Monday, January 29, 2007

Korean-Mexican Fusion: Korean BBQ Kalbi Tacos?

What I like best about living in LA is the accessibility to almost any type of food you crave. The SGV is home to many cantonese, chinese and taiwanese establishments. Little Tokyo and the South Bay are home to delicious japanese food. Thai food in Hollywood, etc. But Koreatown has to be one of the largest ethnic enclaves in Los Angeles. Within Koreatown, there's also a growing population of Latinos. Mmm... korean food and mexican food - such good stuff. We've all heard of musical mash-ups. An old 80's song with a current hip hop track, i.e. Same goes with fusion food, which has been the culinary trend of late.

Back in college, bbqing was something that we did frequently. At this one particular bbq, we had a mix of korean bbq ribs and carne asada tacos. A few hours later, after constant binge drinking and eating, we found ourselves left with no carne asada but a gang of ribs. Yet we still wanted tacos. I thought, hey why not use the korean bbq meat. It's still beef. Keep in mind, I wasn't very sober. Without salsa, the only spicy thing in sight was either the trusty Sriracha bottle that never seemed to run out and the jar o' kimchi for god knows how long it was first opened. I chopped up the korean bbq beef and added some chopped kimchi, cilantro, green onions and a nice dollop of guac. Honestly it was good... for being drunk.

And how does it taste in a sober state? I had to find out again after nearly 5 years. I marinated some beef with soy sauce, coke, black pepper, garlic, onions, scallions, sesame oil and water. I wasn't able to find good kimchi and had to resort to the Cosmos brand - bleh. So watery. I grilled the meat at J's place and prepared a kalbi taco the same way 5 years ago. Beef, kimchi, cilantro, green onions, guac... and to add more of a korean flair - sesame seeds. Although my korean bbq marinade sucked, it still tasted good because of the large mix of ingredients. I had to give it to Miss Taco Hunt for the final verdict.

Miss Taco Hunt: "It's good."
Me: "Yeah, and?"
Miss Taco Hunt: "Tastes like a cross between a carne asada taco and a pupusa. They use a pickled cabbage similar to kimchi."
Me: "And?"
Miss Taco Hunt: "Meat is too red."
Me: "Would you eat this again?"
Miss Taco Hunt: "Yeah... maybe."

Would these do well in the LA/Koreatown area? Probably not. Bandini of Great Taco Hunt would probably look at me like I'm crazy. Hey! Guys like weird food. We like Yoshinoya - girls don't! But, one day, if you happen to see a shoddy taco truck running on one spare tire, spitting out black exhaust with Korean & Spanish written on it... it's probably yours truly. So help me pay my rent! Thanks for reading. Read more!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Taiwan Time: Pictures Are Worth a 1,000 Words and 1,000s of Calories

After only a few days in Hong Kong, I had eaten everything I dreamt about since last year... in about 3 days. Meaning I ate 6 kinds of soup noodles, 10+ different street vendor snacks - amongst other cholesterol-boosting junk. As much as I love Hong Kong, too much of anything isn't a good thing. And I wasn't going to let myself get infected by 'hot air' so early in my trip. My two friends from LA were going to see their parents in Taiwan and offered to show me around. So I took a mini-trip over to Taiwan and piggy-backed with them. I was going to be in Asia for nearly two weeks, so this was a good opportunity to venture out. 1.5 hours later, I was flown to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan.

I met up with my two friends, the W's (pronounced 'The Dubs'), at Chiang Kai Shek airport and took a one-hour limo ride into Taiwan. Driving on the freeway, all I could see were gray skies, gray buildings, gray grass and gray people. My god, the pollution was way worse than Hong Kong. I tried to be positive and think that it added some flavor to the delicious Taiwanese food that I had come searching for. The majority of the cars on the freeway were service and delivery trucks with the occasional scooter rider. Once we got into town, it was a different story - I was stuck in Scooterville. Scooters usually hold one person - not here though. They can hold as many as three people at a time. For every car on the road, there's a scooter... and they ride in packs.

Carpool Program
Here, you can see an example of Taiwan's carpool program. Add a fat lady, a dog that can walk on two legs and an albino flame-spitter and you'd get a circus act. It's actually a good thing that three people are riding one scooter because the pollution is seriously bad out there. *Note the front rider with no helmet, unless you wanna count that hooded sweater as a source for noggin-protection.

Taipei 101
What looks like a gigantic asparagus is actually Taipei 101, the world's tallest building. This thing was massive! On the first few levels, there's a mall and a huge food court. Yes! I get to eat fobby food AND shop for fobby clothing!

Yung Ho Do Jiang (Yung Ho Soy-Bean Milk)
This is what powers the people of Taiwan every AM. Me and W got here at 7:30 am and there were already 15 people waiting in line for their floury fix. Pictured here: egg pancake, scallion pancake, chinese fried donut and hot bowls of soy milk. How much did all this cost? Less than $3. So good. Yung Ho also has a location on Valley Blvd./New Avenue in San Gabriel. Definitely try it out.

Taiwan Beer
Cheers! We drank this at a lounge outside of Taipei 101. My first time trying it was a few weeks back at my friend's Sichuan hot pot dinner and it was nice and refreshing. The two bottles are different but pretty much taste the same.

Betelnut Girls (Bing Lang Nu)
No this isn't a light fixture shop or raver store. The green fluorescent-tube indicates one thing: betelnuts. Betelnuts are seeds that come from the Betel Palm and are chewed for their helpful effects. Rewarding benefits include asthma exacerbation, hypotension and tachycardia. Whatever those mean - they don't sound too enjoyable. It tastes peppery and bitter and is pretty gross. But for the people of Taiwan, this is Major League Chew. Everyone knows that sex sells and with over a few thousand betelnut stalls in Taiwan, a simple billboard won't do the trick. I can see the meeting right now. A bunch of marketing guys are huddled around a large oak conference table. They spend HOURS thinking of ways to advertising something that is pretty much bad for you. All of a sudden at 3:41 am, one executive exclaims: "Why not get girls to dress in skimpy Forever 21 clothing and sell the betelnut?" Here's a glimpse of what I'm talking about. Genius. So genius that Taiwan has asked that betelnut stalls start 'cleaning' up their act and put more clothing on the salesgirls.

Betelnuts (Bing Lang)
Betelnuts are traditionally wrapped in leaves.

Look at the size of that... mole on his forehead. Just kidding, this chef was really cool. With Japan only a few hours away, your guaranteed to get quality fish. This chef was more than proud to display his prized cut from the tuna. Look at it, it looks like a beef steak. He prepared this dish by basting on his home-made soy sauce glaze and torchóned it. Absolutely delicious. I was so tempted to just jump out and grab the toro and run for the hills.

Shi Lin Night Market (Shi Lin Yeh Sih)
The main reason I wanted to come out to Taiwan was to eat at the numerous night markets. Starting at about 7 pm, vendors haul all of their goodies out and it's awesome. Just think of it as a swapmeet for food. You'll see all walks of life at the night markets - everyone.... just starving for food. Food zombies... just like me. In a few scrolls, you'll start to see all the fabulous food offered at the majority of the night markets. Stuff, that if they were to be sold in LA, would make the danger dog ladies run for the hills. I went to three: Shi Lin, Hua Xi (Snake Alley) and Lin Jiang. Three of many in Taiwan.

Snake Alley Night Market (Hua Xi)
Many people told me that this is one of the smaller and sketchier night markets because there are some 'undercover' businesses if you know what I mean. A nail salon may offer nail services, but there's also an option to have a 'happier ending' to your night. In light of that, Snake Alley is named for its obvious delicacy: snakes. Yes! Two foodies I respect the most are Anthony Bourdain and my good friend, Eddie, of Deep End Dining and I know this is what they would definitely eat. I headed over there with W and it was definitely not banging. There were about 50-60 people walking around and I could pretty much see the end of the alley. I passed by a few 'nail salons' and 'hair salons'. And the occasional toy store. Hmm, where are the snake shops? After a few minutes, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a store with a few fish tanks. Hmm. That's not it, those are turtles! A few meters down, I saw a store with a large TV bolted on to the ceiling and a few tanks. This time, there were brown, leathery things in the tanks. I had read that Hua Xi snake shops used to demonstrate the slaying of a snake before a live audience. With signs that said, "The snakes used are unprotected snakes." and "No photography", I can tell those supersensitive folks at PETA have paid a visit here. Regardless, I was going to try the snake. I approached the owner who was on the microphone luring customers in for his delicacy. I walked up to him with W.

(In Chinese)
Me: "How much is it and what do I get?"
Me: "What else?"
Restaurant Owner: "SNAKE BLOOD"
(keep in mind, the bold type symbolizes his loud voice on the microphone. It was on 11, not the usual maximum of 10, on his speaker system.)
Me: "Ok."
Restaurant Owner: "AND VENOM AND BILE!"
Me: "W, let's go."

He was so happy to get us in there. I told him I wanted the 300 NT special which is about $9.38. It comes with snake soup and the shots. I was VERY excited. I noticed another table of foreigners there for the same reason I was. He seemed to be enjoying it. Along the walls, there were locked, display cases filled with various jars. Each jar contained some type of offal in a colorful liquid. All were wrapped with a red bow. Not your typical present to the one you love. Must've been very expensive alcohol.

Snake Soup
In less than 5 minutes, the snake soup came out and it smelled really good. The broth was probably made with chicken bones, dried mushrooms and various herbs. There were about 5 two-inch cuts of bony snake in there. I first tried the soup... very nice. Then I picked at the snake and tried to pull off as much meat from the bones. It was really laborious. The snake really tasted like chicken but more rubbery. It was yummy.

Snake Shots
As I was working on the bowl of soup, a waitress came out with a tray of three colorful shots. I started off with the blood shot on the right. I loved how it came with two random pills... made me feel like I was playing Nintendo's Dr. Mario game. The guy explained that the pills were to help prepare the stomach for foreign fluids. I took the blood shot in one gulp and it tasted like.... Vodka! No taste of blood. But damn, that was strong. It had to be mixed with 50%-plus wine. Next, I had the venom shot and it tasted like... Rum! The final shot was the bile and it tasted like... Tequila! After a few minutes, I started to feel, not only a little buzzed, but DROWSY. It is said that the fluids of the snake enhance virility. I didn't feel that.... I felt more dazed than anything. It was a good experience. Whoever came up with this idea to drink snake fluids was one big alcoholic. Same with the person who first discovered how to open an oyster. They were freaking hungry. We thanked the jovial owner and ventured off for some good eats. Here we go!

Pork Back/Belly
This is braised in soy sauce, garlic, ginger, rice wine and five-spice powder. It's super delicious and probably one of the fastest ways to check in at Hotel Six Feet Under.

Taiwan is nuts about corn. They have several stalls that sell them steamed, grilled with butter and also with satay barbeque/hot sauce.

Garlic Crab Legs/Claws

This is a favorite beer snack. It's served with soy paste (jiang yo gao) which is sweetened soy sauce that has the consistency of oyster sauce.

Salt-Fried Chicken (Yen Su Ji)
This is a snack you'll see quite often in boba shops in LA. They are usually served in a paper bag with a few skewers for spearing and devouring. A tasty and barbaric treat.

Fried-Tofu (Za Dou Fu)
These tofu cubes are beautifully fried in a light batter and topped with green onions and soy sauce paste.

Golden Ham Hocks

Ham-Wrapped Scallions

Mochi Rice Cakes

Various Fish Cakes (Oden)

Oyster Pancake/Omelette (Oh-Ah-Jian)
This is another popular Taiwanese treat... also topped with soy paste.

Taiwenese Sweet Sausages (Xiang Chang)
You can find these at Sin Ba La in Arcadia, a Taiwanese joint.

More Sausages

Grilled Shrimp
Shrimp in an orgy.

Shrimp On Vacation
These shrimp are laying back and getting a nice tan at Taiwan Beach.

Skewered Goodies

Grilled Squid

Stinky Tofu (Chou Do Fu)
Oh yes, one of my favorite things. Ever sit in a restaurant and think you smell the chicken farm off the 605 and 60 freeway. Well it's probably Taiwanese stinky tofu. For some reason, you can smell these a mile away, but when they're right under your nose, you can't smell a thing. These are deliciously-pungent goodies are served with soy paste. Read more about it here.

Wax Apples (Lian Wu)
Taiwan is also known for a large variety of fresh fruits due to the island climate. One of the most popular fruits are the Wax Apple, aka Syzygium samarangense for you big SAT-word people. It looks like a really fitnessed apple yet tastes somewhat like a pear. The inside isn't very dense and reminds me of styrofoam balls we all used to use for the Solar Planet project back in school. Taiwan used to have black colored ones which they called "black diamonds' but aren't as available anymore. These were delicious. Read more about it here.

These are just a few of the MANY night market food photos I shot.

And finally, the highly-coveted dish of Taiwan: Beef Noodle Soup. Taiwan is so big on this that they even have a beef noodle festival! And have been named the Beef Noodle Soup capital of the world. Hearing that, I imagined monumental statues of bronze bowls. Something grander than the Statue of Liberty. On my last day in Taiwan, I got up really early to head out and do my last rounds of eating. The whole trip, I was gratefully spoiled by W's parents with delicious food. But I don't need to have the finest things in life to be happy... just a bowl of beef noodle soup and I'm all hot and bothered. I went up and down the streets of this one particular street filled with food stalls yet 9:45 am was too early for the people of Taiwan to eat BNS. Luckily, I found a lady and saw her cooking BNS. I told her that I was visiting from Hong Kong and was heading to the airport very soon. She was too nice. She quickly got a bowl and filled it with noodles that were cut no more than 3 minutes before and filled it with goodness.

The Noodle Man
I watched him for about 10 minutes and snapped away. He was more than happy to tell me what he was doing. A few minutes before, he was smoking a cigarette that was pretty much 2" worth of ash. God knows if any of that fell into the noodle mix. I didn't care.

I devoured the bowl of BNS in about 7 minutes and thanked the lady for her kindness. Lunch wasn't served for another 2 hours but understood a man's needs. I gave her a $10 tip and she tried to run after me to give it back.

I had a killer time in Taiwan. HK and Taiwan are definitely great foodie spots. Everything is CHEAP - even cheaper than HK. Hope you enjoyed the photos. Thanks for reading. Shanghai and Macau are next... I just don't know how soon.
Read more!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Hai-ya Hong Kong!

For this year’s holiday season, I took my normal pattern of excessive eating and partying to another level – by doing the same exact thing in another country. Yes, in Hong Kong! I’ve already done the New York new year’s eve thing and it was lame. I love Asia and every time I watch the global countdowns on TV, Asia really puts on a good show.

Hong Kong literally means ‘fragrant harbor’, but one look at that green-colored water, you’d think otherwise. It’s like calling the waters off Venice Beach clean and fresh. But it’s ok, I’m not there to frolic in the waters of Hong Kong with those arm floaties and my 7 dolphin friends. I’m there to consume the eccentric city life. I had already gone to HK last year and thought every day about the fabulous food I ate. Being a noodle whore, I had many noodle dishes lined up at the eating range. Attack!

Wonton Noodle Soup (Wonton Mein)
I have dreamt of these every day since last summer. If I knew how to compose a song, I would chant about these beautiful medallions of goodness. The same way Michael Bolton sings so
passionately about women. I don’t know how HK does it but I think the hand mixing of the pork really adds bite to wontons. There is actually a nice ‘crunch’ to it. Maybe they use a grade of MSG that is as highly-coveted as the truffle. I consider Wonton Time in Alhambra to be one of the better wonton restaurants but compared to HK’s, it’s night and day. The heavily-flavored pork/chicken/fish broth, chewy noodles and the addition of red vinegar and chili oil make this one of HK’s most famous dishes. When I hear the words ‘hong kong’, I think of these. And the green sea water.

Beef Brisket Noodle Soup (Ngau Nam Mien)
China and Taiwan have their beef noodle soup, Vietnamese have pho and we have these. The meat is braised in a broth using soy sauce, dried orange peel and of course, star anise. The soup used is the same as wonton mein but a scoop of the braised beef sauce is added for flavoring. Man, it was like eating Kobe beef over noodles… so tender it broke when I picked it up with my chopsticks. At this particular restaurant called Chi Kei, it was packed. I had walked to their other location but got rejected because they had sold out of their noodles. I luckily found another chain across the street (like Starbucks) and ended up sitting with an old couple who slurped and splattered all over the table. They were so into the soup and probably would have enjoyed a bath in the stock pot.

Fish Ball Soup Noodles (Yu Dan Mein or Fun)
Oh man, these are disgusting in a good way. This dish is a product of the wonderful people of Chiu Chow province. When asked what kind of fish they use for this, my mom explained that these are basically the Spam of fish. Since the Chiu Chow province is near the ocean, they have access to a plethora of fish. The fish is robbed of its fillets and whatever is not used becomes a fish ball. That sucks… I’d hate to be resurrected as a delicious beef ball. Again, the hand mixing of these fish balls adds bite and ‘bounce’. So good.

Beef Ball Noodle Soup (Ngau Yuk Yuen Fun)
This is also from the Chiu Chow province. Amazing thing about these is that they are juicy inside. It’s almost like a Chinese soupy dumpling… one bite and there’s an explosion of juices. Anything served with a spoonful of scallions and fried shallots is my pal.

Fish Dumpling Noodle Soup (Yu Pei Gow)
Another delectable product from Chiu Chow. Here, the skin of the dumpling is made out of pureed fish, and so is the filling! It’s like bacon-wrapped bacon. Imagine the life cycle of this fish. He’s swimming one day. Gets caught and is then butchered into pieces. He is then rolled into a ball and then wrapped again by his own flesh. RIP Little Nemo.

Preserved Duck Egg and Pork Congee (Pei Dan Sow Yuk Jook)
This is like Chinese oatmeal minus the creepy old guy with the fake curls and pilgrim hat. Many Asian people devour this for breakfast because it’s light and not at all greasy. Of the many varieties of porridge to choose from, I love the combination of ground pork and preserved duck egg. No, it isn’t like the Filipino duck embryo. They actually have instant porridge out in the markets. Imagine seeing these packaged boxes out on the shelves of the market. Each one containing a random Asian prize like a face visor or dashboard decoration.

Chinese Donut (Yau Za Gwai)
There’s nothing like starting out your morning with a bowl of hot porridge and tetanus-laden Chinese donuts. Porridge and donuts go together like peanut butter and jelly. I was about to order a pair of these before I saw these rusty scissors on top of them. I then remembered that I took my tetanus shots recently and went ahead and spoiled myself. Heavy metal!

BBQ Pork Steamed Rice Noodles (Cha Siu Cheung Fun)
These are an absolute must when I eat dim sum. These beautiful crepes are made a few minutes before and when cooked right, appear translucent and thin. You can choose between fillings of minced beef, shrimp or bbq pork, which is my favorite. The best way to eat these is to let them sit for 30 seconds on each side and marinate. Flip each crepe over and make sure they have some frolicking time in the soy/sugar/sesame oil sauce. Weeeee!

BBQ Pork, Roasted Goose and Roasted Chicken (Cha Siu, Siu Ngoh, Siu Gai)
Ah yes, the standard window decoration in the majority of Chinese restaurants. This is the type of scenery that makes PETA activists hot and bothered. I call it the Chinese Zoo… where animals aren’t incarcerated within iron bars but are rather granted the freedom to roam… within your stomach. Freedom is tasty!

Mong Kok (Miu Gai Street)
Ever see people wearing clothing with logos that say…

“Seventy Jeans”

Well you can find them all on this street. This narrow path leads you through vendors selling all kinds of cheap stuff. On the outside, it appears to be a swap meet, but it’s also home to some very expensive fabricated goods. Many women come here to shop for fake purses, but you’ll be surprised as to how similar they are to the originals. Vendors will put out the really crappy fake goods but if they see that you’re interested in the higher end fake goods, they’ll bring you up to their office, which is tucked inside shady alleys. I got J’s fake purse which she thinks is real, here in ‘Miu Gai’.

You know you’re in a good place when you’ve got streets named ‘Soy Sauce Street’. Not far from ‘Miu Gai’ is this avenue of good street vendor food. I really think they should reconsider naming this street to Deep Fry Drive. Here’s why – the main ingredient is oil and the word of the day is ‘fried’.

Just looking at the previous photos has increased your cholesterol level. Sorry about that.

After a few hours of eating oily food, you get thirsty. Which is why there’s ‘Lan Kwai Fong’, HK’s version of Sunset Blvd. There are about 30 clubs and bars here ready to quench your thirst. This particular night was fun. It was Christmas Eve and a few hours later, barricades were setup to allow the thousands of party people to parade through the streets. By 11 pm, it was nearly impossible to walk around without being sandwiched on this small stretch of concrete. About a decade ago, 100 people were crushed to death during a holiday celebration.

‘Lan Kwai Fong’ actually has its own beer. I hope it’s not made with the green harbor water.

For those that haven’t been to Hong Kong, it’s awesome. There’s good food everywhere you go and nice fake clothing to sport. But if you don’t like to eat or shop, you’re better off in something more tropical because the water is uninviting. There are not too many historical places to check out. At night, the skyline is simply amazing. I took this shot from the $0.35 ferry ride across from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central Hong Kong. HK is very westernized and it is not hard to get directions if needed. The subway system is laid out in a user-friendly manner. Come to think of it, HK is truly a foodies paradise because it is basically an island food-court. Taiwan is next. Thanks for reading. Read more!

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