Monday, September 28, 2009

Koryo Ja Jang

Recently, for the first time in maybe five years, I ate jajjang myeon. Jajjang is a black bean sauce covered noodle dish served in South Korea and is referred to as "Chinese food" much like Sweet and Sour Chicken is referred to as Chinese food in America. I hit up Koryo Ja Jang on the corner of 43rd and Telegraph where a slew of other Korean joints reside.

The proprietor seemed surprised by my rejection of a menu and I was floored by what was put in front of me.
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I felt like I was back in Mangmi-dong, my old 'hood in Busan. While most Korean food often isn't the same (or good) as back in the Republic, I'm sometimes really impressed by how respectable some Korean dishes are here in America. Take note Thai restaurateurs! Mind you, I don't really love this dish, but everything was just how it should have been. Strangely neon pickled radish, raw onions, a fermented black bean sauce for dipping and kimchi. I washed it all down with wonderful barley tea. While jajjang is not huge on flavor and will taste the same whether you are at the peak of health or suffering from a massive head cold, the deliciously chewy wheat noodles provide a lot of comfort value.

It's really quite amazing how tastes and smells can really take you to another place and awaken long forgotten feelings or memories. This meal briefly made me lose all track of where I was. You can imagine my severe disappointment upon stepping out onto the austere telegraph road to make the slow walk home.

Koryo Ja Jang
4390 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 652-3900

Friday, September 25, 2009

Huge Tomato, Caprese Salad

Recent discussions with housemates about what to buy, what to eat and why is best explained with a simple dish and a few pictures.
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A tomato that fills your hand and is soft to the touch is exploding with juice and flavor. This and a bunch of basil were procured at the farmers market for under three dollars. A couple more dollars and fresh mozzarella was added to the mix. You can probably see where this is going. Nice olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper rounds out this perfect salad. There's nothing at all complicated about this. It's just a few fresh ingredients.
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This fed two of us and did so quite well. I know no greater argument for eating what's fresh, local, and in season better than this particular meal. Sure, in America you can get inferior mealy tomatoes year round and make some version of this whenever the hell you like. But remember, there are many other wonderful fruits and vegetables that are at their best at entirely different times of the year. If you live in California or another place with such an agreeable climate, that produce might be growing in your own backyard, down the road, or in one of the nearby agricultural areas of the state that has not yet been turned into depressing suburbs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chicken Snack

I found a pretty caterpillar on my table after a meal. It was actually rather stunning.
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It crawled near me and then onto my arm.
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I carried her outside and gave her to one of my chickens.
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Maybe this was not what you were expecting. But it's important to remember: chickens gotta eat too!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Backyard Figs

I want to tell you about my figs. Actually, first I want to tell you about my house. We'll get to the figs.

The house where I live is about a hundred years old. Old by some people's standards, not so much by others. Whether it's true or not, we've been told from someone or another, that the first people to live in our house after its completion was an Italian family. One very important thing that they did upon moving in was to plant a couple of fig trees. A couple of very old fig trees share the backyard with a loquat tree, walnut tree, and a redwood. Currently, the fig trees are heavy with fruit. Even with the currently hot weather, the figs ripen only sporadically, so when I spy a ripening fig, I get excited.

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Sometimes I check back over the course of a week as a fig gets to its point of bursting. It's hard to wait as it might get pecked by a bird, one of my roommates might see it, or I might simply forget about it and it will pass. But when the stars align, I just might get the perfect fig.

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As a kid who grew up eating Fig Newtons, I really had no idea how phenomenal figs really were until much later in life. I'm currently in the process of making up for that.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bacon Latte or The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization

Recently some friends were in town and I thought I'd take them on a bit of a Bay Area coffee tour. Our exploits took us from Blue Bottle, to Philz, and finally to the Pirate Cat Radio Cafe.
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At the Pirate Cat Radio Cafe we imbibed in a bacon infused latte and a vegan bacon doughnut.
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Where to begin? The Pirate Cat Radio Cafe is an unlicensed community radio station that in the last year has opened a cafe. It is a vegan cafe, save for the infamous latte. Strange. I asked the barrista about this apparent contradiction who didn't see it as strange at all and declared the bacon latte as "pretty great." I ordered a donut to accompany the latte and only afterwards learned that it was vegan. Not that I'm against anything vegan, but really, a vegan donut is one of the more ridiculous things I've heard of. It immediately conjured up the name of the lead singer of the Dead Kennedy's, Jello Biafra. He chose his stage name because of the contradiction it represented: mass produced and nutritionally poor food, and mass starvation. And this is sort of how I feel about vegan doughnuts. Veganism is often a political and moral stance, but eating something so widely accepted as empty calories and vegan seems like a glaring contradiction.

But how was the latte you ask? Well it did give that lovely sweet salty flavor. Unfortunately, whether because we all knew what we were drinking, how rich it was, or it being the third coffee of the morning, it didn't exactly blow any of our socks off. After the first few sips my mouth had an unmistakable aftertaste of bacon. Maybe with these words, some of you are already out the door and on the way to your very first bacon latte. Regardless, I recommend a visit to to Pirate Cat as it's a great little cafe.
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Listen:

Everyone and their mother blogs about food and funny food the world over. It didn't used to be so, but now it's not unusual to see people stepping foot in a place for a brief period, eating something funny, and writing about it for shits and giggles. This has shown up all over the blogosphere, and even in some relatively well respected newspapers. We've got worms and grasshoppers in Thailand, Spiders is Cambodia, and god forbid, french fry coated hot dogs in Korea. The list goes on and on. People have talked it to death, but it is particularly tiring to see outsiders coming in and using the sport of adventure eating as a window into local cuisine and culture. However, I can't help but think that the Bacon Latte does in fact say something about America and maybe food blogging as a sport: it's bloated and increasingly irrelevant.

Pirate Cat Radio Cafe
2781 21st St
(415) 341-1199
www.piratecatradio.com

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Taco Redemption

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After the previous post I feel the need to remind you the reader and myself of what is possible. Perhaps I was a little too soft on Baja Fresh. Make no mistake: It was like witnessing Pat Boone's rendition of "Tootie Frootie." If you are huffing gas, or simply unaware that this song was being butchered, you just might have thought to yourself, "Wow! This cat really has it!"

A quick trip down memory lane will remind you of my obsession with tacos. I've written a couple gushing posts about Tacos Sinaloa here and here, and was present for a less than stellar visit to their seafood truck on the premises here. Initially I was dismissive of the Tacos Sinaloa seafood truck. I had only visited once and was underwhelmed by a rather old tasting tortilla and limp tasting fish in their fish taco. Well, that was then.

My last visit found me feeling forgiving and looking for something different. I took a risk and ordered a ceviche tostada. Believe me, the last thing you want to ingest is dodgy ceviche. Ceviche is raw fish "cooked" in lime juice. I've purchased excellent ceviche on the pacific coast of Mexico but never in Oakland. While the Oakland version couldn't match the Mexican one, it was a great surprise out of the back of a truck.
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Next I got a couple of the fish tacos. They were excellent. The fish freshly fried, the tortillas fresh this time and getting that great flavor and spice that only tacos cooked on a hot and busy comal can provide.
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Meals like this should convince any sane citizen to stay away from the chains and look for your food from people who know what they are doing. For maybe the last time (maybe) get your ass to tacos Sinaloa. You'll be glad you did.

Tacos Sinaloa (For Seafood, the truck in the back)
2138 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 535-1206

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Corporate Fast Food

After the other day's post, I thought back to a few months ago when I had a few hours to kill in downtown San Diego. Soon after realizing that there was not in fact anything worth eating, I took it upon myself to make it an exercise in eating crappy food. What better way to remind myself of the food I like to eat than abusing my body and good taste with trip to a typical American fast food establishment? I chose Baja Fresh, a chain I had not in fact ever been to. It seemed like a nicer version of Taco Bell. Bear with me here folks, this just isn't how I normally eat.

I decided upon an unholy trifecta of seafood tacos. One of grilled fish, another fried, and one of shrimp.

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Although not really the same thing, I started thinking about Morgan Spurlock's adventures from Super Size Me. Yes, he did throw up out of his car window after a super sized meal, but for the most part he characterized fast food food as making him feel pretty good, if only when he was eating it. It was very easy to eat even if it did do horrible things to his body. And this is mostly how I felt about my meal. I took a bite thinking that I would be biting into a dog's breakfast, triggering a sharp gag reflex leaving me soiled for an impending plane ride next to some other fat disgusting slob for five hundred miles. No dice. I was confused. Not because I hated it, but because it was kind of bland. Yeah, I could taste the fish, the shrimp, and the general idea of the thing, but there was not a lot else. The underlying flavor can only be described as "yummy" or some other stupid word that your tongue might use while under the influence of something stupid inducing. I just wanted to take more bites, searching for the flavor, searching for that feeling of immediacy, and the sense of experience of eating a mix of flavors. It wasn't bad, but it was certainly bland.

People wouldn't eat this stuff if it didn't taste kind of good. They eat it and it's mostly inoffensive. It doesn't titillate nor does it really offend. After my meal I was reminded that eating like this for too many meals, you can in fact lose your taste for other food. If all food just tastes inoffensive and "yummy", it's harder to want to eat the better and at times healthier stuff. And so I was left wondering about what this means for the average eater. Is this kind of food synonymous with the American diet? Fattening, Vaguely ethnic, and bland?

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Simple Quesadilla

What with all the posts about festivals and street food regulations, I wanted to post something simple. It's easy to lose track of the mundane, which is what we all usually eat on a day to day basis. Remember: mundane in one place is something else entirely in another geographical location. Take pride in what you have where you are, and learn what you can elsewhere.

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Here's a simple quesadilla in my dining room. While many food blogs offer complicated recipes to impress friends and enemies, it's important to keep it simple sometimes. While this quesadilla won't win any awards, it's easy and delicious. Like this: Heat pan, apply tortilla, place grated cheese inside, remove from heat, and place avocado and picante. Chase with beer and convince yourself you've just eaten in a fancy restaurant. The money you've saved might help pay those insurance premiums, or even your monthly bill to the hospital you owe your entire life savings and or your child's college fund.

I usually make my own, but the tortillas are made nearby, the cheese is not shipped in from across the country, the avocado is from the state, and the best picante always comes from Mexico. Here we have something I've always eaten as a quick snack or part of a meal. At home I take it for granted, while far away I'd almost kill for it.
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Sometimes it's tough to wrap one's head around what exactly it is that Americans eat. The above is just one example This post may be painfully obvious in its observations but I dare you to try and sit down and in fifty words or less, describe what it is that Americans eat. Your comments are certainly appreciated.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Oakland's Eat Real Festival

This past weekend was Oakland's Eat Real Festival. The Eat Real Festival was in fact the main event for which the San Francisco Street Food Festival was only a sister event. Needless to say, I was nervous.

Friday night, with nobody to hang out with, and nothing better to do, I went for the preliminary event, which was only beer and some ice cream. I love beer. Making it, drinking it, thinking about it. After arriving at Jack London square I was able to do one of these things.
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If the above photo isn't obvious, this was some of the most expensive beer I have ever seen and not sampled. Yes, seven bucks would have gotten me eight ounces, or half a pint of beer. I certainly wasn't going to pony up fourteen bucks for a pint! The idea of enjoying a simple pint of beer seemed ridiculous as it did insulting. To make matters worse, some of the beers on offer were easily available in nearby stores for normal human prices. A fair number of people were drinking so I left wondering: who are these people? Doctors? Lawyers? Lottery winners? Health Insurance CEOs?

I swung by my local liquor store on the way home to pick up a couple of California beers for the grand total of three fifty.
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I poured a beer, and told my sorrows to my backyard chickens.

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A prior engagement meant I was out of town for Saturday and most of Sunday so I missed most of the rest of the festival. Figured it wasn't worth it anyway. Lucky for me, I was wrong and there was something to go back for. On Sunday afternoon I caught the tail end of the festival and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Many well attended stalls and food trucks were serving up a wide variety of fresh delicious food. Unlike the cluster-fuck that was the San Francisco faux street food festival, this event really seemed to have its act together.

I started with a cup of individually brewed coffee from Ritual Coffee Roasters, which may or may not be a cult.
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The coffee bicycle makes little sense to me as by the time you get your coffee, it has sloshed around and warmed up in the sun. But the bike sure is neat.
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I bought my coffee from a trailer where they slowly crank out nice coffee beverages. For three dollars, you too can enjoy this postmodern bourgeois bohemian ritual.
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A taco truck caught my eye. It was Seoul on Wheels. A twitter based Korean taco truck is all the rage in Los Angeles, so why not the Bay Area?
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The line was long but I was intrigued. A little patience and the news that they were all sold out of both tofu and chicken sent many people away. I asked the proprietress’s advice and she told me I had to try pork. It is the finest of all meats of course.
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The result? Unconvincing. Actually, it was worse than that. It managed neither to be reminiscent of either Mexican or Korean to be at all memorable. The tortilla was like dry cardboard, and the pork a little two sweet and not nearly spicy enough. I'd still give em another shot if the opportunity presented itself.

A few hundred feet away was the Yucatecan stand, Chaac Mool, where I just had to try their taco. With a simple prodding I also ended up with a tamal.
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While the taco wasn't exactly exploding with flavor, what there was worked together better than the Korean taco that didn't know where it was from or where it was going. I have little experience with Yucatecan food so am not qualified to offer you my take down of the taco or the very enjoyable tamal. So I'll stop here. It was purty though.

There were small pies, pupusas, barbecue and a variety of ice creams left to try but the wallet was getting lighter. A final snack had to be procured.

Maybe it was the cooler on the bicycle or maybe it was the flavors on offer but Cici caught my eye.
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Organic Salted Almont Gelato seemed like the perfect way to end my outing.

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Three dollars bought me a small cup to enjoy on the grass.
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In the end, I was pleased with this event even if I don't know what to make of it. A perusal of online sources suggests that people enjoyed what they saw and what they ate. The organizers mission statement was good and there was a good spread of things on offer. But once again, it was a mostly well-to-do crowd, in a gentrified part of town, and not really a chance for the masses to "eat real." As has been my concern for the last while, the comfortable class enjoyed their status food as they always do, while just up the road, people are eating something else. There's a gap and it's one that the organizers are aware of and trying to do something about. As illustrated at the San Francisco Festival, formerly illegal street vendors went legit and started serving a very different clientele next to other legit vendors serving up gourmet treats. At Eat Real it was s similar scene with seven dollar pints of beer and thimbles full of ice cream for several dollars. Excellent and maybe very worth it if you've got the money. The question remains: Can there be an intersection of people from all walks of life enjoying legal, good quality American street food?