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A Berry Good Breakfast

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Sweden.  It is a country with many different faces.  While they are more well known for their vikings, gorgeous women, and a certain incomprehensible Muppet chef, Swedish cuisine in general isn’t very well known or as popular as other European countries’ foods like Italy, France, or Spain.  The reason being, I think, is that Sweden’s food culture reflects the cold and often times harsh environments the various Nordic tribes originally encountered when emigrating to modern day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.  I mean, the frigid winters aren’t going to cut any slack to a Swedish farmer who wants to emulate his Spanish neighbors by planting an olive farm or attempting to emulate the wine culture of the Mediterranean.  However, that is not to say that Northern European cuisine is worse than the rest of Europe, it just has different ingredients that might not agree with such a wide array of palates.  Historically, the Swedish people have emigrated en masse to America especially to the Northern Midwest region, and today they still have their own little corner of the homeland in Chicago in the Andersonville neighborhood.  You can find plenty of blue and yellow flags flying in front of storefronts, and of course there are diners offering Swedish fare.  Enter Svea’s, an 80 year old diner that is a symbol of the shrinking Swedish community that once was the second largest in the world outside of Stockholm.IMG_3782

Before walking in, the proprietors invoked their links to old Sverige with the three crowns of the royal coat of arms along with a tall ship that could have fit in with King Gustavus Adolphus‘ navy.IMG_3779  After going through their screen door, I was greeted with a small but cozy diner.IMG_3778  Surprisingly, it wasn’t too busy in the morning for breakfast, so I got to sit wherever I wanted. IMG_3771 IMG_3772 All around I could see little Swedish knicknacks and artifacts like horned viking helmets, a “God jul” or “Merry Christmas” sign on the kitchen, and a horse patterned table cloth that took me back to when I visited Stockholm.IMG_3774

A typical day in Stockholm

A typical day in Stockholm

I looked over the menu with the left side sporting more American selections like omelets and bagels, but then there were Swedish options like smorgasar (open face sandwiches), the famed “Viking” breakfast, and my choice:  Swedish pancakes with imported lingonberry sauce ($6) with a side of salt pork ($3).  The prices overall ranged anywhere from $5-$10 which is a bargain compared to other brunch places in the area.  There are dinner options as well that have the same American/Swedish split, but I’ll have to leave that for another day.  My cakes made their appearance soon thereafter and looked perfect.IMG_3775  Portion-wise, they were quite large.  I found them to be between a ‘Murikan pancake and a French crepe in terms of thickness.  Amid the sprinklings of powdered sugar, the salt pork was placed atop the pockmarked surface and strangely looked like two of the rosy horses on the table sharing a smooch.  Budding food romances aside, I placed it aside for later.  I focused first on smearing the small container of lingonberry jelly all over these wonderful pancakes and quickly tucked in since I was starving.  However, I think they could have given me a bit more jelly to actually cover both pieces instead of just one.IMG_3776  It was a simple but very well done meal.  The pancakes were substantial yet light on the stomach.  It didn’t feel like I had swallowed a bowling ball by the end of breakfast.  As for the jelly, it was sweet yet more on the tart side which gave the blander pancakes a potent punch with every forkful.  I then turned my full attention toward the salt pork.IMG_3777  I used some of the maple syrup on the side for dipping, but I could only liken the meat to a super thin and crunchy version of bacon.  It wasn’t unbearably salty and only got better with some of the gooey, sweet syrup on top.

As I went to settle the check at the front, I noticed their sign on the cash register that said, “CASH ONLY”.  In this era of credit cards, it seems a bit archaic, but luckily I’m a man of the past.  I paid for my reasonably priced and lip-smacking good breakfast that was like Ikea furniture:  cheap, functional, simple, pleasing to the eye, but way more delicious.  I highly recommend visiting Svea’s to experience an unraveling ethnic patch of Chicago’s cultural quilt.

Svea on Urbanspoon

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How Voo You Doo? (Portland, Part 4)

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Well, if you’ve been following the various posts of my Portland adventures, you’ve seen that I’ve been trying to sample a wide variety of foods.  Everything from breakfast fare to haunted pizzerias have gone into Mastication Monologues, and today I’ll be talking about the food experience one must try when in Portland:  Voodoo Doughnut.

Ever since I’ve been watching the Travel Channel regularly, which has been a very recent practice, Voodoo Doughnut has always managed to pop up on some sort of wacky food program or just general tourism show.  Why would that be?  Well, Voodoo Doughnut isn’t your typical mom and pop bakery.  This franchise delves into the darkest realms of the occult religion and comes up with some culinary creations that only a the craziest houngan (voodoo priest) could imagine.  Not only that, but this establishment allows people to be wed through their shop.  Tie the knot with a couple knotted cinnamon twists?  Only at Voodoo Doughtnut!  They offer basic, non-legal weddings for $25 all the way to the “Whole Shebang” package for $6,600 that includes airfare, hotel, legal ceremony, and a tour of Portland.  I could go on and on about what makes this place so unique, but I was surprised to hear Portland natives’ reactions to my delight in going to Voodoo Doughnuts.  Most were begrudgingly accepting of this bakery like it’s the popular kid who’s really loud and obnoxious yet everyone wants to be his/her friend.  While others seemed to be happy that I tasted probably the most popular part of the Portland culinary scene.  This general joy was reflected in the omnipresent line I saw outside their original location at 22 SW 3rd Ave.IMG_3857  They’re open 24/7 aside from major holidays, but I heard from a friend of a friend who is a native of Portland that back in the day they used to hold very odd hours like 11 pm to 4 am, close for two hours, and then open from 7 am to 9:23 am or something like that.  Seems like they know how to pounce on financial opportunities while still maintaining their extremely strange vibe.  Doughnuts’ prices range from 95 cents to $3, and they only take cash! 

My Voodoo Doughnut experience started after another bizarre experience that involved me going to a 21+ mini-golf course.  I could only liken it to a mix between a hands-on arts gallery and a fun house which included CO2 powered 50 caliber golf ball guns, a low rider, and a scratch and sniff wheel to name a few holes.  Once I made my way through the course, I knew I had to take the plunge and get my Voodoo on.  It was raining, so I was in full Deatheater mode with my black jacket’s hood up as I walked up to the line that was snaking past the barriers.IMG_3860IMG_3861  Thankfully, it didn’t scare my new friends I made in line who took the form of a large bachelorette party.  It made the wait go by faster as we talked about travel, and eventually I stepped foot in this hallowed ground of creative snack cakes.IMG_2640  Their menu was as eclectic as their decor as I didn’t have any clue what to get.  I saw most people were ordering a dozen doughnuts each, but I didn’t really want to end up as round as a doughnut by the time the night was over.  After attempting to ask what the girls in the bachelorette party would recommend I should get, they all seemed deadset on the bacon maple bars…boring.  I know you can get those in other doughnut shops in the USA.  So, I first went with Voodoo Doughnut’s signature voodoo doll doughnut since I felt obligated to try it.  Then, for my second choice, it was extremely tough to choose.  The Mexican hot chocolate really was calling to me along with the Butterfinger chocolate and Marshall Mathers doughnuts.  However, one won out as I made my choice:  the O.D.B. (Old Dirty Bastard) doughnut.  I had no clue what was on it, but I picked it since it pays homage to ODB, the Staten Island rap group Wu Tang Clan’s wackiest, most drugged out, and quite possibly mentally handicapped member.  I present Exhibit A and Exhibit B.  Requiem in terra pax, dawg.  If this doughnut was as crazy as him, I expected a real treat, and a treat I did receive.  I ate one for breakfast the following Friday and Saturday, and the Voodoo Doll doughnut went first.  First, it wasn’t as neat as I was expecting the doll to be since it didn’t seem to have a face or any sort of discerning facial features.

Looks like I'm cursing a cyclops.

Looks like I’m cursing a cyclops.

There still was the pretzel driven into the torso of the doll which might have been an omen of my fiery food downfall later in my trip…tastewise, it was great.  The yellow dough was soft and spongy with a mainly neutral taste with hints of its buttery upbringing.IMG_2650  This allowed for the thick, rich milk chocolate frosting on top and gory, sweet raspberry jelly inside to sanctify this food sacrifice to Baron Samedi, lord of the Voodoo underworld a.k.a. my stomach.  As for the Old Dirty Bastard doughnut, it seriously was as over the top like one of ODB’s freestyles.

IMG_2654

I’m all about that C.R.E.A.M.

It started with a traditional yeast-raised ring doughnut with the same dough as the Voodoo doll along with a similar chocolate frosting on top.  Then it got extra dirty with the giant, crunchy chunks of Oreos heaped on top that were then tricked out with a generous drizzling of peanut butter. IMG_2653 It was like eating a giant Reeses peanut butter cup cake with Oreos on the inside.  Needless to say, it gave me the gangsta power to walk up a mountain to see the Pittock Mansion (a great non-food related sightseeing area in Portland).

So if you want to try probably the most touristy spot in Portland with some tasty desserts (although some Portlandians might say otherwise), get yourself down to Voodoo Doughnuts or else you will be cursing the day you decided not to go.
Voodoo Doughnut on Urbanspoon

Tokyo (Day 5)- A Sobering Soba Sayonara/Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

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Well, this is the final day of my Tokyo adventure in this food chronicle, but I finish it with the most unique dining experience I’ve ever been a part of.  However, I should start at the beginning  in the morning with my humble breakfast at the convienence store.

I seemed to have made friends at the local Mini Stop since they guided me to my favorite snack cake section they were actively stocking when I walked in the door.  So I wanted to get something a bit different to eat, so I plumped for a roll cake with a caveman on it along with an innocent looking bun.  However, turns out the more innocuous looking sweet bun ended up being filled with savory, cold curry.  Another wonderful adventure down Japanese Illiteracy Avenue!  It wasn’t terrible though as I finished it.  Thankfully, the caveman treat was a strawberry cream cake that was light, fluffy, and filling but probably terrible for my sugar levels.IMG_1858  It tasted great though.  To drink, I got a bottle of a drink called Lifeguard that looked like it was conceived by beverage promoters on a bad acid trip.  Not only did the psychedelic pattern and maniacal looking bunny in a car catch my eye, but it also boasted having plenty of “Royal Jelly”.

I don't think I'm ready for this jelly.

I don’t think I’m ready for this jelly.

  I remembered it being related to a Futurama episode where Fry, Leela, and Bender go to a killer space-bee hive to get honey, and Leela takes a baby queen bee and royal jelly back home to make more honey.  In reality, the royal jelly actually comes from the secretions of worker bees’ heads to nourish larvae and adult queens.  Nothing like some bee head jelly to get me buzzing in the morning.  It tasted great since it was like a green apple soda with small, rubbery chunks in it that left me energized to take on the rest of the day.  I hopped on the subway to the periphery of Tokyo to see many different sights which in turn left me with a Godzilla-sized hunger to take care of.  I made my way to Shinjuku because that is where I was going to have dinner at the famous Robot Restaurant that I’ll detail later in the post.  However, it was still around lunchtime, so I waltzed into a small, local eatery on a happening street in the center of Shinjuku. I noticed they had lots of different types of the traditional Tokyo soba noodles.IMG_1885  I saw they had a similar coin operated device like in Matsuya, and I matched up the symbols from the plastic display outside to the button on the dispenser. IMG_1884 After doing some research it seems I chose Tanuki soba or “Raccoon Dog Soba” when it came out to me.  I don’t know why it’s called after a mythical creature that is known for having mystical powers including using leaves to shape shift, fly, and have enormous testicles that bring good luck.  Ghostly sexual organs aside, the soba itself was wonderful and cheap.IMG_1883  The noodles were plentiful and a bit more al dente compared to the ramen noodles from dinner the previous night in Harajuku.  The fried tofu pieces were savory that complimented the salty broth perfectly.  Overall, it was a small piece of Tokyo history that was delicious, nutritious, and affordable.  After that meal, I wasted a bunch of time before going to the oddly named Robot Restaurant.  So I got a crepe that Wikitravel recommended to get either in Harajuku or Shinjuku, so I decided to see how they measured up to the French ones.IMG_1887  It was another encounter with my friend the coin-operated ordering machine, so I matched up the symbols to the Nutella and whipped cream crepe (second row from the top on the left).IMG_1886  I didn’t understand why they couldn’t just take my order or just write it on a piece of paper.  Work flow aside, the crepe was scrumptious and elegant. IMG_1888 The gossamer thin sheet of dough encased  a winter wonderland of snowy white whipped cream strewn about a generous slathering of chocotastic Nutella.  It was the perfect compliment to watching the anti-Shinzo Abe/Olympics march going down the street.  Eventually, I made my way to the Robot Restaurant which is located in Harajuku in the infamous Kabuchiko red light district.  So while I was walking there, I was accosted by numerous guys in suits asking if I wanted some action at a very steep price.  No, man!  I came here to see some crazy robot action with very attractive women dancing.  I highly recommend making reservations in advance, and if you sign up with a friend you get 50 percent off your 5000 Yen ticket.  I got there, and they had a complete robot band in the lobby rocking out with some tunes.IMG_3483  I was led up to the waiting lounge which was decked out in psychedelic paint everywhere, and each table had a robot dinosaur that would react to your actions.  If you made it angry, it would bite your finger, or it would sleep if you petted it on its head.IMG_1900IMG_1898  Eventually, they brought us down to the main theatre, and it seemed like the entire place was an epileptic seizure waiting to happen with all of the flashing lights, garish colors, and lasers everywhere.  We sat in rows with an aisle down the middle where all the action happened.  The bento box they provided was nothing worth mentioning.  It was mainly just baked chicken with some rice rolls and a small dessert.  However, the show was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.IMG_3489IMG_3543IMG_3545  So I’ll just let the main video from their website paint you a picture along with these videos I took (I apologize for the poor sound quality):  Oppa Gangnam Robot, Drummers, or The Natives Are Restless.   I could only describe it as a mix of traditional Japanese culture, a variety show, a burlesque show, Pokemon, Kung Fu Panda, LSD, and Gundams just to name a few.  It was a great way to end a trip that was filled with good people, great food, and unforgettable times.  I recommend you go to the Robot Restaurant over all other restaurants in Tokyo just to see the spectacle I will never forget.

My last culinary triste with Tokyo before going to the airport took the form of a chocolate version of the caveman cake above, but instead of bee head jelly, I got some fruit and salt juice. IMG_1904IMG_1903 It was a combination that somehow worked where the salt balanced out the sweetness of the pear juice.  However, I didn’t leave Tokyo with a figurative salty taste in my mouth as I truly fell in love with this city, and I hope to come back one day.

It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

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Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  I’m quickly writing this post since I have to get started on creating my summer camp for school, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be all business when it comes to the food.  Yesternight, I met up with my friends, Carolyn and Ravi, in Seoul, and we stumbled upon Burger Hunter located at Wonchang Building, 25-1 Mugyo-dong, Jung-gu (중구 무교동 25-1 원창빌딩) in Seoul.  Here is their website.  I was quite hungry from lunch at school since the only filling things they had were tentacles, chicken that was mostly bones, and some fruit.

When we came in, it was decorated like an old-fashioned, 1950s American diner but with a lot of crazy road signs on the walls.  As I was scanning the menu, I saw that they offered a wide variety of burgers, including a vegetarian mushroom burger, and accompanying sides.IMG_0471  You can either get the burger alone or as a set which includes a soda or ade like strawberry-ade (lemonade+strawberry=you do the math) and fries.  However, my starving wandering eyes landed on the PB & Jellousy Burger.  I got it with a side of potato crisps.  Then I had to wait for my strange concoction to be made, and I was overjoyed when my buzzer went off to pick up my food.

When I sat down with it, it was like seeing a new civilization.  Sure, I know it’s a burger like I’ve seen before, but its garb and customs were completely foreign to me.IMG_0472  I peered at its innards to find two strips of bacon, strawberry jelly, and a moderately sized glob of peanut butter.

So wrong, yet tastes so right

So wrong, yet tastes so right

I finally took the plunge by sinking my mighty incisors into it and found a strange flavor bonanza that was quite satifying.  While the concept of it might make burger purists cringe, the actual combination is quite ingenious.  When you move past the velvety bun, the savory and smoky elements of the burger and bacon, respectively, synergize with the sweet and salty of the jelly and bacon, respectively.  Even if you will never have the chance to try Burger Hunter, I recommend trying PB and J on your burgers.  Even though I thought I couldn’t take any more, I was still hungry since the burger was Korean sized, i.e. about 3/4ths the size of an American burger.  So, I went for the Zeus burger which wasn’t too intimidating.  True, it was piled high with a patty, a slice of cheese, guacamole, onions, and some potato straws, but it didn’t possess much girth.IMG_0474  That was the main problem with the Zeus burger; it was too tall which led to the bun being eaten before all of the other ingredients which led to the equivalent of a landslide on my plate.  Not the most attractive thing to eat for your first date, but it was tasty nevertheless.  There was a downside to the burger which was the overpowering flavor of the guacamole and onions that drowned out most of the other flavors.  It was a Royal Rumble where a few players had their own personal grab for glory.  Overall, I left a very satisfied customer though.

So if you’re looking for a great Western burger with a bit of funk or a little junk in the trunk, make your way through the concrete jungle to find Burger Hunter.

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