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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!

Make Your Own Froyo? YOLO!

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So I’m sure that you have read all about my terrifyingly spicy experience at Onnuriye Donkatsu in my last post, so here is the follow up to what happened after my challenge.   My stomach still was feeling a bit funky even with consuming the antacid, white rice, and milk, so we decided to get frozen yogurt to sooth my scorched tummy.  We ended up going to Snow Spoon Cafe which is located in Hongdae, Seoul.  You come out of exit 9 at the Hongik University stop.  Then you turn left and turn right at the first street on your right.  There should be trees on both sides of the street.  You keep walking till you cross another street and keep heading straight until you see the Super 7 club on your left hand side.  The cafe occupies an entire corner of the building, so you can’t miss it.IMG_0702

When we walked in, it was semi-full of college students seemingly unable to choose what they wanted because not only did they have 10 different flavors, but they also had a fixins bar that seemed a bit healthier than the froyo places back home, i.e. more fruit and nuts instead of brownie bites and cookie dough chunks.  I guess Koreans haven’t gotten the hang of making healthy things unhealthy like Americans can do so easily.  If you don’t want frozen yogurt, they also have gelato, funny looking ice cream bars, and ice cream sandwiches. Flavor-wise, they had some stalwarts like plain, chocolate, and strawberry, but then they became a bit more mysterious.  I decided to get one flavor that was simply called “Blue”, and it had a picture of Santorini’s classic whitewashed houses interspersed on a mountainside while an endless blue horizon spread out behind it.

Greeks:  known for Democracy and ice cream?

Greeks: known for Democracy and ice cream?

What it would taste like?  I had no clue.  Maybe it would be indescribable, or maybe it would taste like gyros or souvlaki given the Greek picture.  Then I moved down the line to get the rice flavored frozen yogurt.  You read that right:  rice froyo.

Only in Asia

Only in Asia

Though this wouldn’t be the first time I ate ice cream made with rice.  The last flavor I got was blackberry.  I can only take so much razzmatazz in one cup.  I garnished my creation with some trail mix and gummi bears since I can’t say no to any form of gummi candy.  They charge you by weight, so I paid about 5,000 Won for a good amount of ice cream.

As for the actual flavors, they quickly put out the fire burning within my lower torso with panache.

Diabetes?  YOLO

Diabetes? YOLO

The blackberry flavor was delicious since it actually tasted like eating fresh blackberries minus the pesky seeds.  Then came the rice which was really odd because I couldn’t determine whether it had more of a vanilla flavor profile to it, or perhaps it was more like the plain frozen yogurt option.  Finally, there was Blue.  It definitely was the superstar of my cold creation much like the Eiffel 65 hit circa 1999, but it definitely wasn’t played out by any means from my first spoonful to my last.  Turns out it tasted like a tropical fruit punch of sorts. As a whole, my experience was a satisfying spectrum of flavors that ranged from more conventional to the more bizarre yet surprisingly delectable.

A French flag of funky flavors

A French flag of funky flavors

So if you’re looking to eat some delicious frozen goodies in South Korea, check out Snow Spoon.  It’s the perfect treat anytime whether that is after surviving one of Hongdae’s ear-splittingly loud clubs or just on a whim to satisfy your sweet tooth.

No Sticky Wickets

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Hello everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be doing a brief review of a restaurant where I tried something that I didn’t really expect to find on their menu.  The restaurant in question is Wickets Bar and Grill located at 601 N Martingale Rd (at Woodfield Rd)  Schaumburg, IL 60173.

I was meeting some college friends there just to catch up on things, and I didn’t know really what to expect from this establishment.  Based off the name, I would have thought that we were going to be eating in an imitation English gastropub of some sort due to the cricket reference in the title.  Instead, I walked into a very sleek sports bar that did not have a single Guinness poster anywhere or a cricket bat on the wall.  The menu did have the usual litany of bar food items like nachos and burgers, but I began to see a pattern emerging that was downright confusing.  Wickets offers different types of samosas for appetizers, a chicken tikka sandwich, and tandoori chicken skewers.  Why was Indian  food on a sports bar menu?  My friend and I hypothesized that there was one Indian master chef who was called upon to make these delicious treats from his homeland.  Either that or it was a nod to the popularity of cricket in South Asia and other British colonies.  Menu construction theories aside, I decided to go for the two skewer platter and a Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale to drink.IMG_1080

I had already had this particular brew from Lagunitas before, but I knew that I couldn’t go wrong with this choice.  If you haven’t had it before, it is an amber-colored beer with a clear hoppy taste that covers your palate initially, but at the end it gives you a little smooth sum sumpin’ at the end that makes you always come back for more.  If you enjoy IPAs, I would recommend this beer to you.

Stomach don't fail me now!

Stomach don’t fail me now!

As for my entrée, I went with one skewer of beef with vegetables and the other with chicken tikka tandoori with vegetables.  They were both served on a bed of basmati rice infused with herbs which was surrounded by golden flatbread triangles.  Plus, I decided to get the cucumber chive yogurt sauce that was served on the side.  Taken all together, these skewers were on point in terms of quantity and quality.  If you are not really hungry, then you will take some of this home with you.  The basmati rice with herbs was cooked to perfection, and the herbs provided the starch with whispers of rosemary and parsley.   I used the flatbread wedges as pseudo-pizza slices to put the yogurt sauce on like sauce and then piled on the meat and rice which gave the meal an Indian vibe since I was eating with my hands which I always enjoy.  The Tandoori chicken was actually quite tasty since it tasted exactly like the same dish I tried in some of the Indian restaurants I visited in London.  If you never had Tandoori chicken, it is a type of specially cooked chicken coated with the right blend of cumin, turmeric, chili, and a slightly charred aftertaste.  The beef was equally delectable since it was grilled completely through but still quite succulent.  As for the veggies, it was a mix of mushrooms, green and yellow zucchini, bell peppers, and onions.  All were adequately grilled, but they still maintained their original integrity which I enjoyed since sometimes over-grilling can lead to crumbling in  vegetables with higher water content.  Finally, the yogurt sauce was like mix between tzatziki and the Indian raita; the neutral yogurt element provided a cooling element to the slightly spicy tandoori chicken  and the cucumbers and chives provided a texture change that interacted nicely with the semi-crispy flatbread.

Overall, I was stuffed and a satisfied customer.  So if you’re looking for some delicious Indian influenced food in a very non-Indian environment, come on down to Wickets Bar and Grill!

Wickets Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Wickets Bar and Grill on Foodio54

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