Thoughts by Richard Bleil
While at a game store buying sets of gaming dice for a very small class I have this semester (they will be used in a lab), I happened to ask if there was a good place to have lunch. The town is very small, and aside from a few bars, I haven’t really seen anyplace to eat. Oh, sure, some bars have terrific food, but I was wondering if there was anything else.
The shopkeep at the gaming store (an old-fashioned term but one that is appropriate for this type of store) recommended a Korean restaurant. I thought about it, and I don’t believe I’ve ever had Korean food. I have had Chinese food, of course, but I also like rather more authentic Chinese food when I can get it. In Boston, I ordered the sea bass, and asked if they had any Lichee, a Chinese delicacy that is rarely on the menu, but sometimes available for customers that know to ask for it. The chef came out to meet us, curious as to who knew enough to ask for these dishes.
One of the more interesting Chinese restaurants I’ve been at was in Boston in Little China. Above the counter were cooked ducks hanging, and nobody but locals in the restaurant. I ordered the duck (there was little else on the menu), and watched as they took one of these ducks down, shocked to discover that they were not, actually, whole ducks, but rather had all been cleaved in half and hung so they looked whole. I watched the chef take a huge butcher knife and dice that half chicken, bones and all, and add it to a broth with vegetables and noodles. It has to have been one of the best tasting, and most difficult, meals I have ever had.
I love trying foods from various cultures. In this country, people have a strong proclivity for Mexican food, especially if it has been adapted to American taste, so it’s rather easy to find, as is Americanized Chinese food. I’ve been fortunate to eat at an Ethiopian restaurant. That was SO good, very spicy, and just delicious. I went with a group of people, and we all ordered something, but the meal did not come in individual plates for us. Instead, it came all in sections of one large plate, and we all were given a heavy bread not unlike Naan bread of India (my favorite bread by the way). The proper way to eat Ethiopian food, we were told, was to tear off pieces of bread and scoop it off of the plate, eating it one bite at a time. In essence, we all shared the variety of dishes on the plate.
I found a wonderful little restaurant in another city where I lived that served Pho. Pho is a Vietnamese soup, with various meats, bean sprouts, noodles, in a chicken broth. It’s marvelous, and a meal in and of itself. My favorite was their deluxe Pho, which a lot of Americans won’t eat because it has erotic meats like tripe, which is stomach lining. I’ve never been afraid to try such unusual things; meat is meat. One of my favorite foods, though, is the Greek Gyro, a spiced meat made of a mixture of beef and lamb. The best Gyro meat, though, comes off of a spit. Today you can find “gyro” meet (pronounced “yee-roh”) in a lot of places, but this meat is usually strips of precooked frozen meat and is not nearly as good as the real thing. Somehow, the consistency is off, as well. It’s just too soft or something. Very strange.
Today, I wondered what Korean food would be like. It’s its own peninsula, and they do have sushi (which I also adore, by the way) so I wondered if it would be like a Japanese steakhouse. Looking at the menu, the first thing I saw was a soup that looked very much like Pho and assumed it would be relatively authentic. I asked the waiter if the soup was authentic Korean, and he said that if I wanted authentic Korean I needed to look elsewhere. The first thing he said was “Bulgogi”. So, of course, I had to try it.
I’d never heard of it before. As it turns out, Bulgogi is a spicy (VERY spicy) tenderized barbecued meat. It had a reddish-brown marinade and was served with rice and about half a dozen side dishes. Now, I have “meat and potato” friends, people who will only eat beef and potatoes, never daring to venture away to try other foods. I would not intentionally insult them, but I cannot imagine limiting myself in such a way. The variety of foods, and symphony of flavors offered in other cultures is something I would miss terribly if I would have to give them up. I can only recommend to my readers, if you have the opportunity to try something new, try it. What’s the worst that could have happened? If I found the food not to my palate, I could simply call the experiment a failure and get a burger on my way home, but as it is, I think I found my new favorite dish!