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Great Blogs of Fire!: Dave’s Gourmet Insanity Sauce

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When I was younger, I never understood how or why my dad would eat these strange red and yellow seeds on his pizza.  When I would try them, my mouth would hurt, and I vowed to never sully my pizza again with this mysterious condiment. As time went by, I realized they were just dried pepper flakes, and I tried them again.  What was once a traumatic experience, now was a pleasurable one.  I moved on to jalapenos on nachos and Louisiana hot sauce on my Popeye’s fried chicken.  My desire for spice grew as time went on as I diversified the foods I ate or went out of my way to try like in Mexican, Sichuan, or Indian cuisine.  I eventually reached my dad’s level where my spice tolerance makes my fellow diners shake their head in disbelief. Owners/servers of ethnicities known for piquant food traditions have marveled at the idea of a white person enjoying the same level of spice as they do or perhaps even more so.  It has also caused episodes of spice profiling when restaurant owners did not make it spicy enough for my liking even if I requested it when ordering.   By consuming spicy foods, I see myself carrying on the family tradition from my dad, but it made me wonder what caused me to develop this desire to consume fiery dishes?  According to the Smithsonian and Popular Science, it seems that food preferences are a mixture of nature and nurture.  While initial studies thought that genes could make individuals more resistant to the spicy food’s effects on their taste receptors, a recent study showed that more extroverted or thrill-seeking personalities were drawn to spicy flavors.  This doesn’t mean that the more adventurous eaters felt the burn less, rather the insular lobe in their brains connected the pain and/or novelty of the taste to positive feelings.  This connection of pain and pleasure goes against millennia of evolution where chili plants originally developed capsaicin to deter animals from consuming them.

Thus, this long history of hellish dining brings me to my first meeting with Dave’s Gourmet Insanity Sauce.  The label on the front looks fun enough with a little smiling pepper catching some rays under the sun on the beach looking innocuous enough with some shades, a little umbrella, and a cool drink at his side.  All is well with the world, or so you would think.

Then you flip the bottle over, and you realize that there was a reason why the smug chili pepper on the front had a devious smile.

Perhaps the part with removing oil stains and wax floors is a bit of hyperbole, but after tangling with this beast in a bottle, I can agree that the second half of the warning label is legitimate.  According to Dave’s Gourmet website, this sauce has been the only sauce banned from the National Fiery Foods Show and is recommended for real O.C.s or Original Chiliheads.  When I poured a bit of this hell-fire out, it was a thick, burgundy sauce that was like a very thick mole sauce or a grainy buttercream cake frosting.  I then made the plunge by tasting the drop, and it felt like a mix of a MOAB drop and a lightning bolt of nostalgia went off in my mouth.  The taste was the same or very similar to the extremely spicy, esophagus-closing sauce I had at Onniyure Donkatsu in Seoul.  According to chiliworld.com, the main ingredient is red savina habanero peppers as well as pure capsaicin or the active irritant found in chili peppers.  It is roughly rated at 250,000 Scoville heat units where as original Tabasco sauce is only 2,000 Scovilles or Frank’s RedHot sauce is only 450 Scovilles.  Needless to say, the spice level was overpowering even for a seasoned fire-eater like me, and it lasts for at least 30 minutes after eating.  The flavor is kind of bitter due to the high levels of capsaicin extract, and it is better mixed into soups or rice dishes to provide a spicier profile instead of being consumed straight up.  This sauce could be considered a biohazard though and should not be trifled with.  For example, I found that I started to cough/choke on the sauce’s fumes when washing the sauce off my plate with hot water.  Tread carefully, adventurous diners.

Final Score for Dave’s Insanity Sauce

Flavor:  3/10
Spice:  10/10
Overall:  6.5/10       This is not your backyard barbecue hot sauce.  What it lacks in flavor, it more than makes up for in spice.  It is certainly not my favorite hot sauce, but it is definitely a go-to if I’m feeling like having a good sweat while eating.

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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

Hong Kong (Part 1)- 10 Points For Slytherin For Going Hog Wild

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Hey everyone!  Sorry for the long hiatus on the posts, but I have just returned after a whirlwind adventure through the Far East for the Korean Thanksgiving holiday.  During my travels, I sampled many different foods that ranged from the more standard fare to the downright bizarre and frightening at times.  Today I will be talking about the first day of foods that I sampled when I touched down in Hong Kong.

As soon as I got settled in my hostel, I asked the front desk where I could eat some good snake.  They directed me to the Sogo department store because they thought I meant, “snack”.  I clarified by making a sidewinding motion with my hands, and their eyes lit up with a mixture of excitement and slight bewilderment at the fact that a foreigner would want to search out such a food not normally served for western palates.  Either way, they gave me the address of a place called Lee Kum Kee which is located in Central outside of the Causeway Bay metro station a little bit north of the intersection of Percival and Lockhart Road.

It's the red and yellow sign.

It’s the red and yellow sign.

Before I even entered, I saw it was one of the few shops on the block that didn’t have any English on the front of it and had various types of cooked game hanging from hooks in the front window.IMG_0713IMG_0723  Time to go into the unknown.

As soon as I stepped in the room, the whole place somewhat stopped to see the foreigner who was foolish enough to wander into a locals only place.  However, they were very cordial and gave me an English menu.  If you don’t like being hustled about or are claustrophobic, don’t come to this place because I was put at a table with strangers since there was no room anywhere else in the dining room.

Interior of Lee Kum Kee.  Really old school.

Interior of Lee Kum Kee. Really old school.

I showed them that I wanted the snake soup (60 HK), and they were even more incredulous that I was going for the gusto after intruding their little culinary sanctuary.  When it came out, I was surprised at how it looked.  I was expecting some skin or at least some scales, but it looked more like egg drop soup garnished with pita chips, lotus petals, and grass.

Ssssome ssssuper sssnake sssoup

Ssssome ssssuper sssnake sssoup

However, I realized it must be snake soup when I saw them butchering some serpents in the back, and the actual meat didn’t look like beef or pork or chicken.  Overall, it was pretty tasty.  I would liken the taste of the meat to chicken even though it didn’t look like it, and I really enjoyed the texture variants with the crunchy, fried pieces of bread and reedy lemongrass that gave the soup a slight tang with every spoonful.  While I was enjoying my soup, a new group of three customers sat down at my table during the lunch rush, and they were looking at what I was eating.  The biggest guy of the group introduced himself and his friends as Chinese nationals from Guangdong province who work in Hong Kong for the day, and they were surprised to not only see me there but also how well I ate with chopsticks.  They were really friendly though and offered me some of their steamed, tennis-ball yellow Hainan chicken which was extremely succulent.  The bowl of soup wasn’t enough, so I also ordered a bowl of barbecued pork and beef over steamed rice with a free side of broccoli greens (40 HK).IMG_0716  My word.  The Hong Kong locals know how to live high on the hog because the pork stole the show with it’s crunchy, carmel brown, sweet skin which encased a savory interior that was the right level of salty that would be balanced out by the rice.  I couldn’t help myself from scarfing at down because I haven’t had that sort of sweet barbecue since leaving the States for Korea.

Moving on from there, I had to get something to drink since the hot cup of Hong Kong tea really didn’t quench my thirst since it was at least 95 F outside and humid.  So I went into a convenience store to get a bottle of fruit spike tea (8 HK). IMG_0736 I don’t really know what they really were trying to say, but it was a very herbal tea that could fall into the range of Chinese herbal medicine.  It’s not as enjoyable as a Lipton Brisk ice tea or anything like that, but it was cold and more traditional which did the job for me.  Finally, there was the matter of dessert.  I eventually saw a line of Chinese customers lined up around the block at this place that was advertised in Chinese, but then below it it said, “Super Bowl Snack”.

This place needs no cheerleaders.

This place needs no cheerleaders.

I didn’t see any footballs around, but it must be popular enough to have a line long enough as one of John Madden’s signature/hilarious ramblings.  When I came up to the counter, I got one “super bowl” (6 HK), and the guy used a bowl to stick two sticks into the substance while putting another bowl over it and flipping it to remove it from the original bowl.  I would have thought it was going to be cold since he was taking the bowls out of a cooler, but it was piping hot.

Funkiest popsicle ever.

Funkiest snack ever.

I thought it would be chocolate, but I ran into my old nemesis:  red beans.  This dessert ended up being some sort of gelatinous dough that contained tons of red beans.  Needless to say, I took a couple hearty bites but couldn’t go any further.  At least everything else I had was delicious.  Then there was dinner.

I made a friend at the hostel, Tom, earlier in the day, so he became my travel buddy for my stay in Hong Kong.  Before going out in Lan Kwai Fung, the party center of Hong Kong, we went out to Zhong Guo Song which is right off Lan Kwai Fung on Wo On Lane.

Just look for yellow and green.

Just look for yellow and green.

They advertised healthier Chinese food with no MSG and less oil.  Tom and I both went for the Yongzhou rice (40 HK), but I got the Thai spice ribs (65 HK) while he got the orange spice chicken. IMG_0741 All of it was fantastic and tasted like they lived up to their promise of no MSG and less oil.  The ribs were delectable since the sauce actually had a bit of a peppery bite to each bite, but the downside was that there were random bony pieces with no meat on them.  Tom’s chicken had less bones, and the orange sauce was like eating orange chicken back home at Panda Express.  As for the rice, it was a fried rice which contained plump shrimp, scallions, egg, peas, and carrots.  We were properly stuffed by the end of the amazing meal which was a reflection of the fun time we had later that night watching the United match followed by bar hopping down Lan Kwai Fung.

So to recap day one, I’d recommend snake at Lee Kum Kee, great Cantonese food at Zhong Guo Song, and stay away from super bowl desserts unless you really like red beans.  Coming up next, I finally grapple with the stinky durian fruit and try a Hong Kong fusion breakfast.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Red Beans!

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So I don’t know if this post could really hold a candle to my previous post (See Crazy Karate) where I ate a live octopus, but it’s about food that almost everyone around the world loves:  ice cream.  Whenever I’m traveling to different countries/regions of the USA, I like to see what sort of twists the locals can put on foods that I recognize in order to accommodate local palates.  With ice cream in South Korea, it’s no different even when it comes to an American chain that most people would recognize:  Baskin Robbins.  Before I get to some good old-fashioned American ice cream that has been Koreanized, let me quickly mention a purely Korean treat that I tried after going to Jongmyo temple with my friends.

I had kept on hearing about the different types of traditional Korean desserts like the ubiquitous rice cake or even 팥빙수 patbingsu which is shaved ice traditionally topped with azuki beans, fruit, and yogurt.  I’ve never tried it, but while rummaging through the ice cream bin at the CU convenience store, I stumbled upon a red bean popsicle.IMG_0468  Thankfully, it was a 2+1 deal, so I got other flavors as chasers to this red bean one if it was really terrible.  I was glad I did that because this bean-laden ice pop did not beat the unbearable heat and humidity.

That ain't right

That ain’t right

When I bit into it, I was immediately immersed in a world of whole red beans.  The medium in which the beans were suspended didn’t have much flavor, but I was overwhelmed by the savory sweet sensation.  It definitely wasn’t a good choice.  However, Baskin Robbins didn’t disappoint in terms of trying strange new foods.

My friend Carolyn and I decided to get dessert after a small dinner, and that naturally led us to Baskin Robbins since she has a major sweet tooth while I’ve never been to one in Korea.  I scanned the menu for something beyond the typical cone and cup binary, and my eyes wandered over to the “frozen desserts” section.  They were cheaper than ice cream, but the names sounded so odd like “Apogato” and “Honeybread”.  Definitely not like the ice cream shops back home.  I eventually settled on a snow mochi (2,000 won) and a biscuit choux (2,000 won).IMG_0495

Koreans love their French

Koreans love their French

I started with the snow mochi since I had already had mochi before.  For those who don’t know what mochi is, it’s a type of rice dough similar to Korea’s tteok where it’s quite pliable and has a neutral flavor.  I picked up the little pink ice ball and bit into it.

Phase 1:  face to face

Phase 1: face to face

I don’t know what it was, perhaps my love for gummi candy, but the mochi’s rubbery texture combined with the hard, cold ice cream really made me love this small treat.  Plus, the mochi was strawberry flavored which resulted in a fruity vanilla swirl that would be hard to beat.

Phase 2:  Entry

Phase 2: Entry

In the center, there was some sort of gelatinous fruit that I assumed was more strawberry paste, but overall, I was quite satisfied with the snow mochi.

Phase 3:  Sweet victory

Phase 3: Sweet victory

With the bar set high by the snow mochi, the biscuit choux was bound to not live up to the same expectations.  While the outside had the same appearance as some sort of dry pastry (choux is the same dough used in eclairs), when I bit into it I was greeted with some chocolate hidden treasure. IMG_0500 This was the only bright point of the biscuit choux.

Chocotastic

Chocotastic

The ice cream was great with a rich milk chocolate flavor and high butterfat content, but the pastry was a mere spectator to the show that was our dessert.  Alas, it was flaky and flavorless.  While the mochi was exotic and entertaining like a Cirque du Soleil show, the biscuit felt like this, entertaining but falling a bit flat.

Either way, I highly recommend that you try some Baskin Robbins while you’re in Korea if you’re looking for some delicious ice cream.  As for the red bean popsicles, I’m going to give them the cold shoulder in the future.

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