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A Deli For a Happy Belly

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Ah college…an idyllic time where you can enjoy every social opportunity there is for an 18-22 year old while hopefully gaining an education.  On any college campus in America, minus the dry campuses, there is always a main street where most students go to shop, eat, and get their drink on.  The last two are especially important given that nothing is better than having a great night out on the town and more importantly, getting some precious food to fill your food before, during, and/or after the shenanigans.  This past fall, I went for the first time to the Indiana University with my girlfriend and her friends, and experienced everything their campus had to offer.  I had always heard good things about Bloomington, Indiana (hard to believe given it’s in Indiana), but I never had been there.  Plus, I went to the University of Illinois at Chambana, so our schools aren’t the best of neighbors.  However, I ended up having a fantastic weekend filled with fun, friends, and especially food.

We kicked off Friday night with exploring the downtown area and visiting a popular bar called Nick’s. IMG_4606 Apparently they’re famous for a drinking game called Sink the Biz, or as I’ve always known it from U of Illinois, depth charge.  Basically, you try not to sink the shotglass while pouring beer into it.

So tense!

The guys behind us were captivated.

Loser has to drink per usual.  Things got really rowdy when Captain Morgan showed up, but we were more into the prompt service and the good bar food like the cheese sticks, fries, and burgers.  Old people priorities, woooooo!  After that, we moved on to the Upstairs Bar where the party really jumped off.  First, there were these drinks called AMFs or Adios Mofos to keep it clean, and after tasting one I can see where the name comes from. IMG_4648 Take down one or two, and you might as well kiss your last functioning neurons goodbye.  If you like to dance, this was the place to be especially when Michael Jackson’s Hold Me from the classic film Free Willy came on.  It was a spiritual experience to say the least.  The rest of the night was pretty fun, but the following morning was even better.

The highlight (one of many) for our visit was the tailgate before the football game.  For the uninitiated, like myself back then, I wasn’t sure what tailgating consisted of.  Turns out it was the biggest food and drink fest of all time, but with the unpredictability of the elements thrown in.  What that meant was while we were freezing outside, we huddled around the Weber grill for warmth as bbq master Cam was slinging burgers at us.IMG_4654  We also were enjoying plenty of adult beverages, making new friends,

Ruby the dog is so popular

Ruby the dog is so popular

ruining old friendships over drinking games,

Something's afoot, but Janice is having too much fun.

Nobody but Janice is having fun.

and getting on Buzzfeed (Check number 15).  Nbd.  Eventually we made it to the football game, and it was about as dismal as the weather. IMG_4614 It was so depressing that one of our friends, Amanda, basically led a mass exodus of fans out of the stadium after loudly voicing her displeasure at a terrible throw and a missed catch.  We thought about going out, but after 10 hours of straight raging, we decided to call it a night.  The following morning, however, we nursed our hangovers with a little something the girls kept calling VD.  Now, that’s something people normally try to stay away from, but in Bloomington, VD or Village Deli is the place to be on a Sunday morning. IMG_4622 Recently it suffered a terrible fire, but thankfully it was repaired and back in business.  I enjoyed their funky fresh paint scheme with their psychedelic paintings on the wall of celebrities, and the food looked delicious as we walked pass the packed tables.  Their menu was simple but filled with great options for pancakes, omelets, and scramblers.  They are known for their Famous, Collosal, Huge, Ginormous, Fresh Buttermilk Pancakes, so that is exactly what I got ($4.50).  You can also add up to three toppings including fresh fruit, walnuts, peanut butter chips, chocolate chips, granola, or cinnamon roll.  That last one greatly intrigued me, so I plumped for just that to see what these from scratch big boys would look like.  What came out was just as large as they were talking about. IMG_4621 They were literally bigger than my face and coated with cinnamon, sugar, and icing.IMG_4620  I seem to have a penchant for ordering large breadstuffs for breakfast.  I quickly got down to business since I was starving, and they were some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.  I could tell they were made from scratch with the fluffiness of each bite coated in that sweet and slightly savory cinnamon sugar melange.  It was kicked up a notch in the diabetes column with the cinnamon roll icing, but I was back in college for a weekend.  Nothing like letting the hair down a little.  My compadres’ meals looked equally delish, but I highly recommend getting there early if you want a table and not have to wait in line for half an hour or more.  It was a satisfying end to an entertaining weekend with new friends.

Job well done, team!

Job well done, team!

To finish, I would highly recommend visiting U of Indiana and the Village Deli if you’re looking for good times and great food with even better prices.  IMG_4651

Village Deli on Urbanspoon

Throwback Post: Île Flottante in Paris

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Bonjour a tout le monde!  Today’s Mastication Monologues post is the penultimate installation in my throwback Europe series.  It has spanned the Old World from Romania to Scotland and even Slovakia.  Today we are continuing our march westward to France.

I have visited Paris twice along with Marseilles once, but I’m just going to be focusing on the former since it was where I tried a unique dessert that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world.  Paris truly is one of the most beautiful cities that I have visited throughout my travels.  I was amazed to finally be face to face with so many iconic landmarks that I only saw on posters and postcards. HPIM1920 Climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower was an epic trek that was helped at the end with a little elevator ride.HPIM1911  From the top, I could absorb the broad boulevards and mid-18th century buildings that made up a majority of the city center.HPIM1912  Once safely back on the ground, I also visited the signature Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe that were stately yet highly congested with traffic.DSCN0652  The famed, ultra-sexy Moulin Rouge was also highly congested with foot traffic as well-monied patrons lined up to see the cabaret shows advertised outside.HPIM1812  One of my favorite Paris memories was actually outside of the city of Paris in the form of the Palace of Versailles. HPIM2248 This was hands down one of the most impressive man-made structures I’ve ever laid my eyes upon.HPIM2295  No wonder this life of luxury and Marie Antoinette’s contempt for the common man enraged and caused the French people to rise up in arms against the aristocracy.  Still, it was amazing to walk the same halls that Louis XVI did before being captured and beheaded in the capital.  All of this sightseeing made me hungry, and what better place to find something to snack on than Paris?  From their crepe stands to their pastisseries (pastry shops), one could eat something delicious and different for everyday of the year.  The perfect storm for me to indulge my sweet tooth.  Enter the île flottante.  I had it in a restaurant, and this dessert meaning “floating island” in French lived up to its name.  First, there was a crème anglaise or “English creme” that served as the vanilla flavored base to the dish.  It consisted of egg whites, sugar, and milk, and was a watery custard that was sweet but not overwhelmingly so.HPIM1801  It was also served cold. Then there was the island in the middle of my vanilla flavored sea.  It was a perfect example of how French are able to combine both artistry and innovation through the culinary arts.  The egg whites were whipped with sugar into a fluffy meringue island that was substantial enough to be almost like a large, slightly melted marshmallow yet light enough to bob in the vanilla sea.  It was all jazzed up with a light drizzling of caramel sauce.  I’ve heard that this old-school French dessert is disappearing quickly, so set sail for Paris and find your own hidden island.

Throwback Post: Haggis and Irn Bru in Scotland

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Hello and welcome to another throwback edition of Mastication Monologues!  I’ve finally made it out of the Eastern European leg of posts (Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary), and now time to focus on Western Europe.  Where better to start than the land that has given us Sean Connery, the Loch Ness Monster, and Groundskeeper Willie among many other great cultural exports:  mighty mighty Scotland!

Blending in with the locals.

Blending in with the locals.

My first and only visit to Scotland was during the summer following my graduation from undergrad in 2010.  It seems like forever ago, but it was an enchanting place to explore.  We started first in Edinburgh which is often mispronounced by Americans as “Eh din burg” instead of how the locals say it “Eh din burra”.  Luckily, I learned my best Scottish accent from the previously mentioned surly yet totally hilarious Groundskeeper Willie who we aren’t quite sure where he hails from.  Aberdeen?  North Kilt Town?  Who knows?  Either way, I at least didn’t get made fun of by any of the locals or when out on the town with my friend, Sandy, and his sister’s friends.  Linguistic differences aside, the Scots are wonderful people and very proud of their heritage, especially in Edinburgh.  My parents and I walked along the Royal Mile, the Edinburgh Castle, and gazed at Arthur’s Seat from afar among many other famous sights.

Royal Mile

Royal Mile

DSC01747DSC01757 DSC01767We also took a trip to Glasgow, the knife crime capital of Europe, but I found it to be the rougher, more realistic Scotland compared to the neat and shiny Edinburgh.  While there, we visited both Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs a.k.a. The Old Firm.  This is one of the fiercest sporting rivalries in the world which makes Bears vs. Packers look like a day in the Brady Bunch House.  What makes the relationship between these two clubs particularly tense is that they were traditionally divided along political and religious lines.  Rangers being pro-Union with England and Protestant while Celtic is pro-Scottish independence and Catholic.DSC01784DSC01792  The clashes of Protestant versus Catholic left the battlefields of Europe and were transferred to soccer rivalries.  Hundreds of people have died or been victims of violence caused by the tension between the warring tribes.  Even back in 2011, then manager and former Celtic player Neil Lennon received packages containing bullets and death threats from Protestant supporters.  Luckily, my visits were much more peaceful minus the fierce winds.  Along with the futbol, we sampled a bit of the local flavor in the form of haggis.  Now, if you’ve never heard of this quintessentially Scottish dish, brace yourself for this description.  It is a sheep’s stomach stuffed with hearts, lungs, liver, onions, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt.  It is all then boiled for around three hours and then sliced or minced.  This organ rich dish even has its own special dinner and poem dedicated to the memory of Scottish poet Robert Burns.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t any fanfare when this meat dish was placed in front of me along with the naughty sounding neeps and tatties on the side (those are turnips and potatoes, respectively, in Scottish English, pervs). DSC01774 I started with the haggis and was pleasantly surprised.

tatties, haggis in the middle, and orange neeps

tatties, haggis in the middle, and orange neeps

It was rich, beefy, yet slightly nutty, but it wasn’t heavy at all.  It was almost like a meat granola in texture which I could imagine was due to the oatmeal.  The oat crackers on the side didn’t help it at all since they tasted like eating cardboard coasters.  The neeps were ok.  They were lightly salted with more of a neutral flavor.  The tatties tasted like standard mashed potatoes.  After finishing off my haggis, I should have washed it down with a warm glass of Glenfiddich, but I found something that was both eye-catching and super Scottish.  It was a drink called Irn Bru or Iron Brew pronounced with a thick Scottish burr.DSC01817  Not only was this soda radioactive orange, but it was so sweet I could feel the enamel being stripped off my teeth with every sip. DSC01818 Totally worth it to cap off my visit to the North.

Punch House: A Real Knockout

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At the punch-bowl’s brink,
Let the thirsty think,
What they say in Japan:
First the man takes a drink,
Then the drink takes a drink,
Then the drink takes the man!
– Edward Rowland Sill 
Truer words were never spoken by Mr. Sill, a mostly forgotten American poet, especially in regard to today’s post on Mastication Monologues where I entered the exciting world of punch making.
My friend Janice had mentioned that she had extra tickets to a punch making class at an establishment called “Punch House“, so I agreed to partake in this mysterious endeavor.  I didn’t really know much about it aside from it being located in the vibrant center of Mexican culture in Chicago, a.k.a. Pilsen.  However, I was shocked to find that it was located in Thalia Hall, a concert hall from 1890 that was modeled after Prague’s opera house.Exterior-1024x682  It is a relic of the original Czech inhabitants of Pilsen who eventually left once Latino immigrants began to enter the neighborhood.  Thalia Hall’s doors were closed in 1960, but in 2013, the hall has been reopened to the public as a music and dining venue.  Upon walking into Dusek’s, the restaurant on the first floor bearing the last name of Thalia Hall’s founder, we checked in and were quickly hustled downstairs to Punch House.  From Dusek’s to Punch House, I was taken aback with how elegantly it was decorated like a retro lounge that gave off a vibe of yesteryear with a touch of class.IMG_3069  We were greeted by the hosts and found an open booth complete with all of the tools we needed to make Dusek Punch, the house’s signature drink. IMG_3068 The class started with a brief history of punch and punch making.  Fun fact:  the word “punch” is actually a loan word from Hindi.  The drink and word came to England from India in the early 1600s due to early colonial trading routes.  “Punch” in Hindi means “five” which is a reference to the original five punch ingredients (tea/water, spices, alcohol, sugar, and lemon) or the balance of the following five elements of flavor.IMG_3071  It became a favorite drink for English traders and sailors as a refreshing alcoholic beverage that almost always contained rum but enough water to keep them semi-hydrated.  Ok, enough with the history lesson, let’s get down to the punch making.  First, we had to peel the lemons in order to make oleo-saccharum or literally “oily sugar” in Latin.  It would provide the citrus zest for our punch later.  Once the ladies peeled the lemons (I was deemed a threat to myself due to my spastic lemon peeling), we then poured some sugar on the peels to introduce the sweet element to our work in progress.  Soon thereafter, I was in charge of muddling the ingredients until the peels began to excrete their natural oils. IMG_3072 While I was going to town doing the ground and pound to the bowl’s contents, the waitress came over and patronizingly/humorously showed me proper muddling technique.  It became a reoccurring punch line (pun intended) throughout the class much to the amusement of my female companions.  However, it was my time to shine when I had to juice the lemons for the sour portion of the punch.  I should have had my jersey retired with how much juice I got out of the fruit since I even got a couple nods and “good jobs” from the staff when they walked by our table. 10260012_10101616963868411_1608183499052232420_n In the middle of my award-winning performance, they allowed us to order other pre-made punches or beverages to sample.  I originally went with a milk punch recipe from 1711, but since they didn’t have any made, I settled for the Philidelphia Fish House Punch ($8) which was originally invented in 1732.  Needless to say, for a 282 year old recipe, it tasted barely over 100 years old it was so refreshing.IMG_3075  It consisted of Gosling’s black seal rum, Landy cognac, Mathilde Peche liquor, lemon, and angostura bitters.  I could liken it to a sweet, peach-infused Hawaiian Punch that had a moderate kick to let you know you were drinking alcohol but didn’t rip your face off.  Eventually, it came time to combine all of the flavors in the large bowl since the oleo-saccharum was ready.  We started with pouring in a hot cup of water and followed it up with the lemon juice and dark ale. IMG_3076IMG_3073 Finally, we had to add the Templeton Rye whiskey.  Josah was flipping out about since it’s from her motherland, Iowa, and it’s also special since the recipe was born out of the crooked times of American prohibition.Rye  Nothing better than enjoying a spirit with a colorful past.  Now, we could have simply slopped it into the bowl like regular squares, but they taught us how to do the fancy “tornado pour”.  I got to do the honors because I was the only one with hands big enough to grip the bottom of the bottle.  Check me out putting the finishing touches on the punch with the tornado pour here.  After we let it sit for a bit, the staff strained it all into a large glass container, but it proved to be a bit too difficult for Joe the waiter since a quarter of it went on our table.10313748_10101613763422131_1817890989632858173_n  So, they made it up to us by hooking us up with their secret tequila infused punch and experimental pop-top bottle for punch on- the-go.  Believe me, it definitely made up for it as the tequila punch made this tequila hater into a fan.
Overall, we left very satisfied with our experience, and it was a fun and informative activity for those of you looking for something different to do in Chicago.  Not only can you enjoy a piece of Chicago history in the form of Thalia Hall, but you can learn a new skill while making new memories with friends.  I highly recommend Punch House’s punch making classes.

Dusek's on Urbanspoon

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.

Beijing (Day 1)- A Bug’s Life

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Things have taken a turn for the amazing for my blog as I’m quickly approaching the 130 post mark, and more and more of people are liking Mastication Monologues as I get the good word about different types of food out to the world.  Thanks to everyone for your support, and keep on viewing, commenting, and liking!  Today will be no different as I continue my recap of my vacation mastication adventures.  This series will be talking about all the wonderful things I tried while staying in Beijing, China.

Now, I’ve had my fair share of Chinese food which ranges from hot pot to some delicious dim sum to even tongue-numbing Sichuan cooking, but mainland China definitely knew how to push my buttons and boundaries as the daring gourmand that I am.  My first food experiences started, oddly, with a trip to McDonalds.  Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Mark, why would you want to go to a worldwide chain that has been slowly eroding local eating customs since 1955?’  Well, dear readers, while I do like my McDonalds back in the USA, I also like to try it in different countries to see what sort of unique options they offer that cater to the tastes of the local population.   At this Beijing branch they had most of the standard burgers, but I was drawn to the beef or chicken rice wrap.  I got one of those along with a taro pie for dessert.  The beef wrap was delicious since the meat was flavorful along with some good, not great, fried rice. IMG_1456IMG_1457IMG_1458 I was more partial to the taro pie.  IMG_1459Think your classic McDonalds apple pie, but beneath the cinnamon-sugar encrusted dough there are sweet, steaming pieces of purple taro inside.  IMG_1461It’s going on the list of foods they need to bring to the US along with the chicken tikka sandwich from Subway shops in England.  Once we figured out where to go, we decided to visit the Donghuamen (东华门) night market .  It was a bit hard to find, but it’s by Wangfujing metro station.  We stopped for a traditional Beijing beverage/food called nai lao.  It’s basically Chinese yogurt you can drink through a straw out of these small porcelain jugs.IMG_1463  They’re everywhere, and you pay about 80 cents to stand there and drink it.  We were in a tiny convenience store that could have doubled as a closet, but the old couple that ran it were very friendly while we were standing there and slurping the sweet yogurt.IMG_1462   After some wanderings, we eventually found the market.IMG_1465

My own Elysian fields

My own Elysian fields

You can’t miss it with it’s red lanterns and seemingly endless array of bizarre foods such as scorpions, snakes, lizards, testicles, starfish, goat penis, and spiders to name a few.IMG_1467IMG_1470  There are also more normal options like dumplings (amazing designs as shown below), corn dogs, and even fried ice cream!IMG_1486IMG_1485  I, however, went for the gusto immediately with a starfish.  IMG_1469It was absolutely terrible.  Imagine taking food, burning it to a crisp, shaping it into a star, and serving it on a stick.  I ate about 3/4ths of it before I gave up.  It was gross through and through.  I moved on to a much more appetizing prospect in the form of a spider.IMG_1471  This was a million times better than the starfish.  I don’t know if it was the savory seasoning he put on it, or the fact there was a bit of meat to the spider after crunching through the exoskeleton.IMG_1472  Either way, I followed it up with a giant centipede which immediately fell into the same category as the starfish.  It was just as bad, but I think the guy over-salted it after frying it. IMG_1475 So it tasted like I was chugging a salt shaker while eating a lot of crunchy legs and gooey body segments.  If you haven’t vomited all over your computer at this point, I don’t eat anything else weird in this post.  I instead got something a bit sweeter that is another Beijing staple:  糖葫芦 or tanghulu.  At first, I was looking at the fruit a bit sideways because it looked like they were all frozen in ice. IMG_1483IMG_1481 I naturally assumed that since my hands were quickly becoming ice blocks compliments of the lovely northern Chinese winter.  I was sorely mistaken though as it turns out the ice is actually a hardened sugar coating that the vendors dip the skewers of apples, kiwi slices, pineapple bits, and grapes in before serving.  I went with a Chinese grape skewer, and it was the opposite of my extreme foods. IMG_1482 It was insanely sweet to the point of it almost hurting my teeth.  I think if I got the apples or the intriguing sesame seed stuffed apples, it would have been better.  I’d recommend trying at least one skewer though since they’re literally everywhere much like the yogurt bottles.  I have to add a slight caveat to Donghuamen Market though.  It seemed like a bit of a tourist trap.  I found there were other more local markets serving the same fare for slightly lower prices.  Just my two cents.   After all of that strenuous eating and walking for miles, we went to a Belgian beer bar called Beer Mania.  It was a cozy little party place that had a vast array of Belgian beers that almost made me think I was back in Brussels kicking it in the Delirium Tremens bar.  The only downside was the live music was ear-splittingly loud.  Thankfully they gave up playing after ten minutes of being ignored, so we could enjoy our beer in peace.  I went with a Guillotine which ended up being a pretty bold pale ale from Belgium.  IMG_1489It had a slightly apple aroma which then transitioned into a sweet introductory taste that packed a bitter aftertaste punch right in the tastebuds.  After that one brew, we were both pretty tired after walking around all day, so we called it a night.  I was quite satisfied with the night since I could knock off so many food challenges by just moving from left to right about 15 feet.  What a country!

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