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

Dear gourd, I'm not bitter at you any more
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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 –Β  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 πŸ˜“.

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 πŸ˜‰ (that story coming up soon).

Tale of two pizzas

Tale of two pizzas
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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
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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. λ„€, μ‚¬κ³Όμ—μš” 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
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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, λ‹€μ‹œν•œλ²ˆλ”, 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! λ„ˆλ¬΄ μ΄μƒν•΄μš”! 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
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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!

Finally, Thai with a side of compassion

Finally, Thai with a side of compassion
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As if our encounter with Restaurant #1’s amnesia wasn’t enough, we were made to feel like ants and subsequently left Restaurant #2, ravenously hungry and upset. The only thing left to do was to drive down the road to another Thai food joint we knew of.

This is a small restaurant where we’d eaten twice before. It could’ve been sheer coincidence but both times, the spiciness level of their food proved a little too much for our Americanized stomachs unaccustomed to that kind of heat.

Still, we decided to give Restaurant #3 a second chance. Boy, are we glad we did! The food tastes as good, if not better, than Restaurant #2 especially their pad thai and red curry. And that little egg roll is so good we fight for it and hate to share πŸ˜‹.

Finally, Thai with a side of compassion

I asked our server (SIL of the owners/chefs) about their Thai coffee, thinking it’d nice to have a cup of hot coffee on a blistery winter’s day. But she said the coffee is served cold. So I joked that I’m too cold right now to be drinking iced coffee 😒. And guess what? She came back with this pot of hot tea, smiled and said, it’s on the house!

Finally, Thai with a side of compassion

Halleluia, doesn’t this kind of customer service just bowl you over?! like whoooosh?! In fact, this is more than customer service, it’s compassion as well. You’re cold and this nice lady brings you a pot of hot tea to warm you up. Was she Mother Teresa in her previous life or what?!

Compare this to another Thai restaurant across the globe that we used to patronize – again because of their convenient location. Their food is not cheap, neither is it the most tasty but it’s where we used to go for a quick fix of Thai food. Here, you can’t specify your preferred heat level. You just have to settle for whatever they serve you, and their super spiciness sets your tongue and throat on fire.

But here’s the thing, they do not serve water!! Their staff can clearly see you sweating and tearing but no one is going to offer you a drink of water. They expect you to order their ripoff drinks which are teeny tiny servings at sky-high prices. That is something I absolutely refused to do!

Instead, I would grab the kids and dash down to the McD’s at the other end of the mall to douse the fire with our fill of soda. So yeah, you can’t make a customer order your drinks if they don’t want to. And yes, we stopped eating there years ago. Now I will go back to Restaurant #3 any time for Thai food that comes with amazing service and a welcome side of compassion. That’s how much I value good service.

Look, we shrunk the customers!

Look, we shrunk the customers!
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Resuming our quest for decent Thai food after encountering servers with amnesia at this place and booting it off our Picky Eater List, we found a new place that serves food that’s a little too sweet but decent. We started eating there whenever we craved hot, spicy Thai food.

Look, we shrunk the customers!

One day, we got there for a late (for us) lunch. The place was packed and we were starving. The server seated us, gave us the menu and never got back to us. Oh, the servers were there, buzzing around the tables nearby but no one looked in our direction in spite of our waving.

Imagine us in the movie Honey, I shrunk the kids. Yup, we might as well have been those ant-sized kids jumping up and down, waving our hands frantically. To no avail. We were completely ignored. So we did the only thing left to do. We got up and walked out … and haven’t returned since.

For a while, this place was on our Picky Eater List. But only for a little while. Oops, there goes another one! Staying on the list is definitely wa-ay harder than getting booted off, eh! No regrets, we can always take our business elsewhere. There’s bound to be a good restaurant somewhere who values their business and repeat customers.

And we did find one. Coming to a post near you!

Of loyalty and amnesia

Of loyalty and amnesia
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It’s no secret that any spicy food will get the go-go-go from me and my tastebuds. Recently, we were on the lookout for a great Thai restaurant to add to our Picker Eater List. When we found this place, we were rearing to go try it out. It’s a pretty popular place, the food is good but on the pricey side.

Of loyalty and amnesia

We liked it and ate there twice. That’s when I noticed one of the servers (aka the owner) looked familiar. Indeed I used to patronize his old restaurant every other weekend during my college days. As we waited for our food, I was half expecting some sign of recognition on his part. Maybe a hi, fancy seeing you again after all these years, or something like that. Nothing! despite the fact that I caught him casting side glances in our direction a few times. Clearly he recognized me but was trying to avoid eye contact.

No surprise though. There’s a Vietnamese restaurant we used to patronize very often for over 10 years while the kids were growing up. Yet each time we walked in, the same few servers would treat us like they were seeing us for the first time. They didn’t recognize us (really?), they kept messing up our orders, they couldn’t remember our preferences, and we had to keep repeating every single time. Yup, servers with amnesia!

Hmm, come to think of it, I only recall learning in business school that you should value your repeat customers like gold. I don’t recall ever learning that you should treat your repeat customers like crap and your new customers like kings. Someone should definitely rewrite those business books ‘cos here comes a weird new way of doing business!!!

Needless to say, we kicked that Vietnamese restaurant out of our Picky Eater List a long time ago. All those years, I only patronized it because it was conveniently nearby. And this Thai restaurant didn’t make it into our list either. If you “can’t recognize” a loyal customer, then it’s only fair for them to take their business somewhere else, don’tΒ  ya think?✌

The making of the homebody

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There was a time when the kids’ hectic school life revolved around weekdays and we looked forward to weekends when we would crawl the malls endlessly in search of good food and good finds. These days, we’re prone to staying home on the weekends except for the occasional trip out to shop for necessities like groceries.

The malls seem to have lost their luster. Somehow the crowds seem different – more rude, more impatient, prices and traffic crazier than before, and language seems to be becoming more of a problem. I seem to be repeating myself more, grading my language more, and having to switch to languages other than English in order to be understood.

Then too, the malls used to be a welcoming refuge from the heat outside. Now it’s more like from the frying pan into the fire. The air-conditioning in the malls is barely there and strange as it may sound, I’m thankful for the flyers they give out (I used to loath them) that I now use to fan myself with. Looks like progress is all around.

This weekend, we’re staying home – again! There’s nowhere to go and nothing to eat, chorus the homebodies.

 

Not about the noodles

Not about the noodles
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This may sound strange to you but I’ve never had ramen before, the restaurant version, that is. I don’t believe in ordering something that can easily be made at home, you know, like bacon and eggs, or fried rice, or ramen. But this post isn’t about the noodles. Far from it. Read on…

So it was a cool winter’s afternoon earlier this year that our search for takoyaki led us to a little restaurant in Japantown, San Francisco with glass walls that overlook the street outside. Cute, cozy and lots of natural light.

wrk1

Our server, a young woman with short hair and checkered shirt, took our order of takoyaki and a bowl of ramen. The takoyaki was pretty good, loved the shavings but didn’t quite care for the mayo… that’s just me 😝!

wrk2

As promised, our ramen came steaming hot with a thick home-brewed pork soup base which tasted much too strong for me though I have to say, thick soup is definitely better than watered down. The serving left us still hungry but we didn’t order more. To be fair, three of us were sharing 2 orders so ya, we deserved to go hungry 😏.

Anyhoo, enough about the noodles. It’s our server that I mean to talk about today. Well, since we were done eating in a snap and sat around for a bit afterwards, I had a chance to observe her. What struck me most about this place was the complete lack of staff. In fact, this young lady was the only person working the 10 to 12 tables. As customers walked in, she would show them to their table, take their orders (without even writing them down or punching into a machine), relay their orders to the kitchen, serve each table, take phone calls, bill the customers, clear tables and even found the time to look in on each table with the usual “how’s everything?” Yup, that sure is enough to overwhelm anyone!!

True, I’ve seen a few others like her,Β incredibly organized and cool as a cat, but I’ve also eaten at places where ten people can’t do half what she was doing. Remember, this is just one person working! You would imagine her rushing around like a headless chicken, confusing orders, forgetting stuff, keeping people waiting… But no, nothing like that at all. She was such a joy to watch – almost like a well-oiled piece of machinery waltzing to classical music playing in the background. Imagine her in any number of places where you’ve ever torn out your hair and hurled flowery language inside your head while being served. For that alone, I think she’s amazing. I’m not someone who is easily impressed but here, I definitely am. Very impressed.

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