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Stroop and a Pancake? Bacon and a Blintz?

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Ah the Netherlands.  A land of many contrasts and confusion.  Like is it the Netherlands or Holland or both?  Even though both are generally accepted, the Netherlands is the official name of the country/kingdom while Holland is the combined name for two provinces within the country/kingdom.  Beyond the name, most people have a few common thoughts about the country.  The first thing that probably pops into the heads of many is of Amsterdam and its accompanying delights or vices depending on your moral constitution or perhaps Mike Meyer’s freakish Dutch villain Goldmember, the largest of the Low Countries has a lot more to offer.  For example, it is home to the Frisian language. It is currently an endangered language in the Netherlands, but it once was spoken throughout the North Sea’s southern coast. Not only does it have a once distinguished past, but it currently holds the position of one of most closely related languages to English, more so than German.  Some are quite clear cognates like “help” which is just the same word or “My name is…” is “Myn namme is …” in Frisian or “I’m from…” is “Ik kom fan …”.  However, don’t expect to be able to completely understand them.  While linguistic facts, Dutch ones included, are always interesting, I’m here to talk about a Dutch pancake house in Chicago that is homey and filled with delicious breakfast treats.  I’m talking about the Famous Dutch Pancake House/Pannekoeken Huis in Lincoln Square on the north side of Chicago.IMG_6518

While there are plenty of great breakfast places throughout the city and surrounding suburbs, each one seems to have its own angle.  There’s one that reflects the Swedish community in the Andersonville neighborhood or even a Greek cinnamon themed restaurant.  However, it’s not often you hear of a Dutch breakfast restaurant.  The Pancake House doesn’t serve any of the “special” treats you might assume, but rather a plethora of Dutch pancakes or pannekoeken (pronounced:  pan-eh-ko-kehn).  Although the Dutch word literally means “pancake”, they are different than the American ones we are used to.  Instead of them being thicker than a Snicker, they are more similar to their French brethren:  the crepe, a thin and airy bread that could be sweet or savory.  When we got there on a Saturday morning, we managed to beat the rush just barely around 8:30ish.IMG_6141IMG_6140  It’s a very small dining room, so be prepared to have a real cheek to jowl experience.  We looked over the menu to find a plethora of sweet and savory pannekoeken along with more common American breakfast items like eggs, French toast, and bacon.  IMG_6142After much deliberation and a recommendation from our waiter, I got the apple raisin cheese pannekoek ($9.95) and Janice got a veggie pannekoek ($8.95).  When they came out, I couldn’t believe how big they were, i.e. at least as big as a small hubcap.  However, they were thin which meant that they weren’t as heavy as American pancakes.  Janice’s veggie pannekoek looked verdant and mouth-watering.IMG_6143  She had the option of three veggies and her choice of cheese as toppings, so she went with a asparagus, mushroom, and green pepper combo along with some strips of melted Havarti cheese.  It was a great savory pancake.  While the thin dough provided a solid flavor foundation, the lightly sauteed veggies mixed well with the buttery cheese.  Definitely made this carnivore steal more than one forkful off her plate.  As for my pannekoek, it was certainly different than what I’m used to eating for breakfast.  IMG_6144While I like to keep my savory elements separate from my sweet ingredients when it comes to food, this pannekoek had me singing a different tune.  First, there was the plethora of apple slices that almost completely obscured my pannekoek and was occasionally punctuated with an amorphous blob of melted Havarti cheese.  Then our waiter hooked me up with what seemed to be syrup for my sweet pannekoek, but it wasn’t quite the same.  It turned out to be schenkstroop which derives from the words “schenk”which comes from the Dutch/German verb “schenken” meaning “to pour out”, and “stroop” meaning “syrup”.IMG_6145  Aside from the name difference, this Dutch specialty is made from sugar beets instead of the cane sugar our everyday pancake syrup is made from.  What this meant for my pannekoek experience was two things.  First, it had a much higher viscosity than American syrup which made it seem more like a thick molasses.  Second, after I made it rain all over my pannekoek, I found the schenkstroop to have a cleaner and not as overpoweringly sweet aftertaste compared to its American counterpart.IMG_6146  I thought it was perfect for this type of pancake because of the many competing flavors for my tastebuds attention.  As I mentioned before, I wasn’t a mixing savory and sweet kind of guy.  Hell, I find Hawaiian pizza to be an abomination to food lovers everywhere.  Pineapple on a pizza?  Aloha, brah (and I mean it in the “goodbye” sense).  Anyway, pizza rant over.  The creamy and slightly salty Havarti semi-neutralized the tart, gossamer-thin granny smith apple slices that melted in my mouth.  However, little did I know that the pannekoeken’s dough hid another sweet secret in the form of raisins that were baked right into the cake.IMG_6147  They were like little, chewy barnacles riding along on the underbelly of a blue whale of flavor.  I couldn’t get enough of the sweet, savory, and salty delight, but it was gone before I knew it.

So if you want to sample a cozy little corner of Holland in Chicago for very reasonable prices and great service, grab your wooden shoes and clog your way down to the Pannenkoeken Cafe!IMG_6148
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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!

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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.

Beijing (Day 3 and 4)- I Got a Black Magic Chicken

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For those who get the Santana reference in the title, you’re welcome.  To the rest of y’all, get ready for some more funky food that Beijing has to offer along with a couple normal plates for those who are a bit averse to the adventurous eating route I normally take.  First, there are the somewhat odd platters I sampled for a late lunch after returning from North Korea.  I was feeling full of life after a near brush with the North Korean authorities, so I felt like going for the gusto with my food and beverage choices.  First, I noticed that other people were drinking large carafes of a steaming white liquid, so I got one of those on the side to then accompany my black chicken and stuffed lotus root with sweet rice.  The random drink came out first along with a plate of sugar.IMG_1696  I first sampled the libation without the sugar, and it turned out to be very fresh soy milk with no sweetener.  Good think they gave me the sugar because there was no way I was going to drink all of it without a little some-something to boost the old flavor profile.  After a couple lumps, the milk tasted like a soy milk that is commercially sold in the USA with a bit more of a grassy taste to it.  Eventually, my black chicken and lotus root came out.IMG_1698  The biggest surprise for me that came with both of these dishes was the fact that they were both served cold.  Now, I don’t know if that’s how they’re traditionally served or if it was going in line with the Chinese medicinal concept that can be likened to the Western 4 humors concept in early medicine.  It is the same in Korea where many people believe that in order to keep your personal energy in line with the weather, you have to eat hot food when it hot outside and cold food for colder climes.  Doesn’t make sense to Western logic where one would imagine to eat warm food while it’s cold and cold food to cool off in the heat, but I’m not here to discuss medicine.  Food time.  So, first there was the black chicken.  When I say black chicken, I don’t mean it’s just blackened from a seasoning or charring.  The entire chicken, from its skin to its bones, is completely black compliments of selective breeding back in Ancient China.IMG_1699  They’re called Silkies, and Marco Polo even mentions the very same “furry chickens” in his travelogues.  Therefore, it was going back in a culinary time machine where I consumed a piece of the past, and it tasted like a heap of coriander with a hint of Sichuan pepper that numbed my tongue ever so slightly.  The downside of the preparation, as with many places in Asia, it was filled with tiny bones which took away from me actually enjoying what little meat there was on the beast.  However, I did enjoy it a lot more than my lotus root dish which also was served at room temperature.  Now, I love my fried lotus root, but this raw version did not sit well with me because of the limp texture and the odd, sweet ketchup-esque sauce. IMG_1697 It wasn’t a highlight on my visit to Beijing.  However, the following day was great in so many ways.  First, there was my visit to the breathtaking Great Wall of China at the Mutianyu section that was occasionally blighted by hawkers trying to sell you food, drinks, and terrible souvenirs.  This wasn’t even at the most touristy part of the wall!  After hiking for about three hours up and down some knee-crackingly high stairs, I zoomed down the mountain on a self-regulated toboggan which was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done in my life.  The lunch we had at the foot of the mountain really wasn’t anything of note, but the dinner I had after going to the national circus was noteworthy with how cheap and flavorful it was.  While I was trying to find a place open in my neighborhood by my hostel on a Sunday night, which was proving a bit harder to do than I thought, I stumbled on this 24 hour eatery (or at least that’s what I figured from the 24 on the sign).IMG_1713  I walked in much to the surprise of the staff, but I was quickly seated and supplied with a huge menu.  I’ve noticed all the menus in China have 10 billion things on them which is refreshing compared to Korea, yet so intimidating at the same time.  All I have to say is thank God for picture menus.  I ended up getting the pork stuffed green scallion pancakes along with the cumin seared beef.  For the equivalent of 10 bucks, I got a huge skillet of quality cuts of beef rubbed with a great chili and cumin rub all topped off with a huge mountain of cilantro. IMG_1709 The side of fried pancake was wonderful as well.IMG_1711  It was a bit greasy but not too much, and the minced pork mixed with the tangy green onions and pliable, golden brown dough was a combo made in heaven. IMG_1712 So those are some more notable eats I have sampled during my trip to Beijing, and I will be wrapping it up in the next post with my final day in the Chinese capital.  Until then, readers and eaters!

Beijing (Day 2)- Go Duck Yourself!

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Welcome to another installation of Mastication Monologues where today I will be bringing you day two of my food adventures in Beijing!  It was quite a happening day complete with a visit to the Forbidden City, and let me tell you that the only thing that is forbidden there is sitting down for a rest.  It was an immense sight to see, so we worked up quite an appetite by the time we found an exit.  Nearby, there was a large stretch of shopping malls and restaurants, so we decided to take a gander at what they had to offer.  We eventually ended up at this Muslim/Uyghur restaurant.IMG_1494 China, being the gargantuan country that it already is, encompasses a multitude of cultures and ethnic groups.  The Uyghur people are one of the most distinct groups in the mix as they mainly inhabit the far western part of the country, and a majority are Muslim instead of Buddist or Taoist.  In terms of food, you can definitely tell that they are not like the Han majority as they consume a lot more mutton, flatbreads, yogurt, and kebabs.  A little Middle East meets the Far East flavor for ya.  We were the only non-Asian people in this eatery, so the local clientele were very surprised to see us.  Upon sitting down, they insisted on covering our seat backs with protective covers and the table cover with an extra layer of plastic.  This was a signal that our meal was most likely going to be like Sea-World, i.e. the first three rows are going to get wet.  We plumped for the lunch special for two which involved a Beijing hotpot that was quite novel.  I say novel in the sense that the actual cooking device didn’t look like a typical pot used for this type of cuisine.  It looked more like the progeny that would arise 9 months later if a lava lamp, a smokestack, a fire pit, and a castle moat got together during one crazy weekend in Jamaica. IMG_1495 Inanimate object freakiness aside, the rolls of thinly sliced lamb had my mouth watering.IMG_1497   They also had scarlet bales of beef with plenty of vermicelli and wheat noodles on the side. IMG_1499 IMG_1498While the meat was delectable, I think that it was a bit of a disappointment with how much of it was boiled off in the water.  The shrimp were quite useless since they were frozen together in a clump to the plate the entire time…talk about fresh.  If you’re a veggie head, there was plenty of tofu, fungi, lettuce, cilantro, and onions to satisfy your cravings.IMG_1501IMG_1500  One of the more interesting dishes of ingredients we could throw into the boiling water were these cheese-filled, sea scallop balls and the mystery black balls. IMG_1502 The former were quite funky in a good way with their playful striped exteriors and piping hot cheese and seafood sauce innards.  The latter were a bit more unsettling since I couldn’t really tell what sort of meat I was eating, and it seemed like each meat orb had a piece of string in it.  I don’t know if that came from the preparation, but it didn’t bother me terribly.  All throughout the meal, I enjoyed watching the wait staff watch us eat since we were so proficient with chopsticks.  They were probably thanking the heavens they didn’t have to search for a fork.  It was an ok dining experience, but I prefer my previous Sichuan or Taiwanese hot pot dinners.  If my taste buds were snoozing on me after that lunch, I would give them a jolt they would never forget as we made our way to Wangfujing Snack Street (王府井小吃街; Wángfǔjǐngxiǎochī Jiē).IMG_1505  It was a lot more crowded than Donghuamen market, and it seemed more like a local place to get snack food which also meant the prices were a bit more reasonable.IMG_1508  I saw a lot of the usual weird food that they also had at Donghuamen, but one of the sticks was really calling my name:  the scorpions.IMG_2810  I don’t know if it’s just the fact that they are poisonous, or that they were still alive and squirming on the stick that made me want to eat them.  I got a stick, and it was the best bizarre food I tried in Beijing with the spider running a close second.IMG_2812  I’d have to say that it was a mix of the chef’s spicy dry rub, and him knowing not to burn the arachnids while frying.  Those two elements combined to create a snack that was crispy, piquant, with a bit of meat that didn’t taste like anything.  It seems that insects will taste like whatever you season them with, so I consider them the tofu of cheap proteins.  Another fun part of the experience was having other western tourists walk by with their Chinese friends and reel back in horror as I took down the creepy crawlies with no trepidation.  Naturally, the Chinese broke out the classic praise phrase in English, “You’re strong!” while their Western friends insisted on a raincheck when I offered them one.  Quick note on Asian cuisine I’ve noticed while traveling, the weirder it seems to Western palates, more often than not it can somehow increase strength (read:  male libido) in some fashion like dog soup in Korea.  Long story short, I’d eat the scorpions again if I had the chance, and I recommend you try them as well.  However, my day didn’t end there.  All of these brief excursions culminated at dinner where I had the signature dish of Beijing:  Peking duck.  While New York has its delis and Chicago its deep dish pizza, you would have to be a fool to go to Beijing and not try one of these succulent fowls.  The place we went to was called Lao Zhai Yuan 老宅院.IMG_1521  It was in a really small hutong or neighborhood and gave me the impression that I wasn’t at some touristy clip joint.  We ate in one of their courtyards which thankfully had plenty of heat lamps, but it just further added to the ambiance of it all.IMG_1519  We also enjoyed the menu descriptions of some of the items they had to offer, and the prices were extremely reasonable.  Our entire meal probably cost 10 bucks.  IMG_1512While we were waiting for our duck to be prepared, I got a bottle of baiju 白酒 which is like China’s version of Korea’s soju.  However, the difference is in the alcohol content. IMG_1514 While soju only has around 20% alcohol, baiju has a 40% minimum, so it’s more like vodka in that aspect.  I definitely felt that way when I took a small sip of it straight, but it got more interesting when I mixed it with Sprite.  It didn’t blend very well with the Sprite like vodka would, but it added a strangely pleasing berry twist to the citrus Sprite. IMG_1513 In the distance, I could smell a sweet fragrance wafting our way, and I saw our chef going to work on our duck with brain surgeon-like precision. IMG_2816 His craftsmanship showed with each plate they brought to our table of just the meat, the golden brown skin, and the meat with strands of the skin still attached with a thin layer of fat between both tissues.  It was hands down the best meal I had in Beijing.

Heaven in one meal.

Heaven in one meal.

The skin was not only crispy but had dulcet tones to every bite while the meat was tender and rich.  It doesn’t take a mathamagician to put one and one together to imagine how great the skin and meat bits were.  The meal was only further enhanced with the delivery method of the duck to your mouth which took the form of utilizing a paper thin pancake and smearing the plum sauce all over it first.  Then, you could either put horseradish, sugar, cucumber sticks, or onions before loading up on your duck.  Once you have it all piled up, you roll it taco style and enjoy.  It was a great combination of sweet, savory, and tangy to create the ultimate dining experience in Beijing.  The plat de résistance was the duck head that they served to us as the very last item.  It was cleaved in half still with everything inside like the brains, tongue, and eyeballs. IMG_1516IMG_1517 Naturally, my dining companion didn’t think I was going to eat it, but I ended up consuming it nevertheless much to her disgust.  It was worth it though, and not my first time doing so since I had it in Taiwan.  There wasn’t a lot of meat on it, but I’ll always say that the eyes are the best part since they have a buttery quality to them.  All’s well that end’s well as I went to sleep that night with a very happy stomach.  Long story short, find this restaurant, and you will not regret it.

Got the Munchies?

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Hello everyone to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  Life continues in Korea, and I’m writing this since the weather is cold and wet outside.  I don’t think the seasons really know what they’re doing around here.  One day it’s sunny and warm and the next day it’s cold and wet.  Oh well, at least one thing has remained constant:  me trying new and crazy foods.  This post will talk about different odds and ends of Korean snacks I have tried since touching down here.  First, there are the items I have received from my teachers.

I’ll start with one food that my teachers have given to me in various forms, but I have yet to find one that really catches my fancy:  rice cake or tteok in Korean.  Obviously, rice holds a special place in Asian cuisine as a staple grain just like wheat and corn in the West, and therefore, there will be many different products made from it.  However, I have never tried so many different types of rice cake in my life.  It seems like there are as many varieties of rice cake as there are varieties of kimchi.  The rice cake is made by pounding sticky rice into a dough, mixing in various ingredients, and then portioning them out into more manageable to eat pieces.  One of the first types of rice cake I tried with my coteachers was coated in semi-dehydrated red beans.  It was dry, gummi, and tasted like bland beans…yummy.  On another day, I saw strange purple squares saran-wrapped on the table, and I found out that it was rice cake with cut almonds in it.  I took one bite, and it had a strange floral flavor that clashed with the almonds.

Very natural looking...

Very natural looking…

The only two types of rice cake that I actually enjoy are the black sesame coated type or one infused with raisins.  The black sesame powder one is quite expensive, but tastes like sweet sesame seeds.  As for the raisin tteok, the absence of flavor in the actual rice dough allows for the sweet raisins to really shine.  Overall, rice cakes have failed to grow on me as of right now.

Moving on to treats my teachers have given me that I actually enjoyed, I’ll start with the mystery 12 grain sticks.  One of my teachers who occupies a cubicle kiddie corner from me gave me a small foil package and said “For you”.  I looked at it, and it just said, “12 grains crispiroll.”IMG_0015  So I was expecting some sort of granola bar to emerge from the wrapper, but what I encountered was something completely different. IMG_0016 Instead of seeing a granular bar, I was greeted by a light yellow, crumbly tube.  I took a bite, and it was an interesting experience.  Not only was it crumbly, but the interior somehow seemed to be filled with some sort of cheese flavored substance I couldn’t see for the life of me.  It must have been hidden under the interior layer, but it was like eating a healthy version of cheese puffs.  Another great treat from my students was chalboribbang.

Although the name is somewhat long, these little sandwiches really hit the spot.  Our 5th graders took a trip to Gyeongju, and they came back with boxes of chalboribbang.IMG_0017  Apparently they are the region’s specialty and have been made since the Silla dynasty of Korea (57 BC to 935 AD).  The perfect combination of freshness and delicious taste explains why they have been around for millennia.  The small pancakes are made from barley and between the cakes is a sweet paste made from azuki beans.  They’re moist, chewy, and have a very slight maple syrup taste.IMG_0019  Perhaps that last part comes down to my love for pancakes, but chalboribbang pack a lot of quality flavor into a small package.  Finally, there are two small snacks I tried this weekend that I would like to comment on.

First there are the Doritos.  World recognized food brands adopt their flavors to suit the local population in order to boost sales and be respectful to their potential consumers if they have religious qualms with the ingredients.  Naturally, the Korean Doritos I picked out for our guys night seemed to be flavored like barbecue ribs since Koreans love to barbecue any type of meat.

Not all that and a bag of chips

Not all that and a bag of chips

However, they were a gigantic letdown in terms of flavor.  The chips were like back in the states in terms of size and texture, but the bold, savory barbecue flavor that is synonymous with a rack of ribs was severely lacking.  On the other hand, my friends took me to a shish-kabob place in Bupyeong in Incheon right outside of the club Shelter that brought both the flavor and the heat.

We had just finished our guys night at my friend Nate’s place, so we headed to Bupyeong to check out some new bars.  Instead, I ended up in front of this food truck that had a chef inside who was diligently pressing chicken skewers on the red hot griddle and slathering the piping hot meat in different sauces.

Poetry in motion in Bupyeong

Poetry in motion in Bupyeong

I was goaded into trying the “So Spicy” option, and I took it down no problem.  I’d liken the spiciness to probably a couple jalapenos consumed at once.  The chef saw that I finished it so quickly, so he decided to make a special sauce just for me.  He was laughing while putting chili powder and vinegar into a cup.  As he mixed it he said, “Ok I kill you”.  Culinary challenge accepted.  Eventually my skewer of death was finished, and I went to town on it.

I can play with fire and not get burned

I can play with fire and not get burned

The pieces of chicken were succulent and the green onions had a nice crunch to even out the chewy, grilled chicken.  As for the spiciness, it was more in the Habanero/scotch bonnet range.  As I was taking it down, other Koreans waiting for their skewers were staring at me like I was a supernatural being and wanted to know where I was from.  I finished my complimentary death skewer in no time, and the guy asked me if it was too much.  I said nope, and he smiled, nodded, and said, “You very strong”.  Got to love being able to consume spicy foods and make friends along the way.  Not too bad for only a $1.50.

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