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Some Really Mean Cuisine

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Ah, Spring!  You have been nothing but cryptic so far in Chicago.  You have teased us with near bearable temperatures only to blindside the city with waves of freezing rain, snow, and chilly winds.  While the weather might get you down, you definitely should hit up one of the top dim sum places I have ever ate at, including America, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.  The name of this wonderful eatery is MingHin Cuisine.  My girlfriend had been there before and had nothing but great things to say about it.  It is located in the New Chinatown on the northside of Cermak Road right next to the famous Lao Sze Chuan.IMG_5718

When I arrived before Janice, I was greeted with a horde of anxious diners waiting for a table in the bustling main rooms or the side tea room that is devoted solely to the warm brews.  IMG_5719So, I put our name in and got a post it with a number on it.  It’s a simple but functional system they have for alerting customers when their tables are ready.  You have to try and hear your number on the Post-It note being shouted out first in Chinese and then in English above the din of the restaurant.  Eventually, they yelled out my number, and they quickly seated me. IMG_5743 They offered me a selection of teas to sample while I was waiting, so I plumped for a pot of chrysanthemum tea.  Janice took a seat opposite me soon thereafter, and we sipped on the tea that oddly looked like urine.  IMG_5721Thankfully, there was no trick to be had there, but it wasn’t Janice’s cup of tea.  I found it to be quite interesting with its earthy and highly herbal personality, but a bit more intense than the green or black teas I’m used to.  While the tea was warming our bellies, we looked over the two different menus on the table. IMG_5720 One consisted of the dim sum options we could pick from while the other menu was more focused on barbecue.  After much intense deliberation and taking into account Janice’s recommendations from her previous visits, we made our choices.  IMG_5737

The first dishes that came out were from the barbecue menu.  We tried the barbecued spare ribs and the crispy Macau style pork belly ($5.95 each).  Both were fantastic. IMG_5725 The honey spare ribs were lip-smacking good minus the bones, but the taste was similar to Korean kalbi ribs with a soy marinade that was both sweet with a little salt mixed in.  Then there was the pork belly. IMG_5728 Talk about a contrast of flavors and textures.  The top of the meat had a thin yet crunchy skin of sugar and perhaps a bit of cinnamon that was the perfect compliment to the multi-layered and uber-tender and juicy pork.  IMG_5731These nuggets came with a side bowl of sugar to dip them in, but I found it to be a bit excessive.  We also had a side of fried sticky rice, but I was not impressed at all by this bland and flavorless pick.  We moved on from the meaty opening salvo to more traditional dim sum options like the barbecue pork buns, fried sesame balls, siu mai, shrimp egg rolls, and chao zhou dumplings. IMG_5741 All of the dim sum plates are priced based on size with small ($3.15), medium ($3.85), large ($4.25), and special ($5.50).  I won’t go into tons of detail with most these plates since I’ve tried these a million times over.  I did love my bbq pork buns because they were fluffy and filled with that sweet sweet char siu style pork.  As for the sesame balls, the ones at MingHin are my new favorite ones because they aren’t filled with my old enemy of the Far East:  red bean paste. IMG_5733 Instead, they are filled with a more neutral and less obnoxious white bean paste.  What I found out at a later visit is that if you get the giant fried sesame ball, they just give you fried slices of the chewy rice paste that is coated with plenty of savory sesame seeds and no beans to be found.  Another stand out in this meal were the chao zhou dumplings I ordered.  They were filled with pork, but two huge surprises were the crunchy peanuts and the slightly spicy kick with each dumpling.  Another great pick were the shrimp egg rolls. IMG_5739 They were slightly addicting with their crunchy, golden-brown exteriors that were light and not greasy at all with plenty of shrimp inside.  While all of these choices were quite standard, I knew I had to try something new, something slightly frightening to those who are happy to stick with the tried and true favorites.  Enter the pork knuckle and lotus root. IMG_5734 When it was placed in front of me, it looked intimidating, but I’m not one to back down from a culinary challenge.  I picked up a piece of the burgundy flesh, and it was oddly soft.IMG_5742  It was like eating ginger-flavored jelly.IMG_5735  It was slightly unsettling but not terrible once I got used to it.  I also tried one of the lotus roots as well, but it left me with a sour taste in my mouth.  I’m glad I tried it, but I won’t get it again.  I’ll just stick to chicken feet.  By the end of the meal, we were quite happy with the food we got and for the reasonable price.

So, if you’re looking for a new and high quality dim sum eatery, check out MingHin Cuisine!  It’s a small slice of culinary amid the jungle of restaurants, and it’s fun for the whole family!  Afterward, you can check out everything Chinatown has to offer including their square of zodiac signs among many other sights.

Tame rabbits love it

Tame rabbits love it

And wild tigers love it too!

And wild tigers love it too!

MingHin Cuisine on Urbanspoon

How I Learned to Stop Wondering and Love the Bomb

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Ah the sandwich.  One of the most simple yet fluid concepts in food.  Food has long been enveloped or contained in some sort of bread in various cultures across the world, but the actual word can be traced to 18th century England.  Edward Gibbons states that John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich, would ask for his meat to be between slices of bread, so he could eat with his hands while playing cards and not get the cards dirty.  Eventually, people began to ask for their meals, “The same as Sandwich”, and a new word entered the English language.  Today, there are a million ways to put one together that range from the classic peanut butter and jelly to the straight up bizarre.  Today’s edition of Mastication Monologues features a Mexican twist on the food staple in the form of Cemitas Puebla in Chicago.

This eatery in Humboldt Park has received its fair share of publicity after appearing on the Food Network, PBS’s Check Please, and the Hungry Hound a.k.a. Steve Dolinsky from ABC 7 news.  Surprisingly, given that this establishment is located in the heart of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community, it is purely Mexican, specifically from the state of Puebla.  The exterior blends into the neighborhood, and the interior is just as simple.IMG_3557  I went there around lunch, and it was hopping.  The line was moderately long, but the cooks knew how to hustle.  Looking over the menu, the cemitas were dominant, but there were other dishes like tacos, enchiladas, chalupas, and quesadillas to name a few.  I was determined to see what made these south-of-the-border super sandwiches were made of.  I decided to speak in Spanish with the lady at the cash register to maybe get a bit of extra info that the gringos wouldn’t get.  I was torn between the pata (cow foot) or the atomica (atomic) cemita, but the lady recommended the atomica because the cow foot wasn’t very popular and lower quality.  Taking her word for it, I put down $9 for the atomica cemita and a small agua de jamaica to drink ($1.25).

While waiting for my meal, the cashier got my drink from the back freezer along with a couple of squeeze bottles.  She set them down, and I asked about the different salsas in the bottles.  While the two clear ones were filled with some sort of red and green sauces, the woman pointed out the bright yellow bottle of sauce would go the best with the cemita.  I thanked her for the info started sipping on my drink.  Agua de jamaica (literally:  water of hibiscus) is a tea that can be served either hot or cold, the latter in this case, and is an infusion of hibiscus flowers and a bit of sugar.IMG_3564  It’s a great drink for a hot day with a hint of sweetness in each sip, and it has anti-oxidant properties that can lessen the effects of hypertension.  Finally, the star of the show emerged from the grill, and was brought to my table with minimal fanfare.  I was taken aback by how large the sandwich was for the price I paid and then pondered how to tackle this monstrosity?IMG_3559 The atomica consisted of breaded pieces of milanesa (breaded pork), carne enchilada (chili seasoned meat), and jamon (ham).  This meat parade was further accented with adobo chipotle peppers, Oaxacan cheese, and fresh papalo or a green herb used for seasoning. IMG_3560 I took my first bite that consisted me of unhinging my jaws like a reticulated python around a baby hippo, and it truly was a weapon of mass deliciousness. The bun was moderately toasted with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds on top, and it was strong enough throughout the meal to keep these ingredients in check and not on my pants.  Each layer of meat moved from strength to strength as the jamon was salty to compliment the milanesa breading while the breading provided a crunchy contrast to the soft carne enchilada.  I loved the stretchy Oaxacan cheese that was plentiful along with the chunks of creamy avocado.  The papalo was there, but I personally didn’t think it brought much to the table flavor and texture-wise.  Once I was acquainted with my new sandwich friend, I decided to try some of the sauces on the table.  I began with the recommended cemita sauce, and it was a peppery adobo that had a robust, peppery bite to add a savory dimension to the sandwich.IMG_3563  I moved on to the green sauce that had an uncanny resemblance to boogers, but it thankfully didn’t taste the same. IMG_3567 I’d liken it to a flavorful tomatillo salsa with hints of cilantro.  As for the red sauce in the other clear bottle, it was nothing noteworthy.  ‘Twas just another run of the mill tomato based salsa.  Much to my dismay, I wasn’t overly stuffed even though the sandwich probably had over 3,000 calories and could choke a horse.  It was a simple yet thoroughly satisfying lunch.

So if you want to try a unique piece of Mexico beyond tacos and tamales for a reasonable price, check out Cemitas Puebla.

Cemitas Puebla on Urbanspoon

Hong Kong (Part 3)- A Lil’ Dim Sum-Sumthin’

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What is happening, everybody?  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  If you didn’t read my last post, I finally made it to the century mark in terms of blogging, i.e. 100 posts.  So this a small step towards the next 100 posts.  Today continues in the same vein of the last couple of posts where I talk about my food adventures during my Korean Thanksgiving vacation in Hong Kong (Post 1, Post 2), Macau, and Taiwan.  Today I wanted to bring you the food that I enjoyed during my last full day/night in Hong Kong.  We begin with my journey to the quaint fishing village of Tai-O on Lantau Island.

I originally went to Lantau to see the big Buddha statue that I saw on posters and on friends’ Facebooks, but while doing my research, I found out that a lesser known attraction is Tai-O fishing village.  Naturally, I always prefer checking out lesser known spots that aren’t crawling with tourists like a honey-smeared popsicle chillin’ (see what I did there) on top of an anthill.  When we arrived, I saw on my map that the little blurb said that the village was once known as the Venice of Hong Kong due to its location in relation to the sea, and all of the houses are on stilts which creates mini-canals for their boats.  Plus, they have wild pink dolphins.  That’s right.  Flipper and friends got a new paint job courtesy of excess blood vessels under their skin.  If you go to Lantau, skip the Buddha and go on the dolphin tour.  Nothing like whipping around on a tiny fishing boat and seeing these unbelievably beautiful animals in the wild.  Food-wise, obviously it’s a fishing village, so they’re known for their dried fish filets and shrimp paste.

Mmm, dried fish

Mmm, dried fish

However, I’m not the biggest seafood fan, but I do have a sweet tooth.  So, I found another Tai-O specialty:  nougat.  I got a variety pack for 20 HKD that contained black sesame, plain, and green tea chunks, and I did not regret it at all. IMG_0819 It made a great snack while hiking up to see the Buddha and also look out at the pristine forests of the island.  My personal favorite was the black sesame because it tasted like a mix of vanilla, sesame seeds with a slightly earthy aftertaste, and lightly salted almonds.

Some black sesame nougat

Some black sesame nougat

The mix of sticky and crunchy really hit the spot.  After a long day of walking and sightseeing on Lantau Island, I had dinner.

I ended up going to one of the most popular dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong with a Michelin star:  Din Tai Fung located at 20 Canton Rd in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Let me warn you that the wait might be long if you don’t get reservations or are picky about seating.  Thankfully, I timed it perfectly. It was very busy, but I liked the surroundings in the shopping mall and my friend I made at the entrance.

Look at that punam.

Look at that punam.

Main dining room

Main dining room

I started the meal off with some xiaolongbao (小籠包) that had soup on the inside.

Secret soup attack dumplings

Secret soup attack dumplings

You had to be very careful not to bite into them too quickly or else your mouth would be treated to a piping hot broth bath.  So I saw the proper way to eat them was to nibble a hole in the top to let it cool and put some of the soy sauce marinade on the inside.  Then you could pop the little tasty pockets in your mouth once they cooled down.  Before I could even finish my second dumpling, they were bringing out the second and third plates.  One was a mini-bowl of longer dumplings filled with  shrimp and pork, and the other plate had orange spicy chicken. IMG_0828 The longer dumplings were extremely slippery and hard to grab with my chopsticks, but the struggle was worth it.  The skin was tough enough to hold the contents back from erupting all over the bowl, yet tender enough to give way with the slightest grazing of my teeth.  As for the filling, the shrimp and pork was simply decadent with a whole surf and turf meal condensed into one bowl of dumplings.  As for the orange spice chicken, I liked it because it was all white meat coated in a sweet orange sauce that had a gentle spice level, and the dried seaweed garnish was a good addition because it complimented the wet, sweet meat with some dry, crunchy vegetables.  Just when I thought this parade of great food would stop, they bestowed upon us a dumpling the side of probably a newborn baby’s head.

Big old softy

Big old softy

It was more bread than meat, and the bread was sticky yet soft as a cumulus cloud.  Inside I encountered a large, seasoned pork meatball that was similar in taste to the soup dumplings’ interiors.

Big dumpling fall hard

Big dumpling fall hard

I also ordered a bowl of beef noodle soup which is a Taiwanese specialty which made sense I had it there because Din Tai Fung is originally from Taiwan.  I can see why Taiwanese people always crave this national dish.

Elite beef to eat

Elite beef to eat

From the strong and salty beef broth to the tender pieces of beef, it was a solid dish that I’d ask for on any cold day in winter.  Oh yeah, and the noodles were not too bad either.  Finally, I had “dessert” in the form of taro dumplings.

Taro dumplings

Taro dumplings

It was a nice change of pace from all of the aforementioned meat laden dishes, and it was a refreshing way to cleanse the palate of the strong flavors with the slightly sweet purple paste that I always love in my boba tea. IMG_0833 It was a great end to my night, so if you’re looking for great dim sum, check out Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong, but be prepared to wait since the quality and price always ensure that there is a horde of hungry people waiting their turn to try the greatness that awaits them inside.

Next installment, I go to Taiwan and eat out of a toilet.  Need I say more?

Tomatill-Oh So Good

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Hola a todos!  So I’m still living the foodie thug life while on summer vacation here in South Korea, and it is still hotter than a mother-father gentleman.  However, that doesn’t mean that this heat is stopping me from enjoying my free time before second semester starts at the end of the month.  Today I visited a new Mexican restaurant called Tomatillo which is located in Itaewon.  To get there, come out of exit 1, and then make the left you see that doesn’t go into a parking lot.  Then turn right, and it will be there on your left hand side.  Here is their website.IMG_0636IMG_0637

Originally, I was planning on trying some Paraguayan food at Comedor in Itaewon, but since it is Korean Independence Day, not only are the Koreans celebrating their liberation from the Japanese but also their ability to close down their restaurants whenever they want.  Long story short, not many restaurants were open, so we ended up at Tomatillo.  That is not to say that it was a terrible experience.  Quite the opposite.  After scanning the menu, I saw that they served Tex-Mex standards like nachos, tortilla chips with salsa, tacos, burritos, and chimichangas.  I hate to break it to them, but they were calling a taco salad a “tostada”.  Tostadas being one of my favorite Mexican dishes, I was slightly perturbed by this.  At the same time, I realized we were in Korea where they refer to guacamole as “avocado sauce”, so I can’t really be annoyed with them.  I got a barbacoa (braised beef) burrito (9,000 W), a glass of horchata (5,000 W), and a side of chocolate churros  for dessert (4,500 W).IMG_0638

The wait wasn’t too long for my food to come up, and I was quite excited to see this banquet set out in front of me.  I started on the burrito, and it was pretty damn good for Mexican food in Korea.  I mean, I still think even Chipotle would beat it in terms of overall flavor diversity though.  They also asked me if I wanted it spicy, and I replied in the affirmative.  Yet when I bit into this substantially sized burrito, I didn’t taste one hint of spice.IMG_0641  I don’t know if they just don’t have the ingredients to make it really spicy, or are just giving into their natural assumptions that Western people can’t handle spice.  Lack of supposed spiciness aside, the ingredients in the burrito were well made.  The beef was definitely well seasoned and was not too juicy/too dry.  The tortilla was soft and pliable yet held together at the height of my feeding frenzy.  I really enjoyed the Mexican rice along with the beans that were nestled in every gentle fold of the white tapestry that brought this little bundle of food together.  I think if they actually used some sort of chili sauce and more chipotle, their burritos could really go to the next level in terms of tasting like Mexican food you can get in Chicago or L.A.  Moving on to my horchata, it was really refreshing since it was ice cold and creamy but slightly different to the horchata you can get at any taqueria in Chicago.  The Korean version still had the cinnamon-notes that reminded me of home, yet it seemed too thick to be the real deal.  Oh well, just another variant just like how the original horchata in Spain tastes different from the Mexican version.  Finally, there were the churros…best part of the meal. IMG_0640 Not only did I get a good amount for my money, but they were liberally doused in cinnamon and sugar.  The chocolate was lightly drizzled on them which was different than the Spanish churros I’d get down the block from my apartment in Barcelona, but these Korean ones were perfectly fried.  They were slightly crunchy, but not overly so, and had a soft, almost creamy dough center that was still warm.  Too good.  Overally, I liked it better than Taco Cielo since it seemed not as over the top and trying hard to adopt to develop syncretic cuisine to please the locals.  So if you don’t want to battle it out with the crowds at Vato’s Tacos down the street, check out Tomatillo!

Before I finish, I just want a quick Fell and Cole blurb about two new ice cream flavors I tried:  red wine/Sichuan chili pepper and Love Potion No. 6.  For other flavors, see Nosh Pit and Where Everyone Should Bee.

So hot yet so cold

So hot yet so cold

First off, the red wine/Sichuan chili pepper ice cream was very novel yet disappointing in certain aspects.  While it had a strange tartness that persisted after each spoonful, I was crestfallen that it didn’t fulfill its potential to be a really spicy ice cream.  The chili element seemed to have been neutralized and instead used for textural support as I could feel the crunchy chili flakes running over my tongue as I slowly savored the cold wave passing over my palate.  Perhaps the cold neutralized the signature Chinese heat.  As for the second flavor, Love Potion No. 6, it was made of black rice, black beans, black sesame, and kelp.IMG_0643  Why all the black stuff you ask?  Well, this ice cream is supposedly referring to a Korean belief that ingesting these foods can roll back the years.  Hence, your grey hairs will turn black again.  I’d personally prefer more hair on my head, but I was genuinely surprised by this flavor.  I was expecting it to taste like garbage, but instead, it had a sugary taste peppered with earthy notes.  I could only liken it to the conservative flavor of a sugar cone, but every so often I could detect the light caress of the salty kelp.  If I had to choose between the two flavors, it would be hard, but I’d go with the Love Potion because its flavor wasn’t as intense as the bold combo of alcohol and crunchy pepper flakes.

It’s a Good Day to Fry Hard

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Hello to everyone out there to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  This is part one of two for my Easter weekend in Incheon/Seoul.  This past week has been way too crazy for its own good at school with losing one of my coteachers to sickness, so I was intent on making the most of this weekend to put my worries behind me.

So after a semi-wild night on Friday in Bupyeong, I was planning on meeting up with some friends at this barbecue festival in Seoul, but due to some detours they took, somehow they were over an hour late.  I got tired of waiting in the cold and semi-drizzling outdoors, so I went downstairs at Magpie Brewery to get my southern style barbecue to find a line that was all the way out the door and not moving.  I waited for probably ten minutes and called it quits.

Never meant to be

Never meant to be

I’ve had my fair share of barbecue, and I’m pretty sure this wasn’t going to be like the real thing I’ve had while in the Dirty South.  Instead, I made my down to a restaurant right around the corner that I saw on the walk over to the brewery:  The Poutine Factory.  Now, I remember during my childhood we took a trip to New York/Canada, and we stopped in Canada at a McDonalds for a bathroom break.  Naturally, I wanted to see if they had anything different on the menu, and I saw that they had something that looked like fries piled high with cheese curds and gravy with the word “Poutine” next to it.  I didn’t really know what it was back then, but that image always stuck with me.  So this place, Poutine Factory, seemed to be a perfect place to finally try that mysterious Canadian food I saw many years ago.

By Noksapyeong station

By Noksapyeong station

It wasn’t the cheapest meal I’ve had here, 12,000 won, but I went with the KB fries with a side of chili sauce.  The decor of the place was not too kitschy with little Canadian souvenirs everywhere along with different books in a little bookshelf with different facts about Canada.  I saw the guy also freshly frying the fries in the back, so I was expecting a great meal. They were all finished, and I was salivating just looking at the Poutine from afar.  Then the chef tripped and spilled it on the floor…luckily I got a discount because of it.  He whipped up a brand new order, and I was face to face with my Korean Poutine.

Bon soir, mon ami

Bon soir, mon ami

It was a mini mountain of freshly fried fries topped with kimchi, marinated bulgogi, chili sauce, sesame seeds, and sour cream.  Plus, I had a side of sweet chili sauce and a bottle of Sriracha just to keep things interesting (as if they weren’t already).  To start, the fries were perfect with a golden-brown hue and a fluffy white interior.  Plus, they were not greasy or over salted.  The bulgogi was really good with the gochujang chili sauce and sesame seeds.  There was a good amount piled on the fries, and the meat was very tender.  The only downside to this dish was the kimchi.  Now, I’m not a kimchi expert/Korean, but this kimchi was very bland even though it had been mixed in with the gochujang.  I thought that the sour cream drizzle brought more to the table as a cooling element to the savory/spicy elements of the meal than the limp contribution of the fermented cabbage.

Overall, Poutine Factory is a bit pricier than a normal Korean restaurant, but you get a substantial portion of very hearty food.  It was a tasty tribute to the spirit of the Quebecois.   Bon Appetit!

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