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Furama Is Fureal

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Welcome one and all to another spectacular edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today finds me absolutely freezing my toes off, but that hasn’t changed much from the previous week or so since the weather has been less than tropical.  January in Chicago, go figure.  However, today’s post will put you in a sunny mood if you are craving Dim Sum right now or ever for that matter.  I mean, can’t go wrong with Chinese tapas!  Variety is the spice of life.  If you have been to Chinatown in Chicago, you’ll find that their dim sum menus are often reserved for dinners starting roughly after 5 pm.  However, at Furama in the Edgewater/Little Vietnam neighborhood, you can overdose on the little plates of goodness from 9:30 am to 8 pm!!!  The prices for each choice range from $3 for extra small plates to $7 for extra large plates.

The exterior doesn’t look like it has changed in 50 years, and I was alright with that. IMG_4705 Inside, we had to climb stairs, similar to Three Happiness in Chinatown, to the main dining room. IMG_4702 It was spacious and somewhat filled with people on a Sunday morning.IMG_4706  There was a stage in the front of the dining room which raised my hopes for some live entertainment, but sadly no one came out to bust a move or serenade us.  No matter, the food was plenty of fun by itself.  First, there are an army of servers zooming around with carts like some sort of culinary chariot race calling out what they have to offer in both Chinese and English. IMG_4707 We could mark down what we wanted on a card, and they could get it for us, or we could just pick something off their cart.  We opted for the latter, and the first thing we picked was the 猪肠粉 or rice noodle roll ($3.50).  I must warn you that if you do not have excellent chopstick skills, this slippery mass will be extremely difficult to eat.IMG_4708  After living for a year in South Korea, I thought I was the Mr. Miyagi of eating with chopsticks, but these noodles were so hard to pick up.  The shrimp inside were cooked perfectly, but the slippery and savory soy drenched noodles had to come later when I used Mr. Fork to be less than cultured.  Next, we got an order of the pork chow mein noodles ($9.25).  IMG_4709They were crispy but a bit too greasy for my liking.  In the background you can also see the pan fried shrimp and chive dumplings/韭菜虾饺 ($3.75).  Those were great since the crispy rice skin gave way to chunks of shrimp and plenty of verdant onions.  The 蒸餃 spinach and shrimp dumplings were really eye-catching.IMG_4710  I had never seen a spinach-infused dough used before in dim sum, so we helped ourselves to a plate ($3.75).  The spinach in the chewy dough didn’t make much of a difference, but the greens and shrimp found on the inside were very lightly seasoned which left the earthy veggie tones come through and blend nicely with the shrimp. IMG_4712 Our next stop on our dim sum adventure was my call when I heard them shout “叉燒!” or “Char siu!” ($5.60).  I may not know a lot of Cantonese/Mandarin, but I know that this pork option is off the hook or more like off the fork since more like it since char siu literally means “fork-roast”.  What makes it so great?  Well, consider this the ancient form of barbecue where they use a molasses-based rub that creates a sweet crust on the pork skin and permeates throughout the meat.  IMG_4711It is then treated with some red food coloring to make it really stand out along with a bath of spices and wine on certain occasions.  When all of these ingredients come together, you get a plate of pork chunks that are both savory yet sweet that no Western pit boss could get close to.  We then stepped it up to get 叉烧包烤 or baked cha siu bao which are Cantonese baked pork buns.IMG_4713  I had tried the 蒸 (steamed) bao in Hong Kong, and I think I prefer them over the baked version.  Still, these buns were delicious.  Their shiny exteriors concealed a moderate pocket of the aforementioned sweet meat, but I feel like they skimped on the meat and focused more on the bread.IMG_4715  After we had our fill of savory treats, we hit up the dessert cart.  We got 煎堆 (Jin deui) or sesame buns ($3.50), sweet rice pastry ($3.50), and  蛋挞 egg custard tarts ($3.50). IMG_4716 I had the sesame buns before, and it’s probably the only time I’ll willingly eat red beans in Asian cuisine (click here to see my reaction to red bean in Korea). IMG_4714 I think it’s because it’s surrounded by sweet, super chewy mochi (rice dough) and drowned out by savory sesame seeds.   I really was a fan of the sweet rice pastries which utilized the same rice dough in the shrimp rolls we got to start this entire meal.  Instead of floating in soy sauce, they were coated with coconut and filled with chopped peanuts and sweet syrup. IMG_4718 Talk about decadent yet not really.  It was a Taoist dessert with a mix of sweet yin to the subtly savory yang.  Finally, there were the egg tarts that were competently made but nothing like what I tried in Macau or Lisbon where they are originally from.  These tarts made their way into Cantonese cuisine in the 1940s via the Portuguese colony of Macau, and now they are served in dim sum halls from San Francisco to NYC.  By the end, we were stuffed like the dumplings we just destroyed yet in a Buddha state of bliss.IMG_4719

So if you want some delicious dim sum that you can get any day of the week at reasonable prices, definitely make the trip up to Furama!
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Beijing (Day 5)- Bruce Lee and Me

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130 posts?  Already?  Just like Rick Ross, everyday I’m hustlin’.  So today’s post on Mastication Monologues brings us to the end of my Beijing/China adventures, but that doesn’t mean that there are going to be any lame foods on display.  From breakfast to dinner, all three meals will be bringing the heat.  So let’s start at the beginning with the most important meal of the day.  I knew already of the importance of the traditional rice porridge congee has in Chinese cuisine for breakfast, but the real challenge lie in where to find a good place that serves it?  After a bit of wandering down the main street from the Zhanglizhonglu station by my hostel, I ended up at the same 24 hour restaurant I dined at the previous night as show in my previous blog post.  That meant that I was walking in when all of the night staff was swiping out while looking at me incredulously like, “This laowai’s back?  He must be quite daring.”  I found the myriad of congee options to be overwhelming where they had options that ranged from the basic plain oatmeal-esque  all the way to the most savory with full shrimp and green onions floating in a goopy sea of white.  I’ve had chicken and congee, so I went for another choice that I never saw outside of China:  brown sugar and egg congee.  I have a bit of a sweet tooth when it comes to things in the morning, so this congee fit the bill.  To drink, I went for something called “almond juice” on the menu, but it simply ended up being regular almond milk that tastes like cow milk with a sweet bite to it.IMG_3242  Eventually my porridge came out, and I was greatly intrigued because it looked quite different than the brown sugar oatmeal I like to eat.IMG_3243  However, once I had a spoonful, I was greatly satisfied as the warmth permeated my frozen body, and the brown sugar perked up my taste buds that were feeling a little sluggish that early in the morning.  By the time I finished the whole bowl, I had a cheap, tasty meal with some stick-to-your ribs staying power that would last me until lunch after walking all over the enormous Summer Palace complex.  After seeing just a fraction of the sprawling grounds where the Chinese emperors used to spend their free time and take guests to eat at their special royal restaurant, I started getting hungry.  When I got out of the Xiyuan station, I saw a modern looking strip mall across the street that had some familiar faces like the Colonel and Pizza Hut, so I decided I would see how they would be different in China after walking around the palace.  I found myself wandering to find the Pizza Hut entrance in back when I noticed more people milling out further down the strip when I finally saw one of the catchiest fast food logos I’ve ever seen:  Bruce Lee in his yellow jumpsuit from Game of Death.IMG_1724  This is one of his most famous movies where he ascends a tower while fighting a different martial artist on each level including one Kareem Abdul Jabbar who was a student of his in real life.  Being a fan of his movies, I felt obligated to go in and try the food.  It ended up being like McDonalds, but in an Asian parallel universe.IMG_1716  I say a separate universe because western burger chains in Asian countries still have their signature sandwiches or sandwiches in general, but this place had none even though everything from the menu to the setup of the restaurant was like being at McDonalds.  While I felt somewhat comfortable with the setting, I wasn’t so much with the language and neither was the girl taking my order.  Clearly they didn’t get many foreigners coming into this restaurant compared to McDonalds where they have a separate English placard they whip out at you when you step up to order.  However, after some pointing and laughing at both our communication shortcomings, I got these beef noodles and a side of hot milk boba tea. IMG_1718 Sweet Chairman Mao!  If this is what China’s version of fast food is like, Lotteria/McDonald’s/Burger King etc. take notes.  The soup tasted almost (still not as good) like something out of my adopted po-po’s (grandmother’s) kitchen when I was in Taiwan.  That isn’t disparaging it at all though.  The greens were not stale and were steamed to perfection while the noodles were plentiful and chewy.  As for the beef and the broth, the chunks were numerous and lean, and the broth was warm and absorbed all the great flavors from the ingredients that were having a pool party in it.  The only thing I’d say that took it down a couple notches was that it was a bit salty at times.IMG_1720  As for the tea, it was expertly made with just the right blend of smooth milk and savory tea, and the girl gave me lots of tapioca balls after I pantomimed that I liked tapioca.  So if you’re good at acting, you’ll be in like Flint at this place.  After looking at the chopstick wrapper, I also found out the place is called “Real Kungfu”. IMG_1721 So if you’re hungry in Beijing and looking for amazing Chinese fast food, look for Bruce Lee ready to strike.  Finally, there was my last dinner in Beijing. However, they were on a mission to find a good dumpling place.  I found the Xianlaoman dumpling house down the street from our hostel.  It was a modest looking place inside, but their dumplings were delectable.  I got the house special which ended up being generously stuffed with minced pork, a bit of broth, and some nicely cooked shrimp inside.  IMG_1725I was greatly satisfied with the dumplings even though they weren’t too filling.  After a long stroll I ended up at a Thai place on the same street that was a bit more upscale compared to the other surrounding cafes and eateries.  Since it was my last meal, I went with a mangosteen juice and a cooked pigeon. The mangosteen is known as the queen of fruits while the notoriously stinky durian is the king of fruits.  This must have been an arranged marriage because the durian’s rotten cheese scent did not jive with the sweet and refreshing flavor I experienced when I cracked open the can. IMG_1730 As for my chicken, it was great since the banana leaves kept in all of the great curry the chicken was stewed in, and every piece was pure white meat. IMG_1731 After having to eat meat that always has bones in it for more than ten months, I devoured these scrumptious morsels.  I even tried a bit of pigeon which was a bit more of a shock platter with the head still attached while the actual meat could be likened to a poor man’s chicken:  little meat on the bone and lesser flavor.IMG_1733

Un Tapateo Muy Feo (A Very Ugly Tapas Dinner)

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Ever since living and studying in Barcelona during my undergrad years, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the peninsular nation.  I don’t know if it was the warm people (especially the andaluces), the lovely historical sights, or the fantastic food, but I miss living there.  Back in the States, I would always try to find new places to get tapas to see how they measured up to the ones back in Spain, and I was generally pleased  (See Tapa 1, 2, Patatas).  Perhaps when I’m finished with my time here in Korea, I might make a return to the land of jamon and Don Simon.  However, since I’m still in Korea, I thought I had found a slice of Espana in the form of Que Tal Tapas which is located in Bupyeong in Incheon.  In order to get there you have to go to Bupyeong Market exit 2 and walk for about ten minutes until you look down a side street on your left.  Here’s the front of the restaurant to get an idea of what to look out for:IMG_1310

So I had originally thought of going to this place for my birthday since I love Spanish food, but instead I ended up going to the wonderful Action Grill.  Therefore, I vowed to one day try this taperia before I left the Land of the Morning Calm.  I finally made the sojourn yesterday with a fellow KOTESOL member after attending the smallest teaching conference ever with a whopping total of three people including me.  The interior had some nice, kooky drawings along with various types Spanish paraphernalia hanging on the wall.  That’s about where everything “Spanish” about this place ended.  First, there was the menu.  It took me flipping through five pages of pizza, spaghetti, and risotto dishes to finally get to the tapas.  While Spain and Italy might occupy the same  language family and are both ballin’ peninsulas, a Spanish restaurant should not have more types of pizza than tapas.  I did see that they had paella as well, but it was well tucked away like the tapas.  The tapas that they offered ranged from 4,000-6,000 W, and they were quite uninspired creations.  Not only were they almost all seafood creations, but somehow bruschetta made it on the menu.  I sincerely hope they were referring to pan amb tomaquet or else the owners need a serious culinary geography lesson.   My friend and I decided to get the pizza set for 35,000 W which was a great deal since we got the following:  either a Margherita or verde pizza, two 4,000 W tapas, one 6,000 W tapa, and two drinks which could be soda, coffee, house wine, or an ade.  For our combo, we got the verde pizza, tortilla espanola, cooked mushrooms, roasted shrimp, and two glasses of the house wine.The first items that came out were the mushrooms along with the two glasses of wine.

IMG_1313  I found the wine to be quite pedestrian as it was of the dry red variety, but it was fine since the mushrooms were quite vivacious in terms of flavor.  They seemed to be sauteed with some type of beef stock infused with pepper and had a slight woody aftertaste.  IMG_1312These hongos were garnished with a fried egg on the side which they told us to dip the pieces into, and there were some fresh dandelion greens on top along with some savory purple olives I enjoyed.  Unfortunately, this was the only plate that wowed us, so it was somewhat depressing in hindsight to know that we reached the apex of the meal after one tapa.  After the mushrooms came my nemesis in Spanish cuisine:  la tortilla.  Now, when most people hear the word, “tortilla” they automatically think that I was just munching on some flatbread instead of making a taco like a normal person.  Of course I would hate it if I did that, but a tortilla in Spain is actually more like an omelet with potatoes inside.  When I lived in Barcelona, I thought it was flavorless and nothing special.  Que Tal tapas managed to recreate this signature blandness even more so by having a higher potato:egg ratio in comparison to the real thing.  IMG_1314Why they would serve us such a demure tasting plate after the bold mushrooms is beyond me.  The penultimate entry in this pageant of mediocrity was the grilled shrimp.  Here I was thinking, “Que bien!  Me encantan gambas al ajillo!” (Oh good!  I love grilled shrimp!), but I was in for a rude awakening. IMG_1315 While I admired their presentation, I don’t think I’ve ever consumed such terrible shrimp in my life.  Not only was the texture of the meat extremely chewy to an unsettling degree, but they had an almost chemical-esque flavor to them.  I tried another shrimp after the first just to see if I had picked a bad one.  Nope.  Basura (garbage).  As if this train wreck of a dinner couldn’t get any more interesting, they brought out our verde pizza.  I wondered what made it “verde” (green) when ordering it, and I could see it got its moniker from the mini-garden that was chilling out on top of the actual pizza.

Step 1:  Find out if you got a salad or a pizza.

Step 1: Find out if you got a salad or a pizza.

 Our waitress then said to us, “Roll” while gesticulating towards the pizza.  This was very disconcerting since I’ve never heard anyone tell me to roll my pizza.  I could see why she said this when I went for a piece.  It was incredibly thin, had no cheese, and was just mushrooms and the greens.

Step 2:  Attempt to find a method of eating said salad/pizza.

Step 2: Attempt to find a method of eating said salad/pizza.

 The only way you could eat it without getting half the contents on your pants was like a taco.  I know you fold NYC-style pizza in order to eat it better, but this pizza was just ridiculous.

Step 3:  Why?...Just why?

Step 3: Why?…Just why?

 The taste didn’t even justify its unique consumption style.  While I always appreciate an opportunity to up my fresh vegetable intake, the mushrooms were tasteless and the dough was a non-factor.  This pizza was the equivalent of “that” drunk person at the holiday office party.  The pizza looked like it would be a good time initially, but after spilling itself all over my hands and being really annoying to eat, I never wanted to see it again.

In the end, don’t go to Que Tal Tapas if you’re looking for a real tapas experience.  It’s the culinary equivalent of Don Quijote fighting the windmills.  It tries really hard but fails every time.

Passed with Flying Flavors

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Finally, Korean winter is here complete with chilly winds that were noticeably absent during the sweltering summer along with the occasional snow storm.  It’s still not as bad as back home in Chicago, and I’m glad that I grew up in the crucible of Chicago winters it since it seems like a piece of cake  in Korea so far.  However, I don’t mind going to new restaurants that make me forget about the cold and instead feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  This is how I could describe my dining experience at the Flying Pan in Itaewon in Seoul.  It’s quite easy to get there.  You just go to the Itaewon metro stop and go out exit two.  Walk out straight until you see the Ctrl A on your left hand side.  Make a left on that street, and after walking straight for a minute, you’ll see the Flying Pan’s stairway leading down to the entrance.1550626_image2_1

First off, I knew was going to have a great time there simply based off the name of the establishment because it’s a linguistic pun.  With many Far East Asian languages like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, it is difficult for native speakers to differentiate between the letters “L” and “R” while pronouncing words.  Therefore, the logo of the restaurant is a flying frying pan.  I don’t know if they did that on purpose or not, but I think it’s genius.  As for the decor, it’s a cozy little dining nook that could almost double as someone’s living room complete with couches, pillows, and decorative vases.

A culinary sanctuary from the cold

A culinary sanctuary from the cold

I took it all in along with the gigantic menu while waiting for my friend, Bora.IMG_1300  I could see that they had brunch options all day along with French toast, pancakes, omelets, and sandwiches.  It’s not cheap which is typical for foreign fare in Korea with a range of prices from 14,000 W to 25,000 W.  Eventually, Bora joined me, and we made our choices.  I went with the bacon French toast (15,000 W), and she got the farmer omelet (17,000 W).

Mine came out first, and I thought they could have done a bit better on the presentation instead of the slapdash creation that lay in front of me.

Ah ma cherie!

Ah ma cherie!

Then again, I could really care less what it looks like as long as it’s delectable, and boy oh boy was this French toast tres magnifique.  Most people associate French with being the language of love, and I think I needed a private moment with this mademoiselle.  Not only did it have a soft, brioche battered body, but it was further enhanced with some non-crispy bacon that was flung about its shoulders like some form of pork boa sans feathers.  The syrup was standard maple syrup, but one big surprise was the hunks of pale yellow spread that I originally thought were globs of butter.  I’m not a big fan of butter on my pancakes or French toast, but I tried some of it just to be sure.  Good thing I didn’t neglect them because they turned out to be nuggets of cream cheese.  What’s more French than putting some delicious cheese on some quality, fried bread?  The other big surprise was the secret stash of apricot marmalade that was lurking between the folds of the toast which went quite well with the smooth sweetness of the syrup and eggy-goodness of the French toast.  The strawberries were fresh and slightly tart and were the proverbial cherries on top of the masterpiece.  As for Bora’s omelet, I tried a couple bites and then a couple more as she put more on my plate since I was still hungry/she’s a sweetheart. IMG_1303 The eggs were fluffy and seemingly infused with a slightly strong tasting white cheese possibly an aged Camembert.   It was eggcellent with the grilled greens on top along with the sauteed mushrooms and roasted cherry tomatoes.  We left the restaurant for some adult libations, but my pain perdu would not be lost on me.  Definitely in the pantheon of top three best breakfast meals I’ve ever eaten…for dinner.

So, if you’re looking for some wonderful breakfast that doesn’t really have the greasy spoon prices but plenty of quality flavors, jet on down to the Flying Pan.  You’ll be over the moon once you’ve tried it.

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