro, jalapeno peppers, daikon radish, onions, and carrots.  I think the pork helped as well since it was served in the char siu (叉燒) style which originates in China.  It is basically barbecued pork that is roasted while being coated with honey, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and five spice powder.  What you get is a tender cut of pork that is both sweet and slightly salty, a perfect fauna compliment to the unspoiled flora of my unwrapped Garden of Eden.  Long story short, it was ecstasy in my mouth, and it wasn’t very heavy compared to many Western sub sandwiches.

So if you want a heavenly bite of Vietnamese culture for hellishly low prices, check out Ba Le Sandwich Shop in Chicago!
Ba Le Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Bits and Bobs

Posted on

Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today’s post is in the same vein as some previous posts where instead of offering reviews on local restaurants, I comment on some random, small snack foods that I have tried while living in Korea (See:  Got The Munchies?).  I’ll begin with probably the healthiest snack my coteachers have given me.  One day I was in my cubicle after lunch, and I noticed that my coteachers and other teachers were crowding around the table in our office.  I could tell they were eating something with their hands, but I couldn’t see what.  I approached, and they offered me a plate covered in small, bright red fruit.  They looked kind of like cranberries but tinier.

I eated the red berries

I eated the red berries

I popped one in my mouth, and I was greeted with a complex rush of sweet, bitter, and sour flavors.  Plus, I quickly found out that they have a pit.  One of my coteachers told me that these were Korean cherries which made sense with the pit.  When the teachers saw my approval, they insisted that I eat the rest of the plate.  I naturally obliged as they were saying I wasn’t eating them fast enough, so I went from teacher to chipmunk in 1 minute flat.  I didn’t feel that bad because fruit is insanely expensive in Korea, and I can’t say that stuffing my cheeks with fruit is bad for my health.  Now that I’ve described the healthy food, let’s get to the good stuff.  First there are the spicy Pringles.

Now, I’ve had my fair share of Pringles since I love their flavors, texture, and I’m from Amurika, so I wanted to see what kind of flavors they would have in Korea.  I needed something to go with my kimbap lunch for my hiking trip, and I settled on the Wild Spice Pringles.

Tube of disappointment

Tube of disappointment

I read the can, and I saw that they were Thai in origin.   This made me really excited since some Thai food is spicy enough to leave you using a colostomy bag.  However, they were a very big let down.  They looked like normal Pringles chips seasoned with a light brown powder, but this supposed firework show of spicy hellfire was more like a damp sparkler, unimpressive at best.  It just tasted like a potato chip with some soy sauce.  However, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom.  I found some Korean bakery that was quite nice.

While I was waiting for my friend, who is currently visiting me, at Bupyeong station on the platform going towards International Business District, I managed to be lured to a small food stall by an enchantingly sweet aroma.  The board on the top of the mini establishment said, “Manjoo Hana”, and I could see that they were selling different types of waffles.20130105-235347[1]  However, I was intrigued by the conveyor belt that consisted of small metal moulds being filled with batter and custard and then being baked in an oven.  I went for a 3,000 W bag which got me about 15 of these small pastries.  They were fresh out of the oven, so I had to take care not to bite in too soon and have my fingers/mouth coated in the napalm-esque custard inside each pastry.  When they finally cooled down, I found them to be great finger food since I was starving after a long day of work.

A litter of newly born Manjoo

A litter of newly born Manjoo

The dough was soft and buttery like a cake donut while the custard on the inside was creamy and had understated vanilla notes.  It would go nicely with this 19 grain cereal milk my coteacher gave me this week in honor of finally finishing recording our final exams.

It does a waygook body good

It does a waygook body good

It tasted like a less decadent vanilla milk shake which was surprising since it allegedly contained wheat, kefir, buckwheat, and sorghum to name a few grains.  Oh, Korea.  You do surprise me sometimes.  Especially with the last treat that tasted a lot better than it looked.

Since Korean summer is starting to get into full swing with sunlight that can make you feel like a roasting pot roast and humidity that can make you feel like you’re walking in a steam bath, all of the teachers in my office got ice cream.  I picked one that looked like chocolate, but when I opened it up it looked like something a bit more unsavory.

Before...

Before…

What I was staring at was a chocolate popsicle that looked suspiciously like a log of stool.

After: A real poopsicle

After: A real poopsicle

I bring up this association due to the fact that Korean culture seems to celebrate poop and don’t see it as something that is an object of revulsion in the West.  So I eventually managed to open this tube after what seemed like an eternal struggle to find what was the equivalent of a fudgesicle inside.  It was a treat that managed to cut through this crappy summer heat.

So here is another small glimpse at the vast variety of snack foods that Korea has to offer.  Some may seem more appetizing than others, but the main thing is that I ventured out and tried something new.

Achin’ For Some Bacon On A Lazy Sundae

Posted on

Hello everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  In this installment, I am not going to review a restaurant (tear tear), but I am actually going to talk about a couple interesting little snacks/meals I’ve had over the past couple weeks in Korea.  First, there are the school lunches.

Where to begin with the school lunches?  From what I’ve heard from my orientation cohort, I think I got off pretty easy in terms of the variety and quality of food my school serves.  My favorite days are either tonkatsu or “breaded pork cutlet” day or curry day.  However, then there are days like when they serve a variety of cold seafood omelets where they try and see how many different types of mystery meat and tentacles they can fit in one pan.  Frankly, I’ve tried them all, and I’m not a huge fan.  One day, I even saw something that looked a bit familiar to me.  There was a pan filled with small, purple-ish/crimson colored disks.  Naturally, I scooped up a ladleful and put it in one of my tray compartments.

The sundae's in the upper right hand compartment

The sundae’s in the upper right hand compartment

I chopsticked one into my mouth, and I realized that it was 순대 or Sundae.  However, instead of a rich mix of vanilla, butterfat, and chocolate syrup, I was greeted with a semi-coppery flavor of blood sausage.  If odd textures disgust you, stay away from this sausage’s rubbery skin.  It was somewhat similar to the Polish kiszka, but the Korean blood sausage had noodles on the inside of it which kind of put me off of enjoying it more.  A more positive experience during school lunch was when they were serving stir fried baby squids.  Now, I’m not the biggest seafood fan in the world, but I’ve found after living in Korea that they make some mean squid dishes.  This meal was no different.

I love it when you can look your food in the eye

I love it when you can look your food in the eye

The baby squids were stir fried in a sweet, orange based glaze and were accompanied by dried squid jerky on the side.  I personally preferred the stir fried squids because the sauce really made the savory essence of the seafood pop, and the squid jerky wasn’t as good as the barbecue squid jerky they served on a separate occasion.  It was very dry and tough which made for an unpleasant eating experience.  Moving on from the more intense elements of my culinary journeys through Korea, lets talk about some junk food.

First, there was the discovery of bacon chips.  Yes, bacon lovers in Korea rejoice.

You can never have enough bacon

You can never have enough bacon

There are chips that are literally shaped and flavored like bacon.  I originally found them at a rest stop on my way to go paragliding, and I definitely made the right choice.  The texture could be likened to a veggie chip, and it was strangely colored like a semi-raw piece of bacon.  As for the taste, it actually tasted like eggs’ natural companion.  Not the most natural thing in the world, but I’m glad I tried it.  Moving from the good straight to the ugly, there is the Chicago Style pizza from Emart.  For those not living in Korea, Emart is basically a giant department store that sells everything you could ever need.  So some friends and I split the cost for a couple pizzas including one that was supposedly a “Chicago Deep Dish” style pizza.

Blasphemy incarnate

Blasphemy incarnate

When we opened up the box, it wasn’t the same as the genuine article back home aside from the crust.  That was the least of our problems.  The taste was terrible.  Do not buy this pizza from Emart.  Just get the regular 11,000 Won pizzas.  They are a much better deal.  Anyway, the taste to put it simply was everything that is wrong about Korean pizza.  First, I’m pretty sure they didn’t use real cheese since it tasted like we were eating sticks of non-salted butter.  On top of that, we were greeted with a lovely flavor wave of very sweet Korean pizza sauce.  I’m not sure if the pepperoni was real, but it was the only redeeming feature. In short, it was the perfect storm for a terrible pizza recipe.  Putting this unpleasantness behind us, lets talk about some sweet things.

I have spoken about my love for my Kindergarten classes before, but I might also be swayed by the fact that I get free food from the teachers every time I teach.  One of the best days was on Childrens’ Day because I got something that didn’t think existed:  Korean bakery.  Up to this point, I had been inundated with so many different types of tteok or “rice cake” that it would make your head spin, but today was a special day with special food.  On my tiny plate, they served me 소보로 빵 or Soboro Bbang which I could only describe as a type of peanut infused streusel bread.IMG_0091  The bread itself was light and airy which was complimented by the generous, peanut butter crumble topping.  It was like a messier and sweeter version of a peanut butter sandwich.  Not something I was really complaining about when I was siting at a table that was lower than my knees.  In more recent news, today I received another sweet treat from one of my coteachers that inspired me to write this post.  I don’t know what they’re called in Korean, but I’m going to call it a Yuja cookie.

Tasty tart

Tasty tart

Yuja is the Korean name for citron which is a fruit that is similar to a lemon.  I first tried the fruit in a traditional Korean drink, 유자차 or yujacha, and I was instantly hooked on  its sour and semi-bitter bite.  With the cookie, the bitterness of the jellied citron pieces was toned down to a certain extent, but it still blended perfectly with the buttery crust that was not too crumbly.  It was a pleasant surprise to start the week off right.  So that’s about it for now, but keep watching for my next post that will most likely be about the best fish and chips shop in Seoul.

%d bloggers like this: