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Authentic as you can get

29 May

Once again, I went to dinner with my mom and yes it was taco again like it was Taco Tuesday, but this time not from a truck. My mother and I went to King Taco near Hoover and Pico. Growing up in Los Angeles, King Taco used to a hole in the wall type of place within the Latino community of Los Angeles, and as I kid, I remember going there and it would be packed with Latinos of different origins. Nowadays, King Taco has been discovered and is now renowned all over the city and you are able to find people of all races coming to eat delicious tacos at King Taco. Why, out of all taco restaurants in Los Angeles, has King Taco gained popularity within the last few years? According to food articles that talk about King Taco, it is because of its authenticity that gained mass public attention. In many ways, I think, King Taco is authentic. One example of its authenticity are the carne asada tacos (as shown in the picture). The beef is cooked over a grill, given a few spices and sauces, and you taste tacos that give taste buds euphoria. The carne asada tacos have a hint of lime, the meat has a very nice juicy well cooked texture and the tortillas have some form of flavor as well. I guess the main thing about King Taco, atleast in my opinion, that the tacos are made uniquely with its distinct flavor that I have not been able to find anywhere else. Sure, there are other taco places that offer similar food and similar taste that may come close to King Taco, but, as far as I know, King Taco is the best out there that I have had and would consider the most authentic that Los Angeles has to offer.

Jajjangmyeon!!

27 May

 
I am proud to say that other than dog soup, I have never hesitated to try new food that I encountered in the past of my life. Two years ago, when I first traveled to Korea, I had a taste of a noodle dish called “Jajjangmyeon”, and since then, jajjangmyeon has became my favorite kind of noodle.


  I met up with a Korean friend during my stay in Seoul, and she  suggested my family to go to a Chinese restaurant after hearing that I had kimchi and Kalbi for every meal. At first, I was really reluctant, thinking that I would rather have kimchi again rather than something I could easily get at home. However, we still paid a visit to the Chinese restaurant because she insisted. When we got to our destination, I was really surprised by how “Chinese” the Chinese restaurant was. The banner was in Chinese characters and the interior was decorated with red lanterns hanging on the ceiling and Chinese calligraphic painting on the walls. It was more like what you can see in a movie rather than a restaurant. However, as we read through the menu, we found there really wasn’t anything familiar other than “Jajjangmyeon” which sounded pretty much alike and shared the same kanjis with “zhajiangmian” , a typical kind of noodle you can find everywhere on the street of China and Taiwan..Had no idea what the other food would be , we chose to go for the jajjangmyeon recommended by my friend.

Jajjangmyeon


After a long wait, our jajjangmyeon was finally brought on by the waitress. It was served in a white ceramic bowl with egg noodles covered with glistening, thick black sauce and some cucumber strings on the top. Frankly, I felt a bit disgusted by its gluey appearance at the beginning, but as soon as I took the first bite, I had fallen in love with its indescribable taste. The sauce was sweet and salty at the same time, with sauteed onions and ground pork that even made it better. And the noodle itself was really chewy that one just can’t stop having one bite after another. I was completely satisfied with the taste, yet more startled by the fact that it does not resemble anything like the Chinese Zhaijiangmain even they do share the same ingredients such as grounded meat and cucumbers. I was even more astonished later when I learned that Jajjangmyeon is acknowledged as one of the national food of Korea and was even chosenone of the top 100 Korean cultural symbols when it
 is fairly clear that this dish was originated from Chinese food. But when I rethought about it, I could understand fully why although it was served in a Chinese restaurant but at the same time an authentic Korean cuisine.

Chinese ZhajiangmianChinese Zhajiangmian

 
To me, what makes up an authentic cuisine is more than just the taste and the ways of preparing it. The location or settings of course are other important facts to add up a dish’s authenticity. However, the most indispensable element would be  people whom were involved in the process of preparing, serving and eating. In my opinion, food is more than what to sustain human life and to suffice our taste buds. Every dish has its cultural and historical background. And that is also the reason why I believe only the indigenous people who understand the culture of where the dish is from could produce the most authentic cuisines.

Sashimi so fresh the fish was still moving. (Sara)

26 May

During my short 2 weeks in Japan, I was able to go with my friend Hitomi who is a native Japanese to her hometown of Toyohashi, which is sort of close to Aichi/Nagoya. In the 4 days I spent with Hitomi, I had the opportunity to try some DELICIOUS authentic Japanese food… which I originally thought it was going to have to miss out on.

The meal that stands out most in my mind is actually so memorable because it is one of the most authentic meals I have had. Hitomi and her mother took us to their favorite sashimi place on Mikawa bay. It is a hole in the wall that literally serves like 10 people at most. Since it is located directly on the port, rest assured that the seafood is as fresh as it can get. As soon as we walked into the quaint hut, we were greeted as friends by the owner, a fisherman dressed in a red puffy jacket and thick rubber boots. Let us call him Red.

A glimpse of Red and the small hole in the wall restaurant.

His two young lady minions were dressed in similar attire but with the addition of woolen scarves. I envied their warmth. Winter was still afoot, and because we were right next to the ocean, the frigid salty sea air crept under my jacket. I was freezing and began to shiver. Luckily, they had a heater, and as I tried to warm up, I looked at my surroundings. I could tell then and there this was going to be an awesome experience, as Hitomi and her mother were regulars there. The first thing I noticed was the lack of a kitchen. If this is an eating establishment, where do they prepare the food? But then I realized that 95% of what they serve there is raw. The crammed space was filled with huge tanks that were home to a variety of shellfish, fish and baby turtles. The turtles were not for eating, the owner reassured us.

Hitomi’s mother ordered for us, as she was quite familiar with this place. I was dying from anticipation. Fishermen were outside rinsing their catches in large plastic bins. Seagulls swarmed overhead and the brave ones courageously tried to swoop in, only to find themselves shooed away by the fishermen. Red walked to one of the large tanks and deliberately scooped out the most gigantic clams I have ever seen. He then proceeded to the fish tank and skillfully caught a beautiful red snapper with ease. How much more authentic of an experience could you ask for? Authenticity to me is genuineness, and when applied to a meal, both the atmosphere and food should represent the culture it comes from. An authentic dining experience should warm not only your stomach, but also your soul. If you’ve ever had a home-cooked meal that made you smile, I think you know what I’m talking about. To me, the taste is not as indicative of the authenticity, but rather the way it was prepared, the ingredients, and the ambiance of the meal. This meal seems obviously authentic because I was served seafood directly from a tank on a port in Japan, but it is indeed possible for one to enjoy an authentic meal at a place not in the country its cuisine represents.

It didn’t take long for the food to arrive.

The hugest clams I've ever seen!

The first dish to grace us with its presence was the huge clams I had just witnessed being fished out of the tanks next to us. Grilled, doused with a shoyu/teriyaki sauce and emitting the most wonderful smell imaginable, they were gorgeous. The meat was of perfect chewiness and everybody was happily slurping on their clams when the fisherman presented his masterpiece.

The front fin of the tai (snapper) was still twitching when it came to the table. Though its flesh was carved out and sliced into perfectly thin slivers, the rest of the fish was still intact.

The gorgeous tai (snapper) sashimi

It was trying to swim away! That is how you know you are eating a freshly caught fish. Later on in the meal, the electrical current causing the frontal fin to pulsate moved to the tail, and the tail began to jerk in spasms. (I have a video of this event and will try to post it.) It knew that it was in danger and its flight response was kicking in. I had never eaten sashimi that was served with the rest of the fish. The presentation was phenomenal.

The most authentic sashimi ever. Enough said.

We gasped as Red delivered the next dish, a beautiful assortment of raw scallops, squid, shrimp and octopus. Sashimi at its finest. Red smiled as we praised him for the quality of the meal.  Because it requires little to no ingredients, sashimi is the ultimate test of a restaurant’s freshness and value. We were all incredibly satisfied and despite the chilly air, I felt extraordinarily warm and happy.

I will never forget Red and my dining experience here.  ごちそうさまでした!

Authentic eel… with authentic korean coffee- Jeeyoon

25 May

During my solitary stay with my grandmother who could barely remember who I was and asked what my name was every two seconds, my uncle came around 11 AM everyday to take us out to lunch.

I had temporarily come to Korea due to the earthquake in Japan and was staying with my grandmother, whose dementia was getting worse everyday. She had constantly enquired about who my mother was (her daughter), who my dad was, who my brother was, how old I was, where I lived, where SHE lived, etc… repeat 40 times a day.

I took care of my grandmother during the morning and night, and my uncle took care of my grandmother during the day after taking us out to lunch. The menu varied daily, although because my grandmother insisted it wasn’t a meal without eating rice, we mostly ate some form of a traditional Korean meal.

It was nearing my birthday, so my uncle took us out to a Korean eel restaurant in Paju, an hour away from heart of Seoul. It is actually quite close to North Korea.

I believe you cannot have an ‘authentic’ experience without being in an environment that fits the authenticity of the food. The food maybe ‘authentic,’ (right ingredients, right preparation, etc), but for a completely authentic dining experience, the environment that surrounds the diner (place, building, mood, the people, etc) should play a big role as well.

Imagine eating a fancy French cuisine in middle of McDonald’s, overran by over hyperactive children throwing their plastic toys from their kid’s meals across the room. Not the same. Or even, imagine a Shakespearian play such as Macbeth set in 2500… on Mars. Even if the actors are reading the same lines, the experience obviously would totally be different.

So when I entered this space, I felt as if  I was in a completely different space from before. The decor was done in traditional Korean fashion.

Naruhtuh jip, decore

Inside the restaurant, we were led to middle of the room without any tables. It reminded me of old market place restaurants in Korea. I also thought how awkward this might be for people who were not particularly close with each other, because having a table creates some comfortable distance and space between the people.

And let us not forget, the food.

foodddd

the food being cooked outside

 The ladies grilled the eel outside and young part timers brought in giant TABLE full of food. Not trays. tables.

Customers were allowed to choose between a bowl of rice and a bowl of eel porridge. I asked for the eel porridge, only to be stopped by my uncle, who claimed you can only eat an authentic eel with bowl of rice… I know what bowl of rice taste like, but since I didn’t know what eel porridge tasted like, I argued in my passive aggressive manner until he finally let me eat my bowl of eel porridge. Even having this argument added to the authenticity of this meal (even if you are suppose to eat eel with a bowl of rice!), being surrounded by my Korean family.

Eel was pretty large compared to eels served in other restaurants, and of course, pretty pricey. I wanted to order salt grilled eel and marinated eel, but as always my uncle just ordered without asking.

I look at the next table which had ordered catfish mae – un – tang, or catfish spicy stew. It looks delicious, but we are here for the eel!

The service was your usual Korean service. You don’t tip your waitresses, so ajummas (middle aged ladies)  working in these types of restaurants are not as alert to your needs as might want them to be.

My uncle and grandma drinking... barley tea.

When the food was finished, we were served ‘dabang coffee,’ an authentic Korean coffee that is served in every Korean restaurant usually for free… aka 30 cent vending machine coffee mix coffee. I think its truly interesting how almost every Korean restaurant serves this coffee, because history of coffee in Korea is not that terribly long. This overly sweetened coffee drink has become a common after meal drink in Korea and interestingly enough, it added to the authenticity of this meal despite its western origins.

Although I felt that the experience was authentically Korean, I’m not quite sure if I can say that about the food. I heard the eel was imported from China, or at least it used to be. And surprisingly even to me, the experience added more to the authenticity of this meal even more than the food.

PS I don’t know why the author is showing up as lucasgriffin.

Some images are taken by me. some are from http://blog.naver.com/akides82/90063688736 and http://blog.naver.com/superman70/140129461792

Frog and Turtle, Anyone?

16 Sep

My mom’s cooking is very traditional. She cooks all the “real Chinese food” everyone longs for in restaurants, and all her recipes come from watching my grandmother cook. I did not realize how traditional her meals were until the day she served frog fried rice and turtle soup. That was also the meal during which I experienced firsthand for the first time that Chinese people really can eat anything.

Frog fried rice and turtle soup are essentially made without any preservatives or chemicals. My mom bought the frog and turtle fresh(?), and whole,  from the Chinese market. I think Fukuoka would be proud. Not only is the food natural, but they are also very nutritious, according to my mom. Fukuoka critiques the “foodie” because they value taste over all else when eating a meal or dish, while he thinks that nutrition should be a consumer’s first priority.

The uniqueness of frog fried rice and turtle soup may appeal to a “foodie” searching for something new to try. A very adventurous “foodie” might give these dishes a shot if they were not at first turned off by the thought of eating frog or turtle. However, I cannot imagine the average “foodie” enjoying these foods, because the taste is nothing too special. Frog almost tastes like chicken, as “chicken” happens to be part of a frog’s name in Chinese, while turtle has no specific or special flavor and just adds a more fresh or seafood-like quality to the soup.

The meal was certainly interesting and healthy with these two dishes, but I do not think Fukuoka would approve of our next course of actions–the main dishes the next night was porkchops and Costco salmon.

Natural Divergence

16 Sep

The modern “foodie”, as defined as a particular connoisseur of food who willingly seeks out “tasty” food, would be highly criticized by Fukuoka, a staunch advocate of natural simplicity. Fukuoka discuses the virtue of eastern philosophy in relation to food and knowledge; believing that pleasure seeking in food detracts from the true flavor. This contrasts the ideology of a foodie who idolizes food.

Fukuoka would find the basis of food culture to be constructs of western thinking, specifically in nutrition, and the exotic. Both of these, to Fukuoka, by definition defy nature. He would particularly disagree with current health fads for organic food. His philosophy emphasizes simplicity. This contrasts the modern foodies’ curiosity and taste for exotic foods. The process involved in creating complex dishes involving non-local ingredients would be highly critiqued due to its complete departure from nature.

The contemporary “foodie” has become a facet of culture. Permeating media on multiple levels, the idolization of food would come under heavy criticism by Fukuoka. This infiltration to him would display a complete divergence from nature. This obsession with food that in turn fuels highly industrialized agribusiness would further detract from Fukuoka’s beliefs in inaction farming.

Fukuoka would see our overly produced and commercialized food as a rejection of the natural process, and he would disagree with “foodies” culture of pleasure seeking in food. The fact that international cuisine in a city indicates culture and worldliness would be a point of disagreement with Fukuoka who ultimately believed that humans should allow nature to take its course.

Let’s go Somewhere new…

16 Sep

Often times I’ll contemplate with friends on where we should head out to lunch. Pizza? Burgers? Our usual Thai place? I protest these choices always. Originally from Chicago, I’ve always wanted to take advantage of my city’s vast food cultures and try everything. My friends on the other hand are much less appreciative of their options and tend to shy away from anything too adventurous. My most relevant to class example would be when we ventured out to an authentic comfort food-style Japanese hole in the wall. “No Sushi” a sign loudly exclaims from the store front window. My friends are disappointed–they love getting grocery store bought sushi. We all sit down and I’m immediately drawn to the simple, yet tasty sounding dishes. I order Oyakodon (a bowl of rice with egg and chicken on top). Granted, this may not sound like a strange or adventurous dish, but it’s definitely authentic and I wanted a taste of authentic home Japan, not fine dining. My friends order chicken teriyaki, a dish they’ve certainly had before. We all enjoy our meals and head out.

Kanagaki Robun dismisses the Western-o-phile as a cultural elitist whose tastes have been altered by powerful Western influences. Cwiertka’s writing on Western Food and Imperial Japan in the Meiji era supports Robun’s exaggerated prose , but qualifies it by saying, “the introduction of Western food into the lives of Japanese elite meant much more than simply a change of menu” (p.20). While the Meiji era foodie was not appreciated until much later, I hope my constant prodding to get my friends to try new foods eventually opens them up to foreign experiences that they can appreciate and enjoy.