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Loco For The Yoko

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Ah sushi.  Just one facet of Japanese cuisine that has taken the world by storm.  Most people think of this food as being super Japanese and simply means “raw fish”.  On the contrary, sushi was originally invented in Southeast Asia, and sushi actually refers to the vinegar laden rice that upholds the meal.  It wasn’t until the early 1800s in Japan when the sushi and sashimi (raw fish slices) were combined as we consume it now.  It was referred to as Edo (Tokyo’s old name) style sushi.  While most people focus on the quality of the fish, in reality the sushi rice is considered of greater importance to the overall dining experience.  In Japan, a sushi chef can’t begin to serve fish until he has mastered the art of preparing the perfect batch of sushi rice.  If you want a great movie to see the training and art of sushi at its finest and most old-school, check out Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  While I’ve experienced sushi in Tokyo, I managed to find a little slice of the homeland just around the corner from my house in Westmont, IL in the form of Yokohama Japanese Restaurant.

Now it may not be in the most glamorous place in the world: in a small strip mall next to train tracks and a water silo, but as I’ve learned throughout my travels around the world, never judge a restaurant by its appearance (however hidden, strange, or non-descript it might be).  IMG_4858When we walked through the door, we were actually the only people in the restaurant, and the stoic sushi chef who was meticulously scrubbing down his workstation greeted us with a konichiwa! IMG_4872 We were quickly seated and had our menus placed in front of us.  IMG_4859Looking over the menu, they had a plethora of sushi options that ranged from individual pieces (~$1.50~4 per piece) to combination platters of sushi and sashimi (~$20-25).  We naturally started with drinks, and I wasn’t sure what to get until I saw something called Ramune under the sodas.  So when it came to my table, Janice knew what it was, but I was greatly confused looking at this uniquely shaped bottle.  IMG_4862Our waitress popped the top of the bottle with something that looked like a metal rod, and suddenly a glass marble of sorts dropped into the middle of the neck yet somehow didn’t fall to the bottom. IMG_4865 It turns out that this bottle was introduced to Japan by a Scottish chemist who was selling lemonade soda which was subsequently promoted by local papers as a preventative for cholera.  When I tried to drink it, it was really hard to imbibe the lemon-lime soda I could liken to a more subtle Sprite in nature.  I had to somehow use my tongue to push it up while allowing enough space for the soda to flow.  I eventually was like a sugar crazed rabbit flicking my tongue on the end of one of those water bottles that attach on the side with the metal spigot.  Long story short, Janice finally figured out that the strangely notched neck had a resting place for the marble which didn’t help since I already had finished 3/4ths of the bottle.  The thirst was real.

Regardless of my sufferings in the name of quenching my thirst, we ordered our food.  Janice got a mix of spicy hotate (scallop) rolls, California kani (crab) rolls, and a tamago sushi roll.  As for me, I was quite hungry, so I got a katsudon.  We waited quite awhile for our food which was kind of surprising given that we were the only people in there, but it was a sign that they were making everything fresh and taking care to make each piece perfectly.  Before we got our main course, we received complimentary bowls of miso soup and a kind of noodle salad.  IMG_4863I love miso soup in any form because it was warming our souls on that frigid night along with the wonderful earthy, savory umami flavor that Japanese cooking is notorious for.  IMG_4864The noodle salad was ok, and the white dressing that it was drowning in tasted kind of like ranch but not as tangy.  Eventually, our food came out, and the care the staff took in preparing the meal showed through in every piece of sushi. IMG_4869 The spicy scallop rolls weren’t terribly spicy, but the seaweed wrapping mixed with the slightly salty scallops to perfection. IMG_4871 I was more of a fan of the California rolls since they had a mix of smooth avocado, sweet crab meat, and crunchy cucumbers. IMG_4870 The tobiko fish eggs on the outside were the icing on the cake or the crown on these king crab rolls since they added a salty contrast to the vinegar soaked sushi rice.  As for the tamago, it was a part egg and part rice sushi roll was a bit too bland for me, but it’s wildly popular in Japan and elsewhere in the Far East.  So much so that even famous Korean rapper G-Dragon perhaps unknowingly sported a dodgy hairdo paying tribute to the eggy treat.rambut-g-dragon-sushi  Then there was my katsudon.  The word katsudon is a portmanteau of the Japanese words tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) and donburi (rice bowl dish).

The bowl...

The bowl…

Surprise surprise, that’s exactly what my meal was:IMG_4868  a moderately sized bowl packed with rice on the bottom and then topped with a melange of egg, fried noodles, and fried pork cutlet pieces.  I couldn’t go wrong with all of that protein and carbs, and I really didn’t.  The pork was plentiful and lightly fried with a crumb-laden crust.  Mixing the pieces with the rice and noodles proved to be quite the hearty meal that filled me up but did not leave me bloated, uncomfortable with a greasy taste in my mouth, and with a bad case of the meat sweats.

By the end of the meal, we were greatly satisfied with our meal, and the price we paid wasn’t bad at all compared to more glamous/popular sushi joints.  So, if you want to get quality sushi at reasonable prices with friendly service, check out Yokohama Japanese Restaurant in Westmont! Sayonara!

Yokohama Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Happy Is the Stomach That Wears the Crown

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Well, the summer is just rolling by, and the weather is getting as wild as some of the food adventures on which I’m embarking.  Today’s post is another addition to my already extensive Far East collection of restaurant reviews, but it serves up some new dishes that I’ve never tried before.  While I’ve experienced some dim sum that has been out of this world, I’m always up for trying novel places like Triple Crown in Chicago’s Old Chinatown.

I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about this location from my friends who are of Chinese/Taiwanese ancestry since some have said that they’ve sold out to Western tastes while others have conjectured that they still keep it old school with some of their menu selections.  Adventure time!  I went there with my girlfriend since we had a craving for dim sum, and luckily, they indulged us in the afternoon when other diners only serve the Chinese version of tapas at night. IMG_3682 After scaling the stairs, we were greeted with a spacious dining hall that was sparsely populated, but I’m sure come dinner time it would be packed.IMG_3681  It was tastefully decorated but unusually warm as if the air conditioning didn’t work, clearly an air conditioning repair is in order.  It didn’t help they gave us hot tea to drink upon sitting down.  While living in Korea, I learned the best method for allegedly cooling down is to consume hot food and drinks in order to make it not seem as sweltering outside…it doesn’t work for me, but who knows?  So we looked over the dim sum menu, and it was quite minuscule compared to the selection at other competitors.  Triple Crown’s normal entree menu is quite encyclopedic though ranging from fried rice and orange chicken to more old-school dishes like tripe and duck tongues.  We saved those options for another day though.  After picking a smattering of dim sum plates, we waited for about 20 minutes for the first wave to emerge.   We were greeted by three steamed char siu barbecue pork buns and three scallion and shrimp cakes.  I started with the bbq pork buns since I love pork and savory sauces.IMG_3683  The chewy, white exterior gave way to a blood red interior that immediately gave me a minor case of the meat sweats.  The pork was tender and slathered in a semi-sweet yet tangy sauce. IMG_3685 I still think they could have been better with a meat to bread ratio that leaned toward the former rather than the latter, but I did enjoy them from the first to the last gooey bite.  As for the shrimp and scallion cakes, they were much more interesting since the delicate, translucent covering gave way to a plethora of verdant onions that provided a real pep to the chunks of plain shrimp. IMG_3684IMG_3686 I like my shrimp, but the scallions were the only saving grace of this dim sum choice since the shellfish weren’t even seasoned.  While we were gobbling down the first wave, the second installment invaded our table with a trio of fried sesame balls and a quartet of siu mai/shumai dumplings.  I’ll start with the latter first since they have an interesting background.  While many scholars contend that these uniquely shaped dumplings originated in Inner Mongolia, they quickly became associated with Cantonese cuisine in the West due to this population’s mass diaspora throughout Europe and America.  In Chinese, “shumai” literally means “to buy and sell”, and while we did buy them, I wasn’t completely sold on them. IMG_3688 The outer dough was chartreuse, but didn’t bring much to the table (pun intended) in terms of flavor.  On the other hand, the interior was adequately prepared.  It seemed to be a mix of pork seasoned with soy sauce and ginger that reminded me of a Swedish meatball sans sauce.  Nothing really mind blowing though even with the generous helping of orange fish roe atop the meat like an ill-fitting ginger toupee.  Our meal took a turn for the better with the fried sesame buns.  IMG_3687While they did contain a hefty helping of one of my few bugbears in Far Eastern cooking, sweet red bean paste, I loved the copious amounts of savory sesame seeds that jived all meal long with the crunch exterior encasing a chewy rice cake interior.  I hated eating plain rice cake or “tteok” in Korea, but the Chinese managed to find a way to make it much more palatable.  I’d highly recommend these if you’re looking for a dim sum plate that has great textural and taste variety.  As we were working on this penultimate round of dishes, the piece de resistance emerged:  the chicken feet.  While they’re more commonly known as “phoenix talons” in Chinese, these chicken feet are another one of my must-have’s when going out for dim sum.  While most people, including my girlfriend, are disgusted at the sight of me chomping on the chickens’ tootsies, they’re truly missing out a delicious delicacy. IMG_3689 The feet are boiled, deep fried, and then seasoned with a black bean sauce that is sweet with a hint of spice.

Getting cold feet.  Hiyo!

Getting cold feet. Hiyo!

I’m not going to say that it’s for everyone since there are a lot of bones and cartilage to deal with and not a ton of meat, but what meat there is, it’s mind blowingly tender along with the slightly crispy skin.  IMG_3762It’s a mind over matter sort of choice, but you’d be crazy not to try it.

By the end of the meal, we were stuffed and paid only 20 bucks total for two people for a ton of good food.  While I’ve been spoiled by dim sum restaurants overseas or other local establishments with bigger menus, I’d still recommend Triple Crown if you’re looking for a new Chinatown eatery or even want to try dim sum for the first time.

Triple Crown Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sea It to Believe It

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What’s up, foodie adventures!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  I know it has been too long between posts, and I really do apologize.  However, summertime in Chicago can make a man very busy, busy but very hungry.  Naturally, my stomach loves to roam from country to country, but somehow it always manages to roll south of the border to get that sweet sweet Mexican food.  Luckily the Chicagoland area has plenty to offer in terms of Latino cuisine, and Casa Margarita in La Grange is a competent, but not extraordinary, representative of tex-mex cooking.

I’ve had my fair share of Mexican food whether that be in the form of enchiladas or tacos at better restaurants, but Casa Margarita is a middle of the road establishment overall when it comes to la comida mexicana.IMG_3316  It has both indoor and outdoor seating which served us perfectly on the beautiful evening we visited Casa Margarita.IMG_3314IMG_3315  While it allowed us to people watch and make friends with plenty of meandering poochies, that was also the downside since they crowded too many tables on the sidewalk.  Plus, their round tables didn’t allow for my mom, dad, and I to sit comfortably.  It would be a better experience if they utilized square tables.  While sitting down at the table, we also noticed that it was taking quite awhile to bus off our table.  My mom noted the “Help wanted” sign in the window, so that explained everything.  Luckily our waitress was a superwoman who seemed to be doing ten different things at once while still being quite cheerful.  Perhaps it was the delirium of running all over the place though.  Either way, she made up for the shorthanded staff by hustling and starting us with the typical complimentary basket of tortilla chips.IMG_3317  They thankfully weren’t super salty, and the salsa was more of a smoky, peppery salsa that was a welcome change from the typically bland, tomato salsas provided with the Latino version of the bread basket.IMG_3318  They had a full drink menu including wines, beers, non-alcoholic beverages, and surprise surprise, margaritas!  I started with a Pacifico beer ($5) since I was in the mood for a lighter beer.  This Mazatalan brew was a clear but uninspired lager that was jazzed up with a spritz of lime juice.IMG_3320  The Mexicans aren’t exactly known for their beer culture beyond the uber-popular (personally, I think gross) Coronas, and the Pacifico was a pedestrian compliment to my main platter.IMG_3323  Their menu is extensive complete with appetizers, soups, seafood, chicken dishes, beef platters, fajitas, and tacos to name a few sections.  I went with the fish tacos ($8.50).  Why fish tacos?  Well, I’ve heard many good things about them, and I’m all about trying new foods.  I’m not the biggest seafood guy, but I decided to make the plunge.  Before I began my deep-sea culinary adventure, our waitress came out with mini-bowls of chicken soup.IMG_3324  Overall, I was more of a fan of the broth than the ingredients since the “chicken” seemed like an odd intermediary between tuna and chicken. IMG_3326 I know the former is known as the latter of the sea, but I’d prefer my meat to taste like what its advertised as.  When they came out, the tacos looked quite delicious, and this book’s cover adequately represented what was under the surface.IMG_3327IMG_3328  While the tortillas weren’t as corn-laden as I expected, they were light and strong enough to keep in all of the delicious flavors.  The plentiful pieces of grilled Tilapia were buried underneath a refreshing, tangy pico de gallo and a drizzling of a slightly spicy guacamole sauce.  Taken all together, the fish gave the taco plenty of body with a clean flavor that was further embellished by the aforementioned latin elements.  I requested some hot sauce to jazz up the tacos and satisfy my need to feel a kick in the old tastebuds.  They indulged me with two of my favorite hot sauces. IMG_3336 The red Tapatio (Spanish for someone from Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco in Mexico) sauce is moderately spicy with a slightly more sour flavor compared to the fiery Yucateco sauce.IMG_3334  This verdant sauce from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico ratchets up the Scoville units with that hellish heat synonymous with habanero peppers. IMG_3333 While they’re not like the ulcer-inducing fritters I tried at Salvador Molly’s, it will drop a lighter on your tongue and walk away while putting on its sunglasses and listening to your tastebuds exploding in a ball of flame.  These two condiments took this plate to another level.  I also used them to enhance the dry Mexican rice on the side and the dreary refried beans.  I also tried a bit of my mom’s shredded beef enchiladas.  IMG_3330While I’m more of a fan of cheese enchiladas, these juicy beef strings were quite succulent.IMG_3335  By the end, I was stuffed and satisfied with my mouth-watering tacos and topped off the night with a visit to my friend in the neighborhood, Truffles the bear at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.IMG_3341

As I said at the beginning of the post, there are plenty of better Mexican restaurants in the Chicagoland area, but if you’re in the La Grange area, you might as well try Casa Margarita’s fish tacos.

Casa Margarita 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 4)- Having My Japanese Pancakes and Eating Them Too

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So after dinner on day 3 I went out with my new friend I made from the hostel in Roppongi, and then I made the decision to not sleep in order to stay up to see the world famous Tsukiji tuna auction.  The no-sleep decision was prompted by the fact that they open the visitor line around 3:30 a.m., and it’s first come, first serve with limited spots.  When I got there, I was the second one in line after a Japanese woman, but within the space of ten minutes, there was a line out the gate.  While I was waiting, I munched on this Calorie Mate snack I saw in the convenience store.IMG_1793IMG_1794 I was nerding out since it’s a common food for Solid Snake to eat in Metal Gear Solid 3.

"Mmmm, I want some more!"

“Mmmm, I want some more!”

It ended up being a packet of chocolate cookies that supposedly had multivitamins in it. IMG_1825 Either way it hit the spot while I was attempting to keep my wits about me in line while the fishermen buzzed around me like an ant colony on speed.  The downside of being early was they then herded us into a waiting room where we had to wait for an hour and a half.  Needless to say most people fell asleep on the floor, but we eventually were escorted to one of the most famous moments of food trading. IMG_3441 It was also the most over-hyped thing I was told to see in Tokyo which was kind of sad after not sleeping for almost 24 hours. IMG_3444 However, I looked forward to getting some great sushi at Daiwa Sushi in building 6.  Surprise surprise, I was waiting in another line to get into the restaurant for an hour and a half.  I eventually gave up my spot and went to the sushi stop right next door to it where there were a couple people inside and no line.IMG_1830  I went for the tuna bowl which was transcendent in regard to the overall quality of the pink salmon sheets and crimson tuna chunks. IMG_1829 The rice was fresh with a liberal sprinkling of dried seaweed, and there was plenty of potent wasabi horseradish to back up each bite with a sinus-clearing caress.  A veritable bounty of the ocean on a bed of quality starches.  As soon as I scarfed down the bowl and saw the people I waited in line with still weren’t in the restaurant, I laughed to myself all the way back to my sweet sweet bed at the hostel.

After a refreshing slumber, I awoke to a more laid back day that eventually resulted in me getting lunch on Tsukishima island in southeast Tokyo.  I decided to go there because they specialize in monjayaki which is a Tokyo version of the ever-popular Osaka creation okonomiyaki.  The main difference between these two pancake-esque creations is that the monjayaki is a bit more liquid compared to the doughy okonomiyaki.  I came out Tsukishima station exit 7 and walked a bit down to see a row of restaurants advertising what looked like the pancakes.  I chose one with a ship on top of it because it looked quite popular based on the advertisements, so I walked in to find an empty restaurant with just two old women cleaning the grills. IMG_1841IMG_1840 I could tell by their shocked expressions that they were probably closed like a lot of restaurants seem to do after the peak lunch hour, but they didn’t seem to mind serving me after I repeatedly signed that I was going to leave them be out of awkward foreigner shame.IMG_1836  I saw that their menu had the monjayaki, and I picked the option that had crispy tempura crusts mixed in.  There were plenty more choices that included cheese, cucumbers, rice cake, and tomatoes to name a few.  The woman came out to mix up a bowl of vegetables and batter, and when she put it on the grill it literally looked like a puddle of vomit.

The approach...

The approach…

Go home.  You're drunk.

Go home. You’re drunk.

Mmmm tasty!  However, when it began to fully cook, I realized that there must have been a misunderstanding with the menu.  It seems I had ordered okonomiyaki since it was a solid pancake creation that was quickly topped with mayonnaise, soy sauce, spices, and onion shavings. IMG_1839 Either way, I wasn’t complaining because I had never had either of them in my life.  The okonomiyaki didn’t let me down one bit. IMG_1838 It was a thick, savory pancake that was crunchy yet fluffy, bland yet fiery due to my liberal sprinkling of the chili pepper.  Okonomiyaki means “something grilled how you like it” in Japanese, and I grilled it to its optimum level of deliciousness.  This Osaka import satisfied my search for a good griddlecake in the middle of Japan in the middle of the day.

I topped off my relaxing day with a night stroll through Harajuku which is considered the hub of all the latest youth fashions.  However, I wasn’t going there to sport my latest Rockabilly pompadour or crossdress like a gothic Lolita.  I was going to Kyushu Jaugara which is known for its excellent tonkatsu ramen.  I went there by taking the Chiyoda line to Meiji-jingumei stop, and made an u-turn out of the exit three.  It was right by the Harajuku Quest store, and I couldn’t miss it by its incredibly loud exterior that practically served as a hype man like Flava-Flav for Public Enemy. IMG_1853 When I walked in, the place was hoppin’ with lots of customers seated around the kitchen counter with their faces making sweet love to the noodles within. IMG_1849IMG_1848IMG_1847 Thankfully they had random smatterings of English on the posters, but I also saw that they had an English menu for those who want to have more of a leisurely stroll through their offerings.  The hot and spicy option on the wall immediately got me jonesing for a bowl, so they gave me a small, red plastic chip to give to the cook.  As I waited, I inspected the various spices and free pickled vegetables they had to offer customers along with the large jugs of free water.  Eventually, I was eye to strand with this bowl of perfection for a cold night. IMG_1851 The noodles were firm yet not al dente, and the broth itself had a spicy kick to it that was between a jalapeno and a habanero level of spice.  I loved the fatty pieces of bacon and the green onions, but the strange red sauce didn’t really fit in with the rest of the soup.  I stirred it in, and it was the only neutral element to this Club Med pool party of awesome.  The hard boiled egg resembled a beluga whale slowly drifting through the numerous waves caused by my voracious slurpring per the local custom.  The cook was watching me eat his noodles, and I gave him a thumbs up and a smile while saying, “Very good!”  He replied with a chuckle and an “Excellent!”.  I noticed I followed the proper etiquette for eating the ramen on the counter that said you shouldn’t add any spices and consume the noodles while they’re piping hot.  It was a real cultural experience that lit up my night as bright as the Harajuku neon-splashed avenues.

Live and Let Fry

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‘ello everyone!  I’m writing about British food today, so forgive the terrible accent I’m trying to convey through my lovely prose.  Anyway, national stereotypes aside (Warning:  I will use a lot of random British slang, so keep calm and carry on), welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  As I just mentioned, today I will be talking about Battered Sole, an import all the way from Old Blighty that somehow landed in Seoul.  It’s located at Changcheon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea.  It’s pretty easy to get there.  Go to Sinchon station on the metro and come out exit 2.  Walk straight up the main street you see to your left until you see a McDonalds on your left hand side.  Make a left down that street and then walk straight until you see the restaurant on your left on the second floor.  You also can’t miss it with the Union Jacks fluttering over their walkway. Here’s their website.IMG_1299IMG_1288

So I’ve been wanting to try this place for the longest time after hearing rave reviews from my British (both Scottish and English) friends over here.  If there’s one thing the Scots know, it’s the quality of deep fried goods.  Plus, I have spent my fair share of time on the tea-drinking side of the Atlantic to sample some really good fish and chips or trying it stateside in New York City.  So it seemed only natural that I would enjoy a belated birthday celebration there.  Before we even walked into the place, we were greeted outside by one of the employees who introduced himself and asked us for memorable quotes for his welcome board.

Where the witty banter went down.

Where the witty banter went down.

I liked this place already just for the very English welcome of being very polite yet awkward yet fixated on witty wordplay.  Wonderful.  We walked in around 7 pm, and we had the place to ourselves more or less.  The decor was very kitchy in some senses with the Rolling Stones and Union Jacks everywhere, but it wasn’t overkill. IMG_1289IMG_1292 Looking at the prices, it was average prices for foreign fare in Korea.  Meredith and I got the battered cod and chips (or French fries for Amurkans) for 11,000 W.  I also threw caution to the wind and got a London Pride for 11,000 W which naturally jacked up for being an import.  They also have chicken wings, sausage and chips, and various sides if fish isn’t your bag.  The beer came out first, and as I expected it was a slightly hearty brown ale like many English beers.IMG_1290  It had slight caramel notes along with some bitter tastes throughout with a crisp aftertaste.  On a scale from pure rubbish to a ledge, it would probably be jolly good.  Finally the  star of the show made its appearance in front of me. IMG_1291 It was a substantial piece of fish that looked exquisite along with some freshly made chips nestled right next to it.  The fish portion of the duet was in harmony with my palate.  From its flaky white flesh to the thick and buttery breading, I was brought back to the East End in London the first time I had fish and chips in the homeland.  I also appreciated the lemon wedge, tartar sauce, and malt vinegar.  The tartar sauce was quite creamy but not as tangy as I’d like.  As for the chips, they were not super crispy but more savory and filled with the fry oil that I really enjoyed.  It wasn’t the most filling meal in the world since I have a big appetite, but it was extremely satisfying and worth it.

So if you’re looking to catch a great meal, Battered Sole is the place for you.

Sir Winston looks a little fishy...

Sir Winston looks a little fishy…

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