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Cinful Prices but a Heavenly View (Cindy’s)

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Ah, another quarter done in my speech pathology program.  It has probably been the most challenging quarters so far, but I came out on the other side ready for another quarter of growth.  Plus, Summer has finally arrive in Chicago.  While I am more of a fan of winter since I am part White Walker as well as a weirdo,

If you squint closely, you might see me

I do enjoy all of the great activities the city offers when the sun is shining and everyone is out of hibernation mode.  Today’s post is a little delayed but better late than never!

While New York is often known for its skyscrapers as well as their 9/11 tower that took away the Sears Tower’s status as the tallest building in America, skyscrapers were invented in Chicago all the way back in 1884/1885.  Between then and now, we have gotten enough practice constructing these towering behemoths to include elements of work and play.  Enter Cindy’s, a.k.a. the jewel of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.

PC: Chicago Architecture Association

This establishment did not exist back in 1893 when some of the biggest names in Chicago and world industry such as Marshall Field, Cyrus McCormack, and William Wrigley (the very same as the gum company) came together to create the Chicago Athletic Association.  Mr. Wrigley even went on to adopt the association’s logo to be the symbol for a certain Northside baseball team that just broke a 108 year World Series curse.

Not too subtle, eh? PC: LoopChicagoBlog

It became a hub for the richest socialites to get their sweat on as well as some of the biggest athletes from the turn of the early 20th century such as Johnny Weissmuller who went gold five times in Olympic swimming and also was Tarzan.  It was a male-only club up until 1975, but by then it was a slowly decaying institution that eventually closed in 2007.  Thankfully, a hotel consortium reopened the doors to the new Chicago Athletic Association Hotel where they restored the edifice to its former glory and then some to create a feast for the eyes.

The ballroom staircase and event room with a recreated plaster ceiling (right) PC: Chicago Architecture Association

I had never been to this hotel even though I’ve lived here all my life, but as always, my fiancée Janice/her friends managed to find a new brunch place to check out.  It was a beautiful day to enjoy the view from Cindy’s where we could look out over Millenium Park and the harbor.  It is one of the most popular skyscraper balconies in the city, so I highly recommend you make reservations.  However, based on our experience, we were not sure why it is so in demand as a brunch venue aside from its ultramodern design.  We were sat at a low bench table with a box for a table.

Plenty of room for tiny Jan Jan

We looked over the menu to find a variety of drinks and breakfast staples such as pancakes and eggs Benedict but with ridiculous prices even for sharable dishes.  25 bucks for a yogurt parfait?  Unless it came served in the holy grail, a bowl of yogurt should never cost that much.  The cocktails were not up to snuff either since their old fashion ($16) was oddly sour and my Moody Tongue porter ($25) was strangely tinny tasting.  Maybe it was an off day, but the wait staff was also not very attentive since it took a good while to get our server to exchange our drinks for better made ones.  Then there was the food.  It was the best part of the experience aside from the seating arrangement.  Our group ended up sharing a cast iron quiche Lorraine ($34), croque madame ($30), and cast iron chilaquiles ($29).  There was a lot of food that eventually was brought out to our table, but the quality still wasn’t worth the exorbitant prices.  Plus, the seating arrangement was not ideal for taller patrons like yours truly.  I say this because my knees were level with the low box table which meant I had to lean forward and downward to an extreme degree  in order to avoid spilling my food. Out of the three dishes we sampled, the chilaquiles were the best followed by the croque madame, and then the quiche.  The chilaquile’s mixture of eggs, chorizo, crema, and peppers were a much-needed punch of Latin american flavor and spice for an otherwise mild brunch.  The croque madame is a French invention originally named the croque monsieur.  The name croque monsieur roughly translates to “Mr. Bite” because it was originally designed to be a cafe sandwich to be quickly eaten in Parisian cafes.  The croque madame was a riff on the croque monsieur when a fried egg was placed atop its brioche top slice.  The floppy egg was said to resemble an old-fashioned lady’s hat, hence the “Madame” moniker.  At Cindy’s, we had many ladies in our presence with how many eggs were residing on our sandwich.  The sandwich was extremely rich and buttery with the melted Gruyère cheese and bechamel sauce, and the ham brought a very slight smoky element to the flavor profile.

So much ham hanging out with some rogue chilaquiles

The frisee salad on the side was less a side salad and more of an ornamental lawn to this monstrous mansion of meat.  This would be an idea meal for a powerlifter who needs a ton of protein really quickly after working out at the Athletic club in the hotel.  As for the quiche, this Middle Ages classic brought the original recipe back to life with plenty of egg custard, bacon, cheese, and onions.  I’m not a big egg fan, so this plate was lower on my list.  Janice loves eggs more than I do, and she said it was okay but not great.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Cindy’s for brunch, but it would be a great place to grab drinks before going out on the town on the Mag Mile, a night-cap at 2 am on Saturdays, or some hair of the dog the following Sunday morning.  Now go out there and enjoy summertime in Chicago for all it’s worth!
Cindy's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Jonesing for Some Great Eats (Big Jones)

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Welcome one and all to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  It has been too long since my last post where I celebrated this blog’s five year anniversary in the most food-filled way possible.  Unfortunately, the little issue of being in a very intense graduate program for speech pathology has kept me from being the best blogger I can be, but that doesn’t mean that it has prevented me from sampling great meals across the currently chilly and snow-covered Chicago.  Today’s entry comes from another Andersonville staple establishment in the form of Big Jones.

In regard to Andersonville, I am well versed in both their traditional Swedish fare as well as the more colorful installations that reflect the more modern side of the neighborhood.  Janice had always played up the delicious plates the Southern American cuisine eatery offered, but I was skeptical they could truly recreate the funky, soulful, and simple nature of some of the original comfort food from our nation’s early history.  Southern American cuisine has an extremely diverse history based on the various ethnicities that came for a better life  or perhaps had been forced into slavery, contrary to Dr. Carson’s interpretation of that chapter in American history.  African slaves brought their cooking styles from Africa and made the most they could with the ingredients we were given.  This gave rise to such staples of Southern cuisine like collard greens, fried chicken, and barbecue in conjunction with the Native American’s lending some of their smokehouse know-how.  It also helped that the English and Scotch-Irish colonists brought their deep frying skills literally to the fledgling American dinner table.  As time went on and Southern Americans made their way north during the first half of the 20th Century looking for jobs or freedom from segregation, these Southern staples made themselves at home in the culinary fabric of cities north of the Mason-Dixon line, including my town Chicago.  Coming back to our dining experience, Big Jones can be reached either by public transportation or parking on the street.  The restaurant overall had a warm interior with a certain flair that reminded us of our trip to Charleston.  Looking over the menu for a drink, I saw that they stayed true to their Southern roots by having a wide variety of cocktails in addition to the Big Jones Bourbon Society.  Given that I’m not one for drinking early in the morning, I found another southern beverage that caught my fancy:  sweet tea.  Tea has always been a part of America’s history.  Boston Tea Party, anyone?  However, I never knew the history behind this drink.  According to Wikipedia, it was originally an expensive drink due to the then costly ingredients of sugar, ice, and obviously, tea.  What’s even more interesting is that pre-WWII, it was actually made with green tea, but due to anti-Japanese sentiments, the government forbade green tea imports.  Thus, Americans came back to the motherland by drinking English black tea after the war.  Either way, I was loving this refreshing glass to start my brunch off right. It was especially satisfying after having sweet teas at other establishments (read:  McDonalds) that boast a sweet tea which is actually unsweetened iced tea.  Big Jones does it right with plenty of sugar that indulged my sweet tooth.   Drink in hand, we were ready to sample the best Big Jones had to offer us Yankees.  First, they brought out some complimentary boiled peanuts as well as beignets.  This was definitely a nod to Southern cooking as well as a New Orleans staple.  The beignets were just as fluffy and powdered-covered as the treasures my parents and I destroyed at Cafe du Monde in NOLA.  The word “beignet” literally means “bump” in French, and I’m sure if we had enough of these rich pastries, we’d have a few more bumps than when we walked in.  While we were savoring the fried bread, we decided to split the andouille platter ($6).  Then I ordered the corn griddle cakes ($12), and Janice ordered the caramel apple French toast.  The andouille (pronounced “an-doo-ee”) sausage is a carry over from French immigrants who decided to make it part of Cajun culture.  Big Jones’ sausage is all hand-made on site, and this particular type consisted of pecan-smoked pork in beef casings.  These cold cuts were accompanied by warm rye bread, garlic aioli, and another southern staple, chow-chow.  This amusingly named condiment/side has a mysterious origin ranging from Acadian immigrants in Louisiana to Chinese rail workers in the 19th Century to even Indian immigrants.  The name is just as obscure with some contesting it comes from the French word for cabbage “chou” while others advocate for the Indian origin story since one of the ingredients, chayote, is known as chow-chow in India.  Wherever it is from, it wasn’t the highlight of the plate since it seemed to just consist of pickled cabbage and peppers.  Other varieties are more diverse including onions, cabbage, red beans, carrots, asparagus, and cauliflower.  The bread, on the other hand, was hearty, flavorful, and the perfect foundation for an open-face andouille sandwich.  The aioli spread had a good amount but not overpowering level of garlic, and then there was the actual sausage.  It was ok but not great.  I think that if it was smoked over a sweeter wood, it would bring a different dimension to the sausage beyond just the spiced pork flavor.  Before we knew it, our plates were being placed before us.  Janice’s place looked picture perfect complete with golden brown bread slices, cinnamon whipped cream, almond slivers, and a heavenly caramel sauce.  The exquisitely carved apple was the jewel on this crown of a dish.  Unfortunately, it isn’t there all the time due to their rotating seasonal menu, but if it is available, definitely give it a chance.  As for my choice, the corn griddle cakes, it was everything Janice made it out to be.  Their origins reach back to the Algonquin tribes on the East Coast and Cherokee and Choctaw tribes in the Southern USA, and they taught European settlers how to prepare cornbread.  As compared to its more plain Civil War counterpart, the Big Jones version also added Spanish and Mexican flair to it with black beans, salsa, avocado, and sour cream.  These savory pancakes were filling but not too much.  It was the best of both worlds since I love pancakes more than omelets, but the two individual elements combined to make one mouth-watering and appetite-pleasing plate.  I highly recommend them if you’re looking for something beyond shrimp and grits.

Overall, I would highly recommend Big Jones’ for great Cajun food.  It might not be as well known as Heaven on Seven or Pappadeaux, but the line out the door every Sunday would tell you otherwise.  This hidden gem provides generous portions of delectable Cajun fare for reasonable prices, especially if you’re Jonesin’ for just a great glass of sweet tea.  See you next time, y’all!

Big Jones Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Throwback Post: Île Flottante in Paris

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Bonjour a tout le monde!  Today’s Mastication Monologues post is the penultimate installation in my throwback Europe series.  It has spanned the Old World from Romania to Scotland and even Slovakia.  Today we are continuing our march westward to France.

I have visited Paris twice along with Marseilles once, but I’m just going to be focusing on the former since it was where I tried a unique dessert that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world.  Paris truly is one of the most beautiful cities that I have visited throughout my travels.  I was amazed to finally be face to face with so many iconic landmarks that I only saw on posters and postcards. HPIM1920 Climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower was an epic trek that was helped at the end with a little elevator ride.HPIM1911  From the top, I could absorb the broad boulevards and mid-18th century buildings that made up a majority of the city center.HPIM1912  Once safely back on the ground, I also visited the signature Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe that were stately yet highly congested with traffic.DSCN0652  The famed, ultra-sexy Moulin Rouge was also highly congested with foot traffic as well-monied patrons lined up to see the cabaret shows advertised outside.HPIM1812  One of my favorite Paris memories was actually outside of the city of Paris in the form of the Palace of Versailles. HPIM2248 This was hands down one of the most impressive man-made structures I’ve ever laid my eyes upon.HPIM2295  No wonder this life of luxury and Marie Antoinette’s contempt for the common man enraged and caused the French people to rise up in arms against the aristocracy.  Still, it was amazing to walk the same halls that Louis XVI did before being captured and beheaded in the capital.  All of this sightseeing made me hungry, and what better place to find something to snack on than Paris?  From their crepe stands to their pastisseries (pastry shops), one could eat something delicious and different for everyday of the year.  The perfect storm for me to indulge my sweet tooth.  Enter the île flottante.  I had it in a restaurant, and this dessert meaning “floating island” in French lived up to its name.  First, there was a crème anglaise or “English creme” that served as the vanilla flavored base to the dish.  It consisted of egg whites, sugar, and milk, and was a watery custard that was sweet but not overwhelmingly so.HPIM1801  It was also served cold. Then there was the island in the middle of my vanilla flavored sea.  It was a perfect example of how French are able to combine both artistry and innovation through the culinary arts.  The egg whites were whipped with sugar into a fluffy meringue island that was substantial enough to be almost like a large, slightly melted marshmallow yet light enough to bob in the vanilla sea.  It was all jazzed up with a light drizzling of caramel sauce.  I’ve heard that this old-school French dessert is disappearing quickly, so set sail for Paris and find your own hidden island.

Too Much Flavor to Savor

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Hey hey, everybody!  Summer is finally here, and Mastication Monologues has another new restaurant review hot off the presses.  While it seems like I’ve been focusing a lot on fried chicken joints and burger stands lately, today’s post takes a turn for the more genteel in the form of brunch at  M.  Henry.

There are plenty of words that have entered the English language in the form of portmanteaus such as spork, frienemy, and the never-ending parade of celebrity couples like Brangelina, Kimye, and TomKat.  However, “brunch” has been around a bit longer than these limelight hoggers, and frankly I think it has offered a lot more to the world than they have.  Case in point, Punch magazine in England in 1895 first coined the term as a “Sunday meal for Saturday night carousers” that “Puts yourself in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow human beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”  Truer words have never been spoken, so I was led to M. Henry by Janice to see if their amazing brunch could do all of the above.IMG_3298  It seemed like it could based on the 20 minute wait we had to endure to finally get a table in the back room.  The interior of the establishment was tastefully decorated along with a full bakery section that greeted us complete with homemade granola, pies, and sweet rolls.IMG_3285IMG_3283IMG_3284  So we sat down in the bustling backroom, and I got acquainted with the menu. IMG_3297 If you love breakfast/brunch as much as I do, then you’ll need plenty of time to pour over the selection of mouth-watering options ranging from different egg dishes, bread based dishes, and tons of sides and vegan-friendly noms.  We started our meal off with a half order of the out of this world bread pudding ($5.75 half/$6.95 full).  Janice was over the moon about it, so I was curious to see if I’d be in orbit as well.  It came out, and it looked unlike any bread pudding I’ve seen. IMG_3286IMG_3288 The actual pudding was buried underneath a mountain of blood-red peach slices and plump raspberries.  So I took a few spoonfuls of the fruit and some chunks of the vanilla brioche pudding.  Upon eating it, I was greeted with a blast of rich vanilla flavor of the bread pudding along with the semi-sweet notes of the peaches.  The raspberries also were fresh and slightly tart that provided a nice contrast to the mellow pudding, but the seeds were a bit of a pain.  Although the ingredients were good, the presentation brought the entire dish down.  The main sticking point for me was the fruit juice that all of the ingredients were swimming in.  This caused the already soft bread pudding to become soggy.  I don’t know if we went there for the senior early bird special since they were trying to soften up our food for our dentures, but I personally prefer my bread pudding to have a bit more fortitude than the delicious but mushy pudding they served us.  If they served it on a plate with just a drizzling of the fruit juices, similar to other bread pudding recipes I’ve tried and seen, instead of a biblical flood, then it would be considerably better.  Once finished,  the waiter was back to take our order.  After much deliberation, I settled for their acclaimed bliss cakes ($9.95) with a side of candied applewood bacon ($3.75), and Janice got the black bean cakes and huevos borrachos ($9.95).  I was looking around at people eating bliss cakes in the dining room, and they looked like they were enjoying them greatly.  So I was quite excited to tuck into them when they were finally placed in front of me.  It looked like a plate out of Martha Stewart’s kitchen, and the first bite was delectable. IMG_3291 The top hotcake had a crust of brown sugar and oats for a sweet crunch for a great flavor and texture contrast to the fruity and fluffy pancakes.  After that first bite, I delved further into my meal, and my initial excitement gave way to a similar ennui that I experienced with the bread pudding.  Once again, M. Henry believed that stewing bread products in its own juices would somehow improve the quality of the meal.  This destroyed the bottom flapjack, and the creamy mascarpone cheese between the pancakes didn’t help.  I’m sure it was a good idea on the drawing board, but they should cool it with the fruit juices.  I definitely wasn’t crestfallen when I tried and subsequently destroyed my candied bacon.IMG_3294  Normally, I’m not a crispy bacon kind of guy, but these monster-sized strips were special.  M. Henry took a basic bacon strip and combined the salty, smoky flavor profile with a perfect coating of sugar to redeem an otherwise disappointing meal.IMG_3296  I tried some of Janice’s dish, mainly the huevos borrachos or “drunk eggs”, and I really should have ordered those.IMG_3293  Not only was the tortillas homemade, fresh, and thick, but the adobo mixed with the chorizo, sour cream, and avocado was a thick, south-of-the-border fiesta that couldn’t be any more at home in my mouth.  Que rico!  

By the end of the meal, I was indifferent to my experience at M. Henry.  I think I just chose incorrectly, but they do care a lot about the quality of the ingredients that they use.  That is for certain.  I’m sure there are other places in Andersonville that serve brunch, like Lady Gregory’s, but I wouldn’t say to completely avoid M. Henry’s.  It’s worth a shot.

M. Henry on Urbanspoon

My Glorious Food Revolution- Day 1 in N. Korea

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Happy New Year to everyone out there!  Sorry for the long hiatus between posts, but I just returned from an insane vacation through North Korea and China.  I’m going to start off with North Korea since it is the more mysterious of the two countries, but if one is familiar with Korean food beyond the ubiquitous barbecue that everyone and their 엄마 (momma) loves, then you’ll see that my food adventures in the Hermit Kingdom really aren’t as exotic as one would think.  I’m going to do a day-by-day installation of the various foodstuffs and stuff they passed off as food whilst we were ushered throughout Pyongyang and Kaesong which is a city close to the DMZ.  I knew I was in for a doozy of a trip when I had my first encounter with North Korean food on the airplane.

Sadly, we were not riding on a Cold War era Russian plane en route to the Glorious Fatherland; then again, it’s not sad since I greatly value my life.  However, I questioned the safety of my G.I. tract when I was face to face with what I’d like to call the “enigma burger.”  I got a beer on the side since I was in a festive mood, and they seemed to have more of that than water. IMG_2847 It looked like a normal burger of sorts when wrapped, but after unwrapping it slowly I took a peak under its uniform top bun to find some sort of organic matter with some scraps of lettuce.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Your guess is as good as mine.

I assumed it was chicken, but when I bit into it I was greeted with an oddly creamy texture that kind of tasted like tuna yet had yellow flecks of what seemed like eggs.  Yet between my befuddled bites, it had tinges of chicken which made me somewhat relieved that my theory was correct…sorta.  It was a microcosm of one of the most isolated countries on earth:  nothing is really what it seems.  Overall, it wasn’t too bad, but it may have been overshadowed by my ravenous appetite.

When we landed in Pyongyang, we made history as the first tour group to ever been in North Korea during the New Year festivities, so even our guides were leading us into uncharted territory.  All of which obviously led to an even heightened sense of excitement when we started the night off right with some classic Taedonggang North Korean beer.  Taedonggang in Korean means “Taedong River” which is where we had our New Year’s Eve cruise through the middle of Pyongyang.  The story behind the beer is quite interesting.  A British beer company, Ushers, went bankrupt, so the North Korean government bought the factory.  They brought it over to Pyongyang, and now are churning out bottles of this delectable brew.  My first bottle was like heaven after months of drinking the dreadful triumvirate of Hite, Cass, and OB in South Korea.IMG_1546  It was a full bodied lager with a slightly bitter aftertaste which nicely complimented the eats at our little shindig.  It wouldn’t be my last time tangling with Taedonggang though during the trip.  The first food at dinner that I never saw before was this julienned potato dish that was delicious.  It was served slightly warm, and each starchy strand was soaked in a peppery vinaigrette that supplied my palate with a piquant punch with every chopstick clasp.  The other element of the meal that really caught my eye and tastebuds was actually a garnish to our main meal of fried rice:  a thousand year old egg.  Obviously, these eggs aren’t really a thousand years old, but they have been around for centuries in Chinese cuisine where they are known as   皮蛋 or pidan.  They are prepared by taking eggs and storing them in clay, ash, quicklime, and salt for months at a time.  What ends up happening is the whites turn a deep amber color almost bordering on black, and the yolk becomes a grey almost light green/yellow color which you can see in the photo.

Everyone was egging me on to eat it.  Yolks on them.

Everyone was egging me on to eat it. Yolks on them.

I saw them before in Taiwan, but I never got around to buying one while chilling in the 7-11.  So now I found myself on a boat in the middle of Pyongyang for NYE= YOLO.  I was the only one brave enough to pop the gelatinous slices in my mouth, and it really wasn’t that bad.  It just tasted like a hard boiled egg that got a brand new paint job, and they certainly didn’t taste as bad as the German cookies they were selling on the boat for snacks.  It was a great celebration where everyone enjoyed each others company in a unique environment.  However, the main thought in the back of my head the entire time was how much food we were being served while millions of people have died from famine in the very same country.  It added a somewhat sombre tinge to my perusing of Pyongyang’s culinary entries, but it was a sad truth that further added to the odd atmosphere that would continue in day two.

Flippin’ Awesome

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What’s up, everybody?  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I’m going to be talking about a well known player on the Seoul food circuit that I finally managed to hunt down and sink my choppers into:  Butterfinger Pancakes.   I went to the one close to Gangnam station.  Leave the station through exit #6. Walk straight ahead to the first street corner and turn left. It’s about 2 blocks down on the left next to Burger King.  As for the hours, they’re open until 3 a.m. if you’re craving some American breakfast items.IMG_1170

I had always heard that it pretty much was the place to go to get a taste of back home, but that it was always super busy.  The night Steph and I went there was no different.  We went on a Saturday night for dinner, and there still was a 15 minute wait which wasn’t too terrible.IMG_1169  We went up to the top floor, and surprisingly it was filled with mostly Koreans.  Walking past the packed tables, I could see huge plates overflowing with food that the patrons were quickly inhaling like they never saw food before.  Perhaps I would have a similar experience.  I knew Butterfingers meant business when I was face to face with its menu.

I think they're trying to compensate for something.

I think they’re trying to compensate for something.

It literally was larger than life just like their prices which ranged from 10,000 to 30,000 Won.  They had everything from pancakes to make your own omelet options.  I wanted to try a little bit of everything, but I eventually went for the breakfast special (17,000 W) which contained eggs (scrambled/sunny side up/hard boiled), white sausage, ham, sausage links, hash browns, and pancakes with your choice of regular butter or vanilla butter.  Steph got the French toast version of the platter.  When they came out, I was taken aback at how much food there was on our plates.

Steph's French toast plate

Steph’s French toast plate

After living in a country where they eat kimchi and rice or maybe nothing for breakfast, this was a shock to the system.  I quickly dove gob first into my meal starting with the eggs.IMG_1173  I thought I would need some salt to make them more palatable, but I was pleased with their buttery goodness.  Plus, they didn’t have that gross gelatinous texture that scrambled eggs can take on when made in restaurants like McDonalds.  Next, there were the hashbrowns.  Normally, I’m all about the crispy, triangular hashbrowns and don’t care much for the shaved-taters version.

A thing of beauty

A thing of beauty

However, I liked these better than how they’re normally prepared because they were squished into a thick potato-pancake of sorts that made them a lot easier to eat especially with a dollop of ketchup.  The white sausage was just ok.  It kind of had a hot dog flavor profile which didn’t really jive with the rest of the classic breakfast items.  It was like that guy who brings Zima to a house party.  True, it’s alcohol, but it should be at another party or perhaps another decade.  However, the breakfast sausage links and ham were delicious and were only further enhanced through the addition of maple syrup.  Nothing like a little liquid Canadian gold to make any breakfast better.  Finally, there were the pancakes.  I do have to say that Butterfinger Pancakes definitely lives up to their name with their mean flapjacks.  They were perfectly cooked to a golden brown hue and had fluffy white insides.  Taste-wise, they probably were some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.  I think what separated them from other pancakes that I’ve downed before was that they possessed a unique buttery/vanilla aftertaste that took my palate off to Paul Bunyan’s lumberjack heaven.  Even though they were on the smaller side, they had enormous flavors.  When I finished, I was satisfied, but in retrospect, it wasn’t the best breakfast overall that I’ve had.  I think it was simply the fact that I haven’t had a normal American breakfast in so long that I really appreciated one when it came along.  The plate I ordered you could find anywhere in America, but this was a case of distance causing the stomach to grow fonder.

I'm so aegyo

I’m so aegyo

So if you are really hankering for some big breakfasts the way only the Stars and Stripes can do it, head on over the Butterfinger Pancakes in Gangnam.

Taiwan (Part 3)- Hot Pot to Trot in Taipei

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Hey everybody!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  While I’m still here keeping it cool and kickin’ it live in South Korea, I am slowly but surely winding down the last of my Chinese adventure posts where I try some weird and wacky foods that you just can’t find in Korea or anywhere else for that matter.  Today is a bit on the tamer side where I started off my day with a typical Taiwanese breakfast with my friend David’s family.

We went to a really small place that specialized in three key elements of a Taipei breakfast:  fantuan, youtiao, and soy milk.  First, there is the youtiao.  A lot of people back home in the States skip breakfast because they’re in a hurry or just don’t feel like whipping up a bowl of cereal (as if that takes a long time).  In Taipei, you can get the youtiao to go, and I know I would make it an occasional part of my morning routine.  The reason being is that youtiao is basically fried dough or the Taiwanese version of a doughnut.

Fried dough and milk?  I'll take it!

Fried dough and milk? I’ll take it!

You can eat it plain or dip it in some soy sauce if you’re looking for a savory side to your doughnut.  It wasn’t sugary at all like Western doughnuts, but it had a rich, buttery flavor and was not sopping in grease which was refreshing.  We even got a more modernized version of it with a  piece of youtiao and a mini egg and green onion omelet stuffed inside a sesame and poppy seed coated flatbread which is called  shāobǐng yóutiáo (燒餅油條) or youtiao flatbread.IMG_2587  I could only relate it back to a heartier and better version of the Egg McMuffin.  The flatbread was light and airy while the sesame seeds interacted well with the green onions in the eggs.  The other part of my breakfast was a fantuan which consisted of the aforementioned youtiao, pork floss, and pickled radish encapsulated in a layer of sticky rice.  While it was roughly the size of a potato, I was full after eating just one.  The cooks packed in a lot of tender, savory pork along with old, stiff youtiao that provided a spine of stability to the otherwise squishy foodstuff.  I washed all of it down with a iced cup of soymilk which was slightly sweetened but still maintained an earthiness that reminded me that I was drinking soybeans.  You can get your soymilk either iced or served warm in a bowl on the side like soup. Once we filled up on a lot of deep fried carbs, Christie and I were off again on another sight seeing adventure which would eventually bring us to the top of the Taipei 101 tower where we tried a beer float since we had two for one coupons.  It was pretty much a cup of Taiwanese beer with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it.

Classiest drink on top of the world

Classiest drink on top of the world

It wasn’t anything special, but it got better towards the end when the ice cream melted and blended with the light lager.

Christie obviously enjoyed her free drink

Christie obviously enjoyed her free drink

After the Taipei 101 Tower while we were walking and talking, I brought up how much I enjoyed taro root in my boba tea, so she took me to a dessert stand that was kind of like a make-your-own-sundae but focused mainly on taro root paste.IMG_0934  For about 200 TWD, you can get three different ingredients in your bowl.  I picked the taro root paste, tapioca balls, and pineapple.  They had other ingredients like this clear jelly, kiwi slices, and red bean paste to name a few.

Oodles of ingredients

Oodles of ingredients

They lumped all of it into a bowl along with some shaved ice so that it became more like a soup I had to scoop into my mouth.IMG_0937  Obviously, my favorite part was the tapioca balls because they were chewy and sugary, but the lumpy taro root kind of put a damper on my sugar rush since it was just a lumbering giant in a room of nimble tapioca sprites. Another sweet deal (pun intended) that they don’t charge you for is you can add as much ice and sugar syrup to your dessert.  I didn’t think mine was that sweet, so I gave it another ladle full of the syrup.  It was a bad choice.  I could only finish 3/4ths of it before I had to stop because it felt like my teeth were going to fall out, and I was about to have insta-Diabetes.  Word to the wise and Lil’ Wayne, go easy on the syrup.  I didn’t eat anything after that, and we had a brisk walk to multiple parks and temples before sitting down with the family for a late dinner in the middle of a typhoon rainstorm.

This dinner was like deja-vu for me once again because we were having hot pot.  I had had it before with the Wu family on New Year’s Eve 2012, and it had more of a spicy flair to it thanks to the Sichuan peppers they used in the pot.  However, Christie couldn’t take the really spicy stuff, so we only had a medium spice level on one side and a mild broth on the other.  However, that didn’t stop me from trying some new items on the menu like ligaments, Mitsuyaki jelly, and shrimp paste tempura.

Like bobbing for apples but more dangerous

Like bobbing for apples but more dangerous

How hot pot works is that you literally have a pot that is heated until boiling in the middle of the table, and then you throw everything in and eat it when it’s fully cooked.  Easy peasy.  I personally preferred the spicier side, per usual, and the contents of the pot did not disappoint.  For my first plate, I went all meat lovers on it.

Ligament on the left, beef up top, and two pieces of duck blood

Ligament on the left, beef up top, and two pieces of duck blood

I had duck blood which was as good as the Moon Cake dinner’s version but a bit spicier due to the broth it had been simmering in.  Then there was the pork and beef which were high quality cuts with very little fat and sliced almost paper thin to almost dissolve on the tongue.   Then there were my ligaments.  Now, they might sound like some terrible eats, but I have to disagree.   True, it may have taken a bit of chewing, but the rubbery texture gives way eventually and soaks up a lot of the flavor from the other meats bobbing in the devilish red soup.  When I was done gnashing away on the ligaments, I moved on to my second plate.IMG_0944  Here we can see the pork meatballs that were original residents in the spicy side of the bowl until I relocated their savory and seasoned selves to a new one floor house in my stomach.  Then there were the nuggets of shrimp paste that congealed and cooked in the spicy broth to create small shrimp clumps that tasted fried yet were boiled.  The lamb was on par with the beef and pork.  The final part of my plate consisted of the jelly noodles that I had never seen before.  IMG_0940They weren’t really that different from other Asian noodles in terms of taste and texture, but they looked more gelatinous and almost alien-like with their pre-cooked color compared to their more beige-hued state after stewing in the spicy broth.  Then there was my drink that was unlike anything I’ve ever had.

Darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.  Yeah, right.

Darker the berry, the sweeter the juice. Yeah, right.

To get drinks in this hot pot restaurant, you just got up and grabbed a bottle from the back freezers.  I saw normal stuff like Lipton iced tea and lemonade, but I saw a dark bottle with everything written in Chinese.  Naturally, I took the plunge.  It was an experience right off the bat.  First, to open the bottle, you had to use a sharp edge on the top of the cap to open the safety seal over the mouth of the bottle.  Then as I poured the extremely dark brown liquid into my cup, my dining companions informed me that it was plum juice, but I must drink it with ice to combat the strong taste.  I thought, ‘Really?  I thought plums were supposed to be sweet, and I love plums.  How bad could it be?’  It was unlike any plum I have ever tasted.  Instead, it tasted like I was drinking a bottle of barbecue sauce.  I don’t know if the ice mitigated any of the strong flavor, but it had all the smoky, mesquite-tinged makings of a grade A sauce to slap on a rack of ribs or some chicken breast.  That was a strange finish to an otherwise flawless dinner, and my night didn’t end there as I went out to two clubs in Taiwan while walking though a typhoon multiple times in the process.  If it wasn’t for my strong “plum” juice, I’d have withered in the face of the howling wind and rain instead of getting my groove on.

Hot pot dinner, I hardly knew ye

Hot pot dinner, I hardly knew ye

Next up, the last chapter in my Taiwan adventures where I eat the head of an animal.  A capybara?  A rabbit? A rat? You’ll just have to wait and see!

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