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These Are a Positively Delicious Discovery (BienMeSabe)

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*Opens door*  Hello?  Anyone still here?  Well, for those of you still around and searching for my latest restaurant review, look no further!  Welcome back to Mastication Monologues, and it truly has been too long.  I’m in my final quarter of my graduate speech pathology program, and for once I found some time to write a post about a cuisine that is often overlooked in the pantheon of Latin cuisine:  Venezuelan food.  Although Venezuela is typically known for their beauty queens winning Miss Universe, their political turmoil, or Fred Armisen’s portrayal of an obnoxious Venezuelan ambassador on Parks and Rec, their food really should be their most famous export.  Today I will be reviewing a wonderful Venezuelan restaurant called BienMeSabe located at 1637 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613.

Bienmesabe” literally translates to “It tastes good to me”.  My wife and I were saying that and more throughout our entire experience at this wonderful paradoxically hidden yet well known gem to the locals and Venezuelan baseball players and managers like Ozzie Guillen, Miguel Montero, and Carlos Zambrano.  The restaurant is run by Chef Pedro Ron, a professionally trained chef from the Culinary Institute of Caracas, who has owned restaurants in Venezuela and in the USA.  Even before we entered the restaurant, we admired their homage to their indigenous populations on the side of the restaurant outside.   Their charming patio was calling our name in addition to their extensive menu.  On his third voyage to the Americas, Christopher Colombus regarded Venezuela as a “paradise on earth”, and the country has been blessed with a bounty of assorted produce and various ingredients that are the result of a melange of indigenous, Spanish, Italian, and African flavors as highlighted throughout their menu.  We started our meal with drinks.  BienMeSabe offers your typical soft drinks but also fruit smoothies and Venezuelan beverages.  Naturally, I went for the most authentic drink possible recommended by our waiter, and I ended up getting a small chicha or a rice milk smoothie ($5.75 small/$11.75 large).  The word “chicha” has a murky origin since it can be found in various forms from Mexico to Argentina, but the Royal Spanish Academy states that it most likely comes from the word “chichab” or “corn” in the Panamanian indigenous Kuna language.  The Venezuelan version relies on rice that is boiled and mixed with milk, condensed milk, and cinnamon which results in a rich, creamy vanilla milkshake/horchata-esque beverage that is poured over ice.  It would be a great drink on a hot summer day.  We were quite hungry that day, so we wanted to get an appetizer. We eventually landed on the tostones  from the Spanish verb “tostar” or “to toast” ($7.25).  These twice fried plantains hit the spot.  They were nestled beneath a comforter of Caribbean cheese, crema, slightly spicy chili sauce, and green onions.  If you’re looking for a savory, salty, yet light treat, these would be great right next to a cool beer.  It was then time for the main course:  las arepas!  Structurally, an arepa is like the love child of an English muffin and a tortilla.  It has a maize base and the heft of an English muffin minus the nooks and crannies.  Plus, it is one of the few aspects of Venezuelan cuisine that has remained unchanged since pre-Colombian times and is still popular to this day.  Currently, 70% of Venezuelans eat arepas for at least one of their meals as a side, and they function like bread for sandwiches typically.  BienMeSabe has a great variety of ingredients, both for meat lovers and vegans, to fill their homemade arepas.  I decided to go with the more authentic bochinche (Venezuelan Spanish for “a loud social gathering”) arepa ($13.95).  I could see why its name was apt because it was a house party packed with chunks of sausage, plantains, homemade cheese, and fresh avocado slices. Talk about an interesting guest list!  From the first bite, I was ready to join the fiesta.  The sausages were covered in a chili sauce that had a low and slow burn that was balanced with the cool, more neutral cheese and savory avocado.  The plantains provided occasionally sweet notes to the mainly savory meal but were not out of place.  The garlic sauce on the side were the perfect compliment to the sausages.  The best part was that the arepa held up to some serious munching a large amount of ingredients in a small package.  I couldn’t say the same as some burgers or tacos that I’ve tried in the past.  If you’re not in the mood for arepas, BienMeSabe also has salads, burger, traditional grilled Venezuelan meats, and fish entrees.

Overall, I highly recommend BienMeSabe if you’re tired of typical tacos and burritos and want to experience freshly made Venezuelan cuisine in cozy surroundings.

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Great Blogs of Fire!: El Yucateco Mayan Kutbil-Ik Habanero Sauce

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Spicy food in America is becoming more and more popular as more immigrants from more spice oriented cuisines are promoting their dishes while big fast food chains are trying to cash in on Millennials’ taste buds tuned into more spicy food like Wendy’s ghost pepper fries or Jack In The Box’s Sriracha burger to name a few new products.  However, my love for spicy food runs in my veins from an unexpected source:  my dad.  For the longest time, I’ve remembered him unscrewing the tops of red pepper flake containers at pizzerias or hearing from my mom’s Pakistani coworker that she has never seen a white man eat such spicy food.  While I liked peppers to a certain extent, I didn’t have the same penchant for colon scorching levels of heat.  As I got older, I grew into my tastebuds and quickly realized that I could not only consume mouth-numbing food but also enjoy it (aside from the morning after).  I made it my point to try super spicy foods whenever I had the chance, and it has taken me on some unique adventures close to home and others a bit further in Korea and Portland, to name a few locations.  Not only have I been to some interesting food challenges, I’ve become a bit of a chili sauce aficionado.  So I am writing these new posts to highlight the new hot sauces I’ve tried.

Today’s entry is from the Yucateco hot sauce company, i.e. my favorite hot sauce company.  While I thought there only existed one type, the green habanero, little did I know there was an entire hot sauce universe out there waiting to be discovered.  This realization happened right by my girlfriend’s apartment, where I found an entire wall of hot sauce just waiting to be sampled. IMG_4050 I scoped out the bottles for my beloved green Yucateco only to find it had five other brothers waiting next to him.  I picked one up that said “Mayan Kutbil-Ik Sauce”.  “Yucateco” in Spanish refers to anything coming from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico which is also where the Mayan civilization flourished before the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th Century.  Therefore, the Mayan recipe is the ultimate homage to the region, and the name of the sauce, Kutbil-Ik, in the modern Mayan language Nahuatl means “crushed chili”.  So, when I first got the bottle home to douse my tacos with a proper hot sauce, I expected a mini-apocalypto in my mouth.  IMG_6157However, when the mottled brown sauce tumbled out onto my plate, I could immediately smell a smoky scent with citrus notes wafting off the sauce.  My first bite hit my palate with a habanero punch that washed from the tip of my tongue to the back of my throat.  Heat in food is normally measured in Scoville units named after Wilbur Scoville who developed the measurement scale.  The spice is measured in relation to how much capsicum or the chemical compound found in nature that imparts the spiciness to peppers.  Bell peppers have 0 Scoville units and pure capsicum has 16,000,000 Scovile units.  This means that pure capsicum has to be diluted 16,000,000 times until there is no detectable spiciness, but obviously this is a very objective system based on peoples’ tolerances.  The new high pressure method is much more scientific though.  The Kutbil-Ik sauce has roughly 11,600 Scoville units, so to put that in perspective a jalapeno pepper is 2,500-5,000 units.  Basically, if you’re not a chili-head, prepare to get lit up like a bonfire.  If you are experienced, you’ll find the burn to be fast and furious, but then oddly absent over the long term.  However, it not all spice as I encountered the same smokey, slightly garlicky, and super toned down lime tones I smelled from the outset.  It really made my meal pop, but it wasn’t the best sauce I’ve ever had.

Flavor:  7/10
Spice:  7.5/10
Overall:  7/10       A middle of the road habanero sauce that’s good around the house, but is not the be all, end all of hot sauces.

Laissez Les Bons Boefs Roulez!

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Beef.  The quintessential meat.  Hearty and filling, it can be found throughout many different cuisines served in very different forms.  If you visit Chicago, you can sample some of the best steaks in the country.  We used to be the butcher for the world with the Union Stockyards, but they have gone the way of smoking on airplanes and pay phones.

So.  much.  beef.

So. much. beef.

 

The Union stockyard gate then...

The Union stockyard gate then…

and now

and now

Still, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a great porterhouse or t-bone.  If you’re not in the mood to drop some major paper on some of that red stuff, there are cheaper alternatives.  Enter another Chicago institution:  the Italian beef sandwich.  While other US cities have sandwiches that could be considered distant cousins to this hearty and humble meal like Philly’s cheesesteak or Pittsburgh’s Tommy DiNic’s Italian pork sandwich, the Chicago version is the best, I think.  In fact, it is so popular here that there are many restaurants that claim to have the best Italian beef sandwich in the city.  Today’s restaurant review revolves around one of the biggest names in the beef biz:  Mr. Beef.

Two of the biggest names in the city are Al’s Beef located in the Little Italy neighborhood and Mr. Beef on Orleans in the River North neighborhood.  Their rivalry is so notorious that it was featured on Travel Channel’s Food Wars.  I won’t spoil it for you, but I disagree who the real winner is.  Anyway, for those of you who haven’t been to Chicago, an Italian beef sandwich is one of those “must”s for Chicago tourists to try.  It’s in the holy trinity of a Chicago hot dog, deep dish pizza, and the holy beef sandwich.  It arose from the Italian immigrant community’s need to make the meat last longer, so they sliced it thin, stewed it with spices, and slapped the tender meat on a fresh roll.  Thus, the Italian beef sandwich was born.  While I was working at a Mexican university that was located right next to the restaurant, I knew I had to pop over to try it since I’ve walked past it a million times but never tried their sandwiches. IMG_4930IMG_4931 So, I finally fulfilled my vow, and walked in to see a shop that is similar to other Italian delis with lots of pictures on the wall and a deli counter at one end with no fancy decorations. IMG_4932 Scanning the menu, I saw the beef sandwich I wanted, but it was 7 bucks.  I couldn’t believe how expensive it was compared to their competitors, so I was expecting this sandwich to justify the price tag.  I got it spicy which means that I got giardiniera on top.  I think giardiniera is also a Chicago thing since it comes from the Italian community also and consists of a mix of pickled vegetables and chili peppers in olive oil.  However, you can get it mild with cooked bell peppers or with no peppers at all.  Then there’s the juice factor.  You can get it dry or juicy, i.e. dipped in the same herb tinged broth the beef soaks in.  I always get mine juicy since it adds more flavor to savor, but you can get it dry to enjoy the freshness of the bread and the delicious beef.  After the brusque cashier took down my order, they set to making my sandwich.  As I was looking at the menu I saw they had other typical fast food staples like burgers, hot dogs, and sides like fries and onion rings.  Eventually, I finally got my sandwich and was ready to see what all the hubbub was about.  I got a seat in the back room at one of the super long tables you share with your fellow diners.  Once I opened up my wrapped up treasure, it looked mouth-watering. IMG_4995 From the bright verdant giardiniera to the fresh bread, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into dat beef.  The first bite was quite satisfying with a good ratio of bread to meat, but it lacked that spicy flair that comes with other dipped Italian beef sammiches.  The beef was tender and flavorful, but the giardiniera left something to be desired.  While other Italian eateries have a generous blend of veggies, I wasn’t a fan of the mainly celery based mix atop my meal.  It wasn’t as fiery as other spicy sandwiches which made it lose points, but it was innovative in the sense that the giardiniera was extremely crunchy to provide a bit of different texture to the mainly chewy sandwich.

So in the end, would I say Mr. Beef is the be-all, end all of Italian beef in Chi-town?  I’d say no.  It lacks the ingredient complexity of their competitors, and the relatively expensive price tag took it down a couple notches in my book.  However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try this fixture on the Chicago food scene.  It’s just a different take on a hometown classic, so maybe it will be better for you than for me.  Happy hunting!
Mr. Beef on Urbanspoon

I’ve Seen and Eaten Things, Man…Delicious Things

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Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood morning, Mastication Monologues readers!  Today’s post deals with a country’s cuisine that I have over the years become more acquainted with due to the increased prevalence of said eateries in the Chicagoland area and throughout the world.  While Japanese and Chinese food are the two most popular forms of Asian cuisine in America, Southeast Asia, specifically Thai and Vietnamese food, has thrown its hat into the ring with some wonderful dishes.  While I do like my Thai food as shown on my blog, today’s restaurant is a cozy Vietnamese place called Nha Hang Viet Nam in Chicago.

As I said before, Vietnamese food has quickly grown into the ever-expanding and shifting profile of the American culinary landscape.  Some of the key dishes that have assisted this jump in popularity include Gỏi cuốn or spring rolls and the banh mi sandwiches which could be considered one of the original forms of Asian fusion.  At Nha Hang Viet Nam, I expected that they would have these, but anything else would be a mystery to me. The outside of the restaurant blended in with the rest of the Little Saigon area around Argyle, and yet seemed a bit like a place that they would hold a scene from the Deer Hunter at due to the bars on some the windows.IMG_3196  The shady exterior gave way to a welcoming interior that was almost like walking into a family’s kitchen it was that small.  Not only did the size add to the intimacy of the establishment, but the family was all sitting at one big table waiting to serve us.  We had the place to ourselves essentially aside from another Vietnamese couple.  Upon going over the menu, I had no clue where to start as they had everything from the aforementioned spring rolls and sandwiches along with soups, noodles, vermicelli, fried rice, various meats (fish, pork, beef), and desserts.  While I was pouring over the vast menu, I found an item on the drink menu that caught my eye:  fresh pennyworth juice ($3.50).  What is pennyworth juice?  No, it doesn’t cost a penny (although it probably would in Vietnam), but it has been used in Indian, Chinese, and African traditional medicine.  In Vietnamese, it’s called rau má or “mother vegetable”, and I’m not quite sure what sort of motherly comforts this drink brought to me during my meal.  When it came out, it looked like something from one of the recent body detox diets. IMG_3191 Not only was it frothy, but it had a deep verdant hue that intrigued me.  While I’ve had good luck picking random drinks of menus in Jamaican and Cuban restaurants, I wasn’t quite sure if I won the grand prize with this drink.IMG_3190  I appreciated how cold it was compliments of the ice, but the taste was complex and semi-indescribable.  It had some grassy notes yet a herbal, semi-spicy after taste that could be likened to cilantro almost.  It was a glass of funk that set the stage for my appetizer:  the bánh xèo or “sizzling cake” ($7.95).  Our waiter was incredulous that I ordered it just for myself since he said it was for two people, and he was right in terms of the size.IMG_3192  However, he never met someone like me with a Cookie Monster appetite when hungry.  As I started down at the large yellow pancake, I wondered how to eat it since it had a plethora of mint leaves, cilantro leaves, and lettuce leaves on the side.  Our waiter then explained that I could cut a piece of the pancake, wrap it up in a lettuce leaf, and then dip it in the fish sauce on the side, similar to the ssam bap I tried in Korea.  The pancake itself was made of rice flour and tumeric, and then on the inside there were plenty of bean sprouts, shrimp, and pork. IMG_3193 I tried a piece of it by itself, and it was a rich, buttery, fried piece of heaven that only got better when dipped in the thin, sweet fish sauce.  Slowly but surely, I completed my search and destroy mission against the pancake that was as big as my face.  When the dust settled, my main entree, the com bo nuong or steamed rice with grilled beef, came out.IMG_3194  It came with a delicious, salty miso that had bits of cilantro floating on the surface and rings of green scallion bobbing about the bowl.  As for the dish, the beef was savory and juicy.  I pumped it up a notch with some red chili sauce to satisfy my love for spicy food.  The mysterious part of the meal was the noodles on the side.IMG_3195  While I could ascertain that they were indeed noodles, I couldn’t tell what type of meat was lurking between the strands, perhaps tripe.  It was also a mostly dry side with a generous dusting of some type of powder that I guessed could possibly be dried mung bean or soy beans.  It wasn’t the highlight of the meal, but I wasn’t complaining at that point.

So if you want to try simple but delicious Vietnamese food for great prices in a hidden gem, try Nha Hang Viet Nam!  Đi đi mau!

Nha Hang Viet Nam on Urbanspoon

Last K-Days (Part 1)- Something’s Fishy in Ulsan

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Well, I’m finally back home in Chicagoland after a journey around the world from my teaching gig in Korea.  I’ve finally found some time to sit down and pound out some classic Mastication Monologues posts that all of you have been missing.  This post is the beginning of a small chronicle of my last weekend in Korea.  n.  It was a wonderful way to wrap up my time in the country, and I managed to try plenty of new foods and drinks along the way.  So, let me start at the beginning with my first full day in Ulsan.

Supposedly the best place to go for lunchtime would be around Daegwangam beach since they had women divers who ventured out into the water, brought their  still wriggling catch to their cooking shack, and prepared it with sushi chef like precision.IMG_3576  Unfortunately, they seemed to be closed and too busy bobbing about in the sea.  Nevertheless, I had a great time just walking around the area and taking in some breathtaking views. IMG_3572 After having a brief constitutional on the beach, we made our way to Ulsan city proper to a fish restaurant that specialized in whale.  Given that I had already tried whale in Japan, I wanted to have something else that the restaurant did well.  The waitress recommended the maeuntang and mulhwoe which I naturally agreed with since she’s the native, and I’m just the waygookin (foreigner) along for the ride.  Before the main entrees came out, they supplied us with typical side dishes, but a couple were different like a plate of peanuts.IMG_2080IMG_2082IMG_2081  I didn’t think Koreans ate peanuts since I’ve never seen them being sold in the grocery store, but these were different from what I was used to since they were boiled.  I knew other cuisines like some African recipes and even some parts of the American South eat boiled peanuts, but this was a first for me.  IMG_2083They were oddly purple and slightly soft.  I think I’ll stick to the traditional crunchy ones.  The dishes eventually came out which didn’t scare me as much as her description of the main dish as sushi mixed with bibimbap.  I’m not a huge fish fan, so I was surprised when I found I really enjoyed both choices.IMG_2084  My mulhwoe consisted of a big bowl filled with pink, tender slices of fish, sesame seeds, an avalanche of radishes or some sort of root vegetable, and a hefty helping of green onions.  Similar to bibimbap, it came with a side of gochujang or chili sauce that I slathered on my fish molehill, but this one was a bit different compared to the sauce served with warm bibimbap in the sense that it was thinner in consistency and sweeter.IMG_2087  As for the maeuntang, it lived up to its name in Korean as a spicy soup that was filled with large chunks of flaky white fish pieces with the bones still in per usual in Korean cooking and lots of onions and peppers.IMG_2085  It warmed my mouth and my stomach in the best way possible, and the broth was thankfully not too salty.

Dinner was at a small, unassuming place off the main avenue by our apartment, but I would soon find out it was a hidden gem.  They’re famous for the soju promotion where if each person in the group drinks a bottle, you only have to pay 500 Won or roughly 50 cents for the drinks.  Now, I don’t care too much for soju since it’s like a weak version of vodka with a sweet aftertaste, but I wouldn’t mind getting lots of drinks at dinner for less than a dollar.  As for the food, we ordered kamjatang (pork spine soup) and possam (sliced, boiled pork).  This was definitely more my kind of meal since I prefer all other types of meats over fish, and I was not disappointed.  The liquor was flowing, food was going fast, and we were having a great conversations.  The soup consisted of a similar spicy stock to the maeuntang, but there were different vegetables waiting to be enjoyed like spinach and hot red peppers.IMG_2094  I felt like the guest of honor when I got the biggest bone with the most pork on it.

I had a bone to pick with this meal.

I had a bone to pick with this meal.

The meat was succulent and spicy, but it was semi-difficult to get the meat off the bone sans knife.  As for the possam, it was a superb side to the soup since the pork pieces were firm and succulent with a perfect meat to fat ratio.IMG_2095  The side vegetables were steamed or slathered in chili sauce and were average in taste, but I took all of it and put it in a lettuce leaf to make a mini-package to deliver the food from the plate to my mouth.  It was a similar experience to my ssambap dinner.   Overall, I would highly recommend trying kamjatang and possam if you have the chance and want a hearty meal that is healthy as well.

Tokyo (Day 3)- Ainu Where The Good Food Was At

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to top the theatrics of Day 1 and Day 2 in Tokyo, but Day 3 still had its own unique charms.  For example, I started the day off with a more modest breakfast at the convenience store which consisted of some general snack cakes, and a drink that I’ve never seen before:  men’s cider.IMG_1797  It looked intense, so I decided to give it a shot.  It was delicious since it tasted like some sort of pomegranate soda.  It gave me the energy to venture forth for another long day of sightseeing which I thought would have culminated in lunch with the yakitori specialists at Toriki, but unfortunately they were only open for dinner at 5:30.  Crestfallen, I went on the search for the Pokemon Center in southern Tokyo, and  along the way decided for lunch to see what sort of wacky Japanese adapatations McDonalds integrated into their menu.  I was extremely disappointed.

Great dishonor to Amurka

Great dishonor to Amurka

I got a burger that had some type of chili sauce along with bacon cheese fries which I only got because they were part of a meal and don’t exist in American McDonalds.  I need not go into further detail with this pedestrian meal.  Thankfully, the ignominy of lunch was quickly erased with my dinner and dessert.

I had read on Wikitravel that there was a restaurant called Harukor specializing in Ainu (Eye-noo) cuisine in Tokyo which really piqued my interest.  Why you might ask?  What the hell is Ainu food?  Well, the Ainu are the indigenous people of Japan and Siberia who live all the way on the northern island of Japan called Hokkaido along with the Sakhalin Islands.  They look different from the ethnic Japanese, but due to intermarriage they no longer retain their unique appearances.  There are very few, if any, full blooded Ainu left, and they are subject to discrimination for their ethnicity.  They’re known for being astute hunters along with rocking sweet beards and cool woven clothes with distinct geometric patterns.

Dream on hipster beards

Dream on hipster beards

So I tried to follow the directions that Google Maps tried to give me, but it led me around in circles.  So I asked a tiny, ancient Japanese restaurant owner where the restaurant was.  He spoke no English, and I no Japanese.  I just said, “Harukor, Ainu, food, Hokkaido”.  He paused for a moment and proceeded to run down the street while beckoning me to join him.  After about 10 minutes of running through the street, and people wondering why this giant foreigner had an octogenarian running partner, he showed me exactly where it was.  Typical friendly Japanese hospitality.  For those who don’t want to run with old Japanese guys on the way to your dinner, go to Okubo station and out the south exit.  Make a left out the door and then a right and follow the road.  It will be on your left.IMG_1804IMG_1805  The actual restaurant space was quite tiny in comparison to the other places I ate at, but it had a lot of character with Ainu harp music playing on the speakers and various posters and items symbolizing the Ainu struggle.  IMG_1808IMG_1807The guy running it spoke very little English, but realized I didn’t speak Japanese after staring at the all Japanese menu.  He quickly busted out the English menu which I was grateful for.IMG_1806  He poured me a cup of chilled green tea which was refreshing after a long day of hustling.  I eventually went for the imoshito set and the fish soup which are both Ainu foods.  It reflected the humble culture these people have when the food came out.  The set consisted of a fried potato, pumpkin, and yomogi which according to Wikipedia is Japanese mugwort.IMG_1809  The potato one was quite good since it was creamy and even tempered like a fried potato should be.  As for the pumpkin, it was a bit surprising because it was my favorite since it had the texture of the potato with a hint of sweetness that enhanced the rich breading.  As for the yomogi, I personally liked it because it kind of had a sesame/perilla flavor to it.IMG_1810  As for the fish soup, I was less enchanted because there was barely any fish to be found.  IMG_1811It was more like a vegetable soup, but it still warmed my soul that night with steamed but not limp watercress, carrots, and celery.  It was a nice experience at a place that not many people know about and even fewer about the culture behind the food.  Then there was dessert at a separate place called Dairy Chiko.  This place is located in the Nakano Broadway B1 floor.IMG_3425  You just go north of Nakano station all the way through the covered market to Nakano Broadway, and wander in the basement until you find this booth. IMG_1813IMG_1812 I came here to take down the eight layer cone which was a steal for 4 bucks.  The guy working the machines was like an artist when he handed me my cone, but he warned me to stay by the garbage cans and hold it straight. IMG_1817 I soon set to work on the elite eight flavors:  vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, coffee, sesame, caramel, green tea, and bubble gum.  Not only was there a ton of ice cream up top, but he filled it to the bottom tip of the cone.  If I could pick a favorite, it would probably be the caramel layer (4th down from the top layer). It was completely worth it, and I highly recommend people to seek out Dairy Chiko.

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.

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