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Poppin’ Molly, I’m Sweatin’! (Portland, Finale)

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Well, I’ve finally managed to come to the end of my sojourn through the wilds of Portland’s culinary scene, and this final post is a fitting finale to the adventure.  Fitting in the sense that I manage to go out in a blaze of glory instead of just fading away a la Kurt Cobain minus the whole dubious suicide and artistic angst.  Instead, I grapple with another spicy food challenge at local eatery Salvador Molly’s.  It’s a bit outside of the city center, and you have to take a bus out to the hill country to get there.  However, it’s a unique dining experience that you can’t get anywhere else in Portland.

Now, I’ve survived my fair share of uber-spicy food that would make any normal human’s taste buds melt immediately.  The medium of fiery madness has ranged from soup, chicken wings, and even a deep fried pork cutlet, but Salvador Molly’s Great Balls of Fire challenge managed to switch it up once more pushing me to my culinary, physical, and mental limit.  The exterior of the restaurant gives off a hippie/Caribbean vibe with its tropical plants and vibrant color schemes, and the interior is even more fascinating.IMG_3881IMG_3880  Buddhist prayer flags were streaming overhead while the walls were adorned with African folk art murals along with Mexican artisanal crafts. IMG_3882 Upon sitting down and scanning the menu, I could see that they had food from all corners of the globe including the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hawaii to name a few.  I was initially drawn to the Jamaican Roti wraps, but I decided to go for Pele’s Volcano sandwich ($9.50) since it had some interesting ingredients.  Along with this, I asked to get the Great Balls of Fire challenge (7 balls, $7.95).  The waitress was hesitant, and asked me if I wanted to just try one to make sure I knew I was getting into.  The only thing I knew was that they were made out of habenero peppers, and I could eat those no problem.  So once I agreed to it, she wrote it down on her paper pad like a death sentence for a doomed prisoner.  While I was waiting, I saw that on the wall next to my table there was a couple of pictures on the wall chronicling the brave souls who pitted their wits against the flame-infused orbs and survived.

The few, the proud, the spiceheads.

The few, the proud, the spiceheads.

In my mind, I could see my picture going up there as well by the end of my meal.  That’s half the battle with food challenges, envisioning yourself triumphing over the massive obstacle placed in front of you.  Eventually both came out, and the sandwich looked more intimidating than the food challenge.IMG_2693  I knew I was in real trouble when they made me sign the waver saying that I couldn’t sue them if needed a colostomy compliments of their tortuous habanero appetizer.IMG_2692  They also pointed out the warning sign next to my table that was in other parts of the restaurant as well.IMG_2691  Not too scary at all, but I had a plan.  I wouldn’t be rushing headfirst into the gates of hell without a trusty thick coating to my stomach which was what the Pele sandwich was for.  It different than what I was expecting because it was more like a toaster oven pizza than a traditional sandwich.   As for its name, Pele is the goddess of volcanoes in Hawaiian culture, and I was expecting real fireworks to be happening on my palate.  Instead, it was more like a poorly made sparkler in the middle of a rainstorm.  Lots of fizzle and no sizzle.  A majority of the mediocrity derived from the toasted but cold and soggy, compliments of the toppings, bread.  The pork was average, but the only redeeming factor was the tamarindo bbq sauce that was tangy and sweet with a slightly herbal aftertaste compliments of the tamarind infusion in the sauce.  I was more partial to the hurricane garlic fries that took my taste buds by storm with their crispy exteriors and garlicky interiors.

My eyes then turned to my rotund morsels that threatened my existence as onlookers at another table bade me good luck before I dug in.IMG_2694  They even took out their camera phones to take a few snapshots before I possibly spontaneously combusted mid-meal.IMG_2696  They then got their food but always kept one eye on me as I began the challenge.  I gnawed on the first one as I put my figurative toe in the lava pool to make sure it was just right.  Inside the first fritter, it seemed to be filled with pieces of habanero and cheesy batter, and the spice was coming in hot and heavy waves over my tongue.  It was manageable though as I quickly popped balls 2-6 into my mouth with gusto.  The other diners’ jaws fell on their tables as they couldn’t believe that I devoured the fireballs just as quickly as they came to my table.  However, I was starting to feel a rumbling in my tummy as my mouth was more or less numb, sweat covered my face, and my heart was racing.  The final morsel slid down my gullet while leaving deep, spicy, smarting claw marks on my palate. I mopped up the sweet mango salsa as I gallantly destroyed the Great Balls of Fire Challenge.  The waitress was impressed as she took my picture for the “Great Wall of Flame”, and I got to write a memorable quote on it for everyone to see when they walk into the restaurant. IMG_2699 Once the fanfare ended, I sat there digesting the weapon-grade fritters that were smoldering in my stomach.  I asked for a cup of milk to quell the firebomb that was spreading throughout my gastro-intestinal tract.  I left that restaurant to walk through a monsoon, but I was more troubled with the sensation that felt like someone was disemboweling me.  I could see why they made me sign the waiver because they could have been in real legal trouble with people with less fortitude than I.  I struggled with the pain these little hellions brought for the rest of the afternoon/evening, so I warn everyone that the Great Balls of Fire Challenge will burn you if you don’t have the stomach for it.

So if you want a slightly overpriced menu that really highlights the diversity of Portland’s population or try your hand at consuming edible fireballs, check out Salvador Molly’s!
Salvador Molly's on Urbanspoon

Goooooooood Afternoon, Vietnam! (Portland, Part 5)

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So today’s post is going to be short and savory like the meal I will be entailing.  While I decided to have one of my spooky baked treats from Voodoo Doughnuts for breakfast on Friday morning, I decided that lunch would take place at one of the many food cart villages that can be found throughout Portland.  The concierge told me when I checked in to check out Alberta Street’s food carts, but it was a bit too far out of the way for my liking.  So, I remembered that I passed by a large pod of carts when going down SW 5th Ave. to the Pioneer Square stop in the heart of downtown Portland.  Even though it was raining, it didn’t put a damper on my experience.

As I made my way down the block long and deep hamlet of food hawkers, there was so much affordable food diversity it made me want to fall to my knees and praise the sustenance gods.  After living in a monoculture for a year like Korea, you really appreciate the diversity of the USA. IMG_2655 However, Korea was represented with two carts that seemed to push both fusion and traditional Korean cuisine.IMG_2659IMG_2658  Along with noms from the Land of the Morning Calm, they had Indian, Mexican, Greek, Iraqi, Italian, Chinese, American, Thai, and Vietnamese eateries.IMG_2589 IMG_2588 The last option would end up being my lunch for the day as I finally chalked off a basic foodie necessity in the great book of “Food You Must Try”:  banh mi.  For those who are new to Vietnamese cuisine, a banh mi is essentially a Vietnamese sandwich, but it is much more than a sliced piece of bread stuffed with a plethora of mouth-watering ingredients.  It was born out of Vietnamese subjugation by the French during the Age of Colonialism.  When two very different cultures come in contact, you can be certain if anything will be exchanged, it will be different types of food and drink.  While the Vietnamese introduced the French to indigenous specialties like pho, the French brought their wizardry with baked goods to the people of Vietnam.  The ubiquitous French baguette quickly became integrated into the Vietnamese food landscape in the form of banh mi.  The locals took the baguette recipe, compliments of their European overlords, and tweaked it to have a slightly lighter consistency than the ones found back in La Patrie (France).  After that, the Vietnamese people filled these baguettes with Vietnamese ingredients to give birth to one of the most famous examples of fusion food before it became a buzzword coined by Mr. Puck.  I had never tried it before much to the dismay of some of my friends, so when I saw the very unassuming Vietnamese cart that didn’t even have a sign up, I knew I had to try it.IMG_2661  If they didn’t have to advertise, they must be good.  The head cook beckoned me over with a hello and a smile, and after looking over the large list of banh mi, spring rolls, and pho, I got the grilled pork banh mi ($3).  As soon as I finished my transaction, I turned around to see a crowd behind me, so perhaps I either beat the lunch rush or led the charge to try something new.  It eventually was handed to me, and it looked absolutely beautiful. IMG_2664 It tasted just as sublime as well.  First, I crunched my way through the crispy crust of the baguette to the chewy white interior which really did taste airier than a French baguette.  I then reached the promised land of juicy grilled pork, onions, verdant peppers, pickled carrots, and plenty of cilantro for an herbal punch right in the taste buds. All of this, combined with the sweet and spicy Sriracha sauce, left me greatly satisfied and ready to take on the rest of the day.  I highly recommend banh mi and checking out Portland’s food cart scene.

Taiwan (Part 3)- Hot Pot to Trot in Taipei

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Hey everybody!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  While I’m still here keeping it cool and kickin’ it live in South Korea, I am slowly but surely winding down the last of my Chinese adventure posts where I try some weird and wacky foods that you just can’t find in Korea or anywhere else for that matter.  Today is a bit on the tamer side where I started off my day with a typical Taiwanese breakfast with my friend David’s family.

We went to a really small place that specialized in three key elements of a Taipei breakfast:  fantuan, youtiao, and soy milk.  First, there is the youtiao.  A lot of people back home in the States skip breakfast because they’re in a hurry or just don’t feel like whipping up a bowl of cereal (as if that takes a long time).  In Taipei, you can get the youtiao to go, and I know I would make it an occasional part of my morning routine.  The reason being is that youtiao is basically fried dough or the Taiwanese version of a doughnut.

Fried dough and milk?  I'll take it!

Fried dough and milk? I’ll take it!

You can eat it plain or dip it in some soy sauce if you’re looking for a savory side to your doughnut.  It wasn’t sugary at all like Western doughnuts, but it had a rich, buttery flavor and was not sopping in grease which was refreshing.  We even got a more modernized version of it with a  piece of youtiao and a mini egg and green onion omelet stuffed inside a sesame and poppy seed coated flatbread which is called  shāobǐng yóutiáo (燒餅油條) or youtiao flatbread.IMG_2587  I could only relate it back to a heartier and better version of the Egg McMuffin.  The flatbread was light and airy while the sesame seeds interacted well with the green onions in the eggs.  The other part of my breakfast was a fantuan which consisted of the aforementioned youtiao, pork floss, and pickled radish encapsulated in a layer of sticky rice.  While it was roughly the size of a potato, I was full after eating just one.  The cooks packed in a lot of tender, savory pork along with old, stiff youtiao that provided a spine of stability to the otherwise squishy foodstuff.  I washed all of it down with a iced cup of soymilk which was slightly sweetened but still maintained an earthiness that reminded me that I was drinking soybeans.  You can get your soymilk either iced or served warm in a bowl on the side like soup. Once we filled up on a lot of deep fried carbs, Christie and I were off again on another sight seeing adventure which would eventually bring us to the top of the Taipei 101 tower where we tried a beer float since we had two for one coupons.  It was pretty much a cup of Taiwanese beer with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it.

Classiest drink on top of the world

Classiest drink on top of the world

It wasn’t anything special, but it got better towards the end when the ice cream melted and blended with the light lager.

Christie obviously enjoyed her free drink

Christie obviously enjoyed her free drink

After the Taipei 101 Tower while we were walking and talking, I brought up how much I enjoyed taro root in my boba tea, so she took me to a dessert stand that was kind of like a make-your-own-sundae but focused mainly on taro root paste.IMG_0934  For about 200 TWD, you can get three different ingredients in your bowl.  I picked the taro root paste, tapioca balls, and pineapple.  They had other ingredients like this clear jelly, kiwi slices, and red bean paste to name a few.

Oodles of ingredients

Oodles of ingredients

They lumped all of it into a bowl along with some shaved ice so that it became more like a soup I had to scoop into my mouth.IMG_0937  Obviously, my favorite part was the tapioca balls because they were chewy and sugary, but the lumpy taro root kind of put a damper on my sugar rush since it was just a lumbering giant in a room of nimble tapioca sprites. Another sweet deal (pun intended) that they don’t charge you for is you can add as much ice and sugar syrup to your dessert.  I didn’t think mine was that sweet, so I gave it another ladle full of the syrup.  It was a bad choice.  I could only finish 3/4ths of it before I had to stop because it felt like my teeth were going to fall out, and I was about to have insta-Diabetes.  Word to the wise and Lil’ Wayne, go easy on the syrup.  I didn’t eat anything after that, and we had a brisk walk to multiple parks and temples before sitting down with the family for a late dinner in the middle of a typhoon rainstorm.

This dinner was like deja-vu for me once again because we were having hot pot.  I had had it before with the Wu family on New Year’s Eve 2012, and it had more of a spicy flair to it thanks to the Sichuan peppers they used in the pot.  However, Christie couldn’t take the really spicy stuff, so we only had a medium spice level on one side and a mild broth on the other.  However, that didn’t stop me from trying some new items on the menu like ligaments, Mitsuyaki jelly, and shrimp paste tempura.

Like bobbing for apples but more dangerous

Like bobbing for apples but more dangerous

How hot pot works is that you literally have a pot that is heated until boiling in the middle of the table, and then you throw everything in and eat it when it’s fully cooked.  Easy peasy.  I personally preferred the spicier side, per usual, and the contents of the pot did not disappoint.  For my first plate, I went all meat lovers on it.

Ligament on the left, beef up top, and two pieces of duck blood

Ligament on the left, beef up top, and two pieces of duck blood

I had duck blood which was as good as the Moon Cake dinner’s version but a bit spicier due to the broth it had been simmering in.  Then there was the pork and beef which were high quality cuts with very little fat and sliced almost paper thin to almost dissolve on the tongue.   Then there were my ligaments.  Now, they might sound like some terrible eats, but I have to disagree.   True, it may have taken a bit of chewing, but the rubbery texture gives way eventually and soaks up a lot of the flavor from the other meats bobbing in the devilish red soup.  When I was done gnashing away on the ligaments, I moved on to my second plate.IMG_0944  Here we can see the pork meatballs that were original residents in the spicy side of the bowl until I relocated their savory and seasoned selves to a new one floor house in my stomach.  Then there were the nuggets of shrimp paste that congealed and cooked in the spicy broth to create small shrimp clumps that tasted fried yet were boiled.  The lamb was on par with the beef and pork.  The final part of my plate consisted of the jelly noodles that I had never seen before.  IMG_0940They weren’t really that different from other Asian noodles in terms of taste and texture, but they looked more gelatinous and almost alien-like with their pre-cooked color compared to their more beige-hued state after stewing in the spicy broth.  Then there was my drink that was unlike anything I’ve ever had.

Darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.  Yeah, right.

Darker the berry, the sweeter the juice. Yeah, right.

To get drinks in this hot pot restaurant, you just got up and grabbed a bottle from the back freezers.  I saw normal stuff like Lipton iced tea and lemonade, but I saw a dark bottle with everything written in Chinese.  Naturally, I took the plunge.  It was an experience right off the bat.  First, to open the bottle, you had to use a sharp edge on the top of the cap to open the safety seal over the mouth of the bottle.  Then as I poured the extremely dark brown liquid into my cup, my dining companions informed me that it was plum juice, but I must drink it with ice to combat the strong taste.  I thought, ‘Really?  I thought plums were supposed to be sweet, and I love plums.  How bad could it be?’  It was unlike any plum I have ever tasted.  Instead, it tasted like I was drinking a bottle of barbecue sauce.  I don’t know if the ice mitigated any of the strong flavor, but it had all the smoky, mesquite-tinged makings of a grade A sauce to slap on a rack of ribs or some chicken breast.  That was a strange finish to an otherwise flawless dinner, and my night didn’t end there as I went out to two clubs in Taiwan while walking though a typhoon multiple times in the process.  If it wasn’t for my strong “plum” juice, I’d have withered in the face of the howling wind and rain instead of getting my groove on.

Hot pot dinner, I hardly knew ye

Hot pot dinner, I hardly knew ye

Next up, the last chapter in my Taiwan adventures where I eat the head of an animal.  A capybara?  A rabbit? A rat? You’ll just have to wait and see!

Everything’s Bigger in Itaewon

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Hello and welcome to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  Today’s review is going to be short and sweet since I have to actually ready for a big week of teaching.  Tomorrow a new co-teacher is starting with me, and I’m quite scared since she doesn’t have any teaching experience or experience with children.  Well, at least I had a great meal today with great memories I can savor when things are possibly going downhill in the classroom.

My friend Steph and I went to Seoul to see the Tim Burton art exhibit, and it was quite the experience.  There were sooooo many people, but overall it was a fun time.  Eventually all of that walking got us really hungry.  So Steph asked me what I wanted to eat.  I might have wanted to try a new galbi place, but I really had a craving for a legit burger.  Therefore, we headed to Itaewon to The Wolfhound which apparently has the best burger in Seoul.IMG_1369  Now that might not be saying much since there aren’t many legitimate burger restaurants outside of Itaewon, but I’m always down to try new places.  It was down a side alley, but upon walking in it was like any normal Irish pub themed restaurant/bar in the States.  There was no one in the place, so it was nice to get away from the insane crowds we had to battle just to see an original sketch from the Nightmare Before Christmas.  There were a lot of great options on the menu, but I decided to go for the Big Paddy burger (about 12 bucks) since I probably wouldn’t be coming back to the restaurant in a very long time or ever again.

It came out, and I was genuinely impressed.  I could see why it is considered the best burger in Seoul.

So Western it hurts

So Western it hurts

It had a legitimate slab of beef for a patty, cheese, bacon, garlic mayo, and a hefty helping of veggies.  Plus, it came with steak fries on the side.  In Korea, those are probably as rare as a Coelacanth.  Anyway,  I quickly got down to business since I hadn’t eaten since 8:30 in the morning.

Doing work

Doing work

Upon sinking my teeth into the gargantuan burger, I was pleasantly surprised by the beef since it was well seasoned with a definite peppery aftertaste.  The bun was light but did not buckle under the pressure of the burger’s contents.  I also really enjoyed the onions, tomatoes, and lettuce since all were really fresh and were not playing second fiddle to the beef.  The bacon was also pretty good since it was western style with some seasonings on it, and it was cooked to a semi-crispy state.  The staff also provided us with pretty standard condiments like ketchup, mustard, mayo, A1 steak sauce, and Tabasco sauce.  The steak fries didn’t disappoint either.  They were very fresh, not too salty, and had fluffy white interiors.  Overall, this was the best burger I’ve had so far in Korea and closest to the American standard in terms of taste, size, and just overall quality.  So if you want a break from kimchi and seaweed, head on over to The Wolfhound for a little piece of the West in the Far East.

Only for big appetites

Only for big appetites

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.

Spice That’s Twice As Nice

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Hello everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be highlighting an expat haven in Itaewon where one can  find Western quality breakfasts, burgers, and wings when they grow weary of the kimchi and non-existent Korean breakfast food.  I’m talking about Richard Copycat’s All American diner located at 56-13 Itaewon-dong Yongsan-gu Seoul South Korea.

Now, I do enjoy Korean food and trying new things, but it never hurts to go back to food that is familiar to you.  That what I was looking for when I walked into the diner, and I found it and then some.  They have a pretty extensive menu that is filled with familiar breakfast staples like French toast, omelets, and skillets.  Even though they boasted about the quality of their breakfast options in the menu, I was feeling like trying a burger since it was closer to lunch time.  I ended up choosing was the wasabi burger.  It had cheddar and pepper jack cheese, jalapenos, and a wasabi infused mayo.  Yeah, you read that right, Japanese horseradish and mayo together in one potentially overwhelming combination.IMG_1305

When it came out, I was bracing myself for Western portions, but it was Korean sized which kind of wasn’t worth the 14,000 won.  Plus, as most people have already commented before on the internet, the service at this restaurant is very slow.  If you ask them for a refill or for free pickles, they either take twice as long as they should or forget in regard to drink refills.  Qualms aside, it was a pretty funky burger in a good way.  The bun was buttery and held the sandwich together quite well even with the copious amounts of wasabi mayo applied to the bottom bun.  The beef patty was thick and succulent, but the cheddar cheese was pedestrian even though it was so unnaturally orange that it almost looked like I was eating a sunny-side up egg.  However, I greatly enjoyed the spicy elements of this burger.  The jalapenos were pickled like back home, and the wasabi mayo became more and more intense as I proceeded to munch on the burger.  It wasn’t too overpowering like eating a whole mini portion of the Japanese horseradish, but I did have that burning sensation behind my nose that could send any possible congestion packing.  The fries that came with it were average, but I preferred them since they were somewhat underdone and not very salted.  So overall, I would recommend this burger if you’re into trying spicy things and like wasabi.  They do manage to take very potent flavors and pack it into an easy to swallow package.  So if you’re in Itaewon and want a little taste of home while still maintaining a foot in the Far East, try the wasabi burger at the All American Diner.

A Lot(teria) of Food

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Hello to everyone and welcome to another scrumptious edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I was kind of a fatty with how many things I tried, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll never eat at this place again since I don’t like to eat a lot of fast food very often.  The place I’m talking about is Lotteria.  Living in South Korea, it seems that three retail companies run/own everything:  Lotte, HomePlus, and E-Mart.  When I say own everything, their names are even on residential apartment buildings.  Talk about corporate branding run amok but just another little quirk of living in a different place.  Anyway, corporate omnipresence aside, I felt the need to try Lotteria since I never heard of it, and it seemed to be Korea’s answer to McDonalds.

It looked pretty much the same like any fancy McDonalds, but I saw some interesting options like squid rings and red crab bites  However, I don’t even eat Filet O’Fishes back at home, so there was no way I was going to be eating seafood here.  I ended up ordering the vegetable rice bulgogi burger and the shake shake chicken.  Oddly, they ended up giving me a Hanwoo Lady burger too for some reason, so I wasn’t going to argue with extra food since I’m pretty sure I’ve lost weight here with all of my radish, seaweed, and fermented cabbage ingestion.  Plus, the burgers are smaller here than in the States, naturally.

Got rice cake?

Got rice cake?

I started with the Hanwoo burger that consisted of Hanwoo beef and rice cake mixed into one patty with peppers, gochujang (red pepper sauce), mayo, and lettuce on top.  To start off, the patty was kind of bizarre.  I could taste the succulent beef, but I was oddly grossed out by the rice cake since it added a rubbery texture that offset the great beef.  I enjoyed the condiments too since it added a slightly spicy, Korean twist on an already interesting burger.  Once I got over that first mini-course, I tried the vegetable rice bulgogi burger.  This really threw me for a loop as I saw that the buns were actually made of steamed rice and dotted with corn, seaweed, and carrots.IMG_1282  Even though you would think eating a burger with rice for buns would be an absolute mess, it surprised me greatly at its versatility.  The rice, mayo, and bulgogi all came together perfectly like three drunk Korean businessmen at a noraebang (karaoke room).  It was something that looked completely ridiculous and excessive (especially with the mayo that I scraped off), but it wasn’t too bad overall.  The final act in this three-part gastronomic play was the shake shake chicken

And I helped!

And I helped!

.  It was basically the Korean fast food version of Shake and Bake.  I put the “Mexican chili” powder in the bag and shook away.  What I ended up with was small pieces of succulent chicken with what seemed like a cumin based chili powder.  I was just glad it wasn’t overly salty like ramen chili powder or Cajun powder they use on Five Guys fries.  Overall, I was pleased that I tried Lotteria because it led to me finding a mountain bridge in my neighborhood during a brisk walk after eating.  Who says fast food is solely a bad thing?

Where’s the Kimchi?

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Hello once again to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today’s review is about my brief encounter with one of the most American/global restaurants in the world in South Korea.  I’m talking about the golden arches, the clown, or the corporation everyone loves to hate:  McDonalds.

These cops aren't clowning around

These cops aren’t clowning around

We had  just visited the oldest Buddhist village in Korea, so naturally we topped off our field trip with a visit to one of the most controversial American exports.  Politics and dietary qualms aside, I always am interested in trying what each country has to offer on the menu.  Even though I was disappointed that they didn’t offer kimchi or rice for sides instead of fries, I decided to get a bulgogi (marinated Korean beef) burger and a choco-berry McFlurry for dessert (courtesy of my friend, Lauren.  What a sweetheart).mcdonalds-korea-bulgogi-burger  The bulgogi burger was quite interesting since it managed to capture the essence of the marinade used on the traditional Korean beef dish while supplementing it with a bed of lettuce and mayonnaise.  It was a smooth and sweet barbecue rush to the tastebuds while the mayo gave it a nice tangy aftertaste.IMG_1195  As for the choco-berry McFlurry, it tasted like a chocolate and raspberry milkshake.  Even though I’m not the biggest fan of fruit and chocolate, it was acceptable.  All in all, McDonalds in Korea was ok but not as crazy as I thought it was going to be.  However, they do deliver here which is very different from the States.

Annyeong Haseyo, deliciousness!

Annyeong Haseyo, deliciousness!

A Curse of Deliciousness

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Hello to everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!!  Today I will be talking about a Chicago institution that was immortalized in a Saturday Night Live skit with John Belushi:  The Billy Goat Tavern and Grill located at 430 N. Michigan Ave at Lower Level, Chicago, IL.  Chicago__Billy_Goat_Tavern_1b

Upon walking into the restaurant, I was greeted with a sign that said, “Welcome to the Billy Goat Tavern.  Enter at your own risk”.  Lovely.  However, it’s just another part of the overall ambiance of the place that started all the way back in 1934 with the original owner, William “Billy Goat” Sianis.  He was a diligent business owner and placed a curse on the Chicago Cubs that has to this day prevented them from winning a World Series.  Upon closer inspection of the decor, you can see rows upon rows of pictures of Chicago history and a veritable who’s who of famous people from all over the world.  However, let’s get back to the food.  Upon approaching the lunch counter, I was expecting to go through the Saturday Night Live dialogue of, “Cheeborger Cheeborger!  You want fries?  No fries, chips!  You want Pepsi?  No Pepsi, Coke!”.  Instead, I was confronted with a very mild mannered worker who went about his business while I ordered a double cheeseburger and a Sprite and no chips.  I’m quite sure if Mr. Belushi was behind the counter, he would have jumped over the counter like the madman that he was and scold me for my unorthodox choices.

"ONLY CHEEBORGERS!!"

“ONLY CHEEBORGERS!!”

Once they grilled up my burger on a classic greasy spoon type of griddle, it was served to me on a simple sheet of wax paper.  Even though it was spartan in presentation, I kind of liked it since it brought me back to a simpler time.  I then made my way over to the condiment station where they have bottles of ketchup and mustard, diced and slices of white onions, sweet relish, and slices of dill pickles.  I decided to pile it high with a handful of dill pickle slices and a thick slice of onion topped with a moderate amount of ketchup and mustard.

Bulls, Bears, Burgers...Ditka

Bulls, Bears, Burgers…Ditka

The first bite I took was fantastic.  The kaiser roll was thick and fresh, and the beef was succulent with slightly greasy undertones.  As for the pickles, they were just the right amount of sour, and the onion slice provided a nice change of texture.  Plus, it wasn’t very overpowering in terms of taste which made me think that it was probably a Bermuda onion.  Each slice of American cheese was perfectly melted to hold the juicy patties together to form one delicious hamburger.  The only downside was of my own creation because the ketchup and mustard made the onion slippery which in turn made the top bun slide everywhere.  It was a rookie mistake by yours truly, but it did not take away from my experience.

So if you’re looking for a good, old-fashioned diner in Chicago to get a solid cheeborger, check out Billy Goat Tavern.  As they say at the restaurant, “Butt in anytime!”

 

Billy Goat Tavern on Urbanspoon

World Famous Billy Goat's Tavern & Grill on Foodio54

One Tasty Mofo

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Hello to everyone out there on the interwebz and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Since I’m finally recovering from the crazy Super Bowl weekend, this will be a relatively short post.  Actually, it revolves around a restaurant/bar that I tried in downtown Chicago that apparently is one, or perhaps the, sports bar to watch Chicago sports or any event for that matter.  I’m talking about Mother Hubbards located at 5 W Hubbard St  Chicago, IL 60654.

I had actually never been to this place until someone suggested that we should check it out for Superbowl Sunday.  Naturally, I am always down for a new adventure, so we made our way over to the establishment.  As soon as we walked in, I could see what all of the hullabaloo was about.  The walls were figuratively made of televisions, but it was definitely a good sign that I was not going to have to jerk my head about like a goon to catch a good view of the epic match-up between the Ravens and 49ers.  Since I didn’t feel too hungry, I decided to go with something on the lighter side of the menu.  I saw that they have the typical bar food like ribs, burgers, and Chicago hotdogs, but the “make your own grilled cheese” option seemed to be more fitting for my appetite at the time.  There were so many options that I felt almost like a manically giggling Xzibit on Pimp My Sandwich, but I repressed my foodie urges to not scare our waitress.

"Yo dawg, I heard you like grilled cheez sandwiches, so we put grilled cheez sandwiches in your grilled cheez!"

“Yo dawg, I heard you like grilled cheez sandwiches, so we put grilled cheez sandwiches in your grilled cheez!”

I ended up choosing Chihuahua and Pepper Jack topped with Guacamole and fresh jalapenos on grilled rye bread.  Plus, it came with a side of fries and a cup of homemade chicken vegetable soup.IMG_1100

When it finally came out, I was a bit underwhelmed by how small it seemed to be.  It didn’t really seem to have the bombastic presentation of a previous grilled cheese restaurant we visited (See The Big Cheese).  However, I was not planning on judging a sandwich by its crust.  In reality, I found the sandwich to be a great fusion of Latino flavors with an American comfort food staple.  Starting with the bread, it was pan-grilled to golden perfection, and the fleeting caresses of the caraway seeds provided an extra je ne sais quoi.  The cheeses were plentiful but didn’t have very strong flavors.  I know that the two aforementioned types of cheese aren’t blues by any means, but I would have appreciated a little more pop from the Pepper Jack.  As for the guacamole, I’m not sure what separated it from the avocado option on the option, but it just seemed like they mashed up an avocado for my sandwich.  There weren’t any discernible onions, tomatoes, and/or lime flavors that I am accustomed to tasting in any standard guacamole.  It wasn’t a terrible spread but merely average.  The jalapenos, on the other hand, were very fresh rings of seed packed flavor discs.  They were crunchy and  nipping my taste buds like a herd of feral Chihuahuas.  Plus, I found that even though there was a generous helping of the guacamole on top of the jalapenos, not once did I fear for the safety of my sandwich.  Normally these types of sandwiches with slippery spreads fall apart very quickly when you’re on a feeding frenzy, but Mother Hubbards makes a tasty and well-constructed bite to eat.  As for the fries and soup, the fries were pretty tasty since they were golden and crispy and barely greasy.  The soup was naturally the perfect side for the sandwich, and the hearty chunks of chicken and fresh carrots and onions fortified me against the bone-chilling Chicago winter gusts I encountered after the game.  The entire dining experience was enjoyable, and the wait staff was very attentive throughout the game.  Even though my team didn’t win, I felt I scored a mini-victory in choosing a tasty menu option.

So if you’re looking for a solid sports bar to watch your favorite team or a place to hold a boisterous get together with equally loud flavors, then come on down to Mother Hubbards!

Mother Hubbard's Sports Pub on Urbanspoon

Mother Hubbard's on Foodio54

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