Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Trying Ethiopian food for the first time

I can’t remember the last time that I tried an ethnic food for the first time. I have not tried all the foods of the world, but being the foodie that I am, I have probably tried a tad more than the average American. Certain foods have become embedded into a part of my culinary repertoire. Others, I try once or twice and decide it's not for me, but at least I have tried it once. 

Each time my palate enters unfamiliar grounds, there is some apprehension that is paled by curiosity. When picking a place to have ethnic cuisine, I try to make sure that I don’t have a horrible first time experience. Or else, it’s likely to ruin all foods from that country, for life. Well okay, maybe not for life…but for a good while until I am over being traumatized by the unmemorable experience. On a scale of 1-10, I’d say my foodie adventurousness sums up to about 7 or 8. I am curious to explore and try new things. But I still draw the line somehwere when it comes to trying anything and everything. I would never try anything in the likes of bosintang (dog stew), rat cuisine, balut, am still hesitant to try chicken feet. The last daring thing I tried that I never thought I would, was bbundaegi (yes, I actually gave it a try since that post).

I don’t remember what had suddenly made me decide to try Ethiopian food last week. I think that all these years, even though I was curious about it,  I was hesitant to try it mostly because I HATE eating with my hands. Like, I would eat a bag of chips with chopsticks if I could (if I had them conveniently around. And no, surprisingly, I don’t carry a pair in my purse). Okay, sometimes there is little else alternative but to eat with hands. I can’t eat crawfish with chopsticks. There is no other way to eat BBQ ribs other than with getting in there and getting your hands messy. I don’t slice and fork my bread and butter as I would a steak. I sacrifice my displeasure for my indulgences. But when I do, I just make sure I have quick access for hand washing right after.

As if eating with my hands wasn’t unpleasant enough, eating an unfamiliar food with my hands was totally going out of my foodie comfort zone even more. But what the heck….curiosity got the best of me that day, so I decided to suck it up and take one for the team.

I resorted to Yelp the nearest Ethiopian place with the better reviews. I mean, I have learned to take Yelp reviews with a grain of salt. After Yelping for some years and having gone through instances where Yelp has failed me, I think I have developed a sense of how to Yelp more selectively. It brought me to Tana Ethiopian Restaurant

The location is in some random strip mall on a street that I have passed through a gajillion times but have probably never really noticed. Walking in, the place was empty. Being empty around the peak of dinnertime can be a bad sign. It made me a bit more nervous. 

I was immediately welcomed with unfamiliar aromas that I was about to discover and grow to either like or hate.  

We were greeted by a sweet middle-aged woman in sunglasses. I picked a table right next to the air cooler. The woman was quick to move us to a “much cooler” room. She said that it was too hot in the outer room and that it would make us “perspire” like her…lol not the most pleasant word to hear from the person serving us food. This automatically made me have images of the woman perspiring into our food.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

When the health department (aka “kitchen cops”) visits

They can make or break the success of your business. And no, I am not referring to Yelpers, or even the Yelp Elites, though they are sometimes just as much hated on by many restaurant owners.  
Their arrival sends everyone into a scurry of madness to get everything into place where and how they’re supposed to be.

 They are godlike entities that are to be answered to. Rub them the wrong way and Lord, have mercy on your business.They are the folks from the health inspection department. 

Alert is on high upon the sign of their arrival. “Make sure everything is labeled and dated!” a chef might yell out. And everyone stops what they are doing to grab hold pieces of a labeling tape. Staff starts running amuck, writing on the labels as fast as they could and then sticking them on even faster. Misspellings are common, even more so when rushed. You wouldn’t believe some of the butchered labels I have seen during my time in the kitchen. Most of the butchered spelling are doings of the nonnative English speakers. But I have seen some pretty effed up misspellings by American born employees. I once saw someone spell lettuce as “lettus”. I’ve seen a “know-it-all girl spell caramel as “carmel”. I’ve seen Caesar spelled as “cisur”. I know I can’t spell anymore either. Don’t think that I am immune to my own mockery. I, too, can’t spell. I forgot how to spell! Long gone are the days of almost always scoring a 100% on my spelling tests back in my youth. Spell check and autocorrect has crippled me with a Dan Quayle symptom (if you're old enough to remember).   

In counties where glove wearing is required by law, chefs and cooks scurry around to look for the nearest box of gloves to slip on. Sometimes the only thing available might be too small and tight for some, causing wears and tears on the gloves as giant hands try to work in them, suffering through the cut off circulation.  Other times, it may be so huge that the extra flap of latex makes it impossible to handle things (like in my case). And ya’ll know how I feel about glove wearing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

My road trip to Utah - and the things I ate

Growing up, my family and I would venture away on road trips regularly. But I don’t quite remember going anywhere too too far. But maybe the trips did seem far at the time. The concept of time and distance to the little me was probably far more than what it actually was. With the constant whines of “Are we there yet?” “How much longer?” “I’m going to throw up.” “I’m bored.” I am sure time seemed to drag on forever to my parents as well. My fondest memories from the road trips I’ve been dragged to have got to be the food indulging moments.  After having gone through the endless hours of ear popping, being bored, being hungry, being cranky, being car sick, eating time was the saving grace of it all.  Food was kept in a large red Igloo ice box, one that had been with us through the years of torturous-memorable-good times.

In the earlier days, my family never ate out during road trips. Everything we brought was kept in the ice box, and whatever did not fit was kept in the fridge of our RV (for some reason, we relied more on the ice box than the fridge…maybe because the fridge acted flaky sometimes and required more maintenance). Our usual road trip food included kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew), galbi, ddukguk (rice cake soup), tuna sandwiches, and ramen. The mountains were one of our most frequently visited destinations. I don’t know why, but to me, food always tasted so good in cold mountain air. From a young age, it was all about food. ( #foodieintraining ) Many of my fondest memories in life have some kind of yummy eating involved.

During the road trips in my adult years, I mostly ate out on the open roads. So it was all about relying on finding the nearest McDonald’s on the highway, getting stale sandwiches at gas stations, or if lucky, finding a random yet decent mom and pop hole in the wall joint. We’d rely on these types of foods to keep nourished until a restaurant of choice was to be found.

In my recent road trip to Utah, I was on the road for four days. I knew I didn’t want to eat out for every single meal for every single day. And venturing into a place where decent Korean food would be scarce would make me crave it even more. If I go on too long without Korean food, I just don’t feel regular. The most exciting part about the trip was the food planning and eating on the road.
Other than a medium sized suitcase, a tote bag, and a couple of purses, the rest of my luggage comprised of eating related items, which made up about 75% of what I was bringing. I was determined to not suffer through not eating well on this trip.

Three ice boxes, a burner, a couple of bags and a box filled with eating/cooking related items.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A day in the life of a food lover - Taking on "the world's best pastrami"- the #19 at Langer's, drooling as I sat through "City of Gold", and being hooked on mukbang (eating show)

I recently took on Part II of venturing out to explore what Phil had in “I’ll have what Phil’s having (Los Angeles)”. One of his many LA stops was at Langer’s, home of “the world’s best pastrami”. Look how happy Phil looks to just even be at Langer’s, and the sheer excitement of about to say “#19”. Phil, who is from New York (meaning he probably knows his pastramis better than most Angelinos) attests Langer’s pastramis as not up to par with New York’s, but “better”. So yeah, that had me daydreaming about Langer’s #19 for weeks.

As I mentioned in a previous post, watching that episode of “I’ll have what Phil’s having”, had me realizing how much of LA I have yet to discover despite having been an Angelino my entire life. I still have a few more places on my list to try, from that episode alone. 

Here's a little quick rundown of what Langer's is all about, told by a second generation Langer. He claims that the best advice he ever received was by his father, who told him "Allow people to experience the same product they received XX years ago. As long as you gave them a good product then, they will continue to come back, looking for the same product. Don't change the quality. Don't change the quantity. Give them the same product."  

Langer’s is located on 7th and Alvarado, nestled in a location that one might not expect a world famous deli to be at.. It is in a neighboorhood where one might come to pick up a fake green card or hear the melody of Mariachi music being played from a nearing establishment or the local cars driving by. I have passed by and through this area many times, but never looked twice to pay enough attention to acknowledge what was a landmark. I would definitely not consider coming here alone at night. But then again, Langer's closes at 4 pm anyways. 

I did not have any breakfast on this day….and as usual I was freaking behgopa! I think it took a little less than an hour to arrive here. Traffic wasn’t a total nightmare, but it was still there. The torture of sitting in traffic in starvation mode was starting to become unbearable halfway there. But soon, I’d get from torturous state to blissful fulfillment. My mind wandered into daydreams about the #19. Would it be everything it was hyped up to be and more? Would it send me to a foodgasmic coma? Would it be something I’d dream about for days after eating? The wait was making me ache in behgorage and anticipation.  

My oinking partner and I arrived a little past 11 am. We left early in hopes to avoid the lunch rush. As expected for a worldly famous place, there wasn’t an empty table in house, but there also wasn’t a line out the door at the time. Glad we came early before the craziness began.

We came here in pursuit of one item…the #19…so of course, that was a given. But we also wanted to try another dish. With the plethora of the many items on their list, it was a challenge to decide. The roast beef also sounded tempting. So did club and the corned beef. Decisions, decisions....Oinking partner said the roast beef sounded good. At this point, I was too deep in behgorage mode to think, and a second vote on the roast beef won the vote. So roast beef it is. 

The food came out quick, felt like a minute or two upon ordering. I expected to suffer in begorage torture a little while longer, but bam! In no time, the torturous behgorage pain started to melt away of when the epic moment of the world famous #19 arrived at the table.

Woo la la~ This was the pastrami that people from all over the country wanted to come plant their faces into.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Oinking adventures - Food ventures at Grand Central Market and goat stew at Mirak

Due to being ridiculously sick recently, my writing endeavors had to be put on the back burner, including blog posts. It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve sat in front of the computer screen. The recent flu I had was a biatch. I was in dying mode for the first week. I spent days living off of flu medicine and porridge. I had no appetite and everything tasted like crap. Yeah, life sucked. 

By week two, most of the severe symptoms had disappeared, but it lingered with an annoying cough that still not has gone away. Freaking cough, I hate you! It subsided here and there but seemed to have gotten worse when I ventured out one afternoon into congested areas. Maybe I wasn’t ready to venture out until I was 100% fully recovered. Maybe I should have been cooped up at home, resting and recovering until the flu had been long gone. A couple Sundays ago, I went on a pigging out adventure and it’s almost like the outside, unfamiliar and very congested environment worsened my condition, just when I thought I was starting to get better. 

The night before, I was Netflixing and came across “I’ll have what Phil’s having”, the Los Angeles episode. OMG it was late and night and watching a food program late at night is not a good idea. I about died as I watched Phil make one food stop to the next. It made me realize how much of LA I have yet to discover, even though I have been an Angelino all my life. Among the several spots he visited on his LA food adventure, the Grand Central Market was one of them. How have I never been here? The place is a landmark that has been around for almost 100 years.

Phil and his dining buddy, Allison Janney, had a field day trying out different vendors from tacos that made me drool to grass fed burgers, wieners, ginseng extracted lattes, and ice cream! I wanted to eat everything they ate and more! I wanted a day of fun, exploring and oinking like the one they were having. The next day, I immediately made plans to have that kind of day. I planned on pigging out all day at Grand Central Market during the day. But I also wanted to go eat goat stew in Ktown for dinner since I had been craving it all week ever since I saw a video clip of the boiling yummy goodness on Miss Piggie Eats' Instagram. She is always eating tons of yummy-makes-you-drool kind of stuff but doesn't seem to ever gain an ounce lol. Where does it all go, Miss Piggie? 

It was going to be an *eat ‘till I explode* day….my kind of day! But it definitely isn’t something I could do on a regular basis, or I’d be fatter than I already am and would develop multiple health issues.

It took about an hour to get here from OC. Approaching the DTLA area, there was major traffic, moving about a foot a minute. It was close to two and I was starting to enter my hangry stage, and on top of that, had to pee. Frustrated cars behind and in front were honking….not even honking at specific cars but honking just for the heck of honking out of the frustration of being stuck.
Proceeding ahead (following the GPS directions) did not look promising, so another direction had to be taken. It turns out that a movie was being filmed, hence the nightmare traffic preventing the gorge fest that was already supposed to be happening.