Of staring, fast food and not so cold noodles

Of staring, fast food and not so cold noodles

Happiness is finding a new place to add to the Pearl (Picky Eaters’ Approved Restaurant List). We stumbled on this great little Korean fast food place that passed our taste test with flying colors. Well, stumbled isn’t exactly the word. We’ve walked past it a million times and even scoffed at the menu a few times (that was before the Great K Revolution, of course).

The million dollar question is this: How could we have walked past so often and never thought to stop? Well, we couldn’t tell from the pictures on the menu if the food would be good. Thing is we’re not in the habit of staring openly at people’s food as we walk past their tables. It’s rude to stare especially when people are eating. My children were trained never to do that and if they did, they’d no doubt have heard from me!

I’m not sure what made us step in. As with all new places that we’re trying out, we didn’t order much. The Chicken BBQ came with rice in a K bowl (no less), seaweed soup and 3 side dishes  I wish it came with a Korean name as well, like maybe 치킨 바비쿄. But even without that, the grilled chicken is flavorful, mildly sweet and not too salty.

Of staring, fast food and not so cold noodles

The 닭 볶음 (dak bokeum), or stir-fried chicken in chilly sauce had a good mix of veggies in it. It’s reminiscent of 김치 찌개 (kimchi jjigae, or kimchi stew). The tangy, spicy sauce was lip-smackin’ good till the last drop. Even the Colonel would agree heh!

Of staring, fast food and not so cold noodles

As for the 3 반찬 (banchan, or side dishes), there’s 김치 (kimchi), 밀치금 (anchovies) and a random third dish. The kimchi isn’t as crunchy as I’d like it to be but I love the anchovies.

The 파전 (pajeon, or Korean pancake) may look unassuming but don’t be fooled, there’s hidden squid in the batter, and veggies you can actually see. Most restaurants would just serve this ‘blank’, and charge more for the loaded version. I like the light crunch in this pancake. The sauce is okay, a bit too salty so we dip it in the dak bokeum sauce.

Of staring, fast food and not so cold noodles

On another occasion, I surprised myself by ordering their 비빔 국수 (bibim guksu). Remember I swore off cold noodles the first time I ate them because to me, there’s only one way to eat noodles – piping hot.

Then one fine day, I found a stash of buckwheat noodles in my kitchen (I didn’t buy ’em), concocted a meal with them and fell in love, either with the noodles or my own cooking, I don’t know which 😝. Yeah, that was random even for me. But I ended up loving every mouthful of those buckwheat noodles eaten warm, of course, not cold.

Fast forward to when I saw bibim guksu on the menu and jumped at it without even thinking. Thankfully they weren’t served cold but were room temp instead. Awesome, I wouldn’t have had them any other way. Yums.

Of staring, fast food and not so cold noodles

So it’s happy days. We’ve been back many times, and now even the restaurant staff know our faces and orders and give us a special discount. Yes, they have a customer-friendly team unlike the usual ones with fake amnesia. “Why you not early today?” the cute waiter asked when we strolled in on a weekend lunch hour and couldn’t find a table. He found us one pretty quick. Now that’s service for ya!

All hail, the mighty kale!

All hail, the mighty kale!

And so here’s my kale story. There was too much talk about kale to ignore. Heard all about it being top spot on the super food pedestal. That was long ago. Kale, avocado, and coconut have since made way for kefir, soylent, and burrito, I hear, hohoho.

Whatever it is, not being one to jump blindly onto any old bandwagon that passes by, I was unperturbed. That’s my general reaction to the iPad, organic food, big breakfasts, any kind of trend fad that has people climbing their fork tines and leaping off their bowls. Let the world go crazy. Leave me alone. I’m staying put.

Stay put, I did, for the longest time. My eyes would pan over everything else in the produce section seeking out my usual veggie choices but skipping over the kale altogether. I tend to get comfortable with the regular veggies that I know and love, and kinda like to stick with those.

If I bought kale, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. Where life is kinda laid back without any of that city madness, I feel like there’s no need to put my brain into high gear. So I thought, nyet, I won’t bother figuring out something new. Let me plog along with my spinach, broccoli and asparagus, thanks.

Until one fine day, I noticed kale going for only 99 cents a bundle. I had no idea super food was so inexpensive. Now that’s not bad at all. Even if I mess it up and it turns out funky, it wouldn’t be such a waste. So I started peeking left and right trying to spot the biggest bundle. Guess I lucked out. Look, a whole tree!

All hail, the mighty kale!

They’re usually tied together neatly in a bundle with no protruding stems but this one was different. Even the cashier laughed and went, “What’s this?” as she puzzled over the 2 plastic bags I used to tame this tree. (By the way, this picture was taken over the open door of Mrs Dolores, our beloved dish washer who fights crime grime with a rattle and a slosh!)

Okay, so now what do I do with my kale? I tried to imagine it juiced but my brain didn’t like how it tasted. So I figured I’d just, what, stir-fry it with, what else, garlic!?? I don’t know, I’ve never fried a tree before, have you?

All hail, the mighty kale!

Well, the tree was huge and filled a big bowl so we ate half and saved the rest. And the taste? Well, if our tongues could taste colors, kale would be dark green and bitter but a bitterness with depth, quite different from the shallow bitterness of bitter gourd. It’s not hard to swallow. We like it. Even my used-to-say-no-to-veggie kids.

Paired with this shrimp and tomato dish, it’s even better. The tangy brightness of the tomatoes takes the edge off the kale’s deep bitterness and they balance each other out perfectly. 먹을 만에요. It’s actually not bad.

So yeah, we worship kale now quite religiously. It’s a regular in our grocery cart. Not because it is or was a trend but because we really like it. You knew that 😉!

Dear gourd, I’m not bitter at you any more

Dear gourd, I'm not bitter at you any more

Bitter gourd is something of a stranger to me. Sure I know, it’s a squash-like vegetable shaped like an eggplant but is green with a warty outside. Its flesh is really bitter and I’ve never liked it. As a child, I balked at it. As an adult, I wouldn’t go near it.

Dear gourd, I'm not bitter at you any moreImage credit

One day, Hip2bDad came home at lunch time with a packet of noodles for me. Surprise! Here’s your Bitter Gourd Noodle Soup, enjoy! I winced at those words. But I gotta say this, any time I don’t have to venture into a coffee shop myself, it’s a bonus. I’m not gonna complain.

I sat down to my bowl of Bitter Gourd Noodle Soup, eye-ing it suspiciously, certain that I would hate every bitter mouthful. But look at the abundance of good stuff swimming in it and hidden underneath –  tomatoes, fish cake slices, homemade fish balls, seaweed, goji berries underneath.

Dear gourd, I'm not bitter at you any more

Oh man! Wow!

With each spoonful of noodle, soup and my mamdatory fiery bird’s eye chilli, I was like “hey, this isn’t so bad”. The bitterness is there but it’s not overpowering. It’s a strange but flavorful combination just like dipping french fries into ice cream. When I got to the bottom of the bowl, I was wishing there was more. Seriously, that was the most delicious noodle soup ever – oink oink!

It seems bitter gourd is one of those super foods that can magically prevent or fix a host of health issues too. I think the general Asian belief is that if something’s bitter, it must be good for you 😓.

I’m not sure if bitter gourd is sold at grocery stores in the States but if it isn’t, I’m sure it’ll find its way there soon enough. Meantime, it might be worthwhile giving your tastebuds some practice with kale 😉 (that story coming up soon).

Tale of two pizzas

Tale of two pizzas

There’s pizza. And then, there’s pizza.

And each has a different tale to tell.

But first, just by looking at this picture, which pizza makes you want to sink your teeth into right now?

Tale of two pizzass

The frightfully pale and pasty one on the left that tastes bleh, or the one on the right that’s alive with toppings?

You choose.

To me, the one on the right is what a pizza should look like. Just looking at the symphony of colors and ingredients instantly transports me to our go-to pizza joint in California. One bite and I swear I can hear the pepperoni, olives, onions, mushrooms, peppers bursting unanimously into chorus. Now that, to me, is a real pizza!! ’nuff said!

Flowers and fake apologies

Flowers and fake apologies

So there I am at LA Airport with lots of time on my hands. The place is huge, ever busy, ever crowded. Trying to find a seat to park yourself and your baggage is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Traveling in entire villages seems to be the thing these days, which means there are no seats left for the rest of us. Hel-llo, does your backpack need to have its own seat?!!

After walking up and down 5 or 6 times, I finally spot a partially hidden seat between a man and a woman. Unsure if the man understands English, I ask the woman instead if the seat beside her is taken. It isn’t, whew! At last, I finally get to park myself somewhere.

And do nothing.

I confess I’m one of those rare dinosaur types who isn’t perpetually glued to technology. or peace-signing for the hundredth selfie. So there really isn’t much to do at all except maybe text my kids. And people-watch. Or attempt small talk with the nearest person to kill time. On a good day, a random person might even initiate small talk with me.

I look over at the lady on my right. She seems friendly enough but she’s glued to Facebook on her laptop (duh!). But then, I notice her gazing occasionally at the people streaming by. Suddenly she turns to me and points, “See the guy with the flowers?”

I’m like, where but he’s vanished into the crowd. It’s such a busy place and people are just going wooosh every millisecond! After a while, everything becomes a blur.

Flowers and fake apologies (Image credit: dvo.com)

“I hate people who try to suck up to you with flowers and a fake apology,” she continues. I don’t know what it was about the guy that gave her that idea but “Yup, I have to agree,” I reply, wondering who, in her life, she’s talking about.

Honestly, I don’t know which is worse, a fake apology or no apology at all. Apologies are as rare as blue diamonds with some people. So yeah, if ever there’s one uttered, fake or otherwise, I’ll take it, thanks!

“If they’re not really sorry, sucking up with a bunch of flowers ain’t gonna cut it,” she goes on. “I know what you mean,” is my simple reply. 네, 사과에요 lol! I totally get where she’s coming from. I’m certain now that someone in her life’s been a jerk. Turns out it’s her ex. I gather that’s exactly why he’s her ex.

The man beside me leaves. Instantly a whole village swoops in to grab his seat – grandparents, parents, grown siblings and their offspring. One of the women quickly settles into that one seat with her son on her lap while the village spreads out around her, all talking loudly. The hyperactive boy wriggles around and kicks my leg.

His mother sees it but says nothing. No apology. Not even a fake one? This would be the perfect time to teach the next generation some manners. But no, she was just going to let it go and now that boy is going to think it’s okay to kick someone and not apologize.

My new friend gazes momentarily at them and shakes her head. They’re getting louder by the minute. We continue talking and laughing but have to raise our voices to hear each other above the din.

I give her a small bag of red velvet cookies from my bag. She chomps on them while I nibble on my jam sandwich from home as we exchange notes about hobbies and interests. And there we were – two tired travelers in one crazy huge airport bonding over cookies and fake apologies within that short space of time.

Seafood and civilities, or lack thereof

Seafood and civilities, or lack thereof

So I was invited to a seafood dinner by friends of a mutual friend. No big deal. I shouldn’t have to think too hard. Yet this invite had me debating whether or not to go. Firstly, I don’t eat live seafood, and secondly, I don’t know the host and his wife well which is a legit consideration for me. I don’t like dining with strangers.

On any other day, I would’ve declined without so much as batting an eyelid. But since our K friends would be flying off soon, I figured it’d be my last chance to catch up with them. So against my better judgement, I agreed and didn’t give it any further thought.

Came the night of the dinner. When the first course – raw oysters – arrived, I pushed my portion to the middle of the table and politely offered it to anyone who wanted a second helping.

Suddenly all eyes were on me as everyone struggled to make sense of what they’d just heard me say. Our host’s eyes were the size of aircraft carriers and his jaw positively dropped to, oh, 2,000 feet below sea level.

YOU DON’T EAT SEAFOOD?!!!!!“, he bellowed.

The look of sheer shock and horror on his face was priceless. I could totally have been this little green woman with antennae on my head the way he was staring at me. I was tempted to wink and say, you’re right, we don’t have seafood on Mars!

“No, I don’t eat live seafood,” was my reply, plain and simple.

Our host started looking desperately around the table for help dealing with this alien, the expression on his face clearly screaming, What the h*ll are you doing here? You shouldn’t even have come! Are you crazy?! When no support was forthcoming, he changed his tone and started selling it to me instead.

“Not even a bit?? You’ve never eaten seafood? Why don’t you try some? It’s VERY good!”

See here’s the thing. People either don’t listen or they don’t process information too well. I don’t know which. Instead they conjure up their own funky ideas of what they THINK you said. Now did I say I don’t eat seafood, or did I say I don’t eat live seafood? Big difference there!

Okay, 다시한번더, let’s try this one more time.

“I don’t eat live seafood.”

YOU DON’T EAT SEAFOOD??? REALLY?!!!?

Here we go again!

Seafood and civilities, or lack thereof

Okay, let’s see what happens if I explain the meaning of the word ‘live’ and while I’m at it, throw in some visuals.

“I do eat seafood. I just don’t eat the live ones swimming in those aquariums over there.”

You think I made myself clear enough this time? You think he gets the picture now?

Well, he should because in Asia, many seafood restaurants have all kinds of live fish and sea creatures lined up in rows of aquariums, all swimming happily, oblivious to the fact that a diner could walk in any time and hand them their death sentence.

They would then be hauled to the kitchen, thrashing helplessly in a net, to be tossed into pots of boiling oil or water depending on how the diner wants them done. Woah, and then they’re dead meat. On the table. Literally!

Frankly I don’t subscribe to this concept. Already there’s so much killing in the world today I think the least I can do is spare these poor harmless creatures .

Our host seemed to be enjoying the drama. He started throwing both his arms into the air and bellowing.

BUT THIS IS A SEAFOOD RESTAURANT, YOU KNOW!!!

And this isn’t Hollywood, you know! 너무 이상해요! Strange that you should mention it. Now I may not be the ex-CEO of a multinational (like you, dude) but please give me a little credit here.

Seriously, who would’ve thought? Maybe I’m too used to being around civilized company, people who would’ve flagged down a waiter right away and ordered something else for me. It’s really just plain good manners.

Which brings me to this question. How is someone’s food preference even such a big deal? True, I don’t walk around with a neon sign on my forehead advertising it. But in a world full of people who are vegetarian, gluten-free, diabetic, lactose intolerant, allergic… how is this even news?

Long story short, while our party gorged on seafood, all I had for dinner that night was a heap of vegetables and a few slices of stir-fried venison (the only non-seafood dish he had ordered, not for me, of course but simply because it’s his favorite).

Not complaining here but this goes to show our gracious hosts were only too happy to let their guest go home hungry. Epic fail *shrugs*! I didn’t go home hungry. I had dinner at home before I went to their dinner. Sixth sense perhaps. Or maybe I was half-expecting this. Still I had the last laugh *cheeky wink*.

Panda now

Panda now

You may not believe it but I’m sitting here craving Panda. Even though most days, Panda is furthest from my mind, I really, suddenly want to wolf down heaping mouthfuls of their orange chicken, broccoli beef and chow mein. I’m hungry just looking at this picture, and I’m laughing too as I’m writing this.

Panda now

It’s Americanized Chinese food, not the most authentic, and frankly I’d never heard of orange chicken until Panda, but it’s palatable, decent even. Over time, if you eat it often enough, you may develop a taste for their version of Chinese, even begin to like it. Like I did.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for some of the food I’ve been eating lately *sigh*. I swore I wasn’t going to trust those rave reviews but when it comes to what I’ve been missing and wanting to eat for a long time, I have to risk it sometimes.

I know. I only have myself to blame for rushing to believe that those beef ball noodles I used to love would “taste the same now as they did back then”. How I convinced myself that that’s even possible here and now, I don’t know.

Nostalgia, I guess. I do miss those tasty noodles and really wanted to taste them again. I went there only to find out, too late, those beef ball noodles are SO bad I wouldn’t even serve them to my enemies, let alone paying customers. I could go on about how many of my other food faves have deteriorated, but I think I’ll stop myself right here…

… and weep a little for faves that were once tasty and flavorful but are now nothing more than sad, depleted, watered down versions of what they used to be. Enough said, I want some Panda right now!

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