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Little Bucharest: All the Meat That’s Fit to Eat!

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Romania.  A linguistic anomaly in Eastern Europe along with mostly being known for gypsies and the Prince of the Night, Dracula.  However, a trip to Romania back when I was studying in Spain left me with a different impression of the nation.  It was a bit off the beaten path in terms of the tourist trails of Europe, but it had plenty of character, friendly people, and great food.  So, when my girlfriend said that she had a Groupon for a Romanian eatery in Chicago called Little Bucharest, I was more than excited.

It was a cold and rainy night, similar to the weather I experienced while traveling between Bucharest and Sighisoara, so I was having a serious case of deja vu minus the feral dogs running around in the street and the airport.  It had a charming exterior with a patio that obviously wasn’t being used that night along with a fountain.  IMG_4589IMG_4570IMG_4569Upon setting foot in the establishment, we were warmly welcomed by the staff and led quickly to a table.  IMG_4571The cheerful music and clean interior put me at ease since other Eastern European restaurants are a bit more rustic in terms of their setup.  To drink, Janice got a sweet red Romanian wine, and I got a beer from Timisoara.  It seems the alcohol content was a bit much for her along with its sugary aftertaste, but it was still enjoyable.  As for my beer, it was a light lager that could be comparable to Heineken.IMG_4574  We also destroyed a basket of fresh baked bread that wasn’t warm, but they said they baked it in the morning.  IMG_4573This definitely showed in the overall quality of the sliced loaf.  It was chewy but slightly crispy on the outside while the inside was fluffy and white.  We demolished it so fast that the owner came over to say that our healthy appetites for his bread were quite the compliment.  For our appetizer, we got an order of the Mititei ($10).  These little sausages were served with a side of salad, fried polenta, and mustard.IMG_4577  These chubby meat nuggets were quite heavenly and juicy with a heavy emphasis on the garlic, and it seemed to have more beef than pork in the meat blend that jived well with the sour mustard.    The fried polenta (corn meal) was warm but not piping hot.  It also had an enjoyable butter flavor that had overtones of French fries.  As for our entrees, Janice got the sarmale ($18) and I got the chicken paprikash ($20).  The sarmale are similar to Poland’s golabki or stuffed cabbage rolls.IMG_4580  These wee bundles were stewed in tomato sauce which led the cabbage to be extra soft but firm enough to keep all of the pork, ground beef, and rice from bursting forth.  It was a bit more sour than the Polish version of the dish, but it still had the Slavic heartiness common to both meals.  As for my meal, the chicken paprikash was essentially half a chicken in a paprika infused gravy along with green beans and pearl onions. IMG_4581 The sauce was the boss for this dish, and the chicken was falling off the bone.  Beware of the small bones in the chicken though!  For both the sarmale and chicken paprikash, there was mamaliga or soft polenta served on the side.  This was my favorite food I tried in Romania, and it was like going into a culinary time machine for me from the first bite.  IMG_4582From the smooth, golden polenta to the cool sour cream and strong Feta cheese, I was in heaven.  The only differences between Little Bucharest and the real Bucharest was that the mamaliga in the Motherland was served in a bowl and with a fried egg on top.  Aside from that, it was the perfect comfort food to combat the terrible weather outside.  I couldn’t finish my meal since my stomach was about to burst from all of the polenta and grilled meats, but I didn’t feel bloated like I did with other meals where I ate a lot.  At the end of the meal, we were walking out, and the owner wished us well and told us to check them out on Facebook.  I then told him that I write a food blog, and he was so overjoyed that he hugged me and gave me a bottle of Romanian dry red wine on the spot.IMG_4587  I’ve never experienced such generosity from a restaurant in Chicago or perhaps anywhere else in the world.  Thanks, Branko!

So in closing, we walked away from Little Bucharest greatly satisfied with the friendly service, great prices for huge portions of delicious Romanian fare, and a memory of one of my many distant travels around the world.  This is the real deal if you want to try Romanian food, and they even run their own limo service if you want to experience it in style.  IMG_4590
Little Bucharest Bistro on Urbanspoon

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Thowback Post- Gołąbki in Poland

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What is happening, everyone out there reading Mastication Monologues?!  I hope this post is finding you well as the summer is slowly drawing to a close.  Things have been happening as of late with my job hunt, so I haven’t been able to update my blog regularly.  My b.  Anyway, this post continues of the same vein of previous posts where I am recounting my culinary tales throughout Europe, and today’s entry deals with Poland.

Poland has often been at the butt of many jokes due to the apparent ineptitude of its residents, but it is a tough country that has constantly been invaded by its larger neighbors like Austria, Russia, and Germany.  However, the Polish people have stuck together through these harrowing periods of history, and today have a vibrant democracy with a booming economy.  I saw plenty of P0land’s cultural history when visiting Krakow, the cultural capital of the south.2819_1239044213300_1052047_n  It’s also close to my great-grandparents’ villages they emigrated from back in the 1910s.  So, it felt like a type of homecoming for me to reconnect with my cultural roots.  While we were wandering about the streets of the charming Eastern European city checking out such sights like the city square, the cloth hall, and the Vistula river, it made us all work up an appetite.

The main square

The main square; Cloth Hall far left and St. Mary’s to the right.

St. Mary's Church

St. Mary’s Church

2819_1239045653336_1332560_n

Old Town

Old Town

Me being dashing next to the Vistula

Me being dashing next to the Vistula

Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

So we stopped into a local restaurant and looked over the menu.  They had plenty of items that one could find in Polish restaurant Stateside like in Chicago and elsewhere.  If you’ve never had Polish food, it’s very hearty and simple food focusing on vegetables that can grow in the cold winters like potatoes and cabbage along with rich pieces of meat and sausage.  One item in particular caught my eye that I knew I had to get:  Gołąbki (pronounced:  Go-wumb-key).  This dish literally means “pigeons”.  According to Wikipedia, during the Thirteen Years War the kings of Lithuania and Poland allegedly fed gołąbki to their troops before the key battle of Marienburg Castle against the German Teutonic Order of Knights.  Result:  a Polish and Lithuanian victory.  Hooray for pigeon power! Don’t worry though, none of the head bobbin’, flying rats were harmed in the making of this meal.  Instead, it is like an Eastern European version of Greek dolmathakia.3354_850557907990_896543_n    First, there is the minced pork/beef blend inside that is seasoned and mixed with onions and rice.  This hearty melange is subsequently wrapped up in boiled cabbage leaves and then drenched in a warm tomato sauce.  The boiled cabbage was semi-firm, and the tomato sauce provided a smooth, tangy background to the spiced meats inside.  While we weren’t going to be engaging in hand to hand combat after our meal, it gave us plenty of energy to tackle the rest of our trip.  Honorable mention for food in Poland goes to the spreadable lard on bread that we tried in a different restaurant. 2819_1239046293352_2136836_n It was like a spreadable, warm butter mixed with bacon chunks that was so wrong yet tasted so right.  It was an homage to my grandparents who loved to spread it on rye bread.  It’s too bad they’ll never make it back to Poland, but I’m sure I made them proud with this meal.

Just like Baba and Papa

Just like Baba and Papa

The Heart and Seoul of Chicago

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안녕하세요! or Hello! to everyone out there on the interwebz!  Welcome to another wonderful edition of Mastication Monologues where I bring you the best, most delicious, and/or intriguing eats I find as I walk down this path called life.  Today’s edition relates to the greeting in the funny looking writing at the beginning of the post.  If you’re not familiar with Asian scripts, I wrote in the Korean writing system known as Hangul.  It’s a relatively new writing system compared to the Roman alphabet or Arabic, but it is ingenious in its design compliments of King Sejong who invented said alphabet back in 1443.  Each symbol relates to how the different components of the human mouth are positioned to make each sound.  If I had to choose a sound to accurately describe how I felt after eating at Korean fusion BBQ joint Del Seoul in Chicago, I’d probably say ㅁㅁㅁㅁㅁㅁㅁㅁ(mmmmmmmmm).  

I met up with my friend, Heidi, yesterday since we recently came back from a year in Korea together.  While we were both happy to be back in the good old USA, it felt only fitting that we caught up on things over the food that we tried throughout our adventures in the Land of the Morning Calm.  I was a bit surprised to find it in the neighborhood by DePaul and not in Koreatown, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my dining experience from beginning to end.IMG_3090  Upon walking in, I was surprised to find the place was kind of like a Far East Asian Chipotle where you have to order your food and then sit down at a table with a number.IMG_3097  Looking over the menu, I could see that it wasn’t quite the Korean cornucopia I was expecting.  While they did have some classics I’ve enjoyed like 비빔밥 (bibimbap; mixed vegetables and rice bowl), 김치볶음밥 (kimchibokkeumbap; fried rice with kimchi), and the ubiquitous 김치 (kimchi; pickled cabbage), they were missing other common dishes like 떡볶이 (tteokbokki; rice cakes in spicy sauce) and 잡채 (chapchae; translucent fried noodles).  Instead, they were replaced with Korean fusion treats like tacos, banh mi, and kimchi poutine.  I wanted to try a bit of everything, so I got the following:  a 갈비 (galbi; bbq beef ribs) taco ($2.95), a spicy bbq pork banh mi ($6.25), and a small cup of kimchi ($1.50) since I love my pickled vegetables.  

As we sat down, I had trouble finding an open table since the place was hopping with patrons greedily devouring their dishes.  The owners also provide complimentary soy sauce and spicy Sriracha sauce to jazz up your selections which wouldn’t normally happen in Korea.  Our tacos came out first, and they were a lot smaller than I was anticipating. IMG_3092I would liken it to the side of a large English muffin, but what it lacked in size it made up with bold flavors.  Not only was the beef expertly grilled and seasoned, but the cilantro-onion relish combined with the secret slaw brought in a slightly herbal yet semi-spicy punch to this south of the DMZ border fusion dish.  I would definitely recommend getting the tacos.  Next came the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich with Korean ingredients. IMG_3095 I loved the jalapeno pepper slices and the juicy pork pieces that were simmered in a Korean gochujang (hot pepper sauce) marinade.  What I didn’t love were the pickled daikon radish strands and the extremely fresh bread used to bring all of the great ingredients together.  The radish took a lot away from the other elements with its overpowering pickled flavor which I didn’t appreciate.  As for the bread, you might think I’m crazy for ragging on the crunchy yet chewy loaves used to make scrumptious banh mi, but in this case, I felt it was too much bread for too little ingredients.IMG_3096  While I do love carbo loading when I’m not going to run a marathon, I felt this was a case of going buck wild with the baguette to the loss of the other ingredients.  I tried a bit of Heidi’s 불고기 (bulgogi; bbq beef) sandwich, and it was the same deal.  Too much dough stopping the other ingredients’ flow.  These sandwiches weren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination and a better value for the price compared to the tacos, but the tacos were more finger-licking good.  Then there was the kimchi.  Kimchi flows through the blood of every Korean, and it is the be all end all of foods for them…and me and my friend, Meropi.  There is even a special time of the year where Koreans gather as a family to prepare the kimchi for fermentation for the winter.  That’s how highly Korean regard this fiber-tastic but not vegetarian friendly delicacy.  While there are many different types of kimchi, the most popular is the spicy kimchi that consists of pickled cabbage and chili sauce.  I shocked my Korean coteachers every lunchtime with how much of the fermented vegetables I’d pile on my food tray, but it made up for a lot of the other options that had tentacles sticking out of it.  After so many days of eating the cabbage, I really came to love it, so I wanted to see if Del Seoul’s could match up to the motherland’s special blend of spices.  From the first delicious chopstickful, I was taken back to the land where I was complimented on my chopstick skills and scolded for mixing other foodstuffs with my bland white rice.

Kimchi just chillin in the corner

Kimchi just chillin in the corner

  Long story short, it was the real deal, and I’m sure that I will always remember my adventures in the East when I savor this much maligned food in the West.

Overall, I’d recommend Del Seoul to anyone who’s a little wary of jumping tastebuds-first into Korean cuisine or those who want to experience certain Korean classics reinvented through fusion food.  The prices aren’t overwhelming, and the environment is simple and welcoming.

Del Seoul on Urbanspoon

 

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